30 Days of the Burning Wheel: Fight!ing and Killing

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 — right or wrong! — 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 — and especially when we’re not. And Luke’s right: when you’re in that state, the game just burns.

2 thoughts on “30 Days of the Burning Wheel: Fight!ing and Killing”

  1. Don’t buy into Thor’s Belief fascism. “I have done evil things, but I am not evil” is a good set up for your character. It’s a proto- or overarching belief Belief that’s pregnant with change.

    In order for it to be changed, it needs to be challenged. We played a similar campaign to the one you described. And it was easy enough to goad players to commit atrocities in the name of what’s righteous and “good.” And that’s what your character needs. You slaughtered whole sleeping villages. Would you slaughter a sleeping barracks? You disappeared the king’s enemies and tortured them to confess. Would you disappear the king’s allies and torture them to recant?

    As the game progresses, and your character does more and more evil, that Belief will beg to be changed. I can’t wait to hear about it. It’s a fun journey.

    A bit off topic, but I felt it was worthy of addressing,

  2. Thanks for the commentary, Luke. That game really taught us a LOT about playing the game in a more narrativist manner. We’d have a session and then, good or bad, we’d dissect it. For for the longest time, it was mainly just me and Tim doing the dissecting in the parking lot in the middle of the night after a session (on some REALLY COLD nights, too!).

    It was interesting and VERY frustrating to only occasionally (at first) have sessions where we’d really let the Beliefs push the game and focus on conflict resolution over task resolution, and we had the hardest time with setting stakes. That game was really our group’s therapy for getting out of the dysfunctional ways of playing that we’d ALL learned.

    I say “was” because we basically agreed to hang the game up and start a new one using what we’d learned in that one. We had some other problems, too, mainly with power level and a character that entered the game late and didn’t really fit in very well, but I think we mostly just wanted to start a game that just BLAZED from the first scene.

    So we did:


    We’ve been doing group writeups (both actual play and storytime) on our local gaming group’s board to try to stimulate some activity and discussion there as we’ve rebooted the organization lately. I’ll post something at the BW boards about it, too. I think Tim already posted his character over there.


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