Torchbearer 2e - actual play of this AWESOME system! (+)

A couple of further thoughts:

* This was a big session for Golin from the point of view of PC build. His Will improved to 4, and he opened three new skills - Lore Master, Manipulator and Persuader. This all resulted from the social-intensive action of the past few sessions. He also improved his Cook to 3.

* @Manbearcat and I have talked in the past about the adventure-building rules. As I posted in the OP of this thread, I find them very good for their focus on fictional situation and mechanical obstacles. But compared to (say) 4e D&D, I find them a bit trial-and-error in terms of getting a sense for how easy or punishing an adventure will be.

But what has become clear is that adventuring in town, with no need to journey to or from the adventure site, is much more forgiving than having to travel. Which the rulebook says; but I think it might have been helpful to have another few sentences or a paragraph explaining this a bit more - I think one reason for this is the splitting of the rules across the Scholar's Guide and the Lore Master's Manual, so the former doesn't explicitly include Journeys in its discussion of adventure difficulty, while the latter's Journey rules don't link back to that discussion either.

As I said I think our next session will involve delving beneath Megloss's house. I would then expect the next town phase to be a Respite. And then I think it must be time for another journey, eg back to the Tower of Stars which remains unexplored by the PCs to a significant extent. There are also the NPC bandits they're interested in, and Korvin has an enemy (Nob H the Bandit Lord) and Golin has two of them (Ebenezer the Erudite, and his rival in the Forgotten Temple Complex also called Golin) who haven't figured yet. Plus there is the rumour form last session about how Vaccin may have known Golin's parents (I imagine Golin's father must have been named Gilim).

If the players remain interested, I think there's enough stuff there to support several more sessions at least.

4e's is "better" than TB's for a few system architecture reasons I'd say:

* Less parameters governing the difficulty of the throughline of play in 4e than in TB.

* The Milestone mechanic is a negative feedback loop which ameliorates the hardship of "pressing on" within the Adventuring Day paradigm.

* Torchbearer's attrition model is a continuous, layered positive feedback loop which continues its work beyond each singular loop of play (Journey > Adventure > Camp > Town) whereas 4e's is overwhelmingly siloed with little in the way of mechanical knock-on effects (unless the Disease Track is employed in particular ways).


With TB, you've got a host of converging elements beyond the Adventure Design parameters (# of Problem Areas based on Adv size + Obstacle difficulties and #s divided into tiers, Rest areas, Proximity to Town, Challenge Types, among other pieces of clear and excellent direction):

* Journey phase as multifaceted, variable attrition element.

* The incentive structures inherent to advancement (folks are going to make Tests that they aren't good at and this is going to yield Conditions/Twists that diversely complicate the model of play).

* The interplay between Grind Clock + Light Clock + "Must Secure Checks to Camp" + the complex decision-tree that Team PC must navigate around the question of "when do we need to camp and can we afford to make a Survey test for Camp amenities/Events Roll etc + this area is Dangerous...do we want to push on to a less Dangerous site", etc, etc. This, by itself, is so deeply complex, that it makes trying to accurately model and predict play in Adventure Design deeply difficult if not impossible.

* The importance of Gear and Tools and Supplies in the course of play.

* The role that Twists play in significantly perturbing (difficulty, length, the overall attrition model, the downstream role in impacting subsequent players' decision-trees) every single Phase of play.

* The decisions players will face and the variance with which one subset of players will make (vs what another subset might make) when it comes to managing Order of Might interactions/decisions and the same for Precedence.

* As mentioned before, the overall positive feedback loop of play is such a powerful parameter to all of this. Its powerful holistically and its also powerful discretely (my Resources sucks...oh boy that is going to be a problem loading out and Paying Debs in Town Phase).





So I guess my position on this is:

4e's model is just profoundly less complex than TB's so its inputs into "The Adventuring Day" are going to inherently be more reliable (GM perspective) whereas TB's are so multivariate with so many consequential short and long-term feedback loops that the best you can hope for is what they've provided. And with that in consideration, what they have provided as absolutely excellent in my opinion. Wonderful design that works quite well. When I contrast it with other systems that are considerably less complicated that offer both lesser and worse instruction at "the game layer" (in terms of reliability and durability)...let us just say that Luke and Thor should win alllllllllllllllll the design rewards and be heralded for their work!
 

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4e's is "better" than TB's for a few system architecture reasons I'd say:

* Less parameters governing the difficulty of the throughline of play in 4e than in TB.

* The Milestone mechanic is a negative feedback loop which ameliorates the hardship of "pressing on" within the Adventuring Day paradigm.

* Torchbearer's attrition model is a continuous, layered positive feedback loop which continues its work beyond each singular loop of play (Journey > Adventure > Camp > Town) whereas 4e's is overwhelmingly siloed with little in the way of mechanical knock-on effects (unless the Disease Track is employed in particular ways).


With TB, you've got a host of converging elements beyond the Adventure Design parameters (# of Problem Areas based on Adv size + Obstacle difficulties and #s divided into tiers, Rest areas, Proximity to Town, Challenge Types, among other pieces of clear and excellent direction):

* Journey phase as multifaceted, variable attrition element.

* The incentive structures inherent to advancement (folks are going to make Tests that they aren't good at and this is going to yield Conditions/Twists that diversely complicate the model of play).

* The interplay between Grind Clock + Light Clock + "Must Secure Checks to Camp" + the complex decision-tree that Team PC must navigate around the question of "when do we need to camp and can we afford to make a Survey test for Camp amenities/Events Roll etc + this area is Dangerous...do we want to push on to a less Dangerous site", etc, etc. This, by itself, is so deeply complex, that it makes trying to accurately model and predict play in Adventure Design deeply difficult if not impossible.

* The importance of Gear and Tools and Supplies in the course of play.

* The role that Twists play in significantly perturbing (difficulty, length, the overall attrition model, the downstream role in impacting subsequent players' decision-trees) every single Phase of play.

* The decisions players will face and the variance with which one subset of players will make (vs what another subset might make) when it comes to managing Order of Might interactions/decisions and the same for Precedence.

* As mentioned before, the overall positive feedback loop of play is such a powerful parameter to all of this. Its powerful holistically and its also powerful discretely (my Resources sucks...oh boy that is going to be a problem loading out and Paying Debs in Town Phase).





So I guess my position on this is:

4e's model is just profoundly less complex than TB's so its inputs into "The Adventuring Day" are going to inherently be more reliable (GM perspective) whereas TB's are so multivariate with so many consequential short and long-term feedback loops that the best you can hope for is what they've provided. And with that in consideration, what they have provided as absolutely excellent in my opinion. Wonderful design that works quite well. When I contrast it with other systems that are considerably less complicated that offer both lesser and worse instruction at "the game layer" (in terms of reliability and durability)...let us just say that Luke and Thor should win alllllllllllllllll the design rewards and be heralded for their work!
Yeah, this resonates with me. I added some options in HoML. So, you can trade damage for wounds, which are a type of affliction, which is just a generalization of 4e disease. Thus if your character is tragically crushed by the T-Rex and is now at -5 hit points, you can 'trade', getting back HS worth of hit points (so now you're still probably not in good shape, but up) and instead you might have 'broken leg' or something (you can pretty much color them as you wish, though that will potentially reflect in fiction). The GM gets to decide what the wound is, but of course the usual GMly constraining considerations apply.

That brings into play a more long-term dynamic where you can balance between longer lasting debilitation and basic hit point damage. Also, since afflictions require more specific sorts of treatments than just "heal me" and can get WORSE if not treated, its a bit of a more complex thing, and could almost be played a bit like the way TB conditions wear down the PC's capacity. You could introduce affliction types that represented things like general fatigue and hunger as well, though I have not tried to do that (HoML is not intended to be so grindy, I was more motivated to give players the ability to have 'cool wounds', but it is pretty flexible).
 

GM guidance “at the game layer” is the most important aspect of GMing advice a game can offer. Developing, managing, and executing your mental model for “the (fictional) world” is mostly your own. The requirements and responsibility for managing “the social layer” is wholly your own.

How to create a vital, dynamic gamestate (physical, social, violent, emotional challenges) filled with an array of compelling, provocative decision-trees for players to relentlessly manage within the system’s engine; “the game layer”? Engaging with the game’s “meta” while threading the (systemitized to be incentivized if the game is designed well) thematic needle; “the game layer?”

That is the absolutely the most important GMing advice a game can offer. Candidly, transparently reveal to aspiring GM’s how to ever and always and diversely challenge the players within the game’s engine + premise. GMing instruction that falls short of that mark (typically with too much or exclusive page-space devoted to free play, or world-building, or managing the social layer/identifying aspects of it for curating play with a mind on the social layer) is GM instruction that falls short period. TB1 and 2 not only don’t fall short of that mark, they tread well beyond.
 

pemerton

Legend
4e's model is just profoundly less complex than TB's so its inputs into "The Adventuring Day" are going to inherently be more reliable (GM perspective) whereas TB's are so multivariate with so many consequential short and long-term feedback loops that the best you can hope for is what they've provided. And with that in consideration, what they have provided as absolutely excellent in my opinion. Wonderful design that works quite well. When I contrast it with other systems that are considerably less complicated that offer both lesser and worse instruction at "the game layer" (in terms of reliability and durability)...let us just say that Luke and Thor should win alllllllllllllllll the design rewards and be heralded for their work!
As you know I'm a fan of Luke and Thor's designs. And in my view the Adventure Burner (or that part of the Codex) is probably the best GM guide ever written. It helped me tremendously with 4e D&D, as well as (unsurprisingly) Burning Wheel.

I still think there's scope to better connect the stuff around "number of obstacles" with the stuff around "distance to town" with the Journey rules. Even something as simple as "each point of toll is functionally comparable to X obstacles" - given that toll either consumes gear (a bit like twists can) or requires food and drink (a bit like 4 obstacles will, though with the possibility of using Cook to defray this, but at the cost of 2 more points of toll so the actual maths gets a bit intricate) or requires coin (which is somewhat comparable to one obstacle in the town phase) or earns a condition (a bit like 4 obstacles will).

Somewhat related: I think my players are going to get a bit of a shock when their PCs enter the Shadow Caves beneath Megloss's house - because it is an inherently more demanding environment than poking around town and burgling a house. I think they've become a bit soft with the comforts of town adventuring.
 

Somewhat related: I think my players are going to get a bit of a shock when their PCs enter the Shadow Caves beneath Megloss's house - because it is an inherently more demanding environment than poking around town and burgling a house. I think they've become a bit soft with the comforts of town adventuring.
This smacks of a GM 'lets be a bit evil' agenda! ;) lol.
 

pemerton

Legend
This smacks of a GM 'lets be a bit evil' agenda! ;) lol.
I think the way that I approached the system worked for experienced RPGers, but could have backfired for newbies.

The initial adventure location - the Tower of Stars - was a bit of a way from anywhere, and so our second session involved a debilitating journey. And the players also hadn't yet got the hang of the "earn checks, make camp" dynamic. So the early experiences of the system were pretty brutal.

The "second phase" of our last few town-based sessions has allowed the players a bit of respite (in the non-technical sense): they've been able to build up their positions a little bit, grow their Resources, engage with NPCs, and have some skills and abilities improve (which has been helped by earning some success in tests against modest obstacles and conflicts with human-scale opponents).

When they enter the Shadow Caves, I'm expecting it to feel a bit more like the earlier sessions, but they should have a bit more experience to bring to bear. I'm curious as to how exactly it will play out!
 

I think the way that I approached the system worked for experienced RPGers, but could have backfired for newbies.

The initial adventure location - the Tower of Stars - was a bit of a way from anywhere, and so our second session involved a debilitating journey. And the players also hadn't yet got the hang of the "earn checks, make camp" dynamic. So the early experiences of the system were pretty brutal.

The "second phase" of our last few town-based sessions has allowed the players a bit of respite (in the non-technical sense): they've been able to build up their positions a little bit, grow their Resources, engage with NPCs, and have some skills and abilities improve (which has been helped by earning some success in tests against modest obstacles and conflicts with human-scale opponents).

When they enter the Shadow Caves, I'm expecting it to feel a bit more like the earlier sessions, but they should have a bit more experience to bring to bear. I'm curious as to how exactly it will play out!
Right, it should be cool. What do you think they want to find? hehe.
 

pemerton

Legend
Right, it should be cool. What do you think they want to find? hehe.
Well, their Scholar success was only for common knowledge, so all they know is that there was an Elf who turned from the West to the Outer Dark. And that Megloss's house was built by its original owner, the wizard Pallando, around the stolen Dreamhouse post brought there by the renegade Elf.

I'm sure they'll be able to make up some goals though.
 

Well, their Scholar success was only for common knowledge, so all they know is that there was an Elf who turned from the West to the Outer Dark. And that Megloss's house was built by its original owner, the wizard Pallando, around the stolen Dreamhouse post brought there by the renegade Elf.

I'm sure they'll be able to make up some goals though.
Oh, Dreamhouse, well that sounds pretty interesting. My elf had some fun with one of those too...
 

As you know I'm a fan of Luke and Thor's designs. And in my view the Adventure Burner (or that part of the Codex) is probably the best GM guide ever written. It helped me tremendously with 4e D&D, as well as (unsurprisingly) Burning Wheel.

I still think there's scope to better connect the stuff around "number of obstacles" with the stuff around "distance to town" with the Journey rules. Even something as simple as "each point of toll is functionally comparable to X obstacles" - given that toll either consumes gear (a bit like twists can) or requires food and drink (a bit like 4 obstacles will, though with the possibility of using Cook to defray this, but at the cost of 2 more points of toll so the actual maths gets a bit intricate) or requires coin (which is somewhat comparable to one obstacle in the town phase) or earns a condition (a bit like 4 obstacles will).

Somewhat related: I think my players are going to get a bit of a shock when their PCs enter the Shadow Caves beneath Megloss's house - because it is an inherently more demanding environment than poking around town and burgling a house. I think they've become a bit soft with the comforts of town adventuring.

I agree with you on the Toll supplementary rules in Loremaster's Manual. They could have done more work in explaining the mathematical relationship between Toll : Obstacle.

So I've run 8 x TB1 games and 2 TB2 games. The two TB2 games I've run I've treated just like TB1 when it comes to Journey which is basically the LMM's guidance for Journeys except remove Toll. It makes it pretty easy to determine the relative difficulty added to an entire Adventure phase in my opinion:

* Journeys are one of five things:

Elided - At low-level and close proximity to Town, you just start at the entrance to the Adventure (which is typically, though not always, a delve).

Connected by Road - As above, its typically just "you're there at the entrance (because the road is safe and, in CRPG parlance, "fast travel")" unless the road itself is a problem area to navigate. Then you make a test in Adventure phase.

1 x Wilderness Obstacle/Problem Area - Short or Long Journey (Pathfinder or Sailor test overwhelmingly, but possibly another test given the obstacle/problem area) counts toward Adventure phase.

Multi-Leg - TB1 calls this a "pre-adventure" Adventure. Essentially, this is a reskinned Mouse Guard Mission. You've got 3 to 4 linked obstacles/problem areas where you deal with each one at a time and they should be diverse (like the LMM discusses and just like the Mouse Guard Mission instruction entails). This is Adventure phase. Add this up with a Short Adventure and you've got # of obstacles/problem areas = Medium Adventure!

Wilderness Adventure - Employ Adventure Design procedures as normal.




With those relationships to Adventure Design, it becomes straight-forward in adding up the extra obstacles to the Adventure and just subtracting one from the Adventure to net the total problem areas/obstacles or adding 3-4 to turn a Short Adventure into a Medium one. Toll-tallying + Roles adds another layer to the whole affair that makes things (a) much more variable, (b) more book-keeping intensive, and (c) likely more arduous for both for both players and GMs in managing play. Its not clear to me that "the juice is worth the squeeze" of those two things. The game is already deeply complex and book-keeping intensive as is. When I reviewed it, it also wasn't clear to me that the decision-points inherent to course-charting + Toll-tallying + Roles are particularly provocative and interesting. IMO, the problem area/obstacle framing > LEDATR (Listen, Explore, Decide, Act, Test, Result) Loop is what is important to the Adventure phase (along with all the other layers of Grind, Light, Checks, Inventory Management, etc). That is what I want out of Journey/Wilderness Adventuring (along with course-charting). Adding another layer on top seemed (seems) one of the only questionable decisions in the new ruleset.
 

pemerton

Legend
@Manbearcat

My impression of the toll rules is that they do a couple of things, maybe three or four in fact:

They replace the light clock, which is often going to be a thing in the adventur-y part of the adventure phase but is not a thing when travelling;

With toll for roles, they allow camp/town-type checks to be made in the adventure phase, thereby reconciling verisimilitude (ie surely we have time to cook while travelling) with the idea that certain grind-mitigating activities (cooking, foraging, etc) can't be undertaken within the context of the grind itself;

More generally, they downplay the obstacles-and-twists vibe of the adventure phase, which is also associated with fairly "granular" interaction with the environment, and replace it with more abstract mechanics that give a sense of the passage of time and distance;

The last thing I see them doing is perhaps the most important. It's a different aspect of my third point. Whereas the third point is about verisimilitude and level of "zoom"/granularity, this final point is about the basic structure of play. Torchbearer 2e emphasises GM-presented adventures - prepared adventure sites - that the PCs have to get to if the game play is to happen. As we all know from bad experiences playing D&D and D&D-esque games, this model can break down when the obstacles the GM places in the way of travelling to the adventure location (eg wandering monsters) mean that the PCs never actually get there. (Moldvay Basic elides this problem by handwaving travel to and from the dungeon.) The toll framework is a way of "saying 'yes'" (or almost "yes") to the PCs' successful travel to the adventure site, while still establishing a sense of "weight" and "reality" for the travel.
 
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pemerton

Legend
We played another session yesterday - Fea-bella and Golin. As Fea-bella's player had been absent last session, we got a brief account of how she woke from her dream fugue in Megloss's house and rejoined Golin. And Golin chose a new Belief - that the Elves have too many secrets! (Which he will discover and reveal.)

The session started in town phase. Golin shared the information that he and Korvin had acquired in the previous session, and Fea-bella did some more research. I figured that with the information already discovered, she had a "Detailed description" of what she was researching, and and for Ob 4 could learn an interesting fact. The Scholar test succeeded, and the interesting fact was that Celedhring, after entering the Shadow Caves, had never left them! Golin's player conjectured a lich; and Fea-bella decided to purchase some holy water for battling the undead. I've been following the gear availability rules from the LMM pretty closely, which has limited what the PCs can buy in the Wizard's Tower without going to the black market (which in this context I'm construing as buying directly from townsfolk or peasants). Holy water is listed as availability 3, ie in Wizards' Towers, Religious Bastions and Forgotten Temple Complexes. I toyed with being a mean GM and saying that, for holy water, one of those is not like the other two. But then I reviewed my list of town facilities for a Wizard's Tower and allowed that there was a shrine, where holy water might be acquired. Golin offered help. But the Resources test (5 dice against Ob 3) failed - the shrine attendant sold Fea-bella the holy water, but only after berating her for her lack of regular attendance or offerings (ie her and Golin both had their Resources taxed down to 1).

Fea-bella also bought some wine, food and candles.

Golin used his 2nd level Outcast ability to haggle for free. The test failed, but the Failed Haggling Events roll didn't hurt him. He also bought some candles and food, but had some trouble with other purchases. He failed an attempt to buy rope, and I introduced a twist - a constable of the Tower, who wanted to learn more about Golin's involvement in an explosion at the hedge wizard's establishment, and its subsequent burning down. Golin decided to turn the gathered crowd against the constable and in his favour - opposed Oratory tests! Fea-bella helped with her Manipulator ("He's an innocent Dwarf, just trying to buy some rope!" called a heckler from the crowd), and Golin succeeded. So the constable backed off, but not without giving a look to the rope vendor that made it clear no rope was to be vended (ie the failed Resources test was to stand).

Golin then decided to buy a small shovel (pack 1 compared to the standard pack 2) - I asked whether he wanted wooden (Ob 1) or metal (Ob 2) and his player replied "Wooden, of course!" - it can also be used as fuel if necessary. But the three dice (Resources back up to 2 by this stage, plus +1D from a stimulated economy) yielded not a single success, and who should Golin see coming towards him once again but the constable! I told him to note down his new enemy, and that the town phase was now done. Both players succeeded on their Lifestyle checks, and so returned Fresh to Megloss's house to begin the adventure proper.

Megloss was not initially that happy - "Do you know anything about the papers missing from my bench downstairs?" - but a Manipulator vs Manipulator by Golin (helped by Fea-bella) persuaded him that Golin didn't know anything, and so he assumed the cinder imp must have burned them. The test failed, but I opted to have Megloss believe Golin, an Golin become Angry at having to justify himself all the time, as I didn't want another confrontation with Megloss at this point.

Megloss then showed them into his back room, where they had to break through the floor (which they knew to be weak and rotten) to get to the dungeon beneath. Golin used his instinct (to Always look for weak points) and succeeded at an Ob 1 Labourer test, and they found the entrance shaft beneath it. Next to the shaft was a a strange statute (pack 1), an idol of an unknown religion, a muscled humanoid with a long tongue and painted in flaking red paint. Fea-bella tried to identify it, but failed the Ob 4 Theologian test (but did open Theologian skill, and also picked up a check for camp phase) and was distracted by the sight of a corpse candle in the cave below. This required an Ob 3 Will test to avoid being lured down - the test succeeded, but only after spending persona to reroll traitors (using Elven Lore-wise).

Golin - lamenting his lack of rope - then made a successful Ob 4 Dungeoneer test to get the two of them down into the cave, where they found a pool of water (revealed to be potable by a successful Survivalist test) and saw one of the walls to be worked rather than natural. Golin examined it with his Dwarven Nature and realised it was Dwarven work. He then searched it, which he found tiring (failed Ob 4 Scout test, leading to Exhaustion) but he did manage to open the cunningly wrought secret doors.

These led the characters through a wedge-shaped room with stairs down. At the bottom of the stairs was a dead, skeletal, body - they looted it for its leather armour and 2D of gold coins. Examination revealed these to be Elven coins (Ob 2 Scholar from Fea-bella); Fea-bella took them, and Golin donned the leather armour. (Which also answered the question Was the body an Elf? - no, or else its armour wouldn't fit Golin!)

At the (narrow) end of the wedge room there were glowing symbols on the walls either side of the door out. Golin assisted Fea-bella in using Lore Master to read them, but the Ob 4 test failed, and so the PCs triggered the symbols of blinding! Both failed the Ob 4 Will test - 3 successes each - and so both were blinded (which I treated as mechanically equivalent to darkness). They retreated back up the stairs to the pond cave and camped. Being blind, they couldn't set a watch, but Fea-bella did manage the Ob 2 Survivalist check to light a fire, and Golin spent the check to attempt (and succeed) at a recovery test for Angry.

The camp event roll was a gentle 14, and at the end of the camp phase - which was when their blindness ended - they also got to pick one stem of glowing fungus, for use either as a candle or as cooking supplies.

After this pause in the action, they returned to the wedge room, averting their eyes from the symbols, and going through the door. This took them to an area where their candles provided only dim light, and dim light was darkness. They could see an alcove in the wall opposite, but when they went to explore it they awoke the aptrgangr resting there, as well as its friends.

Golin's player decided that they should extinguish their lights, to try and get the aptrgangr's to return to their rest. The rules say that only riddling or fleeing are possible in darkness; I decided that this was a trick that was in the neighbourhood of riddling, and so was also an acceptable conflict, pitting the PCs Manipulator and Lore Master against the aptrgangrs' Hunting Nature.

The players were defeated in the trickery contest, with only a minor compromise owed by the aptrgangrs. In retrospect I think I was a bit lenient here - I decided where, on my map, the aptrgangrs had led the PCs to, and it did have the potential to put the PCs at a disadvantage, but that ended up not mattering as after some discussion the PCs decided to remain in darkness (rather than pulling out their glowing fungus) and flee. And so they didn't suffer much consequence from their failed trickery. I now think the Afraid condition would have been appropriate, but didn't think of that at the time.

The pursuit was a close thing, but the aptrgangrs won with one hp left, and so I decided that they had caught up to the PCs, and forced a confrontation; but with a significant compromise owed, I determined that they had all moved to the other end of the map, where natural light fell though an open "window" in the cliff-side - looking out over the lower hills and the plain - which removed the light penalties.

At this point I made what could be considered a GMing error - I had in mind the episode in LotR where the Hobbits are caught in the Barrow Downs and awaken with a blade across their throats, and so I decided the aptrgangrs would try and capture the PCs. Only once I declared this to the players did I realise that, at Might 2 vs Might 3, the aptrgangrs can't actually do that! But I felt locked in by my declaration, and so the capture conflict was on!

This time around the PCs did well, and defeated the aptrgangrs with a half-compromise owed. The rules suggest, as possible compromises, "the adventurers are injured, weapons broken, or armour rent and torn". During the conflict, when Fea-bella used a vial of her holy water to good affect against an aptrgangr, I had decided that if they got the chance the aptrgangrs would smash her other vials if they got the chance - and given that she had been dropped to zero hp while Golin had lost none, I put that forward as the compromise. Fea-bella's player protested a little, but when I said perhaps she could be injured instead, the player was happy to lose the gear instead.

While the aptrgangrs cowered, the characters examined the room they'd been chased into: a semicircular hall with a domed roof, and a throne on a round dais in the centre; Cartographer’s tools (paper, ink, pen, brush) sit on the arm of the throne.

Further examination revealed that the throne could be rotated, but they would need a rod to fit into the mechanism. Golin didn't want to risk breaking his (really Glothfindel's) Elven sword Awakener of Dreams; and Fea-bella didn't want to risk breaking her half-moon glaive. So she decided to poke around for a rod. She failed the Ob 2 Scavenging test, and so was Angry and frustrated by the time she found something that would suit her purposes. Golin used it, successfully opening Labourer in the process; but turning the throne didn't reveal anything - it just rotated it a full 360 degrees.

There was speculation that it might be a magical viewing throne, and Golin - with his new Belief - decided to sit on it and find out. This was a fun sequence, which I adjudicated as per my prior write-up of the throne:

Whoever sits on the throne seems to travel out across the land: the floor, wall and arching roof vanish, replaced with clear visions of the land below, the horizon all around, and the sky above. The traveller always hovers at least 1,000' above the ground, and can rise up to an altitude of 9 miles. The traveller cannot see into enclosed areas such as building or caves or under forest canopies, but a forest can be made to appear stripped of leaves (requires Ob 2 Will test). The traveller cannot enter a settlement, nor pass through a maze of mist and shadows. Use requires making a Nature test, either against Ob equal to overland travel toll (and costing a turn), or against Ob 3 (if a turn is spent making a test; in this case, the Nature test does not require a turn). Margin of failure of the Nature test causes tax.​

Golin spent two turns on the throne (and passed both Nature tests), "travelling" to the Tower of Stars, where he saw Telemere the Elven Ranger still encamped awaiting the return of his fellows (an allusion to their first session, which was the only one Telemere's player has attended), and back - I didn't have my world map with me (I'd left it at home) but deemed this two Toll each way. Golin's player remarked that he thought Megloss would be pretty happy with this discovery! This was the first time it really dawned on Fea-bella that they were down here at Megloss's behest, as his agents.

With the mystery of the throne unravelled, Golin wanted to return to the surface, where he would sell the aptrgangrs to the Wizard of the Tower! Fea-bella wanted to loot the alcoves first, but Golin was worried that if something went wrong the aptrgangrs could cease to be cowed, and turn on them. So they agreed that Golin would take the aptrgangrs out, and then Fea-bella would go back and loot the alcoves if it seemed safe to do so.

They returned to the pool cave, and I asked how they planned to get out - eg a "human" pyramid of aptrgangrs? Golin's player said that they would call for Megloss to lower a rope. So he tested Persuader 2 against Megloss's Manipulator 3. And failed. So (in a shocking twist) Megloss leaned over the edge of the hole and asked them how much they would pay for rope? He suggested 2D of coins (given that rope is Ob 2 Resources). This was a Negotiation contest, but not a long one - Megloss had 8 hp, while the PCs had 4, and in two actions they had been reduced to zero hp while Megloss had lost only 1. So they agreed to pay 2D of coins, although as well as the rope Megloss tossed in a loaf of Krystal's hardtack (Krystal is Megloss's housekeeper, and in the previous session if the PCs had lost their convince conflict with Megloss would have had to go into the dungeon with nothing but a bit of provisioning from Krystal). So the PCs got an extra portion of preserved rations along with a rope to pull them out.

We had to finish the session at that point. Fea-bella got a persona point for achieving her goal (root out the undead!) and for MVP (she was the one who worked out there would be undead, and who packed holy water); while Golin got a fate for pursuing his Belief (he uncovered the secret of the Elven seeing throne) and for using his Instinct, and got a persona for Teamwork (he was the one who got them through the dungeon). Both characters have spent enough rewards to get to 3rd level in their next town phase, which will be a respite I think.
 

pemerton

Legend
We played again today.

The session started with a prologue from Golin's player, which eliminated the Dwarven Outcast's exhaustion.

We had four players present - Korvin the Skald had turned up, after boozing at the tavern through the events of the last session, in time for the second shift. And Telemere the Elven Ranger also turned up, joining Golin and Korvin up top. This prompted a question (and a ret-con) - if Telemere was travelling around these parts, who had Golin seen when (in the previous session) he "travelled" on the throne of seeing to the Tower of Stars and (thought he) saw Telemere. Was there another Elf who might have been sitting there, and been mistaken for Telemere? Yes - Kalamere, Telemere's brother and Enemy.

Meanwhile, Fea-bella the Elven Dreamwalker went back in to try and loot the aptrgangr alcoves. Except then she decided that she would try something different - going to the seeing throne and trying to bend it to her will so it would show the location of her stolen, cursed Elfstone (inhabited by the dream spirit of Mim the Petty Dwarf). I said that this would require a successful Enchanting Nature test against Ob 4. Her Nature is 2, and she spent a point of persona to lift it to 4 (by channelling her Nature), and then got a dismal roll (I think zero successes, maybe 1) and so couldn't justify throwing more rewards at it to try and get over the line.

I told the others that they heard an Elven shriek echoing through the caverns up to where they were standing above the entrance. Golin's player was "who cares" until I pointed out that no player's character can enter camp or town phase while another is still in the adventure phase - and Fea-bella, having fallen unconscious from the strain and being dragged off by aptrgangrs, was definitely still in the adventure phase.

The player had already changed Golin's Belief to be "I won't be held back by Elven prats" (or something very much to that effect), and so now was his chance to go Mouldbreaker, ranting to Megloss (Fea-bella's enemy, who had retained Golin and Korvin to explore the caves beneath his house) about the trouble Fea-bella causes him. Megloss replied that that was why, back in the Elven Dreamhouse, they had called her "Nuisance". Megloss also offered to purchase Golin's 3 captured Aptr-Gangrs (for resale) for 2D each - which I immediately realised was too generous, when Golin's player accepted the offer without any haggling or negotiation. When I asked if he would have taken 1D each, he answered that he absolutely would have!

Golin, Korvin and Telemere thus went back into the caves. A couple of Dungeoneer tests - one to set up a proper rope-line down into the caves from the surface entrance, and another to move through the dark without getting ambushed by aptrgangrs - succeeded. I told the players that their PCs heard an echoing noise, as of doors being shut (my thought at that stage was that Fea-bella had been dragged through the doors, but this was revised as I will explain below). The PCs found the doors with a successful test (I think on Scout, made for Telemere). Telemere's player then made a test, based on his Instinct, to see if they were being watched in the dark - and failed, so the aptrgangrs came for them, and they fled. The players succeeded at the Flee conflict, but with a compromise - so instead of arriving at their intended destination, the natural-light-filled room with the seeing throne, they ended up in a different room, stumbling over Fea-bella's body which had been dumped there. This roused Fea-bella from her unconsciousness, and she was able to light her lantern.

Fea-bella's player had revised her Instinct, from a camp/town/journey mapping instinct back to her "read everything I see" instinct. So when I mentioned the writing on the wall behind the 12' long sarcophagus with an icy lid, she started reading it. Of course these were cursed runes but the player succeeded on the Will test, and so realised that if Fea-bella kept reading she would free Duran, the trapped demon of the Outer Cark.

The PCs then worked out the demon was trapped in the icy sarcophagus in front of them, and was a larger-than-life-sized version of the strange idol at the entrance to the dungeon. As per his instinct, Golin identified the weak spot in the sarcophagus - its icy lid! And Telemere spotted the treasure chest at the feet of the demon. So the players came up with the plan of roping the demon down at the upper end, while breaking the bottom to extract the treasure. I checked the Hunter obstacles and learned that trapping a monster with snares or nets is Ob 6. Needless to say that check was not a success, and so when the Dwarf shattered the lid, out came the demon . . .

The players' (and their PCs') first response was to try and trick the demon into thinking they'd deliberately released it and so were owed a reward (ie the treasure in the chest). They won, but with a compromise - which, after a bit of back-and-forth that included me as GM taking some remarks made by them at face value, ended up being that they would sacrifice Megloss on the altar to the Outer Dark. The demon duly went off to procure Megloss from his house (which, as already mentioned, sits directly atop the dungeon).

Duran brought Megloss back pretty quickly, but not so quickly the players couldn't divvy up the loot from the demon's treasure chest, which first required Korvin to pick its lock; though in the course of this the Dreamwalker failed what was her first attempt to cast a spell (no successes from 4 Arcanist dice for an Ob 1 Mystic Porter), and d opted for a twist - a Wizard of Earthsea-style shadow coming out of her heart and scurrying off into the darkness (it seemed very fitting given she had just been party to an agreement to sacrifice a fellow Elf to the Outer Dark).

When Duran returned with Megloss, the players asked whether he had also brought Megloss's Half-Moon Glaive. I answered that he hadn't - and so they next tricked him again, into accepting the proposition that only a sacrifice of Megloss with his own ceremonial weapon would be fitting. The PCs won again, but with a minor compromise - the Dwarf PC, who had been bonding with Megloss earlier in the session and whose player thought all this was rather mad, became Angry.

The PCs decided that third time around they would need to fight, and so retreated to the seeing throne room, which with its window of natural light would obviate their need for artificial light sources. When the demon turned up again, glaive in hand, they decided to drive it off. Because its Instinct is to avoid being imprisoned again, I had given it a high hit point total for Capture conflicts but a low one for Drive Off - and so the players won this conflict with no compromise (we had 4 PCs, plus Megloss, which was yielding big pools on the player side of things - and my Attack got versused and absorbed by a Manoeuvre, and then my Feint ended up against an Attack rather than the anticipated Defend or Feint).

We ended the session there. The PCs are hungry and thirsty, with no water or provisions, and Fea-bella and Golin are both Angry. I'm not sure if they will get out of the dungeon without more conditions.

In the end-of-session awards, Korvin got MVP (for picking the lock on Duran's treasure chest) and Golin Teamworker (for his Dungeoneering and sharing of provisions). Fea-bella achieved her Goal (which involved collecting wealth) and worked towards her Belief (by trying to use the seeing throne to find her Elfstone) and used her Instinct: 2 Fate, 1 Persona.

Golin got a Persona for Mouldbreaker, and a Fate for Instinct and also for pursuing his Goal of making a killing at the market (by selling his aptrgangrs to Megloss).

Telemere got a Persona for achieving his Goal (of re-joining the party as an integral member), and a Fate for his Instinct, for acting on his Belief (that things should be seen through to the end - on this occasion, the tricking of the demon) and for gallows humour (when he asked the furious demon, who had found the PCs obviously arrayed for battle in the hall of seeing, whether he was going to hand over the glaive).

Korvin got Fate for his Instinct (to never tell the truth), for his Belief that he must follow the clues to hunt down the wicked, and for his Goal of gaining food and shoes (as Golin had shared food with him).

And final reflections:

I consistently used twists and not conditions, which is perhaps making the system easier on the players than it should be. But the session was pretty fun. Next time I will try and step up the conditions a bit.

That said, with Megloss having been taken by the demon and so now with the PCs down in the dungeon, it seems unlikely that the aptrgangrs Golin sold him will remain cowed. So for my upcoming twist(s) I've got the demon (which is still entitled to its sacrifice of Megloss with the Half-Moon Glaive), the shadow spirit that came out of Fea-bella's heart (which I need to write up with a possession ability, so it can create gebbeths like in A Wizard of Earthsea), and the aptr-gangrs. Thinking about the second and third of these, I'm not liking the chances of Krystal, Megloss's ordinary Might 2 NPC housekeeper.
 

pemerton

Legend
I wrote up the shadow that came out of Fea-bella's heart:
Spiteful spirit.png
 

pemerton

Legend
We played another (relatively short) session today.

The session started with Fea-bella's player giving us the recap, which cured her of hungry and thirsty.

The players had about three turns left before they ran out of light (from their candles) and accrued another condition on the Grind. They searched the burial alcoves in the middle of the dungeon, where the aptr-gangrs had come from. The first thing they found was sun signs, but when Fea-bella read them (successful Theologian made using her Instinct to read every word) she realised they were abnegations of the sun, thus explaining why in this area bright light was rendered dim, and dim light became darkness. Telemere the elf took out his hammer and an iron spike, and marred the signs (the test failed, and I adjudicated this as success but with Exhaustion from the effort required). This had the desired effect, of ending the darkness enchantment over this area.

In the alcoves, the PCs also found some other loot: a jar of honey (cooking supplies, plus a recovery buff); and a spellbook, which Fea-bella took and read (again, instinctually), recognising that it contained two spells (Wizard's Aegis and Flames of the Shroud). I reminded the player that, as a Dreamwalker, Fea-bella can't copy spells from a spell book into her dream library, unless she can somehow find a way to get the book into her dreams. Golin's player's response: "We need to get the shadow that came out of your heart to merge with the book and take it into your dreams!" My response: "Cool!"

The PCs then went back to the entrance cave with the pool of water to camp. They had one check, and agreed that Telemere would use it to recover from Exhaustion. Everyone else took watch. They didn't have any fuel for a fire without making a Scavenging or Survivalist test, which they chose not to risk, and so it was a dark camp. I told them it was dangerous, given the Demon, the evil shadow spirit, etc. The Camp Event roll was therefore -3 for danger, +1 for dark, +1 for watch, +1 for Dwarf in a dungeon, for no nett modification. The roll was a 9, and the follow-up rolls showed that Fea-bella had lost her tinderbox through an annoying tear in her backpack.

Telemere's recovery roll was a success - no more Exhaustion. And everyone refilled their waterskins and bottles.

When the camp phase ended, the characters talked in the dark a bit. Fea-bella's Goal was to get Megloss to help her, and I decided to open up that possibility. Fea-bella had talked multiple times about wanting to find her missing Elfstone, and so I decided that Megloss asked what the Elfstone was that she kept going on about. There was a bit of back-and-forth, and the upshot was a Persuader check, helped by the other PCs (mostly Persuader, but Korvin used Manipulator with some slightly obsequious flattery of Megloss), whereby Fea-bella persuaded Megloss to say what he knew about the Elfstone possessed by the spirit of a Dwarf (ie Mim, the petty dwarf). He responded that that must be the stone that Gerda, Golin's Dwaven protege who used to work for Megloss before the PCs recruited her, keep banging on about.

This was a surprise to the PCs and also the players: it hadn't occurred to them that a relatively innocuous NPC would be the thief, even though she was the only named character (other than two PCs) present when the Elfstone went missing, and was a bandit. I told Golin's player that this probably explained why Gerda didn't seem perturbed by his lack of expediency in getting her a job in the Alchemist Guild, seeming happy to sit in her room and brood. The player was highly amused by this whole turn of events.

The players then lit their last 3 candles (with Telemere's tindebox)- and Fea-bella pulled out her stick of glowing fungus - so they could go to the doors they hadn't yet ventured through. Fea-bella instinctually read the Elvish writing on the door (successful Scholar test): it said "Here lies Celedhring, in communion with the Outer Dark". There was some discussion of what this might mean - demons, liches, portals, etc. The playes decided that it was worth checking out. Korvin inspected the doors and (with a successful Criminal test, though he would probably have preferred to fail) identified that they were not locked and would open easily. So the PCs went through.

They saw the black tapestry hanging at the end of the hall (pack 5). Golin rolled it up and tied it with a rope, ready to haul it out in a hurry if necessary. I treated this as a good idea.

Korvin took the silver cup (pack 1, draught 1, 2D) from the altar and put it in his pack.

Telemere the Elven Ranger was intrigued by the Ritual tools (bespoke tools, for performing rituals to the Outer Dark) that were also on the altar, and put them in his pack.

Then - with a bit of goading from me, reminding them that every sarcophagus they'd looked in so far has had something valuable in it - they decided to lift the lid of the sarcophagus that was sitting in the middle of the room. This freed Celedhring the Barrow Wight. The players thought this was a bad idea, and so tried to put the lid back on - a capture conflict!

Golin as conflict captain rolled 5 hit points for the players, while I rolled 8 for the Wight. I was feeling a bit confident, and the players were feeling a bit worried. But my Wight got hosed!

Golin equipped the sarcophagus lid as his weapon (+1s Attack). Telemere equipped the ritual tools that he'd taken from the altar to Darkness in the sarcophagus chamber - the players' point was that a Barrow Wight is the result of an improper burial, and so the Wight would be sensitive to the possibility of more ritual, and after some discussion I agreed these granted +1D Feint and Manoeuvre. More importantly, Telemere's player - in only his third session - worked out that paying 1 persona to put his 5 Nature dice into an unopposed attack roll might work. And so the PCs won the conflict with no hit points lost: their previous action was a Defence with lots of open-ended and so everyone rallied behind the Skald and his Voice of Thunder (even Megloss, who prior to being knocked out of the conflict had not been helping, my view being that he was too scared). They couldn't actually capture the Wight as per their intention (3 vs 5 Might) but shoved the lid back on long enough to get clean away. (The rules for what happens if an opponent's Might is to high for the players to get their conflict goal expressly say that a successful capture conflict might allow the PCs to escape, and that's what they wanted.)

The Wight did get three successes on a Manoeuvre, disarming Telemere and taking back its ritual tools. And shoving the Wight back into its sarcophagus did mean that the PCs missed out on scoring its mithril sword (+1 Might to a mortal wielder). I offered as consolation that they now knew the location of a mithril sword; Golin's player retorted that they knew the location of a wielder of a mithril sword!

The PCs decided to leave the dungeon - which meant going back up the rope into Megloss's house - Golin successfully hauling the tapestry behind him (Ob 3 Labourer). Fea-bella's player had to leave, and I decided that Megloss also hung back a bit, so it was only three PCs - Korvin, Telemere and Golin - who heard the housekeeper Krystal asking them, in a slightly raspy voice, how they had done.

I took a minute or two to decide how I wanted to handle this, but decided to do it as opposed Scout tests - Krystal possessed by the Spiteful Spirit commanding the three aptr-gangrs, vs each PC rolling individually. Telemere succeeded, and so thwarted the ambush the Spirit had in mind (ie a Kill conflict). I told him that he was conflict captain, and after a discussio among the players he decided to go for a capture instead, so that the players could sell the aptr-gangrs again (having already sold them to Megloss last session).

This was another success for the players - I scripted an ill-judged Feint which ended up against an Attack and the NPCs were out, while the players, open-ending some 6s, had once again been able to restore their lost hp with a successful Defend.

The session ended there. I can't recall and so won't recap all the Fate and Persona awards, except that there had been general agreement that Fea-bella had earned gallows humour Fate - I think our second ever, and the first for Fea-bella - with a cheesy "box"-related joke ("out of the box"? "back in the box"?) directed at the Barrow Wight. She also got Teamworker, while Telemere got MVP having made the huge successful concluding attack against the Wight.

I think our next session is likely to involve a Town Phase.
 

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