Burning Game Comparisons

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It has recently become common for people to ask about the systemic differences between BurningWheel, BurningEmpires, MouseGuard, and Torchbearer.

Here is a rough comparison of the four games.

Character Generation

  • BW/BE are lifepath with point pools; MG is pick from several predefined lists, TB is also pick from several lists.
  • BW/BE Skills range up to 10, MG/TB up to 6
  • BW skills have a "shade" (Black, Gray, White) that indicates target number
  • MG limits to 24 skills/wises posessed, TB limits to 30 skills and 4 wises, BW/BE don't (Starting characters can have in excess of 30 if one isn't careful)
  • MG has 34 defined skills, TB has 32, BE has 121, and BW more than 200; none of these totals include wises.
  • MG limits at 5 traits, TB at 4, BW/BE don't limit it.
  • BW/BE has 3 belief slots vs MG/TB 1 but...
  • BW/BE has 3 Instinct Slots, which have stronger effects than MG/TB's single instinct slot has.
  • BW/BE has no Goal slot; use beliefs instead. MG and TB have a goal slot.

Skill Rolls

  • Using Other Related Skills to assist
    • BE allows one wise and one non-wise skill to "FoRK" to a skill roll;
    • BWR doesn't set a formal limit, and each may add 1D or 2D depending on level
    • MG allows just one Wise, and only a 1D bonus
  • Target numbers
    • BE and MG always use 4+ for succeses
    • BW has provisions for abilities to use 4+, 3+ or 2+ for successes
  • Figuring success
    • BW/BE meet or exceed the Ob
    • MG also meet or exceed the Ob (page 88 of Mouse Guard RPG)
  • Wises as skills
    • BW/BE/MG treat Wises as a special class of skills
    • TB treats wises as a separate category, and they are boolean.

Rewards aka Artha

  • MG/TB "Rewards" come in 2 flavors (Fate and Persona);
  • BW/BE "Artha" comes in three flavors(Fate, Persona, and Deeds).
  • BW/BE have more uses for Artha than MG does, and more ways to earn them.

Artha/Reward types

  • Fate
    • All - open end a die roll
    • TB - reroll one failed die that hasn't already been rerolled
  • Persona adds dice to a die roll, 1 point each, to a maximum of +3D
    • MG/TB - may add nature dice to a skill roll for 1 persona
    • BW/BE - avoid dying from a mortal wound with 1 persona
    • TB - may reroll all failed dice
  • Deeds points double the non-artha dice roll.


  • BW/BE traits
    • are not combined advantage disadvantage
    • don't have levels
    • each has a defined specific mechanical effect.
      The various types are:
      • character traits, only have the effect of generating artha if you play them;
      • die traits add dice to skill rolls or change how dice work,
      • call on traits allow re-rolling failed dice or breaking ties, but only once per session.
  • MG/TB traits
    • have levels from 1 to 3:
    1. once per session bonus die
    2. whenever applicable bonus die
    3. MG: reroll failed dice
      TB: +1s to tied or successful test
    • all can break ties, but not in the player's favor
    • are all combined advantage and disadvantage
      • disadvantage use by the player earns "checks"
      • once per session advantage use can be reset with earned checks
      • disadvantage role is invoked only by the player

Conditions and Wounding

  • MG has a 5 conditions, each of which is Boolean.
  • TB has 8 conditions, each of which is Boolean. Dead is one of them.
  • BW has 6 different levels of wound, each of which can be taken multiple times, and each time incurs a penalty to further actions.
  • BE has 4 levels of wound, again, each can be taken multiple times.
  • BW/BE Mortal Wounds require spending artha to survive them.

"Emotional Attributes" and Nature

  • Mouse guard has one: Nature.
  • TB has one: Nature.
  • BW has one per major race, plus two in Jihad, plus (IIRC) 2 in Blossoms are Falling, and 2 in Under a Serpent Sun, and several in Magic Burner. Each is some form of price/thematic fight against one's baser instincts... Like nature, when they get too high, the character is out of play.
  • BE does not have any!

"Character Level"

  • BW/BE: a rough "level" comparison has been the number of life-paths taken, but it is not a firm guideline. It is more of a guide to starting capabilities, and has no effect after play begins.
  • MG: there are 5 "ranks" of mice in the guard, but there is no mechanical way to progress from one to another. They affect only character generation and the story role. The progression from one rank to another in play is a story factor, not a mechanical one.
    • The Ranks: Tenderpaw, Guardmouse, Patrol Guard, Patrol Leader, and Guard Captain.
  • TB has a class and level system providing special abilities by class and level.
    • Race is subsumed in the class to a great degree; the core book demihumans are presented with a single class each, while 3 human classes are presented.
    • Level is raised by spending Rewards in play.
    • Level does not affect Skills directly.
    • When level goes up, the character gains one of two abilities for that level from a list by class.

Paranormal abilities:

  • MG none explicit. Nature has some paranormal function in that it can be:
    • substituted for any skill, and
    • with a persona, can double skill.
  • TB has a spell system and has Nature
    • Nature works like in MG.
    • Clerical spells use Ritualist Skill, wizard spells use Arcanist skill.
  • BE "Psychology" is a telepathy type ability if the bright mark possessed.
  • BW has several in core (Dwarven & Elven Craft Skills, Elven Songs, Human Sorcery, Orc Sorcery), and 8 more in Magic Burner; Several more in Jihad (Ancestry, Fanaticism, Simhanada, Analyst) of far more narrow construction.


  • MG is count successes and Failures
  • BW/BE exponent (skill level) advancement is count number of tasks by difficulty - Challenging (Ob > dice before adding artha) Difficult (Ob > dice -3 and Ob > 1/2 dice), or routine. Only a few abilities require that you succeed to count the test; it's not about success, as facing challenges.
  • BW/BE advancement for skills gets much harder once you hit level 5.
  • BW/BE dice from artha don't count for figuring the experience category, so if you need to succeed on those challenging tests (which are absolutely needed for skills of level 5+) you will need to spend artha.
  • BW "Shade Shifting" (permanent lowering of the target number for successes) is by tracking artha spent on a particular skill and is frightfully expensive...

Extended Resolution Systems

The Systems in Each Game

  • MG: 1, used for a variety of purposes, driven by reduction of Disposition. 4 choices. Script 3 actions
  • TB: 1, used for a variety of purposes. Many specific sub uses mechanically defined.
  • BE: 4 DoW, Firefight, I corner him and stab him with my knife, Infection
  • BW: 3 DoW, Range & Cover, Fight!
  • Jihad: adds a 4th to BW: Propaganda War

The Systems in a Nutshell

  • DoW: Duel of Wits - Body of Argument (Disposition) driven, 7 action choices, script 3 actions. a few resolution differences between BW/BE, but in really minor ways due to different skill lists. Pretty much only for Arguments and convincings.
  • Fight: No disposition. 12 options for actions; Script (speed stat, typically 2-8) actions total over 3 volleys. Ends when one side flees, can't fight any more, or both sides agree to stop.
  • Range and Cover: No disposition. script 3 actions, 3 choices. End by damage or movement out of range.
  • Firefight: Disposition driven. Scale is intended for units, not individuals, but includes ability to use individuals as units. Uses a map generated during resolution. Script 3 actions; 9 choices. Subsystem for individuals in close combat. Ends when all remaining units agree to do so, units can be killed or injured out, or can be "broken" by losing all disposition.
  • I Corner Him and Stab Him With My Knife - Mini Firefight. Only 3 action choices, but otherwise, it's a subset of Firefight.
  • Infection: Disposition driven. script 1 action from 8 choices; play half a session of other stuff, then resolve. Some of that other stuff may enable modifiers to the infection action. Drives BE as a metaplot.
  • Propaganda War: Disposition Driven. Not Scripted per se; you script one action, then play out the action, then resolve the propaganda war meta-action. Drives Jihad as a metaplot.

Narrative Frameworks

  • MG has missions broken into GM turn and Player turn
  • TB has delves broken into a series of exploration turns and camping turns, with town phase in between dungeons.
  • BE has a scene budget; each player (and the GM) get a limited number of scenes after scripting the infection action but before resolving it. Players have to move to the "authorial" stance routinely.
  • BW has no framework built in

General Notes

  • MG is very focused, and has few mechanical options, streamlined mechanics, but still maintains the core concepts. Simple enough for literate children to play effectively, but not written as a child's game. Definitely aimed at adults. Excellent introductory game.
  • TB is very focused as well, but has a number of additional mechanics that are distinct from MG.
    • The Town Phase system is highly mechanical
    • inventory management is a vital part of the game
    • dungeoneering is the primary focus of the game. It's not intended as a generic fantasy, but as a dungeon raiding game in homage to old school D&D
  • BE is less focused mechanically, having several options, but fairly structured in play. Not really a game for novices, as it requires everyone to narrate scenes, or at least set them.
  • BW is a toolkit with a few assumptions built in.

Publishing Notes

  • Burning Wheel...
    • BW Classic and Revised are out of print.
    • BW Gold is available in print only, from Burning Wheel HQ. While this guide is not revised to account for it, it is close enough.
  • BE is available in print and PDF from BW HQ.
  • MG is available in print and PDF from Archaia Studio Press. Printed version availability has been erratic.
  • TB is available in print and PDF from BW HQ.

Abbreviations and Terms

Burning Wheel (both BWC and BWR)
Jihad, Blossoms are Falling, and Under a Serpent Sun are supplements for BW
Burning Empires
Mouse Guard
Burning Wheel, specifically the revised edition.
Burning Wheel, specifically the classic edition
Duel of Wits.

History of this page

This is a reformat and expansion from a forum post by Aramis. Wikified by Aramis on 28 Mar 2009, based upon Luke's suggestion that it needed to be put somewhere obvious.

Feb 2014 - added initial pass of Torchbearer to comparisons.