Should I burn an Emotional Attribute?

For a campaign setting I’m working on I’m trying to create a new race called the Keralli. The lifepaths come easy, and I have a simple magic system that I want to implement, that should be fairly easy to create. The problem is about Emotional Attributes. I read the section of the magic burner about creating emotional attributes, and I feel like I can justify it, but I’m not sure if I’m just stretching things to make it special. I figured the best way to figure out if I need it or not was to consult the forums. I’ll walk through what the magic burner suggests, and then talk a little more about the history of this species.

In this section I will briefly describe the history of the Keralli. It’s probably not important so you can skip down if you want, as this might get a little long winded.


1. Are the characters more than human? Is there something special about them that sets them apart?

Yes. They are vaguely humanoid in shape, but clearly different. They are much larger and muscular, but have a predatory grace. They have extra organs (similar to a space marine), heal rapidly, and have more acute senses.

2. Are they dogged by a fate, destiny, or higher power? Does that fate or higher power grant them aid while damning them at the same time?

I believe so. The Keralli have been forsaken by their gods, who literally created them. Without their gods, they traveled the world, finding purpose in the causes of others. Essentially, they became a species of mercenaries, with tribes spread around the world. As a species, they believe that they have nothing left to fight for, so they essentially find causes that they deem worthy in order to avoid facing their own nihilism.

They were created as soldiers, and their gods gave them many gifts that cause them to be extremely efficient. Even though their gods abandoned them, the gifts remain.

3. Is there a theme that applies to all of the characters of this type? Is there a common set of behaviors?

The Keralli follow a code called the Keral. It could be described as a religion, but it is more than that. The Keral is an honor code (similar to that of a Knight/Samurai), but taken to the next level. It also has a religious aspect, because they generally have no government. The Keral vaguely prophesies that a warleader will unite all of the tribes, and lead them to their last fight.

  1. Can these quirks and behaviors be attributed to other standard Burning Wheel mechanics?

This is what I don’t know about. I feel like I have a decent understanding of the rules, but Burning Wheel is a very large game, and I haven’t been playing that long.


The question ends up being, should this race get an Emotional Attribute? Tailoring Grief was my first instinct, but that doesn’t really explain their cultural belief in fighting for others with a just cause. Anger also doesn’t quite hit the mark, though it feels a little closer. However, I’d be just as happy to find out that they don’t deserve an Emotional Attribute, because that’s less work for me. If that’s the case, what common traits would you recommend I give them to represent their beliefs?

Hi Cotillion,

I think stock-specific Traits are what you’re after, but I’ll ask: What’s the arc of their emotional attribute? What situations would cause them to make tests? What happens when a character advances the attribute to exponent 10?

Emotional attributes tend to be a one-way trip. If you’re interested in exploring that journey through play, you might want to create an emotional attribute. If you’d rather use their situation as roleplaying inspiration, stick with Traits.

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I guess I hadn’t really thought about what happens when they reach 10… maybe they just get tired of fighting for other people, which seems underwhelming. I’ll give it some more thought, but in the meantime, what sort of traits would you recommend?

Possible end-of-arc outcomes…

• They fade and become will-less sentinels. (Maybe they take on the appearance of statues?)
• Their spirits pass into their weapons, that they may live on through the new wielders of those weapons.
• They stop where they are, and will move no more until the warleader comes to rouse them.

I think I like the last one best, because of how it ties into their mythology.

Hmm, so that sounds like a bit like dwarves.

Which is to say: you have an emotional attribute that’s inherently self-destructive (I mean, all of them kinda are, but you know) and a lot of social machinery to try to keep it in check.

So, what’s the dark truth of their existence? That’s the emotional attribute.

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Particularly bringing up bushido makes me think that maybe Honor/Shame from The Blossoms Are Falling, or a variant thereof, would be perfect. But it’s hard to get your hands on that, and it’s a lot of extraneous purchase for one system.

I think it can be helpful to step back a little bit from the details and examine the stock. What basic drive unites them all? What single word describes it? What does it help them with, and what is the downward spiral it drives them into? (I think the reason their gods abandoned them could happily figure in here, but since you didn’t say I can’t incorporate it.)

Here are some thoughts to throw out:

Honor alone is not a great emotional attribute, I think. Behaving honorably doesn’t really spiral enough. Emotional attributes also tend to get tested by things beyond the character’s (and player’s) control; you can’t really accidentally behave honorably.

Shame is a great attribute, because then you have the interplay between the expectation of honor and the inevitable failure to live up to it. This could be something of a simplified and modified version of Blossoms Honor/Shame. You advance shame by failing to live up to the demands of honor, with higher tests for lower demands. E.g. Failing to stick with the literal wording of something you casually said you would do would be low Ob. Failing to keep a solemn oath to a superior because of cowardice or because it conflicts with base desires would be high Ob. You can spend artha to use Shame to fuel your abilities—and here I think it would be helpful to use it when acting honorably, spurred by the impetus of accumulated shame—but doing so counts towards Shame. Hitting 10 means the crushing weight of old shames and failures becomes too much to bear, and the character kills himself (quietly or in a grand and honorable gesture) or becomes twisted into something monstrous.

Nihilism or Resignation could also be the attribute. In this case, the Keralli’s lives, and their social structures and religion/code, are all about trying to cover over the yawning emptiness inside them. You advance by not acting and not caring. A low-Ob test would be for not putting forth one’s utmost effort in mundane daily tasks. A high-Ob test would be knowing that everything is on the line and just giving up. I’m a little less clear on what you’d tap these for, since they seem more tilted towards not doing anything. The best idea I have, and one that fits their martial flavor, is calling upon the attribute for Steel tests or to reduce Hesitation by dint of being so world-weary and hollow that nothing fazes you anymore.

For a different take, you could use Rage. Now the Keralli aren’t lost and bereft, they’re angry. They’re angry at their gods for leaving them, the world for not giving them worthy causes, and each other for being a bunch of living reminders of the race’s inadequacy. Decide what makes them angriest and set tests for it; there are all kinds of things that rage can feed into for artha.

Love Alex_P’s musings on what would make for a good Emotional Attribute.

Wayfarer, that’s some really interesting stuff–I don’t know that I’d go with Rage, though. Seems like it’d cut too close to Hatred to be distinct? Shame and Resignation are really interesting!

What are the gifts their god gave them? Are these gifts purely physical in nature, granting them great might in combat? Are they a beastial people & do they struggle with this bbeast within? If so you could counter the honor thread of their culture (about controlling and directing theri bestial energies) with the internal ‘Beastial Instinct’ thier god granted them.

Beastial Instinct would grant them bonuses at purely physical tasks as well as tracking, survival and such, but when invoked would deny them access to higher thinking powers (complex skills like Persuasion, Locksmith, Crafting, etc). When their inner beast became too much for them I imagine they would turn into wild beasts interested in only eating, sleeping, mating and protecting territory. Their fellow citizenry might be obliged to hunt them down and kill them. It’s a time of sorrow.

I really like the ideas for Shame and Bestial Instinct. I think I’ll probably use Grief for the Keralli, because it seems to fit better. And I do have another race that Bestial Instinct would fit pretty well. Thanks for all the help!

Now that their gods have abandoned them, what’s missing? Sure, there’s “purpose,” but you can just, like, find purpose: make up your own, borrow someone else’s, &c.

What’s the thing that makes them feel like they’re irreparably broken?

Do you have lifepaths for these new stocks? I’d love to see them.

Are you going to use the Grief of the Elves unchanged?

In answer to Alex P: In this world’s mythology the Jotun were the first species to gain sentience. They were primarilly a subteranean species of humanoids who were at the bottom of the food chain. The world they lived in was ruled by Dragons, the creators of the world, and the source of magic. Jotun themselves reflect the fact that they evolved as a prey species- large but not too large to stand out to a dragon, and with eyes shifted more to the sides of their head. At some point, a clan chief named Brood killed the first dragon, absorbing its ability to create magic. He then lead the Jotun on a genocide against the rest of the dragons, reclaiming the surface world. Years pass and the Jotun who survived the war have established a massive empire, with Brood at the top as the First God- The Lord of Light. Basically, souls have power in this world, and killing something gives you the power over its soul- so killing a dragon (who are innately connected to a type of magic), gives you control over that magic. In the course of the war against the dragons, Brood gained enough souls to Ascend, basically becoming a God. Most of his Knights also ascended, becoming the first pantheon. Some centuries pass, and other sentient races have started to develop- the Ael (elf-like beings), Dray (think Trell from Mass Effect) and T’Chaka (larger, more bestial Dray)- from whatever remnants of dragons still existed, and finally the primitive ancestors of humans. A tribe of Jotun warriors adopted the humans, and years of inbreeding created the Keralli, a separate species that viewed the Jotun as their gods.

Soon after this there was a cataclysm caused by the last true dragon, and in order to preserve the world, Brood mustered the other First Gods, and the armies of the Jotun Empire. In an effort to shorten what is becoming a very long post, Brood had to sacrifice his entire empire, using the power of their souls to stop the destruction of the earth. There’s more to it than that, and Brood ends up surviving but I’ll leave it at that. The Keralli’s shame comes from the fact that they refused Brood’s call to arms, and for that were forsaken. The Keralli’s connection to their gods were severed, and they began to travel the world unable to bear their shame.

Whew, that was long, but hopefully it makes sense, and explains a bit more about the world I’m trying to create.

Now, Wayfarer, I have not really created lifepaths for the Keralli yet, as I’m still working out the kinks in their magic system, and I want to finish that first. I also have a couple more races to figure out as well. I would be more than happy to post information about them as well, if you’re curious and would definitely welcome any help you’d be willing to offer (lifepaths or otherwise). I will borrow a lot from the grief mechanic, but will tweak the causes for advancement. Still trying to find a place for bestial instinct.