Questions about beliefs

I’m hoping experienced folks would be willing to educate me around beliefs. I’m the GM in a soon to start campaign, with three players. We’re all pretty new to BW, either complete novices, or having played a few sessions a couple years ago. I’ve read and listened to lots of discussion on beliefs and I think I have a good handle on them, but I’m always interested in hearing other peoples suggestions.

One area I’m confused about is the relationship of Persona and Fate to beliefs, and the frequency of awarding said Artha. The BWG book suggests awarding a Persona each session, yet if it’s for the resolution of personal goals, perhaps we are writing beliefs incorrectly, or perhaps I’m not envisioning how to GM correctly so that beliefs are resolved so frequently. As such I’d like to throw up the characters beliefs, as they stand so far, and see what advice you might give, either on improving beliefs, or on how to poke them.

Background context: The game is set on the edge of an expanding empire, the expansion is being pushed by a ‘One God’ that has outlawed all magic and all other gods. The game setting is a free city that is just being prodded by the empire in preparation for the next stage of conquest. The location is far more mountainous than the Empire’s native grasslands, and so the Empire is approaching cautiously, though the Divine Mountain of a major opposing pantheon is deep in the mountains, so the Empire is determined to push on and building a road for access through the mountains. The PCs are a Spirit Binder, an Enchanter and a Priest of a outlaw church, hence all targets of the Imperial Church. They are all wishing to resist the Imperial expansion.

The first 2 sets of beliefs are, I think, not action oriented enough. And they only have 2 each, so far…

Muata (Spirit Binder), who’s twin sister was taken by slavers:

  1. I believe to find my kidnapped twin I must learn as much as I can about slavers (and the Holmekk Slaving Clan).

  2. I believe the empire (dirty monotheism, culture, flaunting of the Many etc…everything they embody) is a foul false-god worshiping abomination and should be hindered in whatever way on whatever scale.

Tem (Priest of a pagan Nature God), a former Imperial Noble:

  1. The old religious ways must be revived to restore balance to the land and dissolve the empire. I will achieve this by healing and preaching to the general public and eventually establishing a places of worship and…

  2. My family is implicit in the slavery, sacrifice, and the caste that brings ruin to the land and people which brings great shame to me. I will subvert them by freeing slaves and preventing sacrifice at any opportunity. I must find information on Muata’s sisters captors.

The final set of beliefs are better, I think. Yet I’m still not sure how to approach this via Fate vs Persona awards.

Zap (Enchanter), Inventor, Arsonist and Insurrectionist:

  1. In order to destabilize the empire, I am going to disrupt the imperial road project. To do so, I will investigate the imperial road.

  2. I will help Muata find his enslaved sister by locating the slavers in the city.

  3. I will bring joy into the world, so I will bestow gifts upon those who deserve them.

  4. I will burn down the imperial church mission. So I will start accumulating supplies. (Fourth belief from Zealot trait).


Critique these beliefs and help me understand how to award Fate VS Persona for them, especially at the rate of one Persona per session (as per the rules).

Those beliefs look pretty good to me, but I can see some ways to make them more immediate. Here is some advice on how I would change them, some stuff you’ll want to plan for the first session, and some ideas for how you might see Fate and Persona getting handed out.
Also, you may already know this but I think the one Persona per session is total, not per belief. I think having some fate mine beliefs that give a fate every session and a couple goal oriented beliefs that take a session or two to resolve means you’ll get a persona and two fate on an average session.

  1. Good start, but why not try to find the kidnapped twin and rescue them in the first session? If it is really important you get a specific piece of information first, you could make the belief about getting that specific information. Otherwise, I’d just go for it right away. This belief could be revised to be worth a persona in the first session or two by rescuing the twin. If that’s impossible identify the first step that must be taken and make the belief about accomplishing that.
  2. Looks great as is, this will be a fate mine- you should be able to get a fate by hindering the empire in some way almost every session. I like “whatever way on whatever scale”- that’s the spirit!
  1. The first part about healing and preaching seems like another good fate mine, something you should attempt every session. Why “eventually” establish a place of worship? Starting immediately could make a great third belief for this character, one they could gun for persona in the first two sessions.
  2. The first part of this belief is also a good fate mine, you could free slave and prevent sacrifices almost every session. The part about finding the sisters captors could also be made into a third belief, and made concrete as a goal to gun for right away.
  1. Again, could be made immediate by attempting to disrupt the road. All these information gathering beliefs seem like unnecessary hedging. You could try to disrupt the imperial road the first session. If that’s impossible, what specifically do you need to know first? Could you try to gather the information and act in the first session, and maybe getting a fate for information gathering the first session and a persona for acting the second session if that doesn’t work out?
  2. If you can’t save the sister, this has the advantage of at least being a concrete piece of information you could get a persona for.
  3. I don’t know what this means.
  4. Again I’d aim to burn it down first session. I assume supplies means arson supplies? That works if you think it will take a whole session to accomplish.

If I was one of your players I’d rewrite the beliefs about information gathering and start doing things right away. If they really need to spend a whole session gathering information the first session they are really no worse off, they’d get a fate point for working towards the goal. Spending the whole first session gathering information sounds boring to me, though.
During the first session they should attempt to

  • Rescue the sister
  • Establish a place of worship
  • Disrupt the imperial road project
  • Burn down the imperial church mission
    If they succeeded at all those goals, they’d get an average of two persona a piece. If they only succeeded at about half those goals, they’d get the suggested one persona per session. They’d get fate for those goals for even attempting it.
    If it’s really totally impossible to accomplish those goals in the first session, identify the first step make that the goal.

They should also look for opportunities to
-Hinder the empire in some way
-Heal and preach to the public
-Free slaves and prevent sacrifices
which is another fate a piece. So if they succeed at half their goals, that’s two fate and one persona from beliefs, which is about what I’d expect.

As GM, you should be thinking about what challenges they would face to achieve their goals, but also how those goals could come into conflict. Or there could be a case where they might want to reconsider them. What if they have an opportunity to heal someone who supports the empire? What if preventing a sacrifice meant losing the opportunity to save the sister?

Ctrail’s post is a solid one, especially in laying out what these Beliefs are really dictating for the first session. That’s how you have to think of Beliefs as a GM: they’re what you have to run. And you should make that explicit for players! They’re telling you what to run, so they should be clear and detailed in what they want to play. If they want to build a church, make the Belief clearly about building a church now. If they want to rescue the sister, Beliefs about that. On the contrary, if they want the rescue to be a long, drawn-out deal, and it looks like they do, then breaking it into steps, starting with figuring out who stole her and where she is, sounds great. How you phrase Beliefs is really key to how sessions shape up.

In Lord of the Rings, from quite early on Frodo’s goal, and indeed the goal of the Fellowship, is to get the One Ring to Mount Doom. So he has this Belief: “I must throw the Ring into Mount Doom to save Middle-earth.” Right?


All the time, from video games to literature to episodic television, characters have driving motivations that can be summoned up. I must avenge my father, I must slay the dark lord, I must clear my name, I must reclaim my throne, I must prove myself worthy. These are all great plot-drivers. BW characters can thrive with these.

But Beliefs shouldn’t be these. Beliefs are the “what happens next” of the story. The Belief is for this chapter of the book or this episode of the show. You want to scale it down so that you get to see success, failure, and costs sooner. The Ring must go to Mount Doom, so I must leave my companions and do this alone. I must avenge my father, so I must find a master to teach me the way of the blade. The dark lord must be vanquished, which requires the Holy Spear, so I will find the map to its hiding place in the archives. And so on.

Beliefs often resolve and are replaced by next-step Beliefs. Now we’ve found the map, so “I must find a trustworthy guide through the Hideous Mire to reach the Shrine of the Spear.” And then, “I must pass through the Trials of the Shrine and retrieve the Spear.” And then, “I must convince the Dwarven Masters to reforge the broken Holy Spear.”

The point here is to slay the dark lord, but each individual Belief is a session or two in length. You’re spelling out what you want the game to do next as a player. It’s how you show where your interests lie, and essentially how you take part of the control of the story. How much you break down your Beliefs is, in part, how many steps you’re asking to take, and so how long and hard this quest is going to be.

It’s related to some other BW scale oddities. BW lets you say, “I want to sneak through the castle and murder the king in his sleep,” and roll Stealthy and just do it. That’s completely legit, as long as the king and his death aren’t a major part of the story central to lots of Beliefs. If it’s ancillary stuff, background material, think of how it might show up in a book. It could be a paragraph, or a throwaway line. So it’s a roll or two, or just Say Yes, and you move on. Beliefs are how you say, “No, this has to actually be played out in detail. I don’t just want to see what happened, I want to see it as it happens!”

So on to the specifics.

Muata: Belief 1 is good. It could be more specific—how Muata intends to learn about slavers. But it doesn’t have to be. This gives Persona when Muata does learn something important enough about slavers that the learning process is over and a new action is called for. Belief 2 is a giant picture thing, probably. It doesn’t sound like the player intends to immediately bring the empire down. For persona it needs specific actions, but it’s okay if this is an off-focus Belief, something that defines the character but happens more in passing than as a main intention, and is used for Fate.

Tem: Belief 3 is okay. Preaching and healing are fine, but those are going to get you Fate. Building a place of worship “eventually” is a cop-out. If it’s not now, it doesn’t belong in the Belief. If it is something Tem’s trying to do now, then the point is for Tem’s player to work to make that happen and for the GM to make that at least possible. Belief 4 I like. It has a strong big-picture motivation and then an immediate call to action. Like Belief 1 it could be specific—"I must find information by shaking down slavers/chatting up current slaves/whatever—but I don’t think it has to be.

Zap: Belief 5 is another investigation. Your players are investigative! Like the others, it could be more specific, but especially for a starting Belief it’s common for players to leave it broad. That’s okay, but it’s then imperative that you as a GM immediately throw out a clear, concrete opportunity to pursue it. Here are the imperial surveyors laying out the road’s course. Here’s where the maps are held. How are you going to go for it? 6 is the same as Beliefs 1 and 4, although missing the why a bit. Belief 7 is boring; it’s unclear why Zap is doing this, what he hopes to gain, or how he measures deserving. But hey, there’s still Fate to get if he really shows dedication to gift-giving. 8 is probably the best Belief of the bunch. It’s not just investigation, it’s the longer-term plan and action that will determine what happens. What supplies is he going to get for his grand arson?

I suggest you rework those investigative beliefs to state what they are looking for. Why does Muata need to know about slavers? She doesn’t, unless that leads to finding her sister. So, a belief like “I will join the Slaving Clan and find out where they are keeping my twin sister!” is much more actionable. What is Zap looking for about the Imperial Road Project. Does he need to know who’s funding it? Who’s backing it in the government? Or does he want to find out their security measures?

Thanks for the awesome replies! So much here to really chew on. I’m linking my players to this discussion; beliefs can be such a nebulous concept for us noobs.

Perhaps part of our hesitation in writing more impactful beliefs is that the PCs are only 4 LPs, and being unused to the system, we’re wary about taking on the whole imperial project head-on, first thing. A form of dipping a toe in to test the temperature.

If they are uncomfortable with the system you could run a demo game, with characters you will throw away afterwards. An investigatory session could serve the purpose of testing the waters, but an action packed session with characters they aren’t worried might be better for experimentation than a really cautious session.
Also, you have a lot of power to adjust the “difficulty level” with your failure consequences. For example, if getting caught would mean certain death, you could use other complications. I’ve been watching action/adventure movies to try to get better at this. In any Indiana Jones action sequence he fails over and over and over again, but the consequences tend to complicate the action.