Burning Saturn Part II

In my last post I established the core concept for the Stock – Saturniids, who are essentially moth people. Today I’ll be solidifying ideas into Traits, and figuring out what precisely will be our standard issue collection of Common Traits all Saturniids possess.

Before diving into the trait-creation rules provided by the Monster Burner I decided to shift my attention to the core rules and do some analysis of the common traits given to Elves and Dwarves.

A Brief Analysis of Basic Stocks

Theoretically common traits should establish the non-human aspects of the Stock. Looking at what is considered divergent between Humans and these fantasy standards should give a good glimpse into what inhuman aspects the game prioritizes, or where it draws certain lines.

Insight #1: The Amount
Dwarves have seven common traits, and Elves have six. Common sense dictates that players will only be able to keep so many traits in their head. Having too many will make a Stock overwhelming.

If the purpose of common traits is to mechanically define the non-human aspects, it would make sense for less-human Stocks to have more to define their otherness. Taking a quick look at the Monster Burner we can see the Great Wolves possess eight Common Traits, and Great Spiders have a total of twelve. Saturniids are fairly non-human, much more so that Elves or Dwarves. This implies I’ll probably have a few more than the standard Stocks, but I should also be careful not to go overboard.

Another point of consideration – one trait can carry multiple thematically related effects. The Dwarven trait “Stout” gives a physical description, maximum attributes, and the movement speed in one package.

Insight #2: Analyzing Conceptual Categories
Burning Wheel uses three mechanical categories to organize traits. Character traits provide flavour without special rules. Dice Traits introduce special abilities or influence dice rolls directly. Call-On Traits can break ties, or otherwise give your dice a little extra weight.

This is not particularly useful for me in this stage. What I really want to know is what concepts were given recognition, and if there are patterns between the Elves and Dwarves I can use to inform my own design. I came up with four notable types of Common Traits seen in both Stocks.

Type One: Emotional Attributes

Simply possessing an emotional attribute is recognized via a trait. Elves possess Grief, and Dwarves possess Greed. If the Saturniids have an emotional Attribute, I’ll need a trait that simply declares the character has access to it.

Type Two: Access to Special Skills

Elves have their magical songs, and Dwarves have their crafts. Simply having the ability to learn these things is declared via a Trait. Saturniids will have one special skill that is universal – their flight skill. To keep the total number of Common Traits to a minimum, it seems appropriate to fold that into the Wing trait itself.

Type Three: Archetypal Aesthetics

Beards, otherworldly beauty – the typical panache in the form of character traits. Each is given a bit of flavourtext that provides a bit of cultural or historical context. Dwarves have beards, but what does a beard mean to a dwarf?

Type Four: Biological Traits

The traits that actually explore “What” a creature is, and how that influences the game. Biological traits adjust stats, movement speed, define perceptual abilities (keen sight), genetic temperament, and so on. This is the particular portion that will bloat a non-human’s common trait amount. The less human the body, the more traits are needed to represent it.

Returning to the Monster Burner

Having written material for various games I have a somewhat intuitive sense of what I should be creating, or how I should be balancing traits. However I’m trying stay as close to the Monster Burner as I can to challenge my own assumptions. Opening up and reading the Trait Burner I’m confronted with a set of clashing expectations.

The Monster Burner is partially written with a bias that trait points imply increased power. It mentions the power imbalance between a creature with 50 points of traits against 12 points of traits… However in Burning Wheel your disadvantages also cost trait points. This means that exceptionally weak stocks will on-paper resemble the exceptionally powerful – both having quite a few traits.

To put it another way: Monster traits are written as a list of “Cool things your creature can do.” rather than “Challenges unique to your creature’s form.” – and this colors how the information has been presented in the Trait burner itself.

Disadvantages theoretically cost less than an advantage. The nature of pricing disadvantages – especially severe disadvantages – is not really explored. In fact there are almost no examples of harsh negative traits in the Monster Burner. I can make the assumption that a +1D bonus and a -1D penalty have the same base price – but the only alteration is given to traits that “really (really) penalizes a monster” is a -1 point reduction. Meanwhile it also notes that traits (positive or negative) the GM finds cool could also be given a -1 point reduction.

Perhaps I’m simply misunderstanding something – but I can’t help but sense that the Trait Burner itself is… confused. Despite the fact Burning Wheel is a point-buy system, it has a very different internal logic than a game like GURPS. In my opinion the Trait Burner tries to combine a GURPS style point-logic and the Burning Wheel literary approach and ends up struggling to do either.

As a novice I’m opening this to get a sense of stability and structure, but instead I find myself with a sense that I’m doomed to sloppiness. Thus due to my own incomprehension, or simply a rule set that wasn’t written with my goals in mind, I am left to my best judgment going forward.

Common traits are everything inhuman about the creature… but also nothing that isn’t absolutely central to it’s concept. What exactly does that mean when creating the Saturniids? How do I measure something like their extremely limited power attribute in terms of points? Should I even bother to measure them, or cast it aside in favour of the literary approach?

Gathering Information

Next I skim through the traits listed in Burning Wheel, the Codex, and the Monster Burner and write down everything that sounds relevant. The list is long and full of redundancies, such as several different approaches to the concept of fearlessness.

The common traits given to Stocks are flavourful, but choosing from a list provides generic options. There is something to be said about simply pointing to the traits given in Burning Wheel and stating “Saturniids have this and that.” but this approach lacks storytelling nuance.

This is especially true when certain ideas mechanically work, but thematically feel a bit off. Unifying the theme and mechanics will require at least a little rewriting to make the Saturniids mesh with the overall style of Burning Wheel.

I spent no less than six hours going back and forth through the list.

  • Which trait tells a better story mechanically?
  • Is this trait really necessary?
  • How can I tweak this to better suit the concept?
  • Am I making unnecessary adjustments?
  • Will this be too powerful?
  • Too confusing?

I won’t bother writing out my lists, deletions, relists, adjustments, and everything else that happened during this phase. In the end I had my list of standard traits I would be using for Saturniids: None.

After all that effort my conclusion was that nothing really fit properly as-written. While many things came close, nothing really said “Saturniid” in a way that matched my vision. I realize that I really am in the deep end – going forward I’ll be writing traits from scratch… or at least cannibalizing a few things here and there to fully manifest the Saturniids that exist in my imagination.

Closing the Circle

I am back to where I began – relying upon my intuition and what I’ve gathered from analyzing the examples given in Burning Wheel Gold Revised. The following are not finalized, but they represent the end of an unnecessarily arduous process.

Emotional Attribute: Unity(?)

I haven’t fully decided on the name, but Saturniids do have an emotional attribute that reflects their narrative themes.

Mostly Fluff

They are bipedal insectoids standing about 100cm on average, but weigh no more than 15kg. (3’6, 30lbs) They possess a maximum Power of 2, and a max Forte of 3. Their stick-thin bodies are coated in a layer of fuzz and fluff making them appear larger than they are. This fuzz comes in many colors and patterns, and are about as distinct as human faces for the purpose of identification.

Errata: Those exponents were probably too harsh. I’m going to shift it to Power 3, and Forte 5. I might also give them a maximum Agility of 9.

Saturniid Wings

Their leathery wings are slow and clumsy. They can glide effortlessly, but flapping is as exhausting as sprinting. They possess a base Stride of 5 on the ground and in the air. Proper flying skills allow the Saturniid to fly faster and longer. This is represented with their unique skill: Mothflight. During character burning Saturniids open this skill for free – no skill point necessary. However if a lifepath lists Mothflight as a required skill you must spend a point to advance it.

Errata: Rather than giving out the skill for free, gliding will be treated as a simple test of Speed and the skill will be used for more advanced purposes.


They possess four arms capable of independent motion and perfect coordination. When working quickly a Saturniid reduces time by 15% per success rather than 10%.

If a task would explicitly benefit from having four independant arms, this trait may contextually award a +1D bonus.

Example Uses: Puppetry, handicrafts, playing certain instruments, sorting small items, etc.

The individual arms are about half as strong as the arm of a human with an identical Power stat. Tasks requiring physical exertion require the Saturniid to use both arms together as if it were one. Thus anything that requires effort comparable to moving a 4kg+ (8lb+) object cannot gain the +1D bonus.

Moths to a Flame

When a Saturniid encounters a particularly interesting light, they must call upon their Steel as if they were resisting Wonderment. On a failure the Saturniid is enthralled – they approach the light and stare. This continues until the light diminishes, an outside force interrupts them, or their physical needs (hunger, exhaustion) are strong enough to warrant immediate attention.

Examples: Anything seen at least once a week, Ob 0. Clear night sky, a colored candle, Ob 1. The full moon, bonfire, Elven starlight, Ob 2. Magical lanterns, stained glass at just the right hour, dazzling lightning storms, Ob 3. Flashes of arcane power, dragonfire, ob 4. Gazing upon an Illuminant, Ob 5.

Errata: The above was a mistake as Steel tests do not have Obstacles. I had originally written this as a Will test and forgot about that.

Amazing Multipurpose Antennae

Like mundane moths the Saturniids possess supremely powerful senses of both smell and vibration detection. Perception rolls using smell or vibration sense are open-ended. Vibration sensitivity includes detecting sounds, but not identifying what they are.

Your vibration sensitivity provides a tactile form of echolocation on the ground and in the air. You can ‘see’ the location, shape, and movement of everything in your environment via tiny ripples in the air. If a human could see it in daylight, you can detect it in total darkness. You cannot ‘see’ details such as writing or color. You ‘see’ in every direction simultaneously, thus nothing can get a bonus sneaking up from behind. Walls and similar obstacles that would obstruct vision also obstruct your vibration sense.

Your sense of smell allows you to identify and track things like a dog. If a human would know someone well enough to recognize their voice, a Saturniid would know them well enough to recognize their smell.

Update: The above will be totally re-written. The various uses for Antennae will be compiled into an open-ended “Antennae-Sense” skill rather than influencing the Perception attribute more generally. Overall this will share similar design to the Second Sight trait in Burning Wheel Gold Revised.


Saturniid common traits are textually and mechanically heavy. Much like the Great Wolves their common trait traits are all Die Traits. Although I originally intended to include a few character traits, I ran into an important detail:

There are essentially two types of Saturniids. The common Saturniids are simple absent-minded creatures. Thus I had planned to write in a behaviorally focused trait that expressed this. However the other type known as The Illuminant do not possess that mindset. Common traits are meant to be universal, but since Illuminants have a different mindset their iconic simple-mindedness is not in fact universal… and thus not a common trait.

Likewise they have no purely cosmetic traits. Instead the aesthetic details have been woven into the mechanical traits. Purely cosmetic traits make sense for a more humanlike creature where basic functions can be assumed, but creatures like Saturniids have functionally different bodies.

Saturniids possess severe disadvantages – especially their physical attributes. However they also possess some potentially powerful gifts. The most notable of which is their Antennae based on real-world moths. (Fun fact – a silk moth can detect a mate up to seven miles away.) In the language of the Trait Burner this would be quite the expensive trait, but much like Elven immortality it is part of what makes moths well… moths!

Saturniid abilities are all contextual, even their Antennae only enhance certain types of perception rolls. I find this context to be important as it differentiates “They are just good at this” from “They have certain gifts that they can leverage to their advantage.” The latter is more interesting to me because it centers the Narrative before the Mechanic.

Saturniids have awful stats. (This is further emphasized in their age charts which will appear later.) However they tend to be eccentric, and thus I intend to be somewhat generous in the number of trait points their lifepaths offer. I suspect I’ll have quite a few Special Traits available for the various tangential ideas pushed to the side in this process – such as their absent minded nature.

I’m going to hold off on writing these Special Traits until I’ve gotten other aspects of the Stock completed. In the next post I’ll be exploring the Saturniid emotional attribute, and how it relates to the themes I’ve outlined in my first post.

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