The Way This Wheel Burns

September 14, 2010

Over here, Clyde is talking about breaking down GMing 4E into Apocalypse World-style MC agendas. I don’t really agree with the way he’s done it, because my instinct is to go back to the text and see what the game actually says you are supposed to do, since I figure a lot of that stuff is encoded in there and just needs to be explicitly called out instead of buried in paragraphs of GM advice.

I meant to attempt this first with Fiasco and Geiger Counter, but since Clyde asked for responses and since I’m reading the Burning Wheel Adventure Burner, right now, here goes…

BW Player Agendas / Always Say / Principles

  • Dig deep into the rules (p. 7)
  • Give BW a fair shot (p. 7)
  • Fight for what you believe with steel, words, and magic (p. 9)
  • Cultivate strong opinions, vision, and zeal, but be courteous and gentlemanly (p. 12)
  • Dare the GM to hurt you, hurl your character into danger (p. 12)
  • Play dumb about risks, encourage risky behavior, make bad decisions and enjoy the fallout (p. 12)
  • Commit to your gamesmanship in the numbers and your sense of drama in Beliefs and Instincts (p. 13)
  • Let your experiences at the table, not your personal beliefs, shape your transformation (p. 13)
  • Set out on the wrong path, to set up a tense and exciting opportunity to do the right thing (p. 14)
  • Explore conflicts of interest, show the rest of us that internal struggle (p. 14)

BW GM Agendas / Always Say / Principles

  • Come to BW as it is (p. 8)
  • Embrace life’s mundane difficulties (poverty, tools, and shoes) as a chance to get into trouble over something innocuous (p. 10)
  • Set obstacles and call for tests to challenge the characters’ beliefs (p. 11)
  • Have an overall vision of the world, a handful of problems in that world, and a host of characters who embody those problems (p. 14)
  • Balance your vision and will to persevere with an accommodating, cooperative attitude (p. 14)
  • Never be rude or react out of anger (p. 14)
  • Present unexpected challenges that make perfect sense in the context of the setting and the action (p. 14)
  • Do your best to place your ideas in harm’s way: in the path of the players (p. 14)
  • When you feel that tightening in your gut, “No I can’t let them,” set an obstacle and call for a test (p. 14)
  • Allow the game to emerge through exploration (p. 15)

Now, those could probably be revised and reordered to make more sense as lists of principles, but I thought it best to keep it more or less in Luke’s exact words for now, to show how I think you can just pull these things directly out of the text and try to apply them, instead of absorbing them as general advice and attempting to internalize them, which is the traditional way of approaching GM guidelines.

Luke actually does a really great job in the first chapter of the Adventure Burner of boiling things down into short, punchy phrases that describe exactly what you are supposed to do. It’s basically a halfway point between more traditionally written GM advice and the principles approach that Vincent takes in Apocalypse World. I’d be interested to see what Will Hindmarch and others thought of it, whether they found it less off-putting than their first read-through of Apocalypse World. Luke may have hit upon a good style for appealing to roleplayers used to or more comfortable with traditional GM advice, which I suspect is Burning Wheel’s core audience.

4 Responses to “The Way This Wheel Burns”


  1. Oh, you’re just asking for this. I know there’s no GM in Geiger Counter, but how about for the facilitator…from the beta rules:

    * avoid a menace that seems amorphous or a silly amalgam of unrelated parts
    * brainstorm and assign goals and character concepts
    * make sure someone takes a strong hand in crafting the prelude
    * encourage at least two confrontations between major characters
    * aim for the 5 act structure
    * actively balance between doing things that keep the characters alive and doing things that will kill them


  2. Whoops, missed section 5.

    * if nobody else “throws their character under the bus” or “makes water drip ominously”, you have to do it first
    * recognize the ideal moment for the final confrontation
    * listen and figure out what everyone else wants, but push as necessary


  3. […] Walton took a look at what things from Burning Wheel might be called the Apocalypse World-style Principles of the game. I thought that was really interesting, as was Clyde’s look at D&D that […]


  4. […] of summing up other game’s GM advice as Principles. I already did it for Moldvay D&D, and Jonathan Walton did it for Burning Wheel. Clyde got the whole series started by doing it for 4E, but I kind of disagree with […]


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