Running low stakes games?

Hey, I’m interested in using Burning Wheel to run a game where the characters are involved in conflicts and situations on a very personal level, without a huge dramatic situation in the background.

I’m mostly familiar with Burning Wheel as a game of political intrigue or struggle, or mythical quests. I don’t have any experience with it as a game of personal stories in the context I’m thinking here, and so I’m wondering if anyone has any experience with it in that context.

If so, did the system fight you anywhere? What conversations were constructive in setting up your game? Or did Burning Wheel smoothly guide you through the kind of game you wanted with only a correctly set up situation?


System works great for games that involve more mundane stakes. It is the buy in of the characters that make the big drama!

We once played an epic tale of bringing about the Resurrection of the god of creation (a mammoth) whilst haunted by a god of death (a wolf) aided by a corrupted priesthood. The characters journey to beyond the edge of the world to the realm of death. They rescued loved ones and wept the death of others, they learned mystic martial arts to do deadly battles. They met the god of death, the dread wolf Nyxx, and spoke with the ghost of the creation god, Ea. All this and more. But the the thing we still talk about is the Resource roll to acquire another bison-beast to the family farm. Now that was life and death tension.

Manage expectations. Tell them what game you want and select lifepaths accordingly. Village and peasant lifepaths produce characters with less clot and more local concerns. Nobles and outcastes tend to be dynamic and powerful. As do sorcerers and faith, of course.

BW works great for these stories. In a solo play we played a surviving soldier returning to his home village after a pointless (and insignificant) war. His father blames him for his brother death, and his sweetheart loves another.

Throughout the play we explored the pain of the father and discovered that his sweethearts child was in truth his own. The result of that final act of passion. The actions of the nobles (big picture) was nothing but a curse on the peasantry. We ended just as recruiters were coming to town to seek new blood for the barons army…

BW is perfect for this style of play.


BW does low stakes extremely well. That’s because of BITs, of course. They’re the most scalable mechanic in all RPGs. And that’s because they’re so personal to the individual PC. And a peasant’s belief in raising a prize-winning hog is just as important to her as killing Bat-Morgog the Unkillable is to the Elven Lord.

We played one where a group of teen-aged, wanna-be criminals scrapped for territory in a few blocks of a slum.

There was one game I heard involving farmers trying to win the country fair, despite the scheming of the rival family.

Heck, even Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea could’ve been a BW adventure!

You just need solid Beliefs.


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