This may seem like something of a non-starter, but the first thing I want to say about BW is that the books â€” the physical things you hold in your hands â€” are just beautiful. Instead of the usual slick-backed hard or softcover 9Ã—11 (or whatever those dimensions are) things with the (usually) lame artwork, the BW books are digest size softcovers with tone-on-tone covers in muted brick red (Character Burner) or red-brown (The Burning Wheel) or dark-grey (Monster Burner). The insides are black and white with nice illustrations (some fantastic and only a couple of clunkers). The typography is exceptional. Even putting aside the amazing content, I really love the experience of reading these books. They feel old school and revolutionary at the same time. Iâ€™m not embarrassed to say that itâ€™s the books themselves that first seduced me.
Beyond the physique, the books are arranged pretty logically. The main book (BW) has all the rules and advice in it. The Character Burner (CB) has all the character generation stuff. The Monster Burner (MonBu) has monsters (of course) but also the building blocks of Burning Wheel itself: how to create beings (not just monsters) from the molecules up. It explains how the various systems (attributes, traits, etc.) all work together. It also presents four kickass races that can be used as PCs or NPCs: Roden, Trolls, Great Wolves, and Spiders. The Spiders are just horrifically badass, and the Wolves are amazing. One of my first BW experiences was playing a Great Wolf in an Orc hunting party in a one-shot. Anyway, the MonBu is full of amazing stuff.
Beyond the â€œcoreâ€ books, there are a number of PDF supplements available, too. The beginnings of the Magic Burner are available in two chapters: Abstractions and Summoning. The basic BW magic system is really cool, but the Abstractions and Summoning chapters really rock. There are rumored updates to them, and of course the eventual publication of the updated and complete Magic Burner itself sometime in the next year or so. There are also rules for Dark Elves that are very interesting, but I havenâ€™t really gotten to that yet.
In addition to the rules supplements, there are two alternate settings for BW: Under a Serpent Sun (depressing dark deathmetal post-apocalyptic) and Jihad: Burning Sands (Dune-esque SF setting). I’ve only skimmed them and read some Actual Play posts, but both sound very interesting.
Beyond the books and PDFs, the community at the Burning Wheel forums (burningwheel.org/forum) is fantastic and full of great ideas and discussions. BW is also discussed regularly at RPGnet and The Forge.
Oh yeah, I completely forgot: the books are a freakin’ bargain, too: $25 for the CB and the BW and $20 for the MonBu. Everything else is FREE (as in beer). EVERYTHING you need and want for under $50.