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Burning Wheel


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I have the main book and the codex, and on several occasions I've cracked open the main book and started to read. I collect rpgs and consider myself something of an rpg scholar, in the sense that I'm interested in games I don't intend to play for the sake of understanding their design, any interesting mechanics or concepts, and so forth. I also have a general interest in game theory as a thing unto itself, which branches into various tangential areas. Understanding games (and formal systems in general) has always been easy for me, and I usually grok what a game is doing or trying to do pretty quickly. So, reading random game books is something I've done since I started gaming as a kid and have continued to do for several decades. I derive a lot of enjoyment from exploring new systems, and so on.


Not so Burning Wheel. I keep bouncing off of it. I'm not sure why, but something about the way it's written, the way it takes some words or phrases that have a given meaning and use them in a different way altogether (exponent being the first and for me most irritatingly memorable example), and in other places where a given word or term already exists that entirely explains an idea instead a new word or term is introduced (burning vs character creation, 2D instead of 2D6), awkwardly described mechanics (the tier system with arbitrary color values). The BITS / Artha tangle. Etc. It is also odd to me that it doesn't have a formal setting, but at the same time certain hard assumptions about a sort of Tolkein-esque setting are hard wired into the game design at a pretty fundamental level.


I also don't like, in theory, how it seems to push the minutiae of record keeping into every (?) resolution; though as I've not played the game it may not be the case, that is what I gathered from reading the rules. I vastly prefer the opposite; I bend over backwards to keep mechanics firmly in the background and try to keep a game session focused on the "fiction" / the in-character experience. 


I don't know. People whose opinion I respect often have a high regard for BW, and people who love it REALLY love it so it obviously does something well. I do appreciate the aesthetics of the published game and, for lack of a better term, commitment to whatever it is that it is meant to achieve. But, it's the one game I own that I'm just befuddled by. I just don't get it.  

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1 hour ago, Killer Shrike said:

where a given word or term already exists that entirely explains an idea instead a new word or term is introduced


That was a very common practice in the 1990s, with Vampire: the Masquerade being particularly guilty of this. I see precious little value in coming up with new terms for things like characteristic, skill, advantage, disadvantage, experience point, game master, campaign, and so forth. It's not like anyone owns trademarks on these generic terms, necessitating a search for unique replacements. RPGs should use the established terms unless there is a profoundly good reason not too (which, in my experience, is almost never the case). The pure metagame terms used during play don't need to be drenched in setting sauce (let your skill and spell names do the heavy lifting there), and I find it annoying when they are.

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Sometimes I'll read posts on https://rpg.stackexchange.com when checking out a new game, just to get a feel for what sorts of things players find confusing or worthy of clarification.


I had noticed a post asking a question about how to determine a skill's rating with rules quotes which gave me an early insight into the unusual use of the English language common in the rules text for BW. I repeat the quote here as an example of the kind of rules text that makes reading BW such a chore for me. Other people's mileage may vary, and I fully acknowledge that other games, Hero System included, have some examples of rules text that is perfectly sensible to the initiated and inscrutable to the uninitiated. However, I think it is illustrative of my premise that this is a game in which certain words are used in...unexpected...ways.




New skill exponents start at half the root stat rounded down. If a skill has two roots, half the average of the root stats rounded down. (p87)


When a stat acts as a root for a skill, the skill takes on the shade of the stat. If the root comes from the combination of two or more stats, the shade is the darker of the two. Also, for mismatched shades, add two to the total before dividing. 


A character with a G5 Agility and a B5 Perception opens a Surgery skill. Surgery is a Perception / Agility root -- the root is half of the average of those two stats. Normally, half of the average of 5 is 2.5, this rounds down to a root of 2. However, with a gray stat, the math is different: Agility counts as two greater because of its shade. So the actual numbers to average are 7 and 5. Half of the average (6) is 3.





So, I kind of actually know what this is trying to say after spending a little time with the rulebook, but a) there are easier / clearer ways to convey this sort of information, and b) I would prefer a game that didn't require me to learn a form of nuspeak to understand its most basic concepts. Again, other's mileage may vary; that's just one man's opinion.

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Now, keep in mind I've not played this game, nor have I ever managed to read all the rules, and I haven't looked at the rules in months, so I'm going off of memory.


It uses a dice pool system, and to my mind it is most similar to classic World of Darkness Storyteller system (white wolf). 


Rather than d10's it uses d6's and rather than difficulty being a number that you need to roll equal to or higher per die, difficulty instead determines how many individual dice must roll equal to or higher than a particular number.


By default D6's are "black" dice; when you roll black dice each 4 5 or 6 rolled is kept,  and each 1 2 or 3 rolled is discarded. 50/50 basically. You could flip coins and get the same probability.


Depending on the difficulty of the task you are attempting you need 1 or more kept dice. So, if your character rolls 3D6, they discard any dice that roll 3 or less and keep any dice that roll 4 or more. If you need 2 kept dice to succeed, you'd want to be rolling 4D6 to succeed half the time. 


However, "grey" dice are better; when you roll grey dice on each die 3 4 5 6 are kept, 1 2 are discarded. So each die is more likely to be kept, improving consistency.


Finally "white" dice are even better than that; when you roll white dice on each die 2 3 4 5 6 are kept, 1's are discarded. So each die is more likely to be kept, improving consistency. This is, from what I can infer, considered to be godlike in power. So, I wouldn't expect this to be a common thing. 


And, apparently the game also uses exploding dice in some cases, where a rolled 6 adds another die to the dice pool, but I didn't get deep enough into the rules to figure out when that applies...something to do with magic iirc.


This is what the game is referring to as "shade". The number of dice you have in an ability is called the "exponent".  As the game only uses D6's they just drop the 6 from the notation. Thus an ability rated as 3D6 might be written as Something B 3D...meaning you roll 3d6 when you use that ability and discard dice that roll less than 4. Something G 3D is exactly the same idea, but you only discard 1's and 2's.

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On the subject of painfully contrived (only this time it's the flavor text; the mechanics are over-simplified, but work with the system).  Yet another in a long-running glut of playing cards as dice games:




Man that was painful to read.  I have cringe cramps.  Ughff....


Truthfully, I didn't just finish reading it.  I finished it about a week ago.  It just took a few days to get the courage to admit it. 




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