Situation Advice: Epic Quests

Hello all,

I’m about to start a new campaign of Burning Wheel, and I’m doing something I’ve not done before. Normally when I run this system, games tend to be more about intrigue and struggle. I’ve found the system to be really good at these types of adventures. After reading the codex, however, my players and I want to try and run a ‘Quest’.

The situation that I presented the players was as follows: A battle between angels has resulted in one being cast out of the heavens and crashing down into the land. Specifically, they’ve crashed into an inactive mega volcano, similar to Yellowstone national park. Their presence not only threatens an eruption of said volcano, but it has also driven out the spirits of that volcano into into the surrounding forests and townships, causing havoc.

The players have made pcs that are interested in uncovering the mysteries of this event and hoping to rectify it before their homes/families are threatened. Specifically the players made the following characters:
A human exorcist who’s lost their faith (and is also possessed by another angel)
A Great Wolf who seeks to maintain the balance of the wilds.
An Elf prince who seeks the approval of his father.
And an Orc Mother who is a captive of a human noble.

With that background, I’ll get to my question. We haven’t finalized beliefs yet, so maybe my anxieties about this game will go away once I see what they write down and can get a better sense of what I need to do as a GM to challenge them. But, as it is right now, I’m lacking a sense of how this will play out. Like, if I were playing a less interesting game, I’d create dungeons and populate them with enemies, call for skill checks to navigate the wilderness, saves to withstand the elements… But in Burning wheel, I don’t know how effective these tropes would be. I felt it was easier to challenge beliefs when I had the pcs come into conflict with NPCs directly and often. But out in the wilderness away from civilization, I’m left feeling like I don’t have that crutch. The woods will be filled with spirits, beasts of many varieties, other travelers, and of course the Angel in question, but trying to figure out how to put those things together in a way that challenges the players feels daunting to me for some reason.

I apologize if I’m not able to really articulate my difficulties well enough here. If I had to make an analogy, it feels like writers block. Not necessarily about the big picture, but about systems and challenges. I guess I’m curious about what things other veteran GMs of the game have done to challenge their players on epic quests like this. What tools do I have in this type of situation that can complicate beliefs? When I think of things to challenge the players, I keep coming back to monster encounters because of my experience playing… other games for so long.

Anyway, I appreciate any insight (or incite? :stuck_out_tongue: ) that you all have to offer. I’m truly excited for this campaign, and I just want to make it awesome and showcase what the system has to offer to my friends.

PS: I also realize from reading other posts on the forums that this makeup of characters will be challenging to run, because they are all from different stocks. It is this way because we had trouble in adventure burning of coming up with a stock/relationship everyone was satisfied with. So to get buy-in, I let them make what they wanted and came up with a justification for why they’d know and work together in this. Just wanted to show that I am mindful of this being a potential issue going forward.

First thing that springs to mind is to make removing the crash-landing angel require things that each directly contradict something a player is committed to: for example, the ritual requires the heart of the oldest participant’s parent to represent the presence of the creator (who is “parent” to the angel), then the elf has to choose between killing the father he wants to impress and convincing someone older than him to take part and kill their parent.

Second, stick other things/information they need in the possession of people who aren’t evil but also aren’t selfless savers of the world: that sounds like so solid intrigue and politics to advance the quest.

Third, don’t make the truth of the crash-landing common knowledge: if your exorcist can lose his faith, then there’s plenty of room for religious debate that could make a bunch of people going to “solve” a fallen angel seem deluded or con-artists: so, there’s more non-dungeon-crawling stuff convincing people to help—or just not lock them up.


Solid advice from @DaveHiggins here.

I’ll also add, from the other direction, encourage players to write Beliefs and Instincts conducive to a good Quest. For me, the appeal of adventure is going new places, seeing new things, and meeting new people. I’d be looking to write Beliefs and Instincts about that. “The Volcano has loomed over my village my entire life; I must be the first to learn what lies within it,” as an example Belief. “If there are strangers on the road, greet them!” “Always pay homage to the spirits when in the forest”. Those kinds of Instincts give us the opportunity to have scenes on the road and introduce new characters. You kinda get the players to help establish what kind of challenges or points of interest you can throw at them, while ensuring it’s something they’re interested in! I would ask the players, “Hey, what is something that might happen on this adventure that you would be disappointed if it didn’t? Can we write a Belief or Instinct about that.”

Other than that, I think having interesting characters they can meet a long the way goes a long way. As does novel, engrossing description, especially for travel and wilderness survival. Really make them feel like they’re climbing that mountain! And be aware of temporal things they care about that might not be listed in their Beliefs. They probably have some piece of equipment that they want to keep safe… Which means that there are probably other people who want to take it from them! One of my players now is starting out with a Carrack that he sees as an embodiment of freedom for his character (Very Jack Sparrow, I suppose). He doesn’t have a Belief about it, but he probably will shortly!


I would actually recommend you all write your starting beliefs together. Situation Burning is more than just a good hook (which you absolutely have). Talk with your players about the necessary tasks, what kind of conflict they want, and setting details. You absolutely don’t have to have everything, but the good thing about Burning Wheel is that your situation will complicate itself. Giving up some narrative control, especially at the start, will do wonders.

My other bit of advice is to populate the world with NPCs who care deeply about this problem and/or the PCs. Having allied, enemy, and even neutral NPCs will make a world of difference in creating new and interesting problems and complications


All of this post.

This is all really good advice. I appreciate all of your help.

I did find an earlier post about slowing down the pace of the travel, and also calling for an orienteering test if they decide to travel to the cite (which is what I’m assuming they’re going to do). I guess they’d need some beliefs for this.

I’ve also thought about throwing in someone from the Orc mother’s past in the trip as well. Maybe have some evil spirits to torment the wolf in ways that make him second guess his purpose.

We are waiting until Thursday to do just this. We are writing them together as a table. That’s part of my anxiety, I don’t know what to expect, and I’m nervous about the procedure of handling travel, ‘encounters’, and also trying to keep the group together and not drift. I’ll let them know this, though.

The fact you’re worried is a good sign. If you’re open and honest with your players, and ask for help when you need it, you’ll do great. I’m very excited to hear more about this game

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