Social Obs

One of my players called me out for inconsistency in the Obs I was calling for on his attempts to Persuade NPCs. He was right; I’d been low-balling them in the early days and now that he’s sporting a Persuasion B5, I (without really realizing it) stopped holding back. (Compounding the matter was the fact that the stakes had risen enormously: a couple of recent Persuasion failures where the player was badgering his adoptive city’s ruler began to threaten his long-cultivated place in society as a celebrated hero.)

Inconsistency is a problem, but in trying to figure out my own policy has made me realize I’m not fully happy with the Ob=Will policy. In another thread (emphasis mine):

I think it’s Chris Chinn’s advice that good NPCs either want to help, hinder, or use the PCs - so this seems to me to be more properly the province of the GM. This is one area where I’m going to try harder.

But how would a player go about maneuvering things into a versus test? I’m honestly not sure, would love to see some examples.
[li]Does the PC offer a deal, essentially proposing an NPC intent, in character?[/li][li]The player suggests a possible intent for the NPC to the GM, out of character?[/li][li]Player just asks the GM for a versus test or Duel of Wits, even though the NPC doesn’t have a intent?[/li][/ul]For those cases where the GM just doesn’t have an NPC use for the player (e.g. as might be true for someone the PC just circled up), it seems to me that RAW offers two choices, “Say Yes”, or “Ob 4”. I don’t see anything wrong with offering lower (even substantially lower) obstacles in cases when the NPC is predisposed to agree with the player.

For example, in Monday’s game, Bauer has his character Siggar circle up Adofo, a monk archivist (who has become the de facto abbot). Siggar wants Adofo to do some research for him - Adofo is normally keen to help and thinks highly of Siggar, but is increasingly busy, and I introduced a useful bit of color relating to his project. This was just foreshadowing, though, not something I wanted Siggar dragged into via compromise. (We’re on session 25 of the arc and I’m really trying to keep time-absorbent tangents to a minimum.) Why not offer Ob 2 or 3 (“Okay, I’ll help.”), instead of Ob 5?

  1. This is why you stick to the Will= Ob rule. It provides the player a useful gauge for improvement.

  2. To engage in a versus test, the NPC has to want something and be willing to convince the PC.

I think “maneuver” here can be take quite literally as getting a position on the other character: baiting Traits, finding something to use as negotiation leverage, blackmail, etc. It will require legwork on the part of the players to set up a situation where they have something the NPC is willing to come to the table over.

So (for some reason I’m having trouble with this) if invested NPCs want to either help, hinder or use the players, the players could entice NPC by:
[li]obtaining/portraying that they have the means to help an NPC, who then counter-intends to obtain said help (either overtly, or by manipulation)[/li][li]doing (or threatening) something the NPC doesn’t want, so the NPC will act to stop them[/li][/ul]Are we in totally theoretical territory here? Has anyone prepared for an encounter with a NPC by deliberately doing any of these things, with the intention of provoking a DoW? Or do you just push for DoW when you can and take your Ob=Will obstacles like a man when you don’t get them?

I’ve had a player gather a frightened mob in order to gain negotiating leverage with the local nobility.

You have to remember that although you failed the roll, that does not mean that the monk will not do you the favor.

For example, maybe Adofo wants to help the PC… if the PC helps Adofo with his project. Why a lesser obstacle? You should want the player fails the test! If the roll fails, the monk offers him a deal. If the character accepts, great. It is up to the player to decide.

My basic advice about NPCs & PCs comes from Dogs in the Vineyard, but it’s basically true across a lot of media with regards to protagonists, antagonists, and supporting characters. Remember, BW gives the GM big flashing targets in the form of Beliefs, so you might as well think if there’s any way NPC Beliefs might intersect with the PCs’ Beliefs.

That said, remember this basic checklist for BW:

  1. Is this important? Does anyone at the table care? Would this make sense to fail? Say Yes or Roll the Dice. (If the NPC would be willing to help, Say Yes, the end.)

  2. Does the NPC want something from the PCs? Versus/DOW. If there’s nothing particularly in it for the NPC, then go with Will Ob. Feel free to drop an Advantage Die if they’re generally well inclined but still have nothing to gain from it.


I appreciate the effort, though I don’t want to drift off topic or into more general areas of BW GMing.

I’m specifically asking for anecdotes of players deliberately baiting NPCs into versus tests or DoW so they don’t have to face Ob = Will (or, alternately, opinions that this doesn’t happen much because - say - most BW GMs find ways of having the NPC want something).

Hm. I thought the character has to have something to offer the NPC for a Persuasion test to be valid. Does this mean all Persuasion tests would be versus?

I’m just starting out so I don’t have much experience. In the game I’m running all social tests up until now have been Ob/Will tests (with a broad range of skills, Persuasion, Falsehood, Soothing Platitudes and Intimidation). The only exception was a test initiated by an NPC, which ended up as NPC’s Persuasion vs. PC’s Falsehood. It was the result of how the fiction went at the time (“Admit that the killer you’re after is a righteous messenger of gods (and stop your investigation)” vs. “Of course I will stop the investigation dear, I would never do anything to worry you (and btw, fetch me the suspect’s handwriting)”).

The real litmus test is this: Do both sides have an Intent? Remember, in Burning Wheel, if you want to roll the dice, you must have an Intent and Task.

If one side’s only goal is to stop the other side from getting its Intent, then it’s not a versus test.

Let’s say we’re playing the sword. You’re playing Robard and you were the first to snatch the sword up from the altar. I’m playing Fidhean.

Me: “Robard, my friend, we’ve been through a lot and it’s all to win this sword. It has great meaning to my people. Please let me have it. It would mean a lot to me.”

Me: [turning to the GM] My intent is to get him to give me the sword.

GM: Sounds like a Persuasion test to me. What about you 3Jane?

3Jane: I don’t want to give it to him! It’s mine. I need it.

GM: Okay. Thor roll your Persuasion. Your Ob is Robard’s Will of 4.

Now let’s revisit that scenario:

Me: “Robard, my friend, we’ve been through a lot and it’s all to win this sword. It has great meaning to my people. Please let me have it. It would mean a lot to me.”

Me: [turning to the GM] My intent is to get him to give me the sword.

GM: Sounds like a Persuasion test to me. What about you 3Jane?

3Jane: [to Fidhean] “All I care about is getting these leg-breakers off my back. If you and your elf buddies knock off Master Kogan and set me up in his place, I’ll give you the sword.”

GM: Wow! OK. We can do this as a versus test, Fidhean’s Persuasion vs. Robard’s Haggling. Or we can go full-on Duel of Wits. What do you guys think?

Just to nitpick, the elf would need to disagree with Robard’s stake. If Fidhean is has the means to and is willing to bring in the elves then there’s no conflict.

I once declared a bargain, “I do this then you do that”, a duel of wits. It was stupid because although there were intents and tasks there was no conflict to them.

Sure. But having created him, I know that Fidhean is an exile who has no leverage with the elves. That’s why he wants the sword after all. He’s hoping the sword will convince his dad to take him back.

All right, you thread-jackers, I give in. :wink:

I’ve had this problem too. To do that as a DoW, you tease apart the proposal so the player just focuses on what he wants, and then get the NPC’s stakes by multiplying what the player offered by ten. :slight_smile: