Burning Wheel

Consists of two books sold together; Burning Wheel and Character Burner.

  • Universal Fantasy System, the rules are written to be used with any setting.
  • Rules heavy, but with a very simple dice pool rolling mechanic at its heart that provides mechanics (shades) for avoiding large dice pools for heroic characters or supernatural beings like dragons, etc.
  • Scripted Combat where actions are written down in advance of being executed
  • Dual of Wits working on the same system as scripted combat provides mechanics for simulating a debate or argument.
  • Instincts provides a simple mechanism for players to hard-wire certain reactions into their characters
  • Beliefs help establish who the character is and what he wants and rewards players who roleplay their beliefs.
  • Lifepaths provides a simple, exciting method for creating a character and his background at the same time.
  • Advancement of skills and stats is handled by tracking the number of tests and their difficulty rather than handing out experience points.

Character Creation

Handled in the Character Burner using lifepaths. Lifepaths are slices of life covering a number of years. The character is created by selecting a number of lifepaths that determine the number of points to be spent on traits, resources, stats and skills and at the same time creates a background history. Lifepaths are grouped by setting, which is a particular culture such as peasant, villager, noble, etc. Different races such as elves, humans, dwarves and orcs have different lifepath settings. Each lifepath has a number of leads which determines which other lifepaths a character can follow next.

  • Statistics: Perception, Will, Agility, Speed, Power and Forte. There is also Hesitation which is 10 - Will exp.
  • Attributes: Health, Steel, Faith/Grief, Reflexes, Mortal Wound, Aptitude (aptitude is how quickly a character can learn something new and has a sub-attribute for each stat and combination of stats).
  • Beliefs: Are a guide to how the character might react. Playing according to beliefs earns Artha.
  • Instincts: If/then statements about the character that may override normal rules. "If I sense danger I draw my sword" would mean the character would have his sword ready when confronted with danger even if not stated by the player.
  • Traits: There are three trait types, traits that affect the die roll (these are most expensive), call-on traits which represent tiny quirks and abilities the player can call on to get into or out of trouble and character traits for roleplaying.
  • Resources: Used to buy possessions, land, gold, spells and acquire affiliations, reputation and contacts. Contacts that are related or hate you are cheaper.

Task Resolution

Called tests. 1D6 must beat or match a difficulty number, the default being 4. A number of successes are needed to overcome an obstacle and it is the number of successes that determine the difficulty from easy to impossible.

  • Tests: A character can work carefully (reduce obstacle by one but increases time by 1.5, diligently (extra successes adds quality to the work) or quickly (time reduced by 10% per success).
    • Standard Test: Meet or beat the obstacle
    • Versus Test: Compete with another character, higher number of successes wins
    • Open Tests: No set obstacle, more successes means more information
  • Failing Tests: There are descriptions offerring guidelines for various degrees of failures for academic, craftsman, artisan, physical and martial skill category.
  • Fields of Related Knowledge: Skills which are related (as determined by common sense) can be used to help your skill roll. Adds one dice if related skill is below 7, two dice if 7 or greater.
  • Training Skills: Do not have ratings, but depend on another stat or skill but enable new options for the skill. Mounted Combat training for example opens up riding abilities, shield training allows characters to use shields without spending an action by dividing dice between a strike and a shield defence and so on.
  • Abilities: stats, skills and attributes have exponents which is the number of dice to roll when testing the ability.
  • Shade: A shade is the potential for a stat, skill or attribute. It determines the difficulty that must be rolled on 1d6 for a success.
    • Black (mundane) is the default 4.
    • Gray (heroic) is only 3.
    • White (supernatural) is only 2.
  • Artha: Earned by roleplaying, setting goals, teamwork, handling unexpected situations and being the central character for a night. Artha can be spent to open-end all 6s, for initiative, shrug off superficial or light wound penalties for a fight. Double the dice for a single test. Re-roll. Reduce a task obstacle. Reduce task time. Survive a mortal wound. Improve the shade of a stat, skill, faith or steel permanently or temporarily. Nullify all wound modifiers and other penalties to attain an immediate goal. Invest in an object to make it less likely to be lost and more likely to be recovered if stolen.
  • Modifiers: There are several pages of sample modifiers to obstacles for skills and combat.
  • Let It Ride states that one test can stand for an entire scenario or situation. If a player states his intention then one roll should decide how it turns out. A new test is only made when conditions change or the players change their course of action.

Combat Resolution

Combat is handled using scripts. Each round consists of three volleys and players and the GM must write down the actions of each character for each volley. They are committed to these actions, although actions can be changed in the middle of an exchange by forfeiting one action to change another.

  • Reflexes: Determines how many actions in each volley a character has, from zero to three.
  • Bid for Initative: Actions may be used to bid for initiative.
  • Stances: Neutral, Aggressive (aggressive maneuvers x1.5), Defensive (defensive maneuvers x1.5)
  • Natural Defences: No action cost, always allowed against throws, locks, pushing, charges or attempts to get inside.
  • Martial Actions: Avoid, Block/Parry, Change Stance, Charge, Counterstrike, Disarming Strike, Feint, Get Inside, Great Strike, Lock, Push, Strike and Throw.
  • Physical Tolerance Grayscale: Damage is plotted on this scale to determine the severity of each wound.
  • Wounds: As a tolerance is crossed by a wound a charracter suffers a penalty. All wound penalties are cumulative. If the difficulty increase amounts to +3 it means -1D instead and the difficulty resets to 4.
    • Superficial: Difficulty +1, which means 1D6 must beat or match 5
    • Light: Difficulty +2, which means 1D6 must match 6
    • Midi: -1D
    • Severe: -2D
    • Traumatic: -4D
    • Mortal: Instantly dead, but by spending two Artha the character is granted one hour for a physician or priest to rescue the character from death.
  • Incapacitation: When a stat drops to zero or below due to lost dice.
  • Bleeding: If incapacitated by a severe or traumatic wound the character must be tended within 6 or 2 hours respectively, or will bleed to death. A midi wound must be tended within 12 hours or progress to severe and stops to bleed. Some light wounds may progress to a midi wound if not tended in 12 hours.
  • Steel test: Must be passed when losing a die due to wounds or will hesitate. Losing multiple dice makes the test harder.
  • Armour: Armour is represented by a number of dice from adding up the locations covered. The obstacle for an armour test is 1 with the difficulty (DN) for the 1d6 determined by the armour type. If there is any successes the attack is defended against completely. If failed then damage is inflicted as normal. Weapons have a VA (versus armour) value which raises the difficulty (DN) for the armour making it harder or impossible to get a success to deflect the damage. Exceptionally strong characters with Power of 7+ gain +1 to their VA.
    • Armour Failure results from 1s rolled, the number depending on armour quality. This is regardless if the armour deflected the damage or not and can cause up to 1D of armour protection to be lost.
    • Clumsy Weight: Armour imposes a clumsy weight penalty to certain stats (perception, agility, stealthy) depending on which pieces of armour are worn.
  • Called Shots: Can be used to hit a specific area of the body, this increases the obstacle (number of successes needed), but can be used to bypass armour as only armour in the hit location is rolled. In bare fisted combat all attacks are assumed to be called shot at no penalty.

Social Interaction

Dual of Wits is the way debates and arguments are simulated. Social skills such as oratory and persuasion are used. Large arguments can be broken up into several duels. Duels are scripted like combat and a round is called a verbal exchange. Each exchange consists of three volleys that are secretly written down and then each volley is revealed in turn. Only actions such as point, rebuttal, dismiss, etc. are written down, the actual arguments and speeches should be roleplayed.

  • Argument: Each player makes his case and tests the skill which is being used in the duel. Successes are added to his Will and this is the body of argument.
  • Terms: After the argument both sides must agree out of game (meta-game) what the terms are. That is what they agree to do if they lose.
  • Walk Away: A player who does not wish to take part in a duel can always simply walk away, but may then say no more about it.
  • Actions: Counters, Avoid the Topic, Dismiss, Feint, Incite, Obfuscate, Point, Rebuttal.
  • Compromises: Every time the body of an argument is reduced it must result in a concession to the opponent. By how much depends on how many dice were lost.
  • Losing does not necessarily change a character's mind, it only dictates public opinion and acknowledgment of the "truth".

Character Development

Called Advancement. Abilities (stats, skills, attributes) are improved by testing those abilities in the game. The difficulty, relative to the ability (there is a table), determines the number of tests needed to advance a skill, making it harder to improve things the character is good at. Tests are divided into routine, difficult and challenging for advancement purposes and the number of successes needed depends on the skill exponent (as shown in a chart). For example a skill of 4 needs 4 routine tests AND either 2 difficulty or 1 challenging test. To keep track of all this a skill experience log is provided on the character sheet for players to mark the level of tests passed. When the requirements for advancement have been reached the skill immediately improves, even in the middle of a fight.

Artha can also be used for character development, but it is very expensive to do so.

  • Bonus tests with a Challenging or Difficult test should be made at the end of the campaign for skills and stats that were relied upon but not actually rolled.
  • Roleplaying may be rewarded by the GM giving the player tests for social skills.
  • Helping others earns tests for advancement.
  • Stats never count routine tests for advancement, but otherwise work the same.
  • Practice for a cycle (eg. 6 months) following a daily routine earns a test as if for tested during play. A routine might be 2 hours/day to earn a routine test, 4 hours/day difficult test or 8 hours/day for a challenging test. A chart provides cycle times and hours for various skill categories. There is another table for stats.
  • New skills are learned using beginner's luck which means the character must test using his root stat a number of times equal to the appropriate Aptitude.
  • Traits can be awarded by vote to players who have performed in a consistantly spectacular fashion suitable for a new trait. Equally, traits that are not roleplayed are lost.
  • Instincts can also change after an adventure if supported by circumstances.
  • Beliefs that are not followed are lost at the end of an adventure and the player awarded one or two points of artha less. Beliefs can also be changed without penalty at proper narrative junctures when the character changes.


To be able to cast spells a character must have the Gifted trait. Sorcery is a skill that must be taught. Sorcery rolls are always Sorcery + Will to reflect self-control. Advanced spell casting allows a spell to be cast more carefully, patiently or both to reduce the obstacle and Tax risk by taking more time. It also allows spells to be cast hastily with the opposite effect.

  • Incantations: All spells are incantations.
  • Success Allocation: Successes are used to increase either area or effect (potency).
  • Faliure: If a spell fails 1d6 is rolled. 1 results inn unwanted summoning which either sucks the caster away or pulls a shade, spirit, imp or demon through. 2 garbles the spell causing random effects as determined by rolling on the wheel of magic. Otherwise the failure is harmless.
  • Spell Elements:
    • Obstacle: Fixed, caster stat or target stat
    • Syllables: Determines time, 2 syllables can be spoken each action.
    • Range: Personal, Presence (within normal speaking range), Sight
    • Effect: Outcome description
    • Element: Sphere; air, anima, arcane, earth, fire, heaven, whater, white.
    • Impetus: Effect on element; controlling, creative, damaging, enchanting, influencing, taxing
    • Area of Effect
    • Duration: Immediate, continuing (must be sustained), permanent
  • Tax means the caster must roll Forte against the spell's actual obstacle after an incantation. Failure reduces Forte, which is gradually recovered every few hours as determined by Health attribute.
  • Spell Interrupt: An interrupted spell fails and requires a Tax test.
  • Sustained Spells: Several can be sustained, but requires commiting will dice and limits some actions.
  • Coup de Magie: Allows a sorcerer to withold the last syllables for a number of actions equal to his will after which he must succeed at will tests. The held spell can be released at any time.
  • Counter Spells: Normal casting of the opposite element or impetus can reduce the opponents successes and cause it to fail.
  • Eldritch Shield: A magical barrier that blocks damage from magic.

Publishing Company

Luke Crane



  • Luke Crane


System Analysis

The system is full of great ideas and neat mechanics, but is also quite complex and rules heavy.


  • Dual of Wits: Makes social conflict an exciting and tangible part of the system
  • Let it Ride: Great way of minimising dice rolls and avoiding forcing the characters into failure.
  • Lifepaths: While admittedly borrowed from from Warhammer Fantasy it is much improved in the Burning Wheel and likely makes character creation much more fun, while ending up with well rounded characters with skills, contacts, resources, etc. defined by their background.
  • Shades: A neat mechanic to avoid large dice pools for heroes and supernatural creatures.
  • Beliefs and Instincts are innovative and cool ways to make character personality an integral part of the system.


  • Complexity: GM and players must be willing to invest some quality time reading rules to get full enjoyment from this system.
  • Many Rolls: While the Let it Ride rule helps reduce rolls, combat and magic often requires several rolls for a single attack or spell which slows down play and adds complexity.
  • Shades: It can be hard to judge if it is better to have more dice or a better shade.
  • Scripted Combat: Having to write down combat actions and arguments in duals of wits is innovative and may provide a great gaming experience for some groups, it also slows down play and might be a bit mechanical and constrained for others.
  • Allowing Artha to be used to improve attributes, skills, etc. will encourage hoarding, which could be a pity when there is so many things artha can be used for.
  • Tables, Lists & Charts, there are quite a few of them that will need to be looked up until the group is experienced enough to know it all by heart.
  • Advacement: Although quite realistic requires a lot of extra book keeping and looking at charts. It also means players are forced to try things they are not good at if they want to improve the skill, even to the point of trying things they don't have a skill for. This could lead to characters being overly eager find obstacles to test their skills against, just like systems that reward XP for killing monsters encourage players to kill everything they encounter.

House Rules


This needs editing and to be made clearer for people who have not read the rules. It is also very long and ideally should also be trimmed and made more concise.

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