Mind Control Against PCs

How do we handle mind control effects targeted against PCs?

When PCs use mind influencing skill and magic, the Ob seems to be the target’s Will exponent. This sets a suitably high challenge for a powerful effect.

When that’s flipped, though, it might not feel great-- if the GM is rolling against their Will as a static Ob, they don’t get a chance to actively defend against a very powerful effect!

If we make it a versus test, they get to engage actively-- but are technically more likely to lose the contest than if we used their exponent as a static Ob.

Neither of these feel great. The easy answer is “don’t do it”, which is fine, but imagining it has me curious on the principles and design involved.

Another solution, I suppose, would be to have the player roll Will against a static Ob that is half of whatever the relevant exponent of the “attacker” is?

It came up as I am prepping The Dread Crypt of Skogenby for a Burning Wheel solo one shot about a Dwarven adventurer and thinking about how to handle the corpse candles, but it got me curious in general.

Start with intent. Everything has intent - the corpse candles want to lure, then kill.

First, simply describe a “warning.” Pique their interest, but leave it to the player to pursue further: “In the gloom, you spy something strange. A blue light gutters into being a dozen paces ahead, then flickers out. What do you do?”

If the player investigates, wait til they describe actually peering at the candle, then make them test their Will.

If the player ignores it, let it go. For the moment. Then, at a later point, tease them again: “A flickering blue light is cast across the wall just around the corner. Then the hall goes dark again.”

Let the player ignore if they wish. It’s ok if they never take the bait - they will continue to feel uneasy for as long as they don’t know what’s going on, which is perfect for atmosphere. But, because all humans feel anxiety about That Which Is Inexplicable, your player is very likely to investigate and trigger the trap. That’s how you get well-paced horror.

TL;DR: the manner of the test is not the problem, it is how the danger is first indicated that determines whether a player feels like they have agency.

Edit: for spelling :sweat_smile:

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Can you be more specific about what would be happening in the fiction? I’m not familiar with the corpse candles.

EDIT: Okay, I just brushed up… Having the player make a Will Test is fine. That works just like the Test Tweak effect from Enchanting in the Codex – which is probably the basis for the corpse candle’s effects in the module.

Thanks for the responses, @SchoonerAskew and @Gnosego. They’re good suggestions for the specific situation, and the teasing horror makes sense as a way to introduce them.

I’m curious about a sort of general principle for mind magic targeting PCs, though.

And I think the answer might be “it’s kinda rough on them”. In looking for other similar situations, I found the Persuasion spell for Sorcery. If an NPC was using that spell, they’d get to implant their suggestion without any defense from the PC (assuming they were able to get the 4 action spell off without interruption, which is definitely an assumption!).

Looking at other spells like Horror and The Fear suggests a different way I may handle the corpse candles, though-- as a Steel test, with a special mandatory reaction “follow mindlessly”.

Check out Mesmerizing Gaze in the Monstrous Traits section of The Codex.

I’m gonna be real with you; there are tons of ways to handle this sort of thing – in true BW fashion. How does the system model a sword fight? There are three different ways you can do it straight out of the book, and that’s not considering context or precipitating events. So, I guess what I’m saying is you should look for specific applications that suit your game, rather than a general principle.

That said, I’d pay close attention to the specifics of the Intent. The Persuasion spell allows for a mundane suggestion, and doesn’t specify how the target goes about completing the task. Even Force of Will doesn’t really allow for complete domination of a character – It lets you change a Belief, which the player can then ignore or pursue as they see fit. If you want to get the most out of your Force of Will spell, you’re gonna want to make the Belief something the player is interested in engaging with. (Honestly, you basically want to do that with everything.) Essentially, you’ll want the player to be able to still engage with the mayhem; ideally they’re a good sport and want to immersive themselves in the suck that is mind-control.

As for the effect post-test, check out the Force of Will Spell or the Psychic Duel in Burning Empires if you own that game. Adding/Changing Beliefs, Instincts, and/or Traits make for good long-term effects. Short term effects allow for a pleasant invitation for players to describe their characters reluctantly (or gleefully!) performing horrible deeds! Great Embodiment fodder!

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Oh yeah, Mesmerizing Gaze is exactly what I’m after.

The way it works, though, emphasizes my point/question. Making it a versus Will test makes it twice as powerful (I think, on average?) then if it were the Gazer having to make a roll against the PC’s Will as a static obstacle.

It let’s the players log a test for advancement and spend Artha to engage with the test. And it’s a supernatural ability. :person_shrugging:

Also… The Social Obs are somewhat deliberately inflated to discourage the seductive, “reasonable argument” method of getting out of trouble without engaging with the rules; to encourage using the Duel of Wits and Vs Tests; and to model the actual difficulty talking people into and out of things. Using them as a model for supernatural effects may be unfulfilling.

(Note, the Persuasion spell happens to be Ob=Will due to the way spell-crafting and Abstraction and Distillation (used to) work. And even that is off-set somewhat by Sorcery being Open-Ended and a skill you are likely to max-out if you’ve got access to it.)

This brings me back to what I was saying earlier… There are tons of ways to model this. What model works for what you want?


In Torchbearer, Thor designed Haathor Vash (in the Dread Crypt of Skogenby) as a possessor-type of spirit. I wrote extensively in the new edition in regards to how to play her so as not to ruin anyone’s fun. You could take a look in there if you have TB2E.


I’ve had this come up twice in my BW play.

As a GM, I had written up a dark naga which could use Force of Will. It Force of Willed a PC. The player and I worked up a Belief (replacing an old one) that reflected the command of the naga. This was before Gold Revised came out, and so I felt reassured seeing the approach we had adopted confirmed in that book.

As a player in a two-player, no-GM game, my PC went to stab an unconscious NPC in the heart. The other player called for me to make a Steel check, which I failed. While I delayed, his PC used Persuasion to suggest that I spare the NPC. The casting succeeded, and so I left the NPC unconscious but alive.

In both cases, I didn’t think there were any problems. What worked was conforming to the basic architecture of the game - challenging beliefs, “failing forward” with a clear eye on intent as well as task. So being mind-controlled, while a defeat for the PC in the immediate context, didn’t undercut player protagonism.

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You let the PC have input on the Belief? Man, people today are so nice.

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