Another BL/versus rolls -question post

Hey y’all.
I know that there have been plenty of posts with questions about the ruling of versus rolls and my questions are probably answered in the depth of this forum. But the more I read the more confused I get. Maybe it’s because there are controversial approaches or answers to pre BWGR times but most likely my thinking just got unnecessary complicated.

I would be happy if someone could walk with me through an example and settle it once and for all:
Let’s say there are two combatants with swords
a) is unskilled and has Agility B5 and has a +Ob1 wound penalty
b) has sword skill B3
and we are looking at a sword(beginners luck) vs sword test:

  • a) rolls 3 successes, b) rolls 2 successes
  • For a result a) subtracts 1 success from his 3 (because of the wound penalty) to 2 successes and b) get’s his two successes doubled (for his opponents BL) to 4 successes. So 2 vs 4 successes with a MoS of 2 for b).
  • For advancement a) looks at the 5D he rolled and compares them to the 2 successes of his opponent plus 1 for the wound he got. Ob3 it is. This is a routine test and therefore counts towards opening the sword skill and not advancing the agility Stat. b) compares his 3 dice from his sword skill with the 2 successes of a). He marks a routine test for his skill. (the fact that a) was wounded doesn’t matter at all!?)

Does this look right to you? I’m a bit confused with the advancement of b) and the line on p.439 about unskilled vs skilled in Fight! “you must generate two successes for each one of your opponent’s”. Why isn’t it worded like on p.29 “double the obstacle or the amount of successes your opponent rolls and then add modifiers”. Is there a relevant difference?

Bonus question 1: Am I right that if both sides roll BL it’s back to Stat vs Stat where no DOP is applied or are there any problems with MoS that I haven’t had my head around yet?

Bonus question 2: When there is a versus test where one side uses a stat and the other rolls BL, do both sides suffer a DOP? BL for sure but is it stat vs skill? … While I’m writing this I already hear the BWHQ screaming: “BL TESTS A STAT SO IT’S A STAT VS STAT TEST!!!”… Probably I should scratch that question…

Super bonus @BWHQ: Is there any chance for a discount on the pdfs if I have bought the books already? Sadly I’m not swimming in Cash dice and 50 bucks for BWGR, Codex and Anthology are quite a bit for me. :confused: Or can I hope for a bundle sale in the store any time? :smiley: Anyway, thanks a lot for this brilliant game and the cool forum! :*

And thanks in advance for any answers!

I believe your understanding is correct. As for this question above, the wound matters in that it reduced the Ob from 3 to 2, unless I understood you wrong.

Bonus question 1: it’s stat vs. stat, but both sides suffer a DOP because of beginner’s luck. It is still relevant to double the Ob because it changes the chances of success in a non-linear way (one side might be penalized more by the DOP than the other).

Bonus question 2: BL vs. stat is stat vs. stat, so no double Ob penalty for the side rolling the stat. The side rolling BL still has the DOP.

The question was about the opponents Ob penalty during logging the test for advancement. Let’s say the opponent is a grandmaster in swordfighting but she is blindfolded, holding a baby in her off hand, wearing a dinosaur costume, her head is on fire and she has a superficial wound. Even though she rolled quite a few successes they are all “neutralized” by her +Ob penalties.
My point is that it’s not THAT hard to beat the poor fella in a fight but it still counts as a (let’s say) challenging test because of the successes she rolled.
After all it’s a pretty theoretical problem and I’m happy to handle it by simply ignoring the opponents Ob penalties for advancement (like described in the original post).

Interesting. Can you give an example for the non linearity?
I assume both sides reduce their successes by their potential Ob penalties and divide the result by two (rounding down!?) for BL? Doubling the opponents successes is problematic since they are dependent on your successes and vice versa… Or do I double the “raw” successes of my opponent and add penalties? My head is swirling a bit but I think that would result in both parties failing most of the time.

oh, and thanks for the response!

Let’s say you have 2 characters rolling BL, a) with stat 6, and b) with stat 4. Then, a) rolls 3 successes and b) rolls 2 successes (50% successes each). Applying DOP from begginer’s luck, the Ob for a) is 4 (passable), while the one for b) is 6 (impossible), so a) has a large advantage here. If you didn’t apply the DOP from BL, b) could win the test when they shouldn’t be able to.

This looks like the versus test turned into two standard tests. How do I calculate the margin of success? :thinking:

In your example both characters failed to achieve a single success and (in case of a swordfight) no one would be dealing damage, right?

Tbh, it’s hard for me to imagine two unskilled combatants with weapons and murderous intents to not hurt each other (or themselves ^^) in a fight.

Edit: Of course this could happen without BL as well but it would require only snake eyes on both sides while with BL it’s the most probable outcome…

Yes, in my example both sides failed. BWG page 427 says what happens when neither side hits in a Bloody Versus:

This titanic struggle leads to a deadlock. No wounds are suffered. The side with the most defense successes decides what happens next: another round of fighting (preferably with a different skill), a Forte versus test to outlast your opponent, a Power versus test to subdue your opponent or a Speed versus test to escape. Or both sides may agree to call it a draw.

Here’s the orthodox method:

Ob penalties apply first, directly to your unmodified die pool; They’re not affected by Ob×2. Do not add your Ob penalties to the other side’s successes.

Beginner’s Luck (or other Ob×2 penalty) halves your successes in a versus test. Discard any fractional successes. This is the method prescribed in the Codex.

Do not double the opponent’s successes. Do not apply Beginner’s Luck Ob×2 when the obstacle does not require a skill, e.g. your testing stat vs stat—including BL vs BL. (A good way of looking at this is that you can test a stat instead of a skill and lacking the required skill for the obstacle imposes Ob×2.)

Margin of success is the number of successes you have in excess of passing or winning the test. It’s the number of successes you could lose without changing the basic result.


Lucky rolls Agility 3 +1 Ob versus Skilly’s Sword 2. The +Ob knocks Lucky down to 2, then Ob×2 cuts that in half to 1 succes. Swordy’s 2 successes stay just like that. Swordy wins, 0 margin (losing any successes would result in a tie).

Lucky calculates the Ob for advancement as Swordy’s 2 successes plus his +1 Ob, for 3, which is as you say routine and counts toward opening Sword.

BQ 1: Neither side suffers Ob×2.
BQ 2: Neither side suffers Ob×2.

In both Bonus Question cases, the characters testing Beginner’s Luck count routine tests toward opening the skill.

Regarding opponent’s Ob penalties and advancement, they reduce the effective Ob just like they reduce your opponent’s pool of successes. 4s +1 Ob = 3s = Ob 3 for advancement.

This doesn’t make any sense. If you didn’t apply the Ob×2 (to either side) it would be 3 vs 2, the 3 would still win. In fact, if you apply Ob×2 to both sides, the basic result will never change. What does change is the margins (if you double a difference of 1, it becomes a difference of 2).

Unless you calculate versus tests as simultaneous standard tests, which is not recommended anywhere in the books. (I’ve tried it, too, and ultimately it lacks utility to make up for the complexity it introduces.) And Bloody Versus is two simultaneous versus tests as a specific subsystem; It should not be taken as the standard for versus tests.

To summarize, the simple, “standard” approach:

  • Roll ze dice
  • Subtract Ob penalties
  • Assess Double Ob when the obstacle requires a skill, not just because you’re activating Beginner’s Luck
  • Halve for Double Ob, discard half-successes
  • Compare, the side with more wins (or there’s a tie)
  • Margin of Success: how many successes the winner could lose and still win


Now, this is not the only way to do it. In fact, you will need to either interpret the rules to match your method or employ a different method for contradictory cases—Margin in the Duel of Wits rules refers to all of your effective successes, including the one you needed to win, while the Fight rules count only the extras.

The Fight rules imply that you literally double the opponent’s successes then add your Ob penalty to that total. Which means if you, unskilled, are standing and drooling and superficially injured and get punched by a marine with B3 Brawling, the worst he can do is a Mark hit—but if you tried to block (inadvisable) and rolled 1, he could roll 3, double to 6, add 1 for your supe, and hit you with a Superb that he can aim, too. (Unless you count that first success outside the margin, then he can’t aim. See how fiddly this gets?)

So, if you try to do anything, instead of standing there like an inanimate object, you are likely to get hit harder. Does that make sense? It certainly seems to discourage unskilled folks from trying anything. That’s the case against literally doubling the other guy’s successes.

My preferred method for handling unskilled vs. skilled is a little different from the orthodox.

Here’s a table (top: skilled successes, left: unskilled successes):

A 1 2 3 4 5
1 S+0 S+1 S+2 S+3 S+4
2 Tie S+0 S+1 S+2 S+3
3 U+0 S+0 S+1 S+2 S+3
4 U+1 Tie S+0 S+1 S+2
5 U+2 U+0 S+0 S+1 S+2

The math I use to get there is whatever is expedient but the principle is: The mark is what you need to tie with the other guy. If you have more than that, you win. For every extra success, it’s +1 MoS. If you lose and your MoF matters, it’s calculated from your perspective: One less than you needed to meet the mark is MoF 1, and so on.

Why do I do this? I did a lot of math and got into an argument with Quincy about it. It’s so that skilled characters matched with unskilled characters with twice the dice have the same odds of success and their margins are counted the same. The unskilled characters’ luck is chaotic, just as likely to accidentally blow away the obstacles as they are to fail abysmally. The skilled characters can’t achieve the same heights by sheer beginner’s luck anymore, but they are consistently better in the margins than the unskilled: Always failing by a little bit, or oversucceeding by a little bit.

Throwing out half successes changes all this. Unskilled characters are simply more likely to fail, to do so catastrophically, and when they succeed, it is by a slim margin. I don’t like the way that feels, so I prefer my way.

Here’s the table for the orthodox way, for comparison (top: skilled successes, left: unskilled successes):

1 2 3 4 5
1 S+0 S+1 S+2 S+3 S+4
2 Tie S+0 S+1 S+2 S+3
3 Tie S+0 S+1 S+2 S+3
4 U+0 Tie S+0 S+1 S+2
5 U+0 Tie S+0 S+1 S+2

Skilly’s results have stayed the same, but now Unskilled can’t hope to do better than tie or make a bare success. I think the message is clear: Don’t do shit unskilled.

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How does it not make sense?

a) has stat 6, b) has stat 4.
a) attacks with 3D and defends with 3D. b) attacks with 2D and defends with 2D.
0 means the statement above the line is false, 1 means it’s true:

(AnyDice, tell me if I did something wrong here)

As you can see, when you double the Ob, it does not impact both sides the same way, and actually reduces the chance of both sides missing! So, you should always double the obstacle, even when both sides are rolling BL.

EDIT: updated the AnyDice calculation to include rolling 0 successes, which I had forgotten

We’re talking about versus tests, not Bloody Versus. Hence Kai’s confusion about a single versus test turning into two standard tests. Am I right, @The-VVhite-Crow, you’re not asking about Bloody Versus, just versus tests in general?

In a versus test, where you simply compare the total on either side, doubling both sides does not change the probability of each outcome, it just inflates the difference of those outcomes.

How are you handling the Ob×2 for both sides in a BV, @Marcloure? What’s the algorithm? I’m not fluent in AnyDice.

It’s a rounding error. 3/2 in AnyDice is 1. Applying the operations left to right:

If you ever get a different result for N and 2*N/2, assume something’s gone wonky.

Apparently this is intentional.

As is in Burning Wheel. You discard the leftover as well.

This one has a simple comparison for vs. tests: AnyDice

EDIT: Nevermind, I think you got how it works. Also, it doesn’t test both sides rolling with BL.

By now, @The-VVhite-Crow, you should see that beginner’s luck versus tests are a lawless land, where, despite every gunslinger being a straight shooter, no one ever fires in a line.

Figure out what makes sense for you and apply it consistently.


Hey, thanks for the effort both of you put in your answers! Really helpful!

Again, interesting. @Crowsworthy So you apply Beginners Luck DoP only when tested against a skill?! (Or in case of a vs roll in one of the subsystems that demands skill vs stat, I guess) I thought you apply DoP whenever you test a skill you haven’t opened, you test stat vs skill or you don’t have the tools for the job.

I’ll do! :wink: Thanks!


The alternative, applying Ob×2 for beginner’s luck no matter the circumstance leads to a weird question every so often: “Do I want to test my stat or do I want to test my stat instead of a skill?” It comes up when both a skill and its root stat are valid abilities for a test. For example, when you Lock in a Fight—Power or Brawling both work.

I think the question turns Beginner’s Luck into a button the player can push that ups the difficulty in exchange for advancement, decoupled from what’s happening “in the game” or what the character is doing. I don’t see why, if the task doesn’t need to change, the difficulty should change, just because I, the player, have decided I want the chance fill in this bubble on the character sheet instead of just this bubble. I don’t find arguments that it’s the fair price for the advancement opportunity compelling, either, because I think the obstacle should just represent what the character is up against—which also hasn’t changed.

I could maybe overcome this by pinning down which ability is being used “in the game,” asking questions like, “Are you just wrenching the guy’s arm back, or are you doing some aikido stuff, redirecting his force?” But, well, why should I? I’d just be asking the player to choose which they prefer again, but using innuendo. Or I could go back after the player chooses Beginner’s Luck and ask them to change their task to justify the obstacle increase. But then that seems weird; How do you make that a legitimately different task and not just a melodramatic version of the same task?

Much simpler to let the obstacle determine whether testing unskilled incurs the double Ob penalty.

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Ah okay. When you test a BL skill that REPLACES a stat (e.g. brawling instead of power for the lock action) that makes totally sense.

I was worried that I got something fundamentally wrong when you stated:

because in general, BL vs stat (as in my initial BQ 2 ^^) still suffers DoP, when the skill is the only logical option to test. Riding (BL) vs Speed for example.

Over all I came to the conclusion that I dug far to deep into the mechanics and most problems are easily avoided by looking at the fiction and handling it the way that makes most sense there.

To be clear, my rationale is that it leads to weird questions like that, but I wasn’t describing my exception; I still don’t assess Ob×2 for Beginner’s Luck versus a Stat. Ever.

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@Crowsworthy I initially thought you where wrong with

and wrote an example to explain my thoughts. In the end I stumbled and came to the conclusion that you where right. ^^ Damn I love this game…

I’ll post it anyway since it’s stupid and I’m not even sure anymore if it’s a kosher use of a versus test…
Here you go:

Let me present a poor/weird example I just came up with:
Character a) is selling wooden chairs for a living. Even though he has no experience (no carpentry skill) he builds them himself and is proud of his work.
Character b) bought one and now claims that said chairs are a waste of wood and even a child could easily break them apart.
The village eldest calls for a trial. To settle the dispute a) has to build a chair and b) has to proof his statement by destroying it only using his hands.

I would call for a BL carpentry (a) Vs Power (b) test.

I don’t have a lot of experience in GMing Burning Wheel and it is a bizarre example I came up with. Can I even call for a versus test if the skills aren’t directly opposing each other like in this case?
Alternatively one could ask for standard carpentry to build the chair and standard power as in the Materials chapter on p.542 to rip it apart.

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