Question about task/intent and circles

hey guys! i am GMing a game and my players and i are discussing task and intent with regards to circles. here is the issue:
let’s say you wanted to commission a castle. for our purposes here the ob isn’t really important but it could be ob 1 (base) + ob 3 (specific occupation) + ob 2 (higher rank) + ob 3 (friendly disposition) = ob 9. great. so on a success you will have a friendly and capable architect willing to build a castle for you.

let’s say you met the obstacle but didn’t exceed it so this is just a nameless faceless architect npc. now, my players are of the opinion that having succeeded on this circles roll it is now impossible for the construction of the castle to fail. they argue that this faceless nameless npc’s success or failure at this particular task is not really interesting as it doesn’t necessitate the direct involvement of the player characters in the task that the npc is undertaking.

my initial response to this is to say that just because you circled someone capable of a task doesn’t necessarily mean that they are guaranteed to be successful at this task. as i see it this is basically just circling up a castle more than an npc.

i do, however, recognize their arguments that the spotlight should always be on the characters and that circling up an npc for a task only to have him not be completely 100% successful feels like it might go against task and intent.

my players suggest that the intent to have the castle built is tied into the circles roll and so therefore, passing the circles test and not being 100% guaranteed a fully functioning castle would be a violation of intent and task.

i am of the mind that the circles intent is to find someone capable of something, but it doesn’t mean the npc will automatically succeed depending on the task at hand.

what do you guys think? thanks for your time!

For clarification, and yes I am one of the players, success on the circles roll itself does not mean the castle is built. The Player Character would make a roll to convince, purchase, etc the castle from the NPC. Success at that roll would mean the castle gets built. The NPC wouldn’t then roll to build the castle.

actually, in my example i included a +3 ob to include a friendly disposition just so we wouldn’t have to worry about another test getting introduced. i really wanted this to be a a question as to what makes a valid intent statement for a circles test. would it be valid to roll circles and if you succeed you just get a castle? because in my opinion, that is what this boils down to. is it cool to roll circles and just get a castle if you succeed?

Ah, then that is a further point of clarification. It is my opinion that the intent of the Circles roll cannot include the procurement of the castle. However, that is what the other players believe.

I don’t know that there is an objective answer here, really. How much progress a given Task can get you on accomplishing an Intent is somewhat undefined outside of specific systems, so it’s really gonna come down to a given Intent/Task negotiation.

If you guys agree that getting the castle is what’s at stake in the test, the GM shhouldn’t lowball the players and go back. If the GM doesn’t want getting a castle to be resolvable by one test, then they should make that clear in the Intent/Task negotiation. Requiring a chain of Circles, Persuasion, and Resources tests all linked together is perfectly legitimate. As is saying, “There’s no way for a master architect to pay for the materials, work crews, and land rights needed to build you a castle without beggering himself, and no architect willing to do so for you exists in this setting. Sorry.”

Bringing a character into play that will build you a castle, convincing them to build it for you, financing the construction, drafting the design, and organizing the crews are all tests necessary for constructing the castle. The GM can Say Yes to any, all, or none of them. Those decisions can be negotiated into or out of the Intent and Task of a given test. Hence my saying that this is a question that the mechanics can’t really answer.


let’s say that the character’s beliefs are at stake and we’ve decided not to just say yes for now.

are you suggesting that circles tests could have their obstacles increased to guarantee some additional intents beyond just meeting a particular npc? for example would you add +3 ob or something to the circles test to reflect the intent that the npc you circle WILL successfully accomplish X goal for you upon being successfully circled?

Not really.

I’m saying that somethings are more desirable to Say Yes to than others. If my one of my players was bleeding from a Severe wound and wanted to get to a doctor (Circles) to stop the bleeding, I would say, “Test Circles [with penalties for Here and Now and maybe some others]. If you succeed, he’ll stop the bleeding and talk price later. If you fail, he’ll be less forthcoming with his aid.” Intent: Avoid bleeding to death. Task: Reach out to a doctor who will patch you up. Ability: Circles. The player asked for success on this Circles test to mean his character is out of immediate medical danger, and I agreed. If the test succeeds, he gets patched up. Calling for another test would violate that agreement and is a no-no.

Now, if the player said, “I’m bleeding out! I need to get to a doctor to heal my wounds. GM, I would like to circle up a doctor who will treat my wounds.” Then it’s still incumbent on me to decide whether the Circles test is enough to get a PC treated. I’m the GM; I say, “Nah, circling up a doctor won’t be enough to guarantee treatment. That’s fine to get a doctor to keep you from bleeding out on his doorstep, but if you want treatment you’ll have to circle him up, then pay his price (Ob 3 Resources test) once you’re stabilized (you can try haggling him down if you’d like), then he will test his B5 Surgery skill to see if you can recover. All as a chain of Linked tests, of course. Yeah, it’s a pain, but we agreed that violence would be nasty at session 0.” Intent: Get treatment. Task: Reach out to a doctor, pay his price (maybe negotiate), hope he does well. Abilities: Circles, Resources (maybe Haggling), doctor’s Surgery + FoRKs, Help, Advantage and Artha. In this case, the mechanical difficulty is used to express the tone of this game. Maybe the players don’t like that I’m calling for an NPC testing by himself to determine the well-being of one of the party. Maybe I cave and Say Yes to the Surgery test (maybe I don’t).

On the other hand, maybe I’ve got something else that I’m looking forward to in the next in-game season. Maybe no one at the table cares about the feel of violence and its implications in this particular game, or we’re all caught up in what else is happening. Maybe I say, “Okay. You just got hurt pretty bad. I need you to make some kind of test to deal with this injury so that violence isn’t completely inconsequential here. Does anyone have any medical skills? No? You wanna circle up a doctor, buddy? Great. If you fail? Uh… He just won’t do as well as he could, so you’ll take the maximum recovery time and not get any practice in this season. Cool; here’s your Ob.” Intent: Get treatment. Task: Reach out to a doctor who will treat you. Ability: Circles. In this case, we’re using the mechanics to give a little bit of weight to consequences we feel should matter but that we don’t want to get in the way of other, bigger parts of the story we’re all interested in. Mechanically, all of the same tests are called for in this example, but the discretion to Say Yes is employed to move the game along.

Each of the examples could happen at the same table – Even in the same game! This is not a question of knowing the rules, but of using the rules, I believe.

I wouldn’t add Obstacle penalties by Intent. For me, Obs are about the Task and the Setting interacting; they live in the fiction.


Another aspect is consequence of failure: the larger the intent, the larger the potential consequences of failure might be.

So, maybe there is an NPC who will build you that castle for free but the player doesn’t know why they’ll really be that generous and if they fail the Circles roll then the player is tied to whatever scheme that was. After all, if I’d just done a deal with a demon to make me the best architect of my generation, I’d leap at the chance to build an example of my wares… and even if the Inquisition don’t stop poking around, I’m sure they won’t assume this vague acquaintance and I are part of a cult.


thanks for giving some helpful answers guys!

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