Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: The Adventure Burner

Yes, I aim to review this in an hour and a half, because that's how much time I have before class (and the rest of my day) starts.

The Adventure Burner looked like a bit of a weird purchase to me at first. I mean, commentary on the game? Really? Why the hell would I want that? Well, that's where previous reviews and a bit of ribbing from my fellow Burners corrected me. I was told this was probably the most important book in the series, even more important than the Monster Burner itself! While I was skeptical, I decided to give it a shot. So, is the commentary on the game more important than knowledge of how to hack the game? That's still a tough call. If I had my druthers (and I do) I'd get them both, for completely different reasons. You need Monster Burner to customize your setting as you wish, but you need Adventure Burner to know why you want to hack your game in the first place. Both are incredibly important. And really, who cares? They're both fantastic books.

The Adventure Burner starts out with the basic philosophy behind Burning Wheel. I was struck by how... backwards all this advice would seem to anyone who's played RPGs for a long time. For experience players, this section will be the hardest to swallow. Reveal all your secrets. Dare the GM to hurt you. Life is going to be hard, so deal with it. I've tried a number of these lines (with rationale) on some RPG players, and they balked. These conceits just do not seem friendly to them, and they would rather not do any of those things. It had the opposite effect on me, however. I only loved the game more for coming out and saying things that I thought all RPG's should have been doing all along. Even the idea of keeping secrets from each other, which is something I've been able to work out phenomenally well before, was something I was willing to sacrifice because of the cooperative nature of Burning Wheel. And that's just it. Burning Wheel is a game where people cooperate and work together through hardships, and keeping secrets isn't very constructive to that avenue of the game.

After philosophizing for a couple of pages, the Burner switches gears and starts providing ready-made adventures: The Sword, Trouble in Hochen, and Thelon's Rift. I wasn't a fan of The Sword, mostly because it was too straightforward. Trouble in Hochen was an amazing little adventure, even if I wasn't interested in running the sequels (and thus made sure my play-through ended in one session). I haven't run Thelon's Rift yet, so I have no real commentary to make yet. The adventures are useful to have around to see how a basic game would be structured, and I have to say that I prefer how these types of adventures are set up as basic outlines so the characters can act on their own.

The next section includes advice on how to set up a world. I was very pleased to discover that a lot of the things I'd done with my players in my Friday night game was not only supported by Burning Wheel, but even more fully supported, and taken a step further. Cooperation was the name of the game once again, and I found that the only place I may have strayed was to refuse to give a big picture for people to play into. Now, granted, I ad-libbed so much for my Friday night game that it's a bit ridiculous. I got lucky. The Adventure Burner wants it to be not luck. I'm good with that.

The premade adventurer section is a God-send in a way that I'd never anticipated before. Burning Wheel is a very daunting game mechanically, and a lot of people seem intimidated by it. Just giving them a character and telling them they can figure out the mechanics later? It's a stroke of genius, and it's honestly what got me to buy Adventure Burner in the first place. And it's not disappointed.

The rest of the book is chock-full of advice on how to run a Burning Wheel game. Everything I can think of was addressed, and a heck of a lot more. I'm not going to cover all the stuff here, there's just way too much for the scope of this or any review that's not 20-30 pages long. Luke breaks down the game in a very honest and humble manner, and proceeds to tell you what he likes about the game. You get the feeling that Luke made the game he genuinely loves, idiosyncrasies and all. All the advice feels right, and is a welcome breath of air. I'm glad I read this section because, quite honestly, my preconceptions of how to run this game (which I haven't run much of, that's what this summer is for!) would have ruined it for my players. The last section of the book is a bunch of additional rules, some of which are really fun, if a bit situational. I'll probably end up using them, but not right out the gate.

Ultimately, I'd say this book must be read by anyone wanting to be in a Burning Wheel game that had played another RPG previously. I'll repeat: this game is so different that your preconceptions will fuck up how you run it. If you love the game and what it does because it's unique amongst all other RPGs, buy the damn book. And read it multiple times and keep it next to you while you run the game. Yeah, it's that important. It's a guide.