The New Player Primer

Posting In The Thread

An example post:

Jenaryk the Rogue dropped silently out of the tree and snuck up behind the wall guard, knife drawn. The wall guard was going to go down, with or without a fight. Preferably without.

Making a Stealth attempt, followed by a Called Shot to the guard’s throat.

[1,1,3,1] = 0
[2,4] = 1

Aw :/ Guess he heard me coming…

If at all possible, avoid adding OOC comments to the IC section. This helps keep everything neat and sensible. If you must, use ((doubled parens)) to indicate OOC. You can add a line to your post using <hr>. The key to writing really good IC sections is to stick to what your character does and thinks. Don’t include things like “A shiver runs down your spine as Jenaryk appears from the shadows”; you’re not the other characters, so it’s inappropriate for you to describe them. Instead, “Jenaryk makes a striking appearance by stepping out from the shadows as you enter the room.”

Using the online dice roller is a little more complicated. You’ll need to register for an account if you haven’t already in order to gain access to the notes and campaign fields.

Once you have access, you’ll see a page like this:

All of the fields should be pretty obvious, save two: “Number of Rolls” and “Dice”. “Number of Rolls” will let you repeat the same dice expression multiple times; unless otherwise advised, you should leave this at 1. “Dice” contains the actual dice expression: 2d6, 4d12+10, 1d20+6. Since we are playing Burning Wheel, there is a helpful function that will automatically reroll and include all 6s before tallying all of the successes: “.hitsopen()”. In order to make it work correctly, it needs two numbers: the value at which a die is a success or failure, and the value at which to roll a new die.

Let’s look at the example die expression:

Obviously, we’re rolling 7 six-sided dice; the .hitsopen tells the dice engine to use Burning Wheel-style rolls; the 4 indicates that all dice equal to or greater than 4 are successes, and the 6 indicates that any die that is a 6 should grant an extra die to the total pool. In Burning Wheel, this expression indicates that you are rolling an open-ended skill test with exponent B7 at Difficulty 3.

What if it’s a closed skill test? That’s easy, you simply remove the “open” from the expression as well as the “,6”. If we wanted to change the expression above to a closed skill test, it would look like


Making A Character

Throughout this section, I will be referring to the Character Burner Worksheet, found here. There is a collection of character sheets available at the same location.

This section is to help you decide how to make a character that will fit in with the themes and the setting of the game. Actually creating a character in Burning Wheel is a longish process: so much so that there is a separate book for it, called the Character Burner. I will be providing some materials to help you get by without actually having to purchase the books, but if you’re interested in obtaining them let me know and I’ll point you in the right direction.

The first place to start when creating a character in Burning Wheel is to decide on a concept. A good concept is short, interesting, and simple; a bad concept is long, complex, or boring. Some good examples:

  • A widow pickpocket who turned to a life of crime in order to stay ahead of her debts.
  • An elven hunter who found philosophy at the point of a sword.
  • A dwarven cook who wants to add spice to his life, not just his food.

Bad examples:

  • An ex-soldier.
  • A wizard’s apprentice who became a spy but then changed his mind and learned how to become a con-artist, but not before he fell in love with a princess and fought a general.
  • The only wizard in the entire area, and the only one who is also half-angel/half-demon/half-elf.

The races of Men, Elves, and Dwarves are available to all players. There really isn’t any kind of limit to what or how they got to where they are; if there isn’t an official Lifepath available for something, it’s the matter of a few minutes to make up a new one. Note, however, that the lives of Elves and Dwarves have additional hardships outside of usual societal concerns.

The single most important question you’ll want to address about your character is a simple one: How did they get to the battlefield at Guld-on-Halva, and why were they there? You may not have an answer to this until your character’s all put together, and that’s okay, as long as you have an answer before we start the game proper.

Beyond your character concept, there are three other Big Things to consider. These are Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits. All three of these will be things you will need to consider during character creation, though only Traits have any sort of cost associated with them.


Beliefs are a way for players to add some extra meat to their characters and help bring their backstory forward into the game. All characters start with at least one, but no more than three. These are usually tied into the character’s backstory, and help describe what kind of outlook the character has on their world. It is not uncommon for these to change for each character as the game progresses; indeed, a major blow to a character’s Belief might become the turning point of a particular plotline.

Some examples: a person whose parents were killed by Elves might have a Belief stating “All Elves are murderers.” An itinerant priest might have a Belief like “The God of Song and Harvest will always take care of His Faithful.” A patient blacksmith might have a Belief like “Anything worth doing is worth doing carefully.” They aren’t supposed to be fanatical codes (though they can be), but they are supposed to be a vehicle for character growth and development.


Instincts are a way for players to represent certain roleplaying behaviours without having to bring them up all the time. They are not a requirement, but no character will ever start with more than three Instincts. These do not usually change, and because of their innate qualities, a character still follows them by rote even when the results are potentially dangerous.

Instincts, like Beliefs, can take the form of almost anything, but are generally something that the character does without even thinking about it, an ingrained habit. An instinct for an archer or hunter might be something like “Never forget to keep an extra bowstring around”, while for a cook it might be “Always know where the pepper grinder is”, and for a politician it might be “Never tell the whole truth.”


Unlike Beliefs and Instincts, Traits are purchased using Trait Points during character creation. You gain Trait Points from the Lifepaths assigned to that character. There are three kinds of Traits: die traits, call-on traits, and character traits.

The majority of Traits in the list are character traits: things about the way the character looks, talks, or is otherwise played or perceived. These are things like “Big Boned”, “Diminutive Hands”, “Practical”, or “Landlubber”. Die Traits and Call-On Traits are a bit more important and expensive: Die Traits directly modify stats or rolls, and include things like “Affinity For Swords”, “Practiced Precision”, and “Fey Blood”. Call-On Traits are even more rare and specialized: they are supposed to be unique traits that might only come up rarely but make a big difference when they do. Some examples of Call-On Traits include “Inspirational”, “Nimble”, “Fingerspritzenful”, and “Light Sleeper”.

Characters who truly embody their Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits are generally rewarded with more Artha (BW’s experience points).

When you have a concept you like, or even if you can’t come up with one, let me know however is easiest – I prefer IRC (#minechat on ) or you can just go to this thread – and we will sit down and go through character creation.

How To Roll Dice: An Explanation

This is an excellent superlite introduction to the major mechanics of Burning Wheel. I highly recommend giving it a read.

In Burning Wheel, we will be using dice pools to resolve conflicts. In D&D, you roll a d20 and add related modifiers, then compare the result against a set DC. In BW, you roll a handful of d6 and compare each individual die against a set DC (or Difficulty Number (DN), as it’s called in the books), then add up all of the successes and compare that to the Obstacle level of the task. Here is an example from both systems to help clarify:

D&D: Jenaryk the Rogue is going to jump over a creek. His Athletics skill bonus is +5 and the DC to jump over a ten-foot gap is 12, so he needs to roll at least a 7 to succeed. If he rolls a 6 or below, he fails the task and falls in the creek.

BW: Jenaryk the Rogue is going to jump over a creek. His Athletics skill exponent is B3, and this is a mundane task, so the Difficulty Number is 4. Jenaryk will be rolling 3d6, and every d6 that comes up at 5 or better is a Success, and everything at a 4 or lower is a failure. The overall Obstacle of the creek jump is 2, so Jenaryk only needs 2 successes in his pool in order to make it across the creek.

Why go through the extra steps? Well, this is mostly because we can get a much finer gradation of failure and success in BW than in D&D. If Jenaryk fails his skill check in D&D, it’s an either-or sort of deal: either he fell in the creek, or he didn’t. In BW, if Jenaryk only gets one Success when he needs two, then we can say “Well, he alllmost made it across; he’s got to make another Athletics attempt in order to use a tree root to pull himself up.” On the other hand, if he gets 4 or more Successes, perhaps he turns a neat flip as he leaps the creek.

The difference is possibly academic now, but will become more evident the longer we play with the system.

An extra note: In BW, there are two kinds of Obstacle rolls: open and closed. A closed roll works exactly like described above. An open roll means that if any of the dice you roll are sixes, then you get to keep rolling dice for however many sixes you got, adding those successes to your total. Here is an example:

Jenaryk rolls his 3d6 and gets 2, 6, 6. That’s two successes, but because there are two sixes, he gets to roll two more times and add those to his pool: 2, 6, 6, 5, 6. That brings his total success count up to five, and because he got another six, he can reroll again: 2, 6, 6, 5, 6, 3. That last one was a failure, so his total number of successes is 5. Because the Obstacle was only a 2, that means Jenaryk did extraordinarily well. There are no limits to how many rerolls you can get during an open Obstacle roll.

What do the different Shades mean?

All Stats, Attributes, Skills, and other various testable things have two parts: a Shade and an Exponent. The Exponent indicates how many d6 you get to roll when you test that skill. The Shade indicates how many of those will be successes compared against the Difficulty Number.

  • A Black Shade means that each die roll must be greater than the Difficulty Number of the test to be a success.
  • A Grey Shade means that each die roll must be greater than or equal to the Difficulty Number of the test to be a success.
  • A White Shade means that each die roll must be one less, equal to, or greater than the Difficulty Number of the test to be a success.

For example, if we had a skill test at Difficulty 4, someone rolling with a Black skill would need 5s or better, a Grey skill would need 4s or better, and a White skill would need only 3s or better.

The New Player Primer

In The River Country Xazak