Torchbearer Actual Play

Hey all,

I decided to start a thread of Torchbearer actual play notes, so that I can maintain more brevity in my ‘what did you play this week?’ notes. Also, I’ve been splitting my time between here and G+, so I’m looking to clear a little corner for myself here before the community there shuts down.

I’ll update this around every week, and if anyone else is looking playing Torchbearer; I’d encourage you to add write ups of your own.


  • This week, I wrapped up a playtest of a swords and planets hack. There was a neat mechanic where what downtime actions you could choose was dependent on what you achieved on your last delve. Getting back to raw Torchbearer next week (playing on Monday and GMing on Friday) and looking forward to it.
  • Monday Night One-Shot with the Mordite Press crew. Played a second level Dwarven Adventurer in a four-room delve. The GM pulled in some elements of Jared Sorensen's Frozen Fiends and it they added to a great atmosphere of oppressive, arcane cold.

    We had a neat moment where player strategy and character beliefs were at odds. Killing the frost trolls would fulfill beliefs for 3/4 of the party, but avoiding the fight was the smarter play. We ended up letting our least-bloodthirsty party member try to sneak by, but built up a trap that we could spring if they caught us. It was satisfying not only to have a plan, but to have a contingency that would matter if the plan fell through.
  • A question, how much time is it taking to play a 4 room delve? It's happening when I GM that even small dungeons require 2 or sometimes even 3 sessions.
  • A question, how much time is it taking to play a 4 room delve? It's happening when I GM that even small dungeons require 2 or sometimes even 3 sessions.
    One to three sessions; usually two. Last week’s delve was a one shot, and it was written to be a one shot. There were two monster threats in the whole thing and we only wound up in conflict with one of them. I’d say conflicts are the biggest factor in how long a dungeon will take you. We almost never clear two conflicts in a night.

    If you’re playing a dungeon written for another system and there are conflict-level challenges in every room, then you might need a session per room (or a group that really works to avoid direct engagement with threats).

    All that said, I’ve found most pacing issues I’ve hit with Torchbearer are more about the expectations of players than the size of the dungeons. I think of it as a real slow-burn game. If players are measuring their progress by their ability to hit the next big conflict and new locale, the mechanics can seem to get between them and the content they want. But there is a lot of great character development in the quiet moments of preparation and recovery.

    If the game is slowing down more than you’d like, I’d say pare down the opposition in those dungeons to the bare essentials. If it feels like you’re going slowly, but your players don’t mind, I’d say you’re in a good spot.
  • @Khimus another thing to note is that players have a good deal of control over pacing. If they want to clear every room and be meticulous (and spend a lot of time getting more light sources and rations) then they might stay in a dungeon for a long time. Often enough, my crew will leave as soon as they get a decent haul of loot or accomplish a character goal.
  • edited October 2018
    This week was a big one. I wrote an adventure that I’m hoping to polish up for public release and I’m running 3 separate playtest groups to test it out.

    The adventure is about five ‘rooms’ big, set in a cave network under a caldera at the icy northern edges of the world. There is some inspiration from arctic and deep sea ecosystems that I think help it feel unique yet coherent. And the Torchbearer rules really shine when environment is as much of a factor in survival as the monsters.

    The first playtest group at bat was all Torchbearer veterans, and one of their number quickly became infected with a contagion. Their in-character banter as they attempted to treat the character was a highlight for me. Their run might end up taking three sessions, as they were bringing in existing characters and needed to hit town before they ventured on. I expect other groups will clear through everything in two.

    The second group is a mix of brand new and somewhat experienced players. They actually got a lot farther, largely because I started them right at shore o the dungeon's island. Also because they avoided conflict with the first big threat they ran into and then made a map that would let them circumvent it until something changes.

    The biggest innovations I'm trying out in this adventure are a timer and a non-corporeal threat. By timer, I mean the dungeon is fundamentally unstable. Every time the party camps, the underground gets a little more untenable (according to a hidden tracker) until it eventually becomes deadly to remain inside. I'm interested to see how this plays out, hopefully putting some urgency into a game where caution is often the best practice. The non-corporeal threat can be engaged in convince, riddle, or trick conflicts, but not a fight. It's also not necessary that the party defeat it at all. I'm curious to see if this prompts the kind of non-linear problem solving I hope it might.

    I've got another rounds of playtests this week; looking forward to getting a group all the way through so we can debrief.

  • I'd say they don't mind. What's happening is that we've done a big dungeon, a small one and a small outdoors adventure (+2 city sessions) and it's already time for winter session (10-11 sessions), but I guess it's a game where the narrative advances at a slower pace.
    Looking forward to your actual plays!
  • Session two of an ongoing playtest this week. I am testing the same adventure with two groups simultaneously and the results have been fascinating. The groups have taken near opposite approaches so far. One group tried to fight a nest of giant bristle worms, and succeeded but committed much of their resources to it. The other just slipped by them. One group rescued a villager they found underground and confirmed he wasn't contaminated by the sentient bacteria colony dwelling in the caverns below. The other group assumed the worst and killed him, then fled the scene.

    One question that come up in both groups is when to keep the obstacles encountered in the dungeon concrete (Ob. 4 dungeoneer every time the group climbs the chasm into the dungeon and Ob. 5 every time they climb up) or to elide some of these details in the name of dramatic pacing. There is a side that argues that repeating a similar test with similar stakes (even only when the party chooses to retreat to camp) slows the game without adding new drama. The other side (where I think I land for now) is that the dungeoneer test raises the dramatic stakes of everything that happens underground, and gives the environment a sense of weight. The party knows they might get into real trouble underground and they're not be guaranteed a safe retreat back to camp; there is a tough climb between them and any safe (naturally lit) environment. When obstacles feel more static, and less dependant on the GM's sense of pacing, I also think it allows the players to make more informed plans. Not "will he call for a test at this cliff" but "well none of us are great dungeoneers, so we need to think of another approach here".

    All in all, great session. I had a player die from an out-of-conflict twist for the first time. Our Roden was injured the whole session and loathe to suck it up (reduce a skill to lose the injured condition). He failed a scout roll and was captured by a panicked villager trapped under ground (and possessed by a bacterial entity called the Bloom). The roden chose to drive an arrow into the villagers eye to break free, failed the fighter test, and was killed in a panic. The villager wasn't necessarily an enemy, but the situation snowballed and the consequences made sense. The player seemed satisfied with how it played out, which is a priority/ anxiety for me with character death. He'll have another character ready for next session.
  • Nice writeup — thanks!
  • I appreciate your write up. Especially about the death part. I hear you about how jarring or weird it can be to be like, yeah I'm dead. That's fair. Glad they were good with it.

    Do you think your qualms about the dungeoneering tests and repeating could be solved with more of a let it ride approach? You wouldnt have to worry about the next test if the conditions are the same and you passed it previously. In other words you only roll if the conditions of the test have changed so that the previous roll is invalidated.

  • edited November 2018
    Oh hey @ericvulgaris, I really enjoyed your Keep on the Borderlands. If you're ever short a Torchbearer player, let me know.
    Do you think your qualms about the dungeoneering tests and repeating could be solved with more of a let it ride approach? You wouldnt have to worry about the next test if the conditions are the same and you passed it previously. In other words you only roll if the conditions of the test have changed so that the previous roll is invalidated.
    I think the crux of our discussion was exactly that: when to Let It Ride in Torchbearer. I think we agreed that if you're in the same room, always let it ride. That passed Dungeoneer to traverse a partially submerged chamber lets you move about freely (though the water may be a factor in some other tests, depending on what you do) and dungeoneer doesn't need to be tested again. So our question is about the test that got you into the dungeon over a substantial static obstacle.

    Say the entrance to the dungeon is a sheer chasm. You have to test to get down. When the party decides to camp, you want to climb back up to the safe terrain above rather than stay down here with the monsters. It's the same wall, you passed it before, the physical conditions of the space are unchanged. However, conditions changed in the sense that you're leaving rather than arriving, and your supplies and conditions are likely different.

    So I think it's a grey area up to GM style. Here's what I think are the considerations for the example of the steep chasm at the mouth of the dungeon:

    Pros to calling for a test (barring a Good Idea):
    - Conditions have changed in the sense of player logistics.
    - Player planning is more transparent. ("We know it's two tough tests to get out of here, so we need to save at least a torch and a persona for our retreat.").
    - Cartography gets to shine ("We want to make a couple trips to the ruined temple, so let's spend one of our precious checks on that, and we're hopefully never facing that Dungeoneering test again.").
    - There is a sense of objective weight to the dungeon environment.
    -Players have to make a cost/benefit analysis to making camp in a dangerous area, knowing they cannot freely retreat to a safer site. ("Do we have the rations to go back above ground to camp, or do we risk it here.")
    - It puts pressures on player decisions below ground ("We don't want to face off with this monster. Even if we know that we can survive the fight, we might not survive the climb out if we're all injured. Lets find another approach").
    - Players control the pacing, rather than the GM ("We know the tests it takes to get back out, and we don't want to burn our resources on them. So we're making one good delve, looting what we can, and never looking back.")

    Pros to letting it ride (regardless of player descriptions).
    - Players are less likely to be bored by doing the same thing more than once; they are always getting to new drama.
    - There's no test in an environment that already feels described and known; players aren't spending time in procedures without unless they are discovering new fiction or setting.
    - Players might have to burn Fate and Persona on the logistics of getting around below ground and might not have the capacity to take on a more heroic conflict.
    - The GM is calling for test only when the stakes feel interesting, so the game might flow more smoothly.

    I think a major factor in whether a player is enjoying Torchbearer is: is the game making mundane (in the sense of earthly) tasks interesting, with clear stakes and rich texture, or are mundane tasks (in the sense of boring) keeping you from the character drama or setting lore you showed up for?
  • Nice writeup — thanks!
    Thanks! I actually find write-ups quite challenging; I want to paint a picture of what happened as quickly as possible, and then get to the feel of play and unanswered questions. Any feedback on making these punchier is appreciated.
  • Sentient bacteria sound like an interesting idea. How easily does the infection spread?

    Coming from an OSR perspective, I would certainly ask for a roll to climb back up - Ob 5 is terribly difficult and the uncertainty has a huge effect on how seriously one should take the obstacle and the dungeon.

    Coming from a Burning wheel perspective, I would ask for a roll to descend, with the consequences: Ob 4 to get down without problems, but unless you make Ob 5, you can not climb back up unless there is someone up there, helping.
  • @Thanuir thanks for both perspectives. I think the OSR mode hits close to my playstyle.
    Sentient bacteria sound like an interesting idea. How easily does the infection spread?
    It requires a warm organism to serve as host for it to survive outside the thermal vent it calls home. Here's the text from the working draft:

    "Contact with the skin of another warm-blooded creature will spread Bloom to them. If the creature is a player-character, they must test Health vs. Bloom’s Nature to resist becoming a host. For everyone else, Bloom spreads without a test."

    The twist there is that Bloom's nature is 1+ the number of its sapient hosts. So the more hosts it accrues, the harder it is to resist. And eliminating some of its hosts (through various means) might be part of a party's dungeon strategy.
  • Second session with the 'B team' playtest of my adventure in progress. One of the veteran players couldn't make it, so it was three players who got their introduction to the system last session and one experienced player.

    We 'cleared' the adventure location in this second session. If we played through a town phase (and went back once more to haul out all the loot they found) it would be a 3 session adventure, which is the length I was going for.

    - The magician cased 'Wisdom of the Sages' and made a deal with hostile aquatic faction.
    - The party discovered a cure for those possessed by the Bloom (a sentient bacterial colony) and rescued the villager lost in the dungeons depths.
    - There was great tactical/character banter between the Dwarf and the Elf. The Elf had found a cure for the bloom and wanted to rescue the lost villagers. The Dwarf wanted to rip the pumps out of the floor, let the dungeon flood, and sell the artifacts for a tidy profit.
    - The cleric got swallowed by a giant eel and made it out barely alive.

    Points about the system:
    - Two of the new players were frustrated by some of the tough choices they had to make. They wanted to carry all the loot they found, and gear they had never used, and extra rations. The system really wants to put enough pressure on inventory that those are tough choices, but one player said it was just 'annoying'.
    - The same two players had a hard time with when you can help (you have to relevant skill and be in a fiction position to help based on your description). When a player says "criminal should be able to help with scout tests" I feel torn between pointing out how this incentivizes learning new skills and just saying 'maybe, but it can't' so that we can focus on what's happening at the table.
    - The third totally new player grocked things pretty quickly. The party nominated him for MVP and Embodiment for playing a dwarf with a significantly more mercenary sensibilities than the rest of the party.

  • - There was great tactical/character banter between the Dwarf and the Elf. The Elf had found a cure for the bloom and wanted to rescue the lost villagers. The Dwarf wanted to rip the pumps out of the floor, let the dungeon flood, and sell the artifacts for a tidy profit.
    How was the disagreement resolved?

  • How was the disagreement resolved?
    The Elf was the party leader, so he decided on a compromise; they nabbed a pump, stashed it in camp (under guard), and went back for the villager. That way they could ‘do the right thing’ and still satisfy the dwarf’s very practical interest in making a profit.
  • Another playtest this week. I was surprised how entertaining it was to see two parties run through the same adventure. The party that wrapped last week was level 1 and they focused on rescuing everyone they could. Their last session was somewhat of a struggle as their resources dwindled and conditions started to add up.

    This week's playtest was levels 1-4. Their Cleric was able to circumvent two major conflicts by casting 'Chains of Fate' on their enemies, binding them in place so the assassin could murder them. Because of this, the session's tone took a much darker shift. The Cleric of law had to atone for these actions in town. He passed his atonement test this time, but it's only a matter of time until his hubris catches up with him.
  • There were also a couple of great comic moments in this session, primarily from the Doppleganger Spy. He could mimic the Owstoni Raiders (shark-goblins) but not speak their language, which led to a bit of pantomime diplomacy. The PC tried to gesture "We... stabbed... hallucination... shark. You... come with us?" It was definitely a 'good idea'.
  • There were also a couple of great comic moments in this session, primarily from the Doppleganger Spy. He could mimic the Owstoni Raiders (shark-goblins) but not speak their language, which led to a bit of pantomime diplomacy. The PC tried to gesture "We... stabbed... hallucination... shark. You... come with us?" It was definitely a 'good idea'.
    Did the players actually proceed with the pantomime?
  • Did the players actually proceed with the pantomime?
    Yes. It was their idea and they followed through with it. No words were spoken, but they managed to make their case. It was fun, and a little bit silly, but grounded by the stakes being high: the party needed the Owstoni's help to get out safely.
  • Got to play a homebrew tiefling sellsword in a Planescape game. Torchbearer feels a little strange in a city setting, because of a potential line blurring between adventure and town phases. But the real threat of going broke is good incentive not to spend the whole session goofing off on personal errands. Additionally, the pressure of beliefs and goals are a good spur. Usually, you're going to want to push your character into challenge so you can hit those before the session ends.

    I think the other effect of being in a big city (Sigil, in this case, for those familiar with the setting) is that the space of possible actions is wide open and narrowing those options can feel a little more like negotiation than in a more restrictive setting (like a dungeon). Strong signposts from the Gm can help ("You're on a busy city street and these details in particular catch your attention") as can clear systems around contacts ("Who has a friend or mentor in Sigil with a relevant skill? Is is worth it to go visit them?").

    Back into the wilds next session (through a portal, obviously).
  • PAX Unplugged Session 1. GM'ed under the banner of Games on Demand. 6 players. 5 new to the system and one veteran. We ran through @Fuseboy 's 'In the Care of Bones'.

    Players quickly grasped the pacing: fiction-first informed mechanics. I think it helped that before play, I didn't belabor how tests worked too much but I did explain the function of each players highest skills, so they knew their strengths when describing their way into new situations. This group was pretty good at spotlight sharing and tackling situations collaboratively; their 'help' descriptions were consistently evocative.

    They came out of the adventure without a ton of loot, but they were quick. We ran a short town phase and only half the party paid their bills. They immediately jumped into a darkly comedic response and it was a fun note to end on.

    I think having one experienced player made a huge difference. (A friend was willing to jump into the session.) He could model some of the fiction-first attitude and he was able to help facilitate conflict procedures so that I could just sit back and play the monsters' side.
  • PAX Unplugged Session 2. Another run of 'In the Care of Bones' for Games on Demand.

    This one went fine, as can happen with convention games. It felt more like an intro to the system than a satisfying stand-alone experience.

    Though the party fared far better than the first group (leaving with an astounding 27D of loot) they seemed to feel like they were doing poorly. I think there was a significant dissonance between expectations and the system for one or two players and that was enough to bring the energy of the group way down. Torchbearer asks you to commit resources, take losses, and roll with significant and lasting consequences. If you get some treasure and don't die, those resources are well-spent. If you get the chance to help someone out, or do something beyond looking out for number one (the party), it feels (to me) daring and heroic. You earn your wins.

    For me, these are key features. For some new players, it's clear that losing a helmet, gaining a condition or two, or having to flee from a a fight that went south, are losing. And losing is bad.

    I've found a lot of ways to make the rules more accessible to new players, and to lower Torchbearer's sometimes frustratingly high barrier to entry. Because I've found that this is a game that a lot of people love once they get the chance to dig into it. But if people bounce off the system's emphasis on failure (you need it to grow, but it still hurts) then there doesn't feel like a lot I can do to develop buy in. We just try to wrap the session neatly, and move on.
  • edited December 2018
    PAX Unplugged Session 3. Running @Fuseboy 's 'Circle of Wolves' for friends.

    I love this module. The location is tiny, one small woodland clearing with a lot of interesting details and situations on the knife-edge of catastrophe. There's no element of travel, but plenty to investigate and a feeling of dynamism because the NPCs and monsters show up in waves. I made a rules-error that impacted the pacing of the adventure, as I forgot that Might 5 creatures are too powerful to capture outright, but the party also kind of had a 'good idea' to justify it: they were not trapping the monster conventionally but luring it into a volcanic chasm were it (a creature of the frozen north) would be easier defeat. Ultimately it played out well.

    These were all a crew that I love playing with and I enjoyed that the ball was often in their court. They correctly assumed that just attempting to kill the monster in the woods would be foolish, and they had enough threads to pull on to find an alternate path to victory.

    One point of GM skill/art that came up is balancing how helpful a helpful NPC can be. If the old man guarding the standing stones has all the answers for how to defeat the monster, then the players are just listening to your exposition than following your instructions.

    Here's how I tried to play the potentially very helpful hermit:

    - Eager to talk about things immediately in his wheelhouse (big picture stuff about standing stones = good, monsters = bad). there are a couple big tip-offs about what to look out for but no real solutions to problems. He's not sending them off on a quest.

    - Willing to give more substantive info if persuaded deferentially or provoked with unexpected questions (so what the characters say matters beyond 'more info pls').

    - Willing to help on tests when not in peril or insulted. +1D for help is really handy but not going to unspool the tension of the adventure.

    - Almost totally unwilling to do anything risky himself (it's not his adventure).

    I think he was a fun and interesting element, and he gave the PCs a lot of personality to play off of (our magician took a bath with him and shared his cyldwort pipe) without taking the spotlight off the players.

  • PAX Unplugged Session 4: Playing 'The Dread Crypt of Skogenby'.

    The reality of scheduling games in a con meant that I only got to take part in the latter half of a two-session run of Skogenby. I played a Magician for the first time and really enjoyed it. This session was probably the highlight of the weekend for me, as I got to play with friends from NY that I hadn't seen in months. It's great to play with a group whose sensibilities for dramatic stakes and tone are right in line with your own. I definitely roleplay for the table, knowing that if I bring my best, they'll see it. And likewise, it's fun to listen to interesting characters and try to build on/ play off their personality.

    A girl from the nearby village died in the dread crypt and it was partially our fault. The clerics attempt to make things right with the village and atone for his god were a big focus of our denouement. The GM did a great job not offering an easy out from this, or making it totally futile. The cleric is started on a long path. I especially appreciated our warrior's choice to hide the truth from the village about the girl being possessed, to spare them the additional grief. It's cool to see the manipulator skill get used for reasons that aren't selfish. I'd say the emergent theme of this session was: 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions'.

    I really enjoy how risky a first session feels. I can't rely on Fate and Persona to power through anything, so I need to play a little more carefully and be ready to take consequences. Starting with a full pack means a lot of tools and resources to burn, so i try to pick carefully and then be ready to part with them quickly. During a first session, what I am focus most on is having an actionable belief and leaning into it hard. If I have a character that believes in something and dies for it, that doesn't feel pointless. If the character lives, then they'll earn the rewards they need to get a big win next time and eventually level. The other stuff (I bought a donkey!) is all extra.
  • Final note from PAX: recovery rolls are a great opportunity to make character introspection a part of play. What are you still angry about? How do you try to collect yourself? What are you thinking about as you lay in a heap, utterly exhausted? When you choose to sweat out the fever, what's driving you forward? Why not shamble out of here, go back to town, and give up on adventuring altogether?

    If you try to just roll and get back to the good stuff (lore, fighting monsters, getting loot) then you can, and you don't have to belabor the point.

    But sometimes this is the good stuff, and I'm glad the game prompts this little spotlight on the internal life of a character.
  • edited December 2018
    Accidental double post so I'll add this: sometimes these introspections end up having mechanical heft. Your dwarf is still angry and she sets out to 'avenge a grudge' against those that bested her. Your elf's song inspires their peers. Or, more simply, there's an embodiment reward and I think roleplaying conditions and recovery are a great thing to focus on.
  • @moconnor : those are some nice mini-reports about Pax! And I know Fuseboy a little in real life, so I'm always curious about his material.

    But: what game other games were you playing? Was this all Torchbearer?
  • edited December 2018
    Was this all Torchbearer?
    It was. I also played a bunch of boardgames and a two player session of 'The Quiet Year'.

    I brought two offerings to Games on Demand, Torchbearer and Follow, but both groups I ran for were looking for Torchbearer. Next PAX, I'm thinking of only facilitating zero-prep GM-less games and saving the Torchbearer for sessions with friends.
  • Nice. I've got to try this game sometime!
  • Ran the first half of a two-session game set in @Fuseboy 's The God Unmoving

    I had run this adventure once before in an ongoing sandbox campaign, so it was neat to see it go very differently.

    - This group saw The God Unmoving and ran immediately, which was good for them. The Torchbearer stats for a Kraken are amazingly powerful. They would likely have faced devastating consequences for sticking around.
    - There were two level 6 characters alongside a level 2 character and a brand new Sea Elf. The Sea Elf got to get in on a lot of helping rolls and use handy Nature and wises, so it never felt he was irrelevant to the (very powerful) party.
    - I provided the hook and then passed out more specific rumors on folded index cards (a lead on a contract to the assassin, valuable lore to the elf, a lost fisherman to noble the sea elf, etc). This gave some more options for different goals and gave some interesting decision points mid-adventure.

    - I tried to play this session without conflicts unless it was obviously the big moment, which meant I did some waffling. I think when they ambushed a group of cultists and attempted to catch a few of them in the Sea Elf's net, it would have been a good time for a Capture conflict. I think it was mostly a missed opportunity for interesting compromises.
    - I fought the urge to have a Flee conflict against The Kraken, and I'm glad I did. I think they often just devolve into 'We keep running'. There's not enough granular fictional detail to support the handling time. I think I'm going to hold out on running a Flee conflict unless they are crossing a substantial amount terrain.
  • I'm really interested in the play without true conflicts, as it's what I'm aiming for in two hour sessions. How did the capture/ambush play out mechanically?

    I had an obvious one where the characters ambushed a single guard, rolling a Fighter test to knock him out. But I don't know how it'd work with 3-4 guards.
  • edited December 2018
    How did the capture/ambush play out mechanically?.
    Characters describe how they might be in a position to catch two guards in the net, even briefly. The two PCs capturing roll Fighter (4+1 Help). The two being cultists captured, plus the other two in rage roll Fighter (4+3 Help). The PCs failed, the whole group of cultists is on them: so it's full fight or flee. The magician casts Word of Binding on the limp net, catching the two cultists loosely cloaked in it. Then the PCs flee: so its a versus Scout test (PCs 4+ 3 help, Cultists 4+5 help). PCs fail, uses Water-wise to dive into the ocean. Spends a persona, re-rolls failures into a success, the PCs escape.
  • So you're just running with Task and Intent for these things like BW? That sounds pretty close to what I do, though I often forget help dice from the opposition.
  • So you're just running with Task and Intent for these things like BW?
    Absolutely. We're stilling playing about one conflict per session, but I try not to go over that or even force the one.
  • Third in-house playtest for an upcoming adventure: Beneath the Arctic Caldera.

    We had a pretty strange party: a Minotaur Pit Fighter, a Roden (Rat-person) Guide, a Human Skald (warrior-poet), and a Human Cleric.

    Torchbearer has a neat system for relative scale of monsters, called Might. Anything (monster or player character) attacking something smaller on the scale of Might gets additional successes; bigger monsters hit harder..

    The Minotaur has a lot of inconveniences, but is just bigger than other adventurers. His player made the minotaur crucial to the team, excavating tunnels and cleaning up in fights. I enjoy seeing someone used to a system identify a new niche in the group and explore it. There was a lot of that.

    There was also a lot of social conflict, which I enjoyed. The party tried to get the two trapped villagers on their side and negotiate different levels of trust and reliability. In Torchbearer, there are clear enough rules about how to resolve this. You also don't get sidetracked, because every negotiation might eat up the grind. You just don't have the time and resources to convince npcs of every little thing.

    Overrall great session.
  • Interesting observations!
  • There was also a lot of social conflict, which I enjoyed. The party tried to get the two trapped villagers on their side and negotiate different levels of trust and reliability. In Torchbearer, there are clear enough rules about how to resolve this. You also don't get sidetracked, because every negotiation might eat up the grind. You just don't have the time and resources to convince npcs of every little thing.
    Can you dive into this a little more? Did you run this as Argument conflicts or as simple Tests?
  • edited December 2018

    If the PCs asked for information that the NPC might be willing to share, or made a request that the NPC might comply with, we treated it as a "good idea". As soon as the PCs asked the NPC to go against an instinct or put themselves at risk, it was a test. Convincing the villager to not run for the exit was a test. Convincing the villager unaffected by bloom to keep an eye on the one who was a 'host' was a good idea. We didn't run a conflict. I find that unless there is a major single issue to decide, the fiction falls behind the dice in most TB social conflicts.

    In another session, when the party wanted to convince a village to flee their dangerous home and resettle elsewhere, that was a 'convince crowd' conflict against those that argued vehemently for staying. It worked because there was a single decision point (leave or stay) but a lot of perspectives and reasons to argue for each side.
  • Another thing that worked well this session was adding factors to a fight that happened in water. The party battled a giant eel. While fighting in water, the adventurers suffered a penalty (-1 success) to all actions. However, if they got 3 successes (after the penalty) on a Maneuver, they could drag the eel into the shallows and fight it there. In the shallows, the eel would suffer a penalty instead of the party. They strategized about when to Maneuver (there's a sort of rock paper scissors mechanic, and Maneuvers are susceptible to Feints) and then chose their actions. The party's Minotaur spent his Persona and used his Hauling nature to put everything into dragging the eel out of the depths. It paid off and the party was able to turn the tide.

    But in the next round, the party convinced the Minotaur to script Defend to pull his fallen comrades back into the fight. He had a bad feeling about it, given that the eel's weapon that round was 'camoflage' and the eel might Feint right through his defenses. His instinct was right, and though the party won, the Minotaur emerged barely alive.

    When the time came to award an MVP, everyone looked to the Minotaur's player without hesitation.
  • Huh, using Maneuver to change the environment is really good. I wonder how that would have been if it was some pre-conflict tests. Like "ok, if you fight it there, everything will be at a -1s penalty for doing it in the water, but if you guys want to try to rush in and drag it out you can negate that penalty"
  • This week, I got my most satisfying GM hand-off to date. I was running @Fuseboy 's The God Unmoving and the party assassinated the deposed king of Claimsun, a nearby desert Kingdom. I whispered his dying word in the assassin's ear: "Ardmore..."

    I did it on a lark, as a reference to an adventure we've been eyeing for a while.

    Owen, the party's Elven ranger, lit up. He made a Lore Master test and the character announced what the player knew: Ardmore is the name of a legendary castle in the sky.

    Next week, I pass the GM mantle and become a player. Owen will take over as GM and run Shane King's Floating Castle Ardmore. I know the rough premise, but look forward to seeing the details!
  • Oh, that's pretty sweet. Well done!
  • edited February 2019
    Just in case people are curious how that went, there's a writeup here on the Mordite Press blog.

    Awesome thread, btw, Michael.
  • Just in case people are curious how that went, there's a writeup here on the Mordite Press blog.
    Thanks for sharing this here. I think there are few records of moment-to-moment Torchbearer play out there. This is an awesome one.
  • This Monday I wrapped up Shane King's Floating Castle Ardmore GM'd be @lord_mordeth.

    It was a great eight-session adventure. We scaled a magic rope to a castle in the sky, took control of the robotic stewards, battled with haunted vines, and lost one of our own to the death ray of a demonic guardian. The curse was lifted and the people of the castle freed from the vines that had trapped them.

    The big picture beats were very Tolkien-meets-Miyazaki but it being Torchbearer, it was full of setbacks, compromises, and small failures. The final battle was wholly uncertain and the odds were against us. I was as bought-in as I've been for any RPG conflict.

    That said, the eighth session was the real highlight for me: the winter phase. The Torchbearer winter phase has a great structure for reflecting on the previous year of play and discussing how characters have been changed by their adventures. You gain new traits based on your character's actions and a new 'wise' based on what your character learned this year.

    The sea-elf Reteri told the story of Orrin's refusal to leave the Armdorians trapped within the vines, how he demanded the party put their lives on the line. Orrin gained the trait "Relentless". I chose curse-wise as Orrin's new area of knowledge and the group approved of it. When I put down a character for months, these are the first things I look at to remember what they were all about.

    I'm taking over as GM next week and I'm looking forward to giving Orrin some rest and throwing the rest of the party (and Castle Ardmore) into peril.
  • @ericvulgaris from TV is on here? that paladin's demesne song got really stuck in my head
  • Yeah, I am a big fan of @ericvulgaris's Torchbearer streams.
  • edited May 2019
    Ran the first session of @fuseboy's Chains of Heaven in Torchbearer last night. I hooked into the adventure with an unusual bang: the party had been traveling peacefully aboard the Floating Castle Ardmore after freeing it from a curse in the previous adventure. Suddenly they heard a wild, shrieking note from the Organ of the Four winds, the magical instrument which steers the castle through the skies. The whole castle, and the mass of stone beneath it, titled wildly and began to veer toward a nearby mountain. As the peak neared, the party saw that it was capped with an ancient, ruinous keep. In the middle of the keep was an enormous crater. The king of Ardmore said that only one weapon that could land such a devastating blow: the White Lance of Deel.

    Reteri the Sea Elf manages to command a wind powerful enough to slow the castle's fall, and the party soared over to the keep on hang-gliders (setting a rope as a zip-line for others to follow. During the flight, Reteri spotted a hunched figure shuffling down the stairs to the level below.

    [Successful Orator test to play the Organ. Successful Sailor test to hang-glide to the keep. Good idea to take turns riding a zipline.]

    The party landed right inside of the castle's second floor, the collapsed ceiling above them showing clear blue skies above. Derrol the Elvin Ranger cast Supernal Vision and saw a source of great power at the heart of the keep, drawing in magic like a black hole. It was this power that had snared the Organ of the Four Winds and still threatened to shatter Ardmore upon the cliffs.

    [Successful Arcanist test for Supenal Vision, Successful Lore Master test to sense auras.]

    Olga, Princess of Ardmore, crept forward carefully to the edge of the pit at the keep's center and saw that it was full of a great mass of crushed metal and stone, rippling with silvery light. As she looked down into the pit, a figure emerged from a ramshackle stone structure to her right: a robed acolyte wielding a milky-white orb. A pack of fighters in rags emerged from the shadows of the stone winch house, making a wild-eyed charge.

    [Good idea to use her staff to brace herself as she approached the pit.]

    Derrol made a split-second shot with his bow, knocking the orb to the floor before the spell was cast. Reteri dashed to catch the orb before the fighters could get to it. He caught it in his net and tossed it to Derrol, who made a cast the spell within blindly, not knowing its effects. The nearest fighter turned to dust in an instant, his component parts drifting away on the wind. Derrol was shocked, as were the surrounding fighters. Olga stepped into the pause and commanded the fighters to cease their assault. Her presence was magnified by the cursed crown upon her head and the fighters retreated to a stone tower, she demanded the name of the one these fighters serve. They hissed back: "Nacharta."

    [Successful Fighter test to shoot the globe. Successful Health test to beat the fighters to the orb. Good Idea to cast from the orb. Successful Orator test to break the fighter's morale.]

    After the encounter, the party was weary and hungry, so they shared rations within the winch house. They also took sets of iron hooks from off the walls that seemed to be for climbing the chain down into the pit below. A they finished their meal, they heard a gasping scream from just outside the winch house. They watched as a cloud of dust assembled itself back into human form, gasped for air, and promptly vomited. The fighter they had assumed was dead stood before them. He spotted the party, and bolted in the direction the other fighters had fled. Reteri gave chase, the rest of the party behind him.

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