I ran Burning Wheel last night, using a prepackaged convention scenario called The Gift. It focuses on conflict arising when an Elven Prince visits a newly-crowned Dwarven Prince and forgets to bring an appropriate gift. It works for up to eight players: each side gets a Prince, a warrior-advisor, a geeky-advisor, and an annoying family member. The Dwarves have a smelly drunken uncle, the only Dwarf PC not hidebound to tradition. The Elves get a racist ranger with the only practical magic in game: he can turn invisible.
We only had five players, and so used the two Princes, the Elven Sword-Singer Captain Tragic Samurai, the Dwarven Seneschal and Greedy Bastard, and the Drunkle.
This was partly for the fun of this scenario, but largely for a shakedown of the Burning Foo mechanics. We didn’t do any character burning, but did try out skill tests, versus tests, Artha, advancement, and two of the big minigames, “Duel of Wits” and “Fight!”.
It worked quite well. The basic stat and skill system is great. It was clear what skills to roll for any contested tasks. The mechanism for benefitting from related skills (FoRKs) is very powerful and frequently used: people with base skills of 4 were often rolling 7 or 8 dice from FoRKs and help from others.
The Duel of Wits was very effective at stopping endless posturing: once players have taken their positions and started to turtle a bit, this is a way to keep the game moving forwards. It’s hard to play a character who has a strong opinion, but whose opinion can be changed. This shows a way to do it. Also, it’s not too complicated. We managed to have lots of roleplaying in and among the mechanical decisions. It helps that there’s a clear spot to say what you do.
Fight! is harder. There’s a lot more going on, what with positioning and all. The extra mechanics for damage and wounds don’t get in the way—they’re nicely isolated. Some players took too much time strategizing and angsting over what to script, but I think that would fade in time. Our biggest problem was fitting in narration and stunts. I’ve got to look at the rules again. It’s clear when you read off your script for the Volley, then everybody else does, and then you make your rolls. It’s not clear when in there you shout about rushing across the field and gutting your opponent. There’s an example posted on the BW wiki, and it may make this more clear.
The one actual Fight! we had was a semiformal duel between the princes, except for the bit where one prince went mad with lust for the mithril armor of the other in the middle. Being heavily armored, they both managed to shrug off a lot of blows. It was clear that they could dance and nick each other for a long time. The greater Power and Forte of the Dwarf came into play—almost any blow he landed would be lethal to his opponent, while the Elfs blows were only superficial wounds to the Dwarf. At one point the Dwarf drew on his infernal Greed and smashed in the head of the Elf, rolling a truly ludicrous number of dice and open-ending the 6s with a Fate point. This would have cut the Elf in half! The Elf spend one of his very scarce Deeds points to not be slaughtered. The Elf landed a number of blows on the Dwarf, but armor saved him every time.
The armor decay mechanics are clearly absolutely necessary. Without those, the Elf could have banged on the Dwarf all night with no effect. As it was, the wound-positioning mechanics were interesting: the Dwarf kept offering different limbs, and the Elf kept nicking the armor on them down a die or two, or with enough successes repositioning over to the weakest spot.
I’m left with two things to check:
- Do defenses persist? That is, if Alice scripts “Avoid” and Bob scripts “Block, Strike,” does Alice get any defense against the Strike? If not, extra attacks from Reflexes are invaluable.
- When armor falls off, does it do so by location? Or is that the whole suit failing?
Thanks to Ariel, Kat, Andrew, Owen, and Thomas for helping playtest! This system is good enough to run something long-term in.
Update: it looks like defenses don’t persist. Reflexes are king. Good thing they’re hard to increase, being the floor of the average of Perception, Agility, and Speed. I could see changing that to be the lowest of those three stats instead.
Also, armor does get damaged by location. This is good, because it keeps the wound-placement game interesting.
One small note: Armor is very different from Burning Empires; don’t confuse the two! BW armor is dice rolled such that any successes mean you don’t take a wound, but any 1s mean a die of armor fell off.