Thursday, September 18, 2008

Burning Wheel BITs

Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits are the most important part of a Burning Wheel character. They're not everything, but they are a lot. Whenever I'm playing another game like D&D 4e or L5R, I end up thinking "man I wish we had Beliefs!". As it turns out, I'm pretty sure this instinct is wrong. Here's how I think of the BITs and what I believe (trait actually) they are for.

Beliefs: We must learn from the humans or die, so I will retrieve the knowledge of cannon-making so we can use these weapons against the orcs. This belief has two parts. The first part is a Principle you'd like your character to follow, and the second part is a specific action or Goal you're giving your character that flows out of the Principle. Most importantly, by writing this belief, you are telling your GM and fellow players "Look! I care about this Principle and this Goal and I want you to challenge it, beat on it, and prod it with flaming pokers!". If you'd like you can leave off the Goal portion of the belief (for a while, then fill it in during play!), but all beliefs should at least have the Principle.

Instincts: Always sustain Turn Aside the Blade.This is Instinct Type I. Here you are saying "Okay, I'm really not interested in a 'you are ambushed without your trusty shield spell!' twists. No matter what I want to be able to have TAB sustained." Never lie to the King. This is Instinct Type II, and has rather the opposite effect. This instinct is just begging the GM to have you rat out your fellows to the King. Few instincts are purely I or II, but usually it will be clear where the focus is.

Traits: Wolverine is a Die trait that makes characters who have heavily invested in recovering from injuries mechanically much better at recovering from injuries. Poker Face is a Call-on trait that makes characters who have invested in lying to others' faces mechanically better at lying in those situations. Arrogant is a Character trait that describes a character who has been consistently (or dramatically) arrogant in the past.

How does this work in play? What are they good for? Let's take a look at lots of Actual Play examples.
Luke and Rich one-on-one
Rich wanted Si Juk to start his cult and the trance fighting. I asked him, "What do you want from the trance fighting?"
"Complete immunity from Persuasion."

Wow. That's a big power. We talked about it and decided that this would be trait that he would have to earn. Essentially, he'd have to get me to vote for him to get this trait. Fun stuff.

Here Rich's character, Si Juk, has been hosed in the past by Persuasion. Rich wants a mechanical display that shows Si Juk has experienced this and surpassed it through trance fighting. And so it is agreed that Rich and Luke will negotiate what must occur to give Si Juk this Trait. Notice how this is different from a Belief. Rich is not asking Luke to challenge the notion that Si Juk wants to learn trance fighting. He is saying "This is a part of Si Juk and I would like to see it reflected in the mechanics. Let our story be built upon that."
I decide on an instinct
Bribe first, talk later.

I used this as an instinct for my character Jays for two reasons. The impetus was that I wanted him to keep getting into trouble because he had bribed lots of the nobility. Whenever that happened, this instinct would qualify me for a point of Fate. The specific wording means that additionally, if someone is trying to talk to Jays about mutual favors, responsibilities, etc. I can if I wish cut straight to "nope he tries to bribe them first".
zabieru describes Clint Eastwood's player's goals
Clint Eastwood's character in Unforgiven doesn't have a belief about protecting his kids. Would he do just about anything to protect them? I imagine he would. But it's not a direction he's interested in taking the story, so he doesn't put the belief on the sheet. He does have a belief about how his bad days are behind him, and one about how he's gonna claim the whores' reward. The conflict therein drives the movie (along with his relationship with Ned, etc). He doesn't write a belief saying that the Devil's gonna come home to roost once he picks up a gun again, because 1) he doesn't need to, it'll come from playing out the conflicts the GM and the other players push onto the beliefs he has, and 2) writing that belief is playing the game before the game's even started.

Beliefs are not about what your character most deeply believes. Instead beliefs are about what you, the player, want to see happening in the game, formalized by a challenge to the GM.

Clint: "Will believes his bad days are behind him. I want you to burn that until it's ashes on the floor or emerges purified!"

Building on that example, it may come out through play that Will does do anything to protect his family. During trait vote he would then get Family Man or something as a character trait.

[Later perhaps I will add more examples.]

So what are these things good for? They enable the players to do various things:
  • Belief Principles
    Call out aspects of their character's personality which they'd like to see challenged and be rewarded for challenging.
  • Belief Goals
    Call out plot points which they'd like to see challenged and be rewarded for challenging.
  • Instinct Type I
    Veto certain very specialized types of conflict.
  • Instinct Type II
    Call out tropes that they'd like to be rewarded for incorporating into the exact implementation of how their character gets into trouble.
  • Character/call-on/die Traits
    Formalize aspects of their character's personality (or physical nature) which they don't necessarily want to see challenged but which they'd like to call out as important in differentiating their character from the norm.
  • Call-on/Die Traits
    Get mechanical benefits from aspects of their character's personality (or physical nature) that they've invested heavily in.

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