Social Skills Tests

Hey everyone,

I am a relatively experienced roleplayer (both traditional and independent games), but I am new to Burning Wheel, so new, in fact, that my group has yet to play a real session.

Still, my GM and I have stumbled on the rules for testing social skills. We were hoping y’all would help us.

In the hopes of explaining clearly, I’ll start with an example.


Brian has a B2 Falsehood. He has the following intent and task: Get Aaron to give me all relevant information about the local thieves’ guild by convincing him I am his friend and want to help him out of the jam in which he now finds himself. Naturally, this is a bold face lie, so it’s a Falsehood test. Brian opts to FoRK with his B3 Persuasion, moving him to 3 dice on the Falsehood test. It is the only FoRK Brian possesses. Aaron’s Will is only 3, so Brian rolls his 3 dice against Obstacle 3. He fails and suffers whatever consequences he and the GM devised when they set terms. He records a difficult test for his B2 Falsehood.

Later Brian lies to someone with a B4 Will. That gives him a challenging test.

The next day, he lies again. This time the target has a B5 will. Another challenging test. That makes 0 routine, 1 difficult and 2 challenging tests toward Brian’s advancement.

Now Our Question

In social skills, the obstacle is a fixed stat. Most characters are going to have at least a 3 in that stat. So if you only have a 2 exponent, how do you get routine tests without using multiple FoRKs (that you might not possess) and/or helping dice? And if you can’t get routine tests, how do you advance the skill?

Or are we reading the rules wrong? Do social skills produce versus tests, just like martial skills? That is, in the above example, would Brian roll his 3 dice while Aaron also rolled 3 dice (courtesy of his B3 will)?

Finally, if social skills don’t produce versus tests, why don’t they?

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer.


Most social skill tests should be standard against a fixed obstacle equal to the target’s Will. To make the tests easier, use FoRKs, help and take your time.

Occasionally, to quickly resolve an argument, you can use a versus test for social skills. In this case, both characters have a goal. The winner convinces the other to do what he wants.

Other than that, you should be using your social skills in the Duel of Wits system. In a Duel of Wits, you can get a test for each of your skills and usually one for your Will as well.


You understand the mechanics correctly. Getting people to do stuff with social skills is meant to be hard.

And let’s face it, Brian is a terrible liar. A bad attempt at manipulation is pretty obvious no matter the skill - lying, persuading, sucking up, etc.

To stick with lying, the best practitioners always throw a healthy dose of truth in with their lies, right? That’s why FoRKs are the liar’s greatest tool. Wises to insert facts, Persuasion to add some enticement, Intimidation to bully someone into not questioning your story, Soothing Platitudes to ingratiate yourself, Etiquette to not insult your target, etc, etc.

So Brian’s never going to get those Routine tests without FoRKs and Help, and that’s the intent behind why it’s a fixed Ob and not a Versus. At some point, Brian’s going to get better until he has the ability to rally 6-8 dice rather easily. Then he’ll be a social monster. For example, Falsehood B4, +1D from Persuasion, +1D from an appropriate Wise, +1D from Etiquette. And maybe another +1D from a Linked Resource test to generate a Bribe or Gift. And maybe he’s got a shill to back up his lie, that’s another +1D. That’s a whopping 9D! Throw in some Artha and no one will see through the falsehood.

But getting there? Yeah, it’s going to be tough and you’re going to get caught a lot! But that’s the fun part. So get some friends to back your lie up, FoRK whatever you can, use a Persona, and perhaps find easier targets to practice* on (the wounded, children, etc). That skill will go up in no time.

*Don’t forget you can Practice for those Routines if you’re really desperate.

From what I understand, most of the social vs tests happen in the Duel of Wits.

Thank you both. You have definitely answered our question.

I didn’t realize just how many FoRKs you could use. I was looking at the skills section and saw, say, Persuasion as the only FoRK for Falsehood. I knew you could make use of other skills as appropriate, but I didn’t realize it could be quite that far reaching. Nor did I consider taking my time. Very helpful indeed.

By the way, I have no objection to the notion that convincing someone to do something is hard. In my estimation, it should be difficult. And, of course, we wouldn’t be playing this game if we minded the idea of failure producing interesting fiction.

Thanks again.


From play I’ve experienced a small issue with this - the only way to get routine persuasion tests is to use it in Duel of Wits. The only way to increase falsehood is to use it for Obfuscate actions.

So… I don’t think it’s technically against the rule to set an obstacle independent of the targets will. I usually do it for small stuff - a minor lie, making like you a little more, etc. Usually linked test. Then the obstacle can go down to 1, 2 or 3.

For major stuff (I lie so the Guard doesn’t report me, even though it’s his duty, I make this guy like me/help me even) I use will as ob and often add obstacle penalties if they have beliefs, instincts or traits that go against the intent or task.

Take it for what you will. This works well for me. I like a smoother curve on the difficulty of my social tests outside of DoW. Not technically against the rules, but not the way BWHQ does it :stuck_out_tongue:

Any time you can engineer a social situation in which both sides want something, that means a Versus test and therefore a shot at a routine test. It’s the brute-force social stuff – my skill vs. your Will – that’s so darned hard.

‘i asked this in november, in addition to help, takin’ your time (carefully) and the FoRKs newer characters don’t have - you need to remember ‘advantage dice’.

The player can ask for one advantage die, but if the GM remembers to add an advantage or two if the player t.e. hit the NPCs BITs, then a routine test should be easy to record (if not to pass). 2D Falsehood + 1D sucker-wise + 2D advantage = routine on a Will-B3 character.

Link to the question I asked. :slight_smile:

And link tests and helping and opening up an appropriate wise before attempting the lie and practice during down time…

First, thank you to everyone who has replied since my last post. You are all giving me (and by extension my GM) great ideas on how to test social skills. Thank you.

Second, opening an appropriate wise is just like opening any other skill, right? So you’d still have to hit the aptitude before opening it, right? And I assume the first test for a wise would need to be done via instruction?

Thanks in advance,


I think instruction would be a good way to get a first test but not a necessity. But to open a wise you’d need some justification for why your character might know something. You can say that you’re spending time every morning reading books on the Barrowland (maybe you need to test to acquire such books, maybe not) and then start using Beginner’s Luck for Barrow-wise. If you’ve been in Juniper for a few weeks you can certainly start trying to open Juniper-wise.

Yup. You use Beginner’s Luck with Wises just like anything else.

You don’t need Instruction for the first test of a Wise. However, keep in mind that the GM is the final arbiter as to whether a particular intent and task is appropriate. If you grew up in or near the village of Hochen, then making a Beginner’s Luck Village of Hochen-wise test to know something about the village is perfectly appropriate. If you grew up on the other side of the country and this is your first time through Hochen, then you can’t make a Beginner’s Luck Village of Hochen-wise test. There is no grounding in the fiction for it. You need to spend some time in the village and get to know it first.

Only skills of the skill type Sorcerous need to be instructed for the first test (so no learning Alchemy on your own with a chemistry set from the get-go) but everything else is fair game. Someone who keeps getting into rowdy fights with drunks donwn at the bar is well on his way to opening drunk-wise, without any formal instruction.

Edit: Page 253 has the restriction on which skill types need instruction. Also, damn you Thor for beating me!

You get points for citing page numbers Colin!

Only first-test-via-instruction requirements I know of are for sorcerous skills.

There’s also:
Getting Help +1D
Giving Help (for the test advancement)
Social tests vs. Children
Social tests vs. the inebriated, injured, or sick

As you can see, taverns, hospitals, and parties are great places to get some low Obstacle tests. Of course, you can always just go practice- "I spend a lot of time gossiping with the locals. Let’s say I’m practicing 1/2 City-wise and 1/2 "Persuasion.

What you do is kick the living shit out of someone, get 'em down to 1D Will, then start making them believe stuff.

I could see this would really help to get those routine Intimidation tests.

But, see, that only works if you are capable of beating the crap out of someone. :slight_smile: And I’m afraid most of the characters in our group are being designed to persuade, lie and/or cheat. But most are not being designed to hurt anyone.

If we try to beat up anyone, well . . . it ain’t likely to be a happy result for us. Unless it’s a kid. :slight_smile:

(Yuck. Even in gaming that thought makes me feel squalid.)


If you’re in a group of socially-able individuals, getting help shouldn’t be a problem.