In Burning Wheel (both Gold and Revised; these rules are nearly identical), the Circles attribute represents people you might already know, or at least have some connection with through mutual contacts. You can make a roll to find someone in your extended social network has something you need, whether that's a set of tools you can borrow to fix your boat or a critical clue that will resolve an entire story arc. It's a pretty awesome ability.

What Circles doesn't let you do is just make people pop up everywhere. Like, if my character has just crossed the ocean to visit a new city, my ability to use Circles will be extremely limited.

However, let's say that, in that situation, I still need something that would normally be under the purview of Circles — information, illicit goods, a friendly-ish face I could persuade to take me in for a few days, &c. Normally this is all stuff you'd get with Circles and some extra minor effort, like a social skill test. When Circles isn't appropriate, what should I be doing, narratively and mechanically, to achieve similar results?


There's roughly three scopes on circles:

  1. Target is in circles/lifepaths and you are in familiar territory

  2. Target is in circles/lifepaths and you are outside of familiar territory

  3. Target is outside of circles/lifepaths (regardless of proximity)

The first is your "standard" circles case. The second allows for base circles but does not allow for reputations and affiliations. The third requires other means such as circling up someone in-lifepath who can connect you with the person you're trying to find.

If a Born City character is outside of their home element (they are half-way around the world in a different city), Born City still lets them try and circle someone up. What it doesn't let them do is use their affiliation "Agent of the Magistrate" because nobody knows or cares. Narratively you can spin it a couple of ways: they find the only other person from their home town, they spend time to become a regular, basically the things that people do when they are in unfamiliar places in meat-space.

The third is when you need to do other types of legwork. If the above character is trying to circle up a naval Commander who never passed through the City setting, they can't just hang out in officer bars and expect anyone to talk to them, they'll have to find a character that bridges city and navy to give them an in. In that case, fictionally the player should state that they are trying to circle up a former naval Lieutenant ("Bill Shamus from back home retired out here after he left the Navy") to introduce them to the naval Commander that they are trying to reach. This process happens regardless of the proximity to the characters "home base" though the narrative color will probably be somewhat different.

All in all, finding stuff that's within the purview of Circles stays within the purview of Circles, it just takes more work to make the connection.


I know a guy who knows a guy...

When you can't circle up the needed people, you circle up someone who has a relationship or a lifepath that allows them to circle up the kind of person you need.

Or, alternatively, you actually put down the dice, and roleplay your way to finding the kind of guy you need.

  • \$\begingroup\$ (Clarifying my old comment) I thought the whole "I know a guy who knows a guy who..." chain was already covered by Circles, since they represent your social circles and not just your direct relationships. So when the book says your lifepath settings limit your Circles, isn't it really saying that, no, you don't have some "guy who knows a guy" that can connect you to your goal... Right? \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Jun 25 '13 at 14:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AlexP You need more than Circles, yes, but you start with Circles. First you Circle up the guy who knows a guy, then you deal with whatever (non-Circles) tests that guy causes as they lead you (or not) to the guy they know. Adventure! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 25 '13 at 15:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ You're testing your circles for a guy with specific career paths, at least one of which intersects with yours, but not all. It's +2 Ob IIRC (book is at home, I am not). THen you have to convince him to help you (or take the +3 Ob to Circles for specific disposition, namely, to lead you to the guy). If you can make it at +5 Ob, more power to you, you know the guy who knows the kind of guy you are looking for. \$\endgroup\$ – aramis Jun 25 '13 at 22:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think I'm getting it. Could you bring it back to the example of "you're in a new city half a world away from your home"? (Or something similar from actual play?) I'm looking some for pointers on how you create the "chain" and what kinds of tests you intersperse to connect up the "links," so to speak. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Jun 26 '13 at 16:08

If you don't share a lifepath or a setting with the desired NPC, you can't test Circles. You can either Circles up someone who might know them, convince an existing NPC to find them for you, or have another player Circles them.

Longer term, you could conceivably earn a die trait during play to reflect a new setting and expand the scope of your Circles


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