The Rat Cellar
Here’s a sample demo with some characters to give you an idea what BW is like.
If you want to look at the basics of the rules you can get the Hub and Spokes document for $0. You still have to buy it though. It just costs $0. It does not include the Character Burner, the list of Skills and Traits, nor does it contain any of the specific rules like Resources, Circles, Range and Cover, Fight, or Magic.
If you are creating a character for this campaign and do not have the Burning Wheel Gold books, I can create a character for you. Either way use the information below as a guide. We can use the forum or email to communicate until the character is finalized.
Remember the goal is to write a story together. Don’t try to write the whole story yourself or create characters and situations that don’t contribute to the story, but do try to be an active participant in the storytelling. I’m not going to line up a hallway of monsters for you to slay one at a time. I’m not even sure if there is such a thing as a monster in this setting.
Only human characters will be in the game to start. Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs are present in the world, but not well represented in Olivius.
- How are you involved in the seedy underbelly of Olivius, and with the information broker trade in particular?
- Do you have a theme, persona, trope, etc in mind? (you can say no for now if you want)
- Where were you born? (a farm, a village, the city, another city, on the sea, to an orphanage, as a slave, as a noble)
- What did you do with your youth? (stay on the farm, become a criminal, kick about as a trouble maker, run away, join the army, join the faith, study hard, or other)
- What did you do when you came of age? (no more than 0 or 2 occupations or life situations, called life-paths in BW, the more you pick the older you will likely be, if you pick 0 adult lifepaths you will still likely be a child. If you want to be particularly old, let me know, I’ll give you the same lifepath multiple times which results in diminishing returns so it should still be fairly balanced. I don’t need an exact age if I’m making the character for you.)
Notes and Out of Character
If you have any special notes you want to make regarding a test use square brackets . There are a couple of uses for notes that are described below.
Tone and Tense
Write it in third-person past tense. I will do the same. Then it will look really cool when we finish a story and it’s all written out as if it came from a book.
No Secrets between Players
Secrets can be had between characters, but not between players. This is one of the core principles of BW and takes some getting used to from a D&D setting. Everyone contributing to the story should be absolutely clear on your background, thoughts, long term goals, and immediate intentions. It’s then our responsibility as story tellers to play the ignorance of our characters, who may not know those secrets. For more on the philosophy of this play style, grab a copy of BW, but essentially it makes playing out the consequences of those secrets more fun.
State your Intentions
What are you trying to accomplish with your post? For almost every post there is some goal you are trying to achieve or obstacle you are trying to overcome. Sate your intentions and what you are expecting to happen next as clearly and succinctly as possible in a [note] after your post.
Are you trying to do something that involves some risk, chance of failure, or that some other character may not want you to do? That is called a test. At the end of your post, after you State your Intentions add to the note specifically what skill or ability you are trying to use to achieve those intentions and briefly what you expect to happen if you succeed. Avoid making tests without following this process, as this process can help clarify why the test is even needed in the first place, as some actions may not be high-stakes enough to even merit a test. This process also brings things more in-line with the way a BW test is supposed to go down. Here’s an example:
As the sound of footsteps approached, John drew his knife.
[I want to ambush the guards. I’m going to use Stealth and then Knives to get behind them and try to slit their throats before they can shout an alarm]
If you fail, I will write the outcome. If you succeed I will leave a note like [Success] and you will have the opportunity to describe how the action unfolds, if you so choose. However, you cannot extend your success beyond your intentions. In the example just given you could describe a bloody struggle and stabbing the man in the ribs, but you could not go on to add that you grab the princess, kiss her, leap heroically out the window onto a horse, ride off into the sunset, have 3 kids, and become king of everything. All of that would involve many more tests and was not part of your original intention. Simply write out events to the point where your stated original intention is resolved at which point you should describe what course of action to intend to take next.
Sometimes a success may come with certain conditions. For example, when you attack someone you don’t always kill them, often you will just wound them. I’ll write something like [Success:Traumatic Injury]. Then you can feel free to write the scenario however you like, as long as the result is that your enemy gets a Traumatic Injury and then either somehow gets away or forces you to flee.
FoRKs, Helping, and Advancement
FoRK: Field of Related Knowledge (aka Synergy Bonus)
I will try to look for forks when I roll tests but it isn’t always clear what forks may apply. If you want to make sure you get the best results or you want to be creative, look for forks yourself and [note] them when you are making a test.
Helping is when another character lends you a die to use in your roll. The helping character improves the chances of success and the test also counts for their advancement as well. I will not automatically assume helping, so if you are helping each other, make it clear in your [notes].
In Burning Wheel you advance per test based on how challenging a test is. Helping and FoRKs make a test easier. If you always use Helping and FoRKs to make your tests easy then you never get a challenging test, and that can slow advancement. Basically you can play it safe and stagnate or push yourself and get better. So if you specifically do not want to use any FoRKs or Help, let me know with a [note].
Artha is similar to karma. You earn it by playing your character well and it gives you an extra boost for your rolls. The best thing about artha is that using it does not change how the test is considered for advancement, a challenging test made easy with artha is still considered challenging. Artha comes in three varieties, from weakest to strongest they are Fate, Persona, and Deeds.
I won’t automatically apply artha to tests, if you want to use artha on a test let me know with a [note] how much artha you are willing to spend. I’ll note in the chapter conclusion how much artha you have used, if you succeed without needing some of the fate points you devote to a test, then you will get those back.
Chronology and Flow
Since we aren’t all sitting around the table at the same time, people may be contributing to the story at different rates. That’s fine. If you don’t update the wiki for a while and you want to go back and add a little flavor text as to what your character was doing at the time, you can do that. Keep it very brief and under no circumstances are you allowed to change the outcome of an already resolved situation. Anything described in the story is cannon. If you didn’t want that thing to happen, make up some story about how you failed to stop it or why you couldn’t even be there to stop it in the first place. Maybe your ally is planning on selling an item that you desperately need, but on the way a group of beggars distracts you in the street and you are too late to stop him. The story isn’t hurt, it’s made more interesting, now we have some tension and a new plot point to explore: tracking down and getting that item back. Justify for yourself why you were unable to stop the event from occurring as it did, or why you were unable to participate in its outcome, and in the process you can add flavor and new threads to the story line.
Likewise, if there are two separate chapters occurring simultaneously, if one chapter gets ahead of the other chronologically, then there is a piece of the world that the future chapter sets in stone. The chapter that is behind can play around those truths, adding to them, adding to the causes of them, or even getting oh-so-close to unmaking them, but once an outcome has been established in a story line, it cannot be un-established or altered by another story line.
Try to check the site and post once every 1-3 days. If it’s been more than 2 days since you last posted, nobody else has posted but the GM, and people haven’t specifically mentioned they are off-line for a while, then you should feel obligated to post. Just do whatever your character would do in that situation. You can feel free to assume that everyone else is hesitating (Stand and Drool) or you can put non-controversial or obvious words in other people’s mouths. Bottom line, if nobody else has posted for two days without declaring that they will be off-line, then they have forfeited the right to complain about what happens next. Keep the story moving.
There will be a separate wiki page for each chapter of the story, and should be about the length of a chapter in a book. We should try to keep a section in each chapter listing the chapters leading up to it, the chapters following it, and the characters involved.
Each character will have their own wiki page. Keep track of your Traits, Skills, Stats, Possessions, and other such stuff on this page. Also, it would be nice as you gain new traits or possessions to note what chapter you got them, and to also keep a list of possessions or traits that you have lost, which will make looking at the history of a character much easier.
Concluding a Chapter
At the end of each chapter I will list all the characters, what tests for advancement they completed and how difficult they were, and how much artha was earned and spent.
Tests for advancement will be marked with three numbers separated by slashes, representing Routine/Difficult/Challenging tests.
Artha will also be marked with three numbers separated by slashes, representing Fate/Persona/Deeds artha.
Stay in Character
Try not to lose sight of what you know vs. what your character knows. Don’t respond to a [note] in the last post as if it were part of the actual test or as if you necessarily knew another character’s intentions.
Maintain the Story
Notes should generally on be used for game purposes, avoid table talk, long out of character passages, or complaints. Use email or forum posts (if we upgrade the campaign) for that stuff.
As you become more comfortable with this style of play feel free to rely on notes less and use subtle clues in the text more. For example you can test a skill without a note by using the skill you want to use in the text.
John Doe saw the guards descending from the gate and slipped amongst the throngs of people in the street below. He remained there inconspicuous hoping that the guards would pass him by giving him easy access to slip into the still open gate.
The skill above is Inconspicuous, and I know that your intention is to wait for the guards to pass and slip through the gate unnoticed, that allows me to set and obstacle and roll for you to find out if you succeeded or not. Here’s another example:
As the sound of footsteps approached, John drew his knife, sneaking behind the door, hoping to ambush the interloper and slit his throat unawares.
This time two skills were included, Knife and Stealth. I’ll roll this as a linked test, Stealth then Knife. I also know that your intent is to kill the source of the footsteps. By the way, if the source of the footsteps is friendly, I would also roll some kind of Perception check, to see if you notice before seriously wounding them.
Suppose John failed in the first case, I would then have the responsibility to write a complication for his intended action, like so:
John, keeping a keen eye on the open gate and the guards, stood at a nearby apple cart, pretending to haggle with the proprietor. Suddenly a gaggle of orphans came streaming from an alley nearby. John, with half his mind on the gate, and half on his ruse, did not notice their collision course until he lay sprawling at the feet of the guards. As he regained his feet one of the guards caught his eye and declared loudly “Hey, I know you!” as the gate behind the guards slowly began to close.
This gives you the opportunity to decide how to deal with the situation. Do you flee from the guards? Make a dash for the gate? Lie about who you are?
Suppose in the second case above John fails his Stealth check but succeeds in the Knife check. Since overall he succeeds it’s up to the player to describe how things went down, however, I’ll probably set some scenery since it was a linked test and he failed the first part. It might go something like this:
John slipped behind the door drawing his knife. As the footsteps neared the door John noticed the shadow cast on the far wall by a candle behind him. Crap he thought to himself I'm better than that. Realizing that the interloper would see the shadow, John instead dashed out from behind the door. The man, hearing the sudden noise drew his blade. [Success]