Psychology, NPCs, and conflicts

I am running a Burning Empires game, and I was wondering if there was such a thing as a “Psychology Vs”. Is it necessary to have a Psychic Duel to change/add a belief or trait to a character? That is, I would never do that to a player’s character - they certainly deserve a full-on conflict to try and defend themselves and win a compromise.

However, is there some way that I could use Psychology in a one-roll resolution to accomplish the same thing with an NPC, or something like it?

You could say yes.

I mean, your world has some kind of legislative body, right? Maybe one of your FoNs sits on it. Let’s say that body passes a budget every year, and your FoN wants to amend that budget (this is very much in the idiom of 20th century democratic legislatures, of course, but it could be a privy council or a court of ministers or whatever too). There’s a formal debate over this. Do you hold a Duel of Wits, rolling dice against yourself? I sure hope not! If none of the PCs have a stake in it (either direct or at one remove*), just say yes. Cover it with a color scene or interstitial. You might need a builder to find the target, if you don’t already have a relationship with them.

If that seems uncomfortable to you and you feel that there is a PC with enough stake in the duel that it needs to be rolled for, just run the duel. Hand the NPC over to the appropriate player and go for it. Duels against non-Psychologists don’t last long, usually.

Also, remember that if you Psychologist has the Psychologist’s Code trait, this (almost) automatically earns them the Codebreaker trait. Even if they don’t, it certainly makes them eligible at the next trait vote. That means they get a 1d infamous rep among “colleagues and anyone else who knows them.”

To answer the corollary-questions:

  1. There is no “I Corner Him And Stab Him In The Brain” equivalent to the Psychic Duel. There is a short-form Firefight, but no short-form Duel (either of Wits or Psychic).
  2. There is such a thing as a Psychology Versus test. You could, for instance, have two Psychologists both trying to Read the same individual before the other did. However, if you want the effects of a Psychic Duel (changing beliefs or traits) you need to Duel. You can’t just skip over it with one roll (though you can Say Yes to the duel if appropriate).

*By which I mean, if you’re not hitting a PC or one of a PC’s relationships, or a leader of a faction that’s been activated by the PC’s side in the Infection, or in some other way someone that a PC has a mechanical link to, you can just do it. And having a Belief about an NPC isn’t enough by itself to protect them. But if it’s a PC’s relationship or a PC-controlled faction, you probably need to do the whole thing.

Devin’s correct in all instances.

Any sort of major Belief-changing instance in play must be a Psychic Duel.

If you’re talking about suborning a minor, secondary or tertiary character, I’ve allowed simple tests to quickly resolve those situations. But not as a versus test. That’s ridiculously punitive for the target. The psychologist will have 6D of skill dice against an opponents 4-6D of unskilled dice. It’s no contest. So in this case, resolve the test with a quick independent test against the target’s Will.


OK, I am getting the role of the GM using his FoNs with each other, and NPCs. As I wrote this, I was also thinking essentially what zabeiru was writing. If this is a character that does not have the ‘fingerprints’ of a player on it, or in a mechanically relevant group, or even brought in as color, then a duel conflict is not necessary.

A character mentioned in a Belief, like a child, wife, etc? There’s a part of me that feels that is mean, but then The GM Is Adversity, and being mean is my job!

As a player at the table I’d likely suggest a Circle roll is in order to locate that NPC, as the first step in this Building Scene. In BE the GM doesn’t get to move around NPC locations at will. You can only do that with your own characters, NPCs are not your characters.

If a player has a belief like “I will protect the Anvil Lord,” they’re asking you to try and fuck with the Anvil Lord so they can protect (or at least avenge) him.

Think about what you’re doing. If it’s an end-run, give the PC a chance to stop you. But if it’s an opening salvo, lay it on heavy!

By analogy: Don’t murder the Anvil Lord without letting the PC try to stop you. But absolutely do kidnap him, or even better, suborn the commander of his headquarters platoon!

Also: It matters how much access to Psychology the PC with the belief has. If a Duel-rewritten belief is something they could fix, go for it! Now they have to decide whether to make their friend’s brain into a battleground! But if you have the only Psychologist on-planet, be a little more circumspect (but it might still be the thing to do).