Non-Belief-Related Tests

I’m curious how often GMs throw tests that are unrelated to the PCs’ beliefs in any way. Is this cool to do, or not cool, as the PCs are compelled to spend precious artha on tests that have nothing to do with their beliefs.

As an example, a priest PC is in the cathedral city to dig up some evidence on heretics, clearly a Research test. Would it be cool to have thugs mug him or a prostitute seduce him, even though his beliefs are tied to the situation with the heretics? Or would you not even mess with this and go straight to the Research test?

I guess the middle ground would be having the muggers and seducer as somehow connected to the plot, e.g. enmity clause for the prostitute and the muggers could work for the opposition.

How slavishly do GMs adhere to the PCs’ beliefs when designing obstacles for them?

Those things sound like failure consequences more than anything.

There’s nothing wrong with things going wrong in unexpected ways. I generally find that the closer the event is to the plot, or the more expected it is, the happier the players are. For example, if you have the guy in a library doing research and someone comes up to mug him, that’s a little weird. If he needs to investigate a ruined building in a bad part of town, and he doesn’t bring enough meat shields with him, and then someone comes to mug him, that makes perfect sense.

One of the BW GM’s great privileges is being able to have reasonable but unexpected results from failure ready.

For example, a horsemanship roll failing might result in being jumped while one takes a pause for medicinal herbs, rather than any penalty or loss of the horse. A complication which, when I sprung it las week, the resultant fight resulted in a dead body and an enemy’s retainer with a greater desire to see the party dead.

So long as the result is both interesting, and supports the nature of the skill(s) involved…

So, this is tough to articulate, but the way I read Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits is that this is a contract between the player and the GM. The player is telling you, explicitly, “I think these things are interesting. Please challenge me here.” And when you, as the GM, put your seal of approval on those BITs and start the game, you’re promising the players that you’ll devote your time to challenging those Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits. I feel like the book is pretty clear about this contract, actually.

So technically speaking if you throw a random-ass obstacle at the players at your whim that has nothing to do with any BITs on the table, you’re violating that contract. Now I throw the word “technically” in there because, well, in an emergent story game like BW where the GM is forced to think on his or her feet constantly, no one’s gonna fault you for a non-Belief baiting obstacle if it fits in well with what’s going on at the table at that moment. I think as long as what you’re throwing out there is well-received by the players and is couched in such a way that you can end with the question “Now what do you do?” then it’s totally fine. Playing off the cuff in the heat of the moment is expected and totally kosher. But sitting around twirling your mustache and saying to yourself “You know what, this has nothing to do with anyone’s BITs, but I want to arrest them” is less cool.

Hopefully all of that made sense. :slight_smile:

Having to brave thugs and seducers to follow your beliefs is about your beliefs, especially if you make the mugging a consequence of his failed research roll. They don’t have to be involved in the plot.

But as for just throwing unrelated challenges and distractions at the PC, I’m not sure why you would do that.

Exactly. There doesn’t have to be a direct connection, but random assaults shouldn’t feel completely arbitrary. It works best if it feels like a logical consequence to something else that happened earlier.

See, I totally disagree with your reading of that contract. Let’s say you and I sign a contract saying that every time I walk your dog, I get a dollar. If I feed your cat, am I in violation of the contract? How about if you give me a dollar and a cookie? Of course not! If you write a belief, and I nod and start the game, I’m saying I think that belief has the potential to lead to interesting conflict and that I have some intention of pushing for that conflict. I am saying nothing at all about what other conflicts I might also push for.

BITs are one of the ways players tell the GM what they’re interested in. But a) they’re not the only way, b) they change too slowly sometimes*, and c) the GM gets to be interested in things too.

As GM, your concerns should be the world and the story** and the characters. BITs are one of the tools you have for tracking the latter two. Was it your feeling that the thugs and streetwalkers were irrelevant and you felt bad for wanting them in? Or did it feel right, like yeah, this is a good place for a mugging?

You do owe some service to the world. You don’t get immunity from any danger you don’t have a belief about, after all. That doesn’t mean you should have the players take a wrong turn into a dragon’s cave for no reason, but it doesn’t mean they can just wander through the Ravines of Wyrms with impunity because they wrote no beliefs about dragonslaying either.

*By which I mean that perhaps our GM, Grace, has introduced a mighty blacksmith for some legitimate reason relating to Al’s character. As soon as she describes this burly artisan, Bren’s eyes light up and he starts flexing his muscles speculatively. We’re mid-session, so it’d be silly for Bren to rewrite a belief or instinct about testing his strength against the blacksmith. But it’s very clear that he’s interested. Would Grace then be out of line in placing the smith’s biceps between Bren and something he wants? Of course not. (And yes, that could mean pressing the smith into service to oppose one of Bren’s beliefs, sure. But it doesn’t have to. It’s perfectly reasonable to have him just up and say “Sure I’ll fix your armor, but your friend keeps giving me the eye. How about a little wager: Double or nothing I can wrestle him flat.”

Awesome replies! I had forgotten about the chapter in Adventure Burner which lays out all the different options for failure consequences. This aspect alone can help the GM satisfy any itch for good non-Belief related encounters he wants to throw in.

But let me revise my question based on your replies. The 2 encounters I suggested would actually be good failure complications, as Wurzel and others suggest. As a GM, I’m not not looking to throw in totally random encounters just to mess with the players and mark time, I’m talking about the GM’s power to create story threads or sub-plots which aren’t part of the players’ beliefs. I wasn’t too clear in my OP but your replies made clear what I was actually wondering about. Of course the players’ beliefs will receive the GM’s attention, but do you GMs inject your own sub-plots as well or just stick tightly with the evolving beliefs for the tests you’re inventing for your players?

Could you describe what “inject my own sub-plots” means to you?

Because I reckon that I don’t but I also will put in tests because they make sense based on what the character is doing but I’m not sure that is the same thing.

Well, if you’re going to go that route, go big, because if there’s some “big GM thing” that you want the players to pursue that’s outside of their Beliefs, that’s Deeds territory.

All I mean is opening up another story sub-plot, without derailing what the PCs are doing and what the beliefs are. In the first mentioned example, maybe the campaign and beliefs are about some priests trying to stomp out a heresy. As GM, I decide I like thieves and decide the city they live in is experiencing a rise in crime due to a rising new thieves guild. Something like that. Something that doesn’t stop where the players’ beliefs are leading, but might add a new element or sub-plot to the setting.

I’d find a way to make that thing that interests me rub up against a belief. There are other things going on in the world but the main things I’m thinking about as the GM are the beliefs, which are linked to the situation we all talked about as we made characters.

Wrathbone, if you’re asking if you can take things in directions the players never anticipated when beliefs were created, the answer for me is a definite yes. Beliefs are not about predicting the future. They’re not a straitjacket on the GM. They’re guideposts. But it’s still about the beliefs.

Thanks Judd, that makes sense. So introduce whatever you want, but make it tangential to the players beliefs and related to the situation at hand. And noclue, I agree with you as well. I think the GM should surprise the players sometimes too. It’s all good, I just was curious how GMs view this.

Yeah, look over those beliefs, relationships, traits, affiliations, and reputations and swill them around in your mouth with the situation and see what inspires you.

This is where a nice mix of different types of beliefs is a big help. If everyone has these razor straight beliefs about completing goals that relate to the situation, it can be tough but its easier to throw in little curve-balls when they have philosophical beliefs in need of challenging.

When I’m coming up with ideas for a session, the first thing I ask myself is: What’s going on in the Big Picture?

As the GM, I’m constantly setting events in motion as a result of that Big Picture. Most of these events are the result of my major NPCs/antagonists working to fulfill their beliefs, often in reaction to the actions of the PCs. In my Bruca campaign, the Big Picture currently has a powerful condottieri army, replete with sorcerer-engineers and knight-priests of the solar pantheon, marching upon the PCs’ village. Meanwhile, a supernaturally harsh winter has descended upon the village, and indications from the ancestors, spirits and gods are that a powerful spirit or minor god is behind it and plans to make the winter permanent. A number of failure consequences have led to run-ins with frightening Ice spirits, and they’ve now found several fellow villagers who’ve frozen to death.

The players didn’t have any beliefs about the winter when I introduced it, but their previous actions had made it possible, and exploring the ramifications of those actions was interesting to me. I had a pretty good feeling that a least one of the players and probably all of them would be interested in it to one degree or another. I went fishing. The next session, one player changed his beliefs to focus on finding a way to help the villagers survive the winter, and another player tweaked an existing belief to incorporate the winter stuff. For a short campaign, this sort of thing isn’t that important. But for a long-term campaign to really thrive, you need to make sure to introduce your own stuff. It’s the fuel the player will use to generate new beliefs after their beliefs are completed or broken.

After I figure out what I need to introduce in a session to advance my ideas of the Big Picture I get down to brass tacks and think about the PCs’ beliefs and how to challenge them. I look for ways to tie my ideas for the Big Picture into a belief, instinct or trait. My favorite moments are when I find ways to attack a belief from an oblique angle.

For instance, Topi’s character, Konstikas, has this belief: “There is nothing for me in Bruca. I will help Brutus and Simi complete their goals here so we can move on.”

When Topi first wrote the belief, I think he and I were looking at the latter half as the important part. He intended to spend this part of the arc helping the other two PCs accomplish what they were after. But after experiencing how the villagers were freezing and starving while their lord and his troopers had fuel and food, it became clear to both of us that the real test of the belief was about whether there was anything left in Bruca for him or not. Pretty soon, Konstikas was convincing Brutus and Simi to put their goals on hold so they could help him help the villagers of Bruca.

I introduced the supernatural winter to further my Big Picture, not to challenge a specific belief (though I knew full well that the players would be interested). Because they were interested, the players found a way to tie the development into their beliefs.

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