Earning Tests and Advancement from NPC Facing Actions

Hi folks! I just want to double-check something quickly - I’m probably overthinking things. I’ve been playing Burning Wheel solo on my own for a little bit (which is unrelated to the question, but still rather fun, I’ll share my thoughts on it when I have something interesting to talk about.) I know it’s kind of glossed over at times, but RAW it seems like NPCs can make tests against PCs: They have dicepools, traits, skills, artha. It only ever really comes up consistently in DoW, and that’s fine.

Preamble over, here’s my question: If an NPC were to initiate an Indimidate test, for example, against a PC, would that PC mark a test to their Will, regardless of success or failure?

Could be I’ve just missed a rule somewhere (possible!) or just getting mixed up - there are a lot of rules that I’ve been bouncing between and I get a little lost sometimes.

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You only ever mark a test if you roll. Intimidation is against a set Ob. If the player rolls, they mark a test, even if the npc initiated the versus test

Indeed. All the more reason to get proactive.

Wonderful, thank you! In this instance, I think, the player doesn’t log the test because their will is used to set the Ob - the Stat itself isn’t tested. Being proactive is difficult in a solo-game - mostly because you have to work out interesting or compelling consequences for failure on your own. Thanks for the help!

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If there are stakes on both sides, I’m also a fan of the Vs. test, if that makes sense in the fiction.

For instance, maybe I test my Soothing Platitudes vs. the guard’s Intimidate to see whether they let me through, or whether they chase me off, and I live in fear of them?


I’m gearing up to play a Star Systems solo game! How’s solo BW been? Any interesting judgement calls, house rules, or techniques you’ve developed?

I’m especially curious, if it’s come up, how you handle scripting for multiple characters?

I’ve been avoiding scripting for as much as I can - I’m still trying to work out a good way to script some kind of double-blind effectively on my lonesome (I might have to use dice or something.)

I use Joplin to log my notes, and take pains to write out my thought process - ensuring a clear readthough of my thoughts leading up to tests, firmly marking my intents, breaking down my interpretation of the Obs, all that stuff. This is in part just to ensure I’m implementing the rules properly, but also to help guide what I’m doing.

Honestly, the hardest part is coming up with interesting outcomes for failures - not “writing” the story two or three steps ahead as it were. Maybe my Beliefs or Instincts need to be tighter, I’m not sure. Once you know those going into a roll, it can be pretty interesting. I’ve yet to be truly suprised by anything though - I’ll start messing around with the Mythic GM emulator next session to see if that changes things.

I’ve had to be really mean sometimes - I try to really hold myself to the prose I have written out for tasks when hunting for FORKs, which takes a bit more forethought and planning. I’m not fully done with session “1” yet (it’s been a couple days interspersed) and it’s been a pretty slow and thoughful playthrough - but I’ve been enjoying it!

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Once I start playing, I’ll share it here and with you.

I’m looking forward to use the Universal NPC Emulator by Conjecture Games and MUNE-style tools that rely on d6s so that I don’t have to switch from my beloved BW dice.

My current plan for scripting is to script two or three potential scripts for the “enemy” side and then script for myself. Call it my characters’ intuition. Then I’ll roll to see which script the other side uses when it’s time to reveal.

Haven’t tried it yet, but I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’ve personally been vague on Vs tests, myself, as my players have been rolling Vs tests against themselves quite a bit (all in character and justified, though).

So far, I’ve been allowing the Aggressor of such tests to get the Test, while the Defender - the one who sets the Obstacle - does not. I also do this for NPC Vs tests, as well, and it works out well since the PCs are almost always the Aggressors in those situations.

Am I overreacting to fears of rapid player power creep? Or are there other, better methods to use? Obviously, Say Yes helps a lot to keep the testing from bloating characters too much and too quickly, but others would be welcome. And again, the testing so far has made sense in-universe and in-character.

The “defender” gets a test. That is the rule. Sort of. Generally, there isn’t a defender in a Vs test, especially social ones. In social situation, if character A wants character B to do something, character A tests against a static obstacle, usually their victim’s Will. Vs tests are appropriate when each character wants the other to do something: “We should destroy the evil wizard!” “No, we should work for the evil wizard!” Vs test. See, each character stands to get the other to take action. “Buy this for me, would you? You owe me one for that thing with the geese.” “No.” Standard test vs full stat exponent. See how the person saying, “No,” has nothing to gain in the situation?

“Pass me the salt, would you?” “No, you pass me the salt!” The players say, greedily gathering up their dice to log a meaningless test for advancement. You gotta say, "No, you guys aren’t testing over this. No one cares who passes whom the salt. Resolve the issue amongst yourselves and log thirty second of practice.

So, yeah. If both players are rolling dice, both get to log a test. If you don’t feel like there are any actual stakes to the test, don’t let them roll dice. If there’s any question or resistance about this, ask the players, “How does this move the story forward?” Even if there’s a Belief related, there still has to be stakes.


In my experience, the need to not just get tests but the right tests limits advancement more and more as skills increase (This goes double for anything that only advances with successful tests). So players have to decide between getting a dice pool that is likely to succeed at the test (which is likely to make it a routine test) or going in with a low pool (that gets them a test they can use) and probably falling: it’s possible to focus entirely on getting tests that help with advancement but I suspect it would be a rare player who wants to play someone who has high numbers on paper but is a poverty stricken outcast because they constantly fail to achieve anything.

It’s easy enough to have a character who shines at something compared to a nameless mook because they have a skill of B4 and a couple of FoRKs, but someone with a B4 should stand out against the average because they’re a professional at it. However, unless they have very mediocre Beliefs, a character who has got to that level isn’t going to be facing off against unskilled mooks.


The thing that distinguishes a versus test from a standard test is that both sides have an intent and task. Each side is trying to change the situation in some way. The corollary to that is each side gets a consequence for failure that you, as the GM, set.

If two characters come to blows over who gets to keep the magic sword, the outcome doesn’t just have to be that one side gets the sword and the other doesn’t. Maybe one side gets the sword and the other gets cut badly in the process. Maybe one side gets the sword and the other gets possessed by the sword’s last wielder. Maybe one side gets the sword and the other side’s love interest sees them wrestling violently with a friend over an object and becomes disgusted. Let your imagination run wild.

The important thing is that even versus tests between players have consequences with teeth stated beforehand. Both sides should earn the test for advancement if they go forward. As long as going up against another PC is no less fraught than acting against an NPC, you should be OK.

If the opposing party does not have a separate intent, then it should be a standard test. If one PC is trying to convince the other to do something and the second PC simply doesn’t want to do it, that’s not a versus test. The second PC just wants to oppose the first PC’s intent. So the first PC rolls Persuasion against a flat Ob equal to the second PC’s Will exponent. The second PC doesn’t get a test for advancement in this case. They didn’t roll anything.


Ah, that’s what I’ve been doing wrong. I had them rolling the stat/skill to determine the obstacle when I should’ve been using static numbers! That pretty much resolves that issue right there, as now only one side would be rolling.

But I thought that “catastrophic” consequences like what you describe are only unleashed with characters chose to act Carefully? Or did I misinterpret that one?

Hey, I’m glad I could help!

Working Carefully requires 50% more time to complete the task than the task normally takes…

It also opens the door for the GM to introduce an additional time-related complication. But failure generally is gonna hurt regardless.


One of my favorite moments from a Burning Wheel game is when a player says something like, “That doesn’t sting enough. What if…,” and then they suggest some real doozy of a failure consequence that the GM didn’t even consider. Tests are a fork in the road between things going the way the character wanted and things going a different way.


My players are new, with some being new to tabletop entirely. But I’m confident they’ll eventually get to this point, and I’m looking forward to it, too!

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