I can guess what I had to say in that old thread Gnosego mentioned. As you intuited, as the GM, you have multiple options for how to proceed when the players choose violence in Burning Wheel.
In my games, I choose Fight when everyone is involved and when it’s important to the players in terms of their beliefs. Time is definitely a factor, though. I’ve had a Fight start in one session and end in the next. It’s a pain in the butt and I definitely try to avoid that if possible. That said, I like Fight a lot! In my current game, i strive to have at least one conflict (DoW, R&C or Fight) per session. More often than not, it’s Fight.
If Fight is not the right option for the situation, whether that’s because there are only a few PCs involved, there’s nothing critical to beliefs involved, time-pressure like you experienced, or something else, you have two options: A versus test or a bloody versus test.
Bloody versus is specific for violent encounters, so at first blush that seems like the obvious choice, but it may not be based on your judgment of the situation!
If you want clear resolution, like that first player’s intent to escape with the person they’re supposed to save, a straight-up versus test might be the best choice. The outcome if they succeed is clear and the outcome if they fail is clear (because you’ll state the consequence of failure before they roll–your intent for the NPC).
The NPC’s intent could be to drive the PC off and capture the prisoner, to capture both, to kill them both. Whatever makes sense to you. The important thing is that because it’s a versus test, the NPC has a stated intent. If you want to deliver a wound with a versus test, I find it best to state the kind of would upfront. “If you fail, you’ll take a severe wound to the gut.”
If using a versus test for the situation you describe, I would ask if the sorceress wants to help the first character or vice versa. Decide who’s leading based on which intent takes precedence (maiming or rescuing). One player leads and the other player helps.
The potential downside of a versus test is that it’s an all or nothing test. You put together your FoRKs, help, Artha, etc. and roll. If the player has a larger dice pool than their opponent, they have a decent chance of succeeding. If they have a smaller pool, they don’t. As such, versus tests are potentially the most dangerous way of engaging in violence in Burning Wheel. Be careful with intent to kill. My players like to make sure they always save at least one Persona point in case they need it for the Will to Live or a Persona Point Complication.
Your other choice is Bloody Versus. It’s the choice that’s between full Fight and a versus test.
When you engage in Fight or Bloody Versus, your intent is actually somewhat circumscribed. It’s “to harm the opponent.” They don’t let you deliver a specific level of harm to your opponent–that will be up to the dice. They don’t resolve any other intents, except by default. By which I mean that Fight or BV can’t give a player their intent to escape, except in as much as the guard can’t stop you from escaping once they’re badly injured or killed.
Choose BV because it’s faster than Fight (which makes it ideal when not everyone in the group is involved) and because it’s LESS RISKY than a versus test. Things can still go very wrong in a BV, but it’s much less likely for either party to take a mortal blow than it is with a versus test with killing intent.
To sum up:
- If you want an intent to inflict a certain wound or even kill, use a versus test, not Fight or a Bloody Versus test.
- As a GM, I try to let the demands of the fiction dictate NPC intent. I have no problem with making wounds consequences, but I usually only choose kill as an intent if the player has already done so. Tit for tat. If the player has a few Persona points though, I’ll let fly. They can use Persona Point Complications to escape death if they want.
- If your intent is to wound I suggest setting a specific wound at the start. As noted above, that’s only possible with a versus test.
Addenda: I consider versus tests with killing intent the most dangerous way to approach violence in the game. Fight is next. There’s a lot players can do to control the situation in Fight, but a wrong choice can definitely make things bad. Bloody Versus is probably the safest option because you can always allocate to defense.
I hope that helps. Sorry if it was more than you were looking for!