FORKing some Help

Hello everyone!

I’ve been playing with my group for a while now, and we have about ten sessions played, and so far I just have to begin with saying it is a really fun ride - as most people who post here (I think), I’ve been playing RPGs for a long time, but never Burning Wheel, and the adjustments are both difficult and rewarding. Best of all, the campaign is awesome!

I’ve run into a couple of situations that I’ve wondered about so far though, and I thought I’d just sum them up. I’m sure you’ve all both discussed them here before, but I’ve been looking through the forums and can’t really find straight answers about these.

  1. Help
    I’m usually very liberal about allowing help, since it’s fun to have more of the players involved, but where (if anywhere) do you draw the line? One die (or perhaps two, depending on the exponent) from each other player, is one limit of course. But should I be restrictive about what skills can help out, or just let people go ahead? Also, can a character help a skill with a stat or vice-versa? I know this is off limits for FORKs, but what about help?

Specifically, we ran a Duel of Wits last night and there was a lot of helping going on. This also led to a lot of checks being handed out, since people helped out with all sorts of odd skills (Poisons was one, although probably not in the way you are thinking). These were all roleplayed well (or, in some cases, at the player’s best ability).

Also, there is a lot of helping going on with Resources sometimes. This, of course, also leads to a lot of checks being handed out. Should I see this as a problem?

  1. FORKs

Is there a limit here, and should there be? I try to dissuade more than a couple of extra dice per test, but sometimes more makes sense. Also, since there are some pretty solid examples of this brawling is most always forked into all tests in combat - is this kosher, or should there be some sort of principle about how often and when it can be applied?

Grateful for any help!

1 a) Skills may help skills or stats. Stats may help stats. (p36)
1 b) As long as it suits the fiction all is good, and lots of checks being handed out is good. Otherwise it’s a slow [and early on quite unsuccessful] road to developing social skills and Resources.

2 As suggested in the rules (p37), the GM is final arbiter, and they must be worked in through roleplay, it has to suit the fiction of the characters and scene. As a general guide we tend to limit to one Skill and one Wise, but good roleplay can achieve more dice if the GM thinks it suits things.

The way I run it, the answer to both numbers 1 and 2 is: “Whatever makes sense in the fiction.”

For helping, there is a rule somewhere about having too many cooks in the kitchen. Maybe it’s in the Adventure Burner. If I feel too many people pitching in for a particular skill test should be problematic, I’ll say so and limit the test to just one or two helping dice, if any. If not, sky’s the limit. Sometimes I’ll break down a big group of NPCs into just a few extra helping dice, but only if I can apply it equally to both the players’ roll and my roll (usually in big battle scenes, of which there are many in my campaign).

For FoRKs, I originally started with a house rule stating only one or two FoRK dice, unless you can really explain yourself well. I’ve since dropped that rule, and let players FoRK almost anything, and any number of dice, provided that they can explain how each and every skill is FoRKing. I’ve found that it doesn’t break the game at all. And since over-FoRKing usually just nets them routine tests, players have an incentive to try not to overdo it unless they really need to succeed (or need that routine test!).

Brawling FoRKs well, yes. Again, I’d ask for a description of how they’re using the skill though. You’re testing sword, I wanna hear how you sneak in a sucker-punch before you strike with your blade. And again, has to make sense with the fiction. If all the PCs are constantly “sword-brawling”, I might look at some way to have that be reflected in the fiction.

As for players earning tests for helping, I don’t see any problem with that! It’s how you play the game. ^^ Still takes quite a while to pop a skill, I’ve found, so the more tests the merrier, right?

Ideally, you want players rolling often – just make sure that every roll is as high-stakes as possible, and it’s a win-win situation. Also, don’t forget to make use of linked tests. I’ve had some good experiences breaking a situation down into a series of linked tests with a high final Ob. Everybody pitches in, and the stakes get tense. Good times.

Burning Wheel allows a broad interpretation of both help and FoRKs. It’s at once an elegant and problematic part of the game.

It’s elegant when it flows. It makes sense for individuals and allows a group to participate in a single roll.

It’s shit when players abuse the privilege.

There are a number of small house rules you could introduce, but I’ve found the best pure BW solution is to stick rigorously to intent and task.

The prime rule is that each helping player must describe his help. And each FoRK must be added to the player’s narration.

A player helping another player must help in using the same intent and a supportive task. For example in a Duel of Wits, you’ll often find a player helping an Incite action with his Persuasion skill. Red flag. The action is about terrorizing or confusing the opponent, not persuading. As soon as the description of help veers from the immediate action, wave the help away.

And do not allow the player to “help-bitch.” Players love to say, “well then, I’ll help with my Obscure History!” and run down their skill list. Once the description of help is out, consider it a character action. If the action doesn’t fit as delineated above, move on. You don’t have to be a dick about it, but neither do players have to whinge. Explain that there are plenty of opportunities to help, but this isn’t one of them.

FoRKs can be guided in a similar manner. If a player can’t include his FoRKs in his intent/task description—if he then goes down his skill list saying, “and I…and then…”—disallow the FoRKs and move on.
“I grab the blade of his Sword and then smash him in the face.” That’s Brawling FoRKed with Sword, and a daring move. “I hit him. Since he’s using a sword, can I FoRK in my Sword skill?” That’s when you say, “I…don’t think so.” and the player says, “Since he’s an Orc, can I FoRK in my Orc-wise?” No. “Well, it’s dark out, can I FoRK in Astrology?”

Ack. That’s FoRK bitching. And it’s not cool. It’s exhausting to have to say no to 12 skills times four players at every test. Best to explain the procedure of including FoRKs in the task description (which must match the intent, of course) and make everyone (yourself included) stick to it.

Hope that helps,

I like that explanation, Luke. Maybe the general procedure should be to 1) declare your Intent, 2) consider your skill and all your FoRKs, and then 3) declare your Task. Once Task is declared, that’s it, only helping dice may be added. Would this make sense, or is it too strict?

It’s fine, Dean.

It’s a good advanced technique. Can’t quite phrase it like that in the actual rules text since we need to describe a I/T first and a lot of other things in between FoRKs, but I think you’re on the right track.

As a player, I find the discussion around justifying forks and helping dice very satisfying. It helps to put us all on the same page, and often gives us insight into how we are individually seeing a situation.

Just to geek out a little, one of the best moments in our recent Dark Sun inspired game was a Duel of Wits between Jesse’s Defiler and my Dwarf Templar. We were arguing about the fate of a woman we both loved and Beliefs were on the line. It was character changing stuff. One great moment was when Jesse forks in Brawling to punctuate a Dismiss by punching my Dwarf in the face.

OK, question: At which point in this procedure should the GM declare the Ob and consequence of failure? Before or after the task is declared, or even before skill and FoRKs are chosen? It could make a difference.

You can’t determine the Ob until after you know the task. Nor can you provide a proper consequence. Both those things are dependent upon the task.

When I GM, I usually assume each FORK and Helping die “narrows” the way in which something is being done and makes further FORKs or Help dice have to be more and more in line with what has already been established.

For example, if you are trying to persuade the sketchy smuggler to tell you which ship is owned by your rivals and the main person is using Persuasion, FORKED with Streetwise, and the big guy in the back is Helping with Intimidation, the next player who wants to use Soothing Platitudes to Help? Nope! The Intimidation came in first, so Soothing Platitudes won’t fit.

Using this method, players have to think about what they’re actually doing in the fiction and actually work together.

Each extra die basically narrows HOW something is being done, and thereby limits the extra dice that you can throw on top of it beyond that based on whether it fits (and that, often depends on the player coming up with a reasonable description of what they’re doing).


I like that a lot, Chris. Really forces the players into deciding precisely what their characters are doing. Specificity is key to good storytelling.

Well put Chris, so backing the NPC into particular corners could also direct the complications. The intimidated smuggler might hire him some meaty protection, or even turn the PC’s in. I like this. Cool.

This forum really is invaluable. Lots of great tips, some very useful clarifications and a lot to consider. Thanks all!

One good trick I’ve gleaned from the forums is to have testers and helpers first describe how they go about the task, and only allow skills supported by that description.

If the skill they propose isn’t supported by the description, disallow it. Canny players will eventually catch on and scan their skills before describing how they act, which is fine.