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.”

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30 Days of The Burning Wheel: the books

BW Books

This may seem like something of a non-starter, but the first thing I want to say about BW is that the books — the physical things you hold in your hands — are just beautiful. Instead of the usual slick-backed hard or softcover 9×11 (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. I’m not embarrassed to say that it’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 “core” 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 haven’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.

30 Days of The Burning Wheel: and so it begins…

Yep, I’m at it again. I’m starting another “n Days of…” roleplaying game project. This time it’s The Burning Wheel, Luke Crane’s blazing masterpiece of an RPG. I’ve been playing BW for over a year. I started with the first edition, then transitioned to BW Revised when it came out in May 2005.

I’m sure you have a few questions.

Q. Why only 30 days? A. Did you see the results of the “101 Days of D&D” thing? Yeah. That made it 43 days. I’m being more honest with myself with this one.

Q. Why Burning Wheel? Don’t you already know how to play it? A. Yeah, I know, more or less. “Less” tends to dominate that, though. Sure, I’ve played quite a bit of it, but I still don’t have it at the muscle-memory stage where I really think it’ll start to blaze. [Yes, there will be LOTS of fire jokes and references in this series. Deal.] Also, I really like BW. I love it, in fact. BW Revised is just full of awesome roleplaying advice and rules for really getting the most out of your game.

Q. Do you have a plan? A. Um, yeah. Sortof. I plan to talk about some mechanical things as I work through them, starting with the hub (the core mechanics and character burning) and the spokes (more core mechanics and the reward system), then move on to some of the rim (Fight!, Duel of Wits, Circles, etc.). I also plan to go through the Monster Burner’s stuff, too, as what I’ve read of it has some very interesting things that really explain how BW works “under the hood.” I may even get to some of the stuff in Jihad: Burning Sands (guns, spaceships, propaganda, ancestry, etc.) if I have time or decide to extend it. We’ll see.

I’m sure I’ll have some more generic RPG things to talk about, too. The upcoming game will be my first attempt at GMing Burning Wheel, so I’m sure I’ll have some things to say about that aspect of the game.

In the meantime, I’m going to start at the beginning and re-read The Burning Wheel tonight. Wish me luck!