A wise is an area of knowledge a character draws upon—often to correct a failure or point out something missed. Wises must have a narrow focus, but they represent a wealth of expertise.

Wises are great roleplaying tools, mechanically interesting, and useful for generating banter at the table. However, wises can also be misunderstood or misused, so let's delve into the depths.

Choosing a Wise

Non-humans choose one wise from a list and then a second wise of one's choosing. Humans start with one wise.

If you are a new player looking for some suggestions, stick with one of these tried-and-true wises:

  • Trap-wise: aids with Scout, Dungeoneer, or Sapper tests when searching for, disarming or setting a trap
  • Skirmish-wise: aids Fighter tests in small engagements or supplements if you don't have the Fighter skill
  • Map-wise: aids Cartographer tests when making maps
  • Field Dressing-wise: aids Healer tests for treatment or Alchemist test to make poultices
  • Needs a Little Salt-wise: aids with Cook tests

Some other good ones:

  • Rope-wise. You certainly will use a lot of rope with Dungeoneer, Hunter, and Survivalist.
  • Burdens-wise. There's a lot to carry, and Laborer gets it done.
  • Lock-wise. You're almost guaranteed to see one of these in an adventure.

If you are concerned about team cohesion, there are two main strategies when choosing a wise during character generation.

Select a wise that either:

  1. Assists others when you don't have the skill (e.g., a mage without Fighter that takes Skirmish-wise)
  2. Reinforces vital tests by rerolling scoundrels when the wise applies (e.g., a Dwarf with Sapper reinforced with a trap-wise)

Otherwise, choose wises that fit your character concept and are fun for you to play.

Creating a Wise from Scratch

Wises are a great way to build character, but new players often struggle to come up with them from scratch. A good place to start with selecting a wise is to ask yourself, "what does my character know?" Then, ask, "What from all of that would help the character survive in the dungeon?"

Humans start the game between the ages of 14-21 winters and may have experience working the fields, sailing, or apprenticed to some tradesperson. So, they could know all sorts of things, and you can work that into your character's background. If you selected armorer-wise, maybe you were apprenticed to the blacksmith's guild before being cast out from your village to become a vagrant.

Not Allowed Wises

Some wises are not allowed. Wises that are too general or that apply to a general category cannot be taken.

Example wises that are not allowed:
  • Forest-wise. A wise can't apply to all forests, but it could be a specific forest like Robin Hood would have Sherwood Forest-wise.
  • Angry-wise. You can't take wises that apply to conditions. Consider taking Ugly-truth-wise instead if you can "handle the truth."
  • Fighting-wise. Choose something more specific like war-wise for battles and skirmish-wise for smaller engagements.
  • Camp-wise. There's too much that goes on in a camp, and catch-all-wises for a phase are not allowed. Instead, choose Herb-wise, Baking-wise, or some specific facet of camping that you want to focus on.

Types of Wises

Town Wises

If your campaign is located near a prominent town, it could be useful to select a city wise. Usually, town wises make for great supplemental third or fourth slot wises. However, if you are starting off near a town, it could provide a much-needed boost when you need assistance in town the most. If you have an experienced group, town wises can be very strategic to have someone in the party that has the pulse of the town.

Location Wises

If the party interacts with a certain location frequently, location wises can take your gameplay to the next level. This type of wise allows your character to say, "I know this place like the back of my hand." If you are an authority on the Ironwold, that could apply to a number of situations (hunting for food, finding water, locating an alagablettur, or in a Trick, Convince, or Banish conflict with a Sakki witch) where your expertise means the difference between a team party kill and survival.

Monster Wises

Elven or dwarven weapons will often have a monster wise, like a goblin-wise dagger. For more on that, read the BWHQ blog post Of Dwarven Swords & Elven Mail.

Monster wises depend upon the campaign setting, and it is fair to have a brief conversation with the GM for some guidance. If your character was from Sunnas, you would know there's a lot of goblins around there, or if they are from Rimholm, there's a few trolls in the mountains. Understanding the fiction and the setting is reasonable, but don't abuse this trust and go fishing for hints to give you some opportunistic advantage.

For higher-level parties, monster wises, like Dragon-wise or Demon-wise, are almost required to deal with some archnemesis successfully.

Group Wises

If your campaign is beginning around a region or town like Rimholm, it might make sense to have Bjorning-wise. If you start all the way south by Stortmarke, you might be better suited to take Græling-wise.

Thing Wises

The most common wises are usually things. Maps and traps are things, and those things come up a lot in the dungeon. Often a player has a little bit more control over whether that thing is in play, and that means these wises see more play.

Invoking a Wise

To use a wise, add it to your character's narration.

"I'm Gott-wise, so I'll chat with the guard speaking Skapr."

"I know a thing or two about traps, so I'll aid disarming the trap by pointing out how the mechanism under the floor plate works."

Knowing Things

A GM may provide additional information about a subject if someone narrates an action with an appropriate wise, and it is "not a test." For example, a dwarf with Dwarven Chronicles-wise might not have to test Lore Master for some basic information about King Throin. Because the character is wise in such things, the character knows these essential facts even though the player might not.


I Am Wise: +1D to any test related to your wise that is made by your friend, ally or creature. You can grant this aid in place of help (and thus insulate yourself from conditions, but not twists).

Deeper Understanding: Spend a fate point and reroll any single failed die on a test related to your wise. Remember, you can only use one Wise effect for one test and cannot reroll a die that has already been rerolled. So you cannot use Deeper Understanding after using Of Course! because all the scoundrels have been rerolled. But, you can use Deeper Understanding with Wise #1 before using Wise #2 Of Course! because you are using different wises for different effects.

Of Course!: Spend a persona point and reroll all failed dice on a test related to your wise.

I am Wise is Not Help

You use I am Wise instead of help to grant +1D, but it is not technically "help." Often there is some confusion in situations where you cannot "help," but you can still apply I am Wise to provide +1D. Usually, we distinguish a wise from help by using the words "aiding" or "assisting" to clarify.

Conflict Disposition

Another important note is that wises cannot be used for the I am Wise effect to aid or pass dice to the conflict captain when generating disposition in a conflict. Disposition has a special rule that requires only the skill or ability for a disposition test. So that skirmish-wise mage that lacks the Fighter skill cannot aid in the disposition with the warrior and the dwarf who naturally have the Fighter skill. Note: the skirmish-wise mage will still be able to provide aid to fighter tests and actions during the conflict.

Additionally, it is worth mentioning that the conflict captain can spend rewards to activate a wise to reroll dice using Of Course (Persona) and Deeper Understanding (Fate).

Subject of the Wise

From the rulebook:

Wises may be invoked only when their subject is in play. They may not be used to invent information or bullshit the GM. They don't apply to every session, but when they do make sense, they are very useful.

That paragraph says it all, but there's a lot to unpack in it.

Before invoking a wise, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Is the thing/monster/group/town/location already in the test?
  2. Would the character's expertise apply to the situation?

The primary requirement for using a wise is that the object, thing, group, etc must exist in the situation before mustering dice for a test. A player cannot *introduce* that thing through narration, but they can incorporate it into a narration if the GM mentioned it previously.

Bullshitting the GM

That paragraph about wises also sets a precedent for gameplay. GMs will often have to deal with players desperately grasping at straws trying to shoehorn a wise into the situation. This is not allowed.

However, in rare situations, a wise might apply figuratively to a specific situation.

A player could not use "trap-wise" in a manipulator test to trick a dwarf by saying, "I'll deceive the dwarf as if I were setting a mental trap." There are no traps in play, and the player cannot add this to the situation. However, if the conversation is about a trap or the GM had previously described the situation like the metaphorical workings of a trap, then trap-wise could apply.

As another example, Needs a Little Salt-wise is usually used to adjust a Cook test. "Oh! Of course, this soup just needs a little more salt!" And now, you can spend a persona to reroll that failed test to make a meal out of preserved rations. But, that same wise might also apply if the GM establishes a conversion as "salty," and the player relates that expertise in a way that fits the fiction.

It is a fine line, and the GM is the final arbiter.

Can I Use?

Asking a GM, "can I use this wise?" is another phenomenon in those moments of desperation when a player fails a critical test and cannot accept the failure. The player asks if each wise can apply. The player goes through a litany of justifications for each wise trying to see if any will hit. This is also not allowed.

A GM should remind the player to "describe to live" and to narrate the action. If a player launches into an elaborate description full of mental gymnastics, simply say, "OK, you do that, but your wise doesn't provide any assistance because that thing is not in play."


Wises also determine what additional languages the character speaks. There's no "languages" section on the character sheet, but what happens when you remove goblin-wise or Græling-wise after a winter phase respite? Do you lose the language? Well, it depends.

By the letter of the law, that language fades from memory, and the character will no longer be able to speak it. You picked up the goblin tongue along the way, but you have fallen out of practice and lost the ability to speak it meaningfully. You can no longer speak goblin because it was never that important, or it just slipped away. Remember, when you switch a wise, you're saying that expertise is not as important anymore.

However, some GMs will allow a character to keep the language if it would not make sense to lose the language. For example, if you were a Bjorning raised in the south and started the game with Græling-wise, the GM may allow some crude communication because the language and culture is so ingrained. You were raised bilingual and embrace a clan from another tribe. If that's the case, then write the language in your level benefit section or in the margins somewhere on your sheet. The GM may impose an evil GM factor on relevant tests because you are not as fluent as before.

Switching a Wise

Finally, when you use your wise in all four different ways, you get the perks of:

  • Changing your wise to something else if you wish
  • Mark a Beginner's Luck or skill advancement test related to the wise

A lot of players forget to mark wises, so help each other out. For some reason, the I Am Wise for a failed test checkbox seems to get forgotten the most because it comes up the least. To help new players, I will mark wise usage in the Roll20 text chat or in the notes column of my GM sheet or notebook as reminders.

Thoughts on Wises?

What wises do you use for various character stages?

Let us know in the comments.

Grind on,


Further Reading


Topics: Mordite Mondays, Torchbearer, TB Insights