In Burning Wheel (both Gold and Revised), players can (and are strongly encouraged to) start with a close connection to one or more NPCs, in the form of the relationship mechanic.

Now, it's pretty clear from the text relationship NPCs are meant to be easily accessible:

During play, [relationships] are used by the players and GM to get into and out of trouble, provide detail and depth to the background, and create conflicts...

Meeting and consulting with a relationship character doesn't require a test. By spending resource points on establishing relationships with these characters, it is assumed that all the details of contact and communication are worked out ahead of time. So long as it is reasonable feasible in the game context, a player can have his character visit his relationship contacts freely and often.

But this is all about not having to make tests (in the style of Circles) to go to seek your relationship characters. What about the opposite way? Do players have the ability to have their relationship characters come to them?

Here are hypothetical examples where the distinction in the question actually makes a difference:

My character falls in battle. Can I use my relationship to narrate that my lover comes to scoop me up from among the dead and dying?

My character's in jail and not going anywhere. I look at my character sheet and notice my nasty uncle (minor hateful family) hasn't shown up for a few session. My character would never reach out to that jerk for anything; also he doesn't really have the means to, right now. But I as a player think it would be great fun to bring him in. Can I introduce my uncle into the storyline, come to buy me out of jail (and straight into indentured servitude, working for that conniving toad! oh no!)?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not a rules cite, but I believe you just have to incant these magic words: "GM, please bring this relationship in now." \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 25 '13 at 6:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ It just occurred to me: perhaps my examples are just describing invoking the (optional) Persona complication rule, and the fact that the new outcome is flavored via relationships isn't really a big deal? \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Jun 26 '13 at 3:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Exactly. I never played Burning Wheel, but in all the Pathfinder sessions I played I would just make the GM aware of my character's significant relationships (friends, family, etc.) and he would incorporate them in surprising ways that make it more fun for me as a player since I don't expect them. \$\endgroup\$ – called2voyage Jun 26 '13 at 12:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ The magic words in Burning Wheel are "I have a belief about this!" \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Jun 26 '13 at 22:57

No, relationships don't automatically come to you. For example, you could conceivably have a relationship with the monarch; you're probably going to them!

The point of relationships is to add characters to the game that are important to your character. They become part of the game, and they should come up during play—it's not merely that they exist. Mechanically, it means you don't need to test Circles to find them and they should generally be available for your character to interact with. A relationship could be temporarily unavailable, for example, if we've established in the fiction that they're out of town this week, out fighting a battle, etc.

There are a couple different ways you can get a character (not necessarily one of your relationships) to come to you.

  1. Ask, convince, or cajole them beforehand. Create a reasonable circumstance for them to show up. Make them promise to, say, find you in the battlefield after the fighting is over (and to bring a surgeon with them).

  2. Use Circles. This isn't for relationships. You can even make them show up in the middle of a battlefield, but this greatly increases the obstacle: "Right here and now in the middle of trouble, +3 Ob."

  3. Write a belief. If you write a belief, you are inviting the GM to introduce conflict over that belief. I can't stay here in jail. I will convince my uncle to bail me out without becoming an indentured servant. Note that beliefs are a player prerogative, not necessarily what your character would want. If you hate your uncle, the last thing you'd want is for him to show up at your jail cell dangling the bribe that could get you out—but as a player, this sounds great! Beliefs don't have to be about relationships; they could easily be about people you haven't met, which invites the GM to create them for the purpose of testing that belief.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If you're unwillingly in jail, then having a belief about how you're getting out seems useful. Then again, you're inviting the GM to make getting out difficult, as they're supposed to provide conflict for your beliefs. Which is more important to you, interacting with your uncle or getting out of jail? Do you mind getting only Fate if you try but remain in jail? \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Jun 26 '13 at 14:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ What do you want to happen, why do you care, how will you accomplish it? Answer that and put it in a belief. It's good to have one or two actionable short-term beliefs (Persona!) and a medium- or long-term belief (Fate!). Beliefs are a player statement, not a character statement. If you have a relationship with your uncle, he should be generally available unless in the fiction of the game he's off visiting the king this week or is otherwise occupied. The point of having a relationship is that they'll be part of the game, not just that they exist. \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Jun 26 '13 at 16:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! That cleared up a lot. I tried to roll your last comment (as I understood it, at least) into the main answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Jun 26 '13 at 19:19

By the book

You always are able to make contact with relationships - presuming you go to them, and it's not "Right Now". In other words, it reduces the first couple chunks of the Circles Ob tables (BWG 380-381) to Ob 0...

But that doesn't give the player narrative control over the relationship character. (BWG 377.) Neither does Circling.

The player never gets to narrate what the NPC does when circled.

A relationship can always be contacted "soon" - tho not always here and now, unlike a circled up NPC.

Note that even if you circle someone to rescue you, how they do so is up to the GM, not you as the player. The best you get is from the circles Ob table - Right here/right now, plus specific disposition (to rescue you) is +6 Ob (BWG 380-381.)

So, yes, they theoretically have the ability to get a relationship to come to them, but not "right here, right now, disposed to rescue me"... +6 ob is generally a polite way of saying "You are going to fail"...

That said, a relationship character who might have been disposed to follow and be ready to rescue very well could be present.

House Rule

As a GM, I would allow a circles roll to "have a friend in the area," but that's actually beyond the scope presented in the rules - I treat relationship characters as Ob 1 + Time/place modifier, +1 if a specific disposition or specific equipment is needed.


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