Relationships without buying them in character burning?

Just a few questions:

  • If a player writes beliefs about a character they invent (Their brother the duke, for instance) do they need to buy a relationship to that character? Or can they simply write a belief about an previously unestablished character and now they must exist?
  • If a player doesn’t buy any relationships, can we assume they have immediate family? Do they have unlimited access to this family, or do they need to do a circles test for family to determine their disposition to the player character?

My understanding is that buying a relationship is like buying a guarantee. Any NPCs outside of that can exist if the players want to for any reason, but there’s just a chance they’ll have the enmity clause attached to them.

  • If they have a Belief about them, they should probably pony up the rps to take them as a relationship. This isn’t necessary, and in some cases it might be good not to do that, but generally it’s good form if nothing else.

  • Generally, yeah, the character has family. Anyone who might be in a character’s life falls into the Circles ability, family included. The GM can, of course, grant advantage dice and say yes to tests as they see fit, as with any other ability in the game. But, no, the player does not have unlimited access to anything they don’t buy, and even those things can be lost.

I think of it more like making an investment. Yes, I guarantee that this character is a part of the game, but I’m also making a statment about their importance to me, my character, and/or the story. And, of course, investments can go awry.

Circles are limited to the character’s Lifepaths and Settings. No circling up your brother, the duke, if you are a peasant.

You also still need a valid intent and task (which the previous point is mostly an extension of: You have to reach out to people and therefore be able to reach out to people to tap your circles.

The enmity clause is also not the only failure consequence for a circles test (though it is often the most fun!). Just plain lack of availability is on the table and may be the right call. Also, the enmity clause can stretch from a negative disposition to other complications when reaching out to a contact: A player of mine tried to find a friendly inn keeper who would give them a place to crash for the night… Only to walk in on the local crime boss extorting the inkeeper for all he’s worth. Good fun!


Thanks for all the good advice. Concerning the quote above: You think that as the GM I should simply say “No” to that belief? Would there ever be any good reason to say “yes?”

When a player buys a relationship in character burning, they get to define the nature of the relationship, the relationship’s attitude toward the character, and the relationship’s importance to the setting.

Outside character burning, all of those decisions are the GM’s to make. A player can exert some control by making a successful Circles test, but they are limited to characters that fall withing the circles described by their lifepaths (or a trait that opens up new circles).

You could write a belief about how the duke is your brother, but even if that’s true, you won’t be able to circle them if you’re a peasant. You don’t have the circles for that. Moreover, regardless of your belief, the GM gets to fully define that character and what the relationship actually is. Writing something as a belief doesn’t make it objectively true. It just means the GM needs to engage you over that belief in some way.

That said, the GM can certainly run with it! The duke could be the character’s brother. It’s up to the GM. If you want to decide what the duke is like, how they feel about you and if they’re actually your brother, buy them as a relationship in character burning. Otherwise, you leave all those decisions in the GM’s hands.

You don’t have to buy your family as relationships, but neither do you have automatic access to them if you don’t. If you want to bring them into a scene, the GM has the option to say ‘yes’ as usual, or to call for a Circles test. Remember, Circles is meant to represent people from your character’s past. That includes family.


Heed Thor. Thor is wise.

That quote was only to describe the constraints of the Circles rules. And, I suppose, to note that having a Belief does not circumvent those constraints.

I often see players (and even GMs occasionally) try to get free stuff by having a Belief about it. As Thor said, Beliefs don’t determine objective reality.

As a GM my go-to wouldn’t be to veto said Belief, even if I thought it was non-sensical. I would interrogate the Belief (and the player!) to see how it might fit together with the rest of the game. I would also make sure the player knew what they were in for regarding not being able to reach out to the character, or, if the Belief is particularly out there, their character being delusional (“I am the world’s greatest wizard, and I will prove it with my potent magics!” Belied the ungifted, Sorcery-less squire.)

If I could at all find a way to roll with it, I would – players gotta be able to set their priorities, after all. If I just couldn’t for some reason, I’d let the player know that they might want to focus on something else for now until I got better at my job. I would stick to my guns and disallow a Belief if I thought it would be genuinely disruptive/the player was just fucking around.

Thor is wise. Heed Thor.

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Thank you Thor.

This is what I was intuiting. The player can have the important family, but the GM can distance them from the player in any number of way or with any number of obstacles.

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