Obstacle 1

It’s in the rules for a reason, right? However, in my play of the game I notice that Ob 1 tests rarely if ever get used (to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one). It seems like they are crucial for lower-skilled characters to be able to be tested and accomplish simple things. I think that the mindset of “only roll dice when it’s important” can cause GMs to elide this Ob into nonexistence.

I’m running a BW game soon and I plan to hew as close to the rules as possible. If something seems easy but still uncertain, that seems to call for an Ob 1 test.

What’s your experience (as player or GM) with Ob 1 tests? When do you call for them? When have they felt necessary but gone unused under the “say yes” rule? I don’t want to test for insignificant, boring bullshit either, but I feel ignoring Ob 1 is a mistake.


Don’t mistake Burning Wheel for lighter, looser games in which the little stuff doesn’t matter. In BW, you should roll the dice a lot. Little tasks that build toward big ones are important. Once in a while it might be important or relevant to zoom out a bit, but most of the time you should be rolling for those crazy plans.

Note also the “graduated tests” section on page 26. IIRC, this is new in Burning Wheel Gold. Graduated tests can be a pretty reliable source of non-trivial Ob 1 tests.

Are graduated tests just what open tests were in BWR?

damn it, Imma going to make a planewalking chicken farmer, you better not forgot the ob 1 Animal Husbandry test for chickens!

(for serious: what I did last time I ran a BW game (many moons ago) was read the entire skill chapter during breaks at work. though at the time I was a security guard w/ 12 hour shifts, so I had lots of downtime. doing that gave me a good feel for the obstacles.)

Yes, and it is still incumbent upon the GM to come up with an interesting failure condition that moves the game forward. Calling for the roll is easy, coming up with good failure is the trick.

Yes, renamed as to avoid confusion with open-ended tests.

As to Ob 1 tests, I handed out a lot of them in the early days of the BWHQ Burning THAC0 campaign, but sot so much now that the characters are all ridiculous.

Because I love making up hypothetical examples of things, here’s some cases where you might have Ob 1:

“Yeah, the rock’s pretty precariously balanced. You can push it over, no problem. But if you underestimate the amount of force you need to use and push too lightly, it’ll land on top of the caravan instead of in front of them, and you’ll be squishing all the treasure you were going to rob. Some of the gold might be okay, but nobody’s going to buy the Crown of the Ages if it’s been flattened into a hoop!”

“This guy’s a pushover. Look at him, cowering there in the dirt in front of you, holding that pathetic little dirk up as if it will block your sword. He doesn’t stand a chance. UNLESS you give him an opening to throw that dirk at your gut. He’s dead either way, but you’re looking at a B6 wound if he gets the opportunity.”

“There are signposts everywhere, you could always stop and ask for directions, and it’s not as if the city has a confusing layout to begin with. On the other hand, the dock district is on your way to the palace. That’s where Black Hat Pete is currently docked. His sailors are out wandering the streets, and if you wind up in that part of town, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll spot you.”

So I guess that’s Power, Sword, and… I dunno, Streetwise maybe.
Not that an Ob 1 Power test will do your players much good.

(cool, super helpful, just readin’ along for now).

Hmmh … shouldn’t that be rather a versus test?

Well, yeah, I guess so. I don’t think I’d make it a Bloody Versus. Doesn’t seem like a real fight. But I suppose the guy with the dirk at least deserves the dignity of a regular versus.
If it weren’t, though, I’d call it about Ob 1. And I wouldn’t give the guy more than two dice, depending on who the heck he actually is, and likely slap a +1 Ob for being prone on him as well, so it would probably come out to about the same.

For an NPC, just Say Yes to the roll. Hey look, he got 1 success.

Mm, I don’t think so. You roll the dice OR say yes, not pretend to roll the dice and make up a number.

Linked Tests are a great way to make Ob 1 tasks important.

Building a canoe: Ob 3 boatwright
Cutting down a tree: Ob 1 Logging

It’s easy to imagine failure results from that test! Rotted wood, bore worms, etc…

Not always. It’s really up to what the GM makes of it. Here’s the point at which BW is more of an art than a science.

Ob 1 if the NPC is part of the scenery. Versus test if the NPC is sorta significant. Bloody Versus if they’re at least a minor character. Fight! if it’s a big deal.

And even then, I’ll waver between stuff. But if it’s not a big deal, Obstacle test.

While reading the Circles chapter this morning it stuck out to me that the base Ob for Circles is 1. I think in play that’s very often modified upward, but still, it’s there, and in this case it’s entirely in the player’s hands if they want to keep it that low.

(the savage hominid is playing in the game I’m going to run)

I’d NEVER forget that! And don’t YOU forget the consequences for failure:


This is a very interesting idea. I have thoughts on it, and questions to ask! But I’d rather not drift this thread. I’d love to see you open up a new thread about this idea (i.e., sometimes an NPC is actually scenery for the purposes of determining what kind of test it is).