edition wars ; ) Torchbearer vs. Dungeon World vs. D&D

edited March 2014 in Story Games
So lately Torchbearer came out, and Dungeon World came out before that, and there are whole bunch of "retro-clones" that all hew pretty closely to pre-Wizards of the Coast D&D in all of its various permutations.

Tell me of these! I'm particularly curious about Torchbearer and Dungeon World, and what they do that's more interesting than D&D, and what their comparative strengths and weaknesses are vis-a-vis each other.

I am not really asking for an edition war


  • I think D&D can do anything the newcomers can do but it has very little mechanical support out of the box. This means they are more focused designs with more support for specific types of game. OTOH you may enjoy the hacking. This is all OSR-ish. I know very little of newer D&D editions.
    Playing D&D with my main group almost caused player vs player discord but DW works for them.
    I like lots about torchbearer but I'm not convinced all the fiddly bits pay off.
  • Torchbearer: an intense, character-centric game. Victory must be earned, and it's under that pressure that you get good characters. Torchbearer does an awesome job of providing constant pressure on the players, and of focusing in on the fact that characters exist to be beaten down and refined. It also rewards mastery of playing the game (as opposed to how later D&D awards character creation mastery), and in that way hews a lot closer to older D&D--but has a more interesting game to master.

    Dungeon World: fun, dynamic, pulpy sword & sorcery. It's all about adding to the world and getting characters into (and out of) great peril. Also, anyone can contribute in any area! Archetypes are present but not all-powerful. In addition, it's flexible--there are no subsystems for situations like combat. This also means that you can liberally mix all sorts of moves together. Combat tends to have daring actions, fighting, spellcasting, lore-spotting, alert characters keeping an eye out for trouble, and maybe even some parley.
  • I'd add that Dungeon World, at least to my eyes, has nothing to do with OSR/old-school D&D whatsoever. It's more like 4th Edition D&D, with the characters being iconic heroes, abilities related to being efficient as a team in combat, and starting out at a very significant power level.
  • Yeah, these games are all extremely different. The only things they have in common are the "fantasy" tropes. As actual GAMES, they focus on very, very different levels. I own them all and each fills a particular niche, but I wouldn't begin to compare them as "editions" or even variations of each other.
  • edited March 2014
    @Paul_T: One big similarity I've seen pointed out is that Dungeon World tends to run just like old school D&D ran, relying on fictional positioning and all. So it's a bit like bringing old-school sensibility and more modern design together.
  • Torchbearer shines in being a very punishing game about resource management and light. While being very much into the OSR and always trying to run a game that pays attention to the time, light, and resource rules I never really keep it straight. Torchbearer really brings those issues to the forefront of the game and does very well at keeping both the players and the GM honest about those issues.

    I think Torchbearer is a MUCH different game than Dungeon World, which to me is more an Apocalypse World game focused very heavily on character interaction with a fantasy environment.
  • Torchbearer shines in being a very punishing game about resource management and light. While being very much into the OSR and always trying to run a game that pays attention to the time, light, and resource rules I never really keep it straight. Torchbearer really brings those issues to the forefront of the game and does very well at keeping both the players and the GM honest about those issues.
  • Indeed! Can you tell us more about how it does that?
  • Moving parts, really. You know how Burning Wheel and its ilk use several subsystems together for a larger effect? Torchbearer does that, but it's ridiculously tight. You use all of the rules, and they create a design that's on par with how a Fantasy Flight game works, with lots of feedback loops and places to work the system. Then, add in the freedom that players have courtesy of it being an RPG, plus the artha/Belief system for characters. It's heavy on the resource management, but it abstracts said resource management to the point where it's not (at least for me) a slog of minutae. There's two major bits that run off of a universal "clock", a turn counter during dungeon-delving. Then there's the inventory system, which has nothing to do with weight and everything to do with space...

    Basically? It takes everything from Mouse Guard, pulls it together more tightly, and puts all the pressure into it.


    The obvious rule element that enforces this is Conditions + The Grind. If you've played Mouse Guard, you know what conditions are. Torchbearer's conditions are way nastier. You start with one condition checked: Fresh. It gives you a bonus, and you lose it the moment you acquire a Condition. It starts getting worse from there.

    And how do you acquire Conditions? Two ways. The first is by failing a roll: the GM can choose to let you have what you wanted, but give you a Condition as the price. So you've spent way too much effort moving away a boulder; now you're Exhausted, but at least you got the boulder moved out of the way! The second way to gain Conditions is by adventuring! Every fourth test made (this isn't individual, by the way: it's team, although reaction tests collapse into one test--as do conflicts) inflicts a Condition on you, starting from the top. It skips down to the next blank Condition you have.

    The last Condition on the list is "Dead". Yep. If all your other Conditions are marked off, that's the one that gets ticked when the Grind hits.

    You can only avoid Conditions by taking breaks to camp, and by coming up with ways to circumvent obstacles that don't require you to make tests. (This usually involves being incredibly, incredibly clever--and doesn't happen often.)

    On top of that, the reason those Conditions are so punishing is that you don't have a lot of resources to begin with. If you've played Mouse Guard? You'll maybe have one skill rated at 4 dice. The rest are at 2 or 3 dice. Later Conditions subtract a die from almost everything you roll (there's two of them, and they stack!), and one Condition requires you to roll an extra success. So, um, yeah. The dungeon turns into "let's use our traits and bullrush through so that we can get loot and get out before the Condition death spiral hits".

    ...and then there's the problem of loot. And of equipment.

    You start broke. You need to sell loot to develop a working Resources stat, so that you can afford to stay in town and recover from Conditions. Loot takes up slots in your inventory. (You can gain more slots by packing a loot sack, but hey! You need to carry that loot sack with your hands! What was that about needing a free hand to hold your torch?) Suddenly, packing loot becomes a question of opportunity cost.

    Because having Resources is valuable. It lets you recover from conditions, get new gear, do research on ruins (to be prepared for their traps and secrets), and conduct other business in a Town nearby the dungeon. As you start advancing Resources, you become more stable in your life. But you have to get bigger and better loot to keep advancing those Resources...
  • Chalk vs Cheese.

    Both games are Old School in different ways. Dungeon World is the Old School of the Arduin Grimoire and the old Red Box run by 12 year olds. Go wild and have fun. Torchbearer is the Old School of the very earliest games - a tense, logistics-focussed game with high death rates and where the fiddliness matters. Both do what they do pretty well (a lot better than D&D) and both do the other game worse than D&D - because you don't generally want both in the same game.
  • D&D's a real good game in all editions (in different ways). I still haven't come across a situation where I'd prefer Dungeon World, though there's nothing in particular wrong with it. Haven't read Torchbearer.
  • CarpeGuitarrem's write up of Torchbearer is excellent.

    Another thing I really like is how it handles time. One of my biggest issues in OD&D is figuring out the turn length - how long it takes to search a particular room, what's going on with the thief that's a hallway ahead dealing with some mechanism, etc.

    Torchbearer handles turns based on rolls. So even if the party splits up, every roll counts toward the clock on resource usage, the progression down the condition track, and potential wandering monsters. Sure it may not be the most "realistic", but this simple rule really keeps the clock ticking, instead of getting frustrated trying to figure out all the various party members' differnet actions time length and how I should handle time, which happens to me in OD&D all the time.
  • Also, it rewards players who find ways to circumvent obstacles without making tests.
  • I just wanted to add that Torchbearer is ALL about fictional positioning. In case anyone thought it wasn't, well, it is.
  • So, who wants to run a tourchbearer game for us? :D
  • edited March 2014
    D&D's a real good game in all editions (in different ways). I still haven't come across a situation where I'd prefer Dungeon World, though there's nothing in particular wrong with it.
    Situation: you're out of d20s.
  • To me DW feels like what AD&D 2E at it's peak (and the make D&D 'right' games f.e. Earthdawn) wanted to be.
  • edited March 2014
    For me, it depends on whether I want a challenging game of strategic problem-solving, where stories arise as byproducts of play and are mostly about the horrible ways your characters died, or, on the other hand, a zany, high-action game that generates cool stories about your characters exploring dangerous places and mostly surviving.

    An example from my B2 game and how it might have gone in DW:

    DM (Red Box D&D): You hear a deafening roar from above. A mountain lion pounces on you from the boughs of the oak tree. Roll surprise... okay you're surprised... It swipes at you with its claws, and its jaws bear down on you...it hits... you take 12 points of damage.
    Player: I'm dead.

    GM (Dungeon World): You hear a deafening roar from above. You look up just in time to see a mountain lion pouncing at you from the boughs of the oak tree. What do you do?
    Player: I quickly raise my shield over my head!
    GM: Okay, you're Defying Danger. Roll + dex...

    In my mind, the difference lies mostly in the soft moves. I'm not saying one is better or worse, either. They're different games for different kinds of fun. I haven't played Torchbearer yet, but I really want to.

  • edited March 2014
    Yeah, in AD&D (1e), one often-heard mantra was "In a realistic world, there is random death." My players and I accepted this as a truism.

    Compared to more storyfirst games like DW, however, this is really just a way of saying "In a rigorously simulationist model, there are characters who die without ever having established an interesting story for their lives. And in this game, you may be one of them."
  • I seem to recall some folks here playing dungeon crawl-type games using Stalker and World of Dungeons. How do those compare in experience to the games discussed so far?
  • How like Apocalypse World is Dungeon World? I have read the rules to the former, and they seem excellent to me. But (and I know this is a cliché) I am nervous about the content of AW. Is the brilliance of AW also in DW? Or are they very different, despite the shared mechanic roots?
  • How like Apocalypse World is Dungeon World?
    Actually that's a tricky question to answer. Obviously the milieu changes everything ontological about the world, and suggests a largely different set of story types. That and the specific character classes make the two games very different, on an objective level. But subjectively... well... they're not entirely similar, but I think it's true that if AW didn't exist, my group's DW games would probably be different. We've become accustomed to a certain sort of inter-relation between PCs, and between PCs and the MC, due to our experiences with AW.

    Ok here's another one. For me, one difference in practice as an MC is the way the two games use Fronts. In AW the fronts are rather loosely played, they can be pretty abstract and you'll still be fine. In DW those are like "Campaign Fronts" but you also have "Adventure Fronts". The latter are played in a more direct way, like tight little self-contained episodes rather than big co-simultaneous plots, and a lot more attention is paid to custom moves made by the dungeon/terrain itself.
  • That's not an easy question to answer! It depends what you love about Apocalypse World (AW). Dungeon World has the same basic structure of 2d6+stat and moves, with MC moves on failure, and lists to choose from. It also has "playbooks" for the classes. It's essentially Apocalypse World reskinned as a happy adventurous AD&D. If you're nervous about the content of AW, DW definitely doesn't have any of that stuff, so that could be good news for you!
  • edited April 2014
    What about the concept of 'level'? All three games level up characters and all three approach this in various ways. The resultant play can be largely effected by how players perceive they get 'more powerful'. In TB your skills advance independent of level, whereas in DW your moves are made of leveling up, and your XP is garnered (like in TB) from story based cues, moves and traits. D&D on the other had focuses on mad lootz (and the odd murder) to generate XP, my favourite iteration being spent loot. This really changes the approaches of the players to the obstacles in the game and what is worth pursuing/exploring/saving/avoiding/killing.
  • Actually, the way you've framed TB and DW advancement, they aren't all that different. In Torchbearer, when you level up, you gain new class features--which are the same thing, essentially, as Dungeon World's passive moves. You also earn XP (read: artha) from character-based cues (Belief, Instinct, Goal).

    That said, Torchbearer does distribute a lot of advancement independent of level, but it's also advancement of a sort that doesn't show up in Dungeon World (skill improvement, wealth improvement, Circles).
Sign In or Register to comment.