I picked up Burning Wheel Gold at GenCon 2011, but I’m only able to sit down and write something about it now. The reason it has taken me so long to write anything in regards to this book is both a good thing and a bad thing. The bad thing is that I live here in Northern Kentucky and the gaming community is small and somewhat insular. In addition to this, I did not have the time to invest to find people that were playing Burning Wheel. These two things kept me from playing the game until recently. The good thing that came from this though is that I’ve met people from the Burning Wheel community that have helped me get playing via Skype. It has been a great experience and allows me to be able to speak about Burning Wheel Gold from a place of experience as well as teaching me that you can not talk about Burning Wheel without talking about the community.
First, let me tell you about the game itself. Burning Wheel Gold is a fantasy role playing game taking cues from the likes of The Lord of the Rings and the Wizard of Earthsea. The base mechanic of the game is you roll a pool of D6 versus an obstacle rating. The dice come from skills, help from other players, and other skills you might have that could be useful in the task at hand. Skills and abilities are obtained at character creation that utilizes a life path system. This method of character creation allows a broad range of character options. You are able to just choose a starting point and see where this leads you, or you can pick what your end character is and work your way backwards to create exactly what you want. This system also allows for the creations of a more colorful character while not being wed to any one setting. The lifepaths are sufficiently open that you can work them into almost any fantasy setting or rework them easily to fit with whichever setting you really want to use. The progression mechanic for the game focuses more on character growth and less on killing the monster. Skills progress by using them. You have to undertake a series of challenges with a skill based upon the level of the skill itself to progress it. This means that you have to be active in the game in order to progress. The second progression mechanic is called Artha and is directly tied to the prime driver for characters, beliefs and instincts. Beliefs are things which drive your character on and direct each action in the game that you take. They inform both the you and the game master what you are looking for in the game. Instincts are things that your character always does. This allows you to program your character to do things without even thinking. These two things get you Artha in two different ways. Beliefs get you Artha for pursuing and completing them. Instincts get you Artha when they get in your way. Artha is also awarded for driving the game forward and being engaged in story. It a system that rewards taking risks and pushing your character out of their comfort zone making for a very active and engaging game. The complexity of the game ratchets up rather quickly with the addition of Duel of Wits and Fight. These are more advanced mechanics for both social, intellectual, and physical combats that allow for complex outcomes. The combination of all these things creates a narrative-focused game that allows for increasing the crunch factor easily with the touch of a dial.
My experience with the game itself has been very good. I consider myself a novice in the arena of story games as I have only played a few games of The Dresden Files and Houses of the Blooded. The idea of taking risks when the character sheet doesn’t support the action is a definite hurdle for me and I am going to try to do better at that in the next session. I’ve also learned that the key to Burning Wheel Gold is to write a good belief as this will make interacting with the story and the other characters easier. It is a skill in of it self and I look forward to getting better at it with more play.
I mentioned before that you can not speak about Burning Wheel with out speaking about the community as well. This is incredibly important for me as without the community I wouldn’t be playing this game at all. It starts back before the release of Burning Wheel Gold. I had become interested in the game but with the new edition coming out it was difficult to find the old version at my local gaming store. So I decided to wait for GenCon. I was unable to go up to the convention until late that Thursday so I was a bit concerned that I would not be able to get a copy. My anxiety only increased as Luke Crane was talking on twitter about how fast the copies of the game were moving. I took a leap and sent out a tweet asking if he could hold a copy for me as I was en route to the con and did not want to miss getting a copy of the new edition. It was not long after that I received a tweet back from Luck Crane stating that he would hold a copy for me filling me with relief. I was able to pick up the book a little before closing that day and was able to begin reading it during my down time at the convention. It was this same scenario that made it possible for me to game as well. I had decided to once more to turn to twitter for help and sent out a tweet asking if anyone knew about a game of Burning Wheel in my area. My plea for help was once again taken up by Luke Crane and sent out to those that follow him on twitter. It was not long before I heard from Kristin saying that she would work to get a game going over Skype to introduce me to Burning Wheel. She convinced her husband to run the game and corralled us wild cats to get a game going. I was a bit dense as well as I didn’t realize that Kristin and her husband, Shaun Hayworth, did the podcast This Modern Death which I really enjoyed when they were putting out episodes. It was this strong community around Burning Wheel which made it possible for me to play the game, meet people that I really enjoyed their podcast, and understand that the community can take a great game and make it stellar.