finding NPC outside your Circles -- what to do?

Heya guys – a question on how to find people!

We had this mercenary PC who came to the castle and wanted to find “some servant like people doing house work and they happened to hear stuff, offer like information about what’s going on around Windhelm, about Sigmund getting the throne and how he’s baddie [sic]”
He’s Village Born, Apprentice, Lead to Professional Soldier, Foot Soldier, Bannerman, Sergeant –
The GM said, “In this case, it’s a Circle test. The people you are looking for has some specific information, and they’re not ones you’ve likely met during your lifepaths, so it’s an Ob 4”

But, he shouldn’t be able to test Circles at all, since he doesn’t share a lifepath/setting with the castle servant?
(and, if it matters, he’s not from this region, either)

We’re migrating to Burning Wheel from Mouse Guard – and what I remember was that in MG, Circles can let you have a shot at calling up anyone – a mayor, a thug, or a local cartographer aiding Midnight’s conspiracy. (or am I wrong on this)
So, Circles in BW looks kinda limiting –
in this mercenary’s case, must he do something else to get his information – sneaking into the cookery and eavesdropping, perhaps?
Should the GM just say he comes upon a fidgeting servant, and free to Intimidate to his heart’s content?
Or should the player’s intent be handled some other ways altogether . . .

Thanks for reading this!

Well you could try to circle up someone that shares circles with both of you and convince him to circle up the other guy for you. Hard but doable.
You can try to get traits that expand your circles range.

You could ask one of your friends to circle for you.
A reputation/affiliation with a certain group would also open them up for you in play i think.
So if you get an affiliation with the thieves guild you would be able to circle up thieves even though you are a priest or something.

You could try to find another apprentice working at the castle, this is in your circles…

There is a specific section for obstacle modifiers to look for/create people outside of your lifepath circles. The obstacle the GM gave sounds right: base Ob 1, +1 or 2 for being uncommon/outside of circles, and +1 or 2 for specific knowledge or disposition. Those various modifiers comprise a 2-page spread in the book.

The way I read the rules , I don’t think that this would work with Circles. My interpretation is that Circles represent people that your character knows (or who at least know of your character) - hence the whole requirement for lifepath/setting, which this does not meet (and p379 “I Don’t Know You” clearly states that if you do not share a lifepath or setting, you cannot bring an NPC into play).

I think that talking to servants to see what they know is reasonable (they are actually there, in the setting), but this would be a test of some social skill or other (Intimidation to scare them, Persuasion otherwise), would be harder than using a Circled up contact and would have no guarantee that the information you are after exists.

Your idea of eavesdropping on servants is a good one (may as a test with a time limit?) or perhaps use a graduate test/series of linked tests to establish that the character needs to earn the servants trust/corner a servant where he can talk to the before getting any information…

You’re village born, so you spent at least some time in that setting. Who’s to say one of the servants didn’t also come from the village?

Hmmm. Seems I’ve been cheating, then. I don’t deny any player a chance to find someone. I just up the Ob if there’s a significant gap in circles relational reference.

Something to consider for this specific example… At least some castle servants are likely Village Born (though most are probably Peasant Born and some City Born).

But yea, the way I read things, if the NPC doesn’t share a lifepath setting with you, and you don’t have a trait to extend your circles, they are unavailable for circles.


You should try to be pretty strict with the Circles. Saying a person in the Servitude setting came from a village and this can be Circled up based on the shared Village setting is not viable per the rules. This all comes back to player choice during the burning. If this consequence is ignored/reduced during play, than that choice is lessened in an important way.

Instead, stick with the rules and force the PC to be creative in how he gets to this servant. Tangental Circles was a good suggestion, in this case.


Hmm, ok, I see your point. To find someone, you need to be familiar with the setting they are in now (which for castle servant actually just requires noble court). If someone asks, well, what about my childhood friend? The answer is if you had a good enough connection with your childhood friend to be able to call him up while wandering about a castle, then take a relationship.

There is definitely a lot of setting coded into the life paths.


I’d link Observation -> Persuasion/Intimidation/whatever social skill. Having a contact you could circle up would circumvent this.

I’m not proud to say this but I’ve browbeat inexperienced GMs into agreeing with my interpretation of an NPC’s lifepath history in order to more easily find the person I was looking for.

Another option is to circle someone up from one of your settings who knows someone who could help you. But that gives two degrees of separation, and they might be less likely to help you.

Uuu, I went back to Circles chapter and found an example on p. 378 –
Thor: “My mother’s sister was an Abbess. Let me write a letter.”
GM-Luke: “She was?”
Thor: “I dunno, can I roll my Circles? I was Born Noble.”
GM-Luke: “Sure, but that’s pretty obscure…”

I see Abbess is in Religious Setting, not the same as Born Noble –
Makes me believe if the player say “hey, my childhood friend’s working as a maid, we bump into each other!”
then he get to roll Circles. (with some +Ob factors, perhaps)

But if player doesn’t want a childhood friend, and say “I find a random maid, and squeeze rumor outta her!”
then GM should call for a skill test.
Does that sound about right?

I never trust the examples. Is there a specific sentence that says this is allowable?

Well, if it’s not allowable, it sort of invalidates some of the available Ob penalties, right?

I only disallow Circles if it’s really implausible / impossible that you’d share at least one LP setting with the person you’re looking for. It’s come up a few times in my current game, but it’s lead to interesting spin on things rather than roadblocks, which is how I want it.

Make sure you’re reading the Burning Wheel Gold Circles rules… There are some subtle differences between Revised and Gold:

Under Scope, Revised allows consideration of the leads your character could have taken. Gold is more restrictive.

The Thor example would have been allowed under Revised (Born Noble does lead to Religious), but clearly is not allowed by Gold. Looks like that example needs to be replaced…

Revised: Specific occupation or an occupation completely outside or unavailable to your circle +3 Ob
Gold: Specific occupation, an occupation rare or unique within your setting +3 Ob


The exemple of Thor above come from BWG by the way. From my point of view, this is quite a good exemple of what a player could do to try to sommon an NPC out from is own circle/lifepath. As the GM sais in the exemple " it is pretty obscure". But, as long as it as never been mention in the setting that Thor’s mother was something else than an abbess, and as long as it dosen’t get in the way of some very fact alredy introducted in the game. The player here want to use the circle of is mother, not is own, witch could lead to something interesting.

By the way, sorry for my english: still learning :wink:


Use Circles for the setting you’re in, not the setting you can imagine you might find someone in.

Strict interpretation of the rules works best for Circles. Loose interpretation basically grants you circles everywhere.

As Luke said, run circles strictly. My above example (browbeating a new gm) is explicitly a case of an experienced player taking advantage of a newbie gm.

I get the rules interpretation, but I hate the idea of Circling up someone to Circle up someone. That strikes me as simply being ridiculous, and seems the exact opposite of LiR or other BW fundamentals. For my games, anyone can Circle up anyone… with a huge Ob penalty for being out of their circles/spheres of social influence. Enmity Clauses are much enjoyed. You want to Circle up a baron as a pissant country boy? Okay. +3 Ob (on top of other Ob modifiers). Oh, you failed? Well, he’s riding through your village at the head of his household guard and retinue, conscripting, of-age or not.

The idea of rolling so someone can roll to roll is a lot of running around instead of getting to what’s desired. None of the other rules seem to go in that direction. You don’t roll Resoures only for things that are reasonable within your setting/subsetting. You don’t fight things that are only reasonable for your setting/subsetting. The overall Situation isn’t setting/subsetting. I just find it limiting and oddly specific to Circles. (So much so that I’d never even noticed the change from Revised to Gold until this thread.)

Was there a reason to change it between Revised and Gold? Was there a particular kind of abuse being noticed that prompted the revision?

(I understand if we’re moving waaaaay out of the territory of this thread. Feel free to create a new one or transfer this one, if mods think that’s the case.)