Social observation which skill to use?

I have recently started my first burning wheel game and yesterday when playing we ran into the following situation. A player was being interviewed by a guard sergeant who tried to get information out of the PC without him noticing which parts of what was asked about was important. The player wanted to roll to figure out what the sergeant realy wanted to know.

So my question, which skill to use here, in one way it could be observation but does that really apply socially? But if not observation then what?

ps. If I keep having similar simple questions should I keep them to one thread or start a new one for every question?

I would treat this like an NPC lying to a PC: no roll. You can decide to either tell the player the answer or say that the character can’t tell. There’s nothing obviously applicable. It’s more interesting to see what the character does with knowledge (or lack thereof) than if they can get it.

This is my personal approach. I know others do it differently.

You can make more threads or use this one. We’re flexible!

Observation is for finding hidden things, not social cues. I’d have player roll their Will (it’s the empathy and social intelligence stat) against the guard’s interrogation (or falsehood). Failure means that the character figures out what information the guard is searching for only after he’s spilled the beans.

I’d probably roll the Player’s Interrogation against the Guard’s Falsehood. It’s an inversion of the apparent situation, but it matches the stated intents.

I’m with Wayfarer. Tell the player what’s up and see how he responds. I find that to be engaging most of the time.

Also, it’s probably easier to start new threads with questions on new topics.

My gut feeling is to just describe the situation.

For a test, I think the best fit is, in descending order:

  1. Gauging intent via Aura Reading / Manhunter (if you don’t have the relevant traits, you’d be out of luck)
  2. An appropriate Wise. Describe his behavior and then the player can use the Wise to figure out what exactly would cause it. (You can Beginner’s-Luck it if you have some relevant experience. If you don’t, probably don’t roll at all.)
    3 Opposed Interrogation (he’s trying to interrogate you, subtly; you’re trying to figure out his interrogation methods and reverse-interrogate him even more subtly).

The standard way would be to have the guard roll against the PC’s Will. Interrogation, maybe, or Falsehood. The trouble is I hate having NPCs roll in simple tests against PCs. It robs the player of agency and input to no benefit.

That’s why I just give information, actually. Think of the reverse, with the guard rolling. What does he want from success? Okay, what are the consequences of failure? Now, without rolling, consider which is more interesting for the player. Don’t roll at all, just go with that.

If the PC has an intent, like figuring out what the guard really wants, the PC should definitely be rolling. Seems like a good time for versus. In most cases, I think the question I would find most interesting is whether the guard gets the info they were after, not whether the player figures out what it is. So, that’s where I would be looking for failure conditions. Of course, hypothetical subject to revision in an actual game.

I like the idea of making it a versus test with the player rolling interrogation against the guards interrogation or falsehood. Maybe even a simple or graduated interrogation test from the players point of view as the guard really does not matter much and the interesting part is how much info the player gets. I think I would just feed the players false information on failure representing the character having misjudged the guards intent.

Thanks for all the input.

It seems like you got the feedback you wanted, but I feel like it bears mentioning that–by stating failure consequences before the test–the players will know that their characters were fed false information. They still could respond however they choose, although I think receiving false information makes for a weak test outcome.

In my experience, basically the only way to actually give players false information as a failure consequence are:

  1. I tell you “I’m going to lie” to you as part of the stakes. You play the hell out of your character believing it, anyway, because that’s fun.
  2. I tell you “If you fail, I’ll tell you a couple of facts, and only one of them is true.” Now you really don’t know what’s true and what’s not.

I think most of the time false information is a fairly boring consequense unless it’s tried strongly to a belief that will lead to action. I don’t think it’s necessary (or even desirable) to conceal the information from the player. Tie the false information tightly enough to the characters Beliefs and Instincts and the Artha cycle should do the rest. If the false information isn’t tied closely to a characters BITs, then you are better off using an inconvenient truth.

And as I said, I think not letting the player or character know what is true, so a decision has to be made, or letting them know what is true when the truth forces hard decisions, is most interesting. Being “forced” to act by bad info feels like it belongs more in the realm of losing a Duel of Wits.

Ultimately when, how, and how much information you feed is an art. It depends on what you like and what your players like. As long as everyone’s having fun and the drama is piling on it’s all good.

I don’t like letting players roll to learn information in Burning Wheel. When a player rolls and wins they get to create the story, but here the GM has already determined what is true, so the GM can’t give the player the authority they should have.

I don’t believe this authority exists in BW, outside the accepted use of Wises to add story details, which I’m not even sure was added to the BWG rule book.

BW can do it, but it doesn’t need to. Not even for wises. The game works fine if wises let you ask the GM questions. It’s cool to get authorial power, but it’s an aggressively evangelized off-label usage.

Cool! I looked back at the Gold rulebook and now I don’t know why I thought the GM had to transfer such strong authorial power with every test. Thanks for clarifying.

Happens a lot, actually.