Social skills Vs NPCs

So, NPCs are really hard to persuade - often you need to hit a straight Will of 4 or 5 (very seldom less).

I’ve argued that Ob. could be set according to task & intent.

I once let a player BL a ‘persuade’-attempt at Ob.1 to have the Paladin allow him to his boots while they travelled with him. (The Failiure Clause was that it’d be +1Ob. for everyone to persuade him to allow them on the mission.

Is there room for such in BW, or do I need to trigger the Beliefs of NPCs? (Often they are very simple, and hard to trigger.)

Do the system break, or is it to much work for the GM?

What do the good people here (who understood my questions) reccomend? Examples of own practice?

Social skills tests are intentionally hard. Players need to either maneuver it into a versus test (where the NPC has an Intent and gets something from the PC if he wins), or go to a Duel of Wits.

You also need to judge if there is really a conflict at hand. Why does the paladin give a shit if his lackeys wear boots? If it’s not that important, just say yes.

As a side note, failure conditions should be related to the intent of the test.

Persuading someone to let you see the magistrate right now isn’t the same as persuading him to let you speak to an on-duty clerk. I can see a Say Yes for either, but I can also see it as simple test, and I don’t see why the Ob should be the same.

On the other hand, I’ve played it as written and it works just fine. I guess I just wonder why the social tests are so hard. Is there a reason it’s actually hard to get routine tests for advancement?

Because what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: Most players do not want it to be easy for their characters to be talked into stuff, and forcing a roll against Will protects them.

All this assumes you’re up against someone who just wants to say no. It seems equally likely that it’ll be a versus test. If your players are trying to scrape together routine tests, maybe they should be angling more for versus tests than just-say-no tests.

Seems like a situation where the former might require a social test, and latter might be “Say Yes”. Especially if it’s not enough of a big deal to make it worth DoW or a versus test

Yeah, it’s really hard to say without knowing everything that was happening in the game. It might be like that, or the one might be a success and the other a failure consequence (If shit is going down right now and you need something magistrated before dawn or it’s no good), or it might be like “Can I get an advantage die if I just want to talk to the clerk?” or “You can ask to see the magistrate in the middle of the night, sure, but it’s +2Ob. Or you could try to get him to let you in to see the clerk on duty.”

Because you can get routine tests if you’re in a versus test or duel of wits, where you have to put up stakes.

Persuading someone to let you see the magistrate right now isn’t the same as persuading him to let you speak to an on-duty clerk. I can see a Say Yes for either, but I can also see it as simple test, and I don’t see why the Ob should be the same.

If you think getting to see the clerk is relatively easy you have lots of options mentioned above. You can also make failure about something other than seeing the clerk. The see the clerk win or lose, failure is about something else, probably to do with why they want to see the clerk.

Hmm, I certainly see the “leave my character alone!”-aspect of it, and I heartily agree that it should be difficult do persuade your buddy to take the dog-watch every night, when he himself doesn’t want everything from you. And yes, doing DoWs against your buddies is an excellent way og getting routines and a few more frames to work your character within.

However, I’m talking specifically NPCs. Saying yes, is all well and dandy, but doesn’t the Adventure Burner flag the need to provide routine Ob.1. as well as the more difficult one’s? (I mean, difficult Ob. is easily found by players.)

And the issue of, how it’s written: p.15 of BWG has a list of Obstacles ranging from “a simple act” to “a miracle”. Why should it be the same difficulty of talking the king into giving you the princess and half the kingdom, as to persuading him to join the knights going to war.
(Oh, sure - advantage dice, but I’m really only allowed to lobby for one die.) OK, so helping dice work, just need to get my friends gathered as I go talk to the maiden fair. :slight_smile:
FoRKs really aren’t that easy to come by with low-LP characters and the need for them to emerge dynamically in play.

I’m sorry if I seem polemic, I’ll admit it’s often intentional - but I find it helpful to discuss and understand a topic. I am well aware that “to each his own” is a factor even in Burning Wheel, but the good people here often come up with interesting stuff.

Anecote: My first character had ‘persuade B5’ and within a couple of sessions he’d talked himself into an inheritance with his Baronial father and his half-sister who ran away. Getting different Ob. for him was not a problem.

However, if I start a character with B2 or B3, need to badger my pals for DoWs - as I really find it bad form to engage minor NPCs in DoWs just to get my sorely needed routines. Well, not the DoW itself (always interesting), but I will have to get the NPC to want something (from me), then stake out terms, and then proceed with the DoW.

If the PC is in such a position that he could make such requests of the king, then I’d say either situation is fair play for a straight Persuasion test versus the king’s Will. What’s interesting here is the consequences of failure, in my opinion. If the GM thinks the player’s intent is a bit far-fetched, add an Ob penalty.

If the PC is not in such a position to make such a request, meh, don’t allow the test. Screw “Say Yes, Or Roll”, the rule isn’t meant to allow PCs to abuse the system, IMO. You could allow the roll with an insane Ob penalty, but what’s the point? Same as saying no, more or less, but with a little leeway for luck. If the player really wants to attempt the Persuasion test, I think you have to look to their motives with an OOC discussion. A peasant requesting audience of the king and then trying to persuade him to hand over his crown? Probably never gonna happen, but let’s talk about this – what is your Intent really, why do you want it, how do you want to go about doing it, and what do you believe? There might be a good story there after all, who knows.

If you beat someone up first then their will will be reduced by their injury.

Social skills have the shortest practice cycle - one month. So if you need Routine tests, don’t forget that you can always practice.

You may have Advantage or Disadvantage to the test, just like any other. Sometimes a Persuasion test is not called for, either. (e.g. a Resources test for a bribe instead)

And it’s totally kosher for the GM to say an intent/task is not appropriate.


Well…putting PCs and NPCs on a level playing field is one of the core assumptions/aesthetics of the Burning Wheel play style. If NPCs are uniformly treated as second-class citizens, then you’re not accomplishing anything meaningful by defeating them.

That said, NPCs can optionally be treated as second-class citizens because the GM can always just Say Yes. If it’s reasonable that you could talk an NPC into something, and there’s really nothing interesting at stake, the GM just lets it slide. In actual play, even players will do this: they’ll only have a reason to resort to the mechanics if they’re invested in resisting. (P1: “Oh no way am I going down that hole!” P2: “I’m going to persuade you!” GM: “Right, so roll persuasion vs Will.” P1 also has the option of walking away, which delays but does not resolve the moment.) If they’re not invested: “Meh, sure, I’ll do this thing.”

It is a very common early error in BW play for GMs to call for tests for everything. The game mechanics aren’t there to model the entirety of game reality, they’re there to provide resolution to specific moments of tension in the fiction. And those moments are up to the GM to judge. If it’s not an interesting moment, don’t bother with the mechanics.


Michael, you seem to be assuming that the only consideration with regard to setting Obs is relative difficulty. Thats only part of it. The Mechanics also shape behavior and the fiction they create. So, persuading someone who doesn’t want something from you is difficult because the game is set up to encourage other types of conflicts, ie finding something juicy to put at risk.

Yeah, but those are very easy to come by in DOWs. Not generally a problem, IME. You want routine presuasion tests-- go to DOW. (Or try to get what you’re looking for by manipulating the children or the simple-minded servants of key NPCs, rather than the NPCs themselves.)

I’m trying to a imagine a situation in which convincing the king into giving you his daughter’s hand-- and half the kingdom-- would merit a straightforward social test, rather than a ‘big deal’ DOW. I’m not having much luck at it. But, if there was such a situation, and it was credible that the PC could make such a request of the king at all, I think Dean has the right of it: Assign a major obstacle penalty and be prepared to offer a failure result commensurate with the request. An obvious choice might be: “If you fail, the king will be outraged by your arrogance and have you thrown in the darkest, smallest, most depressing oubliette in the castle.”

  1. NPCs are already socially different animals. NPCs don’t use Falsehood against PCs—it’s up to the players to decide what they believe. Similarly, it’s up to players to decide whether they’re persuaded unless they’re willing to risk themselves in a DoW.

  2. DoW is one of the subsystems that’s nice but supposedly optional. I don’t like having the advancement break down over lack of DoW. Yes, you can still practice, but that shouldn’t be necessary.

  3. I’m also of the school of thought that Say Yes doesn’t mean Say Yes to Stupidity. Asking the king for absurdities gets a no, just like asking for a test to kill an entire army single-handedly with a sword or a test to free climb up a sheer glass wall with a waterfall pouring down it.

But let’s go back to that example I gave. It’s a complete hypothetical. I picked it because I can imagine circumstances where Say Yes isn’t appropriate. If grave matters and Beliefs are at stake without permission from the magistrate or evidence from the clerk, it would feel wrong not to roll. Let’s assume it s a big enough deal to need a roll, but the NPCs don’t have strong Beliefs involved, though, just inertia; there’s no DoW. So, a roll.

And yet while the two tasks might be of equal importance to Beliefs (they accomplish the same thing, hypothetically), they aren’t necessarily equally difficult. They can be, but it seems to be taken on faith here that they should be, and that’s what I’m not sold on. Look at it another way: you’re facing a guard. He’s a nameless bureaucratic obstruction, who will likely never reenter the game. The GM sets his Will arbitrarily. Is he a tough cookie? Is he paying no attention? The game mechanics don’t break if the guard’s Will is set to anything; why not instead leave the guard’s mind out of it and set the Ob directly?

If “persuading someone who doesn’t want something from you is difficult because the game is set up to encourage other types of conflicts,” why is it that virtually all other conflicts’ Obs are graduated by something other than stats? Or, more importantly, why doesn’t the game support social skills that aren’t really full-blown conflicts so much as overcoming problems? I don’t think it’s really intentional. More importantly, I don’t think it’s a valuable feature, and I don’t think anything breaks if you want to set up exactly that kind of resolution to problems.

Michael, I’d say the system doesn’t break. Since NPCs already have arbitrary Will, making obstacles for persuasion similarly arbitrary really shouldn’t break the game. It may depart from the BWHQ-intended style of play, but that’s okay. It’s your game now!

Wayfarer, it seems to me that your problems are all solved by the correct, rules-as-written application of the Advantage and Disadvantage rules. Is there something I’m missing?

Yes, of course some requests are more reasonable than others. Extra-reasonable requests should receive advantage, while totally crazy wake-your-boss-at-midnight-because-the-Devil-told-me requests should take Ob penalties.

One thing that is not broken is that Persuasion vs Persuasion is supposed to be easier than Persuasion vs I-don’t-want-to. When you’re fighting for what you believe, asking if you’re willing to give up something important is a lot more potent than asking if you’re really extra good at talking. Answering “No, I’m just gonna persuade harder so I don’t have to risk giving him that thing” is a valid choice, but to put teeth in the other option it must remain a more difficult road.

  1. NPCs use falsehood against PCs in our games all the time. We’re just real careful to agree on the stakes. The player can decide if they want to make it a versus roll or if they’re just opposing the NPC. We do the same with Persuasion outside DoW. More reading here

  2. See #1 above. Versus tests are your friend.

  3. Agreed. No stupidity.

Have you seen this flamey mess of a thread on changing persuasion tests.

  1. NPCs can use Falsehood against PCs. There’s no reason they can’t.

  2. It’s modular, but not intended to be optional, though some people play it that way. The game was designed with the idea that you will, on average, do one or two conflicts (i.e., a Fight, Duel of Wits or Range and Cover) per session. If you choose to play without those systems, you can, but we make no claim that advancement works as advertised without them.