Belief workshop

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Here are ideas to help GMs and players with their beliefs. My primary source will be text collected from the BW forums.


Paka gives us an outline

One outline that I dig is:

One Belief about the situation at hand, a concrete goal.
One Belief about the other characters, again something concrete.
One long term Belief or some kind of philosophical Belief that the character can grind up against during play for ze Fate artha.

Thor's current thinking on Beliefs:

  • A belief should contain an ideological stance of some sort.
  • A belief should contain a goal in the "I achieve this goal and earn a Persona point" sense.
  • A belief should express how the ideological stance drives the character to achieve the goal.

A strong ideological stances should be married to goal and an action to achieve that goal, these will be very strong beliefs.

I should make an important point here: Beliefs are not meant to remain static. They are designed to grow and change. To be strengthened, weakened, resolved or broken. If a belief expresses something about your character that you never want to change, then it should be expressed as a trait instead.

A player should use a belief in every scene he's in to push toward his goal, earning Fate every time. And when he resolves the goal, he'll earn a Persona. Then he'll rewrite the belief.

[banging beliefs with new players]

things to think about:

  • Kick beliefs up a notch by specifying the first step you will take to achieve your goal. When you achieve that, take your Persona point and then rewrite your belief so that it reflects the next step in completing your goals.
  • If you want to put a greater stamp on the campaign, why not write down who what and where into your beliefs. Who are your allies, and your enemies?
  • There needs to be a exit strategy. You may earn tons of Fate points from it, but how do you actually resolve it and earn a Persona point?

Stormsweeper's advice for Beliefs

Stormsweeper's take is close to how many GM's write up adventures.

Here is the raw Belief: "I will find the truth of the ice."

advice for Belief creation:

  • What's the "hook"?
  • What's the "endgame"?
  • What's the first step?

So the hook is pretty clear - there's glaciers destroying the land. How does he want that resolved? Does he want to find a way to live with the glaciers, or to push them off the lands?

Let's say he wants to turn them back, now what will he do first? How about finding out why or how they're advancing so fast?

Distilled Belief:

The glaciers are destroying our lands; I will discover how they are advancing.

Kublai's guide to creating great Beliefs

  • One Belief needs to be about the goal of the campaign/adventure. If you don't have this goal defined in crystal clear terms, go back and discuss it with the group.
(Example: I will rescue the princess and defeat the ogre who kidnapped her.)
  • One Belief should be about another character.
(Example: Meniacles [party wizard] is also interested in the princess. I'll make him look like a fool in front of her and ruin his chances.)
  • One Belief is something personal that can be achieved while pursuing the goal.
(Example: To defeat the ogre, I have to retrieve the magic sword buried at the bottom of the lake.)

From this forum post: http://burningwheel.org/forum/showpost.php?p=66167&postcount=6

Zipht's addends

My players have asked me what should their belief be about. My suggections are:

  • One of your belief MUST tie you into the Situation.
  • Look at those things and relationships you have. The reputation you have and your affiliations, the Tech you own. Tie those attachments into the game with your beliefs, how do they relate to you.
  • You are free to make additions to the setting, via Beliefs. Need a rival be it a character or an organization, put them in your belief.
  • Beliefs that evoke strong emotions are really good Beliefs. Love, Hate, Revenge are all good stuff.
  • Written to be rewritten, a belief should change over time, you win or lose, get a persona point and move on.

Luke shares on character burning:

  • Ultimately you must build a character with personal attachments in BE. If you've made it into play and you don't have characters whose sons, daughters, wives, husbands and mentors are on the other side of the conflict, then you skipped a step.
  • Make sure the NPCs have something that the players want. Make sure that they are doing something the players absolutely cannot tolerate.
  • You can't go forward without making yourself vulnerable. There will be action and consequence no matter what you do. In my opinion, this just makes good drama.

Sydney Freedberg on narrative authority:

If you have an idea about anything -- your character, another player's character, an NPC, something in the setting -- say it! If somebody else doesn't think it makes sense in terms of the setting, we'll talk about it; if somebody else just thinks it's lame, we'll talk about that too, not in terms of setting-logic but in terms of what we like as real people, sitting around this table playing the game. I'm GM, so it's my job to be the final arbiter of what's real and what's not. But I'm going to be working on the assumption that everything you say is cool enough to be part of the story.

Paul B, weighs in with his idea for BE Beliefs

Lots and lots of games fall apart because of problems with Beliefs. Unfocused Beliefs, Beliefs that aren’t being challenged, and Beliefs that aren’t being pursued will lead to a lack of reward for the players in the form of Artha. Artha is one of the only meaningful ways to keep score in the game. The game design makes chasing Artha the single highest and best application of its various systems.

I see Belief problems coming in one of two ways: Beliefs that weren’t right to begin with, and Beliefs that aren’t being challenged by the GM.

Beliefs distilled to a formula

Glendower's find that if you have specific, attached to a more general belief, the players have direction, purpose, goals. And you as GM will know immediately what they are going to shoot for.

I think X, so I'll do Y.

Or if you want to get a little more wordy,

Because of X I want Y, so I'll do Z.


Belief-building tips

The most common problem I see with Beliefs is that they either have an ideology but no action, or a to-do item without a driving ideology. Each Belief needs a to-do so it’s clear when the character is pursuing his belief and he can earn Artha, and each Belief needs an ideology to back it up so the action has context. My shorthand for this is, Beliefs are a principled to-do list.

Red flags to look out for:

  • If the players don’t know what they’re “supposed” to be doing right now, their Beliefs are broken.
  • If the players aren’t earning at least 1 Fate for pursuing their Beliefs, their Beliefs are broken.
  • If the players haven’t completed a Belief and had it graduated to a Character Trait by the end of the second session, IMO their Beliefs lack urgency. Not broken, but potentially stagnant.

Two good tips I’ve picked up:

  • Every character should have a Belief that can be resolved in the next Maneuver, a Belief that can be resolved in the next Session, and a Belief that will never really be solved. You should be able to get a Persona for resolving a Belief and two or more Fate each Maneuver for pursuing your Beliefs.
  • There should be an inner conflict built into your Beliefs. You should be able to get a Moldbreaker Persona every other Maneuver, at least, with this.

Hit both those points and your players will have clear goals, and will have mounds of Artha raining down on their heads.

Belief Workshop (Paul B)

Before writing any Beliefs:

Everyone agrees to the main facts of the situation: locations, NPCs, pending events, recent events, important artifacts, whatever. Not everyone has to be interested in every fact.

Have the characters pick a fact or two that really interests them as players – not necessarily as “their characters.”


First Belief:

At the player level, what is interesting to them about their favorite fact? Why did they pick this particular NPC or artifact or war out of the big list? Keep this at the player level. If they start talking about “my character would…”, stop them immediately.

Opinion: Write the first draft of the first Belief, now from the character’s perspective: What is this character’s opinion about this fact? Don’t go any further than this. Once you’ve drafted an opinion, look at it as a player: Does the character share your opinion? The PC doesn’t have to – in fact you can craft a character opinion that’s wildly divergent from the player’s opinion. Just be aware of the distance between the two.

Action: Next up, what does the player want to see the character do about this opinion? If the opinion does not demand immediate action, go back and rewrite it until it does. This action should be small enough to be achieved in the next session.

Adversity: Once you have a plan of action in place, ask yourself “Why hasn’t the character already done this? What’s keeping him from it?” If it’s not obvious, rewrite the action until it’s clear the action isn’t something the character could/should have already accomplished. The player may bring in lots of creativity at this point – in my game, at least, the player has more-or-less free authorship at this point. Make up new NPCs! Make up new locations or situations! Alternately, work with the GM in figuring out suitable adversity that fits the current situation.

Weed out weasel talk: Look for nuance and legalese in the opinion, action and adversity. Nuance is a player’s way of giving himself an easy out on the Belief. Cut it out immediately. Examples: “Few men are suited to rulership of my people, and I think I may count myself among them one day.” No, no, NO. Better: “No man is better suited to the rulership of my people than me.”

Put it together: Now frame the character’s opinion, his plan of action and the adversity facing him into a single Belief. Weed out the weasel talk and make sure it’s unambiguous and lacking in nuance.


Second Belief:

Pick someone at the table whose PC interests you, as a player. What’s interesting about their character? Do you like the character? Hate him?

Opinion: Frame the player’s opinion about the other player’s PC as your character’s opinion about that other PC.

Action: What does the player want to see the character do about this opinion? This is not optional. However, it also does not need to be accomplished in the next session, or ever for that matter.

Adversity: Totally optional. You may pick an “action” that’s sort of an open-ended, even Instinct-like, behavior. “Sassafrass is my best friend and I will do anything to protect him.” That sort of thing is good!

Weed out weasel talk: Just like above, yank the nuance right out. Go for an absolute statement or position here! The delicate nuance the player thinks he wants will emerge in play later as this Belief is leveraged against other Beliefs and Instincts.


Third Belief:

The contradiction: Now, craft an opinion that completely contradicts one or both of the first Beliefs that the player still finds amusing – don’t bother writing a contradictory opinion you, as a player, just can’t ever see backing. What’s the worst opinion the character can have that will completely screw up his Action items of either of the first two Beliefs?

We’re writing this contradiction for two reasons: One, it’s an incredibly easy to exploit for a Moldbreaker and two, it’s a safety valve for the player. If he’s pushed into a corner with his first two Beliefs, this third, contradictory Belief will let him play in a totally contradictory way and still get paid.

Action: Not necessary! That’s the beauty of this contradictory opinion. He probably doesn’t have any big plans to accomplish this; it’s just his self-sabotaging urge.

Adversity: I like to think of the contradictory Belief as the character’s internal Adversity, the reason why Beliefs 1 and 2 are so hard for him to accomplish. So look at Belief 1 and 2 as the “adversity” facing this third Belief.


Warning Signs:

If the player ever says “Well my character would think/care about/believe…”, stop them right there. This is a very VERY common player mistake. We don’t care what this sort of character would care about in this sort of situation. Put the player in charge. It’s the player’s job to give a shit about his character.

Weasel language – nuance, edge cases, legalese – is another common mistake. This is just the player looking for a way to not have to be held accountable for what he’s committed to. If the player complains that there’s no subtlety, point out that he’ll have lots of chances to play out that subtlety as Beliefs (and Instincts) leverage themselves against one another: I care about A and B, which way should my character go? That’s the moment for subtlety.

Lack of adversity: If the character could or should have accomplished his to-do items, let’s just assume he has. Assume he’s done absolutely everything in his power to accomplish his goals, and the game is taking place at the moment he cannot proceed any further. Play starts with the character in crisis.

Lack of action: Beliefs without urgent to-do items are weak. The player should always know what his next action is simply by looking at his Beliefs. If there’s ever a moment in play where the player is all “Well shoot, I have no idea where to go from here,” that’s a sure sign the Belief lacks urgency.

  • * * * *

No, I don't believe this is the only way to write Beliefs. However, this is a very strong starting position that I walk every new BW player through. I really hammer at the warning signs during the process as well.

Links to Discussions

Here are links where advice was sought and given.