DoW and Walking Away


i can try to convince someone with a simple roll against Will. This is clear.
The other player doesn’t really have a defense against this right? The only think he can do is leaving the scene while i make my argument (essentially leaving the scene before i roll. I guess he can say he does that when i state my Task and Intent).

When we are arguing i can call for a DoW. Can i just challenge him like that?
I then state my Argument and Goal.

Now he has to choose whether to fight for it or shut down and leave the scene. Right?
What if we are i a dark cave (let’s say looking for a sword) and walking away would mean A LOT of danger for him for going without company?
What if walking away means basically that i win because he can’t interfere?

I know loosing a DoW is cool because your beliefs get challenged and you can get Moldbreaker Artha and new goals and stuff but just challenging people left and right seems like a dick move.

And i know this comes up a lot and i thought i had it all figured out but something on the Inquisition of Blood Burning Wheel Podcast came up that made me think about it again.

I was actually wondering about this too recently. Walking away in the DoW is the only rule that introduces new elements different from the Spokes rules. In other words, you can have a bloody versus or Fight. Simple. You can have a versus Bow test or Range and Cover. Simple. With social tests, you’re going from a versus social test or a skill versus Will test (no walking away here) to a more complex mechanic that does allow walking away.

I guess my point is why can’t you walk away from a versus social test or skill versus Will, these tests being “simpler” versions of the Duel of Wits?

I don’t think you’re supposed to really “challenge” people to a Duel of Wits. My understanding is that you’re supposed to keep roleplaying until you reach a sort of impasse, and then you bring up the DoW as a means to resolve that. So the idea is you’ll argue and argue and argue and you may cave a bit here or take a bit of ground there, but it’s all roleplaying–until you touch on that one issue that you CANNOT allow to be altered. For example, in the Sword, you can argue and cajole and what have you to try to get what you want, and maybe you’ll come to some type of agreement (we’ll show the sword to your father, but then we’re going back to the Dwarves) but you use Duel of Wits when Robard wants to pawn the thing and the Roden wants to take it to his Visionary, and both of those things can’t happen. That moment when two players (or a player and the GM) are sitting there staring at each other, and nobody’s willing to budge anymore–that’s when you Duel.

But let’s say if feels like a DoW is in order. One character has 0 social skills and a trait making it harder for him to roll for social stuff.
The player says he doesn’t want a DoW because he thinks he will 100% loose.

What do you do? This character has to walk away right?

And I think as far as walking away, if you’re making a skill v. Will test, you’re trying to convince somebody of something usually (or lie to them, or whatever)–the other player doesn’t necessarily have an opposing purpose. But I think it would be poor form to use a versus test for something beyond that, much in the same way it wouldn’t be very gratifying to fight the Endless Dragon with a Bloody Versus.

I don’t really understand what you are saying.

If the character walks away, he has no chance of making progress towards his Belief (unless he tries to escalate to violence or find another way to get what he wants). As Luke is fond of writing, with great risk comes great reward. The situation should be so intense that it’s not easy for him to walk away or find another way to get his goals. I remember in Luke’s one on one game that was posted in the forum, Si Juk kept being tempted into a DoW by the Emperor, and the situation was so crazy that even though he did NOT want to get into a DoW with this guy, he pretty much had no choice, and he kept saying fuck it, and walking away, but eventually it became clear that the only way forward was to step up and Duel with the Emperor.–and it’s not like he could have just struck down the Emporer without causing some SERIOUS issues for himself.

In my experience, finding a point in the story at which is it is a difficult choice to walk away makes for a good Duel of Wits. If your choices are argue pointlessly or do nothing, you’re not ready to hit the dice yet.

If your choices are argue over the provenance of the sword or fight over possession of the sword, you’re making a real choice.

And note that in your example, “walk away” doesn’t have to be a meek retreat into oblivion. I can take the sword with me while you’re prattling on.

Also what I meant is that trying to convince somebody that the sword is a fake might be a versus test, but deciding who’s going to get it is such a monumental, high stakes conflict that DoW is the more appropriate choice.

And Luke, next time I play the Sword, I’m going to make sure that I’m closest to it, and while everybody’s arguing and challenging for DoW I’m going to grab it and run, and if they get mad I’ll say you gave me the idea!

Praion, maybe try reading this. Toward the end of the AP there’s a super badass moment where Luke’s trying to draw one of his players into a DoW, and the player does NOT think he can win, but he is in such a bind that he really can’t just “walk away.”

Not to ignore what other people have said already, but here’s how I explain it to people who haven’t seen rules like these before:

If I want a thing and you want the same thing but neither of us have a claim to it (like, we’re standing in front of an altar arguing about who gets the sword on it) then you’re bickering and someone should step up.
If I want something from you and you don’t want me to have that, it’s a straight vs. Will test.
If I want something from you that you don’t want me to have, and you want something from me that I don’t want you to have, it’s a Duel of Wits.

If you call for a Duel of Wits but the third item on that list isn’t true (because the argument is either in the form of “I want it, no I want it!” or because one person has something and the other is saying “please give it to me, pretty please!”) than there’s no grounds for a DoW. Sure you can call for a Duel of Wits but it’s within the rights of the GM (or another player) to call BS on that and say it’s a straight vs. Will test because the person being attacked isn’t trying to get anything out of it. If you really want a Duel of Wits with someone, start baiting their beliefs by offering stuff up that they might jump at until they dive in.

Remember also that the worst statement of purpose is “they don’t get what they want” because if you win, than by definition they can’t get it. If you want your statement of purpose to be that, the correct move is the vs. Will stonewall because it’s harder for them to win, doesn’t give compromises, and takes about 20 seconds.

Hope this helps.

I think the root of your question, and the problem, is right here.

There’s an old saying from the Forge: “No rules can stop dickheaded-ness”.

In BW context - what’s the situation, what’s the context of the scene that someone is challenging someone to begin with?

A player who has their character running around challenging people for the sake of challenging people (probably with weirdly crafted Beliefs to justify stupid shit), isn’t really there to play WITH people. It’s like THAT GUY who shows up at a D&D game with the Chaotic Neutral Thief, the Call of Cthulu game with a guy who has a gatling gun because he’s a munitions expert, etc. If it was an MMO you’d call them a troll or a griefer. And in this case, unlike an MMO, it being your table, you can talk to each other like people and fix it, or get them out, as much as you would someone who thought it appropriate to get drunk and do raunchy dancing at your party… for your 7 year old daughter.

In the cases where people ARE trying to play right:

  1. “I’ll never be convinced” - walk away or shut down (for example, guards to the palace don’t have to walk away - they’re the people in power, so they can simply say no and force you to have to take other means than social to get inside. In fact, if you keep pestering them, they will take alternative, violent means themselves…)
  2. “I might be convinced, but it’s a damn long shot.” - Vs. Will
  3. “I could be convinced but I want something too.” - DoW

Who decides the difference between 1 and 2? Whoever’s playing the character. It depends on the situation and the character’s outlook. Consider how much it depends on the character, their Beliefs, and the situation. Think of all the times you’ve been convinced to do something you KNEW better than to get involved with. A lot of times the difference between #1 and #2 is how much of a relationship you’ve built up with someone and how desperate/hopeful you are on something.


I think the cases in which the GM rules that it’s an inappropriate intent to ask something of someone – that they don’t even get to roll against the target’s Will (possibly even bumped up, at the GM’s discretion, because it’s such an extraordinary request) – should be vanishingly small. I’m not even sure when it would be clearly impossible to convince anyone of anything, honestly. Certainly when the action they’re asked to take is simply impossible (fetch me the moon, tear out your own liver). When the player’s clearly being a dick (jump off the wall, do it because you can’t say no!). Probably directly suicidal action in general would get an “inappropriate intent” from me, unless they had a trait or gray-shifted Persuasion or something special.

Yeah, don’t force another player into a duel of wits. You should both be chomping at the BIT (pun intended) to get out the scripting sheets or something has gone wrong.

@praion, expecting that you will lose a DoW is not a good reason to turn down the conflict. So what if they lose? Are the stakes acceptable to them? If the stakes aren’t right, they need work. Can they agree on stakes that would be fun and appropriate? Or, are the stakes fine and the player is just being overly protective? If everyone but this one player think the stakes sound cool, maybe the player needs work. That’s not an objective thing. That’s basically a group judgement call: Do we all want the same things from this game?

@paul B, I agree, but they’re vanishingly small at our table, but mostly because we as players don’t propose intents that the GM, and the rest of the table, has a problem with. If we did, I would expect the GM would workshop the intent until we had something everyone could accept and play would proceed. I would certainly feel free to do the same, and have on occasion, if someone proposed a DoW or versus roll with stakes I couldn’t live with. We get to something that’s still a massive gut punch but acceptable, and go. Sometimes, but not very often, we find that this isn’t actually good fodder for a DoW at the moment, and it doesn’t happen.

Some games call for a firmer hand from the GM, especially at conventions where you don’t really know the level of player buy-in around the table. This may be the first time a player has experienced mechanics effecting their choices and the choices of others. I find it important to act as moderator in some cases to make sure everyone has a firm grasp of what’s possible and not possible in the moment. That sometimes includes exercising my authority to determine if an intent is valid, but I try to keep that stuff to a minimum.

Okay here is the situation.

The party is on a self-discovery trip to the spirit world.
The Sorcerer (and newly turned magic vampire) had the choice of either accepting his newfound vampiric nature and stealing other peoples magic to boost his own power or get back to traditional sorcery (that he wasn’t that good at). For his player it was just a basic choice. No tests needed.

He had his created construct (friend?/son?) (another player charakter) with him. He hates the misuse of magic (and magic in general) and argued with the sorcerer that this is the wrong way. That this thing is twisted and evil.
The Sorcerers player “This feels like Duel of Wits, we should go to Duel of Wits about this”
Constuct player: “No. I see no way that i could win this i don’t want to” (he has 0 social skills and a trait that gives him +2 Ob in social tests)

I think he more or less walked away then in the fiction but it didn’t really feel like it. He said he doesn’t want to get into a DoW because
A: he would surely loose and he doesn’t really want to
B: it would interfere so strongly with his beliefs and he doesn’t want to change his charackter like this

MY take was:
A: he would get tests for social stuff so that he can at least try to learn them to have some chance later to win
B: he could Dismiss in the first round to get at least a bit of compromise
C: when his beliefs get challengend (and changed) that is a good thing and he would probarly get a persona from this (moldbreaker?)

It feels more BW to me do fight for that stuff, am i right?

I also feel a bit like a dick because i bitch about stuff i hear on a podcast from a campaign i am not in but i want to understand BW you know?

Also, how would you deal with a player that refuses this kind of stuff “all the time”. The only chance he has is to walk away right?

It was definitely a DoW situation. It’s not about testing to win; it’s about something being at stake and going to the dice to resolve it, even if you stand to lose.

Also, his Beliefs wouldn’t have to change. The two players could have talked about that up front and addressed the one player’s wish to not delve into territory that would compromise what he liked about his character. Then you get into the DoW. The character will change a bit, but that change doesn’t have to be radical.

I see it like you do, but more simply. If he goes into DoW:

  1. He stands to earn a few tests – probably in stats!!
  2. He is starting from a position of losing, so why not go for it? (by this I mean that walking away gives the other player full control of the situation, no compromise. So… why not enter a DoW, even if you lose completely without a compromise?)

He should also re-read the Duel of Wits section, specifically the “Argument not Mind Control” heading. He’s not being forced to change his character, he’s doing something because he’s agreed to it. The difference between those two being that if the situation changes the initial conditions are no longer valid. The other possibility is to temporarily replace a belief with the following one (or something like it): “I will help my friend see the error in his ways.” That way he goes along with the thing, it’s clear that he thinks it’s a bad idea, and he earns a ton of artha at the expense of the other player.

Generally speaking, Burning Wheel is set up so that inaction is the worst outcome since it’s the same as flat out losing but without the possibility of roleplay. It also sounds like Burning Wheel doesn’t agree with the Construct’s player and that it may not be the best system for him because you can never have full control over a character.

It can be helpful to thin of what it means. If someone picks up a sword and starts waving it at you, you can walk away, but then you’ve just made a statement of sorts. It has meaning and risks.

If someone wants to argue with you and you say, “I’m not arguing with you,” and turn your back, the same is true. Do you lack courage in your beliefs? Do you not believe the other will argue in good faith? Something is wrong. This guy should have gone for the DoW, even knowing his silver-tongued opponent would probably trounce him, because he wanted to stand up for a little-B belief. (Maybe a big-B Belief as well; I can’t tell.) Not arguing says something about not caring or not engaging.

But there’s a problem: the argument is missing a piece. The creation character wants something: a choice from the sorcerer. The sorcerer has nothing to gain; for him, steamrolling his son/creation with his body of argument entirely intact accomplishes nothing that he couldn’t also get from not arguing at all. As long as that’s the case, there’s no justification for the DoW. Both sides have to have skin in the game, as it were.

I don’t care about all this discussion about intent, beliefs, protectiveness, argument not mind control, etc: the golem’s player has a solid and completely reasonable Point (see what I did there?). He’s got absolutely no chance whatsoever of even a modicum of success in the conflict; it would be stupid to enter into it.

The same is not true if you’re simply outgunned! A character with a 3 dueling skill can beat a character with a 6 dueling skill with good scripting, a little luck, and possibly some help and/or FoRKs. And even in the likely event that he loses, he’s at least probably able to get a compromise out of it. That’s entirely different than walking into the fight completely unarmed.

Re-spec the Golem character. I’d never create a BW character with no dueling skill at all, or at least I’d never let a new player do it. It prevents you from meaningfully participating in one of the most fun parts of the game!

(BTW: what Trait does the golem have? +2 Ob to social rolls is how Alien worked in BWR, but in BWG it got, well, revised.)


Construct’s intent is to convince the Sorcerer not to accept his Vampiric Nature and steal other people’s magic. What’s the Sorcerer asking for that’s got the Construct so scared of defeat? So far, his big loss is the Sorcerer does what he wants to do. Big whoop.

Say, the Sorcerer wants the Construct to accept his authority and serve him while he does his evil magic stealing. Cool! Now the construct is Igor and he can secretly plot the downfall of his evil master while loathing himself for not standing up for what is right.

I’m just not getting the hang up yet.