What systems/features to include in one's first campaign?


I’ve been slowly disgesting Burning Wheel over the last couple of months and I’m now gearing up to do a first test run.

One tip I’ve seen repeated very often is to not try to include every element and system of the game on the first go, as it will be overwhelming. I intend to follow that advice.

I intend to use everything that’s included in the spokes section of the book. But I’m looking for input as to what experienced players would recommend that I include when it comes to the rim and the optional systems? Do keep in mind that me and my players are very excited at the prospect of a campaign not being solely focused on combat or actually having very little of it. So no Fight!.

My first guess after my first read is to include:

  • Steel
  • Resources
  • Circles, relationships, etc
  • Possibly Duel of Wits

Any recommendations and/or warnings?

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I think those are a great place to start. My first campaign a few years ago I used exactly those. Even with all of these you don’t have to do them all at once. Slowly introducing things as they come up is the way to go. When someone goes looking for a specific person they might then it is worth doing Circles. When someone goes to buy something then bring up Resources. I would recommend using Duel of Wits later on once everyone is comfortable with everything else and something weighty is at stake. That is when that subsystem shines the most.

If any of your players ends up making a faithful or sorcerous charecter then it is probably worth looking over those bits of the book as well.

Fight! It’s so tense and fun!

Sorry, I sold my soul to the Prince of Battle and am now obliged to recommend Fight! at every opportunity.

What’s the campaign? What are you all doing in the game?

  • Steel

Situations where response times and terror reign are Steel’s bread and butter. It also playes into Intimidation attempts (and the therefore the Duel of Wits.)

It can also be used in any instances where mental fortitude or drive is in question – Can you bring yourself to murder this person in cold blood? Can you suffer through the pain long enough to do what you want to do? Etc. Will can be used for some of these too, I reckon.

Steel is pretty lightweight and easy to use, so you’ll likely not want to cut it out to save on processing power.

  • Resources

Resources is just really fucking cool. It’s going to add to games where finances are concerned. It’s deep and engaging enough that I always want to interact with it in every game I’ve played.

Not only does it give you a “Can I buy shit” mechanic; it also ties into some longer-term systems and helps pace play. The maintenance cycle introduces tension to long-term, “Years, pass,” style of play where extensive practice and long-term tests will wear down your Resources. Then it’s a matter of working to rebuild your Resources, and that takes time (and may reflect anything from farming to guarding caravans with your blade to managing your estate).

New players often look at how you get taxed by failing Resources tests and say, “What!? I lose money when I don’t buy the thing?” If you find yourself in that position, I refer you to The Gift of Kindness on page 370.

  • Circles

Circles is also really cool. I can’t think of a reason not to include it in every game.

Some stuff to watch out for is players (and GMs) often have a difficult time wrapping their heads around it. Remember that characters have to do something to test the ability – they need a task. Do they ask family? Do they go to an acquaintance’s house? Do they send a letter?

I’ve seen GMs get a little excited about the Enmity Clause magically turning contacts and acquaintances hostile. That’s not often called for. If there’s good connective tissue for that result (“They found out about that thing you did last session.”), fine. But note that you aren’t restricted into introducing the sought-out character as an enemy. I had a player want to go to an inkeeper that would give him a free room for a few nights; when he failed, he went to the (firendly) innkeeper just as they were being extorted by a local underworld tough who did not let him stay out of it.

Drifting into Reputations and Affiliations, require real color for those dice, and apply that color to each test they’re used in. If a player wants to circle from their military unit, they get a military person. If they don’t want a military person, they shouldn’t use their Affiliation dice. If they use a Reputation, they people brought into play know them by that Repuation.

Relationships – get invested in them as the GM. They are NPCs important to this game; treat them just like that. I’m looking at you, me. :eye: :eye:

  • Duel of Wits

I definitely recommend regularly using at least one type of conflict system in your game. If you don’t want combat, Duel of Wits it is.

I often see new people start the Duel later than is ideal. They talk back and forth over and over, and then, once the Duel starts, there’s nothing left to say. Actively resist that. All of you stay vigilent for social conflict, and, once you spot it, deliver your Statement of Purpose. Say, “If you don’t surrender this castle to me, you’ll have to contend with my lord. You don’t want that. That’s my Statement of Purpose. Duel of Wits, motherfucker.”

Conversely, try to make sure that both parties want something from the other and are in conflict. Speak in character exploratorily. Don’t be afraid to prod arround the conflict to find out where it really is before dropping the “motherfucker”.

Little bit of a pro-tio: Look for FoRKs before you speak your part, then speak them into your part, then ask for the ones you spoke, then roll the fucking dice. It can be real easy for people to go down their list after the fact, “Sword-wise?” “No,” “Maybe I can make a sword metaphor, hold on…” Just roll the fucking dice.


As you say, I think the best way is to try to add these different elements step by step.

In our first experience we started by integrating each of the elements one by one while also discovering and designing the setting together. In this way, I felt the progress in a very organic way.

I guess where to start will depend a lot on what you and your players want to play (you might want to consider Beliefs and Instincts - both are an indication of player interests). In our experience, each player was more attracted to exploring some element of the system related to their character and tried to explore it further. That was good, because it made it easier to incorporate the different elements. Each player knew very well one or a few aspects in particular.

For my part, I also recommend starting with one or a few stocks, because each one brings its own complexities.

Also, don’t go crazy. It is possible that at first you are going to misapply some rule. I think it’s part of the learning process.


I think you’ve got it perfect, this would be what I recommended if you hadn’t listed them. The only thing I might add is bloody versus, but standard and versus tests also work just fine for combat

Plus, the characters are going to end up freeing Time himself from his prison anyway at some point and nothing else will matter then :wink: .

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This is my intention! But I want to have a solid understand of how these mechanics work myself before we start the game. It’s always such a stop to the flow of the game when I have to google specifics about mechanics.

I don’t know yet! I know I’ll do a one-on-one campaign with a friend to test it out. I know it most likely will be historical, humans only. However, can I just say how your whole post was just amazing? Thank you for your time. I’m going to reread these chapters with your input in mind and I’m sure I’ll understand them better.

However, I will most likely post a dozen or so specific questions in the coming weeks… there’s a lot of details in Burning Wheel!

We don’t know yet! But I know I’ll suggest that we go historical and humans only.

In what order do you do things normally? Do you talk with your players and agree on a general direction, then do the characters, see their beliefs and instincts and then prep a little bit knowing which direction they’re going to take things?

We will most likely do a historical campaign with humans only!

I intend to read on bloody versus for the meatier encounters. I think I’ll stick to the standard tests for the rest.

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Praise is always welcome. :wink:

Cracks knuckles

It’s true! Try not to sweat too hard. When applying a rule, feel free to go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right in the moment, look it up. If something doesn’t feel right afterward, hit us up.

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Exactly in that order.

For the first time, I would try to make sure that at least one belief of the character(s) is a goal linked to a particular event. What that goal is or how the player writes it tells me how to confront it.

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Something else that can be helpful to bind the group together at the start is to suggest that every character has a Belief that intersects with another character: can be supportive, such as “I must help X…” or not, such as “I must ensure X’s efforts do not include doing Y…” but starting with areas of common action means the group has a reason to go in the same direction rather than scatter after goals that none of the others have any emotional investment in.


That is what we’re gonna do!

So I decided to move ahead and do a small test adventure to get ahold of the system. It was supposed to be a one-on-one with a friend, but a second friend was interested and I figured two players was still a lean group and would allow for helping.

So it’s gonna be an adventure set in England during the Viking Age circa 1013. We’ve went through most of the character creation. We’re gonna try and finish them later this week. Then I have about two weeks to prepare and ask all my questions, so I’ll have a few for yall soon.

Should I just keep asking my questions here in this thread?

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As someone who searches through these forums quite a bit, I would prefer each quesion to get its own thread, unless they’re unreasonably diffuse.

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Glad I could help confirm your approach.

Agreed. Also, as some people don’t check new posts on an existing thread that didn’t interest them when it started, a new thread for each question is likely to get you more eyes on the question.

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Steel and Circles are two of my favourite mechanics, so I’d recommend those.

Circles gives players the opportunity to drive the situation.

Steel gives you, the GM, the opportunity to force a roll that obliges the player to think about the weight of what they’re doing, or the situation they’re confronting.

If you’re not going to use DoW then you might want to think about how you’re going to handle social skills. Just having checks against Will as the Ob can make it pretty hard!

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Don’t forget Vs Tests! Give your NPCs an intent and then back that intent with dice of their own.

Hi there!

There is some great wisdom here. I would like to add something that hasn’t really been touched on yet. At first, you wanted to avoid Fight!, which I understand and would not really advise until you and your group have a bit more playtime under your belt. I think that Duel of Wits is a great place to start as it shows the basic mechanics of how volleys and the exchange work. This was very helpful to me when I eventually did include Fight! into my game mechanics.

What I’d like to propose is that instead of using Fight! right now, choose to use the Bloody Versus rules. That’s what I did, and I still use those rules for combat exchanges that aren’t considered vital to the story.

Bloody Versus is a great middle ground between just rolling once for a combat and going to the full Fight rules. They have just enough mechanics to make it fun without getting bogged down. It was also the system I used when first learning/playing BW. It’s fast and light but does reflect well as a complete combat system unto itself.

I highly recommend using this for combat exchanges at first. Spend time with those other sub-systems and use the lighter Bloody versus for combat now. That’s my two cents anyway. If you have any questions about how to use the Bloody Versus rules feel free to reach out!


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