Rping The Crusades in Burning Wheel

I’ve been playing tons of modded EU4 (Renaissance/Medieval Strategy Game) as the Knights of Rhodes, who are Crusader-Monks sworn to “protect” the Mediterranean from the Muslims. This, and some patterns in the lifepath system, got me thinking a bit.

I realized that it basically takes at least 5 lifepaths to be in a military order. (Born Noble, page, squire, knight, Lead to religious, Military order) The only other way is basically hopping around through “crummy” lifepaths to meet the requirements early on. Thereby, it is difficult to make this specific character concept. For those who wish to play a crusader-like character, simply fudge the system a little.

I propose this: make a new setting called “Military Order”, with 4 life-paths.

-Attendant (Identical to noble Page)
-Squire (Identical to noble Squire)
-Knight of the Order (Like noble knight only…)
-Grandmaster of the Order

The Knight of the Order gets a trait called “Oath of the Seven Tongues” as a required trait. This gives him/her a 1D reputation among the Knights of his Order and Nobility. However, he/she also must make a vow of poverty, chastity, piety, and martial prowess in the name of protecting the church. If he/she breaks any of these rules, he/she loses Faith (if he/she had it) and the 1D fame becomes 1D infamy with the same circles/people.

Grandmaster is like this:
Grandmaster of the Order 5 yrs 30 +1M,+1P City, Village, Noble, Religious
Skills: 7 pts: Doctrine, Intimidation, Command, Strategy, Appropriate Weapons, Logistics
Traits: 2 pts: Flailing Puppet (At GM’s discretion, any failed circles test could mean he is called to lead the Order once more by the papacy)
Requirements/Prerequisite: Knight of the Order, the Your Grace trait, and must be over 30 years old.

The members of the Knights of Malta/St. John/Rhodes are young noblemen and men at arms who lead the Crusades when called for by the Pope. All nations must provide annually groups of soldiers to join their forces. Therefore, the vast majority of the Knights are younger than 30. Those older are already dead, have retired from active service, or are in a desk job.

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As it turns out, there is already a belief involving being sworn to a military order. Either one is equally as viable for the setting I had in mind.

Why is this an issue? Couldn’t you play a 5 lifepath game? Or 4 lifepaths if you wanted to play fresh knights who just joined the order? I don’t understand what the problem is you are trying to solve.

But the crummy lifepaths are fun! :smiley:

I think that’s the intent, frankly: if you want to be a seasoned knight-monk, you really ought to be playing a 5-LP character. Otherwise? (Born Noble -> lead to Soldier setting -> Apprentice -> lead to City Dweller setting -> Pilgrim -> lead to Religious setting -> Knight of a Military Order) is a totally viable way that lands you with 12 LP skill points, 5 general skill points, +2 M and +2 P, 3 trait points (admittedly a bit low, but you could swap out Born Noble for Born Peasant to sacrifice some resources and general skill points for 2 extra trait points), and a skill list that includes Read, Write, Doctrine, Riding, Armor Training, weapons skills, and City-wise. Granted, you don’t have any die traits as LP traits.

At 20 years of age, you’d also wind up in your prime stat bracket. Applying LP bonuses, that’s 9 Mental and 18 Physical, which is enough to have 4s and 5s in everything. (Or 3s and a 4 in Physical stats, and pick one to gray-shade…)

Admittedly, you only wind up with 31 resource points, but that’s enough to get a warhorse, run-of-the-mill arms with run-of-the-mill light mail, and a relationship along with the basic essentials.

That sounds just about right for a 4-LP character. You’re not horrible, but you’ve got a long way to go before you can be a legendary hero. If you want a real leg up, definitely go for 5 lifepaths.

Maybe I’m missing something, but grandmaster in 4 LP? Grandmaster seems like an 8 LP character to me.

I’m not fixing an issue, I’m creating the means for a simple setting change. I do understand what you are saying and will edit the post to clarify that.

Same with Grandmaster. I messed up the requirements. Should have “and the Your Grace trait”
as well as over 30 years old.

Carpe, you are correct, but as above, the apprentice and lack of knighthood basically fails to meet the character concept here. This is, however, entirely my fault for not describing it very well.

If your aim is realism, I don’t think breaking vows of chastity, poverty or piety would really cause expulsion from the order. Of course if you are creating a romanticized Knights of Malta, then of course that’s something else.

You could also represent such characters as four lifepath, just like you would make a new knight as a three lifepath squire. Remember, your last lifepath represents the last stage in your life before the game starts. So the new recruits wouldn’t have the military order lifepath yet. In the setting you have described, those with the military order lifepath are rare due to attrition, and such a character would represent some who is just retiring / starting their desk job.

BW does the Crusades pretty well.
You play:
One veteran knight of the holy orders (5 LP)
One knight freshly arrived in the Holy Lands (4 LP)
One turcopole (BN, Page, M-a-A, Cavalryman, Quartermaster)
One page/squire (depending on how skilled the player is)
and of course the Chaplain (BN, page, acolyte, priest, Chaplain)

I think most of the military orders were made up of knights (originally poor knights) who joined, not people who were knighted and promoted through the ranks of the order. (I am not an expert in early medieval history!) But I also think what you want is better served by just having people play standard knights and have at least one Belief be the necessary bunch of oaths to the order. But then, if you’re requiring all nations to provide men to your order… it’s not really a holy military order anymore. It’s a standing army. And most of its members should actually be conscripts with peasant/soldier lifepaths.

Putting an age requirement on any lifepath that isn’t explicitly bound to age is a weird choice, and I wouldn’t advise it. It’s even weirder considering how you’re also basically making it impossible to get there without being 30 anyway if you must be a knight first.

If anything, I think you’d be better off with standard LPs, having most of the knighted members just be regular knights, and then maybe adding a Religious LP for the grandmaster. But I wouldn’t even do that.

That one looks really fun. I didn’t think it looked legal until I noticed Page had riding- can I take it that qualifies for Cavalryman?

Considering that Page has Riding and Squire has Mounted Combat, it’s clear that Burning Wheel follows my understanding of how one becomes a knight, that you start caring for and learning about horses from an early age.

Looking at the skills granted by a life path are always worth a look to better understand the built in setting.


By the time of 1309, (the setting of the Knights of Rhodes) almost all of the Catholic church was corrupt in some way. Positions such as Grandmaster, Bishop, or Arch-Bishop came with vast plots of church owned lands, form chapels to mansions. However, the maintenance of these plots had to be provided for by their owners. Thereby, a priest from a relatively poor village had a 1 in a million chance of being able to afford the position. In the end, almost all church positions were filled by nobility who wished to take advantage of church tax breaks and the land provided.

The Knights are a standing army. They operate from the island of Rhodes off modern day Turkey. They led basically every crusade, and drew from the standing armies of nations around the world. The standing part of this is critical. European armies had 2 parts; a standing army made up of heavy infantry and mounted, lance wielding knights, and a part consisting of conscripts drawn from vassal’s levies. This created military forces with mostly poorly armored peasants with pole-arms and bows.

The armies that fought in the crusades, however, are different. They are entirely made from professional soldiers provided by the nobility and the church. (Yes, churches had their own levies).

Thank you Luke. Those are excellent choices crusader character lifefpaths in BW.

The 30 years requirement was meant to make you take extra lifepaths to become Grandmaster. I think I botched the math though.

I imagine that the young turcopole served as a man-at-arms/sergeant with a wealthy baron or lord who went on crusade. Then when his lord grew bored and returned home (or was killed in action), our wanderer stays on and serves as a horseman in a mercenary company (working for the holy orders, of course) for a few years before getting noticed by the masters of the order and invited to manage things at the priory.

The Templars had three ranks: the knights, the sergeants and the chaplains.

To become a knight of the order, one had to be at least a of the gentry, a nobleman. Each knight had one or two squires, who weren’t sworn to the order but hired on afor a set period.

The sergeants were drawn from non-noble families. They served as blacksmiths, masons, administrators, etc., and also in a military capacity as light horse. The Commander of the Vault of Acre, the admiral of the Templar fleet, was always drawn from the ranks of the Sergeantry.

The chaplains were ordained priests.

The turcopoles would have been locally recruited Syrians, possibly some muslims but mostly Christianized Seljuks and Syrian Eastern Orthodox Christians. They were auxiliaries, serving as mounted archers, light horse and footmen. They would not have been considered part of the order. For instance, a turcopole would not have been allowed to sit at the same table as a knight, sergeant or chaplain.


In all honesty, I am realizing now that the best thing would be to either go for high life-path count (6-8) and do Grandmasters and Kings in the Crusades or just go 4-5 life-paths as a Knight and rack up trait points for Zealot or Faithful to represent the religious ties.