How much should you break tests down?

Let’s take the scenario presented on the Codex, page 111: murder a sentry quietly by throwing a dagger at him. The Codex says the GM asks for a Throwing roll forking Stealthy, Knives, plus wises. Another example right below that has the character rolling Acting with fork in Disguise and Falsehood to disguise as another guard and convince the sentry to leave his post.

My question is, when should the roll be ForKed like this, when should it be Linked, and when should it be different tests? Isn’t disguising as a guard and then convincing the sentry that you are on his side a Linked test? Should approaching the sentry stealthly and then murdering him be two different tests? Is there even a right answer to this?

I think about it in terms of a book or a film, and the audience who is reading / watching.

In the character’s mind, the threat is real and tangible. But to the players / GM, what is it?

  1. Is this a one-sentence description / a couple of seconds of film to get passed a “speed bump” to the action?
  • I’d make it a roll + FoRKs.
  1. Is it a paragraph or two / several different shots playing out of the scene, where the challenge is greater than one might anticipate?
  • I’d maybe do a Linked Test to establish the appropriate (fictional) positioning, and then a Test to accomplish the takedown.
  1. Is it a whole chapter / long set piece, because this guard of important (a relationship of yours? An unexpected friend in the role of adversary?)
  • Time to break out Fight! / Duel of Wits.

Overall, what test the GM calls for is going to be based what the player is attempting to achieve (Intent) and their approach (Task).

Intent: “I want to get passed this nameless guard without them raising the alarm…”

Task: “… by killing them before they can cry out with a thrown knife.” (Throwing, plus FoRKs)
Task: “… by claiming to be a fellow guard.” (Falsehood, plus FoRKs)

I’d probably see that as my Option 1, above (one roll, and we move on).

If the guard was the competent lieutenant / 2nd in command to our Big Bad, I might add in a Linked Test (Option 2):

GM: “Well, this is their Competent Lieutenant, and they’re on high alert. Linked Stealthy to get close, and then Throwing / Knives to kill them.”

However, if this guard is your character’s brother, tied to your Belief about looking after them vs. your Belief about stopping the Big Bad?

Well… I think we all know that this is a Big Moment (taking up 15 minutes of epic fight action / a whole cool chapter of the book), and if you are going to kill your brother, then Fight! might work brilliantly here.

Does that help?

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When I ran BW earlier past year, I mostly went with Linked Tests for these cases. I had a situation pretty similar to that one (quietly knocking out a guard), and what I did was calling for a Stealthy + Brawling as Linked tests. I think I like Linked Tests because they offer more opportunities for advancement, and also because then a guard that has better Observation can counter this strategy better than if Stealthy was just a ForK into Brawling.

To me, it sounds like a lot more mechanical drag than it’s worth.

Each test should have an obstacle (here meant as, like, narrative challenge, not number of successes needed) recognized by the GM, and something meaningful to the fiction at stake.

Calling for a test and what kind in Burning Wheel is broad matter, with a range of judgement calls that can be made to determine when and how to do so. Some decisions may be wiser than others, though, and the game gives some guidance.

I think the spirit of the game warns away from creating tests with am eye toward advancement. Headings like Test Mongering (Pg. 44) and Vincent’s Admonition (Pg. 72) speak toward letting obstacles arise organically and not getting swept up in helping the players advance.

I think part of the virtue of FoRKs is that they reward a broad skill base that you can bring to bear against a diversity of obstacles; breaking things down runs the risk of obviating that virtue. Winning because you can FoRK is feature, not a bug.

Another advantage to FoRKs is that they weigh on a player’s decision-making in addressing obstacles: If you’re looking at your character sheet and you see Stealthy, Throwing, Knives, Persuasion; you’re inclined to address the situation differently than if you see, Persuasion, Intimidation, Bribe-wise, Knives. In the former case, a constellation of factors that include sneaking up on someone and throwing a knife at their throat emerges for you to leverage against the situation; in the latter case, the constellation is that of leveraging a bribe as a carrot and the promise of violence as the stick to get that guard to take a walk. In each case, decisions you’d made previously encourage you to make similar decisions now. If, instead, you have to make (probably fail) a bribe-wise test before you can make your Persuasion test – or make (probably fail) a Stealthy test before you can make your Throwing test – then the decision for the killer to talk the guard down or for the persuader to slit his throat becomes a bit less significant.

I think the line, “Tests must be distilled down to as few rolls as possible,” from Let It Ride (Pg. 32) indicates a spirit of not breaking things down too much.

I think that it is seductive to some of us to read the Linked Test rules – especially when we first do so – and fall back on old habits of calling for tests for every little thing. I think that, especially when starting out, it’s wise to shelve the Linked Test rules and pull them off the shelf only for the “long-term or complex operations” indicated in the brick, which I expect would be a rare occasion.

Though, I have trouble wrapping my head around Linked Tests and placing them in my games, so… Grain of salt, eh?

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Hm, yeah, I get this, putting an additional obstacle in the way may disencourage people, although failing the first test on a Linked Test isn’t a complete failure. But I do have some trouble using Linked Tests in some cases, for instance, can you read the stars with Astrology beforehand to find the most auspicious moment to do something, and then fork in Astrology in the test itself? I guess not, probably that first test shouldn’t even be asked for, but I feel like the players themselves have the right to call for a Linked Test to improve their chances if they have a way of preparing themselves for the task.

For the case of the sentry as an example, can the player roll sentry-wise to know the best moment to attack as a preparation, maybe even days before, and then fork sentry-wise again for the attack itself? I feel like they shouldn’t, but I also can’t argue why not, so maybe that is ok.

This is a bit different from the GM breaking their test down, no?

(You can also Say Yes to a Linked Test; essentially grant them advantage for the test in question.)

“Players suggest [FoRKs] through their roleplay, and the GM arbitrates which are applicable and which are not.” (Pg. 37)

It’s helped me to not skip the “players suggest them through their roleplay part.” Is the player saying, “I want to know when will be the best time to strike,” linked test, advantage die, then saying, “I know the best time to strike, FoRK?” Of course I wouldn’t go in for that. If they can think of some other way to bring their wise into play, I might go for it. “These sentries aren’t going to to be wearing sleeves for hours in this heat, so I’m going to strike at the veins under the arm,” I might go for that.

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I don’t think there a single or “mechanical” answers here. It depends on elements of context - and not just the fiction, but issues of pacing, the mood of the table, etc.

I think the main guideline is that a test is only called for if something meaningful is at stake - where meaningful is a function of Beliefs, Instincts, Traits, Relationships and similar elements of PC build.

So if my character - in terms of Beliefs, Traits, etc - is all about disguises and passing unrecognised, then having the Disguise test be a linked test for the Falsehood or Acting might make sense, because something is at stake there for my character.

If not, then FoRK it in.

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I have strong feelings that the answer to this question is: “How important is the situation”

If you want the session to be about a heist, gob together linked tests, smaller tests, and individual rooms, if the heist isn’t grabbing people and no one has beliefs, use some Stealthy forking Disguise, Climbing, and Knives.

When you really are about it, break out a conflict system.

I think echoing the point of placing extra obstacles is there, but I also think that placing extra obstacles is kinda the point of tests. A journey where each day is a test, each meal is Hunted for, Forte tests for pressing on, is the stuff of campaigns and sessions. A journey of equal length which is an Ob4 Riding test can be equally eventful in fiction, but not equally eventful at the table. We place extra Obstacles because we want fun. But if bogging things down isn’t fun that’s fine!

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From one perspective they fit as the “Bloody vs” of non-violent situations; from another they don’t. So definitely depends on your table.

Where they really stood out for me in @Mark_Watson’s last game was for “kitting up” montages: we had some schemes that were too big to be a single roll but would be tedious to have all the parts as a whole scene and we didn’t want/need all the characters on all the actions. So, we made each of the preparation sections a linked test into the big moment when we pulled it all together.

Made for some fun stuff where we’d, for example, go into a Duel of Wits with +1 Body for having arranged friends in the room, +1 Body for knowing one knew the proper forms of debate in this forum, and -1 because the character doing research of precedents failed badly and has delivered a set of muddled notes at the last minute.

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