Trouble and Help in The Sword

I just finished running my first BW game. We ran The Sword. And I got four questions that sum up my doubts.
My players all came from D&D or GURPS background, so we had half an hour discussing how the system works and why there wasn’t information on level or class or detailed weaponry. At the end I discovered that I had to tell more about how the mechanics of the game could be used in the storytelling and what was available to them as tools to shape this. This, I think, was my first doubt. How do you handle this?

I began telling the basics about the BW philosophy and how Beliefs change and mold the game and create a path where we can create the narrative together. I think it was clear enough but not just clear to make them understand that they could (and should) put some creativity into the history. Just the fact that the adventure starts from nothing was confusing for some of them, but nonetheless they started chatting.

The beginning was really good, with the players (after I explained to them) playing very intuitively their BITs. The elf and Roden were very good at roleplaying and made really awesome comments about the sword and its roots. There was some kind of discussion and persuasion and intimidation all of the same time, and while the characters were arguing, there was a moment they stopped, waiting for my guidance. This was the moment I asked if someone wanted to do any test to convince who would get the sword.

The dwarf said he was going to get the sword and started walking towards it. The elf then tells me that he wanted to Persuade the dwarf ForKing Oratory and following his Belief (about uniting everyone, to some extent) to convince him that they had to talk through it. At the same time, the Roden wanted to convince everyone that he was the guide and so he would guide the dwarf to the sword (that was just a few meters away). The human tried to sneak past them.
I got very confused by the order of things so I had to elect who was going to act first. This was entirely my decision, based on what I thought was most important to happen first in the scene. I supposed I couldn’t ask the dwarf to make two tests, either.
So, my first question is: how can I escalate who acts first if they are in a heated up argument? How can I decide if the dwarf needs to make a Will test to not be convinced by the elf first and then by the Roden?

After this, they decided to go to inspect the sword. They started arguing again about the background of the runes on its inscriptions. The elf, always thinking about hist father’s claim to the sword, asked me if he could use Song of Merriment to calm everyone down and then get an advantage to steal the sword from the pedestal and run away while the others where in wonder. I couldn’t immediately answer it, so I went to the Wonderment rules and supposed that, if the other characters failed the test, they would be Hesitating for sufficient time to the elf make it (Will test, IIRC). The other players couldn’t agree to that. They said that even if they were in wonderment, they were not blind and would see the elf stealing the sword. I couldn’t get it clear so I said yes to the elf.
So, my second question is: how do I deal with Elven Songs in this situation? It was not a Fight! nor DoW, so I couldn’t get things right. The rules of Wonderment are clear in how much time people stand in wonderment, but not if the elf must continue singing after this or can simply use this moment to do something nasty. And besides this, again, I just let the elf do the action because he was the one that was asking to do things. The others were just arguing.

Well, the elf run. I just gave him an edge over the others. The other characters were so unlucky that no speed test could make to the bastard elf.
Then, my third question: if the elf is running from everyone at the same time, how do I make the test? Everyone Speed vs. Elf Speed? I got confused on how to resolve conflicts between more than two characters. The same happened when they were all arguing and I couldn’t do a 4-person DoW.
That’s the way I handled and them all failed miserably. The elf just ran into the darkness of the tunnels.

As I didn’t want to finish the adventure since at this point there was no DoW or even a Bloody Versus, I asked the players if they wanted to do something about it: a circles test to call a friendly Roden, some Tomb-wise or Below-wise to try to find the route to the exit and surprise the elf etc. At this point, I thought that the Let It Ride rule applied very well and the characters couldn’t really reach the elf by chasing it. After a DoW between who (the dwarf or the Roden) would lead, they decided to find the exit.
The fourth: was it a right decision, to let them find the elf by another means? Or I should let the Let It Ride continue trough here? I didn’t want to finish the adventure.

I told the elf that he was lost. He won the Speed test vs. everyone but failed a Perception (the char. does not have any wises so I thought a untrained Perception roll would fit) to find the exit in the labyrinths of tunnels; contrary to the Roden, who ForKed some skills to find the way to the exit before the elf. It was a separate test but I intended to make the chasing party to intercept the elf at some point - they won the test the elf failed, to find their way through the tunnels. I don’t really know if this was correct but it seemed right to me.

So, the party crouched beneath some tunnels and appeared just a few meters in front of the elf, when he was just about to escape to the exit. Some yelling later, the elf (that had the sword) charged at the poor Roden, who, after a Bloody Versus, got a Severe wound and failed the Steel test. The dwarf was very angry and tried to intercept the elf, who was quickly running to the exit - and failed. Miserably. The elf then, ran away from them to the exit and to the end of the adventure.

All this time the human player was not so intrigued with the sword - I think he was more tied to the first belief ("…if I don’t pay off my debts. I’ve got to get paid in this venture!) and tried to scavenge for other treasures inside the place. He asked for a test and, in the heat of the discussion, I couldn’t simply give him the opportunity and forgot about it. This was a big mistake because for the rest of the adventure the human gambler was not so active. Maybe I could have suggested him that, even if the elf got the sword, the other players had to pay him - asking for a Resources test with help; giving him a scene that was absent from the other characters and the sword didn’t make sense to me. Of course, after the lucky elf slashed the Roden, there was no arguing about anything.

Sorry for the long post! I’m happy that we got to finish the story, albeit it was a little flimsy.

If everyone acts at once and who does something milliseconds faster is important, I’d advise a Speed test. In this case, though, it’s not really a matter of going first. The Dwarf can walk, the Man can sneak, and the Elf and Roden can start arguing all at once. Think about what would happen: the two talkers get about a word in each before the Dwarf gets to the sword. The thief is slower because he’s sneaking.

In addition, I never allow PCs to be the target of an unopposed roll. Persuasion is not mind control, especially for PCs, and I don’t like to take authority over character away from the player. An versus test or DoW works, but only if both parties are willing and have something at stake.

Wonderment causes hesitation. For some amount of time, determined by the wonderment rules, everyone is standing around, stupefied. They do see the Elf acting, but they can’t lift a finger to do anything about it. It’s usually not all that much time, actually, but it’s plenty of time to do terrible things in combat. That’s actually a strong use of wonderment: you can ruin someone’s day when they have to Stand and Drool while you hit them repeatedly. Wonderment happens while the Elf is singing, but the Elf can do other things while singing.

In multiple-way tests you decide who the two primary opponents are. Everyone else can offer helping dice if they can describe how they help. In a Speed test that might be hard and it might come down to the Elf vs. a single person representing the group, but maybe others could offer helping dice by using Speed to cut off other routes instead of just catching up. It’s the GM’s job to adjudicate whether the help is reasonable or unreasonable.

Let It Ride means that whether you succeed or fail at a task, that result stands. It doesn’t prevent you from attempting different tasks for similar ends. I think this was the right choice. The problem is the consequences of failure: “You don’t catch the Elf, what do you do now?” has no teeth. For the demo I actually think this worked out well, but in the future you want to make sure that failure isn’t just “No,” but something that moves the game forward. In this case, since the intent is to catch the Elf to get the sword, a stronger failure would be that you can’t catch up and the Elf escapes ahead of you. Now you have to get what you want without being able to catch up.

The Sword is kind of funny because it’s so player-vs-player oriented. Most BW games aren’t; even when there’s intra-party conflict it’s not the entire game. Things like failure and Let It Ride often make more sense with outside opposition.

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Well, first off, with the Sword in particular it’s okay if there isn’t much back story at the beginning. Everyone came for the sword. There it is. What do you do?

the dwarf said he’s going for the sword. Cool! Ask him whether he’s running, walking, sneaking?
When the elf says I want to persuade him, say " I don’t care what you want. What do you say to the dwarf?" And have him say it. Then you can discuss what the impact of the elf’s words are on the dwarf, bearing mind that the purpose of play is not to get the sword, but to have conflicts. the dwarf wants to get the sword, the dwarf player should want to engage in conflict about the sword. It’s nice to end up with the sword at the end, but it’s not winning. Failing to get the sword is not losing the game. Does the dwarf want to convince the elf of his rightful claim? Is this a versus test? Maybe it’s big enough for a DoW. Or, maybe, the pigheaded dwarf has no intent and is willing to let the elf try against his will. Theoretically, if there was no way the words the elf chose could effect the dwarf, there should be no test, but these characters are primed for debates about the sword in this adventure, so it won’t be something he can ignore.

That said, if the roden jumps in with some persuasion of his own and steps on the elf’s lines, I guess there’s a free for all argument going on with no clear conflict just a lot if noise and bedlam. Oh, that’s right, the human said he’s sneaking? Give him an advantage die if he goes while they’re distracted.

ultimately, in the sword you play traffic cop, ringleader and provocateur.

Regarding the other questions, elf wonderment outside of combat lasts for a narratively appropriate time. If the elf wanted to use it to get to the sword, I would probably have ruled that the elf gets to the sword ahead of anyone who fails their steel test. Handling a multiple character footrace you could have one roll with others helping, but I’d probably just call for speed rolls with the winner grabbing the sword, unless someone wants to do something else, like throw an axe in the elf’s back, or whatever.

And yes, allowing them other means like Circles to find the elf is good play.

Regarding the Duel of Wits, I once ran it like this: all four characters have a belief about wanting the sword, so they should have a chance to argue for it (excluding the Roden, who as the guide isn’t a part of the “core” party; he will use stealth and deceit to try to get it though). So I did a three-way versus linked test to see who could participate in the Duel of Wits. Everyone (Robard, Fidhean, and Brechtanz) all get a chance to claim the sword. The highest roller gets +1D to his first roll in the Duel of Wits against the second-highest roller, while the loser can help who he chooses.

I also made it a condition of the Duel of Wits that the losers would be compensated in some way by the winner claiming the Sword (probably cash dice). They aren’t crawling around in muck-filled tubes for nothing.

Regarding Wonderment: the power of elf songs is a very explicit part of the setting. You could explain that they are things of such exquisite awe and primordial power that mortals can’t help their reaction (or, well, they can, but that’s what the Steel roll is for). I understand the Steel roll might be a sticking point–you should have examples in media to point to. Things like Boromir hesitating in shock during the LOTR movie, when he’s shot with arrows, like Thorin and the dwarves being transfixed by the Arkenstone, that sort of stuff.

Oh, and I would have told the human the only thing of value he has seen in this entire hole is the sword, and it’s the only thing he’s gonna see.

I’ve seen The Sword end with collaboration instead of combustion. Sure, it’s not exactly the spirit of the thing, but some groups are like that. You can run with it! Maybe there’s more treasure, but it will require cooperation and sacrifices. Maybe that sword is the key to opening lost vaults. But you can’t let Robard bypass drama by finding an alternate solution to his needs. As long as the sword itself is driving conflict you can’t have things distract from its central position and power.

Hey guys, thanks for the answers. I read the thread twice to absorb and think about what you wrote.
I’ll start with Wayfarer’s.

Do you mean I can’t allow a player to convince another player merely by trying a Persuasion test on him/her? I thought this was the way to handle it, because otherwise interaction between them would fail. Did I interpret you wrong?

This makes sense. They were hesitating equal to Will, so it was 3 and 4 for some of them. I think this is, in actions, time sufficient to pick up the sword and gain some advantage running away. I am right?

Yes, I just passed over this rule. I just find it very strange that this applies to combat too. I always imagined combat as a free movement and stance action. So, if three goblins want to gang-up on the knight, can’t I just use 3 Bloody Versus! or Versus rolls in sequence?

That is a good hint, I also forgot about it. When they failed the Speed test, I couldn’t let the Intent of the Elf ignored by the failed test circumstance. So I decided to let them chase him by appearing ahead of him using a Orienteering ForKing Below-Wise. I just forgot to say they had to worky ‘quickly’ to find him in time. Thanks for the tips!

So, noclue, do you think it’s just necessary to run a DoW or Versus when only two players are in disagreement? I have to choose that or one of them have to step down, if that it the path to go. I can understand the part about the elf choosing words that would affect the dwarf and the dwarf actually mattering about that. That is just roleplaying in a way my friends are not used to - I don’t believe my dwarf player would stop walking towards the sword if I didn’t ask for a test against the elf. It is the same question as above, about convincing each other. I know it’s bad roleplaying, but they will have to bear with me when explaining this. I just didn’t addressed that.

I didn’t get the first part. A three-way versus linked testing what?
The condition part of the DoW is good, very good.

Yeah, that’s what I told them. It was magic they were dealing with, deal with it. The elf just started singing like those sorrow moments when Arwen sung.

Yes. Actually, in the end, the only option to them after the elf ran away was helping each other to the exit. I’ll chat if the Robard player afterwards - he told me at the end that he wanted to ‘kill more orcs’.

Thanks everyone, I’m always learning.

What I believe this means is the following:

All three characters roll (a Versus test). The two highest rollers get to participate in the Duel (and accept help from everyone else). The highest roller gets to treat their roll as if it were a Linked Test, i.e. they get +1D to their first action in the Duel.

I may not be in the majority, but no, I never allow PCs to use social skill against Will tests. The players can certainly talk it out. If they can’t reach an agreement, then either it’s a trifling matter and doesn’t need resolution or it’s important and then Duel of Wits is exactly the right tool. A versus test is the bare minimum for player vs. player interaction. Interactions are fine, but once you need dice it had better be a big deal. The same is true for combat: a PC never gets a simple test to attack another PC, and I’d be loath to even use Bloody Versus unless it were a very, very minor scuffle.

You’re right about wonderment, but you have the timing wrong. When an Elf sings, wonderment begins for each listening character when a number of exchanges equal to that character’s will. That means weak-willed characters will fall sway to wonderment quickly and strong-willed ones will hold out longer. The duration of effect is determined by a Steel test against Hesitation, as normal, and each success over the song’s obstacle adds +1 Ob.

You can run multi-way combat. If multiple PCs are fighting I would do so. For multiple goblins I might, or I might not, depending on circumstances. Fighting three separate people is almost always overwhelming. Fighting one character with +2D helping dice (from those assisting goblins) is tough but manageable. Which one you run as the GM depends on whether you want to emphasize that they are weak individually but formidable in packs or whether you want to immediately bury someone under the weight of enemies. The Sword only has PCs, so in Fight you should have all of them script.

DoW is different, and versus tests are much different. For those I would almost always suggest having primary characters and helpers. It just works out better that way.

And that thing about Persuasion and DoW not being mind control? You can’t engage someone in a Duel of Wits if they’re not willing to argue. The Elf can claim he has a right to the sword all he wants. If the Dwarf simply doesn’t care he doesn’t have to listen, he can just grab it. Duel of Wits comes into play when both sides have reason to argue. And yes, a primary purpose for it is when two players are arguing, in character or out, and can’t resolve it. Instead of spending lots of time on it you declare a DoW, grab dice, and see who’s more convincing.

We use social skills against will tests when the player is willing but does not have an intent of their own. Not often, but it happens.

You need two sides for a DoW. So, if you have three characters in the argument, someone’s helping. If there’s more than two sides, you have more than one argument. Resolve one with a quick versus if possible. Or, have two characters start arguing about who’s going to speak first. Or everyone can scream over the top of each other and get no where, until they sort it out. When they want to achieve something, they’ll sort things out right quick.

I can understand the part about the elf choosing words that would affect the dwarf and the dwarf actually mattering about that. That is just roleplaying in a way my friends are not used to - I don’t believe my dwarf player would stop walking towards the sword if I didn’t ask for a test against the elf. It is the same question as above, about convincing each other. I know it’s bad roleplaying, but they will have to bear with me when explaining this. I just didn’t addressed that.

Well, this right here is the reason I love The Sword as an intro to BW. It forces just these kind of decision points and you will quickly find out if the player is willing to expose their character to the system, or if they will seek to protect their character from the things that make the game fun. Remember, the next thing you’ll be doing is chargen and they’ll be trying to get their character to be captain of a ship in 4 life paths, and the only way to get there will involve taking a trait like lame or drunkard, and then the whining begins. So, seeing how they deal with a DoW early on is a good thing.

You definitely ask for the test against the elf’s words, but bear in mind that Burning Wheel places a lot of power and responsibility in the hands of the player. They can’t be forced into a DoW. On the other hand, no one’s forcing them to play a game that has a DoW as a central mechanic. The question is whether or not the player is playing in good faith. When the GM asks me to roll against the elf, I roll. Once in a while, I say “hold on a sec. That doesn’t seem like it would effect me. Can we reword it? Or, how about this instead?” Very rarely will I refuse a Duel of Wits, but if I do, it’s not because I’m protecting my character against change. All of my secrets are open, so everyone has the ammo they need to punch my guy in the balls. Everyone at the table has seen my characters eviscerated by the system. They’ve seen me risk my beliefs and I’ve had my PC’s entire world change based on a single test. So, when I balk, I think I’ve earned it.

When I say three-way versus linked test, I’m not trying to complicate it. As noclue says, DoW is for two players. In the Sword, at least three of the characters want the sword. So I let let everyone who wants the sword make a roll with a social skill and FoRK in things like Lost Treasure-wise, etc. The two who roll highest have established superior claims to the sword and can now Duel of Wits each each other. The losers of the first test have to accept the result because that’s the intent of the first test, to establish a strong claim to the Sword.

This assumes the characters are debating the point instead of wrestling or trying to kill each other.

Thanks everyone for the answers. They illuminated me a lot.
I don’t like some of the systems as they are, but I posted some questions in another thread.