Saturday, January 14, 2012
Fire and Flames: A Review of Burning Wheel
Ladies and gentlemen, Bagginses and Boffins, I proudly present to you a review of what I speculate will be the pride and joy of my RPG collection for some time. This certainly won't be the last time that I speak on Burning Wheel Gold, but I'll certainly try and sum up exactly what I think about the game. I'll also be trying a nice, easy, organized review format.
What It Is
Burning Wheel Gold is the latest and most definitive version of Luke Crane's radical RPG that strips fantasy roleplaying back to the basics and rebuilds it with an eye to telling an engaging, character-driven story. It has the distinction of being one of the most rules-heavy storytelling RPGs out there, but all of those rules and systems do have a point. BWG draws heavily from the Tolkien tradition, among many inspirations, and is all about dynamic characters in intense conflicts.
What It Isn't
It's not D&D, not quite. It has a good deal in common with some of the older editions of the game, but it's far more Tolkienesque and low-magic than D&D ever was. It's also not an esoteric indie RPG. Mind you, there's some very innovative concepts here about the core philosophies of RPGs, but none of them are unapproachable. It's also not a simulator, although there's plenty of tactical decisions to be made in conflicts. The decisions are different, though. Instead of figuring out how to maneuver to outflank an enemy, you're deciding whether you want to prepare a feint, defense, or attack against whatever they've got up their sleeve.
Well...in my humble opinion, this is 600 pages of awesomeness. In short, it's everything that I've been looking for in a fantasy RPG. This game is filled with a lot of little systems, but they're all systems which reinforce one another, and provide roleplaying cues all around. This system certainly has no shortage of details, and yet the details don't feel cobbled in like in some RPGs. (I'm looking at you, 3.5) The lifepath-based character creation is fantastic, so much so that I used it to gain new perspectives on some characters for a story that I'm writing.
There's certainly a lot to wrap your head around here, and the game is by no means easy to completely understand, even if it is modular in design. It's at a level that I get, but I certainly wouldn't wish this upon any newcomer to roleplaying games. There's a lot to keep track of, as well, in terms of rules (even if I do consider them all to be crunchy goodness instead of being a clunky mess like in other games). I've been reading the book over and over again, so that I have a good handle on everything. It strikes me as sort of a Russian novel amongst roleplaying games, albeit a tad easier to sift through.
The Selling Point
Luke Crane loves roleplaying, and he loves this game. The sheer passion with which he sets forth Burning Wheel Gold is astounding, and it's an incredible read. There's a certain enthusiasm in the game which is very hard to replicate, and it's pure magic. This is truly a roleplaying game with a soul, if RPGs could have souls. It shines, it burns, with a certain vitality that I have yet to see in another game. It dares to strive for things that other games can only talk about doing. And that's why I love Burning Wheel.
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