The Burning Wheel RPG is not another d20 clone. It is a roleplaying game designed to appeal to the narrative gamer who doesn't want to get bogged down in mechanics. While the game shows a lot of promise, I remain unconvinced that it will work at the game table. The elements of shared storytelling are broken by a number of mechanics that seem added to give the player the extra mechanisms that they expect in a roleplaying game. Tactical combat, skill advancement, character creation are expectations in a roleplaying game; and Burning Wheel addresses these in detail. But, I find these rules are arbitrarily appended to a core system that was not constructed to bear their weight. As a whole it left me wondering if the original intent was to end the rules at chapter two.
It is very well written. The presentation of the material is logical. I also appreciated the size of the books -- they are 5 x 8 perfect bound books. At the beginning there is promise that the system is based on a simple mechanic. The deeper you get into the book, the more convoluted it becomes. The game is skill based and uses a mechanism of success on a dice pool. What I found compelling is that it seems to present one of the best explanations of how to use skills to resolve action I have seen in an RPG. The consistency of the skill test is also one of the drawbacks.
Burning Wheel presents a system where players will be immersed in an in-game interaction until the skill test is required. The roll of the dice resolves the success and then the narrative of the success or failure flows from there. The game is pitch-perfect on the result of failure of a dice roll -- it leads to more obstacles to overcome. Failure is interesting and drives the story forward. Success, however, doesn't do much for the game. The problem is scope.
If I am a skillful orator, a single quick interaction can range from mundane to inspired. Over a prolonged discussion I will settle to the middle of my bell-curve at being skillful. There is no mechanism in Burning Wheel that matches what in DnD terms would be "taking 10". That isn't a huge problem for the game, but the effect on the action is. When running a game a skillful GM will be able to expand or contract the action to focus on moments of conflict, tension, and excitement. Burning Wheel can artificially lump action together by the nature of the rules as written. Again, not a huge problem, but a detraction from an otherwise excellent core mechanism.
Where the game really comes off the rails for me is when we start adding the next set of rules around tactical situations. It just gets bogged down.
Has anyone played this game at the table? How did it work for you? How many sessions did it last?