As I’ve read through Burning Wheel Gold, I’ve been compiling a list of what different players are explicitly responsible for in the rules. That is, what the game itself tells players or GMs they should be doing in order to play the game right. That’s an idea I have no problem with – I think one should play a game on its own terms, and on its designers’ terms, before you play it any other way. Burning Wheel especially seems to beg that you play it on its own terms. So, to help my players and myself do so: the list.
I’ve focused in on the idea of responsibilities because I’m trying to help us understand. Great. I’ve tried to stick close to what the book says, provide a bit of commentary where appropriate. No, I didn’t think to cite pages well. The Index in Burning Wheel Gold is good enough that you won’t fret to find where the text supports me. Most of this stuff is from the Hub and Spokes of the book. The final few are ones I came up with myself, they’re thoughts that occurred to me in the course of reading.
The book already contains advice on how to play, and what the GM and Players should be doing differently from each other, but most of that is about the fiction of the game world – not about the mechanics and how to play them “Properly” for your first few times, and for learning the system. I’m only going to repeat one piece of advice from there, and I’ll tell you when I do it.
Overall, I think this stuff is important because the GM already has a lot on his plate in Burning Wheel, and the players should be doing their parts. This isn’t the GM’s responsibility to remind you or give you for free. This is your responsibility because you’re invested in the game and the fiction and your character. Otherwise you wouldn’t be playing. Or you would be playing a different game.
Without further circumlocution, and in no particular order: The List.
Player Responsibilities in The Burning Wheel Gold
- Lobby for your Advantage dice: You can only get one of these, but you’ll often need them to pass tests. Remember to always describe the reason your character gets an advantage: “Leofric has a good field of view from the top of this tree.” If the GM says no, ok, move on and roll. If the GM says yes, great, +1D.
- Remind the GM when you’re taking double obstacle penalties: Like for Stat vs. Skill, or Beginner’s Luck. That way the GM can tell you the correct Ob and you can get your higher-level test. Everybody wins. This is sort of a shared responsibility between players and GM. Like remembering how much damage a sword does, or the name of that town you talked about once over the mountains.
- When your character acts, first state your Intent, then your Task: No “I want inside, what do I roll?” or “I roll Power, I shoulder check the door and run into the kitchen.” It’s “I want inside, so I shoulder check the door open and run into the kitchen.”
- Ask for Linked Tests: When looking at a series to tests the GM is talking about, get excited and say “Can these be linked?” The GM will say “Hell Yeah” and start frothing at the mouth.
- Remember to decide if you’re working carefully or not
- Allocate extra successes to Patiently and Quickly unprompted: Otherwise it’s unlikely the GM is going to remember to ask you what you’re doing with your three successes over the Obstacle. If the GM does, then it’s just slowing down play.
- Remind the other Players and the GM to Let it Ride: You deserved that amazing success, and your friend deserved that terrible failure. Remind them of it. Friends don’t let friends re-test.
- When Helping, Narrate and Hand Over: Remember to not only say you’re helping, but to narrate how and physically hand the player a dice. Or not, if you’re not actually that much help. Remember to share in the consequences of failure.
- Roleplay and Explain your FoRKs: Fields of related knowledge are one of the best things in Burning Wheel. Don’t just add them in with a vague mumble, explain them to the GM and other players. You might just find yourself getting Artha for it because it went along with a trait you had.
- Roll a Die of Fate for expendable Toolkits: It’s an easy to miss rule, but eventually your character’s bag of herbalism supplies is going to run out. When that one comes up, buy a new one.
- Track tests and their difficulty for advancement: When making a string, like in Fight!, note them down on scrap paper and fish for the one you want afterwards. This is also “remember that a series of rolls is one test.”
- Mark a test for advancement when Helping: This is one of the best ways to get challenging tests.
- Remember to test a Social Skill when you’re roleplaying: Don’t let a scene of dialogue pass without testing something! You’ll probably test Beginner’s Luck a lot to start, but you’ll build up these skills for Duel of Wits and FoRKing where they really have a lot of impact. GM’s Corollary: Don’t take away a player’s good roleplaying because he rolled poorly. If he gave an epic speech, acknowledge it in the fiction at least.
- Log your practice time: It’s some of the only bookkeeping in a game without much. Just tell the GM: I’m practicing Basket Weaving today! Plus, it gets you those needed advancement tests.
- Log your Beginner’s Luck tests: When you want to do something, but don’t think you have a skill for it, have the other players help you figure out what skill it is. Then test beginner’s luck and note that test towards your aptitude. This is how you get new skills, remember?
- Track moments for Artha: Take notes on where you thought other players, or the GM’s NPCs, were qualifying for Artha of various kinds. This way you can remember at the end of the session when the Artha gets handed out.
- Track how much Artha you’ve spent on your Stats and Skills: Note it down as soon as you spend it.
- Be Responsible for your resources: Know to say “I think that was a Resource Cycle that passed,” and “I’m going to set up a fund, or get some cash.” These are OK things.
- Track only successful Resources tests for Advancement.
- Track only successful Perception tests for Advancement.
- Can you guess what this is? Track only successful Faith tests for Advancement.
- Remember to name your Circles NPCs when you roll well enough.
- Track building a Circles contact into a Relationship: This process gives you something for free that you would have paid for in Character Burning! It’s great!
- Speak up when your Instincts come into play.
- And last, but not least, Fight for what you Believe: Don’t let your Beliefs fall by the wayside ever. They’re living and evolving. They’re not static. That’s your traits. Roleplay those too, or you’ll lose them. But above all, Fight for your beliefs. Edit: I realized that I forgot to include your real mechanical responsibility here. Know it: Track how much Artha you spend in pursuit of your Beliefs. That should come into the discussion when a Belief becomes a Trait.
These last few are stuff I think is important, but might not be explicitly Burning Wheel Gold “rules canon.”
- Use Wises to contribute to the game world and the fiction: This might be pretty foreign for new players, but you get to contribute to the fiction too. Let your Wises shine through something other than FoRKing. Really, tell the GM “I think I’ve heard of that regiment’s Sergeant. Can I roll Lazy Bastard-Wise?” (That’s Intent and Task, the hearing of and the sergeant and the rolling. Just a friendly reminder.)
- Burn your character with input from the other players and the GM.
- Flesh out your lifepaths, but leave the real meat of them to be discovered and revealed in play: Don’t be afraid to improv new Backstory for your character as you go. It’ll help keep you proactively thinking about developments.
- Help the GM flesh out the world: This is so fantastically great as the GM. When a player comes to you before the game starts, or between sessions, and says “I was thinking. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a sub group in the temple that acts as combination Inquisitors, Religious Police, and Assassins?” It’s one of the pinnacles of the gaming experience. Your input in the world doesn’t stop at “World Burning.” It’s a collaborative environment.
- Keep notes during play: These are very important. They will help you keep track of your future beliefs, and how your character’s beliefs should interact with the current situation. It’s also rude if you can’t remember the Duke’s name. He’ll probably have you whipped.
And, finally, the rule from the book itself. Ask for the mechanics to be used. If you think something is a Duel of Wits, say so. If you think something is a Linked Test, say so. If you think you should get a Steel test towards advancement for something, say so. This isn’t a game where the rules are the GM’s arcane province, for the GM’s amusement alone, where you daren’t tread beyond the brief and stuttering light of your character sheet. This is a game where you’re having fun together because you’re all invested, remember?
I’ve drafted a similar post for GMs here: The 20 GM Responsibilities in Burning Wheel Gold.