the intent of a Circles test

The PCs really want to get out of a walled city, but the walls are manned and the bishop has put men at the gates on the lookout for the PCs after that incident with the baptismal font. The players are chatting about how they’re going to get out of the town and one player says:

Player: “Hey, I want to circle up a teamster I know. He used to take my dad’s ale kegs to market.”
GM: “Why are you circling up a teamster?”
Player: “So I can get him to sneak us out through the gates in his wagon.”

What’s the intent of his Circles test? Is it “establish an NPC teamster exists?” or “get a wagon ride out of town?” Is there a Persuasion test necessary after the Circles test?

Seems like the cleaner approach would be to apply Let it Ride here. If you succeed on the Circles test you don’t need to make a Persuade test. Rolf is the kind of teamster who will sneak you out of the city. Maybe you can haggle over the price. If you fail the Circles test, Enmity Clause, he’s still mad about what you did to his sister. A Persuade test isn’t going to get Rolf to take you out of town. Maybe you can make amends to his sister to bring Rolf around, though, since that would change the situation and let you get around Let it Ride.

It really depends on what the payer wants to establish with the circles test. If he just want to establish that said teamster exists, then that’s an Ob 3 test (Ob 1 Base + 2 Ob for an uncommon occupation). If passed, he does indeed exist, and he indeed used to take the PC’s dad’s ale kegs to market. That doesn’t mean that he’s necessarily going to go out of his way to help the PCs, especially not if it involves crossing a powerful clergyman (not to mention the guards of the gate, who could presumably shut down his entire bussiness, robbing him and his familly of their livelihood,just by not letting him in); it’s likely going to take a social test of some kind (possibly even a duel of wits) to get him to help you. On the other hand, if the player wants to establish that the teamster not only existed, but was fiercely loyal to their father, and would consequently be willing to put their ass on the line to help them, then that would be an Ob 6 circles test (+3 Ob for a rare, specific dispotions).

In the example you give at Ob 3, what if the player fails? I realize the GM should have a number of options here, but if the intent is simply “a teamster exists,” then it seems like the GM must place teamsters out of the reach of the players.

It’s like the old lock picking example. If you’re picking the lock on a door, the intent shouldn’t be to open the door. You’re trying to escape, or trying to get in because something you want is inside, or trying to impress someone. If you’re just picking a lock to pick it, fine, it’s picked, let’s move on. If you just want to establish that teamsters exist, fine, they exist. Why should we pick up dice until it intersects with the plot somehow?

To me, the only Circles test available here should be the Ob 6 one. Or, if you prefer, you can just go find any old teamster and try persuasion or extortion or haggling or intimidation or whatever to get him to do the job.

>In the example you give at Ob 3, what if the player fails?

He existed, but has died recently due to bishopric power abuses

He exists, but is fiercely loyal to the bishop

He exists, but so does a horrible search routine looking for exactly this, which he tells you about

Episcopal abuses, maybe?

Aren’t these just giving me two opportunities to say to the player, “No, he won’t help you?” Like if you sneak past the guard at the gate and then I say “There’s another guard on the road. Roll Stealth again.”

You find the Teamster, and he’s still pissed about how your dad screwed him over a decade ago…

Failure consequences don’t need to directly oppose the intent. You can (for example) fail forward - there are teamsters, but they’re incompetent/compromised by the enemy/basically thieves/inconveniently located/busy right now/etc.

I think it’s the job of the GM, not the player, to put interesting things on the line. It’s a totally legitimate intent for the player to say, “I want to pick the lock.” If there’s nothing else at stake, and the player has lots of time, the resolution of this intent might be for the GM to say, “Say Yes,” as you suggest. Or, if it’s a tricky lock, the GM might put breaking the lock picks on the line (with the lock opening as well, or not).

I think you’re equating two subtly different things. Let it Ride is designed to get the GM to combine what might be a series of tests into a single test, so you don’t just auto-fail players through sheer statistical likelihood.

Some goals, however, require more than one test, and it’s legitimate if the same failure consequence is on the table. For example, if you’re sneaking behind enemy lines, you might roll Stealth, but then you fall into a freezing lake and must make a fire to dry out. The consequence of failure of both tests might be that you get caught by patrols, that’s fine. (Maybe it’s not awesome, but it’s legit.)

So, I think it’s legit for players to circle up neutral teamsters at Ob 3 and then try to persuade them (failure of either test might result in annoyed teamsters), or to circle up super-obliging teamsters with a single, Ob 6 test.

They are not. In the death instance, someone in his family or friends might end up being on your side

In the guard procedures outcome, you could use teamsters entering in as a distraction if there are heavy search procedures to gain advantage

In the fiercely loyal, players may get their presence alerted to the bishop, or least have it implied it might have occurred. It can setup a situation where they might even kill or kidnap the teamster to prevent him from talking!

In all cases, these failure cases give the players prevention of their intial plans, but interesting complications they can poke more at

Bishopric abuses are abuses by people who work for the geographic area that the bishop controls. So it could be an abusive seneschal, nepotistic priests who are kept in power by the bishop despite the abuses, misuses of church funds or even lax safety standards at a work site caused by negligent levels of hurry put on the workers, etc. I wanted an organizational evil for that instance instead of a personal one

I see it as two tests: Circles to bring him in (higher Ob if favorable to PC); Persuasion (or other Social skill) to get him to commit the deed.

Circles often functions effectively as a linked test. You use it to establish the existence of and get in contact with someone who can help you, and then something else is required so they will help you. Fail the first test and perhaps you cannot get in touch, perhaps they hate you, or perhaps the costs are beyond your means. I’ll come back to the second element.

I would be very cautious with failure. It’s easy to make Circles result in nothing interesting. Totally obstructionist teamster? Fine. Ignore him and find another solution, and that roll added nothing. It’s more useful if he shows up and immediately says he’s going to turn you in for a reward, or you find out he’s already been imprisoned for smuggling but probably could help you (and would, gratefully) if you freed him.

If “okay, let me try to circle up some other helpful soul” is a reasonable follow-up to the first Circles test then something has gone wrong. But that’s also a problem with the second test. If you fail to persuade this teamster and decide to use Circles to get a smuggler, or a Roden cultist used to slipping in and out, you’ve just removed the drama from the previous rolls. And that’s a reason why I don’t think Circles really can be a linked test. “There’s a smuggler, but no, he won’t help you,” is boring. I rarely test after Circles about the same person if it’s a yes or no matter. What does work well is payment. Succeed at Persuasion and maybe the guy will help you for the bond you share through your father. Or he hates the bishop and will help to spite him. Or maybe you make a good case and he’ll help… cheap! Fail and it’ll cost you dear, in coin or in favors. Straight up Haggling is a good follow-up to a lot of Circles rolls for services.

nope. Circles has a special failure called enmity. The GM can put the NPC in place, with enmity.

And, I agree with Michael. The GM has to approve task-intent, but sets failure based on creating interesting consequences, with an eye towards challenging BITs wherever possible. The GM decides what’s on the line, even if the player didn’t specify.

I feel like most of you aren’t responding to the essence of my point, which is that if you must roll a social test to get the guy to do something then the Circles test is just another chance to fail at that.

Intent: I want a wagon ride out of the city.
Task: I’m going to find a teamster willing to take me out of the city.

Fail Circles: you don’t get your wagon ride out of the city because x (he’s in jail, he’s the Bishop’s man, he hates you, whatever).
Succeed Circles, fail Persuasion: you don’t get your wagon ride out of the city because y (he’s afraid, he’s the Bishop’s man, the guards are searching wagons now, whatever).

The dressing is different, but the salad is the same.

I do get that sometimes we divide tasks up into several sub-tasks. You want to rescue the princess who’s behind a wall and across a courtyard full of orcs, then neither climbing nor sword alone will get you a princess - you need both. I guess it just seems to me that because of the Enmity results in Circles, the willingness of the NPC to do the task is naturally a part of the Circles test.

We could frame it like this: “Okay, roll Circles to track old Rolf down. If you fail, you pitch the idea to Rolf but he refuses, telling you that the Bishop is God’s right hand and you need to make things right with him. He even offers to go with you and vouch for your character.”

Wayfarer, I like your take on it, that the Circles test produces a willing individual and the social test just sets the conditions of the deal. Very cool.

Sure, I get that. But, that’s a player choice isn’t it? They can go for an OB 6 Circles test and get a teamster with a specific disposition and no need to persuade him. Or, they can go for like an OB 3 and get a dude who is friendly, but who may need some persuading.

So it’s another chance to fail. If my Persuasion is B6 and my Circles is B3 I’m going for the second option.

It’s also worth noting that the enmity clause doesn’t mean the guy won’t do anything for you. That’s one use, but not necessarily the best. Good enmity can be someone who will do what you want but makes it more expensive, or rats you out immediately. My favorite use of enmity is bringing up an NPC over and over that the PCs hate, and who dislikes them, but who’s useful to them and has enough aligned goals that they can grudgingly and with great gnashing of teeth work together.

We’ve had to rely on NPCs that we knew were going to rat us out later. Makes for good tension.

Cool, this is the essential point, I think - I don’t see it that way. A circles test just establishes that someone exists, you can get in touch with them, and that they’ll hear you out on at least neutral terms. It doesn’t find someone already willing to do the thing you want them to do, that’s a separate matter, although it might be so trivial a thing for them to agree to that the GM says yes. Especially if you’ve used the +3 Ob for specific disposition to find (say) a caravan that happens to be headed to your destination.

For me, the limited scope of Circles evokes just how hard it was to meet up, just from a purely logistical perspective. Samuel Pepys writes in his diary of travelling across London (a task of some hours) to meet up with a contact, who isn’t there when he arrives, and makes the return trip empty handed. Finding someone you don’t personally know, getting an audience with them (in particular if they want to check you out first through mutual acquaintances) might be the matter of days or weeks, just for a first meeting. That’s as normal a part of business or social affairs as sending an email is now.

Fuseboy, I see your point. It just seems oddly simulationist in a system that’s usually more narrativist. Yes, in a medieval setting it’s reasonable that you might search for someone you know and not find them, but how does that serve the story? You’re just in the same place you were before.

Usually BW acknowledges that, and the consequence is designed to move the story forward. I think most of us come up with something clever for a failed Circles test, like I’ve been saying. He’s the Bishop’s man, he’s in jail, he hates you, you hate him, whatever.

So then if the intent was just to bring an NPC into the story, we’re giving the player his intent either way. We’re just embroidering it a little. That’s why I say that the intent isn’t really “to bring an NPC into the story,” but to “bring an NPC who will do x into the story.” That way when we throw some obstacle in that prevents the NPC from doing x without further cleverness by the players we’ve denied the player their intent, as we should for a failed test.

Sure. I love a good David Xanatos.

It’s the GM’s perogative to breakdown Task and Intent into managable bits. If you don’t like the feel of breaking down this particular T&I into two components (a Circles Component, and A Social Skills component), then by all means, don’t. Either interpratation is valid according to the rules as written; it just depends on which fits better into your game.

On another note: my favorite interpretation of Emnity Clause comes from the Apocalypse World move Fingers In Every Pie; basically, you “put out the word that you want a thing — could be a person, could be somethin somethin, could even be just a thing” and then make a roll. If you succeed, then “it shows up in your establishment for you, like magic”. On a failure, you still get what you want, but with “strings wicked attached”.

I’d say it depends on A) the situation, and B) the player’s Intent for rolling Circles. In many cases, yes, skip the social conflict if you feel like it. In other cases, no way, the situation is too tense, or the Intent is too far-reaching, and the conflict ain’t over yet: succeed at Circles and proceed to a social conflict, perhaps even a Duel of Wits.

Which all boils down to two fundamental GM-only mechanics: Say Yes and choosing the Consequence of Failure. Invoking these two rules judiciously is both the GM’s right and responsibility. Yes, responsibility! Say Yes should be used when it serves the narrative to use it, and Consequences should be used it doesn’t.

A successful Circles test produces an NPC who knows the PC and might be friendly toward him. If the player’s Intent is within reason – something an old friend would likely agree to – just Say Yes to the social test and move on. But if the request is something an old friend would not normally deem reasonable … well then, it’s your responsibility to request the social test and think up a reasonable Consequence of Failure. Even if the player nailed the roil with the +3 Ob specific disposition penalty, although the positive disposition should definitely create some Advantage for the PC.

(And just to be clear: You don’t need the +3 Ob penalty to get a friendly NPC. The player’s roll just needs to exceed the Ob for this. The +3 penalty is to bring in an NPC that is positively disposed to the player’s intent.)

I’d also like to point out one more thing. One of the arguments raised was that if the Intent of a Circles test was just “to find a contact”, then the consequence of failure – not finding him – would be uninteresting because it doesn’t advance the narrative. To this I say: Make it interesting, GM!

One way of doing this is the good ol’ Time Complication. As Fuseboy said above, in the medieval world it was not uncommon to spend a whole day looking for someone yet never find them. Now, I am of the opinion that the GM should try to minimize “whiffing” as much as possible. The result should not be “nothing happens”. It should be “you fail, and something happens”. In this case, it’s “you fail, and it takes too long. Something undesirable has transpired in the meantime.”

Any other interesting consequences of a failed Circles test you can think of?