Keeping Beliefs Relevant

So, we just finished up the third major arc of the epic BWG campaign I am GMing. We’re now taking a break from BW for a few months to play some Apocalypse World, but will definitely be returning to the same campaign afterwards. So, I am taking this opportunity to reflect and to plan how to run a better game for the next arc.

This has been my first time GMing Burning Wheel, and it has been a learning process. One of the problems I’ve encountered was that some of the PCs’ Beliefs became scattered and unfocused. We have a huge, rich setting, and the three-arc adventure involved traversing across 5 different regions, about 500 square kilometers (300 square miles) in area. The problem was that many Beliefs became tied to certain locations, or to other characters tied to certain locations, and that the PCs were in a constant state of motion, never staying in one place for too long as they pursued their other Beliefs.

I did my best to persuade the players to take Beliefs that related to immediate aspects of the adventure at hand, and for the most part they did. I also instituted a “Backburner Belief” system, in which a Belief that had been rendered irrelevant due to travel can be “moved to the back”, replaced, and then subbed back in later on if it becomes relevant again. It all worked out pretty smoothly. Except for a few Beliefs – BIG ones – that were too important to the PC to just be subbed out, yet were impossible to explore due to constraints of location. (We did explore most of the major Beliefs, but with a large party, were unable to explore them all.)

So, my question is: How do you make sure Beliefs always stay relevant? Or do you even worry about this? Do you think it’s fine to have an irrelevant Belief or two at any given time, so long as you have at least one relevant to the task at hand? What’s your take on this?

I’ve been thinking about making my next campaign arc be focused in a single city. Keep all those Beliefs centered in one location, let them all intermingle and breed chaos with each other. Alternatively, considering maybe doing a Burning THACO style dungeon-crawl, and have those Beliefs be strictly tied to each individual adventure. Or perhaps we need a tighter Big Picture to tie all our Beliefs to. Our original Big Picture was mostly based around what was going on in the setting, and I let the players choose Beliefs based around the setting and the NPCs within it.

Any other ways you could recommend?

  1. We allow ourselves to rewrite Beliefs at the beginning of each session so they focus on the action at hand.

  2. Having one or even two Beliefs that are irrelevant for that session is fine, it happens all the time.

  3. We have a practice of back-burning Beliefs, as well. I have a spot in my notes for such. However, they must be activated at the beginning of a session before play if they are to be rewarded. So at any time, I often have 4-6 written Beliefs, but only 3 in play earning Artha.

Finally, in order to address the Big Picture Goal (BPG) simultaneously with the immediate adventure/scenario, write the Beliefs in two parts. The first part describes the BPG, the second part describes a single step towards that goal. For example, my General wants his Emperor to reinstate the heretical Faiths, but he can’t do it without backup. “I will convince the Emperor to reinstate all Faiths, but first I need allies. I will gain the support of the Lorettans in order to achieve a strategic and political advantage when I face off with him.”

I find that having a high cost of travel in BW is challenging. Once you leave an area, a lot of beliefs get sidelined. Not only this, but wises, circles and relationships often become less useful as well.

Not having a strong, urgent situation also contributes to belief churn IMO. Players are using their beliefs to try to engage with the setting, but without group commitment that signals this story avenue is here to stay, the beliefs are tentative and readily abandoned as soon as something more interesting comes along. This makes it hard to put beliefs in conflict, since players aren’t invested.

The other belief-fizzling scenario I’ve had more than a few times is the immediately-irrelevant belief. A player realizes a belief is irrelevant, and he quickly fills it with something that looks good given the current (but rapidly changing) situation. So often these short-circuit - they get completed five minutes later, and it seems lame to award Persona for them before the player has done much at all with it, so they’re quietly erased.

Dean, that Back Burner Belief idea is how beliefs should work.

At the start of every session, I ask one of the players in my group to do a recap. We all listen and jump in with reminders if anything is missed. Based on the recap, I then ask everyone to review their beliefs. Are there any that need to be changed? Are there any that need to be tweaked to better tie them back into the situation at hand?

Sometimes a player really wants to keep a particular belief, even if it’s unlikely to pay off in a particular session. That’s totally fine. But it’s also totally fine to tweak your beliefs so you can address them during the session.

I encourage players to have at least one belief that addresses the big picture and at least one belief that ties into another PC or relationship.

Yeah, OK, I do all of the suggested things, so I guess I’ve been running my game right, for the most part. Thanks for the input thus far.

What I think I’m really looking for is a way to maximize Belief relevancy. A situation we can create for the next part of the campaign that will let most (or even all) of the PCs’ Beliefs fire at the same time, mixing together in a chaotic mess of mad story-telling. It would be my ideal game session, and I’m itching to see what would happen.

I really think a city-based campaign would be the best way to do this. But there could be other ways. Any suggestions?

Note: For the next part of my campaign, at least half of the players will be burning brand new characters, as their previous characters had their stories completely told by the end of arc three. So, we really have a lot of freedom to change things up!

These characters that are traveling away from their beliefs, why are they traveling?

Create a situation that requires them to do something now, so if they leave the place something changes in the Big Picture (or something happens to a relationship, for example).

Long story (6 months real-time and 3 story arcs worth), and they’re not traveling anymore anyways. Two of the PCs will be retired, as the players feel satisfied that their stories have been told. New PCs will be burnt for these players. We will fast-forward a bit into the future, allowing us to place the remaining two PCs together pretty much anywhere we want. When we return to the campaign, it will very much be a brand new story, with only a couple of the same main characters. So, I have some freedom here.

Right. But this is a temporary solution – if I create a hella big situation to try and get them to stay, there’d probably be a greater chance that they’d leave just to save their own hides. Maybe better to just not create any reason for them to leave, and provide lots of interesting things to pursue in the location they stay at?

Right. But create conflict between two separate Beliefs is fun too. :slight_smile:

If these characters have the option to run from any big conflict, than they are not properly made. They need bigger stakes, it seems. Anytime they run, something dreadful will happen that effects each and every player. Hometowns burned, riches lost, loved ones dead, etc… Beliefs must reflect this. The players should be biting their nails each time this decision comes into play.

Hmm, food for thought. One of the things I’ve been kicking myself over is that one of the PCs finished his story with one Belief that was hardly explored. And it was a Belief he had from the beginning! He was a noble faithful knight. When he created the PC, the player wrote one Belief about staying true to both his family and his order, and another about finding his long lost love. Problem was, his family and order were geographically separated from his long lost love by about 300 miles as the crow flies, and he went chasing after the girl. (His betrothed was also the sister of another PC, so there were a lot of conflicting Beliefs there, and good precedent for making her hard to reach.) I did start setting the ball in motion to challenge the family/order Belief – there was a dragon who settled near his homeland – but we didn’t get a chance to find out the outcome yet. Guess we’ll have to see if I can rectify the situation in Act Four.

I think the aftermath of leaving the family behind is clear. Muahahaha…

Plus family members can travel too.

Dean, I think you did everything swimmingly during play. The only thing you could have done that you didn’t was make a clear central concept before play, a big initial situation, and ask everyone to tie their characters to it. As a result, we each created our own goals during character creation and the more powerful characters and personalities dragged the group after their goals. How about next time we have some pre-game discussion about the sort of game we want and what the big initial situation will be. There’s advice in the AdBu about 2 big situations… one that is known at the beginning of the game and one that emerges. Do that!

It sounds like we’ll be going after the sorcerer’s goals next, so you can set up a situation aimed at him with some kind of relevance to the desperate killer and then let Adam and I make characters that fit into that situation somehow and sit back and watch the sparks fly.

Thanks man. ^^ For the record, I’m not overly worried about whether or not I did anything wrong. This campaign was one of the most (if not the most) interesting stories I’ve gotten out of an RPG to date, so I must’ve done something right. I just want to do even better next time.

You’re right, we didn’t have a Big Situation at the beginning of the campaign. What I had thought was a situation – a trade war between two port cities – was only a situation for the merchant PC. For all the other PCs, it was just the Big Picture. So, yeah, when we return to BW we’ll have to really nail a good situation and zero in on that. I like the suggestion about an emergent second situation too. Will have to re-read my AdBu over the summer.

This pretty much answers my question. I don’t need to confine the PCs to a single location, only their Beliefs to a Big Situation. That works better. Thanks, Ten. Should’ve just emailed you. >.<

I like this back burner belief idea. How should it be handled when it comes to trait votes? Should beliefs on the back burner be eligible for trait votes?

As long as they were played during the period of time under consideration in the trait vote, I don’t see why not.

The Noble Knight chose lust over loyalty… I’d say the next campaign starts with him staring down at the burned ruins of his old family home? If you have the luxury of remaking some characters, it should not be a problem at all to tie them into this situation (surviving relatives, faithful servants, dragon hunters, dwarves looking for revenge on their ancestral enemy etc etc)…