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đź’€ Necro Burning Wheel for Romantic Fantasy

Caplin

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I posted this on the Burning Wheel subreddit, but figured I might get more/varied advice here as well. :)

I have a friend who's expressed interest in a romantic fantasy game, a la Valdemar or the excellent Sharing Knife series. It's admittedly not a genre I've read much of, but I thought BW might be a good fit. She wants to tell a story of a girl and possibly a companion animal of some sort, whom I thought would probably be a GMPC.

Beyond making sure her beliefs are tuned to whatever situation we come up with, does anybody have thoughts on how we might make this work? ANy advice or suggestions would be appreciated.
 

Alex_P

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Stuff Burning Wheel does well, imo:
- heavily protagonist-driven stories (as opposed to antagonist-driven, strongly mentor-guided, or episodic "this is the job we do every week" style)
- long-arc stories
- "organic" character development — character abilities that reflect your experiences, traits that express your talents and personality as revealed in play
- lots of tense moments and harsh consequences
- directs a substantial amount of "charop" energy back into play, encouraging you to find big challenges rather than just mark off XP and make optimal choices when you level
- maintains a clear communication channel about what the hell the game is actually *about* from session to session
- violence tends to be brutal and risky, but outright character death is fairly rare
- the math in play is actually pretty light
- the crunchiest, most involved bits are all optional

You pay for that with:
- involved character creation
- more bookkeeping than many other games (because you'll need to keep track of rolls to figure out your character advancement; there's less money-counting and equipment management than a game of D&D3/4 or Shadowrun, though)
- a big skill list to sort through and try to remember
- lots of tense moments and harsh consequences (sometimes, "tense" really isn't the mood you want in a game!)
- significant GM workload if you like making up your own monsters with detailed abilities
- a serious risk of the campaign ending early if it turns out "no, this is crazy, I just want to live an uneventful life" is the real answer to your protagonist's dilemmas


In my experience, BW works great for one-on-one games with rather underpowered (usually young) protagonists —*probably my favorite thing to do with it, actually! Buuut there's a catch, which is that you'll fail a lot, so you really need to create a character who's *emotionally* resilient to failure. I think it's a reasonable fit for the more "down-to-earth" kind of romantic fantasy but doesn't really do the stories that are full-on on the mythic/"airy graces" side of the spectrum. (Whereas it's my understanding that, e.g., Blue Rose can cover both well, since it's targeting that space more purposefully.)

The fun thing about starting with a 2- or 3- lifepath character is you improve really rapidly at the beginning, in ways that reflect the challenges you're actually facing. One-on-one play in particular is also great for doing "discovering magic" type stories, where characters acquire their special gifts and knowledge in play. (If you'd like to do a "magical ingénue" story, use Art Magic from the Codex so you've got a flexible and manageable magic system with good scope for creating your own spells on the fly; core-book Sorcery demands tons of system mastery to get through the grueling learning-the-spells apprenticeship stage. Or make the protagonist a Faithful character —*it's actually one of the better games for the full-on chosen / Joan of Arc kind of experience, imo.)

If you're got the BW Codex, you can whip up a familiar or possibly even a great wolf as a companion.
 

Caplin

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Thanks for the thoughts! :) I'm new to the system, but have read it over enough times that I don't think I'm going to make a complete botch of it, at least for the hub and spokes.

I think a "discovering magic," story would appeal to my player greatly. I'll have a chat with her about the system and its quirks. I need to get my hands on the codex at some point soon…
 

Dikotana

BITs and NERPS
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In my experience, BW works great for one-on-one games with rather underpowered (usually young) protagonists —*probably my favorite thing to do with it, actually! Buuut there's a catch, which is that you'll fail a lot, so you really need to create a character who's *emotionally* resilient to failure. I think it's a reasonable fit for the more "down-to-earth" kind of romantic fantasy but doesn't really do the stories that are full-on on the mythic/"airy graces" side of the spectrum. (Whereas it's my understanding that, e.g., Blue Rose can cover both well, since it's targeting that space more purposefully.)
BW also does better than many systems for games on the opposite end of the spectrum: not so much characters who are at max level in D&D terms, although it can do that in some ways, but characters who are individually strong and also in charge. Kings, captains, great magistrates, the movers and shakers of the setting. But because of how the game is set up, they're probably also going to face greater challenges and also fail a lot. Risking failure is necessary to advance, and advancing is fun.

How you set the tone of the game is mostly about what intents you allow for tasks, how you set the Ob, and especially how you set the consequences of failure. This is true for dialing a game to maximum gritty or to cinematic and heroic; it's also true if you want romantic fantasy. Be generous with the obstacle for tasks that are in keeping with the setting you want; make talking down an enemy and making someone see reason fairly doable, not a Duel of Wits every time and probably not even at an Ob of the enemy's Will every time. Make the consequence of failure less often that you fail abjectly and end up pounded into the mud, and more often that something else goes wrong. Rather than failure in a conflict meaning you get beaten, it means you win but not as well as you wanted; you still triumph over the band of brigands, but you don't capture them all and most escape to their lair to warn their comrades and plot revenge.

I think BW it can work very well for the genre you want, but you will have to be careful to not follow some of the advice in the book too closely. Luke Crane goes for a gritty and grimy kind of game. You don't really want that.
 

Caplin

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Validated User
BW also does better than many systems for games on the opposite end of the spectrum: not so much characters who are at max level in D&D terms, although it can do that in some ways, but characters who are individually strong and also in charge. Kings, captains, great magistrates, the movers and shakers of the setting. But because of how the game is set up, they're probably also going to face greater challenges and also fail a lot. Risking failure is necessary to advance, and advancing is fun.

How you set the tone of the game is mostly about what intents you allow for tasks, how you set the Ob, and especially how you set the consequences of failure. This is true for dialing a game to maximum gritty or to cinematic and heroic; it's also true if you want romantic fantasy. Be generous with the obstacle for tasks that are in keeping with the setting you want; make talking down an enemy and making someone see reason fairly doable, not a Duel of Wits every time and probably not even at an Ob of the enemy's Will every time. Make the consequence of failure less often that you fail abjectly and end up pounded into the mud, and more often that something else goes wrong. Rather than failure in a conflict meaning you get beaten, it means you win but not as well as you wanted; you still triumph over the band of brigands, but you don't capture them all and most escape to their lair to warn their comrades and plot revenge.

I think BW it can work very well for the genre you want, but you will have to be careful to not follow some of the advice in the book too closely. Luke Crane goes for a gritty and grimy kind of game. You don't really want that.
Thanks for this. I'm obviously going to have to read more in the genre to get the tone right. THe "will ob," does bother me, it seems very hard to succeed at persuasion or anything else unless you're expert or deploy artha liberally.

This is my first game with the system except for a one-shot of the Sword, which went poorly. I feel like the PVP aspect of that scenario wasn't very popular in the group I was playing with. At least in a duet both players should be able to cooperate to get what they want.
 

Alex_P

the cat respecter
Validated User
Thanks for this. I'm obviously going to have to read more in the genre to get the tone right. THe "will ob," does bother me, it seems very hard to succeed at persuasion or anything else unless you're expert or deploy artha liberally.

This is my first game with the system except for a one-shot of the Sword, which went poorly. I feel like the PVP aspect of that scenario wasn't very popular in the group I was playing with. At least in a duet both players should be able to cooperate to get what they want.
The trick with social skills is you usually don't want to engage someone like they're a brick wall. Pursue give-and-take situations instead, where you both have some unfilled need and some leverage on each other, in which case you can now make it an opposed test. (The catch is, you're now allowing your character to be swayed if you fail.)
 
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Alex_P

the cat respecter
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I should probably add that if you want more of a starlight-and-gossamer kind of feel, BW Elves are actually really great. Powerful, beautiful, tragic as fuck. They sing beautiful songs, undertake incredibly journeys, fight like demons, and can't quite help falling in love with the world despite its fleeting nature.

For optimum tone, get the Codex or download the Path of Spite PDF from the BW website to get some ideas for how to set up your villains.
 
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Caplin

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I grabbed Paths of Spite, and it is indeed evocative as hell. I just wish I could get a copy of the Codex, as it sounds like it contains a lot of interesting new magic systems, among other things.
 

Caplin

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Okay, so against all the odds, this campaign seems like it will move forward. :)

My player has expressed some reservations about BW, namely that humans are kind of "boring," in that they don't get any kind of innate perks like orcs/elves do. She also seems to be in the mood for a higher-magic campaign, and wonders where people in BW get the points for faithful or gifted or the like.

That all being said, she's still interested in trying this out. She likes magic, psionics and such, but thinks sorcery is "insane," because spells cost so many resource points.

I want to make this work out if at all possible, so was wondering if folks had any more advice. She cites Valdemar in particular as an inspiration, and I worry BW by default isn't really good for something like that.
 

Alex_P

the cat respecter
Validated User
BW humans get a ton of trait points (and lifepath access to a lot of interesting traits), as well as Faith and Sorcery. Human characters with a lower-class background typically have enough loose trait points to pick up a big-deal character-defining special trait like Fey Blood or Second Sight. You can also focus on getting a cool lifepath like Strider, Inquisitor, Rogue Wizard, Mercenary, or even something "scrappy" like Grave Digger.

One way to do higher-powered/high-fantasy Valdemar might be to use elves as your go-to "humans," though. If most of the elf mechanics fit your campaign goals better, I'd lean to just rebranding them as the mythical ur-humans, the magical and numinous folk that we would look upon as fairy-tale queens and whatnot.


(BW books, including Codex, are back in print, by the way. They fixed the production glitch.)
 
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