A couple quick DoW questions

Reading through the rules for DoW, there’s a few things that aren’t immediately clear to me.

  1. What is the Obstacle for the various maneuvers? The chart on page 394 says “at the obstacle indicated”, but there seems to be no indicated obstacles. As an example, Obfuscate says that a successful use adds +1 Ob to the opponent’s next action - but if Point (for instance) doesn’t indicate a target Ob to begin with, what does that mean? Does that mean it defaults to 0 Ob, and with a successful use of Obfuscate the next usage becomes 1 Ob?

  2. What are the guidelines for DoWs when someone wants something that’s patently ridiculous? For instance, what if a beggar engages the Emperor in a DoW for the hand of his daughter? It’s implied that declining a DoW essentially is a forfeit… yet it makes no sense whatsoever for the Emperor to even consider this at all.

I’m pretty sure I’m missing something obvious in these two cases. But I want to make sure I understand the system before I run The Sword with my group.


  1. If point is scripted against a defense like Avoid the Topic, the Ob is set by the Avoid roll. A successful Obfuscate in the prior action would add 1 Ob on top of that. If the point is in opposed you would subtract any successes from the oponent’s BoA, except that Obfuscate would reduce them by one.

  2. Intent has to make sense. The GM can declare an intent invalid. In addition in a DoW between players, everyone has to agree to the stakes before the duel can proceed (Agree to Terms, page 390).

  1. Ridiculous DoW statements can be responded to by a “walk away” but in the Adventure Burner it talks about “send them away” in which a high status character has a low status character taken away instead.

The king would send the beggar away.

  1. This is a hypothetical example you used I imagine but to address it as if it was an actual play situation, the Emperor (or his court or his guards) would never allow the Beggar to be in his presence, yes? I imagine it’s a long campaign just for the beggar to get that audience, and by then, maybe his request isn’t so ridiculous. Yet, if the Beggar somehow snuck into the Emperor’s room, there’d be no time for a DoW as the Emperor calls for his guards. So such ridiculousness is not really much of a worry, is it? This is why hypotheticals are discouraged.

Thanks, everyone. Looks like Walk Away/Send Away is really the answer here, combined with declaring intents invalid.

I appreciate the responses!

Remember also that a DoW between characters typically has stakes. Each character wants something from the other, be it an item or a concession or help or something. If one character says “I want you to do this”, the other character can say “HA! No.” and just ‘walk away’ from the argument. It doesn’t mean that the person who didn’t walk away immediately gets everything they wanted.

Also, in the beggar/emperor situation you can have it be a versus persuasion or oratory test. What’s the beggar’s skill with forks and bonuses? What’s the Emperor’s skill with forks and bonuses? Is either party getting help? I imagine that a beggar is going to be trounced by the combined efforts of the emperor, his court, and anyone else throwing in helping dice. Imagine how many dice would be thrown by the emperor if members of the court and guard force who would likely all have social skills all helped on a single roll. That’s easily 10 helping dice right there just from NPC’s in the room who all want to stay on the emperor’s good side.

Also, in a DoW, there’s always the ‘escalate to violence’ option that could play out thus:
The beggar gets the emperor in a DoW.
Beggar: “Stakes: I want to marry your daughter so I can have control of the throne.”
King: “Stakes: I want you beheaded for your insolence.”
Beggar: “Volly one, Point.”
Emperor: “Volly one, Guards, seize him and throw him in the dungeon.”
Beggar: “Your daughter and I have a relationship that-…wait, what?” grabbed by guards

It’s an escalate, the emperor would probably get a command role with forks since they’re his guards, and away goes the beggar. Now, because he agreed to a DoW in the first place, there may be some interesting repercussions of that action, but it’s still viable.

The Emperor should have just started with calling the guards (which is more or less the “send them away” variant of “walk away”). What you described is not really escalation and breaks the gentlement’s agreement of the DoW.

You can escalate to violence after the duel of wits, not during.

What if it was a versus test? In a DoW you could always walk away, but in a social versus test, if you don’t want anything, the other guy can test against your Will. Why is there an option to walk away in a DoW but not a versus test? They are basically the same thing (in spirit); one is just under the microscope.

Okay. Test your Persuade against the Emperor’s Will. That’s Ob 5, plus you’ve just snuck in from the kitchens smelling like offal, so you’re at a major disadvantage, say +3 Ob. If you can beat Ob 8, you’re silver-tongued enough to get what you want.

(And of course there’s an option to walk away in a versus test, or a standard test such as the one you’re talking about. If your intent is “Marry Devin’s daughter,” and your task is “I give a rousing speech to the room Devin just walked out of,” your GM should tell you that your task is invalid.)

Devin’s got it. It all comes back to intent and task. There is no Tyranny of the Test in Burning Wheel. Declaring that you want to make a test is meaningless. Declaring your character’s action is meaningful. We then translate that action into mechanics.

As for the emperor and the beggar, let the rules guide the flow. The impertinent beggar crashes court, so the emperor rolls his eyes and retires to his privy chamber, leaving the beggar shouting into an throne room. Imagine this happens three times. On the third time, the emperor is going to have the beggar dispatched before he can open his mouth.


Aha, I think I get my primary misunderstanding now.

In BW, the players don’t simply get to declare “I use xyz skill/ability/mechanic/whatever.” Instead, they declare Intent and Task, and it’s up to the GM to say “we will see if that works using xyz skill/ability/trait/mechanic/whatever”.

That’s a much more virtuous cycle.

Often players will include a skill/ability in their task, but it’s up to the GM to arbitrate that. Otherwise players are all, “I use my Sword skill to open the door. I use my Sword skill to climb the wall!” And this isn’t that kind of game.

Sometimes the task as part of the intent makes sense, or is sort of a foregone conclusion. “I want to Pilot the ship through those rocks.” That’s not really terribly contentious. Or, “I want to lie my way past the guards.” Those are sort of no-brainer situations. When the Intent/Task package just makes sense, I roll with it. It’s really the abusive test-mongering that you have to watch out for.