In a recent post on the BW forums, Luke said something that’s had me thinking: “If you are playing Burning Wheel and you enter into Fight, you must be prepared to die. (And you must be prepared to kill, but that’s assumed for all roleplayers, which I think is sick.)”
There IS a sort of assumption in roleplaying that killing is just something that PCs do. It’s rarely — if ever — questioned and even then it’s usually in something like a horror game where the PCs are “regular” people. It’s not always something that you need or want to worry about, sometimes when playing an RPG it IS just about killing things and taking their stuff. But, sometimes it’s about more than that.
In our current BW game (desert people working to overthrow the evil sorceror king dictators and restore the rightful prince to the throne of their oppressed and enslaved people), I’ve been searching for something to back up my character’s Belief about whether or not he’s evil (really quick: he used to be a membe of one of the sorceror king’s elite assassin/spy cadre, but saw the light and is now working to overthrow the sorceror kings).
The Belief is “I have done evil things, but I am not evil.” Yeah, I know it sucks. I’m still working on that Belief, because it doen’t really convey what I’m after — which is a way to externalize (through the mechanics of the game) an internal struggle, specifically, whether it’s possible for Khasid to turn to the good side after a terrible life and a career as a killer. He has to come to terms with the fact that he needs to put those skills to use to fight for good instead of for evil. Can he take the same actions — though for different reasons — and consider himself “good” now? Is it the act or the intent that defines “good” or “evil”? Or is there some grey area?
Those are the internal things that I have this character struggling with. I don’t know that it IS possible to deal with that explicitly in-game without some whining and moaning via “pure roleplay” (something I’m not always very good at). But BW makes me want to be a little more serious and examine things a little deeper than some other RPGs that I’ve played (Note to Martin: I won’t specifically slag D&D here!).
Luke’s post has inspired some good discussion (on the BW forum and amongst my group via email) about the role of combat in RPGs and specifically of Fight! (the BW combat system) in BW. I’m not sure I agree with his contention that “[t]he mechanics in Fight (and Armor and Injury) are about one thing — killing and surviving an attempt on your (character’s) life. Burning Wheel — the entire game — is about this struggle.” I think he better expresses it in this quote a little later in that post:
The implicit objective in every Fight is survival — humiliation and murder are sister satellite goals — but it is your very life that’s on the line in these conflicts. Will you die for what you believe in?… The game is not about random murder. It’s about being forced into this situation by your Beliefs â€” right or wrong! â€” and laying your life on the line.
I think we flirt with that state in our BW game. We can definitely feel it when we’re there â€” and especially when we’re not. And Luke’s right: when you’re in that state, the game just burns.