I played Trouble in Hochen at Jank Cast on Saturday, and the following questions arose. Basic stuff, but I don’t get to play BW frequently enough that I know the answers offhand.

How do the following work, mechanically?

  1. An NPC lies to a PC.

  2. A PC suspects an NPC is lying to them. They want to discern whether this is the case.

I want to say that the onus is always on the liar, who must make a Falsehood test vs the intended target. This is peachy for PCs, but what about NPCs? Is the MG literally rolling a Falsehood test for the NPC and telling the player the outcome. I’m assuming the GM is not rolling secret, as that is not the BW way. Nonetheless, rolling in the open seem weird.

Or is it just that the NPC says whatever, and the player simply has to decide for themselves if they trust them or not? No rolling to “detect lies” or nothin’?

I’m a big fan of looking the player in the eyes and telling him/her the npc is lying through his teeth to their character and asking “what are you going to do now?”

Yup. It’s on the player to play toward the result in a principled way.

But you know what I find harder in practice? Not when the npc succeed but when he fails! My players have a harder time dealing with their character “knowing” the npc is lying than pretending that the npc is telling the truth.

Weirder still: there is no procedure or skill for convincing a skeptical audience that you’re actually telling the truth. The best you can do is use Persuasion to compel an action.

That particular combination of rules I find super interesting even while my players are super frustrated by them sometimes.

Make the roll in the open. If the NPC succeeds, ask the player: “What angle does this guy have to bring to sell this to you?” and then roleplay that. This gives players some control over how much of a sucker their character is and in which ways.

If the NPC fails, either tell the player, “You can tell you’re not getting the whole truth” if it was a decent roll, or actively have the NPC contradict themselves openly if it was crappy roll, then
give the player a routine test towards: Lying-ass Liars-wise or whatever equivalent fits.

The best lies should tie into Beliefs, so be sure to award Artha when the player pursues their Beliefs based on the false information… (“But, we HAVE to stop the Captain, he’s going to assassinate the King!!!”)


Determination, or a lack of determination, that a lie has occurred does not lock in a given course of action. It is only tangential. True for life and a staple of fiction literature, so I’m very much at ease treating that way in the game. As such I generally avoid making the point of contention around the detection of the lie itself, thus being able to be very clear to the player that a lie is being told. How they choose to have their PC internalize this is, IMO, up to them (detect the lie or believe the falsehood).

Simply put action does not always 100% follow opinion on a given fact. Within Burning Wheel there is, as mentioned in the Duel of Wits section, room for a PC to believe one thing and act a different way.

EDIT: Note: Even when Falsehood is the test I don’t think it is clear cut that detection or non-detection occurred. Sometimes a lie is about making the excuse available, even if not actually believed by anyone present, to allow a certain action to be socially justified or at least the most socially acceptable path forward for everyone.

For NPC to PC I say, “He’s lying. What do you do?” Or something similar.

For PC to NPC I say, “Sure, you’re lying. But what do you want?” That usually gets us closer to action, rather than narration.

Thanks for the input, folks.

So, the key is here is that we do this all out in the open, because what matters are the consequences of the lie, not the discovery of the lie by the player. Is that right?

In a nutshell, yeah.

Expanding on what Luke said: I have a similar approach, and just this week I’ve been thinking I could bring a lot more nuance to the result.

NPC lies to PC, fails the roll. I am typically kind of careful with it, and go with “He has failed his Falsehood test.” I think because I’m still trying to be cagey with the player’s grasp of the truth, right? But you could go all kinds of ways with a failed result.

“He’s lying!” Forcefully, right? Or even

“She’s totally f-ing lying here.”

“He’s … holding something back.”

“Her story doesn’t quite add up.”

“He really wants to tell you something.”

“Nah, she’s just screwing with you, dude.”

I think I’m gonna experiment with some of that going forward and see what the players do with that.

This is prompted by a reaction I drew from a player last week after a failed NPC falsehood test. The PC is a minor noble knight, investigating claims that a local baron is making pacts with dark forces. Goes to talk to the baron, asks him about rumors that he’s collaborating with evil Fair Folk, and the baron says “Oh no, that’s all just theatrics to scare the locals into compliance.” Fails his Falsehood roll. So rather than going with my “he has failed” result, I went with “Oh no, he’s not telling you the whole story. The theatrics thing is probably part of it but there’s more to it.”

At that point he was ready to gut the Baron, and probably would have if he wasn’t surrounded by his house guard, in his manor, with his wife and kid in the room. I’m not sure how the scene would have gone if I’d been cagier with the answer.

My question is how do you think it would shape up if the NPC had succeeded at the roll? Or more to the point, how would it have differed?

The potential answers I am envisioning (and I want to hear if you have a different one) is at the heart of why my only recollection of rolling Falsehood, as the GM, that because of a particular DoW scripted action was as a GMPC in Burning Empires. Either it would defuse/block that sort of emotional stress of wanting to choke/gank the living crap out of the NPC, or the roll didn’t matter.

Honestly, the player in question is pretty good at just throwing himself into a “yup, I believe him!” result. I wouldn’t worry about him. But I do have players that just cannot seem to build the skill involved with keeping player and character knowledge separate. He seems singularly unable to cultivate his sense of dramatic irony – not surprisingly he’s also our hardest-core ex-D&D guy. So any position other than balls-out advocacy is weird and alien.

When that dude gets his Will handed to him with a successful Falsehood check, I rely on the rest of the table to berate him every time he ignores the result.

That isn’t the part that worries me the most, though. Opposite really to that, I’m worried about the defusing of the tension because the player says “yup, [my PC] believe[s] him”.

That’s just a failure to establish a juicy failure condition before the roll. If the NPC getting what they want diffuses the tension, then maybe they are wanting the wrong things.

That is exactly my point, put to different words. It is a roll that shouldn’t be made. (EDIT: Setting aside the tangental issue of a GM rolling against a fixed Ob, and of basically engaging in ‘mind control’ situation with something the player apparently isn’t engaged in enough to have their own Intent. A discussion for a different thread.)

I find that it is the lie creates the tension through not being believed. It is a challenge thrown right in the face, a successful Falsehood makes it a tree falling alone in the forest. Down the road there could be something that comes of following the falsehood. In the tree analogy terms that would involve someone later walking through the forest to find it laying on the ground, but that’s far enough out that an assumption about something undetermined (or a failed PC roll, or lots of different things) serves just as well. Much more typical is the issue of a lack of tension Now, in the moment.

Upon reflection, to unpack a little further:

Lies tend to really wind people up. Really it is one of the things that BW aims to do, remove various types of lies between the people at the table because of the animosity they can bring.

Because of this IMO they tend to lend themselves to Big Conflict, rather than deserving of a single roll to resolve. So I avoid single roll resolution of them, I think, for basically the same reason that I avoid single roll resolution of obtaining the Mc Gruffin, or dealing with the murderer of the PCs friend/relative/dog. It is something that’ll evoke the emotion to stand up over a longer period of time and as a major theme of a full scene, session, or maybe even a series of sessions.

I think it depends on what the NPC wants and how their trying to set you up. If a murderous Duke is trying to get you to trust him and accompany him into the next room, believing his lie could very well up the tension.

NPCs don’t want anything, they never have…and trying to push players around with a die to force them to engage in a conflict? Getting the PC into the next room is the job of BITs. If the player isn’t walking their PC into the next room then something has gone seriously wrong somewhere.

This is why I’m a strong proponent of having NPCs never roll anything outside of the formal conflicts of Versus, Fight, DoW, and R&C. NPCs have their own BITs, but their BITs are just backdrop and foil for the PC BITs. Because players aren’t engaged, and characters aren’t really firing on their own BITs if someone else’s roll has determined their actions.

In other words, BW is non-deterministic and believes in free will.

Hey Dwight can you expound upon that please?

I’m asking because my NPCs have lots of “wants”: they want to ruin the Player Character’s lives, they want to discredit them in front of their family, they want the magic sword they have, they want to make them suffer, they want to help them for their own ends, they want… lots of things.

So I’m confused. Honest question, because I’ve begun to question myself: am I doing something wrong by having NPCs with wants? :?

NPC sentience is an illusion/delusion. Those are your desires. You imagined those motivations (hopefully aimed at challenging/triggering the PCs BITs), you wrote the words down, and you are choosing their interpretation in the moment. The NPC’s purpose is in truth your purpose. If the player isn’t willfully engaging with your selection of conflict there is a major malfunction somewhere.

I’m not so hardcore as to never roll. I like rolling dice, so I indulge myself that. :slight_smile: But only to set obstacles for the players to roll against, as per Opposed Tests…and that again is getting into the tangental topic. But I generally avoid using Falsehood for the NPCs. ((EDIT: I’ll use a different social Skill if it comes to interpretation of the matter, if there are a couple of interesting branches to choose from.)) I want the lie to sit there and stew in the player’s minds so that it remains entirely, and undeniably clear that these NPCs are dirty, rotten bastards that must be taken down with extreme prejudice. :slight_smile: