I’m new to BW, and I’m pretty much in love - I’m enamoured of the rules.
So my next objective is to try to get the rest of my group enamoured, too.
However… there’s a major obstacle
We’ve been playing Pathfinder, and I’ve started DMing BW for about 3 or 4 sessions now (for some reason, I can’t recall exactly >.>). While there’s a lot of aspects they like, both of them find tracking tests to be a major hassle.
Specifically, my husband was saying that it feels like he has to break immersion, break the flow of the game, to track what his total dice were vs the obstacle on a chart, then mark it down on his character sheet.
Now, our version of Pathfinder bears almost no resemblance to the rules anymore - but then, during combat, we are tracking HP with every hit. To me, there’s really not that big of a difference >.> But apparently there is? I’ve only played one short session of BW with him DMing, so I can’t say much, but I really didn’t find it a hassle to mark it down while he was saying what happened as a result of what I did.
That said, have other people run into this problem, either themselves, or with others? Is it something that gets better the more you play? Is there a system for how to track this stuff quickly?
I’d suggest to them writing down the skill, number of dice rolled, and obstacle on some scratch paper when they make a roll. At the end of the session, they can work out whether each check was Routine, Difficult, or Challenging. Hopefully since that doesn’t involve looking up tables or doing any calculations it can be done quickly without taking them out of the game.
If you trust your memories, you might be able to get away with not marking them until the end of the session. But you have to stop and work out how many dice you’re rolling anyway, so I’m not sure how adding one additional step makes a difference?
I use the character sheets from the BWG book and it really is just a matter of a quick pencil mark on the sheet (the skills section has places to mark advancements, the little RDC bubbles after each skill). I mean, you’re already looking at it when you read your skill anyway. Another thing that helps me is having my book opened and book-marked to the proper pages for advancement charts (page 41). I believe that someone has put together some kind of a GM Screen for BWG, but I haven’t seen it yet.
The character sheet is really well designed, it’s the page fillpage that always slowed me down.
I think the best thing to do is keep a notebook open and log the tests as they come up, then adjust skills during downtime and quiet moments. Will it break immersion? Sure. It’ll be a little intrusive for a bit and then they’ll probably get the hang of it like they have with tracking hp in Pathfinder. Or not.
Another vote for just writing skill, number of dice, and Ob in the moment. Figure out whether it’s routine, difficult, or challenging and whether there’s any advancement can be done at the end of the session, between sessions, or during the session when someone else’s character is in the spotlight.
For the most part, you can also log the test before the dice are rolled, while you’re mustering your dice pools, since success or failure isn’t a factor unless you’re rolling Perception, Faith or Resources.
Hmm. I feel as though tracking skill/dice/Ob could be more cumbersome. At the very least, it’s just shifting the logging to another place.
I think the real problem might just be learning curve. It’s a new system, and so a new way of doing things. It’s gonna feel awkward for a while, like wearing a new pair of leather boots or something. You have to break it in: you have to train yourself to use the system effectively.
So, I’d recommend pointing that out, and also printing off (or writing out) the Routine/Difficult/Challenging chart for everyone to reference.
Eventually, as they start doing it, it’ll become second nature.
EDIT: Shaun also has a great point. Logging the test before you roll it means that you’re doing all the busywork ahead of time, and it fits more naturally. If you’re trying to hit a specific difficulty tier (e.g. figuring out how many FoRKs you can take while still keeping a test Challenging), you’re likely already trying to figure that out as you assemble your pool.
Make sure they understand they’re not bad people if they deliberately try to make sure they’re rolling the right number of dice to get the kind of tests they need for advancement.
If they have the mindset that this sort of strategic mechanical play is somehow wrong, like how in Pathfinder it might seem “dirty” if they ever said “but think of the experience points!” when arguing in favor of having their characters do something, then they aren’t likely to ever be in favor of tracking this stuff. Not because the act of recording the tests is difficult or tedious, but because they lack any motivation to care about it in the first place.
(After all, it isn’t wrong to care about the experience points in Pathfinder if you’re actually playing a game about killing a bunch of monsters - the points motivate the players to face tougher challenges, which makes the game more interesting and causes the level-up wheels to turn. Likewise, it isn’t wrong to care about the tests you’re earning in Burning Wheel if the group agrees they are playing a game where they want the players to take risks, face failure, and make tough decisions about what’s really important.)
It does eventually become invisible, I promise. We typically roleplay, set up a test, roll the dice, cheer or cry, and then move on without leaving the moment. While transitioning to the next scene, marking down the test takes a second is completely unobtrusive, as the obs and type of test are memorized. There’s also a really handy chart somewhere that removes the math, making it even easier to mark down quickly and quietly.
Also keep in mind that a single player isn’t generally going to be rolling for lots of tests.
In a normal 3 or 4 person 3 to 4 hour session I might make a roll 6 times or so? Not counting any scripted conflicts that come out*. Then maybe plus a few for any help I offer the other players. So call it 10 tests or so. Marking down 10 tests for advancements in 3 or 4 hours isn’t too hard to keep up with. Especially if someone makes it their job to help remind everyone else.
Also, I think it tends to be a little self-correcting, especially if there’s someone in the group that never forgets to mark advancement, because eventually they’re going to start increasing stats/skills and other people are gonna be like “Damn, I haven’t increased anything, I better start paying attention to advancement.”
*and even if scripting does happen you’re still only counting one of those tests anyhow.