How does roleplaying work again?

9 September, 2008 at 5:24 pm (Burning Wheel, game mastering, roleplaying) ()

I’ll be introducing a new player to the wonderful world of roleplaying games and specifically my game mastering style and Burning Wheel rules. Two other players are likely not used to my style. Here’s a rough outlay of what I’m going to say, subject to change without notice (and the paragraph about beliefs will be discussed before or as beliefs are created). Heavily inspired by Levi Kornelsen’s post on the subject.

Add examples to the text as appropriate.

The content

Most play is casual or freeform play; I, or sometimes someone else, provides a situation and you, and often other people, tell what their characters do there. You say “My character blah blah” or “I blah blah”, whichever feels more natural. So: I give a situation, you act, I react, you react, so on.

I might skip between several characters or groups of characters if you are not in the same place. I might even ask some of you to play an NPC if your character is not present. You can decline, if you don’t want to do so, or play an NPC without any prompting. I’ll keep big important NPCs unless otherwise mentioned, though.

Evidently there will be tension in the game; maybe threat of violence, maybe an argument, maybe a risky financial move. Play will be slightly more regulated then. I explain the situation, if it is not already explained, and ask each player who is playing a character in that scene to tell what they are doing. You’ll say, or if you don’t know what to do, I will give a few suggestions. Others can, too. Sometimes it is appropriate to change your actions after hearing what others do, sometimes not.

The actions you tell are resolved in some order, typically from the least important to the most important. It is important that you always tell what you are trying to achieve and how you are going to do that. I have veto power over both, but will try to not use it; generally, almost all intentions are okay, the exceptions being genre-breaking stuff or general absurdity or dadaism. The action may also be inappropriate due to the rules, as many abilities in the game have limited scope. I’ll also ask for confirmation if you are doing something that sounds profoundly stupid and further make explicit why it seems so. We probably are seeing the game world in different ways.

So, once you have an appropriate action and intention, I have two answers I can give. First is to say “Okay. Go ahead.” The second is to use the mechanics; we’ll determine what you are rolling and I’ll tell the difficulty. You can also get more dice from elsewhere, but more on this later. You can choose to abort your action at this point if the difficulty is, say, too high. If you make the roll, you achieve your intention as specified in your action. If you fail, the intention may or may not be fulfilled, but either way it will not be pleasant. Sometimes I tell what will happen before you roll, sometimes after. Be that as it may, the results will stand; there is no retrying until circumstances change in a radical way.

Some parts of the game have more complicated subsystems, but I’ll explain those if and when necessary. In almost all rolls you can get more dice by spending artha or naming other relevant skills or getting help. Help means that another character with some relevant numbers on the character sheet lends a hand, giving you one or two dice, if you want them. You can also fork, which stands for field of related knowledge, skills by saying how you are using them or how they are of benefit to get one or rarely two dice. Some traits also give dice in particular situations.

There’s also the matter of artha, beliefs and instincts. Beliefs indicate what you want, as a player, to see in game and what your character wants to achieve. They generally should have two parts; an ideological principle or personal belief and a concrete action the other part fuels. Instincts also tell what you want to see in play and maybe what you want to avoid in play, of which you should notify me. If you don’t know what your character would do in game, consult your beliefs and instincts and traits and sense of the dramatic. Note that your beliefs and decisions will greatly shape the play; I don’t have a pre-designed story for you to play through.

A bit on character loss and lethality: Burning Wheel is not a lethal game. Characters rarely die. BW is a pretty gritty game, and getting hurt sucks. Don’t do it. Once the game starts, I won’t be protecting you from the consequences of your actions. I won’t try to kill you characters, either, beyond the extent of what is necessary to make an interesting game. If you do manage to get your character killed, it hopefully happens in a climatic encounter, in which game the game is about to end. I’ll give you an NPC to play where possible or you can play in other groups or just spectate. If there is still significant play time, I’ll give you an NPC for the session and then we can make a new character for further play if you are still interested.

A bit about squick factor. If there is something you really, really, don’t want to see in game, like graphic violence or rape, say so now or in game. We’ll fade to black or not have it happen or whatever is appropriate. There probably will not be anything excessive, at least as introduced by me.

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