Linked Tests Only giving you the +1D on numbers above the Obstacle

Hi All, been playing Burning Wheel and been enjoying it quite a bit. I think one thing that me as the GM and the players have seemed to have a trouble with, and its a point of contention amongst us is:

Why do Linked Tests only give the +1D when you get above the obstacle, it does seem to be so many times where we say oh this would deifnitely be a Linked Test they Roll and just get the Obstacle and your just like, well what was the point of rolling that?

Are we playing Linked Tests wrong in that? I know the ruling is the each tests should be its own thing linked to the other one, but it seems that most of the time well they are Linked for a reason. Is there a reason you only get the +1D above the number balance wise?

IMO there are two flavors of Linked Tests. There’s the sort where a player is aiming to boost dice for another roll, like Help or FoRKs but separate in time. Those feel like meeting the Ob should grant +1D. But there is also the sort where a player’s stated Task sounds like it comes in stages. There, each stage is a separate thing, and merely meeting the Ob gets you the reward of avoiding “your poor performance of this task necessary to achieve your intent harms your chance of success at the final task necessary to achieve your intent”. You’ve got to go above and beyond before accomplishing that necessary task will actually boost your final chances.

For the first type, I might not even use it as a Linked Test. If it’s a task NOT necessary to achieve the intent, with real failure and success consequences, then maybe treat it as aiming for advantage on the next roll. Soft commitment as GM that you’ll grant advantage for achieving such-and-such, so if they accomplish it in some way that doesn’t grant advantage you can still say no, I’m looking at you Brawling FoRK.

But if players are saying “what was the point of rolling that”, maybe your failure consequences aren’t harsh enough, or you’re not Saying Yes when players are fishing for an inconsequential roll?

One reason for the +1D limit is that it prevents a very easy test being hitched in front of a challenging test in order to generate buckets of advantage dice, making heroic deeds trivial to accomplish.

That said, you can make two (or more!) separate tests and link both of them to one single other test for +2D advantage.

Linked tests give no benefit if you just meet the Ob and a penalty if you don’t meet the Ob. The obvious conclusion is that the players should be looking for low Ob tests to link into a harder challenge.

Every test in a series of linked tests must have its own Task and Intent. Meeting the ob means you get your Intent. Exceeding it means you get an extra die to the next roll, as an added bonus. Generating an extra die for the next roll is not a valid Intent. If the player is unable to come up with an intent for the roll, then there is no roll.

+1 to Taelor. I was just coming to post that exact thing.

maybe your failure consequences aren’t harsh enough

On this point I’m not to sure if Failure can be that harsh on a Linked Test since by its very nature it gives you a +1 Ob meaning that you can still do the other roll. In what ways could you make failure on a Linked test a bit more meaningful?

I think this illustrates the disconnect for you. The +1 ob to the next test is not the failure consequence of that test. It’s extra. That first test should have a success and failure consequence as if the subsequent linked test didn’t exist.

There is an example in one of the books of a person making a Weaving test to make a bolt of cloth being used as a linked test into Sewing for making some clothes. So, what would be good failure for a Weaving test? Maybe it takes twice as long to make. Maybe it costs more than expected and you have to make a resources test. Maybe the cloth looks fine to the naked eye but is actually much weaker than normal cloth and tears easily. Oh, and when the Seamstress goes to make the clothes with the cloth, she gets a +1 ob because of the shoddy workmanship.

Our weaver meets the ob, she has a good bolt of cloth. Not good enough to help her friend out, but it is still quality cloth. She beats the ob and the cloth is fine quality and working with it is easy. +1D to the Seamstress.

To me, the value of linked tests is fictional positioning. I don’t use them to make a single action more complex, I use them to build up the circumstances that make that action possible/reasonable in the first place.

Now, you could just use a series of disconnected tests for that, too, without the risk of compounding +1 Obs for failure, right? Because it represents an agreement that any incremental failure is “failing forward” in some way — even when the failures compound along the way, you’ll still get a shot at your final intent.

There’s no guarantee that you can still do the other roll.

actually much weaker than normal cloth and tears easily. Oh, and when the Seamstress goes to make the clothes with the cloth, she gets a +1 ob because of the shoddy workmanship.

This example is where its a bit muddy I feel because to me that sounds like exactly the same thing, the bolt of cloth is weak so gives an extra +1 Ob.

Now, you could just use a series of disconnected tests for that, too, without the risk of compounding +1 Obs for failure, right? Because it represents an agreement that any incremental failure is “failing forward” in some way — even when the failures compound along the way, you’ll still get a shot at your final intent.

You could argue a lot of tests are Linked Tests in a way so I wonder how you would know for definite this is a series of disconnected tests and this is a linked test.

It would be a +1ob when being used to make a fine dress. But it could be a +1D in some situation when you want the cloth to rip or neutral in another when the weakness of the cloth does not matter. Regardless of how the Sewing check goes, you’ve still got some of this flawed cloth hanging around.

How about the old I’ll distract the guards while you sneak in bit? Conspicuous from Player 1 linked to Stealth from Player 2. If player one makes his roll, he gets the guard’s attention in a neutral fashion and his friend gets the +1D. If Player 1 fails, he gets the guard’s attention and one is coming to kill him. So on the failure, player 2 gets a +1 ob on his Stealth because the place is on alert, but player 1 still has to deal with this guard coming after him. That is failure consequences for the roll separate from the affect on his friend’s roll.

You could argue a lot of tests are Linked Tests in a way so I wonder how you would know for definite this is a series of disconnected tests and this is a linked test.

Much of that is personal preference. I call for linked tests in two main situations. The first is when a player would usually hand over a helping die but does not have a relevant skill to do so. The second is more subjective. If in a TV or movie, you would show the planning montage of how the complex plan would work and then show the actual break-in or heist where crap goes wrong but they manage to pull it off anyway. That is a set of linked tests.

For us, procedurally, a linked test is about a plan and a process. So:

  1. We declare the process up front. “I want to do X, then Y, then Z.”
  2. It’s not a formal thing for us per se, but the intermediate steps almost always “fail forward.” Regardless, you work out the stakes of all the tests as a unit and know them up front. With separate tests, you do the tests more… separately.

Why isn’t it a single test? Because it seems “too big” for a single test, or the fictional positioning doesn’t justify it yet, so the intermediate steps are the extra legwork to make it possible. Why isn’t it a series of disconnected tests? Because the intermediate tests, while they have their own stakes, are mostly relevant for building up to the final one.

Some of that is a bit of extra stuff on top of the rules but it’s how we use the particular tool. Honestly, if you never use linked tests because they don’t fit your play, I think it’s not big deal.

I went back and searched our posted APs for some examples:

Sneak up to a magic bird and grab it: Stealthy (get up close) into Agility (grab it!). Linked test because if you do a good job sneaking you can get closer, whereas if you fail you’re having to really lunge for it.

Discuss complex concepts with someone whose language you don’t fully speak: Foreign Languages (can you find the right words to communicate well) into the relevant social skill like Persuasion or Interrogation. These were linked tests mostly because we wanted to represent that some amount of language-barrier was a big deal for the setting, even though most people mostly understand each other.

Sail a small boat to a specific destination by yourself a long way: Seamanship (keeping the boat – and yourself – in good working order), Rigging (controlling the sails well), Navigation (do you end up where you wanted to go, or somewhere else). Linked tests because it’s a “montage” kind of situation, representing a lot of effort over a long time.