Acquiring gangs/crews in play?

Something came up in our turn the other night: Kerrn rabble-rouser FoN wants to gather a sizeable group of disaffected workers to stage a strike. There’s nothing in the rules about this, so I tabled the scene 'til I could talk it through with y’all.

I’m not sure if a Circles roll is appropriate (I don’t think it is). It might be that “a sizeable group of disaffected workers” is just color to provide the backstory for some other roll, like an Oratory or a Propaganda or something. In that case does the player get anything for the trouble? Maybe a +1d for “advantage”?

My take on Circles: It’s for pulling up an individual that can provide a particular skill and/or bit of information at a particular time. I read through that chapter a couple times and that’s all I can come up with. No talk of using your Circles for groups. EDIT: There’s a passing example of using Circles to get “some mercenaries” on p. 352, under “Circles and Advancement.” This is the only place this appears. If this is possible, how many can you get with a single Circles roll? As many as you can afford with a Resources test? This discovery really muddies the waters for me.

Some possibilities came to mind:

1) It’s a maneuver. My intuition is that gathering a group of anyone is actually a function of activating a faction. You want a bunch of angry Kerrn slaves? Activate the Diaspora! But I might be wrong. I also don’t see that he wants to use the entire faction, just a subset of it (the angriest and most disaffected of the Kerrn down in the ghetto).

2) It’s a pre-play thing. It’s up to the player to arrange for those gangs/crews during character burning. As in, the “I need a gang or crew” rules only happen once in the game, after which you simply can’t do it. If that’s true it’s totally unacceptable and I’ll need to houserule something.

3) It’s a converted relationship. You could, I suppose, circle up a leader of a gang/crew and convert him to a relationship (turning his circles exponent into his gang). It’s not a quick acquisition in that case, and it feels out-of-step with what it takes to acquire tech, for example: a color scene and a building scene.

4) It’s a resources test. Couldn’t find a mention of how that would work at all. What’s the test to hire up a bunch of mercs? Or buy the services of a bunch of thugs for a single outing?

Basically the whole securing-a-gang-or-crew-in-play thing has me baffled. Help!


What is the player’s intent? What is he requesting to be used as his task?

Yeah, interesting question. At the time it was “to stage a strike at the loading dock.” But I didn’t get to the next part, the “why” behind that choice, because we got tangled up in the system questions.

I couldn’t begin to guess at why he wanted to stage a strike. I suspect I need to focus the players on the point of conflict scenes: you’re aiming either for a FF or a DoW. I think. :-/

It might help to talk a bit about various ways to use groups. Very quickly off the top of my head, just so we can start:

  • As muscle in a fight. (Player: I want to hire a group of well-equipped mercs I can trust to help break someone out of prison.)

  • As popular support, rabble-rousing, creating chaos. (Player: I want to find the angriest, most rebellious slaves in the ghetto and get them to start a riot as a distraction.)

  • As labor for a specific project. (Player: I want to hire enough skilled laborers that I can trust to build a cargo ship without the Merchant League knowing that I’m doing it.)

If there are different ways to get groups to help you depending on how you want to use them, that might be a bit much to keep track of.


Hey Paul,

The reason you got tangled up in system questions is because you missed the first step of the mechanics in Burning Wheel: describing the intent and the task. The player described a task “gathering a sizeable force of angry workers”. But without an intent, it’s not possible to judge what ability that task will test.

Snag your player and ask him why he was doing what he was doing. What was his intent? Then we can look into the mechanical applications.


Agreed, and that’s the first thing we’ll do on our next turn. In the mean time, can you take a very quick swing at the three scenarios I laid out in the last post?


One very simple yes/no question on this topic: Is a Circles roll appropriate for acquiring the services of more than one person in a roll? As in, a merc squad implied by the example on p352.


Yeah. You’re looking for the leader, in his capacity as leader. Consider this when calculating the Ob.

It’ll probably also require a Resources roll to pay them off unless you have an in with them already (You or I would need to make it, an underworld boss could probably just call in a favor. You or I couldn’t get off-duty sodalis-brethren to give us the time of day, a dregus could get them to haul his niece back from the wrong side of town, no problem).

Simple enough, thank you.

Thinking through my Kerrn rebel leader scenario: I don’t object to him rustling up a bunch of ne’er-do-wells, since that’s his thing. It probably also wouldn’t require a Resources roll, since he’s calling on them to raise hell, not necessarily to perform a technical task. So I’m thinking, instead, that I’ll set the stakes at something like, “If you win you get loyalists; if you lose you end up with an uncontrollable hive of scum and villainy.” And still make it a Circles roll.

Is setting stakes in this case correct? I suppose it’s another take on the Enmity Clause as well, assuming the leader of the mob would be the worst egg in the bunch.


I’d make that an Oratory test or something, actually. But yeah, if you want them Circlesed (not a real word), that would be the right way to do it.

Interesting, and I agree that’s another way to do it. Given that, I’m wondering what Circles is good for, exactly, beyond getting an NPC or group with skills you don’t have. EDIT: And hardening your NPCs and groups against getting screwed with by the other side, I suppose.


Yes, Circles may be used to gather a leader and his group.

The failure conditions for Circles are clearly outlined in the Circles chapter: Either no contact or invoke the enmity clause.

Circles is used to bring NPCs into play. Oratory is not. Oratory is used to convince someone of your point. You could Circles in a Kerrn Mürk and then use Oratory, Resources or Persuasion to motivate him to your side. It depends on the situation.


Yeah, I posted that before I finished explaining it, because I’m an idiot. Obviously, Oratory does not substitute for Circles, and you can’t use it the way I said there. What I meant to say is, for a riot I’d go to where the angry young Kerrn hang out (possibly with a Dark Shattered Underbelly-wise, Kerrn-wise, or similar test, or by the Circles), and I’d speechify. I don’t, strictly, need to Circles anyone up, because I’m not looking for anyone in particular (unless there aren’t many Kerrn, or they’re mostly content, or something like that).

Now, if there aren’t that many angry Kerrn, or they’re below the radar, or if you need them in front of City Hall, or if you can’t (because you’re not green, or you can’t talk, or whatever) get them to do what you need, then you need some circles to talk to the big man about it.