Duel of Wits/Persuasion Beginners Questions

So, my friends and I decided that we want to play The Burning Wheel, and we ran The Sword a few weeks ago.

However, a problem arose…

One of my players (I’m GM) was saying that Duel of Wits doesn’t convince the other character of anything if you win.
My question is… what does it do, then?

If I have my character enter a DoW with another player’s character and I win, what exactly does that mean? Is his character convinced of my argument? Or does he just have to do what we agree to?
If it’s the last one, that doesn’t make sense to me. He doesn’t believe what I say/isn’t convinced, yet he still concedes?

Also, if I do a Persuasion check against another PC, and I succeed, his character is convinced of my argument no matter what?

Duel of Wits are mainly there to resolve disputes. Instead of arguing for hours, you settle the matter while actually playing the game.

Most of the time, Duel of Wits take place with an audience witnessing the argument. (see P. 389) So, DoW can serve to sway the audience and the loser simply has to concede. But yes, winning a DoW is mainly about getting your intent, your statement of purpose. So, the other character simply agrees to abide by the terms the players set and it is up to the player on the losing side to choose whether or not he wants his character to change is mind. Most of the time, the loser will have a compromise which is a good way to find a reason why he concedes. By getting something out of the argument despite losing, we can better justify why he “agreed” to go the winner’s way.

Also, nothing prevents the player to have a “you may have won this battle, but the war isn’t over.” attitude. You can’t ignore the results of the DoW, but you can think of ways in which you’ll make a comeback. This is great stuff because you’re setting up future conflicts that follow from the consequences of this DoW. This serves to drive the story forward and reinforce the meaning and importance of this DoW.

As for simple Persuasion checks, it would greatly depend on the particular intent. If I don’t want something out of the exchange but simply refuse to go your way and I agree as a player that I’ll be convinced if you beat my Will, then yes, I’m convinced. But you can’t simply go and say : “I’ll make a Persuasion check and if I succeed, you’re convinced and that’s it.” Chances are the PC will go : “No way ! I won’t let you.” and you’ll probably end up playing a DoW over the matter.

So basically, you can’t force a player to change his character’s mind unless the player agrees to. If you start doing things like these, you’re beginning to play his character in his place, which is rarely fun.

It’s the latter one, excepting maybe in the case of a complete-and-total victory. A nice thing about sentient beings is that conflicting beliefs can somehow live in harmony inside our brains (and character sheets). The other player’s character doesn’t have to be convinced on the merit of the argument, she just has to be willing to go along with it. A la “You’re so fucking stupid. But fine. We’ll go. But when your stupid-ass plan fails, don’t come looking to me for help.” Most of the time, though, the DoW is being played for an outside audience. I.e. you’re trying to convince the crowd of the merits of your argument. Even if you win, the other character need not acquiesce.

It depends on the fiction, but this is way more likely in this scenario. But if and only if that failure consequence was agreed to beforehand.

Ack! Hypotheticals!

What were the stakes that you all agreed to?

One of the characters was trying to convince the other to give him The Sword.
If the convincer won, he got the sword.
Otherwise, the defender kept the sword.

However, one of my players said that the other character wouldn’t have to give him the sword if he didn’t actually want to.

Oh, no. That’s called cheating. The only way that’d fly is if the compromise let the defender hold on to it awhile.

Ah, alright.

So what would be a better thing to do in that situation?

One of the characters asked to hold the sword, and the other wants to hold the sword.

First step is to see if both characters are willing to use the Duel of Wits to decide the stakes. You have to agree to the duel and the stakes before you can roll.

I mean, if both sides agreed to those terms, then those are fine. I guess the right thing to do is to make sure that the players understand that, with those terms set, should the guy without The Sword win, he’s made a convincing enough argument that the one with The Sword is willing to give it up. The compromise is the real crux. Generally the defender will get some sort of concession. “Ok, you’re right, the Sword is rightly yours, Ssisz, but you only get it once you lead us back out.”

Honestly, if my character had The Sword, I’d probably just stab the dude that tried talking it out of my hands and then ask who was next.

And tell him the character doesn’t exist and that the squelcher is indeed cheating.

It’s like engaging in Fight!, getting mortally wounded, and claiming, “No, my character wouldn’t get hurt like that.” Or failing a Steel test and saying, “No, my character wouldn’t be afraid.”

DoW is a conflict resolution system just like any other in BW. The player has to abide by the results or he is cheating, like in the bad use of the word.

The only way to get out of the results is to Escalate to Violence and kill the winner. But even, then, if a crowd is witness, that won’t get you out of the agreement!

You don’t have to use the word convince in the stakes, by the way. “if I win, you give me the sword” is usually better than “if I win, I convince you to give me the sword.” It avoids the misperception that the loser is forced to agree to anything and focuses on what happens. It Leaves the why for the players to figure out.

That’s what I thought. I think my group is still stuck in the Pathfinder mindset, where combat is all mechanics and roleplaying isn’t.

It’s a hard thing to get used to. I’ve had my character convinced of all sorts of things in a DoW, but I’ve learned to always think it through and consider an ending where I’ve lost completely and utterly. If I can live with that result, I grab a scripting sheet. If I can’t see how my guy would go there, I try to hone the stakes more or (rarely) refuse the duel.

Yep to the advice in this thread.

  1. Is this open for debate for your character? Could they be convinced in any way about this?
    (Deeper thought: in what ways is your character open to doing things that aren’t in their best interest? It makes good stories, such as most of Shakespeare’s stories…)

  2. No? Then there can be no argument. Better wrestle, fight, or sneak it away from them later.

  3. Yes? Do you want something in return? If not then it’s a Social roll vs. Will. (“No, I just want to keep the Sword, you got nothing I really want.”) If so, then it’s a DoW. (“I want to keep the Sword, and we paid you so you better show us the way back out.”)

Most of the time, unless you’re explicitly aiming to impress someone, a social roll doesn’t have to make anyone LIKE the fact they just got hustled out of (or into) something. Think of family who gets on your nerves, but you keep helping out.

But either way, once the dice get rolled, that’s what happens. Those are the consequences. If someone’s asking something ridiculous, you say, “No, not going to test on that”. Savvy players will start figuring out sometimes the key is to ask for things more reasonable, or even things the person will agree with without a test. “Let me use the Sword to protect you from the Elf”… thing is, the other player knows if that’s your stake, you WILL have to abide by it, so… then it becomes a game of measuring your odds.

A fun thing to do for characters you build is give them an Instinct to Always trust… or Never trust… a specific PC, or a type of person. “Always listen to the Councilor’s advice”, etc. It’s a great way to tell the GM exactly how you’d like to get into trouble AND mine a lot of Artha in the process.


That really puts things into a clear scope. Thanks!

And thanks to everyone else for the advice as well!

Just to reiterate what Noclue said, when in doubt, always make the stakes about what the characters will do, not what they believe. I win, you do x; you win, I’ll do y.

That being said, I like social tests that aim to mold others’ beliefs. If a missionary can use Suasion to make you believe in God, then a layman can use [per]suasion to make you believe in his right to rule. The important thing is that the players agree to the stakes because the results are fun and lead to interesting play.

You can even ask yourself at the start of every social conflict, is this A) a test where I want others to take an action on my behalf or B) a deeper situation where I’m trying to really get into someone’s head and convince them of a new way of thinking about the world.

One important thing that I think got a bit lost in the discussion - although a few people touched on it - is that there is a very bad basis for a Duel of Wits in this specific situation if one player actually HAS the sword. A Duel of Wits where the stakes or “I win, I get it, you win, you get it” seems more rooted in a situation where noone actually has the sword yet, or at least hasn’t claimed it. It’s a debate on who deserves it most.

If someone already has the sword (at least from my perspective), then for one he/she is really in control of if there will be a Duel of Wits at all, for starters, but also in control of the stakes. He could agree to the Duel of Wits just to settle the matter - “OK, we’ll debate who has the best claim to the sword, but then that’s that”. He could also up the ante and say “fine, we’ll debate this, but if I win you agree to help me escape this dungeon safely”, thus gaining an ally against any other claimants.

Also a DoW where the stakes are 1: I get the sword, 2: No, I get the sword is usually pretty weak sauce and generally better handled by a vs roll. DoWs shine much more when the statements of purpose aren’t at direct odds – it makes the nearly-inevitable compromise so much better.

One last question, one of my players is telling me that Duel of Wits can only work when there is a third party. Is this true?

Also not true. It’s a bit meta, but consider the characters as part of the audience as well as participants in the duel.

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