Quick (?) Circles question

Lordy, they just don’t stop do they?! :rolleyes:


I have a Vaylen FoN with a ton of dice in the Vaylen affiliation (due to his clan lifepath IIRC) plus a sizeable # of circles of his own. I think he has 6 dice to Circles up a Vaylen. However, we’re in the Infiltration stage. We’ve only established that this FoN is a Vaylen; we haven’t said there aren’t any other Vaylen on the planet but it’s sorta-kinda understood in our group that he’s the only one so far.

So…what’s the order of causality when it comes to using Circles to summon up NPCs for groups that aren’t established yet? I’m not sure how to interpret the Circles exponents as they exist on the character sheet right now. Do I first need to narrate some broad action (Inundate?) wherein dozens or hundreds of citizens are in fact hulled? Or do the character’s dice mean I have a chance to make me some NPCs?

My intuition is pulling me in two directions. First instinct is that using Circles to grab some helpful Vaylen would, at this point, be considered jarring by the group. My second instinct is to bow to the tyranny of the stats, and if I have the dice I should be allowed to roll them.



I think this really gets down to a judgment call. But here are some basic strategies:

  1. You could use a Circles roll to establish another sleeper, like your FoN, that has been moving undetected until now. That’s a great way to layer in some back story and create a richer experience…so long as everyone buys into it. It’s certainly within your power, but you should consider Don’t Be a Dick too.

  2. You could have your FoN meet the character beyond the planet’s quarantine: a shipboard meeting in space. Depending on how much you want to protect such a meeting, you could even attempt to generate Downtime via Conserve or Go to Ground in order to justify a journey at HEx. Whether you hold this meeting in orbit or in a neighboring system, you’ll probably be using this to lay the groundwork for smuggling your new acquaintaince onto the planet. This strategy is as legitimate as can be, and any player who complains is being a Dick.

  3. Start with a color scene that introduces your surgical tools, hulling facility and surgeon (unless you are one). Follow it up with a Building Scene that includes your Circles roll and a slippery worm slithering into a skull. If you like, you could start off the building scene with a Circles test for a non-Vaylen (take the enmity clause…who cares! You’ll just be getting rid of an enemy), then move on to a Close Combat test (i.e., I Corner Him and Stab Him in the Face) or similar to subdue him, and then the Circles test for your new Vaylen. Insta-Vaylen. This strategy is also perfectly legitimate.

My thoughts are that the Vaylen character would be able to circle up an NPC or NPC’s that are Vaylen friendly but are not hulled. Remember, Vaylen isn’t necessarily = hulled. It’s just a person or people that are working against the PC’s.

Normally I’d say that you would be able to probably round up hulled support as well but since you specifically said that this is the only hulled Vaylen then perhaps you want to tread carefully with that. Unless you have a good explanation as to how they magically appeared on planet or have the PC’s make some opposition roll for the hulled Vaylen making it planetside.

I dunno, perhaps a legit cruiser jumps in, launches a cloaked Anvil Assault Sled or Hammer Assault Shuttle with hulled spies, drops planetside and drops them off…

Of course he can. But he wants to bring his Clan affiliation into play…:wink:

we haven’t said there aren’t any other Vaylen on the planet but it’s sorta-kinda understood in our group that he’s the only one so far.

If it isn’t clear, then you can make it clear by tossing in those affiliation dice and circling up some Vaylen. Oh no, there are more Vaylen on the planet!

If there is some grumbling from your players, you could use a color scene for the activation of Vaylen sleeper agents. Or a ship landing in a remote part of the world. Or a ship of immigrants arriving in port, among them some Vaylen agents. I don’t know your world or what would work, but you understand what I’m getting at. However, you don’t HAVE to do this.

Circles allows you to create people out of thin air. It’s real keys to the kingdom stuff! The affiliations allow you to easily create people of a specific group or race or whatever. According to the rules, if you can hit the obstacle, then you get what you’re looking for.

Groovy. This is what I was looking for! Thanks guys.

New twist: Can I specify that this Vaylen agent is coming from a particular faction (ooh, a sleeper amongst the Royalists!)? I assume this increases the Ob somehow, I’m just not exactly sure how. Mmmmaybe in terms of how “specific” they are?


Yup, specific/rare/unique Occupation is +3 ob, and if Royalists sounds as high station as I think, it would also be +3 ob for Highest station/rank. Plus two more for being competant and liking you, and you’re sitting at an ob of 9 (base one plus 8). Good luck!

Yeah, but the guy doing the Circles roll is the Lord Steward hisownself – a noble, HNIC and loyal Vaylen sleeper. I think I’m looking at Ob6 (base 1 + 3 for specific + 2 for loyal).

Actually I’m not sure what I’d end up with if I missed the roll. Enmity clause, maybe – another sleeper among the nobility competing for the planet on behalf of a rival clan? That’d rock.


I think that’s fair game. Pick a lifepath in the Vaylen Setting of the Vaylen lifepaths. Use the Occupation modifiers and potentially the Station modifiers based on how close that lifepath is to yours.

However, I wouldn’t consider it cool to take over a faction in one fell swoop. That sort of thing is really intended for the usurpation phase anyway. During the infiltration, you’ll want to bring out sleepers that have access to the halls of power in a faction, but are not necessarily the movers and shakers. But you could certainly focus some of your maneuvers on getting your sleeper into position to hull one of those movers and shakers.

So when the GM rolls a Circles test they are still the arbitrator of whether or not the Emnity Clause gets envoked or not? That thought had occured to me the other day, and I could find nothing in the rules to contradict it. It does seem though to take a lot of the sting out of failing a Circles roll for the GM. It somehow feels wrong.

To try keep the thread on topic though, what would an Emnity Clause sleeper mean? That he rounds up a sleeper from a different clan?

It is one of the advantages that belongs to the GM. In most cases, it is more interesting to invoke the Enmity Clause and give the players a new angle with which to attack the GM’s FoNs. Even if I invoke the enmity clause and then just go ahead and hull the guy, it gives the players a chance to try to detect a sudden change in his attitudes.

As far as what the Enmity Clause means with a sleeper? Sure, a sleeper from a different clan is easy. No problem at all. But there are plenty of other options as well.

You can get creative: What if the other sleeper is on the level, but he’s been compromised? This is standard espionage procedure. It is far more profitable to uncover a spy and let them continue operating than to capture, kill or otherwise roll up the operation. Once you know he exists and can control the information to which he has access, you control him.

So look at the key sentence in the Enmity Clause description again: “The enmity clause indicates that rather than finding someone who is favorably disposed to the character, the player finds he’s got an enemy out there: someone who feels insulted, mocked, intimidated, cheated or scorned by the character.”

Sure, the Sleeper was the catalyst for this Circles roll, and indeed, the player gets access to that Sleeper. But the enemy generated in this case is the guy who’s been watching the Sleeper.

That’s just one of many options.

Yeah…my game is playing more like a Usurpation game than an Infiltration game anyway. Despite every effort to match up our scenes to the Infection-level skills, we’re still not feeling the cloak and dagger stuff as strongly as I’d hoped. I guess it’s really on me to keep the theme on track!

Awesome tactics talk, Thor. Thanks!


I don’t know whether this will further illuminate my previous point or confuse it utterly, but maybe a little bit about the historical/theoretical underpinnings of the Enmity Clause will help:

  1. The Circles mechanics were born from the Resources mechanics. Basically, my group was playtesting Resources way back when (2004?); we were working on Burning Wheel Revised. I think we were in the midst of the Burning Corso campaign. Anyway, while playing with the Resources mechanics (I think I was buying armor for my wizard after the second or third incidence of a crossbow bolt to the chest from an assassin), I got what I wanted but taxed my Resources pretty severely. I may even have tapped myself out. I suggested to Luke that the system could probably be used to generate NPCs on the fly, just like Resources could be used to generate objects. Luke had been contemplating a system for such a thing for a while anyway, so it was a good spark.

  2. The Enmity Clause (and the Gift of Kindness) occupy the same headspace as Compromise in the Duel of Wits. What had struck me when I was purchasing that armor was that the story changed–it moved forward–but there were also consequences that would haunt me. I say it all the time when asked: the core of Burning Wheel (and Burning Empires) is choices and consequences. My failure had been AWESOME.

When I was talking to Luke about my idea, I tried to verbalize why that was so cool, but didn’t have much success. But Luke understood it better than I did, and the Enmity Clause was born.

So anyway: Enmity Clause and the Gift of Kindness are forms of Compromise. They aren’t as expansive as Compromise, but they don’t really have to be. You have three potential options when you go into a Circles (or Resources) test: Yes (i.e., you succeed and get what you want), No (i.e., you don’t get what you want, you better find a different path), or Yes, but…(you get what you want, but there are consequences that are going to cause you trouble).

In Resources, those consequences take the form of Tax. In Circles, you get Enmity.

So here’s the basic principle: A successful Circles test is like a Duel of Wits that you win without losing a single point from your Body of Argument. You get what you want without compromise. A failed Circles test in which the GM does not offer the Enimity Clause is like a Duel of Wits that you lost without taking a single point from your opponent’s Body of Argument. You’ve used a portion of your Building Scene and accomplished nothing (although you hopefully at least earned a test for advancement in Circles). Finally, a failed Circles test in which the GM does offer the Enmity Clause is similar to a Duel of Wits that you won but you owe major concessions. You got what you asked for, but the price or conditions make you wonder whether it was worth it.

As long as you keep that final bit in mind when offering up an Enmity Clause, your players should stay riveted. Yes, they should feel like they’ve just suffered a setback (sometimes quite a severe one), but it should also cause their brains to start grinding away at a way to turn the new situation to their advantage.

The same holds true when giving yourself the enmity clause as a GM. For instance, sure, connecting your Figure of Note to a sleeper that is under surveillance can hurt you badly. But now we all know, as players, that someone out there is running an intelligence operation. As the GM, you now have the opportunity to position your FoN in such a way as to discover that operation. Hull the guy in charge of it and you’ve just won a powerful advantage. Of course, the players are going to be trying to get to him first…

I think Thor’s example is circling up a warm body to hull. A second Circles test is made for the worm itself, presumably to establish what skills the worm has.

As to the failed roll for a sleeper, it would depend a lot on the situation.

Good topic, fellahs.

Just a couple of things to add:
Don’t forget that a Circles test isn’t a magical character generator. It’s a scene. Check out my BW One on One AP posts for examples on how to use them as such.

My general rule in BE for Vaylen Circles is as follows: If I’m looking for a warm body to hull and I fail the test, I don’t invoke Enmity. I say No. If I’m looking for a contact or a relationship or any other character on which my Vaylen might be dependent (for help or information or whatever) and I fail, I invoke Enmity. Enmity in that case means the players have serious leverage against me!

In our Last Days of Lisgren game, I failed a Circles test early on to find a corruptible contractor who would install some eavesdropping devices no questions asked. Well, I failed the fucking test. John and Matt were delighted. In the failure, I indicated that they heard someone in the Utopian Station rebuilding operation was on the take. Next scene, Jonathan Circled the bastard up. And the motherfucker sold me out! It wasn’t the most profoud scene (we were all operating through cut-outs anyway), but it gave Jonathan and Matt the excuse they needed to be suspicious of that FoN and to start directly moving against him.

Hope that helps,