I have recently started playing Burning Wheel and I decided to go in a new direction (mainly because I couldn't make a druid) and made a charlatan with some bard sprinkled in. A noble woman in her early twenties that were to receive formal education at a religious institute but bailed out after learning superficial knowledge about pretty much everything. She has been using those skills to be a jack of all trades that seems like she knows a lot but only has enough to fake it.

With that I thought I would play her as someone that will try to help with everything. Someone wounded? I'll help. Need to interpret stars? I'll help and so on. My problem is that with such a diverse skillset in the first session I ended up asking to roll for things far more than other players, coming up with a bunch of stuff I wanted to try.

My problem is that I fear that I may advance quicker than others and end up being a munchkin or something similar. So what I wanted to ask was that how can I play my character as someone who tries everything without turning her into a munchkin that can do everything better than everyone else?


1 Answer 1


I think you’ve internalised the idea that test mongering is bad, but I think reviewing the details of what that means, and why it’s bad for the game, would be useful to you.

(In short, your worry is commendable, but it’s premature. You’re nowhere near test mongering, based on the content of your question.)

The whole of the advice is two paragraphs on page 44 of BWG(R).

It has two “don’ts”:

  1. First, it says not to badger the GM to let you make a test.

    Don’t make a habit of asking whether you can make a test, or whether you can roll a particular skill/attribute. The players do have a role in discussing what’s the right thing to roll for a given test (to safeguard against simple GM error), but in the normal course of the game the GM is the arbiter of when to make a test at all, and what to test. The call is the GM’s to make, according to the appearance of challenges that arise organically as characters act on each other and the environment.

    You don’t currently have to worry about this one, I think. You’re not calling for tests, you’re just saying what your character does. If you’re not saying “I help the old lady across the street, can I test Roads-wise?”, you’re fine. Just say you’re helping the old lady across the street and let the GM do her job of calling for a test or not.

  2. Secondly, it says to not request tests of a certain difficulty.

    Obstacles are based on the situation and are entirely the GM’s decision. In other words, if you want a particular test difficulty, go find it within the world and system instead of trying to social-engineer the GM into just handing it to you. The GM sets the Obstacle number based on the situation—she’s not supposed considering whether that Ob works out to be Routine, Difficult, or Challenging for your character, so don’t ask her to.

    It doesn’t sound like you’re doing this either. As long as you’re not doing things and then trying to persuade the GM what test difficulty it is, you’re fine.

What it does sound like you’re doing is saying what your character does, knowing that it will result in tests. This is correct play! This is how you game the system instead of gaming the GM, and gaming the system during play is exactly what it’s designed to encourage. If you always help, you’ll get tests and maybe the right mix of difficulties to advance some things, but you’ll also be engaged with in-game events.

The main reason that the game wants you to avoid test mongering is because it is a shortcut that damages play. It interrupts play to mess with the GM, instead of engaging with the game. It distracts from putting your character into situations to naturally earn those tests, which is what the game is mainly designed to get players to do. It distracts from the levers the game already provides to players to influence difficulty: There are methods the game provides that players can use to find the tests they want and to adjust the Ob so it becomes the difficulty needed. If the tests you want are just given to you, you won’t learn to use these tools.

The game wants you to learn that although the sensible thing to do is FoRK everything you can and have all your friends help you, it can be worse for advancement to always do that. There is a natural tension between success and advancement, and optimizing only for success now isn’t always optimal overall.

Right now you’re doing what the game wants you to do: getting your character’s hands dirty with fistfuls of the world. You’re supposed to want tests, and pursue them exactly the way you are: in play. Keep doing that, and keep avoiding asking for tests to be fudged for your convenience, and you’ll be fine on this point.

P.S. Remember too that the rule for helping is that it must be accepted by the other player (because it’s not actually optimal to always get help). If your fellow players are always accepting help, that’s fine—soon they will notice that they are getting too many Routine tests and not advancing, which is what the game wants them to learn. Your character always helping now will help the players notice and learn that! That’s good. Just respect when they start turning down your help sometimes, because they want to make a test harder than it has to be, so they can earn those Difficult and Challenging tests they need for advancement.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think your first bullet-point is the big thing here: Don't ask to roll things, ask to do things, and let the GM decide if it requires a roll, or just can't fail (or, alternatively, can't succeed!) (The other, of course, is "Jack of All Trades, Master of None - but better that, than Master of One": a good GM will ensure that there are sufficient opportunities for the Players who have decided to specialise to advance where OP doesn't have quite enough stats to make a difference...) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 23, 2019 at 8:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for being an interesting and informative explanation of the idea behind that chunk of game system in general \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Sep 23, 2019 at 21:00

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