Using Circles with established or obvious NPCs

I’m looking for some feedback on how I handled a couple of recent cases of Circles tests.

In one game I declared that Isiak, an itinerant merchant, comes to town and sets up a tent in the market. One of the PC’s said she wanted to circle him up. She has a Shop Keeper lifepath with points in Merchant-Wise, so the lifepaths overlap and they are of similar station. Clearly the merchant exists and is in town because I’ve just said so. She’s was willing to wait until Isiak was available so no Right Now penalty, so I gave her the test at Ob 1.

In another game I have a PC who is a performer at a playhouse. She wanted to talk to the proprietor, who was not already a Relationship nor an NPC I had named or even thought about. Obviously, the proprietor exists, but the PC was in a hurry, so I gave her a +2 Ob penalty. She failed and I had established the penalty for failure that she found him but he doesn’t feel like her act is that good, that it’s getting stale–not really an enmity clause, but a fun failure putting pressure on her to up her game.

Both these situations are variations of the same thing, a PC wants to use a Circles test not to invent an NPC out of whole cloth but to work toward a relationship or at least meet them with favorable footing with either an established NPC or an NPC that would certainly exist given the situation.

Any feedback on how I handed these? Are these appropriate uses of Circles?

Thanks in advance!


I like this use of Circles! As you say it’s not “find me a merchant” but “I want to have a previous relationship with this merchant.” Seems clever from the player’s standpoint and I think you rolled with it well.

In the second instance, I just love how failure is more clarifying than success with Circles. “Oh, you know this guy but he doesn’t like you very much. In fact, he thinks you’re hack!” You’ve set up an arc for the player should they want it. They can attempt to prove the proprietor wrong, sell their talents elsewhere or even try to oust the proprietor and install someone more favorable.

I dig it!


Oh good.

I feel like I just earned a test for Burning Wheel-wise! Thank you, Luke!