Check out the spiffy downloadable version of this reference I designed here.
Burning Wheel, the Swiss Watch of roleplaying games. I’d be lying if I said learning this system wasn’t a daunting task, which is why I developed this one-page handout to give to my players at the table. The idea is that the players don’t have to worry about anything except for an Apocalypse World-esque moves bible; story implications and mechanical resolution can always be handled later. Sometimes, to give the Wheel its momentum, you just need a little push.
There are four sections in the bible:
- Pregaming: Things you can do to win Artha before the game even starts.
- Spice Things Up: How to get the game rolling using BITs.
- The Hustle: Go above and beyond during the game and you’ll win extra Artha!
- Show Your Moves: How to set up, perform, and track tests.
Most of this is a radical abbreviation of The Hub of the Wheel, which is available for free on burningwheel.com, and can be read in the first 74 pages of The Burning Wheel.
Share a Rule (+1 Fate)
Find a rule in Burning Wheel Gold or the Burning Wheel Codex that you think is neat, and share the potential applications of it with the group.
Bring a Snack (+1 Fate)
Bring a shareable snack – a bag of chips, a pack of soda, etc. – and plop it in the middle of the table for communal use. Don’t spend more than $5.
Spice Things Up
Manifest a Belief (+1 Fate)
What Are Beliefs?: A Belief is “a short statement of ethical or moral priority that you assign to your character.” Make sure you would be willing to fight for your Beliefs! You can change Beliefs you feel are no longer relevant at the end of each session.
How To Do It: Manifest one of your character’s Beliefs in a convincing or entertaining manner. Playing a Belief should serve a purpose and drive the game forward. It’s a good idea to link a test to how you’re manifesting a Belief; you need to use a test to tell the system “this is important to me.”
Activate an Instinct (+1 Fate)
What Are Instincts?: An Instinct is “an if/then, always, never, or when statement that you assign to your character to dictate a reaction or course of action.” They can be used to make sure your character behaves in a way that cannot be contravened by the GM. You can change Instincts you feel are no longer relevant at the end of each session.
How To Do It: Activate one of your character’s Instincts when it would get the character in trouble or create a difficult or awkward situation. It’s a good idea to link a test to how you’re activating your Instinct; you need to use a test to tell the system “this is important to me.”
Play Up a Trait (+1 Fate)
What Are Traits?: A Trait is “a guidepost for roleplaying that announces to the table: ‘this is what is important to me about my character.’” Remember that these change every month during a Trait vote.
- Character Trait: No mechanical use; roleplaying only.
- Call-On Trait: Once per session, use a call-on Trait to break a tie, or to reroll traitors.
- Die Trait: Grants special modifiers and abilities. Be sure to read these!
How To Do It: Play up any Trait when it would alter the direction of the story in an unforseen way, or if it makes life difficult for you. It’s a good idea to link a test to how you’re playing up your Trait; you need to use a test to tell the system “this is important to me.”
Do Something Rad (+1 Fate)
Whether it’s a solid one-liner or a gut-busting joke, whatever came out of your mouth just stopped the table dead. Don’t force it though, because if it’s bad enough, you’ll have to pay Artha back.
Have the Right Skill at the Right Time (+1 Fate)
You have the right skill to keep the game moving when nobody else does.
Break the Mold (+1 Persona)
If you come to a point where a Belief, Instinct, or Trait conflicts with a decision you have to make, inject that inner conflict into the game. It’s a good idea to link a test to how you’re breaking the mold; you need to use a test to tell the system “this is important to me.”
Embody the Mood (+1 Persona)
Capture or set the mood at the table through above-and-beyond roleplaying. Moments like inspiring speeches, desperate decisions, or gruesome revenge are rife for this reward.
Be a Workhorse (+1 Persona)
You are the workhorse if you performed the most tests by the end of a session. Ties are broken by whoever’s work was harder to perform.
MVP (Majority Vote; +1 Persona)
At the end of a scenario, everyone votes on the player who drove the scenario to its conclusion. This is the character who everyone agrees, “damn, we couldn’t have done it without him!”
Show Your Moves
Make a Test
Intent & Task: When you want to do something that’s important to you, you have to overcome an obstacle by testing an ability. Each test has an intent and task, which are used to select the ability to be tested. The GM can never call for multiple rolls of the same ability to accomplish a stated intent.
- Intent: What do you want to do and why do you want your character to do it?
- Task: A measurable, finite, quantifiable act that your character performs. The GM sets the amount of time that the test will take.
Approach: You can approach a test carefully, patiently, or quickly. You can mix these methods in any combination.
- Carefully: +1D; failure means that you’ve “run out of time.” Must be declared before the dice are rolled.
- Patiently: Extra successes can be spent to improve the quality of the task performed, or to activate special effects described in the entries of certain skills.
- Quickly: Extra successes can be spent to reduce the overall time it takes to perform the task by 10% each.
Modifiers: There are a number of factors that can modify the dice pool or obstacle of a roll.
- Help: If you are willing to accept help from another character, their player can describe how they’re helping, and with what ability. If the GM approves, their player hands you one (exponent 4 or lower) or two (exponent 5 or higher) of their dice to add to the roll. Their character is now tied into the advancement and complications of the test.
- FoRK: Each skill you possess that is related to the test at hand adds +1D to the roll (or +2D if the exponent is 7 or higher).
- Beginner’s Luck: If you do not have the appropriate skill for a test, you instead test its root stat, but the base obstacle of the test is doubled.
- Tools: If you do not have the appropriate tools for a test, the base obstacle of the test is doubled. Expendable tools are lost on a roll of 1 on the die of fate.
Artha: Artha can be spent to modify dice pools during tests.
- Fate: The roll becomes open-ended. If it’s already open-ended, remove a single traitor. Fate is spend after the dice are rolled.
- Persona: Either spend up to three points before the roll to add +1D per point spent, or spend one point to counteract a time-related complication.
- Deeds: Double the exponent of an ability before the roll, or reroll all failed dice after a roll.
Results: When your test succeeds, you get your intent. When your test fails, you get your intent, but with a complication introduced by the GM. Whether you succeed or fail, you mark advancement.
Difficulty: Total up the number of dice you rolled for a test. Do not include the dice gained from spending Artha.
- Challenging: Ob > Dice
- Difficult: Ob = Dice
- Routine: Ob < Dice
- If you're rolling 4+ dice, difficult if Ob -1 = Dice
- If you’re rolling 7+ dice, difficult if Ob -2 = Dice
Advancing a Skill: If you accumulate advancement equal to what’s listed for the ability’s current exponent, advance the ability to the next exponent. Stats cannot use routine tests to advance.
- Exponent 1: 1 routine, and either 1 difficult or 1 challenging
- Exponent 2: 2 routine, and either 1 difficult or 1 challenging
- Exponent 3: 3 routine, and either 2 difficult or 1 challenging
- Exponent 4: 4 routine, and either 2 difficult or 1 challenging
- Exponent 5: 3 difficult and 1 challenging
- Exponent 6: 3 difficult and 2 challenging
- Exponent 7: 4 difficult and 2 challenging
- Exponent 8: 4 difficult and 3 challenging
- Exponent 9: 5 difficult and 3 challenging
- Exponent 10: No advancement
Learning a Skill: When you test a skill that you are learning a number of times equal to 10 - the root stat, you open that skill. Difficulty is not a factor when you are learning a skill.