Sell Me On Linked Tests

In the couple games I’ve run it’s seemed like linked tests were an unnecessary and awkward mechanic, and I’m tempted to not use them at all. But perhaps I haven’t been using them correctly, or this would have some negative side effects I’m missing?

The reason they seem unnecessary is that as GM I can already assign advantage and disadvantage to rolls based on the circumstances. If the results of a test success or failure is a change in circumstances that would be advantageous or disadvantageous to a future test, the rules already give me the tools for handling that!

The awkwardness comes from breaking the shift from the binary success/failure that is normally the result of a test to a trinary success w/ advantage / success / failure result and having to add disadvantage to whatever failure consequence I had in mind.

Many times when I have asked for a pair of tests in play, and they have seemed like they could be linked, the failure consequences I had in mind for the first tests would make the second test impossible, or at least require some intermediary tests before they could continue. In this case increasing the obstacle of the second test does nothing (unless I track the +1 Ob for a future test that could be many sessions away, which would be a pain). Or the failure consequence would already produce disadvantageous circumstances, so again it lacks teeth unless I come up with a second failure consequence or levy a double penalty. Even in the cases where failure on the first test would still allow the second test to be made and is not already producing disadvantageous circumstances, I then need to come up with an explanation of the +1 Ob which often feels like a second unconnected failure consequence.

If the player succeeds exactly and success would obviously create advantageous circumstances, then it can feel awkward that to justify this and it often doesn’t feel like the player really got their intent. If their intent wouldn’t obviously make the second test easier then I need to justify how it could provide advantage. So it feels awkward if success would clearly net advantage or clearly wouldn’t, and only works well if I can see how two degrees of success could be possible in the circumstances.

So perhaps the solution is to only use linked test when failing the first test wouldn’t make the second test impossible, when failing the first test would have consequences aside from making the second test harder, but could conceivably make the second test harder, and when passing the first test would have consequences distinct from making the second test easier, but could conceivably make the second test easier. If I use that criteria I’m not sure I’ve every encountered a situation where a linked test would be appropriate! Maybe it’s just meant to be a really niche rule?

When I see a pair of tests that seem like they should be linked, it’s almost always the case that either failure on the first roll would make the second roll impossible, or the natural failure consequence would be to make the second roll harder, or the intent has been described such that success on the first roll would make the second roll easier. Maybe I should be using FoRKs in most of these circumstances, but then it’s not clear to me when I would ever use linked test!

Am I missing something? Can you think of an example where a linked test was clearly called for and just using FoRKs or advantage/disadvantage would have been less fun?

I have similar issues with linked tests. My solution is to insist that all tests in the sequence have their own Task, Intent and consequence of failure independent of any of the others, and that “generate +1D on the next test” is not a valid Intent. In practice, this means that I usually call for a linked test only once or at most twice per campaign, for pre-prepared set piece scenes. For pretty much everything else, I find linked tests to be superfluous.

One time, one of the PCs took a traumatic wound after picking a fight with a demi-god, and so we decided to devote an entire session to down time. While the injured PC recovered, the other decided to focus her smuggling business. I represented this with a series of linked tests to represent the various phases of the enterprise: acquiring contraband, smuggling the stuff in right under the harbourmaster’s nose, finding a buyer, haggling over prices, doing accounting/admin work to keep track of revanue and expenses, and then finally a lifestyle maintenance test to see if the business made enough money to stay afloat (the character passed, and advanced her resources in doing so). All this made for a very cool, very cinematic sequence. A montage, if you will. I havent used linked tests since.

My stance on linked tests is, if you have a common intent and you can divide task into (at least) two, thats a linked test. For example:

Intent 1: I want to reach castle without guards noticing.
Task 1: I sneak between bushes. (Stealth test)
Intent 2: I want to climb castle wall.
Task 2: I use stones as my ladder. (Climbing test)

Intent: I want to reach and climb the castle without guards noticing.
Task 1: I sneak between bushes. (Stealth test)
Task 2: I use stones as my ladder. (Climbing test)

So if the first task affects the second one, and if they can share a common Intent, I use Linked Tests. I wouldn’t do this for two different tasks that doesn’t share a common idea, but if these all have to go hand-in-hand, (like, you’d still need to be stealthy while climbing), Linked test makes sense.

I’m not sure this is how BWG rules it, but this makes sense for me.

I’m fairly fond of linked tests, but my own personal heresy is that meeting the obstacle is sufficient to receive the +1D. Otherwise your are setting yourself up for the unsatisfying “I rolled to have nothing happen”.

I am in strong favor of granting the +1D if you meet the obstacle. Even though it’s been explained to me multiple times, I don’t buy it. It’s the only example of where you can meet the Obstacle but not get your intent.

Thanks for the replies!
@Taelor: Your experience sounds similar to my own. If I am strict about requiring that linked tests have distinct tasks and intents (+1D not being a valid intent), and furthermore rule out cases where the failure would either prevent the second roll from happening or already give +1Ob, and also rule out cases where success and success with advantage don’t both make sense as outcomes- then I feel like it’s a rule I might never use! Maybe once or twice a campaign like you. I guess that’s okay? Maybe it’s a really niche rule but it will be handy when I need it?

@Sifaus: I’m not sure I understand, are you saying you would always use linked tests when those conditions are met? I feel like there are many more criteria I’d want to satisfy before calling for a linked test, as discussed in my initial post. Using your example, if the failure consequence you had in mind was that the character would get caught by the guards if they failed the first (stealth) test, it seems like the second test wouldn’t happen so the +1Ob wouldn’t be relevant on a failure. Would you still use the linked test rule for success even if the rule for failure would never come up?

@rafial: My impression is that if the only consequence of success would be the +1D that we should skip the roll and just treat it as a FoRK. But I’m not sure how that works for rolls where FoRKs aren’t allowed, and it certainly makes linked tests much rarer!

Edit: That last point kind of applies to what Kublai said as well, and I’d like to expand a little on it. I get the impression that when we are only interested in a roll because it might effect another roll, we should skip that first roll and just use Help/FoRKs for the second roll. But there are some weird cases that make it unclear if that’s really how it should be handled! Aid/Blessing from Faith and many of the magical spells add dice. FoRKs aren’t allowed for Circles/Resources so it’s not clear what should be done if we want to use a skill to get a bonus die but aren’t otherwise interested in that test. And sometimes the first test would happen ahead of time, can help or FoRKs be used to represent preparation when it’s not an interesting test in its own right?

My example was a bit crude, sorry for that.

If i think that situation requires a linked test, and the first roll is failed, I’d just fail forward. But then not only first test gives +1Ob, but also if it is applicable to the situation at hand, complicates the result (and i think this always should be applicable for a linked test). For my example, guards maybe didn’t noticed before climbing, but now they are running up the stairs because something isn’t right. They are not running up because they know there is a climber there.

I wouldn’t make it a complete failure unless both tests are failed, but complicate the result a bit. So my idea of linked tests is: Complicate the result a bit and give +1Ob for the second roll if the first test failed. Really complicate it if both tests failed (fail forward with harsher terms). And also, all these rolls are here to help us describe the scene. And I feel like linked tests help us when complicated intents might fail more than one way. It helps us to pinpoint what exactly went wrong with the plan. With my example, being sneaky failed.

Another (better?) example. Hunter wants to track a deer and hunt it. Lets say this is Tracking+Hunting linked test (I don’t exactly remember what tracking and hunting does right now so lets just pretend that it does what i mean here).

Intent: I want to track a deer and hunt it so we can eat it at dinner.
Task 1: Find a deer track and follow it. (Tracking)
Task 2: Hunt it. (Hunting)

What if first roll fails but second one succeed? I’d say character thought that he was tracking a deer but it turns out he misread the tracks and its actually a duck or a swan or something. But he actually hunted it with the second roll. It’s just the wrong animal, means less food. Took a lot of time, took a lot of work but he cannot go back empty handed, eh? Hour is getting late too, so…

So as i said, i feel like linked tests helps us figure out what went wrong exactly in a more complicated Intent. But I mean, if you are looking at only from the system perspective, you are right. FoRK’ing stuff or just giving disadvantage (ect) is kinda the same.

Linked tests absolutely require their own intent and failure results.

What stormsweeper says. All tests in Burning Wheel have intent, task and failure consequences, including linked tests. If you meet the obstacle, you get your intent. If you exceed the obstacle, you get your intent and +1D to the test to which it’s linked. If you fail the test, you get the failure consequence and +1 Ob to the test to which it’s linked.

We use linked tests all the time. Look for help that has a pretty clear intent and task underlying it, or that has a potentially interesting failure consequence apart from the test to which it’s linked.

That was my understanding coming into this thread! I’m just finding it pretty rare that all the criteria are satisfied.

So I’m only using linked tests when each test has a clear intent, task, and failure consequence, when performance on the first task could influence the second task, when the failure consequence of the first test doesn’t already prevent the second test or already impose an increased obstacle, and when success with or without advantage both make sense. I’m finding that it’s almost never that all those requirements are satisfied simultaneously! You say that you use them all the time, so maybe I’m being too strict in some way?

What are the scopes of your intents now? These usually come up for “big plans” kinds of things. It usually comes up as a natural consequence of things.

They’ve been pretty immediate in terms of size and time scale. If they usually only come up when we “zoom out” that could explain why legitimate linked tests haven’t been coming up yet.

I have a couple of related follow-up questions based on this discussion. Moderators please let me know if it would be better to start a fresh post for them.

  1. Given that +1D to a later roll isn’t a valid intent I’m curious why it’s such a common magical effect (Aid, Blessing, Arcane Kindness and similar spells). I’ve had those kinds of spells slow my games down with a lot of low-stakes rolls, I’m curious why they are included when such rolls are generally speaking bad practice.
  2. The “Scoring a Deal” mechanic looks like it’s for generating a +1D to a Resources test, but it follows the normal linked test rules where matching the obstacle doesn’t grant a bonus die. What kinds of intents should that mechanic be used for, such that success won’t feel like failure? How should I be presenting this mechanic?
  3. More generally, there are a lot of tests where FoRKs aren’t possible but linked tests are (Resources, Circles, and Summoning come to mind but I’m sure there are others). I guess I should be shooting down suggested linked tests if the only purpose is to get +1D, or just giving advantage, but not rolling? I’m afraid this might encourage players to propose weak intents to justify access to a bonus die. Is this the kind of thing one can’t really aim for?
  4. If an activity is proposed whose purpose is just to be better prepared for a later test, but isn’t really a test in its own right, can I treat it as a fork or help even though it’s happening ahead of time? Or would it be better to grant an advantage die?

A lot of the normal rules for task and intent don’t apply to magic, or at least not in the same way.

Understood, but my question is why that exception was made. If rolling for +1D slows the game down with weak intents and inflates advancement, isn’t that still true for Faith/Sorcery? My experience with Faith is that it did slow the game down a lot with a lot of unimportant checks. I know I can just say yes but I wish this hadn’t been made an exception to the normal rule!