Can GM force test on players?

Hi everyone!

I was having an argument with a friend about rolling skills in BW and how they work. For me it always seemed as the GM would present challenges but the players could decide how to face them (he has a more “pasive” role) but he couldn’t force a player to roll for a certain skill but I can’t seem to find any references in the book to support this other than the GM has to clarify the consequences of failure before rolling which suggest that the player always has the last word on what’s happening to his character.

Am I right about this? It always felt to me that it was the spirit of the rules.

As a general rule of thumb you’re right. The GM’s job is to set up the situation that requires a reaction, then get what that would be from the player, including both intent and task (i.e. skill). Sometimes there really aren’t options, though, and sometimes the players’ actions lead to a test. That’s most likely to be a stat test rather than a skill test, though.

If someone is sneaking up, that’s an Observation test for the PC. There’s no other skill that does it. After a long march it’s appropriate to demand Forte tests. And so on.

It’s absolutely wrong for the GM to say, “There’s a wall, roll climb”. The GM (hopefully more impressively) says that there’s a wall. He might even know, from good rapport or clear situation that the Player’s Intent is certainly going to be “get to the other side of the wall”. But it is certainly up to the player to decide what the task (and hence, likely skill) is going to be, whether that’s climbing, explosives, orienteering, some kinda wise, or whatever.

As Wayfarer points out, the GM absolutely needs to call for some tests. Steel, for instance, is explicitly described as such. Observation and forte are likely to be used in a similar way. If it helps, you can imagine it as a default intent of “resist X” (where X is sneaking, poison, drowning, crushing, etc), and usually only one ability applicable to the task.

GM sets the situation, players describe intent/task, GM CALLS FOR ABILITY TEST.

“The wolves are chasing you.”

“I run. I need to get away.”

“Okay, test Speed.”


“The wolves are chasing you.”

“I hide. I need to get away.”

“Okay, test Stealthy vs Observation or Forest-wise, Ob 3 for details for a hiding spot.”


“The wolves are chasing you.”

“I climb a tree. I need to get away.”

“Okay, test Climbing.”

The player does not get to say, “Oh, forget it then. I don’t want to test.”
Situation is set, action is in play and the test is on the table. Roll the dice.

Oh, the way I thought it worked is that the player cannot withdraw it’s decision after it knows the OB, not the ability. Make more sense this way…

Yeah, the player says what to do, and the GM adjucates what sort of test that is.

But there’s also always the Prime Directive of Roleplaying: don’t be a dick. If there’s a huge discrepancy in Ob expectations it’s reasonable to allow a different choice.

“I climb a tree. I need to get away.”

“Okay, test climbing, Ob 7.”

“Huh? You said it was a forest of knotted, gnarly old trees. I figured they’d be, you know, climbable?”

“Nope, they’re made of polished obsidian. And it’s raining. Ob 7.”

“Your description really didn’t convey any of that. My character isn’t going to try to climb trees that are obviously slick glass. I run away instead.”

In this case, I think it’s a failure of the GM to accurately convey the situation, and the player has every right to demand a different action based on incorrect understanding. Because the player’s perspective is always far more limited than the character’s, and making characters behave like idiots because of player-player interactions is, in my experience, not great gameplay.

Also if I lay down an unexpected failure condition, I’m happy to let the player rethink their approach.

Those are both valid!

“I’m going to try to forge a new sword for Radgar.”

"Okay, but if you fail, you accidentally hammer your hand instead of the steel. In your confused agony you will stab yourself through the heart with the red-hot blade and die in molten agony.


But, do I still get a Fate for working toward my Belief?

laughs My group is constantly doing that. This last game, one of my PCs actually changed all his beliefs into fate mine type beliefs, because he’d saved up a bunch of persona, and wanted more fate.

I find it reasonable, as a GM, to force tests on players in only a few circumstances. There’s the obvious ones, like steel and observation. Beyond that, there can be unexpected circumstances that demand tests. For instance, say they’re on a ship, and it capsizes, launching them into the water. I’m going to make them roll a swimming test. I’d accept an alternative if they’ve got a better idea (maybe sorcery, with a water breathing spell?), but otherwise, the situation rather demands their action.

That said… I find those circumstances to be really, really uncommon.

Or you could “say Yes” for the swimming part and get to more belief-related matters directly (e.g. now you’re are stranded on a tiny island…).

There’s also an important difference there, I think. A ship capsizes and they’re all in the water? I’d ask the all-important question: “What do you do?” Maybe there aren’t a whole lot of options, at least that you can see, but this is when players get to be creative and bust out those quirky skills.

Also I’m amused that you went to swimming as the example, as there’s no Swimming skill and that’s been a source of repeated questions and debate. It’s probably a Quickness test. And because drowning is boring, I’d usually make the failure consequence something like having to ditch all your gear to remain buoyant.

Failure is you swim to a tiny island that isn’t the same tiny island on which your boat washes up. :wink:

That’s a winner.

Additionally (nitpick alert), when your boat capsizes, you don’t’ start swimming, you grab onto the hull of the ship and lean on the keel to flip it back over. If its too big for that, your ship would probobly sink before it capsizes. Therefore the previously mentioned “what do you do” is in order.

I’ve often wondered about forcing tests due to certain spell effect, usually of the type “I cast a spell to hide my lair.” For example, if my elf spirit binder summons the forest spirit to hinder those seeking the elven citadel, this could be a forced ob against orienteering. Similarly, a wizard casts an illusion spell to hide his wizard’s tower; obstacle penalty against perception. These are both valid spells- shouldn’t it force a test if the mage successfully achieved his intent by casting?

In other words, can I cast an “obstacle penalty” type spell in advance (increased duration) and then expect those who intend to thwart my intention make a test with the obstacle penalty?

That sounds like standard Burning Wheel to me Wrathbone

Player: [i]I know the way. We head to the elven citadel.

[/i]GM: Hmmm. [Considers Say Yes or Roll Dice.] [i]You set out along the familiar route. Hours later, you could swear you’ve passed the same tree stump three times.

[/i]Player: [i]What? That’s bullshit! I find a clearing with some flat terrain, put a stick in the ground upright and use the shadow to determine my compass points. We know the citadel is Northwest of where we started.

[/i]GM: Great! That sounds like an Orienteering test. Normally it would be Ob 1, but it’s Ob 4 because reasons. If you fail…

I also draw a distinction between the g.m. forcing a test and an n.p.c. forcing a test based upon their actions.
G.M. Due to the inclimate weather check Fort vs. Ob 1, failure is treated the same way as spell tax.
N.P.C. has cast a spell of concealment (Grey Cloak) that imposes a +3 Ob to all Observation and Perception rolls within (or looking into) it’s folds.

From reading through this thread it looks like the general consensus is that as a GM you are able to “force” a test but it is not in the scope of any skill in the game. The way that I am interpreting this is active events in the game, like players heading into the windswept plains of the north, would force a Forte test. If they are about to be ambushed but a band of Orcs, this would be a chance to call for a Perception test. If you posing a problem, a locked door for example, it is not in the vein of Burning Wheel to call for a test to pick the lock. It would be a better opportunity to ask “what do you do?” This way you and the players can have the open dialog to set the Task and Intent along with setting the stakes, usually from the very statement that you just created with the players. Than it is time to pick up the dice.

As a GM it is easy to let your story get in the way of the players agency and that is one element of Burning Wheel that you have to be careful on imo. While the GM has a lot of control the feel of Task and Intent skill system is to allow the players to have some control over what happens to their characters. Now if they are foolish enough to wander into the frozen north with just a loin cloth, or foolishly wander into an Orcish ambush, by all means call for those checks all day long.