Circles/non-native settings

I’m having some trouble with Circles. So, maybe I misunderstand, but in character creation, my players get their characters’ LP/settings, which then function as a limit for Circles. If I’m understanding Circles, this is a permanent limitation: a character can only ever test Circles to find people in the settings of his/her LPs. But this seems very constraining, as characters would, it seem, grow over the course of a game, and be able to come into contact with people outside of those settings.

So say my character who had Slave and Village settings is on a trip to a City. Can he not meet anyone? Does he literally walk around unable to talk to people?

I had a character with Noble (and maybe some City) LPs in a Village and I handled this by saying he’d be able to make contacts with the local nobles.

But something seems like it’s going wrong in my reading, because it seems incredibly restrictive. I would appreciate help in better understanding how to GM circles in my game, because it’s going to be important.

The character can talk to any NPC they want to.

But the player cannot call for a circles roll, specifically attempting to bring an NPC into existence that is outside their circles.

I believe they can broaden their circles through Trait votes as the game progresses.

Yeah, traits to expand Circles is a way to go. And there can certainly be things to happen in-game that would allow a Circles test outside your Lifepaths.

For example in a game I was in a couple PCs were starting to spend a lot of time with some Great Spiders (diplomatic talks and such) and at one point we wanted to Circle a spider of a specific disposition and the GM allowed it based on us having spent a lot of time with the Great Spiders and so we probably would have gotten to know a few of them fairly well.

You can also adjust who you are looking for to get a setting overlap. If you’re in a city and only have village lifepaths, try to find someone who at some point spent time in a village. Apprentice and Journeyman are both good prospects for village lifepaths that can end you up in a city. Make sure to roleplay the request so it makes sense, like you’re spending a lot of time around the guild halls trying to find someone who you might recognize from back home.

At the most recent trait vote in my (currently on haiatus) Burning Luzon campaign, the first thing we did was vote Spartacus onto the Princess-turned-murder-hobo so she could actually circle up fellow vagabond outcasts, and Power Behind The Throne onto the lunatic smuggler who recently landed a job working for the murder-princess’s older sister’s court. (Both characters also got the Corruption trait voted onto them, but that’s another story entirely.)

You could circle for someone in your circles that has overlap and that might introduce you.

Don’t forget you can also just say yes or “yes, but…”

Player: “The new governor is a man of science and never had a reputation of being devout before. So if the highly religious people here support him, there must be something else going on. I want to find one of the area pastors who has convinced their flock to support the governor.”
GM: “You’re from the city. You don’t have any rural or religious connections. So you can ask around and find the guy you’re looking for, no roll, but it’ll take you a few days and nearly everyone in the area will know about you by the time you’ve accomplished your task.”

THEN, if it’s important to the player that this task be accomplished more quickly or less publicly, call for some other tests. Inconspicuous, Resources, Falsehood, Doctrine, Disguise, appropriate wises, etc.

Well, that’s it in a nutshell isn’t it? Circles isn’t your ability to meet people, it’s basically your ability to tell the GM this person exists from your backstory and you’re bringing them into play. If you want to find someone outside of your circles, it’s part of regular play. Just like anything else, the GM can say Yes, or make you roll dice, or they can even say “Nope. That person does not exist.” Because, GM.

And, that’s why it’s fine for it to be restrictive. Players don’t need tons of “tell the GM this thing exists in the world” power. A little goes a long way.


I think a lot of people get hung up on using Circles just because it exists. Saying yes is commonly just giving the players more rope to hang themselves. Any given roll in BW, in my experience, is usually a lot less about complication/success and a lot more about complication now/complication later. They’re going to get in deep trouble, so ask yourself, does it really have to be this, particular trouble?