What does success really mean?

My group and I have been discussing what success really means in burning wheel.

On page 30 it says “If the successes equal or exceed the obstable the character has succeeded in his goal-he achieved his intent and completed the task.”

On page 31 it says “The most important criteria for passing a test is that play moves in direction of the success, even if only momentarily.”

We can’t decide how to interperate a success.

Let’s take an example that arose in play.

Two player characters finds out that a temple one of them is responsible for guarding has been pillaged by bandits. They set out to find the bandits. The intent is to find the bandits, the task is to track them trough the forest. The roll is sucessful.

Now, does the characters find the bandits with no additional challenges allowed from the GM? Or may the GM for example put a relationship, one of the bandits, who wants their help between them and the bandits? What if the meeting in the forest was with a large angry bear?

In the first case the intent is achieved, in the second they came closer to their intent. Which is right according to the rules? From the examples in the book, I’d say that the first case is “right” but as said, we have different views on the matter.

They found the bandits. End of story. If they’d failed that tracking roll, they may have run into bears.

If the GM starts diddling around with the intent, they’re not playing fair. It’s a pretty fundamental thing in BW.

Now! If you want a degrees-of-success thing, then you do linked tests. That’s a way to introduce incremental changes to the fiction while pushing the chance at achieving the ultimate intent up/down.

If it is a long journey or something similar then I would say the GM should be making the players roll for more stuff like Orienteering, Survival, Streetwise, Circles and whatnot before they get to make the Tracking roll. As Paul said. Although it wouldn’t have to be a Linked Test.

I mean if they are in the forest the bandits are hiding out in and there isn’t anything between the players and them then sure, just a Tracking roll. But if there is a cliff then they need to climb that first.

Because “I roll to find the bandits” and then “3 months later after tracking them across the kingdom you finally find them” is pretty weird – nothing else happened?

If the roll is successful, the players get their intent, period. If they fail, the GM should complicate the situation. Maybe the bandits spot them first and ambush them, or, like you said above, an NPC shows up at an in opportune time.

Ah, I think I get what might be going on here.

If the GM knows that there are obstacles in between (like bears or cities or cliffs or whatever) then don’t let the players declare a super broad Intent like “find the bandits”. Just say “bad Intent, you can track them to the next obstacle though” or something, but the result of the test is still covered under Let It Ride.

Thor had an example similar to this where the group was tracking a vampire but the tracks led into a city. The Ob went up so they couldn’t track the vampire in the city so they had to use another skill. But LiR would still be in effect and if the vampire left the city they would be able to track it again.

They find the bandits, indeed. Cut straight to it and get to the exciting follow up.

However, to address a little nugget you tossed in there. It would be very fair (and most excellent) for the GM to interrupt and insert the Bandit relationship in there. This has nothing to do with the task, but rather it should be hitting on a Belief. If the NPC is ignored or engaged, afterwards the party still finds the bandits. And the NPC should’ve done nothing to interfere or make the bandits aware.

Ah, I see. I’m assuming the bandits are important. Maybe even skilled. If they are just bandits, yeah, find 'em, move on to “important stuff”. Maybe even “Say Yes” to that if they are that unimportant. Finding a bear in the woods is inconsequential.

I’m talking about scale. The GM shouldn’t let the players just Orienteer their way to Mt. Doom if it is a Big Thing. The GM should’ve said, “no way you can just get there. There is a lot of stuff between you and Mt. Doom guys”.

I’m curious now though. What if I, the GM, know that the bandits are going to move through the Emyn Muil and that Ob is going to skyrocket. The bandits know the secret path through. Is that wrong that the players are now stuck outside the Emyn Muil (just like with the Vampire example)?

EDIT: perhaps I should clarify. I’ve already decided, as the GM, and before the players roll dice that the bandits are going through the Emyn Muil. I probably even say as much, “it’ll be an Ob2 to track them, but once you hit the Emyn Muil it’ll be an Ob4” (I might not tell them the actual name and just say there will be an obstacle in your path that will raise the Ob to 4).

But it is also possible that I just say Ob2 and when they hit the Emyn Muil I say Ob4. If they rolled 4 successes excellent. If they only rolled 2 or 3, too bad. Let it Ride. Again it has to do with scale to me.

EDIT2: another example. The GM knows the bandits have a boat waiting to cross a mighty river. The players made their Track roll successfully, but that in no way means that the characters fly over the river magically because the succeeded. Sure they will find the bandits, but we stop and they deal with the river. Then Let it Ride again takes affect over the river and the tracking is successful.

I guess what I’m seeing is “they succeeded at tracking so they automatically cross any additional obstacles in their path even if it includes magically flying over a huge river or the Emyn Muil”. Meh.

As they say, ‘One does not simply LiR into Mordor’

No, obstacles are there to present challenge. Tracking doesn’t help them swim. It’s all about story. If the challenge is boring, skip it.

Don’t forget as a GM the PC’s have a option to Work Quickly, so a GM might allow them to intercede before the bandits had completed their ferry trip if it suited the story. While it might not get them the opportunity to reclaim the goods immediately, they might get to question someone thy capture before the ferry gets away, a chance for social tests in an otherwise wilderness adventure. Maybe a successful Village circles roll might allow them to know the fisherman who owns the boat, a new lead. Extra successes or a linked test or two might on the tracking might tell them the boots the bandits wore were all from a particular cobbler, a new lead.

Thanks for the responses. I showed this thread to the most vocal opposition in the group. Thanks for clearing things up.

Circles test for Giant Eagles FTW.

(Sorry – had to!)

A few more thoughts:

  • One of the most useful BW GMing skills to develop is a sense of a) where the interesting dramatic tension is and b) which tool to use to get there.

  • In the case of finding the bandits, I think I’d want to decide, as GM, before rolling, whether the tension lies in being able to find the bandits at all, or whether they can be found without incident, or whether there might actually be an as-yet-unrevealed personal connection to the bandits.

  • Clearly stating the consequences for failing a versus test is a BW best practice. It’s good for the GM to help shape up and state what he feels the test is “about,” and it’s good for the players so they know what’s at stake.

  • In the first case, the tracking skill is a good match for the intent “Can I find them at all?” and the consequence “If you fail, you’ve lost track of them and now you’ve spent some weeks in the wild.” In the second case, tracking is also pretty good but with a different consequence: “You’ll find them but you’ll run into trouble en route.” (I feel this is adequate disclosure on the GM’s part.) The third thing means making a Circles test, with the possibility of invoking the Enmity Clause. Circles is special in BW in that it’s one of the few tests where the GM does not need to disclose the consequences – he can hold enmity vs. “nope” close to his chest.

  • Good points above about coaching the players about their options: work quickly, or work patiently/carefully, suggest linked tests that might help, ask about artha spends, remind them about the help rules, and so on.

Awesome points all 'round, Paul. I also have to remind my players of the quickly/patiently/carefully test rules, even after years of play with veteran players. It seems to be one of those easily-missed portions, though people generally tend to associate good margins of success with “success… with panache!”

The basic idea here, really, is that even what seem to be simple tests have to be talked out in terms of scope, not only intent, and that’s a great kind of table chatter for BW. For instance, I had a player spend months (real time) traversing a continent for a year and a bit (game time) because that was the scenario we both decided ought to emerge from one of his Beliefs. It wasn’t just: “Circles test to find a sword master worthy of teaching a Sword G5 character” followed by “Oh! There you go! Success. You found him 900 miles to the east, four nations away, in a remote mountain range. Next test!” We played that shit, and thoroughly, and it was amazing and formative.

Then there are massive (read: significant) tests that move right to the action, because it’s the action you want, not the process or journey to it. Sometimes it’s both, but usually you’ll know if it’s a journey test (as I’ve come to dub it) or a destination test.

Sorry, I’m rambling. Paul has stated things better, as have others.

I guess this is where it makes sense to get a little more idea of their intent and the way in which they’re doing this:

“Do you want to get to them ASAP and are willing to run push yourselves as hard as possible? Linked test Forte then Tracking, and the Ob will be high. If you’re willing to pace yourself, it’ll be a Linked Tracking test then whatever test makes sense when you get to the next major stopping point, but with a lower Ob.”

It’s pretty clear that the players’ goal is to catch up, so then the question is “Could they possibly get there in time and how much will it hurt/cost them to do so?”

In general, when a player’s Intent is too broad in scope, let them know how much they CAN accomplish. It’s really important to communicate this, so the players don’t feel cheated (“But I thought this one roll would do it”) and also to set reasonable limits on what can be accomplished (“I want to rule a kingdom, I’m going to make a Persuade roll.” “No.”).


I love that you guys have this question COVERED from like every angle. You’re the best forumites a busy designer could ask for.