Monday, July 30, 2012

5 Common Sense Things Burning Wheel Taught Me

I just finished my first campaign of Burning Wheel yesterday, and I'm more than impressed with the game, because it is EXACTLY what I hoped it would be. This is a brilliant game, the best that I've played so far, and I've learned much from it about gaming in general. But the best five things I've learned are the following:

5. Accept a Game for What It Is
There just isn't any other way to state it: experiencing one game does not mean you've experienced them all, and the experiences you've had might not transfer over. This is pretty difficult to accept in our RPG culture because of the prevalence of Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, and World of Darkness. Once you get outside of the mainstream games, however, the play experience becomes wildly different.  I don't know how often I've had to take basic assumptions about GM'ing and throw it right out the window so that way I could run this game properly. Seriously, secretiveness was the hardest thing for me to change in my GM'ing style for this game, but I'll get better at it...

4. Collaboration is Key
Oof, this one's not too easy either, especially with our biggest RPGs putting all the world-building and story duties on the DM. I've found that having everyone else help make the world makes it so much easier on me that I think I'll just make it mandatory from now on in whatever game I'm running. Collaboration in everything makes GM'ing more pleasurable and easier, and really makes the playing as cooperative as I've always wanted.

3. Everyone Needs to Read the Damn Rules
This is so basic I wonder why people don't just do this as a courtesy, but most of the people I've met who play D&D never really bother to learn the rules, because the DM does everything already, so why not leave everything to him? Not quite in Burning Wheel. Players are expected to know the rules, and the reasons for that start to get painfully obvious once you realize that you have to stop the game and read the rules out loud for the third time because no one else bothered to look the up...

2. Gamers Play What They're Rewarded For
A simple act of human nature: people are more likely to do actions they're rewarded for. That's why you get psychopaths who believe that humans aren't intrinsically good, because we reward good behavior (If we aren't good intrinsically why do we reward good behavior?). This carries into all our interactions, games especially. It's also something that's very frustrating to not understand (particularly when you try to get a real story going and your players just wanna kill the monsters and take their treasure) and to try to counter. Don't counter that instinct, run with it!

1. One Size Does Not Fit All
By the time the campaign finished, it became obvious which out of the seven people actually liked Burning Wheel for what it was and wished to play the game itself. I'll give you a quick hint, it's less than half, and that's OK. Different games scratch different itches, and that may be the most important thing to walk away from. A game cannot be everything for everyone, because it'll wind up being a crappy game for no one.


  1. So, I agree with all of your points, and have a interesting conundrum:

    What if a game has an unsatisfying rewards system, and doesn't allow collaboration? Should we accept it for what it is, and that it shouldn't fill all needs, and play something else instead? Or should we hack it and try to add and change those things?

  2. Well, it depends on why you're playing the game. If you like the resolution mechanics, I suppose you could just hack in a better rewards system. Nostalgia and sentimental attachment have a lot to do with it too.

  3. Let's also keep in mind that you can always play a game, with all its flaws or with a few tweaks, because you like it even though you know it's only good for a few things it emphasizes, even as at other times you play and love games that focus on other things nearly antithetical to those. I do it all the time. It's a natural consequence of liking a game enough to get to know it down to its flaws plus being non-monotonous in taste. (Again, primarily console gamer here. Old console gamer who, in addition to telling you the different reasons I like all of Megaman, Mario, Final Fantasy, Zelda, Starfox, Dragon Quest and Metroid, can also tell you comparative strengths and weaknesses in the differences between Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask or the pros and cons of the original Metroid as compared to Super Metroid. Actually, Super Metroid's flaws/weaknesses are pretty hard to notice unless you deliberately attempt some of the difficult-to-achieve glitches -- I couldn't tell you off the top of my head what the weak points of that game even are! I know only a very few games like that though!)

  4. You are dead on with this post except for one thing that really stood out to me. You played with SEVEN people! I highly suggest you play Burning Wheel with ideally four, absolute max of five players. In my experience players do not get enough spotlight time and attention when there are too many of them. That hurts even more with new players since less time, less rolls, less using the rules, less learning the rules, less real world experience gained with the game, etc.

    We played a couple games with all of our friends because we didn't want to leave anyone out, but that did not go super well. Now we play in smaller groups, and it is way more awesome.

  5. OK, the group size thing is a good point. Probably should have made it separate...