The appopriate social skill for certain situations

Hey, I’ve played burning wheel for over 50 sessions. We mostly use the simple mechanics to solve situations because Duel of Wits and other advanced systems are too time consuming. We still have problems understanding what is the right skill to use in certain social situations. I’ll provide examples and ask for your comments.

  1. Player wants to go past a guard. He tells him that it’s in the guards best interest to let him pass because of reasons X and Y (clearly Persuasion). However, these reasons are based on big fat lies (clearly Falsehood). What is the actual roll here?

  2. Player is in a hurry and commands a bunch of peasants to get out of the way. Is this a Command even though it’s not a battle and the subjects are not soldiers?

  3. Player has a 1-on-1 talk with an NPC. He keeps a charismatic speech about how it’s the right thing to do to go and save those people. The way I see it, if the NPC respects the player, they probably listen to him. How would this be handled? Is there a skill? We have use Oratory for this but the description says it is not the right skill.

  4. An NPC is terrified and panicking. Player is trying to calm her down. “Everything’s gonna be alright” (even if not). What is this, persuasion? We have stretched Soothing Platitudes for this but it doesn’t seem right.

Thanks for any ideas or clarifications.

  1. Is primarily Persuasion, but backing it up with details that are lies. I’d say Persuasion with Falsehood as a FoRK, or Falsehood linked test to Persuasion. The difference would be whether there is a separate Intent that the lies serve, or if it’s just throwaway lies to help the Persuasion.

  2. At first I thought I’d maybe allow Command here, because barking orders at peasants is going to give them a “oh no, military type yelling at us to get out of the way! Scatter!”, but after thinking that through I think it’s actually just Intimidation.

    Command should work when the targets are trained to respond professionally with coordination in response to terse orders that aren’t a complete description of the things they’re supposed to do. Like, “double time!” means something to troops but nothing to dinner servants. Command hooks into combat training.

  3. Persuasion with an Oratory FoRK. It’s not trying to move a crowd to action, and it is implicitly persuading the NPC that it’s for their own good. “It’s the right thing to do” translates to “you’ll feel good about yourself, and I, who you respect, will feel good about you too.”

    Otherwise, it’s a moral/philosophical argument, which could be Rhetoric, Philosophy, Suasion, or Doctrine, depending on character and setting context.

  4. I’d do straight Will vs. Will here. This is the application of raw insight and force of personality. Unless the NPC is a soldier, and then a different approach would be to hit them in the training with Command.


Pretty much everything that @eggdropsoap said. I would probably not use an Oratory FoRK if you’re just talking to a single person, but that’s just me being stingy (I’d totally agree with a Rhetoric or Philosophy FoRK though, depending on how you framed it).


I’ll just add a bit to #3, since this caught my eye:

If the NPC already respects the player and is inclined to listen, then there’s a good chance this conversation isn’t actually challenging any Beliefs, and a roll might not even be necessary; you can just roleplay it out and Say Yes. If there is a roll to convince the NPC that they should do what the player says (or believe the player is competent such that they take the player’s word for it) then what @eggdropsoap said makes sense.


Yes I think this applies to all abilities really. The obstacle lists in the extensive skill lists are really just examples and, while they cover a lot, they’ll only get you so far! I’m hesitant to add more skills to that huge list, so I usually stretch the definitions instead and I pay close attention to task and intent. I think people usually come at it from the angle of “Well we know what the task (skill) is so lets look for the right intent (ob)”, but sometimes the intent can come first and it’s the task that can change in response.

So that’s all general and slightly vague advice, so let me reel off some examples: I’ve allowed Acting to be used to lie to a crowd, I’ve let soothing platitudes be used to calm someone down, I’ve used Haggling as the disposition roll for a duel of wits, I’ve let Rule of Law be used to pick out the fine-print in a business contract, I’ve let Research be used to find a boat in a dockyard, I generally allow Circles to be used to let people meet new people and make new friends (not just to conveniently meet old acquaintances), and I sometimes ask for Steel tests like ‘saving throws’—as seen in other TTRPGs (which it kinda is, to be fair).

So in your specific examples, I would say:

  1. Falsehood with a Persuasion FoRK because you’re ultimately lying even if you’re being very convincing about it. Or maybe Extorsion if you really ham up the con-man tropes.
  2. Command works here (recalling that it can be used in a Duel of Wits, it’s not just for military stuff)!
  3. No test, probably. But have fun roleplaying, the game doesn’t always have to be hyper-focused on progressing beliefs!
  4. Soothing Platitudes, Sing, or Command, I’d say depending on the tone.

It might also just be my style of running the game, but I’d rather see a player try to stretch the skills that they already have to their fullest before resorting to a beginner’s luck test.

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The idea of a linked test interests me. To persuade the guard as suggested, the player must tell a lie. Should that be a reason to make a linked test instead of an automatic +1D fork? I think we’ve never used linked tests in social rolls like this - we always fork and fork which is more “profitable” for the player but sometimes feels like cheating.

We definitely haven’t used Rhetoric and Philosophy very successfully in our games. However, Rhetoric and Ugly Truth are based on Perception so I feel they are skills that are mainly used for observing and understanding, not expressing or influencing? So I’d rarely see them as the primary skills in a roll that is meant to get someone do something, believe something or reveal something. If you disagree, can you give a couple of example of Rhetoric / Ugly Truth uses as primary skills?

We’ve never used straight Will in social situations. BW Community, give me examples of bare Will use in social situations! Very interested.

Thanks a lot for all the answers. Unfortunately I don’t have time to comment on other posts right now.

I think the linked test would be to make them believe the lie as a separate event to persuading them to let you pass. Sounds like it’s all one event, though, so I’d stick to Falsehood, forking in Persuasion. (Not the other way around, since I’m assuming the core of your logical argument is also false. It’s almost certainly not in the guard’s best interest to let the PCs past.)

Rhetoric is definitely expressive; the description calls it ‘a form of discourse’. I think it’s based on Perception for the finesse of playing to your audience. It’s more about wit than asserting your personality onto the victim.
Since you asked for examples, I would probably use Rhetoric in a philosophical debate (“Your heart’s in the right place, but if everyone followed this train of thought we’d end up in anarchy. It’s a naive fallacy.”), or pleading a case in court (“Your honor, the rules as presented don’t mention this restriction. As far as she knew, she was doing nothing wrong.”). It’s used for this kind of thing in Duel of Wits as well.

Ugly Truth as a primary skill is a bit weirder; I always see it as a fork. By looking at the example obstacles, though, it seems that you can almost use it like a Wise. Disclaimer: I haven’t done this. But the way I see it, if the player wants to introduce or discern an ugly truth about a situation, they can roll for it. So if your player is sick of the drama from an NPC’s relationship that’s not working out, it’s an Ob 4 Ugly Truth test for them to see that it’s because one of them is afraid of commitment (‘nuanced or delicate situation’).

The way I explain them like this: Rhetoric is persuasion with logic and appeal to reason (Ob = Perception), Persuasion is persuasion with pathos and appeal to emotion (Ob = Will), and Suasion is persuasion with ethos and appeal to philosophy or religious doctrine (Ob = Will), and I think I’d say that Seduction could be treated as ‘force of personality’, up to a point.

Meanwhile, the actual Philosophy, Doctrine, Etiquette and such are ‘satellite skills’. They’re almost always related to conversations involving the former and make very good FoRKs, but can’t be used by themselves to convince someone of something.

Ugly Truth meanwhile has a bit of a reputation in my games for being overpowered because the Obs are so low compared to other social skills. I’ve limited it somewhat by saying that you ‘have to be saying something that’s definitively true, and confront the target with it if they are refusing to listen to other types of persuasion’ so you can’t just ‘make up’ truths with it as you’re suggesting. That is still the role of wises.

An example would be… You’re trying to persuade your grieving half-sister to leave the country with you and abandon her terrible abusive husband before war breaks out in France. You’ve tried to just persuade her but failed, so now you need another ‘easier’ avenue. Luckily, you’re the family bastard, and even though everyone seems to hate you, you mean well. This also means that you have Family-Secrets-Wise. So you use that to establish the fact “My half-sister’s husband is cheating on her”. If you pass the test, probably an Ob 5 or 6, then you can come back to the sister and present your argument again but this time with Ugly Truth! Because it relates to an ‘ugly truth about family’ it’s only Ob 2 to persuade her now, instead of her normal Ob 5 Will.

If you’re actually lying, then it’s either Falsehood or Extortion.

And yeah I’ve never seen a straight Will vs. Will test, except for a sorcerer’s clash of wills, or when two socially inept characters start learning how to be persuasive for the first time… at the same time.

In practice I think it doesn’t matter so much.

Once we have a conflict and an intent you get a task which in these social cases are the speech and actions taken by the character. The GM will call “Make a persuasion test” or whatever and a player might ask “I thought this would be rhetoric perhaps?”. The GM can ask “how is that rhetoric?” and the player can make a brief case for why the character’s actions was rhetoric. The GM decides but ultimately it doesn’t matter in that way.

In Torchbearer and Mouse Guard social tests are mostly handled by Persuader, Manipulator and Orator because there isn’t the need for nuance.

In Burning Wheel the skill written on the sheet informs the play. The important thing about having Stentorious Debate on your character sheet isn’t that it’s open ended, it’s that you will argy-barge like a dwarf and not whisper subtleties like spy because you don’t want the GM to say “that sounds like persuasion!”

Edit: As you get used to what the players have on their sheets and you get to know the characters you will recognise the skills the player is intending to use. But you still need to say “That’s an oratory test.” when it applies even if that wasn’t what they were expecting.

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I think it matters even once you’ve gotten to know the characters.

“That sounds like Intimidation.”
“I was going for my B5 Persuade by showing how it’s in their best interest to join the rebellion. I don’t have Intimidation!”
“Your approach is that their house is lovely and that it’d be a shame if rebels thought they were bougie and burnt it down, and only briefly mentioned that they might end up in a leadership position if they joined now. But hey, it’s okay, you’ll get a Difficult test for your Will, so that sweet.”

I agree that the diversity of skills funnels roleplay approaches to fit into the skills on the sheet, and I like how that shapes play. But the approaches natural to each skill aren’t always what the player or situation needs, so I don’t lean my interpretations of roleplay towards existing skills. Those sweet, sweet Beginner’s Luck tests are important sources of character development, both mechanically and fictionally, and are a valuable source of new skills and rare Stat tests. I wouldn’t want to deny those riches.

Going for particular tests is part of the player’s role. If the player wants the Will tests from beginner’s luck that’s a legit choice they can make informed by their play. It’s not part of the GM’s role to lobby for how the players ought to advance their characters.

Don’t misunderstand me. In no way am I advocating to exclude the middle and dictate how players advance their characters. Only that if the test doesn’t fit the task, I won’t call for a test that I know they “meant” to aim for.

I don’t hear you saying either that you’re at the other extreme and letting players have whatever test they want regardless of not matching the roleplay. I hear you, reasonably, saying that you take into consideration what you know they’re going for and give some leeway in letting them use the skills on their sheet.

I just disagree with that style. My own impulse is to do the same, but I recognize that I will not get the experience out of the game that draws me to it in the first place if I do that, so I don’t. My impulse is to think of Beginner’s Luck as a bad situation, but it’s neutral in the game, and avoiding it tips play away from what experience the game means to help us create. Thinking of Beginner’s Luck tests as opportunities prevents me from indulging that impulse that would inadvertently cut out part of the pleasure of Burning Wheel that I’m aiming for, and prevents me from teaching my group to fear and avoid failure, when BW wants them to accept both success and failure.

For how I want games to go, it’s a mistake to modify the Task based on what the player is lobbying for instead of what their character is actually doing. Some of the best moments are when a player can’t use their usual approach and pulls out the stops to somehow create a chance; similarly, some of the best twists are when a player does manage to completely reframe the situation into the skills they have so they can apply. Both ways we get play that is much more interesting than just letting the usual approach apply as ‘close enough’ without effort, without creating story. It’s the same as with Embodiment: close enough isn’t nearly as interesting as actually going out of the way to meet the high bar.

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I imagine this would get balanced out in the fiction. Unlike Persuasion or Rhetoric, where they’re slowly convinced of an idea through agreements and logic, this is bluntly laying out something that they don’t want to hear. This truth is ugly, and depending on your relationship with the other person it’s probably not gonna go well. Use Ugly Truth on someone above your station, and they’re probably going to cast you out or make your life hell. Below your station, and that’s how you get poisoned or robbed in the night. Or on the other hand, you might use it for the lower ob to make sure you get through to your best friend, who might still hate hearing it but appreciate your (brutal) honesty. And these are all successful roles. A failed role, you might say the same volatile thing, but they don’t believe it and now they don’t want to hear anything more from you; they cut off other avenues of dealing with them. Or they respond with violence. etc. etc. Overall, NPCs will most likely respond much more sharply to this sort of interaction.

(Just my take.)


Thanks for all the replies.

One more situation that often occurs:
Player(s) want to ask around for information in a village or town (and we want to make it quick). This is often a combination of multiple skills such as Streetwise, Persuasion, Interrogation, Intimidation, City-wise, etc. We have often just rolled Interrogation with forks but it doesn’t feel right for all PCs. What skills would you use (or allow to be used) as the main skill?

Interrogation is only for specific intent of getting the information from clearly unwilling people to do it.

Intent and Task is the most important factor. How characters approach to get the information? What is the intent afterall (what they want to know actually)? There is no main skill, especially that Interrogation, Intimidation and Persuasion are not skills solely about getting some information about village or town (mostly Wise-skills, but if for example The Task is to outdrink local peasants in the tavern, and The Intent is to get some spicy gossips, Drinking skill would be appropiate for example).

Fiction matters. Sometimes it’s just “Say Yes” and move on considering that PC spends some time with certain people and get some (basic) information needed…

You could always use Circles to round up an NPC that knows what they want to know, or was around when the thing happened, or whatever it is they need.

On success, it’s a quick conversation. On failure, they now have to use those other skills to get the information out of said NPC.

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I’ve said it before elsewhere, I can’t recall if I said it earlier in this thread too, but: I think it’s really useful to frame it as: Circles is your ability to meet people, make friends, and mingle. Rather than treating it like a purely mechanical interaction to “narratively conjure up useful people from your past to coincidentally be in exactly the place you want them to be”. Fictionally I think those sorts of coincidences can make sense, but if that’s all that it does then it’s a very abstract ability and the fact that it advances like any other ability with tests seems weird to me.

Anyway, the point, with my interpretation as an “innate socialisation skill” instead means that you can use it for more than just dredging up people from your past: You can use it to make new friends in similar environments to those you’re used to, to call on social favours perhaps, and yeah I think it could be used to gather information from the local villagers (so long as whoever makes the test has an LP in the villager setting, for example). As for setting the obstacles… I’d use the Obs for wises as inspiration.

(And what this means when you do still use Circles RAW, is that it’s like you’re making a retroactive test to see how your relationship / lasting impressions with this old acquaintance went)

(And before anyone says it, yes you could just use a wise for it; but that often seems to preclude actual roleplaying, like you’re just “conjuring the required information out of your head” instead; which I think is less interesting).


Using Circles could be interesting. However, not being able to roll it untrained or fork anything to it gets players frustrated. Circles also advances very slowly in our games because we get routine checks so rarely.

If Circles was an “ability to meet people, make friends and mingle”, it should probably have more interaction with skills (like Persuasion, Seduction, …). But I have to admit I like your idea.

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@SeraaronCircles is your ability to meet people, make friends, and mingle .”

^This is a sketchy interpretation of the attribute’s mechanical definition.

Circles is more your list of contacts. Everyone you have ever met before, have remembered in passing, or heard of from someone else. You use it to find people that you already know about*. The girl you had a crush on in high school whose friend gave you their number after their boyfriend cheated on them. The professor from college you cost you your Summa Cum Laude because he was salty. The long-alienated friend who left your band when a major label asked him to sign on as a solo artist.

Meeting People, Making Friends, and Mingling are very different:

Want to make a friend? Test Soothing Platitudes to flatter them. Test Persuasion to invite them to your awesome party. Ugly Truth helps you tell them that you’ve got a crush on them, or that the guy who’s currently flirting with them is a jerk. Engage them in playful banter with Rhetoric or Philosophy. Appraisal can be used to compliment their lovely jewelry (so can Jeweler). You don’t make friends with Circles, but Circles finds someone you are already friend with, or can later become friends with!

Want to Mingle? Walk around the room / house / court / tavern! Test Perception (hey!) to notice the most popular person in the room. Test Observation to notice the wallflower in the corner. Test Etiquette to impress the stiffs. Test Seduction to impress the coquettes. Test Conspicuous to get everyone’s attention. Test Inconspicuous to avoid all the damn riffraff.

Meeting people is as simple as walking up to a stranger. There ya go, person met.

Defining Circles as you have increases the chances of a GM accidentally robbing their players of more intricate and interesting social scenarios. You should really only be testing it to establish whether or not a character already knows someone with the desired qualities. If they don’t have those qualities, THEN you get to Make them your Friend. If you couldn’t find someone, THEN you get to mingle (first you need to find a venue.)


Well argued, Joel. After having re-read the Circles chapter in the BW Gold book, I agree.

To my previous question. The problem is that to save time, we often try to bundle these things to a single roll:

  1. Find a target (NPC) with useful information
  2. Extract the information from the target
  3. If unsuccessful, find a new target and try again

The GM wants the player to roll because she often has a decision to make (eg. how much information to give to the players).

My questions:

  • Should we use a linked check for steps 1 and 2?
  • What would be appropriate skills for step 1? Example cases: “Ask around about a guy we are chasing”, or “Ask around for current rumors about the local crime syndicate”.
  • How has step 3, the possibility to repeat the operation with other targets, been taken into consideration?