How explicit are your pre-roll consequence discussions?

Discussing the consequences before the roll is awesome. It’s such a great way of making sure that people are on the same page, and it encourages failing forward and saving competence awesomely.

I worry that truly explicit consequence setting can feel like it loses some momentum, because I end up telling the same story twice–once when setting stakes and again when it “happens” on screen.

So I generally hold a little something back. “You’ll get interrupted,” but not by who, “he’ll need a favor”, but not what it is, “it’ll be worse than you expected” but not by how much or in what specific way.

How explicit are you in your stakes conversations?

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I tend to be a little general “if you fail, they’ll help but have ulterior motives”, “this is going to be a timing issue, if you fail, they’re going to get to you before you’re done”, “you forked in stealthy, so I think what would go wrong is you get caught”. I often look at Help & FoRK for ideas on the failure details.

I try to give them enough to know the gravity of the situation but so that we can narrate the result in a satisfying way. They may ask more questions before choosing to roll, and I will answer them to the best of my ability.


Sometimes I hold back details, “If you fail, one of your followers will turn against you.” and other times I need to be specific, “If you fail, the boats founder and sink, leaving you stranded on the coast.”


As @luke says, it’s not one answer fits all situations: there can be a strong context influence in both what the pre-roll detail is and how it’s narrated afterward.

At one end, there are physically risky things with clear consequences (such as walking along a narrow beam) where it makes sense to say, consequence is that you fall and land badly which from this height would cause an X wound, then if they fail, they mark the wound and pick up the action from them now being on the ground below.

At the other end, there are social interactions where the risks are less clear cut (such as @gyakusetsu and @luke’s thoughts about someone not having your best interests at heart) where the answer is potentially “what is the critical point of interest here?”: is the most interesting thing that the player knows their character is trusting an enemy and so can lean into watching the tragedy? is the most interesting thing that the character doesn’t know whether their plan is helping or hindering (in which case, the player not knowing either works well)? In this case, potentially the consequences aren’t actually narrated straight after the test; for example, last session in @Mark_Watson’s game one of our group wrote an anonymous letter with the consequence of failure “the recipient realises it was you”; when they failed, Mark announced that they’d sent the letter and we moved on, then at the end of the session they get a letter from the person they wrote to demanding an immediate meeting.

Another aspect of discussion is how easy the group finds it to separate player from character when it comes to failure. There is a difference between the failing forward that BW draws interest from and being able to actively suggest meaningful failures. If the group are all fully comfortable with it, there’s huge advantage in having the whole group brainstorm failure for significant rolls; whereas, if not all the players are then having the GM take more of an impartial setter of consequences roll by not opening things for discussion can avoid people feeling socially required to be “nice” to other people’s characters.


It’s good to hear everyone is on basically the same page! I especially like what @gyakusetsu said about considering FoRKs and Help–it applies the concept behind working carefully and broadens its application. I dig.

For my own part, especially with new Burning Wheel players, when setting a consequence for failure, I also love looking at their character’s Traits.

Not only do I find them great sources of inspiration, it also allows me to draw a link to the Artha cycle at the end of the session, and show ways for Traits to make your character’s life more “interesting”.

e.g. “I see your character has the Drunk trait. If you fail this Poetry test for your love, I reckon that you are a bit too drunk, and it comes out more like a rude limerick, then a grandiose love poem.”

At the end of the session, we can then look to award 1 Fate Point for having a Trait complicate their life.


That is genius, Mark.


Use Failure to Trigger Instincts
As we’ve demonstrated , a failed test provides many opportunities! In addition to to all that we’ve mentioned, you can also use failure results to trigger a player’s Instinct. […] This may seem mean, but it’s not. You’re showing the player that you care, that you’re paying attention. And you’re providing him a chance to earn artha. See what a great GM you are? – Codex 124

Dang! I remembered that part of the Codex as having extended the Instinct trigger to Traits too, but I guess that was me. I really thought I caught you calling yourself genius vicariously, Luke. :sweat_smile: :joy: