Newbie very confused....Help

Is this a role-playing game in the traditional sense or is it a group strategic type game where there are group decisions made rather than individual role playing.

I am totally confused, I’d love to buy this product but can’t reconcile spending the money on a game I will never get use out of, even though the production values alone look fantastic.

Some help in telling me where this game sits within the hobby would be of help. Is it a group of players with individual characters going around having adventures (traditional RPGing) or is it something more abstract. What I’ve read so far in the reviews I’ve seen come across as more of a strategic semi board game come world conquering game with little one on one RPGing taking place.

Hope the above makes some sense and look foreword to someone clarifying things for me.


Traditional roleplaying, with a larger structure over it to represent larger events not entirely within the control of the character.

The group sets up the world through a formal process that establishes the relative strength of the two sides in the conflict. Characters are created to fit into this world.

Each session consists of one or two maneuvers, mechanical decisions to represent the impact each side’s activities will ideally have. Then normal roleplaying occurs. Players chit-chat in character, dice drop, and the mechanics settle conflict. In order to create a sense of urgency, the number of scenes in a maneuver are limited, and fairly alloted amongst the players. When all the maneuver ends a roll is made to see how well each side did.

Essentially the basic Burning Wheel mechanics are employed on a larger and larger scale in Burning Empires. There is still a lot of traditional roleplaying, but there are extra goodies as well.

Thanks Tim

that clears up part of the confusion but being new to the system you talk about maneuvers and allotting them to players does this restrict the free will and individual decision making on the players part?


Every rule I design is meant to strip away the illusion of free will.

Thanks for that Abzu :o)

but it doesn’t help me decide if I should put down the money for this game.


Well, if you enjoy your free will, then you should think seriously about this decision. Then again, since free will is an illusion anyway, I suppose your choice has already been made.

It disturbs me that the common perception of Burning Empires is that it involves no roleplaying. This is a game about making very intense personal decisions under brutal pressure. It’s a game about doing what you want – revenge, love, profit – versus doing what you must – fighting off a mysterious, often undetectable invader.

You make those decisions IN CHARACTER. You play out the consequences IN CHARACTER.

Ask anyone who’s played. It’s a roleplaying game. It’s certainly a different sort of roleplaying game than trad SF RPGs, but an RPG nonetheless.


Please don’t get me wrong Abzu I understand it’s a role playing game but as you said yourself it’s not a traditional role playing game…you say its a different sort of role playing game. This is what I would like explained. How is is different.

What I’ve read about it so far suggests its more concerned with the big picture and the characters are a by product of that. I would just like to understand this side of it so I can make an informed decision about buying it.

Didn’t mean to sound negative about the game, I don’t know much about it, as I said in my first post I’m a newbie to BE. I’m just a bit ignorant on the subject an wanted some clarification.


One of the things that really felt different in Burning Empires was the idea of scenes as a resource. Each player has a limited number of scenes per maneuver, including the GM!

So in my playtest, a few things happened. First of all, each scene was important. The players needed to get their beliefs addressed with only 3-4 scenes that maneuver. Secondly, each player had an equal amount of scenes. This meant each player had equal screen time. The socially dominant players had to sit back and let the wallflowers have their chance to play. This was mechanically enforced, and is awesome.

There was tons of roleplaying. I put in a chilling scene where a recently hulled father sat down to dinner with his family, promising “presents for all” as they, one by one, pass out from the drug-laced food.

One player set a scene involving a full on argument between his character and that same father mentioned above, regarding easing planetary regulations. This argument entered into a duel of wits, and the player was crushed, but loved every minute of it. There was a great moment when the father said “The family unit would benefit greatly from the opening of our borders!” (a great point, made horrible by the previous scene)

So yes, it’s roleplaying. No, it doesn’t restrict decision making, it FORCES decision making. Players have more freedom than they know what to do with. Players can set scenes, traditionally only a GM could do that! The difference is that it is mechanically limited. You get a handful of chances to make your character shine, and get those beliefs attended to.

And at the very end of the maneuver, the players take account of their efforts. Every win gives them a chance at countering the Vaylen threat. Every loss brings the worm closer to their skulls. That die roll at the end of each maneuver puts everyone at the edge of their seats. It’s nailbiting.

I gotta say, this game has me hooked. With this and Burning Wheel on my plate, I’m a happy man.

If Jon’s glowing words and my assurances can’t convince you, check out the Burning Empires Buzz on the wiki. In particular, read through Luke’s livejournal. He breaks down a bunch of the concepts in detail.

Just from a time perspective, in a 5 hour game, we’ve probably spent 45 minutes with the big picture as the focus and more than 4 hours with characters as the focus. The big picture mechanics do not dominate the game. And how you describe the effects of the big picture can very much directly touch on a lot of character specific concerns.

Burning Empires really pushes role playing. Roll playing isn’t how B.E. is different from a “traditional RPG”. I would say the major differences are that it is more structured and competitive. Which doesn’t take away from role playing.

Holy shit (pardon my French). The picture that conjoured up was really upsetting… remember the father’s still in there, watching his family being taken from him. Awful on so many levels. Well done!


It is a traditional RPG. All that it does is move more authority to the players to tell their PC’s stories. The player no longer filter this through the GM, they are directly responsible to tell their PCs stories the way they want to.

This has a number of consequences including freeing up the GM to focus on providing real antagonism to the PCs and reducing the need for GM prep. Most of the rules that you don’t recognise are added to ensure that everyone’s authority is preserved and given effect in this new style of play.

That is not the case. There are mechanics in BE that wouldn’t be in a traditional RPG and some of these help guide the larger picture. However, these are for the most part a consequence of the movement in authority as noted above.

To give two examples:

  • Maneuvers do have an element of strategic play. However, they are more importantly used to help coordinate the players (who have greater authority) and put everyone on the same page for the session. This is to help the roleplaying.

  • Disposition is a measure of how far along the story you are. They are partly strategic in that it represents how well each side is doing on a larger scale. However, the more important aspect of disposition is to help to communicate to the group where abouts in the story they are and how things that they have done have had story impact. Again, it helps get everyone on the same page.

With the GM having less power over the entire story, BE cleverly deals with many of the holes that would otherwise result. This makes for an excellent and smooth game play very much focussed on the roleplaying, though not how many people will have done so before.

Jamal, BE is a new way of playing a traditional RPG. Rather than relying on the GM to present the story and determine the story impact of all the players decisions, it instead shares that power out. This may seem very weird to begin with. However, trust that the BE mechanics are there first and foremost to support this “shared narrative” style of play and note to undermine the roleplaying in the game (in fact in many ways it promotes the roleplaying).

the responses in this thread are all very accurate, well described and written by people who obviously love the game and want everyone to love it too.

but to get back to jamat’s original question, i think it’s important to address what kind of ‘players’ a game like Burning Empire’s works for. Jamat wants to know if he (and the players he knows who would be willing to try this new-fangled way of playing an rpg) would enjoy burning empires.

  1. obviously you’ve gotta like sci-fi. the production values are great. between the phenominal art and the energetic text, the book makes you want to devour it, which is good, cuz you have to attack the text with vigor to really get the most out of all the cool stuff the rules allow for.
  2. you’ve gotta be players that are able to commit to your characters and the story from all angles. the game is not for players wanting to sit by and let someone else lead them through a story with a carrot on a stick. it’s for players who want to tear through the world with their own imagination. this is an important distinction. every player (PC or GM) has to want a piece of the action.
  3. the players have to value the intensity inherent in making difficult choices, both for their characters and the story. it’s not an easy ‘bash the troll over the head and take his gold’ game, or a ‘let’s go get a job at the local tavern’ game. it’s a ‘to save my son i have to let my best friend get his brain taken over by a worm’ game.
  4. lastly, the game’s rules ‘read’ as if it’s this different kind of rpg beast. to play it and enjoy it, you have to be willing to take the time to learn the rules and get past how the rules ‘read’ to see what they actually represent. the rules are not rules to limit the roleplaying experience, they are rules that simply take all those times you’ve said ‘the best roleplaying experience i’ve ever had is when …’, and articulate how that happened into a system. the idea is that the system articulates how to repeat those ‘best experiences’ in almost every single scene of the game.

i look at burning empires as a well articulated how-to manual for roleplaying. when you read a car’s instruction manual (they all come with them if you can believe it) it doesn’t make sense. some of it seems unneccesary and out of place, but when you’re in that sports-car and cruising along, it all comes together and you realize that all the manual does is try to articulate how to have the best driving experience you can.

so, to summarize - to decide if Burning Empires is right for you, you have to ask yourself and your players these questions

  1. (the easy party). sci-fi, yes or no.
  2. (is a little tougher). are the players you’ll be playing with the kind that can commit to taking control of scenes?
  3. (is kind of hard) do the players thrive off making intense, terribly bone-chilling and emotionally difficult choices?
  4. (perhaps the most difficult to grasp - and probably the reason you asked in the first place) are you and the other players willing to learn the rules well enough to get/look past their surface value into their intent? the rules themselves are fairly easy. are you willing to allow ‘rules’ to focus your game into one great scene after another? some people would rather try and ‘find those great scenes’. i think everyone here probably likes Burning Empire’s so much because the game has nothing but those scenes…

Thank you to everyone thats taken the time to answer my question and clarify my concerns.

The game definitely sounds like it ticks most of the boxes that my group would look for in an RPG.

Now I must seriously think about getting my hands on a set.

Oh damn it sold to the guy in the back with the slug in his brain.

I think I’ll jump in.

will let you all know how it goes.



Just wanted to take time to say a final thank you to all who answered my post and clarifying my concerns.

I can now happily announce that I am a proud father of one bouncing baby Burning Empires book.

Thank you all.


no problem man. we love to spread the love.

keep us updated on your actual play. if you have any rough spots, this forum is awesome at helping you through the first few icebreaking sessions so you can get to the real grit.