Help On Encouraging Wises

My players are still relatively new to Burning Wheel (13 sessions into their first campaign) and, while it’s been a sometimes uphill climb, they’ve begun adapting to the mechanics pretty well. They log tests on their own and are becoming pretty good at writing Beliefs (and realizing when someone else’s Belief is going to trump theirs so they write a subordinating Belief). I’ve done my best to guide them in all this stuff, but the one thing that I don’t know how to do is to encourage Wises, to the point where I’m thinking about switching to Torchbearer-style wises. Any thoughts on how to make the RAW Wises more influential? I know I’m missing something as the GM, which is why I’m not frustrated with them. I own the Adventure Burner and read up on their advice section for Wises, but the problem is encouraging them in helpful way.


Do you know why they aren’t using wises?

If not just say at the end of the session; “remember to make use of your wises, they can really help to push the plot in the right, or a new, direction.”

Or, alternatively, the players aren’t using them, not because they are confused, but because they don’t want to use wises in the campaign. In this case, just run with it.

Do your players ask you, as the GM, questions about the world and the setting that they think their characters would know? I’ve gotten into the habit of not answering such questions and replying first, “So you want to know what happens to a person when they are arrested in the city? Sounds like a Law-Wise check to me. Ob 2.” Note that I don’t care if they have Law-wise or not. Many of the most used Wises in my games are not the ones they took at game start, but they ones they kept coming back to as the game made those topics important. I’d worry less about making the Wises they took in character burning more influential and focus instead on raising their awareness that they can develop the Wises they need in game via beginners luck.

Also, are they using the Circles mechanic regularly? A linked Wise check before a Circles check can help establish that the kind of person you need is indeed in the area before you go looking for them.

You’re gonna have to be more proactive in prompting them to use Wises. The opportunities to do so are incredibly abundant, if you can recognize them. Any time a player asks for a detail or bit of information on an NPC, location, item, etc, prompt them, “Why don’t you roll [appropriate]-wise to determine that?” 9 outta 10 times, they won’t have that Wise, but that’s what Beginner’s Luck is for!

But there’s actually two ways to engage Wises. The first is as above. When the PC asks for info and it’s not a Say Yes moment, have them roll a wise. Some examples:

GM: You come across an orc encampment, red and black banners raised above the tents.
PC: What clan do they belong to?
GM: Roll your Orc-wise! Pass and you’ll know that they belong to the clan Warsong, whose lands are just beyond the mountains to the east. They don’t belong here. But fail and you’ll believe they belong to the clan Openfist. Your liege has a peace treaty with them and they should welcome you with open arms!

GM: The walls of the fortress are thick and high, patrolled regularly. Getting inside seems very difficult!
PC: Are there any hidden ways in?
GM: Roll your Fortress-wise. Succeed and know that most castles in this region depend on natural springs for their water. You may be able to crawl through one and get inside. Also, the castle routinely receives shipments of supplies by caravan. If you can join one, you might pass through the gate unnoticed. But fail and you’ll still know these, but crawling through the springs ends up in a well that sealed with an iron grate at the top. Or the caravan requires membership in a guild that could be a very high Resource test to join.

Now, the second method is more for the experience BW player. In this situation, the PC authors a piece of fiction and the wise is tested to see if it’s true (as long as it doesn’t affect any existing details (known or unknown by the PCs) established by the GM.

PC: I really want to get the Bishop to denounce the Mayor, but I know the Bishop wants to remain neutral. Hrm… maybe I can blackmail him? He must have an illegitimate child who he’s been hiding?
GM: Oh! That’s certainly a possibility. Roll Bishop-wise or Rumor-wise! Succeed and you’ll discover that he does indeed have a child. But fail and that child will be an adopted nephew, whose parents were heroes who sacrificed their lives to destroy a demon.

PC: Huzzah! Now that the dragon is defeated, I want to search his treasure for some magicked armor - a suit of Mithril made for a person my size!
GM: Sure, there could be anything in this hoard. Roll your Loot-wise. Succeed and the armor is yours. Fail and you open a trapped chest while searching, possibly be poisoned, and you’ll not find the armor.

Again, view any open question from a player as an opportunity to prompt a wise test. In my own experience, this has led to some excellent wises: Loot-wise, Evil Overlord-wise, Gold Coast-wise, Navy-wise, et al. You’ll see setting-specific wises open and advance very quickly, making that setting deeper and richer with each test.

Ah, very good advice indeed. Into practice shall it be put!