Combining too many systems

Hey all,

First things first I’m having a blast running my first Burning Wheel campaign. It’s mostly going fine and we’ve had some great sessions. In fact my first session was probably the best session I’ve ever had of any roleplaying game ever. It all worked so well. My players played out their traits and beliefs perfectly. They made some rolls that got them into trouble. We even had a Duel of Wits at the end which, might sound quite complicated for the first session but actually worked really well and set things up for later sessions.

Anyway on to my actual problem. I’m struggling with simple combat a bit and I think I’m combining systems that shouldn’t be combined when just running the game with simple Intent and Task tests. I get that in simple combat I can just do a relevant versus test. Sword v sword. Sword v Brawling…whatever is appropriate and I guess I could apply the advantages and disadvantages that are listed in the Bloody versus section right? Give a player an extra die because he has the longer weapon? Increase the ob because the opponent is armored. I also really like Bloody Versus. It’s not very complicated and describes quite nicely how it links into other systems like wounds for example.

The issue I had was in a combat situation that didn’t involve a versus test - namely one player sneaking up with his bow and shooting someone. I’ll tell you how I run it and then how I think I probably should have run it and why I have issues with both. This may end up being quite a long post so…apologies in advance.

How I ran it:
PC has passed a stealth test and is now looking through the window of a cabin, bow notched (it’s an instinct) and he can see a “bad guy” about to murder a hostage. He decides to shoot the bad guy and, even though we weren’t using range and cover I assume he’s at optimal range and say it’s ob 2 to hit. In hindsight I should have made him be clearer about his Intent - did he want to kill this guy or just knock him down. He passes the test and has a few extra successes. I know missile weapons have no add but I assume extra successes can be spent to pick a location just like with a melee weapon. He moves his shot to the less armored head. Bad guy rolls the one armor dice he has for his head and fails so the hit goes through. Player rolls the Die of Fate to see what kind of wound he does. I then cross check that with the bad guys stat block to work out that he got a midi wound and mark it on his sheet.

So this worked fine I guess but it was cumbersome and I guess completely over the top for a random mook.

How I think I should have ran it:
PC decides he wants to kill or injure the guy and lets me know. I set an obstacle based on his intent. Lets say he wants to kill the guy. I let him know that because he’s never done that before he’s at a disadvantage. He’s scared or nervous because this will be the first person he’s ever killed. Also the guy is armored so that’s another increase in ob so I let the player know that the final ob is 4. If he fails he’ll alert them to his presence and the poor hostage will get killed. He makes the roll and passes and the guys dead. No more messing around with armor dice or the die of fate just straight up dead.

Here’s why I’m not sure about the latter method. I quite like the idea that you can mean to just hurt someone but accidentally kill them in the process…that you can have an intent but once you start swinging a sword or firing a bow you might not do exactly what you want to do. This seems to be how things worked in the Sword demo that’s floating around youtube where Luke is the GM. Two PCs are squaring off in a bloody versus duel and one player gets a crazy amount of extra successes. Luke seemed to imply that the player had no choice and HAD to spend those on extra damage pretty much killing the other PC outright. I really liked this and sums up what I’m saying. You can try to knock the guy unconscious but you might hit him too hard. You can try to kill the guy but you might just graze him with your shot. I guess the important thing here is that…for random mooks like this it’s probably okay to give my players there intent and apply all these wound rules for important conflicts?

Second issue. After the shot and my other player beating up another bad guy with a round of Bloody Versus, they ended up with the first bad guy tied to a chair. Both my players have awful will scores and are currently terrible at persuading people to do what they want. However, with this guys severely wounded it enabled my players to actually pass a persuasion test. In effect if I didn’t use the wound mechanics at all and just said the guy was subdued or whatever they would have no chance in passing any will based tests. What I’m asking is, is it possible to offer up wounds as an intent? For example, rather than messing with the die of fate or extra successes could I simply say, “okay you want to injure this guy. Cool that’s ob 4 and if you succeed he’ll get a midi wound?” or would you recommend actually using the DoF in this instance just to see how wounded he ends up?

Okay rambling nearly over. My main questions are:

  • Out of the two examples above which do you think makes the most sense?
  • Do my disadvantages make sense? Increasing the ob for armor in normal versus tests? Making it harder to kill vs wound because it’s psychologically a bigger thing? Giving a player an extra die in a simple versus test because they have a bigger weapon?
  • Lastly, what do you think about using wounds at all for random mooks and, more importantly, what do you think about the lack of control in how much damage a PC actually does?

Okay thanks guys, and thank you to anyone who actually reads all of this!!


Depending on the situation, the guy being shot dead could also be a perfect failure consequence. If the character’s going to feel guilty about it, if somebody’s going to come after him for killing the guy, etc. So even with a simple test, you could still get this outcome, if you so desired.

Other than that, if the type of wound makes for different interesting outcomes, you could always say a DoF is going to determine actual wound if the character hits.

Yup, killing the guy could easily be a failure consequence. I would also never tell the player that his character is nervous. I might tell them to test steel, i might point out that a trait that or an instinct is in play, but I would never just say they’re nervous and factor it into the Ob. If they fail a test or the player RPs that they’re nervous, then sure, that might be an issue they have to deal with.

I got no problem with increasing the Ob for armor. Also got no problem with an intent about wounding someone. And shooting mooks always falls under the GM’s “Say yes, or roll dice” rules, so there no requirement to use wounds.

In regards to the lack of control over damage, that’s a specific feature of Bloody Versus (and Fight!). Once you’re using those mechanics, you’re inheretnly messing around in the nitty-gritty of the injury mechanics. However, if you’re just using a regular test to fight your way through some mooks, then you’re just using a regular fixed obstacle or versus test, and if the player succeds, they get their intent as desired. Now, if they’re trying to do something like use their crossbow or greatsword to just injure someone, it may make sense to increase the obstacle, with “you accidently kill them” as a failure consequense. But oustide of Fight! and Bloody Versus, the characters should do exactly as much damage as they intended if they succeed. Not that I would even track wounds in this case; if the opponent is important enough that their wounds are important, they’re important enough to deserve Fight! or Bloody Versus.

In the examples given, I choose none of the above. I would have decided on a test based on beliefs and instincts of the character. Is this a moment to test the character’s grit? Steel test. Failure is you hesitate and he sees you. Is this about the PC’s archery? Test that Bow skill, failure is the arrow is lodged in his armor and he only takes a 1D penalty before he sounds the alarm and charges you. Success at either and your arrow is protruding out his forehead.

I saw Adam make the same mistake in his most recent Roll20 episode. If you roll with intent to kill then you will get that result if you make your roll. Adding in the wound system and armor and all of that makes the game unnecessarily unwieldy and may invalidate the intent of a roll.

Thanks for the help so far and most of the stuff I mentioned above has been answered. I guess the main confusion is that there’s no obvious versus test for using a bow skill so I need to come up with sensible obs on the fly. My earlier comment about my player being nervous and therefore putting them at a disadvantage probably wasn’t the best way to phrase it. I think I just wanted to enforce that killing someone should be intrinsically a bit harder than wounding someone.

I guess I still have two things remaining that I want to follow up on. First of all can I use the advantage and disadvantage examples listed on page 426 in the bloody versus section for simple vs tests? I guess a further confusion is that simple bow tests aren’t really discussed anywhere in the book at all so I’m still a little unsure how to run a bow test at all really…sensible obstacles, advantages and disadvantages to apply etc.

Lastly, I feel like the actual mechanic effects of a wound are being ignored a bit. I mentioned that in my example they became very important and made it possible for my players to pass the subsequent persuasion test because the NPCs will exponent dropped to a more sensible number. If I forgo wounds completely then my players wouldn’t have been able to do this. Yet if we assume that damage only comes into play when using the Fight, Bloody Versus or Range and Cover rules then how would I do this in a simple Intent and task test. The player states he wants to wound the enemy with his bow and I let him know that if he succeeds I just say which kind of wound the NPC gets? Something like that?

Yes! If there’s a question about how wounded the target will be, I like to look at the weapon damage as a guide. If they succeed, maybe the NPC will take a Mark hit, wounding, but not killing them. A failure could be an Incidental that might give them problems in a follow-up test, but won’t prevent them from acting, or a killing blow that would prevent the player from achieving their goal. Missing the target is appropriate, too. Whatever is going to be the most interesting consequence to the situation at hand.

Also, you can sort of eyeball the ob. For bows, I usually start around Ob 2 and go from there. Are they in cover, or at a difficult to hit range? Ob +1-2. I’d give advantage dice for the player being well-positioned with regard to the target.

There’s no reason you can’t use the Bloody Versus advantages as a guideline for advantages in a normal test, but at some point, you might as well just use full-on Bloody Versus. Actually, scratch that; at some point, you really need to just use Bloody Versus. There are more opportunities for advantage in a Bloody Versus test, but there is also a higher price for failure. You can just get plain unlucky and take a Serious or Traumatic wound. I’d really limit it at +1D advantage from the list, just as with a regular test.

As for the wounds, my instinct is to say that if wounds are really that important, you should be using Bloody Versus. However, Bloody Versus isn’t really well suited for the situation you describe. So, the way to do it is either say success inflicts a Mark wound, or go more detailed into the weapon mechanics, so success inflicts an Incidental wound, and extra successes move it up.

I ended up playing my first real game last night. This is how I did it for our more narrative encounter with a group of low level monsters in the woods. I just had the players make a few Speed tests to catch up to them, and then vs. Tests with the loser taking damage based on the number of successes. It was fast, and easy for the group to understand.

Edit: I probobly should have used the range and cover rules, since it was a bit of a skirmish but it was the first time any of my players had used the system, so I wanted to keep it simple.