How to handle Bloody Versus results

I’m itching to run a BW campaign for a small group after our 5e campaign goes on a short break.

I like the idea of BV for quick resolution of minor combat, but I’m having trouble wrapping my mind about how to practically apply this in-game. Since the winner of the test bests their opponents and the “fight is over”, what does that actually mean?

Say the PCs encounter a zombie in the sewars and we do a BV test, and the PCs deal damage. Does that just kill the zombie since of course the PCs will want to kill that mindless thing? What if the zombie wins the test… I wouldn’t want to kill a PC (or multiple if they helped?) with a single roll on a minor encounter, but what else would a brain eating zombie do?

Similar story if the PCs get into a scuffle with a town guard. The PCs will likely want to kill (or at least incapacitate) the guard so he doesn’t sound the alarm. But what if the guard wins, he gets to tie up all the PCs and deliver them to justice from a single roll?

In these cases the wound delt seem inconsequential, especially since the murder hobo PCs will always want to kill their opponents.

Thanks for any enlightenment.

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The consequence of failure in BW can either be failing to do the thing the character wants or managing but attracting a new obstacle that blocks the wider goal; but the central theme is that they add something to the story thread rather than snipping it off.

Bloody Vs tests do the same thing: perhaps the consequence of failure is a character death if that is a narratively satisfying point to end that character’s arc, but it can be anything that isn’t the whole of the characters’ Intent. For example, the PCs don’t just want to kill the zombie at any cost, they want to kill the zombie and continue with what they were doing; so, maybe the blow that does damage knocks the zombie into the water and it is washed toward an outlet that is near an orphanage; the players now have a choice between abandoning the reason they were in the sewers to chase it down or continuing with their original scheme knowing they have potentially let a zombie loose in an orphanage.

Similarly, with the guard, the intent includes “stop him sounding the alarm”; if the BV test doesn’t kill him, then he is wounded but gets to run while shouting loudly; so the characters have to choose between chasing him down and hoping they can finish him off and escape before help arrives, or fleeing now while they have a better chance but leaving a witness.

If the wounds aren’t going to be consequential, then perhaps don’t do a BV at all; make another test instead that reflects the key point in the plan and say yes to the rest. If you want to keep the chance the characters could be horribly wounded because their plan is violence rather than cunning, give them a test to kill with a consequence of failure that everyone involved takes a Severe wound.

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There was a simar thread not too long ago where Thor gave some sage counsel on Bloody Vs. Here’s a link.

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And welcome to the forums!

Thanks Quincy! I had forgotten about that post. I was just about to recreate it! You saved me the trouble.

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Wahahaha. Good to see those years of practice in BWHQ Forums-wise has paid off.

Could you give some advice on handling the fallout of the Bloody Vs? If I really want to kill my opponent, should I push for a Fight or straight Vs? It seems like ‘describing how I best my opponent’ by killing them would step on the wound results. But in a case where (like in the example) you’re fighting a mindless(ish) beast where there’s nowhere to run, it seems difficult to describe a resolution with plausible finality. Any advice?

My rubric tends to be that if it’s a specific opponent you really want to kill, that’s what Flight! is best for. If I have a particular peril in mind for an opponent, I lobby for Fight!

If it’s a mindless beast, there’s little benefit to making a Conflict of it, so I’d probably skew towards a versus test unless there was a significant reason I would chose otherwise, like wanting to overcome it much more than damage it, for a BV, or it being an important mindless beast.

If it’s a Zombie In the Sewers (ZitS), why aren’t you saying Yes to killing it?

What is the goal of killing the ZitS?

If the ZitS doesn’t care about wounds and just wants to hurt you, then a Bloody Vs doesn’t give you new information at the end of the conflict. A Vs test (your defense vs its offense) where you figure out how hurt you get before you move on. The real problem is that you’re in the sewers, and now those wounds might be infected? Or is any single scratch from a ZitS dangerous and so every fight you need to carefully manage every swing?

If you are running Zombie Horror, then I would make every zombie a full Fight, get that grit. But for Bloody Vs you need an Intent that jives with the rules of Bloody Vs. It’s not “Fight Light”, it’s its own system, mostly designed to see the outcome of a fight where it’s unlikely everyone will die, but they could.

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Thanks for the insights, still trying to understand the BW way. And yes I’ve read Thor’s old posts (and nearly everything he and Luke have posted here :slight_smile: )

But in a case where (like in the example) you’re fighting a mindless(ish) beast where there’s nowhere to run, it seems difficult to describe a resolution with plausible finality.

This is the a bit part of my question

My rubric tends to be that if it’s a specific opponent you really want to kill, that’s what Fight! is best for.

Realistically, I see my group doing mostly Fight!s. But since I see that repeatedly explained as the “boss fight” system, I want to understand how to apply the other systems in a satisfying way. And so we can do more than a single combat in a session :slight_smile:

I’d probably skew towards a versus test unless there was a significant reason I would chose otherwise,

I have read advice here that a versus test is actually more deadly than Bloody, since in a straight forward scenario at least one side is likely stating their intent as “to kill the other side”. And really I don’t see a big difference between an basic Versus and a BV test in terms of time/effort at the table.

If it’s a Zombie In the Sewers (ZitS), why aren’t you saying Yes to killing it?

For the ZitS situation (lol), it does make a lot of sense to say Yes a lot of the time. But I’d drop something like that in my game for some purpose tho - likely to communicate that there’s undead where they shouldn’t be (probably hinting at upcoming challenges), and to show that the world is a dangerous place.

It just seems to me that saying yes to everything that isn’t a Belief-driven Fight! won’t feel all that satisfying. You want to give PCs a chance to roll some dice to see what happens, let them use their character skills to impact the world, and reward them for choices they made for their character… even rewarding the Munchkin Burner with a low stakes combat to let them show off.

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It’s the GM’s call what kind of martial test gets used in this case. That said, if your intent for the roll is to kill your opponent, you want a simple versus test. You state your intent to kill, the GM states the consequences of failure (“your opponent kills you instead!”) and you roll.

Fight and Bloody Versus are much more circumscribed. Your intent is to wound your opponent and how well you succeed at that intent is governed by the margin of success on the dice. If you don’t generate enough successes to inflict a mortal wound on your opponent (or incapacitate them so you can murder them at your leisure), then you don’t kill them.

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You state your intent to kill, the GM states the consequences of failure (“your opponent kills you instead!”) and you roll.

Are players usually OK with this? If I was on the player end of this I’d probably decline the test (resulting my character being scared of his own shadow) or beg for a Fight!.

Fight and Bloody Versus are much more circumscribed.

What are some examples of this?

Thanks for all of the discussion, its been enlightening already.

Yeah, definitely. Hence why I offered the other Vs test example. Just kinda trying to change the Intent (it’s not that your want to Fight, it’s that you want to not get hurt)

The people I know who’ve expressed an opinion see this as a feature of BW rather than a problem. While D&D created the image of PCs as murder-hobos, most people aren’t like that in real life and even someone who has left their ordinary life behind to right a wrong &c. isn’t going to quickly switch to remorseless killer; so the “if you want to do serious damage you risk suffering it” feel of BW drives realism; not “do I want this person dead” but the stronger consideration of “am I actually prepared to die for this?”

It’s also not a binary between Killer and Scared of Own Shadow: there’s the middle ground where the violence doesn’t need to be deadly. You don’t always need to kill a guard to stop him raising the alarm, so state your intent is to stop him raising the alarm then offer Brawling to subdue him and tie him up, the GM comes back with a linked test of, for example, Speed to grab before he can shout followed by Knots to tie him up, you finalise on Brawling then Knots with a CoF of him shouting loud enough for someone to hear.

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It’s only fair, isn’t it? That poor zomboi didn’t come into your home and try to kill you!

“I want to kill him, because I’m a big, tough adventurer!”
“Okay, so the winner kills the other one. Sounds good.”
“Wait! I don’t want to put myself at risk of the stakes I set! I run away like a little baby coward man!”

Burning Wheel definitely has an attitude of fairness. It’s great! It encourages you to address situations sincerely and not waste time on meaningless “encounters”.

Technically, the stakes don’t have to be equivalent, but they really should be (most of the time).

Oh yeah? Your character would creep down into this sewer with his buddies, ready to slay a zombie; steel himself to charge the beast; then think, “Hey, wait… I could die from this. This bastard could kill me!” and then bail? That’s pretty funny! I hope you have a longer stride!

What would it take for you to stick it out? What would have to be on the other side of that zombie to get you to go through it?

As the GM, it’s up to you to come up with interesting consequences that are appropriate to the situation and that challenge the characrters’ beliefs. Death does not have to be the consequence if you don’t think it’s appropriate. But it can be! The consequences of tests can be low or they can be high. The art of GMing BW is finding the right level of consequence to get players to make decisions about their beliefs. If they sometimes decide the price might be too high and they want to try a different approach instead, that’s the game doing its job.

That said, I probably would not put death as a consequence for an incidental encounter that’s not directly tied to a belief. I might instead decide the consequence is the zombie bites the character and infects them; they’ll turn into a zombie in time if they can’t cure it.

I mean that the intent for a Fight or Bloody Versus test is essentially “to harm my opponent.” If a character enters a Bloody Versus test with a zombie and only inflicts a light wound, then the conflict ends and the zombie has a light wound (which doesn’t really affect it because reanimated corpses have the Dead to Pain trait, which allows them to ignore the effects of superficial and light wounds). The combatants clashed and have become separated. The exact circumstances of how that presents itself are up to the GM to interpret. Now what does the character do?

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The combatants clashed and have become separated. The exact circumstances of how that presents itself are up to the GM to interpret. Now what does the character do?

Knowing how to interpret this is the crux of my question, and there’s still a gap in my understanding.

So the zombie/guard gets a light wound. Refereeing this in a non contrived way that doesn’t let the players just attack it again seems challenging (especially when the players themselves describe the situation if they won the test). But maybe it’s just a game conceit that everyone has to go with.

Thanks again for the insights. I just rewatched The Sword demo on youtube to refresh how some of this plays out. (of course I think they were way nicer players than my group :slight_smile: )

BV is scene resolution as opposed to task resolution.
“We won! I attack again!” is a reversion to task resolution which, as you point out, breaks the game.
But neither does BV provide the players with everything they need to move on to the next obstacle in the game. Thus, when using BV to resolve a scene, the game master is responsible for incorporating the result of the dice into a satisfying conclusion to the scene.

In terms of physical conflict…it’s a very D&D mentality to fight to the death in every altercation. Most fights in BW are short, sharp and inconclusive. People run away, pass out, beg for mercy, etc. Death is possible, but it’s rare for it to be the immediate result.

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From the link to Thor’s post below, I think the most relevant piece is:

When you engage in Fight or Bloody Versus, your intent is actually somewhat circumscribed. It’s “to harm the opponent.” They don’t let you deliver a specific level of harm to your opponent–that will be up to the dice. They don’t resolve any other intents, except by default. By which I mean that Fight or BV can’t give a player their intent to escape, except in as much as the guard can’t stop you from escaping once they’re badly injured or killed.

So, you don’t get to decide that the zombie is killed or the PC isn’t killed with BV. But it has nothing to do with what the brain eating zombie wants, it’s because BV doesn’t work that way. You can’t determine the harm level or other intents with BV. You could with a straight versus though, “if you fail this, the zombies separate you from the rest of the group.” Done.

You have to pick your tools carefully.