Rolling the appropriate skill vs. "Tell me what skill you use"

Here’s a simple question that has a big impact on how you play the game:

When someone’s trying to do something they have to roll for, do they have to have the “right” skill?

Or can they roll whatever skill they want, so long as they are able to narrate how they use that skill to get what they want? (Sort of like in Dogs in the Vineyard.)

I’m leaning towards the second style… I’m not sure if it’s a house rule, or if the book is silent on this. I’d also like to know what people think about doing it this way - what the potential benefits and drawbacks might be.

Example from actual play: A player had his PC rig some Vaylen hulling equipment to explode. The way he described it, it sounded like he could roll his Engineering. So he did! Then, when I told him to roll to hide his tampering (the Ob for an Observation/Per roll), he narrated how he used his Repair to put everything back the way it was. So he rolled Repair.

However, it seems like Munitions might have been a more appropriate skill to roll.


Intent, then task. So, the process is like this: They announce an intent (I want to scramble some worms), you ask for the task (Okay, how?) they give it (By jury-rigging this equipment to explode). Then you state the skill used, which should usually be obvious. Now, if they had a different one in mind, and it’s a good one, go with it. In my experience, the only times my players argue with my calls is when they have a completely inappropriate skill in mind. (Can I FoRK Human-wise to my Tactics roll for Take Cover? Uhh… No?)

The other important bit here is stakes. I’d have just said, hey, you want to jury-rig this so it’s an effective bomb? You win, you get it and it goes off at the right time. You lose, you get caught/it’s obviously tampered with and they pick up your trail/something else. Without knowing where the player was or what was happening, it’s hard to call it exactly, but “it doesn’t work” is weak sauce balanced against killing a surgeon and an important hulling target. But having it blow in your face is pretty harsh for a guy with the right skill and all. I’d save that for the guy without Fusion Dynamics trying to work on the reactor. Requiring two tests like that should maybe be a linked test.

Cool. That answers my question (that I’m not breaking the game :wink: ), and brings up some other good points.

I have to make sure that we’re explicit about intent. We’ve been pretty good about it so far, but it might cause a problem.

I still have to make sure that I make sure that a failed roll can be cool, too. Maybe I’m making too many rolls when there isn’t any conflict of interest.

What I was thinking at the time was that we’d have to make a roll for the bomb to make it hard tech. I think I originally thought it had to be Resources, but Engineering made a lot more sense. That roll set the damage for the tech as well.

The Repair roll to hide it - that’s a delayed versus test, basically.

I wonder… if he had failed the test to build it, I could have just applied the failed linked test +1 Ob penalty to the Repair (hide) roll.

My instinct here is that you’re splitting it out into too many tests. You’re saying, okay, test to get what you want. Done? Now test to avoid the bad stuff. Make that one test. Decide what’s the heart, what’s a FoRK, and whether you need linked tests.

Here, I’d have said that rigging it to blow was the heart and hiding it was a linked test, so I’d have rolled that first and then Munitions. But if they had proper demo gear, then that’s a pretty easy job and I’d have just given it to them.

I don’t usually like to have stakes like “Either I get X or I don’t.” If you’re both going for X, and you both really want X, great. But beware of players who just want it so you can’t have it. Make them take more. (I don’t know, my players tend to be really reactive, as though I was gonna give them a story and they had to be ready to play a part. Frustrates the shit out of me, because I hate that gaming. This ain’t a blocking drill, fools! Don’t stand there blocking my punches! Face up, dogg!)

So I could have asked for one roll that got to the heart of the conflict, and that would make the explosives hard tech as well as set the Ob to discover it. That’s cool.

To me, the heart of the conflict was whether or not the Vaylen would discover the bomb. Building the thing was a given. Though I wanted to get a check to set its damage - but we could just have said it was an HE explosive.

If I was to do this over again, I’d have said something like this:

“So you want to rig it to blow? Cool. I want to spot it before you do that. So if you win, the Vaylen takes the hit. But if you lose… well, then she gets the bomb - and it has your “trademark” on it, something that she can use to frame you. Cool? Okay, narrate how you rig up the bomb, and figure out what skill to use.”

I could have used the margin of success (if any) on the player’s side to allow him to add traits to it. Stating that it’s a HE explosive before we roll.

Now, would it be cheating to have the Vaylen’s bodyguard/doctor that I Circled up take the direct hit? Like you do during a firefight - the defending side picks who takes the hit. Hmm… that seems like cheating to me, subverting his intent. I was thinking of setting up the scene by bringing in some NPC to get hulled, then having the bomb go off…

Ouch. My NPC is so screwed! Cool. :slight_smile:

Yes thats cheating. You have to look at the PC’s intent. If they win that roll you can not mess with the result.

So if there Intent is:

I want to rig this to blow when the doc’ uses it next.
you could come back with: If you fail the doc’ doesnt set if off a lackey does.

If the PC want also to not be implicated… we could raise the stakes to:

If you win it blows and he can’t figure who set it up…
If you fail the lackey dies, and they find your bomb making sig.

see we have shifted the conflict to does the PC get away with it…

when shifting the conflict we even could say that the doc is going to take this hit no matter what… the only thing that matters is will they figure who set up the bomb…

Only after you have set the stakes and the PC"s intent do you figure what to roll… This could have been done as a linked test… or not… it would depent.

I would only do a resource roll for the bomb if they did not have access to explosives.

I just want to say, I LIKE this. It’s a neat application of another Vincent Baker lesson: Escalate, escalate, escalate! No “if you fail the roll, nothing happens; if you make the roll, everything happens just like you want”: Everything always has consequences.

On a related note:

Can every intent be broken into a maximum of 3 rolls? Is an intent that requires more than 3 rolls too “big”? What happens if the player really wants to reduce it to one (presumably super-easy) roll so as to not run down the clock on his turn?

In short, how manipulable is the # of rolls required to carry out an intent?


Cool. That’s what I was hoping.

Hopefully my NPC won’t die, but I have some Artha to blow (including a Deeds point! sweet) so we’ll see what happens.

I realize I have to focus on intent more than I have been. This thread has been helpful; thanks!

From my reading of the text, especially in light of the Let It Ride rule, one intent equals one test, no more no less. You negotiate what you want and what the cost will be if you fail with the GM, determine Obstacle or the opposed skill, then roll the dice and the result sticks, no takebacks or re-rolls.

However, you can, of course, use other tests to help you with your intent. The catch is that you only get three tests per building scene, and you could be using the other two to try for two more intents.

I’d like to try a hypothetical, pillaging fom your previous posts:

It’s your player’s building scene. He’s decided he wants to try for a couple of things. First, he wants to blow that Vaylen surgeon that hulled his dog away, and he wants the Vaylen’s own surgical equipment to do it. He also reckons there’s a Duel of Wits coming with his brother the Metropolitan and he wants to give himself an edge when he rolls for the Body of Argument, so he’s going to do some theological research and roll a linked test.

Okay, so your player can make three tests in this scene. He decides to handle the Vaylen’s exploding surgery first. You say, “So you want to rig it to blow? Cool. I want to spot it before you do that. So if you win, the Vaylen takes the hit. But if you lose… well, then she gets the bomb - and it has your “trademark” on it, something that she can use to frame you. Cool? Okay, narrate how you rig up the bomb, and figure out what skill to use.”

You and he agree that Explosives is gonna be the skill you need to take that filthy worm out - although he mightn’t necessarily be planting a bomb, he’s definitely conducting some… explosive sabotage. Per the Explosives skill description, your player has to test Resources to get the parts he needs in order to rig the surgical kit to go BOOM! at the right moment. That’s one of his three tests this scene. For argument’s sake, we’ll assume your player gets his gear without being taxed.

Two tests left, and your player starts collecting his dice for his first intent: putting that dog-hulling Vaylen out of the player’s misery in suitably ironic fashion. He describes how his PC manages to get inside the facility without being detected and re-jigs the surgical equipment. The Obstacle for Explosives is based on the size of the property that the player wants to destroy. Although the Vaylen’s facility is large, your player wants the explosion to just take the surgery itself (with the Vaylen in it) out; a) no innocent bystanders dead and b) he can try to nab the rest of the facility himself later. As he’s trying to limit the size of the explosion, you agree on an Obstacle of 4.

With Explosives plus FoRKs, your player has 5 dice to roll. Against Obstacle 4, that gives him - erk - a one in five chance of planting the bomb without being discovered. Your player really doesn’t like those odds. The problem is, he’s already used up one test to get the gear, and he’s not really keen on abandoning his intent - he loved that dog, and he’s bought into the idea of nabbing the Vaylen’s base for himself later.

What are his options? Well, he could use up that third test, rolling Bureaucracy of 5 against Ob 3 (losing your paper trail) and linking the result to his Explosives roll (does he get away clean?). Three problems with that option. One: he has to abandon his intent of bettering his chances against his brother when they finally have it out. Two: 5 dice (if I just forgot about FoRKs while writing this, so could the player) vs. Ob 3 has a fifty-fifty chance of success; if he fails, his Explosives Ob goes to 5, virtually torpedoing his chances of success with only five dice. Three: he’s one Difficult test off increasing his Explosives; if he rolls without any further help, his skill goes up, win or lose.

So does he sacrifice his research intent to make blowing that Vaylen up easier? If he fails the linked test and his Explosives Obstacle goes up, does he press on anyway, or does he abandon planting the bomb? Does he spend artha, precious, precious artha (which doesn’t count toward advancement) instead? You’ve got the Metroplitan’s character sheet right there across from your player, who can see how good his dear brother’s DoW-related skills are; he knows he needs all the help he can get against the Metropolitan. What to do, what to do?

And all the while, you’re sitting there with a smile on your face the likes of which your players haven’t seen since the last time you ran PARANOIA.

On a related note:

Good question. Is the player who’s pushing the intent willing to use that many three linked tests to give him enough dice to win on one big test? He’ll be sacrificing opportunities to achieve other intents; there are only so many Building scenes, and spending three tests to link to one intent would well use up one whole scene. There are lots of other scenes in between during which you, GM-as-Enemy, will be advancing your own nefarious plans; the landscape can change, negating intents that once seemed important.

Is it too big? That’s up to the player (or you, if you’re planning something big). Risk versus reward, risk versus reward, so many intents and so little time…

Yeah, I’m looking forward to running Burning Empires. Why do you ask?

Thanks for chiming in, man. That’s an excellent analysis of BE’s currency.

I hull dogs,

You’re welcome, Luke.

One quick question: You can’t carry tests over from previous Build scenes, can you? Let’s say that the player in my example decides to spend his second test on the theological research and leave the planting of the bomb for a future Build scene, leaving one test un-used. If the player then hands the scene-spotlight on to someone else, that test is then gone, isn’t it? The player doesn’t get four tests next Build scene - use 'em or lose 'em.

You may intersperse your builder rolls across a maneuver. You may not carry builder rolls from maneuver to maneuver.


No kidding? That’s interesting. So basically it’s that you have 3x (non-FF/non-DoW) rolls per maneuver? And 1x color and 1x interstitial, with those rolls plopped wherever? I guess that “building scene” becomes, fundamentally, another color scene.


Hi Paul,
This is all described in the text. And every scene, every roll, should be accompanied by flavor, description, and color – not just color scenes. In fact, the only difference between a color scene and a builder/conflict is that you don’t roll during the color scene.


All cool. I guess I’d just never seen that particular implication of the rules spelled out so explicitly. Good to tell my players that it’s okay if they can’t think of three rolls for their building scene because they can always make a roll later. But…when?

Hold it. Wait a sec. Having a senior moment (at my very advanced age of, uh, 37). I’m trying to think through the logic of the scene budget. So, every maneuver you have:

  • up to 3x building rolls OR 1x FF/DoW; all rolls accompanied by narrative
  • 1x Building scene (rolling okay) OR 1x Conflict scene
  • 1x Color scene (no rolling); only rules-oriented use I’ve seen so far is that new tech must be introduced during a Color scene
  • 1x Interstitial scene (rolling…okay?). The interstitial is the only point at which I can see another building roll could, logically, be made.

Yes, I’m overthinking this. But is this fundamentally correct? I don’t believe any scene is mandatory, right?


I think it would be best done in other players’ building scenes.

Oh…yeah! Do Versus tests that are inflicted on you count toward your three rolls? I can’t imagine they would be, although IIRC it’s not explicitly stated as such.

I guess by extension, if you’d blown all three rolls in your own building scene you simply could not make any rolls on other players’ building scenes.

Good call, thanks!


My rule of thumb has been:

If the “aggressor” is “attacking” a resource of the player directly, that player gets to defend in the versus roll for free. For indirect stuff, the player would need an Instinct to be able to make a roll without doing so as part of a building scene.

I guess by extension, if you’d blown all three rolls in your own building scene you simply could not make any rolls on other players’ building scenes.
Even if PC 1 has used all three of his rolls in his own building scene, I would still let him make a roll in PC 2’s building scene (e.g. as a linked test or in general to further what PC 2 is trying to accomplish). But it would count against the total for PC 2’s building scene of course.

Similarly, you could circles up an NPC in your building scene, and get them to make a roll for you (e.g. for a skill you don’t have). I would count that NPC’s roll against the total for your building scene.

Sometimes the building scene finishes and I’m not even quite sure whose scene it was, because the PCs were collaborating and helping so much (not just with rolls but with in and out of character talk & planning). In my opinion, that’s a good thing and is encouraged by the rules. I just say “okay well that counts as a building scene for one of you”.

That’s the way I’ve been playing it anyway.

  • up to 3x building rolls OR 1x FF/DoW; all rolls accompanied by narrative
    Keep in mind you can also do a conflict scene which isn’t a Firefight or Duel of Wits. It’s kind of like a “super builder” where you get more rolls. The book calls it something like “montage construction sequences”.
    Also, I know it says in the book that as part of a Firefight conflict scene, you can do a few initial tests to set things up (e.g. Recon or Infiltration). And I’m pretty sure that Luke won’t use his Close Combat 9 on you if you did some similar setup rolls at the beginning of a DoW scene.

(This thread probably should have been branched a while ago into “number and types of tests allowed in scenes” or whatever.)

Mike Lucas