Chance of passing difficult tests

Hey everyone,

We have been starting with Burning Wheel, and I love the fundamental concepts. However, one thing that seemed very weird to me is the table “Difficulty of test by Dice rolled”. While I can see the general idea behind it, it seems quite difficult to remember (difficult is equal to dice until 3, then equal or 1 less until 6, then remains at equal or 2 less). Also, the chance of passing these tests seems to vary quite a bit, and not only towards increasing difficulty, e.g.

Chance of passing a difficult test:
1D - 50%
2D - 25%
3D - 13%
4D - 31%
5D - 18%
6D - 11%
7D - 23%

Is there an underlying reason for this, or is it just an unfortuntunate consequence of a D6 die-pool system (as you cannot keep the percentage constant)? Now I understand that BW has the philosophy that failing is not a bad thing. But having to spend 2 Fate points to have a 50% chance of passing a 5D difficulty test seems pretty steep? And it is even worse for 6D :frowning: Am I overlooking something fundamental?

Thanks for any insight!

1 Like

Were the answers on reddit satisfactory?


Routine/Difficult/Challenging refer to the exact test in relative terms to the dice mustered. An Ob 1 test might be difficult for one character but routine for another. An ob 4 test (what I presume you mean by a 5D difficulty test) is not going to be a sure thing for any but the most highly skilled or well prepared folks.

1 Like

I understand the concept, but I am not sure the numbers actually support the idea of modelling difficulty of a task relative to the users skill. It seemed very strange to us that a difficult test is 3 times (!) easier to pass for someone with B4 than with B3. We would have expected a difficult test to always be, say ~25% sucess chance or something, but I have come to believe that this just wasnt possible given all the other complex considerations.

Yes, I think I have now wrapped my head around the issue. Seems to be just an unfortunate quirk of the system arising from other design considerations.

Hi @BrknKybrd!

In Burning Wheel, it might be helpful to think of “Routine” / “Difficult” / “Challenging” as keywords that tell you how the game views them (in a similar way that something like DnD might refer to, say, “Challenge Rating”).

The terms are used as a mechanic to track advancement, rather than as a descriptive term of how hard something is for a player to accomplish.

In broad brush strokes, Routine test are not very likely to fail, Challenging tests are impossible to pass with just the dice in front of you, and Difficult tests cover the middle ground.

To my mind, this approach then also integrates into the Artha system, so that dice, test difficulty, Advancement and Artha all feed into one another to produce a specific play experience.

Yes, all Difficult tests are definitely not created equally!

Our table often relies on having the test difficulty table easily to hand (or on our character sheets), and it’s not unusual for us to then make decisions on what help to take, or what Artha to spend, based on what the Consequence of Failure looks like!


I particularly liked this reply

I mean… It’s kinda strange that the percentages work out that way, but when I saw it I immediately thought of learning-plateaus.

The fact that you keep improving, but it gets harder and harder makes sense. And then every few advancements you have a real breakthrough that changes your understanding or technique in a way that makes you significantly better, until you start to plateau again.

I don’t think it was on purpose, but it seems like a nice accident to me; more interesting than a constant incline, and more like real life.

1 Like