I’ve offered to run Burning Wheel (for the first time - I do have 2 Torchbearer sessions under my belt) for some folks here in a month or two. I may run the intro scenario, but I need to have a setting ready for after that and I shoulder really start to prep. Any suggestions?
When I look at my shelf all I see are high or Ultra high fantasy (Ptolus and EarthDawn), and I don’t think those are going to work :slight_smile:

I found I enjoyed BW the most without an established setting. I sit my players down and we discuss an opening situation. Then we create characters together. If somebody creates an elf or a wizard, I know elves and wizards exist, and I ask the player questions about elves or wizards, asking them to do the work of defining them. If nobody created an elf or wizard, I leave that to be established later or I ask if any of the players have a strong preference on whether or not they exist in this particular world. After character creation, I look at wises, and ask the players to give me some facts about the immediate situation that pertain to their wises. Once we’re done, we have a fully fleshed out situation, with a lot of hooks into the wider world that we can explore later. Then as we’re playing, I let the players use their wises to generate the world around them, throwing in twists and my own thoughts wherever I’m inspired to do so.

If you’re running The Sword as an introduction, the outcome of that might very well determine what’s next! You could look at the end of the scenario, then have the players make characters to explore one aspect of the aftermath. Does Ssisz take the Sword home to the Fields? Then maybe there’s a Roden uprising, and the players all make Dwarven characters from a caravan that got attacked by the Roden. Does Robard get away with the Sword? The players could make Mannish criminals in an underworld that got turned upside-down by the introduction of such a valuable relic.

Luke has a handy “13 questions to start your campaign” or something around here that he cooked up. world building in BW has more to do with character beliefs than locations of cities, names of gods etc (especially if those cities and gods aren’t anywhere to be found in a characters belief). I think you’re right to want to world build, the book does specifically recommend using the first game for this purpose in collaboration with the other players.

Touch call, without knowing your players or their interests (or yours, even!).

I’d try a simple trick: Tell your players to make “interesting” characters… in isolation. I know, I know! Heresey! But if you let them know that those are just ‘focus group’ characters and that they’ll be remaking them (even from scratch, if they like!) then they could do it fast and loose and basically play with the lifepaths to find what seems fun to play to them (not “what setting looks cool?” but “what will I usually be doing at the table that is cool?”).

THEN you can have a group-creation starting session where you look at what everyone came up with, see if there are obvious synergies or groupings (e.g., everyone made a politicking elf… well, you’re likely to be in Elfland a lot!). Ask if the outliers had other interesting options that they set aside to pursue the current character build, and see if those ‘paths not taken’ would tighten up the grouping or further-focus the scope and scale of the setting.

But you could end up with half dirty street murder hobos and half high society movers and shakers. THEN you’ve got a longer talk and harder work to do on the setting that will stitch them together (rags to riches?). OR you’ve got two groups wanting very different things and perhaps a game will not ever really gel.

[Disclaimer: I have not been able to successfully synergize a game of BW after a couple of tries. I came up with the above technique expressly to AVOID long convos about setting and scale. Rather, SHOW me the character that you want to play and we’ll FIND the setting together.]

I appreciate everyone’s input. I’ve got some great suggestions from folks on G+. Using Microscope as our opener for one, and to look into Midnight as a setting.

Here are my assorted thoughts:

  1. Burning Wheel can absolutely do high fantasy. Want flying castles, fireballs, and mighty-thewed warriors who can hack through a dozen orcs without breaking a sweat? It works. It doesn’t look like D&D—that hacking is probably an Ob 3 test, not a full combat—but you can do it. Grittiness or cinematic-ness is a function of what intents you allow and how you set Obs, not the game itself. Except in the wound system, essentially, but if you reserve that for important fights then you get the cinema of heroes who only take meaningful punishment from important villains.

  2. Earthdawn and Ptolus are both difficult not because of level of fantasy but because of how entwined setting and system are. Earthdawn I don’t know terribly well, but Ptolus is the D&D 3.5 setting. It makes all the assumptions of 3.5 rules, and in some ways ends up as the opposite of Torchbearer. Dungeon crawling with resurrection insurance, adventurers who suddenly earn years of workman’s pay on a lucky find, powerful adventurers running rampant. Burning Wheel can do most of it, but the different rules for magic can be a little tricky if you follow them carefully (like, say, if you have a wizard in the party). But it’s workable.

  3. I’d actually consider taking Ptolus as a base, although you’d have to be willing to play a little fast and loose, especially if your players are familiar with D&D rather than BW-like games. Give them the player’s handbook, sit down together, and discuss what you all find interesting and exciting. Then build a campaign out of it. If people love the politics of the too-many-emperors, use it. If they find the Inverted Pyramid cool, have lots of wizardly stuff. If they like the chaos cults or are interested in reclaiming the homeland of the Stonelost dwarves or whatever it is, neat, you can work with it. What a setting really provides is a framework upon which to build that first and all-important cohesive first idea of party and campaign.

  4. That said, BW stocks don’t do Earthdawn or BW races very well, or Midnight for that matter. Be aware that differences can be big and be cautious with them.

  5. I would never, ever use Microscope with another setting. The whole point of Microscope is building your own setting from the ground up. But it could work as an interesting prelude to BW. Just understand that BW doesn’t really need or even thrive on a strong setting. What it needs is a strong big picture and immediate situation. What’s the game about, the stuff looming on the horizon? And what’s the thing that’s driving play as soon as you start? That matters more than the last thousand years of backstory, although Microscope will at least probably give you collective setting buy-in.

To echo what everyone else has said, BW is very much about emergent play. You can establish some big things during the initial character burning session, but the most vital part is to establish a core situation that cannot be ignored by the players. As the campaign progresses, the vision of your world should come into focus.

One thing to keep in mind for later is returning to a world you built with the players. After our first campaign, which was emergent, I went back and built up the world, but not so much that the players can’t go in and build for themselves later. As the GM the world is your character. The players can modify that character with wises and whatnot, but the rules are pretty clear that a wise roll can’t be made if it contradicts something the GM had in mind already.

Your job is to create a world that will prompt your players to write Beliefs about it. Make it matter. Don’t just make up a kingdom, make it a kingdom that’s falling apart under internal or external pressure, like a zombie plague that only infects those who fail the test of the dark god who controls it (and turns the winners into blood liches!). Look at their relationships. It’s your job to make those things pop. Does a character have a father that’s listed as a good relationship? Find a way to break that and make it not so good, like a witch that’s enchanted the father and is turning him into a horrific monstrosity. As the GM it’s your duty to find something inside of the player’s Beliefs and twist it into something that you enjoy. They’ll love the fact that you’re messing with their stuff and will push back with their Beliefs, causing unintended results that’ll drive the game forward.

One last thought on world building: make a map after the first or second session, but (in my opinion) no later than the first trait vote. Look up some real world maps for inspiration and ask the simple question: “How can I **** this up?” Then gleefully add towns that practice cannibalism, monasteries where mirrors show you your soul, and sites of eldritch horror, whatever strikes your fancy. If you make it big and powerful enough the players will respond and push back. And then, when they get to these places? Use them to challenge beliefs. Got someone with a pacifist belief? Make sure that site of eldritch horror already has someone trying to clean the place out with extreme prejudice and has very good reasons for doing so. Got someone who thinks that lies and trickery is the only way to get stuff done? Have those mirrors in the monastery produce fun-house mirror clones that are so good and sanctimonious that he’ll be sick looking at them, then have them try to solve the same problems the good and knight in shining armor way.

The point is this: when you design a world make sure it’s a good container to challenge people. Subtle is never what I’m going for in world-building, that’s left up to actual game play. But then again, I like starting games with things like massive riots and towns blowing up.

Suddenly I feel like I understand your GMing style much more now, hahahaha.

(Clarifier for the confused, I play with Spyders IRL.)

Heh, yeah. When in doubt blow things up

You don’t even need to be in doubt. Just blow it up.

And if you’re not going to blow it up right now make sure you can blow it up later! That’s a setting.

For what it’s worth.
My first game we burned off of the Elder Scrolls games (background, maps, politics, history) all characters and skills were straight BWG and we used the setting as a great sandbox to fill up as our wises and bits directed us to do.
Any setting that you burn for inspiration just take what you need to capture its flavor for your BWG game rather than trying to morph BWG into something it isn’t meant to be.

From my experience, BW is about taking wonderful worlds, and then making them such a mess that they are unrecognizable. But if you’ve done it well, the messed up setting should be just as inspiring and intriguing as the one you began with, if not more so.

I recommend running with either Burning Sands, The Blossoms are Falling, or Tolkein’s Middle Earth, as those are worlds that everyone either understands or can read a 30 page book and instantly understand. Then, mess them up as your characters quest for a better world. Or, a world they like more. Expect them to fail, and make things worse, but try all the same.

I think I’ll weigh in with disagreement. Although grand dysfunction is certainly an interesting and fertile backdrop, you can also run solid games in a setting that works and remains working. A functional court, a well-run mercenary company, even the citizens of a quiet town, all have their own stories that can be compelling and fascinating and not require the flames to blaze as everything crumbles around them.

Apocalypse is very liberating. Sometime it’s interesting to see what can be done within the constraints of a well-ordered world where you can’t shank your problems, much less seize control of the rag-tag band and lead them to victory. Sometimes there are no rag-tags around and the problems are structural or existential, not personal.

What is this? Not shanking your problems? Do explain in greater detail! This is interesting!

Indeed. :smiley:

This may explain some of the differences between the games I run and the games that Spyders runs. :stuck_out_tongue:

I don’t know. Life is about change. I kinda feel that if my characters don’t have the ability or at least want to change society and create movement then it doesn’t feel like I’m playing real people.

Well, I do think there’s a bit of a spectrum between “change” and “burn everything down in the flames of madness”. :smiley: