How do I get my players to DoW?

First BW game. 11 sessions in and we’ve only done 2 DoW. I will put it out there, but usually when I do, I will start asking ‘what’s your position?’ Or ‘what stakes are you going for?’

Somewhere in the process, the player in the RP center-stage will soften their position or waffle about how important some element is.

Maybe we just haven’t had stakes that were worth it yet.

Is there something I’m missing here or just something to practice with my group?

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The hard, mercenary answer? Make them Test to convince people otherwise. There’s nothing like testing B3 Persuasion (or worse!) against Ob4 to make you think, “Hey, can we maybe break this down?”

The other thing to keep in mind is that each side wants something in a Duel of Wits. When the players are trying to convince an NPC to do something ask, “Does the other character want something from the instigator?” If yes, the Statements of Purpose basically write themselves.

That’s general stuff as I’m heading to bed. If you can give more examples of what’s goin’ on at your table, it might be a help.

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To flip the question: why do you want to get your player’s to take part in Duel of Wits?

There’s no ruling body in Burning Wheel that will swoop down and stop your campaign because you aren’t using a specific mechanic enough (or at all); some mechanics, the various mechanisms for fighting for example, are even explicitly options.

So, why do you feel the game would be improved by the players taking part in Duel of Wits? If you know what place DoW has in your specific game then that will give some insight into how to make DoW the natural mechanism for resolving a particular scene.

There is also the possibility DoW seems to intense for players to just dive in so they are pulling up short rather than get into what seems a vast and complex mechanism; in which case, you could go for a halfway house of Linked social tests. For example, instead of full on DoW, a Rhetoric test to set out your position leading into an opposed Persuade test to convince the other side your approach is better.

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I think Dave’s right here. One-hundred percent.

I will advocate a little bit for Duel of Wits, though. If you want to use DoW more in your game, maybe these points will help sell your players on it. They don’t contradict Dave’s comments, of course.

  1. Duel of Wits is good for Advancement. Getting Routine tests for low-exponent Social Skills ain’t easy. You CAN try to jockey for advantage, work carefully, and get help, but those options aren’t always open to you. With Vs Tests, you’re much more likely to get the low obs you need to advance, and DoWs are full of Vs Tests. You can only get one test for each Ability, but you can get one test for each Ability, if you’re ambitious

  2. Duel of Wits is good for Artha. For one, it bleeds off Fate bloat. That’s maybe not super thrilling for your players, but hey, it’s still a perk. On the player side, Fate tends to be more useful in a Duel of Wits: Opening up the 1 six-success you got against Ob4 probably isn’t carry you to passing the Test (though, it can; I’ve seen it happen.) but an extra success on a Rebuttal or a Point will get you something most of the time. So, not only is Duel of Wits a context in which Fate is generally more useful, it also involves a lot of rolls. More rolls means more sixes, more sixes means more play out of your 15+ Fate pool.

  3. Duel of Wits is good for time. I’m in a game with a new GM. We started using DoW about ten sessions in, and he seems to be quite impressed with how quickly and efficiently DoW has been at resolving things. It can be intimidating at first, but it flies by once you get the hang of it.

  4. Duel of Wits is good for noobs. Good luck persuading a guard or inspiring a crowd with your Beginner’s Luck B4 Will vs Ob6, 8, 10. In a Duel of Wits, though, you can wear your opponent down with Feints and Points, and defend yourself with Avoid. Are you at a disadvantage? Hell yes! But it’s doable. Duel of Wits shifts the scale of efficacy a bit away from the dice and a bit toward the player’s decision-making. And hey, if you lose, you may get a minor compromise for your trouble - like cash!

Those are a few points you might consider and bring to your players to consider.

I am curious to know how you guys are handling social conflicts now.

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Here is an example fresh in my mind.

The players were attending a noble wedding and the evening before the bride disappeared. Clues pointed to her attempting to run off with a commoner she is in love with.
They catch up to her and her beau. The character spearheading the search, an elf with a strong sense of duty and fair play, begins trying to persuade the bride to return to the castle.
I’m sensing a DoW coming so I try to start establishing purpose and stakes. The elf starts to loop in another character who has several useful skills for DoW.
This other character, a female holy knight, has a belief that drives her not to try to force others into her way of thinking.
Moreover, she doesn’t want this girls to be forced to marry.
The elf starts to waffle. He turns the discussion onto the young man and starts picking apart his plans to run away and support them both. He denies that his objective is to get the girl to return.
He has dropped enough criticism of their prospects to leave the girl in despair and the young man in doubt. The DoW no longer seemed relevant.

Around then, the players began to discuss if the girl, a baroness in her own right, would have any legal recourse to challenge her father’s preference. This started to seem like a cooler outcome for the whole situation.

Next session we get to deal with the fallout. I expect there to be some juicy DoW opportunities and at least some good RP and belief baiting in this session.

She’s not going back in any way shape or form unless they convince her otherwise. She’s continuing on her love-mad plan and will not listen to reason. In fact, she’s indignant that they would question her at all.

If they find her compelling, they might come along for the ride. I have had that happen when I make a good case for an NPC. But otherwise, no amount of soften or wheedling moves the NPC until either a secret bombshell is revealed (if there is one) or they engage with the social mechanics.

But more relevant: what were the BITs rewards like for them for that session?

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Dave: To answer your question, I’m excited to see the rules in action. I think it will be something different for my group that we might come to appreciate.

I’m really attracted to Gnosego’s 3rd and 4th bullet points. My group tends to slouch into indecisive mutual deference where even if everyone has an opinion, no one is willing to defend their position against the other players.

I want to have the duel available to set those things straight in a narrative-strengthening way.

“Do we go south to the elven citadel, or are the threats in the capital going to boil over too soon for that.” Pick your position and have it out.

I also like that the DoW makes persuasion, deceit and bargaining attainable even when skill exponents are low.

Luke: Looking back, I probably should have had her be more inflexible with her positions. She made a number of compromises and concessions, even in her attitude, that would have been better saves for stakes and compromises of the duel.

I don’t fully remember the BITs rewards completely, but I recall the Elf character got points for dutiful and a moldbreaker award for his belief in cooperation and learning from humankind being continually frustrated by violence and dishonesty in human culture.

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  1. Duel of Wits is good as your word. In this game I mentioned earlier - the one where we only recently started using Duels of Wits - there sure have been times when I said, “Man, I wish I had that in writing.” The Duel of Wits compromise is one of the most sacred rules in the game. A character may promise up and down you they’ll support you right up until they drive the knife in your back. With a DoW compromise, though, they’re bound - more or less - with a handy note you can shove in the GM’s face and say, “Nuh uh! No backsides.”

How often have you in your life - especially with something really important - been dead-set on an idea, had someone explain that it was a bad idea, believe them, only change your mind again and continue down your initial course? I know it’s happened to me. It’s probably happened to you… Why not say it happened to her? In my obedient service of answering, “How do I get my players to DoW,” I say, “Backsies.”

Instructor: Indeed, to expand on what Luke said above… I direct you to what Luke said under the Tests header and on top of page 14 in Gold Revised! Tests are the teeth of the gears of the game. Nothing changes without a Test; you can’t effect another character without a Test to back it up. So, your players didn’t Test to change her mind - her mind is unchanged. Roleplay alone is not enough to make their - doubtlessly well-crafted - arguments stick.

Ranter: And what did the holy knight spend points on her social skills for!? Just to have some knife-ear waffle back and forth and get their way without letting the knight influence the game in a way she paid to be good at!? The holy knight should have just put all her points in Sword at that point! Or maybe Weasely Elf-wise!

Weeper: But isn’t it a shame when players’ arguments really are well-crafted but their characters lack the dice to back them up? Certainly there are times when arguments should be Said Yes too? And perhaps a benevolent GM would be generous with the Advantage Dice for compelling arguments or good roleplay?

*Please don’t take offense to the Ranter. He can be abrasive, but he sincerely just wants to look out for folks and keep things fair.

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This I think reveals the underlying answer to any question about how to get players to do/not do something in BW: challenging their core beliefs.

If players a waffling around then they aren’t feeling challenged: so escalate to something that challenges one of their beliefs. If it’s two players disagreeing but not doubling down to finalise the point, chuck in a ticking clock.

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