Riding to Travel

This might be a simple question, but I have to ask:

On pg 533, it lists Ob modifiers for overland travel via horseback. It states that the obstacle is to determine if you reach your destination.

So … What happens if you fail your riding test? You don’t reach your destination? I understand that it could be explained as the journey taking longer than expected. Also that you shouldn’t bother testing if there’s nothing at stake. But, what happens when you have a campaign that features a lot of horse travel, like Rohirrim or Mongols or something? How else could failed Riding tests be made interesting than just saying the trip takes longer than you had planned?

You get lost. You stumble across a band of marauding orcs. Someone gets there before you.

It really depends: why are you making the Riding test in the first place? What’s your Intent? What failure result screws with that the best?

You fall off your horse and take a wound.
You get your horse injured.
Your bad riding ends up ruining some piece of equipment (you fall and break your shield, for example)
You arrive with big welts on your ass and are at +1Ob to everything for the next couple of days.
Your party is forced to stop to resupply at the home of The Old Bastard of the Hills who is happy to provide spoiled food and scanty supplies in exchange for good silver and any jewels that catch his eye. (Or you can simply rob him, but he’s not really doing anything wrong other than being an uncharitable asshole.)
You find yourselves behind schedule and are forced to take a shortcut through the Valley of Gales, home to deadly Leucomances and frightful Grues.
You arrive completely out of supplies and need to make a resources check.
You get there too late! (If there’s a time constraint, this is the obvious one.)

Or there’s always the classic “Look at your characters’ beliefs and then do something really mean to one of them.” Just make sure to tie it in to the riding test - it can’t be something completely unrelated.

Wow, that was fast! Thanks, guys.

One of the drawbacks to studying the rules in the early morning: too drowsy to grok the creative aspects of them. So, consider possible failure outcomes before asking for a roll. Got it.

Yeah. Tests work like this: first, it has to matter. If there’s nothing at stake and no interesting consequence for failing (basically restating the “nothing at stake”), don’t test. It doesn’t matter that they’re riding all the time; if they’re Rohirrim it’s assumed they know how to ride and are generally familiar with the lay of the land. In other systems, you’d test because it’s what they’re doing. In BW, if there’s nothing really at stake, Say Yes. If they say “we want to ride to the capitol”, and nobody has a Belief about how/how quickly they get there or what path they take, Say Yes. “OK, you ride for three weeks. The gates of the capitol lay open before you. What now?” MOVE ON TO THE PART OF THE STORY THAT’S INTERESTING.

Now, if it’s a question of trying to navigate over confusing lands, or someone is trying to get to the capitol before them, then you might test. Look at your players’ Beliefs. If they wrote a Belief about getting there before the Orcs, test. If they wrote a Belief about impressing the girl by leading the way through the forest, test.

Basically, what you don’t want to do is test when it’s not relevant to the crux of the story. The last thing you want them to do is fail a test and have the game divert from the story they want to tell.

As with any other test in Burning Wheel, you should not only consider the failure outcomes before they roll, you should tell your players the consequences of failure before they roll. See Two Directions on page 32 of BWG.

How else could failed Riding tests be made interesting than just saying the trip takes longer than you had planned?

When do riding tests matter? Usually if you need to get there quickly, or get there through danger.

What’s some possible failures?

  • Your horse dies of exhaustion.
  • You avoid most of the enemy forces, but you get cornered during a chase.
  • You have to abandon your horse because it won’t go through a certain rough area.
  • The horse won’t go any faster, but dropping your supplies might help…
  • You rode constantly, switching mounts, but not taking any breaks or rest. You get there, and you slide off, but your pants are bloodied. That’s not cool.


Not sure if is the same in Gold, but in BWR, letting them ride without the test still counts as practice. If they do it enough, they earn a test.

Ah! This is useful! So the OBs are used to determine the type of test you get, and this could directly apply to regular practice without rolling anything. Nice. Also provides incentive for those players wanting to advance their Riding to high exponents to “take the road less traveled”, which could either be rolled or applied as practice depending on what the GM feels like. ^^

Well, Practice isn’t really based on Obstacles, it’s based on time. They accumulate time spent practicing–and I suppose if they’re doing a lot of riding a GM could call that “practice”–and they decide what sort of test (Routine, Difficult, Challenging) they want to spend it on. The amount of practice required for each depends on the skill and the difficulty. Practice is a lot slower than accumulating actual tests, and it’s supposed to be. You’re not doing anything challenging or running the risk of failure, which teaches you a lot quicker.

Again, with the “road less traveled”, you really only want to test them if it’s relevant to the story, not just because the GM wants to give them a test. I promise, your players will figure out ways to get those tests. If they have a Belief about beating someone back to the capitol, Riding is very appropriate. If the story outcome is the same whether they pass or fail, don’t test.