Similar Tools For Similar Skills

I hope this is legal.
In my game, I allow characters with similar skills use one set of tool to cover both skills. They can only “trade down, not up” and of course, it must make sense. I’ll let them use a calligraphy kit to use their writing skill but not the other way around (a writing kit wouldn’t have the right quality of supplies to impress the court or nobility like the calligraphy kit would). Obviously, if your kit runs dry it’s considered to be out of supplies for both.
Skill kits that I’ve used this on so far are Writing/Calligraphy, Apothecary/Alchemy, and Alchemy/Herbalism. The rule of thumb on this is that they must be similar skills and the kit can only be in use for one skill at a time. Traveling Gear is only similar to Traveling Gear (if your pack is out I can let you use mine).

The one that would make me give pause is Alchemy. To begin with, it is a skill that has impact in alot of other areas. double weighting tools for a skill that has such a wide scope of application (including various magic abilities) could present some problems.

Keep in mind that while real world Alchemy just translated to various actual sciences, in a world with magic, it takes on a magical aspect, and therefore is amped up in skill. While Alchemy could be considered the broad skill (like writing) in the real world, while Apothecary the more refined science (as calligraphy), when Magic enters the picture Alchemy is a much higher quality skill.

So while this idea may be good, I’d make sure to pay attention to potential double weighting for skills that have high impact.

I’d put Apothecary and Herbalism together but leave alchemy separate. Alembics, retorts, and semi-mystical treatises just aren’t that helpful for preparing practical poultices.

Thanks for the imput. What if once you use the “down graded” kit for its similar skill you would have to restock it to use it for its original purpose?
(That isn’t how we did it before but it seems reasonable to me) And make Alchemy tools be the upgraded set so that if you have to use them to mix up a herbal tonic or salve they must be replaced /restocked /rededicated before they could be used for alchemy again. (Better?)

Another thought I had is to have players list what’s in their toolkit when it is purchased (we already do this for travel gear), this not only gives the opportunity to customize their own kits, but gives a better idea of how those tools might help with another skill (as well as what could be lost, stolen, broken, or just used up). Any kit that is used to fill in for another kit must be cleaned, reset, realigned, for its original purpose before it can be used again. In doing so, you run the risk of damaging your tools in some way (DoF 1 = replace) this is true even if the kit isn’t normally expendable (that’s what happens when you try to use your bloodletters scalpel in place of your lock pick) You can also suffer a disadvantage for using an inferior tool, or on rare occasions, gain an advantage from using a superior tool (Golden hue ink and unblemished parchment can go a long way towards impressing the locals, even if they can’t read). Of course, using the most expensive kits is a bit costly. (I price the calligraphy kits at Ob 3, writing kits at Ob 2. Although both are academic skills, I view writting as the more common of the two and so charge less. I also allow resource purchase of inferior and superior quality items for -1 / +1 Ob respectively).

Something to consider: Burning Wheel has a fairly high amount of bookkeeping already. The bookkeeping that’s there has one of three purposes (that I can tell): in service of the BITs, in service of character advancement (and therefore secondarily in service to the BITs), and in service of making the setting feel gritty. All three of these serve a higher master: the story.

Burning Wheel goes out of it’s way to abstract things that are not necessary. Resources, Circles, Lifepaths, etc. Toolkits are one of these things. They provide enough detail for the realism you need to make an awesome story in a world where characters grow and change and are very different from each other, but that’s it.

So, the question to ask yourself is: how does further complicating toolkits serve your story?

I didn’t think of it like that as my group has always played by the “if it isn’t written down, you don’t have it” philosophy we carried over from several other games. Letting players decide what is and isn’t in their kit does let them customize their character more, but it may come at the cost simplicity. Rather than listing the bandages you have in your pack, you say you have them and you do. After you use them the first time check DoF to see if you have them again (still book keeping though).
I’m kind of torn on that one but I will bring it up in group when we reconvene and put it to the vote.
Thanks for pointing it out to me.
(I do tend to over complicate things)

Larkin, I think you’ll get more mileage out of letting the players focus on customizing their play experience through the push and pull of beliefs and instincts then you’ll ever get from listing items in a toolkit or any number of other little tweaks. Conserve your energy for the truly heavy lifting. That’s where the good stuff is.

Just my 2 bits. Feel free to disregard.

Tools are very specialized on real life, and definitely in game. I would allow a layer to lobby for advantage based on having “similar” tools, but they’d still be testing at double obstacle.

This is the opposite of how BW is supposed to work. Look at traveling gear: it’s all the stuff you need to travel. No more, no less. Having players define all that stuff in advance is an exercise in punishing players for not having perfect insight into medieval travel—and not spending an equivalent time as players that their characters would in-game preparing for a journey. The same is true of tools. The important thing isn’t how clever players can be in assembling kits, it’s whether characters have the appropriate kit.

I would note that not every skill that requires tools requires a tool kit. You want to write? Sure, a quill, ink well, and ink are nice, but you can also scratch out a message on slate dirt cheap chalk. Heck, you can use a stick and some loose dirt. Scrawl on a wall with a fingertip dipped in mud. There are all kinds of ways to do it.

If you’re a mason, though, you’re going to need your mallet and chisels and trowels. Don’t have those? Forget it.


As I’ve said, we will have a lot to talk about when group reconvenes
in the fall. But I do want to thank everyone for their many insights and greatly appreciated help on this and so many other questions.