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An interesting detail of Burning Wheel (Gold Revised) tests is that (unlike some other TTRPG systems) the exponent and the obstacle number are not "symmetric", in the sense that (say) a B4 ability vs Ob 4 test is not the same difficulty as a B2 vs Ob 2 test. (In the extreme case, compare the 1:2 odds of a B1 vs Ob 1 test to the 1:1024 odds of a B10 vs Ob 10 test). As a result, gaining +1D advantage does not make up for a +1 Ob disadvantage.

But reading "Anatomy of an Injury", I see that a Superficial wound gives +1 Ob, whereas a notionally more severe Light wound gives −1D. This seems strange, since regardless of exponent and obstacle, a −1D modifier is never more severe than a +1 Ob modifier.

B Ob 1 Ob 2 Ob 3 Ob 4 Ob 5 Ob 6 Ob 7 Ob 8 Ob 9 Ob 10
B1 50.0%
B2 75.0% 25.0%
B3 87.5% 50.0% 12.5%
B4 93.8% 68.8% 31.2% 6.2%
B5 96.9% 81.2% 50.0% 18.8% 3.1%
B6 98.4% 89.1% 65.6% 34.4% 10.9% 1.6%
B7 99.2% 93.8% 77.3% 50.0% 22.7% 6.2% 0.8%
B8 99.6% 96.5% 85.5% 63.7% 36.3% 14.5% 3.5% 0.4%
B9 99.8% 98.0% 91.0% 74.6% 50.0% 25.4% 9.0% 2.0% 0.2%
B10 99.9% 98.9% 94.5% 82.8% 62.3% 37.7% 17.2% 5.5% 1.1% 0.1%

Obviously, there are other differences between Superficial and Light wounds, though they don't quite seem to make up for this:

  • A Light wound immediately triggers a Steel test (at -1D due to the wound).
  • The second Superficial wound received inflicts no additional penalty. Having 2 Li wounds is thus more severe than having 2 Su wounds (but 1 Li and 1 Su is even worse).
  • Shrugging off a Light wound takes longer and is more difficult.
  • Shrugging off a Light wound using Artha requires a Persona point, whereas a Superficial wound requires a Fate point.
  • Recovery from Light wounds takes longer.
  • In the case of open-ended rolls, +1 Ob can be less severe than −1D (in the extreme case, if the exponent is 1, −1D always renders success impossible, whereas an open-ended roll can theoretically overcome any obstacle number). Though wound penalties don't apply to common open-ended rolls like Faith or Hatred anyway.

Am I missing something? Is my math wrong? Or am I just overthinking this?

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2 Answers 2

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I think you are correct about the math, and the rules.

Add one more rule to the list, however:

  • You can't roll a skill (or use it for help/forks) if it's reduced to 0D by penalties. If a stat is reduced to 0D, your character is considered fully incapacitated.

But, nevertheless, as you've calculated, +1Ob is more impactful mathematically than -1D. Why is that?

Superficial wounds are small injuries that cause sudden, sharp and eye-watering amounts of pain. However, the shock from these wounds quickly fades. (BW Gold, pg. 486)

Light wounds are minor injuries that cause pain and debilitation. (ibid.)

Essentially, superficial wounds really are intended to be pretty bad in the moment. They're not trivial injuries you shrug off, they're painful and distracting. The kind of thing where you're bleeding all over your face or "got the wind knocked out of you." A light wound is worse for you past that one scene, but you might not notice it as much right away. (Anything greater than a light wound is mathematically more impactful than +1 Ob.)

To keep Superficial wounds from being strictly better in the moment, though, you get the stacking rule. So inflicting one Superficial wound may well help you win a fight, but past that you're accomplishing very little.

I recall the creators of the game explaining the rules this way in the past, but this was many years ago so I can't find a reliable link now.

(n.b. It is possible, situationally, to "downgrade" the wound you inflict, by spending some successes to "move" the blow. So if you really really really want to put a Superficial wound on an opponent instead of a Light one — perhaps your reasoning is that you just want to maximize the penalties they get now, and hope your next hit is stronger as a result — I think the game does sorta support that.)

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You're underestimating what a bad prospect a Steel test usually is.

When you test Steel, you're rolling the attribute to overcome your Hesitation (10 - Will). Even when you've got both of those attributes up to an extremely respectable 6, you're still about twice as likely to fail as to make it.

In a Bloody Versus test, which is what your GM should usually be using when it's not a big climactic fight, failing a Steel test means you give up and retreat. In an actual scripted fight, leftover Hesitation will knock out your followup actions 1-for-1, leaving you largely defenseless for as long as it lasts.

So, taking a superficial wound does usually give you worse dice odds on the followup than a light wound, but it's only really worse in a scenario where:

  • you have an important followup test to make
  • AND it doesn't matter how long you hestitate before doing it
  • BUT you haven't got the chance to get treated or even pass an Ob 1* Health test to recover from a superficial wound before doing it.

*Yes, Ob 1. Wound penalties don't apply to Health.

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