30 Days of The Burning Wheel: DO SOMETHING! Those Beliefs are there for a reason!

So, we’ve been playing the Burning Riddle of Steel Wheels game for several months now. It started as a Riddle of Steel game that we converted to BW. The name is tongue-in-cheek and has many variations.

It’s been one of the best games I’ve EVER played in (in 25 years of off-and-on roleplaying), though it hasn’t been a completely smooth ride. I’d like to point out some of the things we’ve done right and some that we’ve done — and continue to do — wrong.

The first is: in a player-driven game the players have to freakin’ DO SOMETHING.

Seems like a no-brainer, huh? My Wife would call it a B.F.O. — a Blinding Flash of the Obvious. But, it’s not, especially for players who grew up playing old school RPGs like D&D. We’re used to reacting, not ACTING. We’re used to the GM presenting us with a situation and then us figuring out how to react to it. BW isn’t like that. The action should stem right from the players’ Beliefs and should be OBVIOUS.

Now, we really did a good thing when we started this game. We sat down as a group at the table and hammered out the game world from scratch as a group. EVERYONE had input, and everyone riffed off of everyone else’s ideas. It was a great session. We proceeded to create some great characters out of that first session. But, I think we made a mistake with the Beliefs.

Our game was purposely designed to be short term and have some pretty obvious goals. Briefly: our group are trying to overthrow oppressive occupying tyranny. One of the characters is the legendary rightful heir to the usurped throne, and the rest of us are all focused on getting him to that position. The game is pretty epic in scope (though we’re struggling with the pulp concept and the gritty feel of BW — more on that in a later post). The problem is that so are our Beliefs.

In a recent thread about Beliefs on the BW Forums, Luke Crane (creator of BW) said:

[Y]our Beliefs are passable and playable. The third one gets resolved in the first session, the second one shortly thereafter and the first gets teased out over time — as the other two change and color just what you will do to achieve your primary goal.

And a little bell went off in my head: Beliefs can (and should) vary in scope. They can change (and should) during the course of play.

The GM in this game and I discussed this very thing in our usual post-session breakdown. We were disappointed with how the action (didn’t) went during the session. One of the reasons we seized upon is that our Beliefs are too big, too long-range. They don’t have much immediacy about them, so it’s hard to play on those beliefs down in the dirt of the actual events of the game when the Beliefs are floating way up in the sky above all the time. We need to bring those Beliefs down to where the game’s being played.

Since all of us at the table suffer from Abused D&D Player Syndrome (ADPS?) and tend to re-act instead of act, we NEED some gritty Beliefs to chase. Because our existing Beliefs are sorta large and amorphous, we’re having trouble doing things that seem to focus on the Beliefs. We’re not powerful enough as a group to directly challenge the Sorceror Kings, but each one of us has a Belief akin to “Malik is the rightful king, and I will restore him to his throne or die trying.” While that’s an okay Belief in the big scheme, it doesn’t give me anything to do RIGHT NOW, and BW should almost always be about the RIGHT NOW.

So, I think I’m going to mention this to the other players (or just point them here) and see if we can re-write at least one of our Beliefs by the next session that will give us and the GM something to bite down on in the next session.

I’m a half-assed follower of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. GTD is focused on “Next Actions.” A Next Action is the next physical (more or less — maybe call it “tangible”) step that needs to be done in order to accomplish something on your to-do list (it’s a little more complex than that, but not really). I think a BW character will benefit from having at least one Belief slot occupied by a Belief that’s a “Next Action.” When a scene is completed and the player is wondering what to do next, the player should be able to look down at the character’s Beliefs and go, “Oh yeah, time to do THAT!” Once that Belief is addressed (if it’s something that can be “done”), it gets replaced with another, equally action-oriented, Belief that will keep things moving.

A player will be racking up the Artha if she follows a system something like that for her character’s Beliefs.


5 thoughts on “30 Days of The Burning Wheel: DO SOMETHING! Those Beliefs are there for a reason!”

  1. I never thought of GTD from an RPG player or character’s perspective. Food for thought.

    Your idea of Next Actions for characters sound a lot like The Shadow of Yesterday’s “Keys”. The player chooses their Keys, which fulfilling (as a Next Action) awards them XP. They can buy and sell Keys when they feel like it, such as their character’s changing interests. They get to choose new Next Actions.

  2. Nice distillation of the stuff we’ve been mulling over for the past few weeks. Thinking about the “not powerful enough to directly challenge the Sorcerer Kings”…Beliefs aren’t necessarily going to solve that problem, though their being more immediate in nature would certainly generate more Artha, which would help.

    I think we had a basic disconnect in character generation (or conversion, in this instance), in that we didn’t build characters capable of DOING what the game is about. We should have revised character concepts so that having more lifepaths would have made sense. The existing characters are competent, but they’re not Conan-like heroes, by any means. Maybe they’re just a bit…scattered? None of them are really good at any one thing.


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