Monday, December 05, 2005

A Burning Passion

As I wait for the window of roleplaying opportunity to swing open again, inevitably my mind begins to wander onto other rpg opportunities and possibilities. One of my definite possibilities for the future is a system called 'Burning Wheel' - it's an indie system that seems to embody the exact balance that I seek in a system.

What do I mean by that?

Well, over the last couple of years, I have become aware that in some message boards around the internet there are people that debate and discuss roleplaying theory in a very academic fashion. I've dipped in and out, but I really have little patience for that sort of wasteful mental exercise, so I have no grand contribution. One thing it has raised in my consciousness is the need to match your players needs and desires in a game with your own. It's a bit like the theory of learning styles - you have the theorists, activists, pragmatists and reflectors - and to train someone you effectively you need to do something that appeals to their particular mix of styles and predelictions. It's complex.

One of the things that has become apparent in our group is that we are less interested (as a group) in the technical aspects of the games we play and more interested in the stories that we are telling as part of the game. Thats very cool - it breaks down the traditional roles of GM and player and makes the entire effort less of a burden on the (Iron) GMs back. However, it has also brought about some rather interesting conflicts (in the loosest sense of the word)

Sometimes, I think, we forget that we are playing a game. Sometimes it would be easier if we just approached gaming as a collabortative round-table storytelling session in the more traditional sense. Sometimes the over-analysis of the game system and it's ability to deliver the type and quality of game that we desire can almost kill off a game before we start it. I sometimes feel that there is a tendency for us to verge towards 'that which we know and trust' (ie. 3e and Unisystem Lite) because we know they work.

Now I have a confession, here, on my blog. I like crunch. I like games where you know all the little things about your character. I like games with mathematical constructs for societies and lifepaths and all manner of other things. Give me a nice complicated character generation system and I am in seventh heaven. Hell, I'll admit that, given a small amount of time and a rulebook I have been known in the past to do my fair share of mini-maxing! BUT I like it the most because these systems give the creative process a framework that I can hang my ideas on. It gives me a skeleton to build my character on and to spin less obvious ideas off. I miss my crunch sometimes as well...

So what does this have to do with the Burning Wheel? Well, it is crunchy...damned crunchy. However, it's crunchy on the right side of the table. Once the crunch has been resolved, I think it will be a rather smooth system suited for a small group of players (and here I am talking two or three max). The game itself is written with some very familiar concepts that mirror our gaming well.

For example, if you highlight that one of your beliefs is that the Evil Dread Overlord MUST be overthrown than by God, the GM is rulesbound to put you in a situation that will allow you to pursue that belief. If you have an allergy to dragonvenom, then the next poison used on you WILL be dragonvenom! The players drive the concepts within the story as part of their character generation - they deliver unto the GM all of the bits than he has to meld into one wonderful adventure. It's ace.

Similarly, a lot of the concepts of game advancement mirror our practices. If you think that you should improve a trait then it is put to the vote - you have to prove to everyone that you deserve it! A nightmare in the land of the munchkin players but something akin to our experience votes in Buffy.

Where the game gets extra crunchy is the scripted combat. This is like the antithesis of our current combat ethos (ie. we like cinematic combat for mooks and bold, epic combat for 'bosses'). Burning Wheel combat is a chaotic mix of luck and guesswork. You script your moves in three sections and then match them up like scissor/paper/stones. One hit can cripple you for months if you do not have a's awesomely dangerous.

However, one other aspect of my games is that I abhor unnessecary combat. Wandering monsters left my games when I was 13. Pointless wastes of time and energy. So having a complicated but deadly aspect of the game that emerges once in a while is appealing. You CAN fight, but at your own risk and the consequences could be dire.

Everytime I pick up the books, more than any other game I have seen, I think 'I could really do something with this.' but it's something that I doubt I will get the chance to do in the near future - and not because of the guys that I game with (*waves at guys that he games with*) but more to do with an advancement of gaming and what we want from it.

A desire not to get scorched by the Burning Wheel maybe?