The appopriate social skill for certain situations

Going back to your previous question, I’d say your instincts are good. If it’s not super important, and your characters are asking around for information that someone might wish to withhold, interrogation is perfect. In terms of how you can describe it, think like a montage - think Scott Pilgrim, when he’s asking about Ramona Flowers - since he doesn’t need a specific NPC to tell him, he’s just looking for anyone who can talk, we get a montage of partygoers, one after another, telling him what they know.
“She’s from America.”
“I heard she’s hard core.”
“She has a boyfriend.”
“No, they broke up.”
But let’s say he fails the test of Interrogation? Then one of those NPCs says “Scott, I forbid you from hitting on Ramona.” Boom. Enmity.

Also, a lesson I still continue to struggle with - if you can’t think of a failure condition that makes you want to spend more time on this part of the story, it means the test is boring. Just Say Yes and describe what they learn.

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OK, so I should probably make just one roll with a social skill and fork streetwise / city-wise type skills (that I was considering for a preceding linked checks) to it. Keeping it simple.

And as the main skill I’ll use interrogation, intimidation, seduction, persuasion, drinking or whatever is the method for extracting the information.

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But here arises an interesting and potentially contentious point. Namely, when considering the view that:

…and the natural intuition that:

…with which I cannot help but to agree! And if our experiences in real life are to offer any indication, a person’s capacity to succeed at making Circles tests might reasonably be expected to deteriorate with time and not, to the contrary, advance with use. What alternative interpretation(s) might we devise to give The Burning Wheel a greater feeling of consistency in this regard?

Does it need greater consistency, or to be less abstract? There’s nothing inherently wrong with abstraction—else we’d be playing the hardest of hard sims instead of Burning Wheel to avoid abstraction as much as possible—so there needs to be more design reason than “it’s abstract” to need to change it. (As opposed to wanting to just for taste.)

I think the abstractness of Circles is just part of the game aspect of the system. It wouldn’t be very satisfying if Circles was static, would it?

Burning Wheel used to have skill decay, but it was taken out for being a lot of bookkeeping for no fun. Realistic, consistent, but not good gameplay. Similarly, I don’t see shade-shifting as much more than gamey motivation, nor the idea that someone gets more effective by dramatically angsting (Moldbreaker), but it does wonderful things for the play experience.

I think Circles’ existing definition does a good job of adding game-level positive experience, by giving players a way to contribute NPCs and open new, expected avenues of play. I don’t think it needs to be made more realistic. I suspect trying might actually impair its role in the system and play experience.


I’d argue that not only is there nothing wrong with abstraction. BW goes for abstraction on purpose, where other games might become extremely concrete, like Resources.


Well, I find my interpretation of Circles useful in my own games. Often because the player characters end up being from opposite ends of the world, so they’d be unable to use their Circles attribute at all if it can only be used to dredge up people from their past.

Instead I say, “Ah well you’ve lived in villages before, you know what village people are like, yeah let see if you can find this places medicine man: roll Circles”. The character doesn’t know them yet, but circles establishes whether they exist, and determines their first impressions.

Is that a better way of phrasing it? Initial disposition. Instead of being your ability to meet people, make friends, and mingle, Circles is an abstraction of what sort of impression you leave on people, or you ability to make a good impression (but not like mimicry impressions). To me those seem like the same things, but maybe not to you. Repeated Circles use on the same person grants them as a relationship, after all, so it must have some relation to your ability make friends—or enemies—both old and new!

Using and bending the rules the way is best for your table is always ideal! But it’s not necessarily the way to grasp or explain the subsystem’s role in the game or what it represents.

The difference between a relationship and another NPC is strictly about how important to the PC’s story they are, and how reliably the player can reincorporate them into the story. It’s mostly about game and story-level things, not ability. The “ability” it represents is just how connected the PC is, not so much a skill rating as a rating about a fact of their social web. (Page 378: “[Circles] allows the players to abstract the process of discovering who their characters know in the game world.”) It need not have some relation to the PC’s ability to make friends and enemies.

Hence, the capacity for Circles to promote NPCs to Relationships isn’t about simming an ability to make friends and enemies so much as it is about promoting an NPC from “extra” to “recurring guest star” in the PC’s organically-emergent personal arc. It’s “who you know and who they know”, so-called “networking”: the ability to get a meeting with someone or acquire an introduction, not also the ability to capitalise on the connections and meetings. So, meeting only; mingling and making friends is for other skills. (Invoking the enmity clause or lack thereof doesn’t so much dictate first impressions as it determines whether the connection has negative baggage. Page 383 notes that the enmity clause need not create outright enemies, just those who have a negative disposition, possibly due to a circumstance or past slight that’s fixable. Notably, it’s not a first impression, it’s an existing impression.)

The ability rolled always has to match the Task, too. If a player wants to find the foreign village’s medicine man (Intent), how (Task) matters: “I’ve heard of him before by reputation” is a (kinda thin, but still) Task that fits Circles. If it’s “I know villages and can spot the kind of residence a medicine man would have”, that Task would be Village-wise.


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