Recently (well – a little over a year ago, if I’m being accurate) I tried to run a Burning Wheel game for some friends. These are friends that I’ve been roleplaying with for the best part of 10 years now, so we know one another fairly well, so I thought it would be relatively easy, but it was an utter failure. So why? I’ve thought about this, and have some ideas, which I list below
We’re all too used to GM-driven games. The games that we normally play are very much railroaded. In fact it was one of my biggest gripes – one of the others there ran a game that went on for some time where the railroading tried to be subtle, but still very much there. There was one path to the “end” and if we couldn’t find it, nothing happened. This annoyed me no end – any alternate ideas that we came up with were derided, set difficulties so high that they were nearly impossible or simply failed, and things that the GM thought would make the game cooler simply worked, with the PCs having no chance to spot them coming or act to mitigate them. Burning wheel on the other hand makes the players take the reins to a large extent. This goes for me too – the game started with a cool premise, but nothing urgent that needed to be done, so the players went off and wondered around a hidden underground city. Not for any real reason, but because I thought it made sense – and as such they didn’t really push any beliefs. I should have looked at the beliefs and gamed based on that.
We’re a little too accepting. Sometimes people just want to have fun, right? So when one of the players says that they want to play something a bit different, we just shrugged and pulled out the rules. An orc in a party with two elves and a human – in a world where orcs are the big enemy and hated by everyone? Well, we tried it… It really didn’t work… We should have just said at the beginning: “I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s going to work.”
Lack of urgency. I mentioned this above, but I think it’s worth having a point of it’s own. Burning wheel works great when you have something that you want or need to do, and you want or need to do it now. Normally this will evolve in play as the players choose beliefs that drive them to do things and push themselves, but to start with I think it would probably help a lot to have some big threat that the players can build beliefs around if need be, to get them out there and doing stuff. I think this would kickstart the game, and once it’s going you’d be golden.
Complicated rules. One player wanted to be a wizard, but didn’t have too much interest in how exactly the rules worked. Sounds great in principle – lots of opportunity to have interesting failures as they bite off more than they can chew? In practise though, it meant lots of questions and a big distraction from the actual storytelling.
Aversion to failure. We’re all used to games where failing is a really really bad thing. That’s simply not the case in BW, but I know some of the players were not at all happy with having to take hard tests that they’d probably fail in order to advance. I’m not sure how to get around this, other than by having some fun failures happen at the table…
Anyway – that game is long over, and unlikely to get resurrected, but I’m keen to run another, and wanted to put down why I thought that one failed, so that I can bear it in mind and make the next one better.
Comments, thoughts, etc all welcomed.