Burning Saturn Part IV

This post was originally going to cover lifepaths, however after my last post I received some interesting feedback from friends and online community members I decided to explore a few of the topics that came up – mostly in relation to Synchronicity and the Steel attribute.

Part I: The Steel Attribute

Steel is about struggle and pain. The more things you’ve had to live through, the higher your Steel. (Assuming you have the will to pull through it!) Normally a character’s initial Steel exponent will be determined using a questionnaire. You go down the list, check off your experiences, and tally up the result. Have you been a soldier? Gain steel. Have you given birth to a child? Gain more steel.

It’s a very individualistic attribute in that it is quite literally defined by the pain and struggles of the individual as experienced within their own mind. So what does it mean if you’re part of a hive mind? What does it mean if your experiences mingle with others, or possess memories from a past your current body hasn’t experienced?

This is a problem I’ve been avoiding for too long.

The Gestalt nature of the Saturniids conceptually clashes with the Steel attribute. How do I actually address this in a satisfying and playable manner? Ignoring the problem and using the standard questionnaire creates an unacceptable rift between the fiction and mechanics.

The most obvious solution backed by conventional game design is to give them a trait that applies an appropriate contextual bonus to their Steel tests. This was in fact my original plan – to use something like Fearless as a common trait. However it lacks nuance, and doesn’t really explore the reasons why Saturniids have this resilience. It is to put it bluntly – as unsatisfying as ignoring the problem.

Standing On The Moon

Saturniids are not individuals connected to a shared gestalt network. They are a Gestalt entity that is disintegrating into individuals. The Gestalt contains memories and experiences collected from innumerable lifetimes. Characters on the verge of reunification with that Gestalt have a Steel that could challenge a god. This sense of direction is crucial to understand why the problem exists in the first place.

Humans are born without any major life experiences. They experience love and loss for the first time as they navigate the world. Saturniids are not the same – they are born with a connection to a mind that spans generations.

The ideal Saturniid is only a manifestation of the gestalt with no individual identity. Such a character has a perfect w10 Steel. Individuality is only possible when the connection to the gestalt is interrupted. These two things are an inseparable direct correlation: As your sense of individuality grows, so too does your distance from the gestalt.

Individuality gives you things to fear, suffer, and lose. Determining a Saturniid’s initial Steel exponent requires us to look at the distance they have created by creating psychological distinctions between their existence and that of their kin. It requires us to count DOWN rather than count UP.

Points of Individuality

Saturniids will be getting a new Common Trait called ‘Fractured Gestalt’ and a special questionnaire associated with it. These questions completely replace the standard system for determining your starting Steel exponent. It also provides insight to Saturniid social psychology and has the potential to award Artha when roleplaying your answers well. Finally it is a quantified system for determining when a player character’s behavior causes them to become Lost In The Dark. Players should keep a printed copy alongside their character sheet!

Every ‘Yes’ answer gives +1 Individuality unless another amount is explicitly stated. After you determine your starting Individuality, subtract it from w10 to determine your Steel.

Five points may be spent to shade-shift downward. Players may not begin with an exponent of 1 or 2 in the White or Gray shades – such characters MUST shift their shade downward.

During character burning – a final result of 17+ Individuality gives you the Lost In The Dark trait. If you had previously acquired this trait via lifepaths or trait points, your minimum Steel defaults to b4. If you gain the trait due to Individuality, you minimum starting Steel defaults to b2 as you experience the existential horror of being recently separated from the gestalt for the first time.

After character burning reaching 20+ points of Individuality (through roleplaying) will also make the character Lost In The Dark. This happens regardless of your character’s Synch! Even the Illuminant can potentially come crashing down.


  • If your Will is greater than your Synch, add the difference.
    (Skip if you are Lost In The Dark.)
  • If your best Skill exponent is at least three points ahead of the next highest, add one point.
  • Add the total number of Traits you possess.
    Saturniid Common Traits and those required by Lifepaths are not counted.
  • Add +3 if you gained the Lost In The Dark trait during Character Burning.


  • Do you have a name?
  • Is your name unique, abstract, or otherwise atypical for Saturniids?
  • Add one point for every personal relationship and reputation you possess.
    Personal meaning: Not formal, professional, ceremonial, etc.
  • Have you ever accepted a special social position or privilege as a reward?
    Such as being knighted by a human kingdom.
  • Are you – specifically you – famous?
  • Are you an active member of a Non-Saturniid organization?
  • Do you work for or owe loyalty to a Non-Saturniid person?


  • Do you live on your own without family, roomates, etc?
  • Does your local community have Non-Saturniid residents?
  • Are there less than 1,000 Saturniids in the region?
    Extra +1 if less than 500, and another +1 if less than 100.
  • Have you ever spent a year or longer without seeing another Saturniid?
  • Does your profession require you to frequently away from home?
  • Does your profession require you to work with other Stocks?
  • Are you the only Saturniid player character?


  • Do you have any prized possessions?
  • Do you have any dark secrets?
  • Have you ever lied for personal gain?
  • Do you have a profession that involves violence – such as hunting or warfare?
  • Have you ever stolen something for your own pleasure?
    Extra +1 if it was from a fellow Saturniid.
  • Have you ever caused the death of a Saturniid?
    Extra +3 if it was intentional murder.
  • Have you ever been exiled from a community?
    Extra +3 if it was a Saturniid community.

On a side-note: In my previous post about the Synch attribute I made a brief comment that Persona might be spent to avoid a reduction of it’s exponent during reincarnation. The concepts outlined in the Saturniid Steel questions might also provide an alternative – and more dramatic – means to mitigate it. This would require some additional planning and considerations, but the possibility to losing certain ‘Yes’ answers (as memories and such are lost between incarnations) is a very interesting potential I’d like to explore at a later date.

Part II: Questions About Synchronicity

The Burning Wheel Codex has a striking blue cover and is easily one of the most visually appealing books in my entire RPG collection. It explores various alternate magic systems for the game, and contains updated versions of the stocks found in the outdated Monster Burner. There is however another less attractive blue book I had forgotten about. Buried under my equally outdated copy of Gold (non-revised) was my copy of the Magic Burner. At the start of my article on Synchronicity I expressed frustrations regarding a memory I had of an actual chapter on creating Emotional Attributes. I knew it existed somewhere, but I could not find it. This is because it was hidden away in the Magic Burner. Having found my copy of the book I’d like to touch upon it briefly, and give a little commentary on the attribute.

The Need & Objective

Are the characters more than human? Is there something special about them that sets them apart? Are they dogged by fate, destiny, or a higher power? Does that fate or higher power grant them aid while damning them at the same time? If you’ve answered Yes to all of the above, there might be an emotional attribute at play.”

– The Magic Burner

The Saturniid Gestalt answers these questions with a solid Yes, and I think at this point I’ve managed to touch upon all of these indirectly. However the chapter follows up with a very simple and very appropriate demand: Describe the attribute in one simple sentence.

Synchronicity is the blurring of lines between individuals in the pursuit of absolute harmony.

This is possibly the best (most human-accessible) definition I have given it thus far. This also helps to focus the attribute’s effects – not as an abstract utility akin to Sorcery, but rather a specific (im)personal experience that has an effect on the character’s identity. Even after writing so much about the concept, this exercise has provided an important sobering clarity that will guide my future revisions of the idea.

Ending & Shade

I’ve been generous with Saturniids in that b10 does not end the character’s story. Rather it forces them into the gray shade, resetting them to a lower score yet ascending them to the status of Illuminant. However g10 ends their story as much as any other Stock.

Shade represents a physical and spiritual ascension, and thus there are only two tiers. I’ve spoken of Black and Gray, the Common and Illuminant Saturniids respectively. The lack of a White Shade is intentional. I had considered making a comment about Saturniid legends having heroes that were the physical avatars of the Gestalt with a white shade Synch, but had dropped them from my original post.

Illuminants represent an absolute binary – you either are or are not. It is a massive schism that cannot be crossed in one lifetime. With this in mind I think I’ve actually made a misjudgment. Instead of having there be no White Shade, perhaps I should instead say there is no Gray Shade. In addition to representing the immense power I’ve ascribed to them relative to common Saturniids, it would accelerate the rate at which they unified with the Gestalt (w10) and became unplayable.

I’ve spoken about the Illuminants quite a lot! In reality the vast majority of lifepaths (etc) will be focusing on the Common Saturniids. The Illuminants are very important, but playing one is akin to playing a high ranking noble. I think that I might even remove Epiphany as a way to shade-shift the attribute to really emphasize the journey to attain that level of power.

Effects & Limitations

There is a philosophy in the Linux community that a good program should do one thing, and it should do that one thing very well. Synch is kind of like that – it represents something quite specific and I need to keep the effects highly focused. Although you could describe Synch as a sort of psionic attribute, it is not so versatile. It represents the connection Saturniids have with the Gestalt, as opposed to an abstract concept of mental powers.

It’s a difficult thing to balance because it is both weak and strong. It’s an attribute with no special skills, has no effect on things outside the gestalt, and it cannot be tapped into directly. However it is as quick and easy as thinking, improves your ability to help others, and access the thoughts and memories of generations past and present.

Synch is about knowing and feeling – not doing. It doesn’t let you lift objects with your mind or hypnotize other people. When you are around other Saturniids a character will likely be using their Synch all the time – especially for the bonus to helping! However away from a Saturniid community the utility is greatly reduced… which is precisely appropriate for what the attribute actually represents in the fiction.

Final Thoughts

While I’m glad to spend time on this detour, I’m certainly anxious to start working on the lifepaths. After today I’m feeling more confident about my long-term creative vision having patched up a few things conceptually. Yet everything (and I do mean everything) is a work in progress. I suspect that the Synch attribute in particular will be one of the very last things I’ll be polishing before I release the final version of the Stock.

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