30 Days of The Burning Wheel: character burning session

THE MOST IMPORTANT SESSION OF YOUR GAME IS THE CHARACTER BURNING SESSION. The players (GM included in that) HAVE TO — HAVE TO — create their characters together as a group. Doing chargen as a group is really NICE in other games, but it’s essential in Burning Wheel.

A Burning Wheel game is driven by the characters’ BITRs: Beliefs, Instincts, Traits, and Relationships. Those things define the characters, and the characters define the game. If the group has done its job in the character burning session, all the GM has to do is throw a match on the fuel at the beginning of the first session of play, then sit back and watch it blaze.

The characters’ every BITR for every character needs to be packed full of explosive potential. This thread at the BW forums is a great example of working up some beliefs to where they really sing. But, more on Beliefs later… this post is about that crucial first session.

While, as a GM, you can have a general idea about the sort of game you might like to run, doing character burning is really also world burning, especially for Burning Wheel. Creating the characters and fleshing out the setting as a group really empowers the players and gets them invested in the game. As a side benefit for GMs, it also takes a lot of the burden of coming up with a campaign setting off the GM and spreads it around the group. For those of us who are more “old school” in our approach to GMing, it can be unnerving and a little scary to give up that power. But, the amount of player buy-in you get from such a setting far more than outweighs that loss of “creative control.”

In my recently-suspended D&D game, I (as DM) definitely botched the character generation aspect of the game. The first session went a little weird, then we decided to go from a homebrew to Eberron as a setting, then everyone sorta created their characters in a vacuum. We ended up with a really diverse and difficult-to-connect group of characters. In fact, that aspect of the game was the single most difficult thing for me to deal with in coming up with stories and adventures for them, so I’m especially aware of the importance of the character burning session.

The Burning Wheel forum has some great threads about character burning and the initial session. One of the best examples is from a group I played in (I was the sorceror in that group). The first few posts of that thread (it gets derailed fairly quickly, though) really show the effectiveness of group character burning sessions.

So, when my group gets to starting a BW game (it’s next in the rotation either after or alternating with a Sword & Sorcery-inspired Riddle of Steel game we’re starting this coming Friday), we’ll start with a good long character burning session.

2 thoughts on “30 Days of The Burning Wheel: character burning session”

  1. I think many GMs (especially in D&D) overvalue their control and the rules over the players having fun. If a player WANTS to do something, let ’em try! A player who is repeatedly thwarted by the rules is probably not going to have fun for long.

    How does a GM know what his players want? Just look at their character sheets! Do they want lots of magic, combat, or political intrigue? Just look at the characters strengths and skill the players chose. They are telling the GM what kind of game they want to play!

  2. Exactly! And the “just look at the character sheets” admonition is especially relevant to Burning Wheel: look at the BITs (and relationships). THAT is what that player is interested in dealing with. There’s been a thread on the TreasureTables.org GM Q&A Forum about “Do you [as a GM] keep your player’s character sheets?” In BW, there’s really no need for that. I’m just going to keep 3×5 cards with their BITRs written down on them. That’s all the GM needs to know 99.9% of the time about any given character.

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