Many Questions

Hi all! I’m new to BE and to the forum. If these questions are best answered by other threads, by Wiki articles, or in the rules themselves, please feel free to direct me to whereever I need to go.

I just got the book and have read (most of) it. I have a group of five players and we start playing next Wednesday. I think some of this stuff might become apparent as I play, but I hope to have a good understanding of the game before we get started so I can field questions from the players.

Most of my questions revolve around the structure of gameplay.

  1. On Figures of Note. Does every Figure of Note have to be a PC? Do PCs all have to play Figures of Note? If there is one Figure of Note each phase, and there are three phases to a campaign, does that mean three of my players will get to have the fun of being a Figure of Note, while two of them will just be on the sidelines?

  2. On scenes. What happens if a character starts a Color or Building Scene that escalates to Conflict? Are players prohibited from using the Conflict rules unless there is a Conflict Scene? What if I jump in and escalate to a Conflict Scene during another player’s Building Scene? Does that count as their Conflict Scene, or as mine? Does it still count as their Building Scene?

  3. More on scenes. As the GM, should all my scenes directly involve a PC? How do I work in the opposition’s Figures of Note if that’s the case? I am imagining a Building Scene for an NPC Figure of Note - do I roleplay my Figure of Note activating a Circle and speaking to another NPC? This just seems a little weird.

I know there’s more, but I have to go back to work now, and I think three questions is good for a first post. :cool:

Hi MUKid, and welcome!

I don’t have enough time at the moment to answer your questions. Hopefully one of the many helpful members of our community will jump in!

In the meantime, you should definitely set aside some time to over this page of the wiki in detail. There’s a lot of very helpful advice for first-time BE GMs in there!


  1. Check page 67 for this quote:

“Players in Iron Empires are the protagonists in the story. They do not
all have to be figures of note
, but at least one must be. In a larger game, not every player will take on the role of a figure of note. However, these other characters are still central to the story and tied to the fate of the figures of note and the world itself.” (Emphasis added by me)

Mechanically speaking, the only thing a Figure of Note does is roll one set of dice at the beginning of his Phase, to add to the disposition. After rolling his one little roll, he goes back to being just a player with a fancy title.

Each player, whether Figure of Note or not, is the main character of the game. Sidelining isn’t the intent of this feature, think of it as the guy that calls heads or tails when they flip a coin to determine who gets what side of the field in a soccer/football game.

  1. When dealing with escalation, the player that WANTS the conflict is the one that PAYS for the conflict out of their scene budget. All firefights and Duel of Wits require a conflict scene. If they don’t have the scene currency to perform a conflict scene (say if their building scene was used already) then they can talk big and plan for their big fight/argument NEXT maneuver.

  2. All scenes the GM run should either involve a PC or be about a PC. The PCs are the center of the universe as far as the game is concerned. Everything you do should attack their Beliefs, trigger their Instincts, hammer their Traits, endanger their Relationships, threaten their holdings, turn their friends against them, give their enemies ammunition against them, and make their favored pets no longer trust them.

If you’re Circling up someone, it should be regarding a PC. If you’re GM figure of note is speaking to an NPC, it should be ABOUT a PC. If it’s about them, then the players will very interested in what the GM figures of Note are doing. Ham it up, play it like a cut scene in a game, keep it short and to the point.

I don’t actually play both sides of the conflict. I just sum it up, and have one or two ominous one liners to get the players properly angry/worried.

One suggestion I do have about Circling is to be mindful of the Circling rules, and play it straight and to the letter. The players love it when GMs screw up their Circles tests. If you do fail, always invoke Enimity Clause. It’s way more fun to play the seemingly obedient flunkie that sells you out to the players later. Just make sure it goes both ways. Any Circles failure the players make means more allies under the GM’s control.

Most of my memorable Burning Wheel characters started with a Circles Test.

Groovy. The Wiki is worth poking through, for sure.

Given the structure of the game, every FON should be handled by a living player. Given you have five (!) players, yeah, all the FONs should be played by actual players.

Note that FONs don’t have to be kings, generals, whatever. They just happen to be the most important people in your story.

The player with the Featured FON gets two benefits: 1) he’s the one who makes the Phase Disposition roll at the beginning of the phase and 2) a good GM will nudge the story in that character’s direction. And that’s it. The other FONs are important because they get to make Maneuver rolls, and to do that they have to have been the featured character for that Maneuver. The only players to get the shaft are the non-FONs, because they’ll never be called on to make the Maneuver roll (and therefore will/should not be featured in a Maneuver). But they can provide help dice, if they gave help dice to a FON that Maneuver.

The scene economy is pretty liquid. The only things that actually matter, system-wise, are 1) the limit on 3x building rolls per character, 2) 2x Conflict scenes per side, and 3) one piece of tech introduced per Maneuver. We play pretty strictly to the scene rules because we feel they provide very tight focus.

The conflict instigator is the one using up their side’s Conflict scene. Since each side has a limited budget, the players on that side need to negotiate among themselves.

As the GM, all your GMFONs’ Beliefs should involve the PCs somehow. Other than that, do whatever the story dictates. GMPCs can and should meet with each other, but IMO too much of that is going to suck – hence the need for your GMPCs’ Beliefs to be focused on the PCFONs.

My least-favorite bit of the game is where two of my GMFONs need an interstitial with each other. I generally just recap what they cover and deliver a “zinger” type line from that scene.

Last suggestion: read my big Wiki entry on getting through your first turn. That’s going to answer a lot of your questions (see my sig).

Good luck!


Paul has written such an excellent response - it pains me to disagree - but a Non-Figure of note may make the roll for a manuever.

Pg 407 of the rulebook says “Even if a player character is not a figure of note, he is still central to the story. His fate is still caught up in that of his world. Players of non-figure of note characters may make Infection maneuver rolls and participate in all aspects of play as usual. The only restriction is that
they may not roll their skill into their side’s initial disposition.”

Pg 407 also suggests that PC-non-FON character have some freedoms their PC-FON counterparts dont have “Non-figure of note characters may switch sides at their leisure, rolling for or helping one side or the other as it suits them.”

But otherwise as Paul says. Also read pauls excellent wiki entry on getting over the BE hump. It will help you avoid many of the potential Pitfalls.

Ah! Well caught, sir. I stand corrected.

(We played this wrong my first time through. It would have sucked less for my non-FON player if I’d let his character have a shot at his own Maneuver rolls. That said, I still would have felt obligated to direct the spotlight back toward the FFON.)


Thanks for all your good answers, guys. I’m an old-time roleplayer, but this game is very different than anything I’ve played before. Heck, I think it’s really different from anything everybody’s played before! It should be a good time for all of us.