Circling out of Boredom

Do you need a game-appropriate rationale for circling up characters or can you circle up whoever you want on a whim. The rules state broadly that Circles is to be used for finding people to provide “information or services,” but can you use it just to add to the game? For example, the campaign is stalled, so I circle up a demented inventor. No reason, I just know that if a demented inventor comes into play, something interesting is bound to happen.

Um, that seems like it’s short-circuiting most of the game…

If the campaign is stalled, fix that. Don’t throw the wacky at it and hope. Take a step back: is this just a low spot in the night, no one feeling creative, no one feeling like they can hit a belief from the situation as it stands? Time to reframe the situation. If the GM doesn’t have a plan for how to do that, looking at your own beliefs to see if there’s something you’ve been holding back from is an excellent source of inspiration.

Well, I think it’s important for your character to need or want something specific out of his intent for the Circles roll, is the important thing. That way there’s something at stake in case you fail. If the roll is just in a vacuum because a player wants to Circles up an NPC out of no where for reasons outside of the fictional context of the situation, that doesn’t seem appropriate. I could be way off, I’m still new at this.

It’s just like anything else in the game. You can do it, but it’s also subject to the section on obstructionism and clowns.

To put it in a more positive light, I’m looking at this more as player authorship of the campaign, not just throwing in a monkey wrench for no reason. Kind of like in the way you write your own beliefs. As in, wouldn’t the game be more interesting if this NPC were involved somehow?

Yeah, but you can still do that (bringing in an NPC you think will spice up the game) in the context of pushing your character’s beliefs, right?

Highly contextual to the situation.

What you’ve written is setting off alarm bells in my head. They’re the bells of “Something is seriously wrong around that table and it’s not the thing he’s asking about.”

If you’re that bored, bringing in a mad scientist won’t fix it, just provide an amusing derail for a few minutes and/or annoy other players.

You should be asking for adversity through the whole BITs/situation/fight-for-what-you-believe cycle. Circles should be used in the last phase of that. If you’re instead twiddling your thumbs and it gets so boring that suddenly you decide to start Circling, you’re not really fixing the problem. The problem’s deeper: maybe you’re not writing beliefs that actually grab you*. Maybe your GM is either ignoring your beliefs or adhering slavishly to them**. Maybe there’s a lack of focus around the table, so everyone has totally different beliefs about different stuff, no common focus(es).

So, the technical answer to your question is “yes you can.” If you’ve just suddenly realized that you never wrote it into a belief or anything but you always pictured your guy with a bow, and you want to circle up a bowyer, sure. Likewise if your aim isn’t a mechanical “I want to write a bow down on my character sheet” but more like you always pictured your guy with a favorite bar to hang out at, or you always pictured your guy with an adversarial foil high in the City Watch, or whatever.

But I’m not thinking that’s gonna fix your game.

*Not, like, “you’re an idiot, write better beliefs.” I do this myself. Very often I write a belief that I’m not really sure about. Sometimes it pays off big (either because it works better than I thought, or because it stimulates me to reject or rewrite it in a fruitful way). Other times it just kinda sits there. That’s okay: it’s why you have three beliefs!
**It’s pretty important that a GM creates a situation that spins your beliefs a bit, rather than treating them as a strict list of allowable challenges.

Putting on my GM hat, if a player asks for a mad inventor, I’ll consider why. If it’s for BITs, or to solve a problem, that’s a good use of Circles. If it’s out of boredom, it’s probably time to fix the boredom. But if it’s out of boredom and I can see how the mad inventor helps, ideally by bringing BITs back to front and center where they belong, I’ll Say Yes.

In fact, that’s my inclination in general. If players want something that’s irrelevant but neither unbalanced nor game-wrecking, I’ll Say Yes. Players get authorship too. If they want mad science, they get mad science unless it’s going to ruin something. And I mean the mood or theme or integrity of the game, not just my fiendish plot.

What you’ve written is setting off alarm bells in my head. They’re the bells of “Something is seriously wrong around that table and it’s not the thing he’s asking about.”

This x1000. “If my car is broken, will it help to turn on the windshield wipers?”

Here’s the thing about tabletop gaming: you have to get you, and several of your friends together to play (in person, or online these days) and everyone is putting in time. If boredom is happening, that’s a lot of people’s time and energy being wasted, and, why a lot of games eventually just break up - if the game doesn’t reliably hit the fun stuff consistently, there’s a lot of better things people could be doing.

Tangentially related to the question you were trying to ask: I’d let players Circle up characters to direct or shape the direction of the story, using the same kind of thinking that goes behind BITs- does it create interesting twists?

“We’re fighting for the throne? This is totally the best time to find my bastard son who I abandoned 8 years ago!”


I’d say “Sort of.” In the example you’ve given, I’d say that’s not a Circles test, that’s covered by “Say Yes”. You don’t have an intent, so there’s no reason to roll, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no reason to introduce the character.

I would say no. Circles fall under the general heading of tests and in BW you only make a test if something important is on the line. If I was the GM in the above situation I would demand in-game rational for finding a demented inventor. If nothing I is at stake I would just Say Yes. Or no, if demented inventors were outside the appropriate setting.

And if the campaign is stalled, the players either need to be more proactive about completing their goals or the GM needs to be more proactive about the bad guys going after the PCs. Or the goals are wrong for the situation. Check out your BITs. That’s where I go to for guidance when I’m stalled.

You should never make any test in this game out of boredom.