Never Split the Party – Worst Duel of Wits Compromise Ever

Continuing the session #4 recap of the Butcher, the Baker, and the Candlestick Maker.

Stranger in a Strange Land

The characters made it to the village outside the monastery, and attempted to circle up someone who would know anything about the monastery.  We failed, and didn’t circle anyone up.  We did, however, find out that an uproariously drunk dwarf had ransacked the inn.  We then went on toward the monastery without any additional information.

As we drew closer to the monastery, it became clear that it was under attack.  Margaret quickly consulted the stars and divined that her sister was alive, but no longer at the monastery.  Throwing caution to the wind, we quickly ventured into the monastery and determined that a rather nasty battle had occurred and there were many unwanted summonings.

We made a hasty retreat, and followed the dwarf’s trail.  Eventually Margaret again consulted the stars and found that the dwarf was taking their sister back to her home — the place from which we all departed from in session #2.


If I were at the helm, and my PCs had snuck into a foreign land and failed a circles test, I clearly would’ve invoked the Enmity clause.  The opportunity is simply too good to pass up.

I was disappointed about Margaret’s Astrology test before the characters went into the monastery.  Margaret’s question was “Is Julia alive and in the monastery?”  The response Margaret got was she’s alive but not in the monastery.  Margaret rocked the test with 6 successes, 2 successes over the obstacle, and felt Margaret should’ve gotten more information.

My disappointment ties into the idea that the odds of unconditional success are small compared to the likelihood of failure (i.e. B5 vs. Ob 4).  So in the case of “critical success”, I feel that the response should be above and beyond the stated intent.

It also feels as though the past two sessions and the reason for our character’s trip to the monastery has been narratively invalidated.  The characters don’t have enough leads concerning the dwarf nor why he would be returning Julie to her home.  So instead they will trust in the divinations and go after their missing brother.

On the Road Again – Duel of Wits

Towards the end of the session, the characters began arguing about where to go next.  Chase and Walt felt that they needed to report to their superiors.  Margaret and Peter wanted to push on and rescue Ryan.  They were all at an impasse.  So we quickly called on a Duel of Wits.

Chase: All of us need to go to the neighboring village’s military station so Walt and Chase can report. It will only take 2 days.

Margaret and Peter: Ryan can’t wait!  We need to head out immediately.  Walt and Chase can send a letter or something.

Duel of Wits: Chase and Walt vs. Margaret and Peter
Chase (All exchanges) Margaret (Odd) and Peter (Even)
Volley Action Disposition Action Disposition
1 Obfuscate (failure) 6 Avoid (success) 7
2 Point 6 5 Point 7
3 Point 5 4 Point 7 6
4 Obfuscate (success) 4 Incite (failure) 6
5 Point 4 Avoid 6 4
6 Point 4 Point 4 3
7 Obfuscate (failure) 4 3 Point (success) 3
8 Point 3 1 Dismiss 3 1
9 Point 1 Incite Hesitate 1 0


Here we have a family arguing, falling into their routines.  The argument is kicked-off by both parties circumventing the topic at hand.

There is the wonderful moment when Peter attempts to incite Chase, and Margaret follows up with an avoid.  Margaret has seen Peter attempt to bully Chase before, and knows it just isn’t going to work.

Desired tests dictated most of the Duel of Wits actions for our characters.  As a result of this Duel of Wits, Margaret advanced her Will to B5, Falsehood to B3, and Ugly Truth to B3 (each one needed one test).  She also got another test for opening Persuasion and Rhetoric. And we had a quite hideous compromise.

Compromise for Duel of Wits

Since both sides were arguing for not splitting the party, we decided the best compromise would be “Walt and Chase will report to their military supervisors and Margaret and Peter will take the wagons two days ahead and wait for Walt and Chase.”

Though the argument was among family members and “safe”, the compromise was horrific for all involved.  We were going to split up even though that went against many of our core beliefs of protecting our family.

In Which They Find Their Tub

I had a very engaging second session of the Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Maker session. In the Wedding and a Wyrding session, I was in character and engaged with the system at the character level. In the 3rd session, I was much more Jeremy and a whole lot less Margaret.

Sifting through the Intent

Working with Margaret’s belief – “These magic items will help me find my missing family members, I must learn how to safely use them.” – we engaged the rules looking for someone that would teach Aura Reading to Margaret. There was a bit of table discussion about the scope of the Circle’s test. Should we find someone able and willing to teach us OR simply someone able to teach us.

The above was a classic case of defining intent. Finding someone able and willing was clearly more challenging. So our Circle test was simply “Find us someone who could teach Aura Reading to Margaret.” Once that step was resolved, we’d work at convincing the contact to teach us. In this way, breaking down the intent into discreet steps reduced the obstacle for the Circle test; Which follows the wisdom:

Small successes are easier to achieve in one step than large ones.

To the Circle

Peter successfully circled up someone. The character’s had found an eccentric professor emeritus of the college of magic…and he was a gnome. There was an extra success to the Circle test, and Joe, the GM, gave us the option to find a gnome. Peter’s player, Matt, named the gnome Claudio, so future efforts to circle him up would be easier.

The characters had their potential mentor, but needed to convince him to teach them Aura Reading…and do so on the road. Peter, Chase, and Margaret had decided that pursuing Julia’s captors was more important than waiting the approximate two weeks required for instruction.

As a group, we began to wheedle through the interaction with Claudio. There was role-playing as we started to negotiate the agreement. Margaret and Chase wanted Claudio to come along on the adventure, whereas Claudio wanted money up front, 3 meals a day, and a room in an inn each night. I’m sure we could’ve setup a Haggle test, but as a group we opted to invoke a Duel of Wits

Duel of Wits

Claudio’s statement: “I will come with you, and teach you Aura Reading, but will get a share of any spoils, 20 silver up front (2D resources), a donkey, a cart, 3 paid meals a day, and a room in an inn each night.”

Chase and Margaret’s statement: “Travel with us, and teach Aura Reading to Margaret.”

The initial disposition was Claudio 6 (5 Will + 3D Haggling) and Chase/Margaret 5 (4 Will + 3D Haggling). Each side began scripting. Jaron and I knew our characters would be devastated if they lost without concession; However, we assumed we’d get a minor compromise.

So Jaron and I approached the Duel of Wits strategically. We both wanted some tests for Chase and Margaret’s various skills, namely Haggling, Falsehood and Ugly Truth.

Duel of Wits: Claudio vs. Chase and Margaret
Claudio Chase and Margaret
Volley Action Disposition Action Disposition
1 Obfuscate (failure) 6 Obfuscate (success) 5
2 ? 6 3 Point (success) 5
3 ? 3 Obfuscate (failure) 5
4 Avoid (success) 3 Obfuscate (failure) 5
5 Avoid (success) 3 Point (failure) 5
6 Feint (failure) 3 -1 Point (success) 5

The actions selected by Joe in the Duel of Wits gave form to Claudio’s character. Claudio was a gnome who simply wanted to talk with people, though he didn’t care so much about the subject.

Henry Peter, Chase, and Margaret welcomed Claudio, and informed him that they would be leaving in the morning. Claudio wanted a little more time to get his affairs in order, but capitulated.

The next morning, we stopped by Claudio’s shop and saw his make-shift cart. A hastily repurposed tub.


There was quite a bit more going on than simply finding the professor emeritus tinkering gnome.

  • Chase’s resources were depleted as he found himself unable to pay for an inn. Taxed resources to B0.
  • Margaret divined that Julia was in greater danger than Ryan.
  • Margaret circled up, with enmity, a butcher willing to buy the ceremonial dagger.
  • Margaret and Chase were able to sell the ceremonial dagger for 30 silver (3D resource dice).
  • Henry Peter failed to raise bread and suffered a bit of tax.
  • Henry Peter, with help from both Chase and Margaret, was able to secure traveling gear. Both Chase and Margaret were able to raise their resources to B1.
  • And we found a doddering crazy old man who had fallen out of the sky, who claims to be the characters’ uncle. This particular subplot had best resolve quickly, because as a player I do not want another campaign where we are saddled with a crazy old man.
  • Margaret successfully tested for her first reading of Flame Breath; She would begin practicals in 2 months.
  • I should’ve spent one more Persona point on a Perception test so that Margaret would’ve had the best shot at getting a difficult Perception test.
  • Chase was the workhorse, ensuring that we were able to secure funds.

A Missed Opportunity for Burning Wheel – Duel of Wits

In the latest session of our Bloodstone campaign (yes I know I need to post session reports).  We had a session ending Duel of Wits. The stakes were as follows: Lady Gilliam demanded that the heroes remain in the village of Fendowns for 1 month and provide defenses.  The heroes were asking for 2 weeks provisions, 6 draft horses, and a wagon.

The powerful persuader Remy Leduc, and the other heroes, started with a body of argument of 21, whereas Lady Gilliam, with a little help, had 11.  The duel was quickly over, as Remy with a G7 persuasion, and enough FoRKs for a small dinner party, trounced Lady Gilliam.  The heroes were required to offer a minor concession.  After a bit of back and forth, we settled on the heroes staying in the village of Fendowns for 3 extra days.

Given that Remy has already seduced a “paranoid” woman, with “daddy issues”, after some thinking and discussion with Jaron, what I should have done is have Lady Gilliam insist that any negotiations be done in private.  This would’ve had a two-fold effect: First, it would’ve created a binding contract between one of the characters.  Second, it would’ve created some tension between Remy’s woman and Lady Gilliam.

Imagine Remy agreeing to the whole party staying for 3 days and then having to convince the party that they’d need to stay for 3 days.  That is some excellent tension.  Now imagine negotiations behind closed doors when there is a paranoid lover kept out.  Again, excellent tension.

Alas, those ideas were after the gaming session.  None the less, the characters are now going to be stuck in the Fendowns for 3 days, while the village of Bloodstone draws closer to the day in which it must pay tribute.  I’m really looking forward to the next session.