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



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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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.


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.


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


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.


Today's session did indeed involve a Town Phase - the PCs' first Respite. But first there was a final conflict in the Adventure Phase.

We had two players and so two PCs - Fea-bella the Elven Dreamwalker and Golin the Dwarven Outcast. I suggested that as Fea-bella and Megloss joined the other three characters (Korvin, Telemere and Golin), Megloss said something to Telemere in Elven, leading to Telemere heading off somewhere; and that Korvin said something charming and likewise headed off.

Megloss then addressed Fea-bella and Golin, insisting that they try and drive the possessing spirit out of Krystal, Megloss's housekeeper. The PCs wanted to leave the house back into the village (ie the players wanted to enter Town Phase) and so we resolved this as a Convince conflict. The players won, after a very long number of rounds (about 9), but there were compromises required: Megloss had to keep his promise of food, and the players promised to come back and help Krystal after they had recovered in town.

The players then "camped" in Megloss's house: Fea-bella recovered from Angry and rememorised her spell; Golin used Krystal's kitchen to cook some food for him and Megloss.

Then the PCs left the house and started their respite, which lasted the summer. The town event was Pit Fighting: Fea-bella paid it no attention, but Golin - who had recovered from Angry when his player gave the prologue - chose to become Angry to recover his taxed Nature. Unfortunately his recovery test, with 5D against Ob 2, failed (zero successes).

Both PCs reached 3rd level - Fea-bella chose Essence of the Earth, and Golin chose Hardy Stock. We went through the other steps of Respite. Fea-bella took Dreams-wise and gained the Graceful trait; Golin took Instruction-wise and gained the Avaricious trait. Fea-bella's creed is that These are dark times, and so all Elves need help; while Golin's is that Elves are lost in their dreams, and need grounding in reality.

Fea-bella did a lot of shopping, but all for the cheap and simple items available in a Wizard's Tower - eg candles, tinderbox, provisions - but also for Religious Amulets (of the Sun) purchased at the shrine. She also reached out to her mentor, Jobe, in her dreams, and he taught her the Lightness of Being spell. There was some discussion of whether she would track down Gerda (the Dwarven NPC who had stolen her cursed Elfstone) but the player couldn't afford the lifestyle cost (which would be stepped up during a Respite) and so instead treated us to a soliloquy from Fea-bella in which she tried to persuade herself that she could overcome the pull of the gem on her will - she, an Elf, was not going to succumb to greed as a Dwarf would!

Golin sold the tapestry for 4D of silver (after tax), and bargained to sell the captured aptr-gangrs to the magicians and alchemists. They offered 5D in coins - Golin couldn't carry that much money, and wanted a 3D gem instead. I set this as an Ob 1 Haggler test - he succeeded, which also took his skill to Haggler 3.

Golin also did research on Gebbeths. I set this as Ob 3 Scholar to obtain common knowledge - the roll failed, and so I provided information but Golin was Exhausted from all the time spent in the library. He learned that Gebbeths had last been active under the influence of the Temple of Elemental Evil, and that when a Gebbeth is driven out the victim is often left a dead, soulless husk.

This all took a while to resolve - the usual bookkeeping of a Town Phase plus the additional Respite aspects.

The PCs then returned to Megloss's house, to keep their promise. Fea-bella made her Lifestyle roll, but Golin didn't. Which his player had anticipated: when helping one of Fea-bella's Resources checks he'd spent a Fate point to get the success check on his own Resources, and the failure was what he needed to increase his Resources to 3. So Fea-bella was Fresh, while Golin remained Angry and Exhausted (but at least his coin soaked his Resources tax).

I rolled the weather for the first month of autumn - rain. Not auspicious - as I said, the PCs would not be able to equip the sun streaming through the windows onto the possessed Krystal.

Megloss told them that he had been using his Healing to keep the still-possessed, still-restrained Krystal alive. There was discussion of what sort of spiritual conflict to attempt - the players opted for Bind, so that the spirit could take the looted spellbook (from the aptr-gangr alcove) into Fea-bella's dreams (as Golin's player had suggested last session). Fea-bella took the spellbook out of her backpack, and Megloss asked what it was. She answered that it was the tome into which the shadow spirit would be bound.

The PCs rolled 6 hp, with Golin as conflict captain (relying on his research into Gebbeth's) - 3 for Fea-bella, 2 for Golin and 1 for Megloss as a helper but not an actor. The spirit rolled 7 hp (based on its Possessing nature). At first it seemed the PCs might do well, as they dropped the spirit to 6 hp in the first round. But then in the next two rounds the spirit regained its lost hp and reduced the PCs to zero.

I had a look at the compromise descriptions for Bind conflicts, and settled on the following (with no quibbling from the players): the spirit left Krystal's body - which was left a lifeless, soulless husk - and entered Megloss. It took the spellbook with it, into Megloss's dreams rather than Fea-bella's. And the unnatural spiritual activity caused the rain to get heavier - a bolt of lightning struck the house, destroying its front half and leaving the PCs outside in the wet, while Megloss remained dry in what was left of his home.

The general view on the player side was that this was a bit of a disaster - Fea-bella and Megloss had been reaching some sort of rapprochement, and Golin was close to making friends. And all that seemed to be undone, plus the spellbook was lost.

From my point of view as GM, the PCs now have three supernatural opponents resulting from their exploration of the dungeon under Megloss's house: Duran the demon of the Outer Dark; Celedhring the mithril sword-wielding barrow wight; and the shadow spirit-possessed Megloss.

We ended the session there. Fea-bella got her Persona for mouldbreaker (the soliloquy about the gem), and for Teamworker (she had done all the buying during Town Phase) and for achieving her goal of having her mentor teach her a spell. Golin got one Persona for MVP (his research into the Gebbeth) and two Fate - he pursued his Goal (of having a restful Town Phase - it was unanimously agreed he failed to achieve it!) and his Belief (that the aptr-gangrs would be paid for, again).

I don't know what will happen next session. I'd be interested in another journey, but how the new creeds will factor into the new Megloss situation I don't know.


We played again yesterday, with a full house of players (Fea-bella, Golin, Korvin and Telemere). Neither of the players who were in our last session got the prologue benefit, as I (as GM) was the one who had to give the prologue, given the passage of time between sessions!

The opening situation had Fea-bella and Golin lying in the mud and rain, while Korvin (who had been off skiving at his friend Jann's tavern - recovered hungry and thirsty) and Telemere (who had been wandering near Elfhome, looking for, but failing to find, a half-moon glaive - recovered taxed Nature) turned up at more-or-less the same time. They could see Megloss standing in the remaining half of the house above them, laughing maniacally with hand raised like Dr Doom or some other gothic super-villain.

I called for OB 2 Health tests for Fea-bella and Golin, to see if the cold and wet had afflicted them: both succeeded.

The players then discussed what to do, and wrote Goals and Beliefs:

Fea-bella wanted to hunt down Gerda (who, according to Megloss, had stolen the cursed Elfstone which continued to be the object of Fea-bella's obsession).

Korvin wanted to cleanse Megloss. His Belief that he would follow the clues to hunt down the wicked remained.

Telemere wanted to stop the threat posed by the evil spirit. His Belief, that one should see things to their end, also remained.

Golin wanted to get Megloss on the path to recovery. His Belief changed, from Surely Elves can't be so bad! to Elves are fickle and unstable.​

These drove the play that followed.

Things started with an attempt, initiated and led by Fea-bella, to persuade Megloss to help them get the Elfstone from Gerda. Korvin added in some deception via Manipulator - there might be more than one gem! and Gerda might be more than she seemed, and so the PCs couldn't do it without Megloss.

Megloss, in turn, was dismissing the PCs as a hopeless rabble, and insisting that they head south to find Turner - a petty bandit captain in Megloss's sometime-employ - and join him in carrying out Nob H's plans. (Nob H is a bandit lord, and Korvin's enemy - this was his first occurence other than on Korvin's PC sheet).

The conflict ended with both sides reduced to zero disposition in the same exchange, and so each had to give the other a painful compromise: Melgoss would come and help with Gerda, provided that he got first pick of the gems; he would then take the PCs to Turner, and insist that Turner give Korvin his fine boots.

Golin had accrued a camp check, and so the PCs decided to "camp" in Megloss's house, so that Golin could turn Fea-bella's fresh food into preserved rations. I rolled a camp event, and got the stench of the garbage, which had happened before in the vicinity of Megloss's house. I narrated that the rain had stopped, and a wind come up which was blowing the smell of the garbage into the (now front-less and open to the elements) house. Luckily no one had any conditions to alleviate.

Golin's player wanted to preserve all five portions of fresh rations: an Ob 4 check, despite having only Cook 3. So he decided that he was teaching the others how to cook, which he could do as none of them was spending a check doing anything else. This way his Teaching-wise would be available to reroll traitors! Normally Cook can be helped with Alchemist and Labourer, but I accepted Survivalist also on this occasion, and so Telemere and Fea-bella both lent their dice. They also both needed 1 failure to advance their Survivalist ratings, and so each spent a Fate point to get the benefit of the test for their own advancement - in other words, betting on Golin to lose! Golin's player took great pleasure in rolling 4 successes on his 5 dice and thus not even needing to trigger his Wise. Fea-bella's player snidely remarked about unfulfilling "fate bait".

Camp done, the PCs - with Megloss - then went to Gerda's apartment. I rolled for new weather, on the Autumn weather table, and found that the wind had picked up into a gale! The rules say that "Adventurers who spend significant time in a gale must make an Ob 3 Health test (suggested condition: exhausted or injured)". Having regard the fact that it is only a short tip through town to Gerda's apartment, but also to the fact that we were playing Torchbearer, "a roleplaying game of desperate adventure", I called for Ob 2 Health tests. Korvin's player failed, and Korvin - perhaps too acclimated to the cosy pub! - was Exhausted.

We had already established that no one had spoken with Gerda since she went shopping with the PCs and stole Fea-bella's cursed Elfstone, and she had only been seen silhouetted by her apartment window in the evening, as if gloating over a small bauble held in her hands! Whereas Megloss's house (as had already been established) is on the edge of the village, overlooking a cliff, Gerda's apartment - I now narrated - was at the centre, near the base of the rise on which stands the wizard's tower. I decided - but didn't tell the players at this particular point - that Gerda would erect a deadfall trap over the entrance to her apartment. The players declared that they opened the door and went in. I called for Heath tests against Ob 2 (and as one of the players noted, this time cloaks and woollen sweaters didn't help; though I allowed Golin's player to add +1D to his pool, given Golin wears a helmet). Telemere and Fea-bella were both Injured by the falling stones!

Telemere's player then noticed that he should have used his Instinct - When I enter somewhere new, I check to see if I am being watched - and he used it now. Golin helped, as he also had a salient Instinct - Always look for weak points. Telemere could see that the downstairs rooms seemed dusty and empty, but that someone seemed to have stuck their head out of the door at the top of the staircase - Gerda!

Another Scout test was made, to ensure the staircase was safe. It was.

As the PCs were being cautious, Gerda decided to Flee, and the PCs pursued. The PCs handily caught her, dragging her back in from the window and pinning her in a corner. But they did lose one hit point, obliging a minor compromise - Telemere, who had taken the lead in the window-dragging-back-from, noticed that during the struggle his tinderbox had fallen out of his satchel into the muck and wind outside! (This player has had the least experience with Torchbearer - I think this was his fourth session - and he was starting to "appreciate" its obsession with inflicting punishment in small and frustrating increments.)

The PCs also became hungry and thirsty at this point (Gale Health test, deadfall health test, Scout test for traps, conflict). The PCs took drinks from their waterskins while keeping an eye on Gerda. I asked if anyone stopped her equipping a spear - no one did. I also secretly rolled for her loot on the relevant Loot Table - it turned up the amusing result of plate armour!

Gerda declared, therefore, that to get the Elfstone the PCs would have to kill her! Telemere (as portrayed by his player) said, "Megloss, now it's your chance to shine!" This produced much laughter, and earned a Fate point for gallows humour out of GM generosity, even if it didn't quite meet the criteria. I called for a Persuader check, vs Megloss's Beginner's Luck Will: Megloss prevailed, and so responded "I think this one is for Fea-bella."

Fea-bella decided to try and Capture Gerda, and so the conflict was resolved using Kill for Gerda's intent and actions, and Capture for Fea-bella and team's. Her team members were Korvin and Telemere - Megloss stood aside (in part under a general principle of not having NPCs carry too much load, and possibly in slight violation of the earlier compromise, though no player called me on it); and so did Golin, as he was not going to fight his friend Gerda, and he did have doubts about Elves after all!

The conflict was hard-fought. Gerda started with 7 hit points, the PCs with 4 but the advantage of numbers. But when they got their first successful attack in, I revealed my (or should I say Gerda's) plate armour beneath her cloak, to groans and consternation and cries of unfair GMing. Every roll to avoid her armour being damaged was successful, and it absorbed 4 points of damage over the course of the conflict. First Korvin dropped, and then Telemere (I scripted a cunning "A/A/F" in the final exchange, and the last-volley Feint did it's job well!). When only Fea-bella was left standing, with her one hit point and her Injury and Fighter 2 and Health 3 and no Fate points remaining, while Gerda still had 4 hit points, I reminded Fea-bella's player of the Surrender option:

If you’re in a kill conflict and your side still has disposition, you may offer to surrender to your opponent. If your opponent accepts, you get no compromise, but they capture you rather than kill you. In addition, you owe them a compromise based on the amount of disposition lost before the surrender.​

Fea-bella monologued about the pull of the Elfstone, and if only she could let it be - and surrendered. She owned a major compromise, and I noticed the following suggestion on the list of Kill conflit compromises:

The loser is killed, but their demise causes massive collateral damage (starts a fire, opens a dyke, collapses a roof, etc)​

I suggested the following to Fea-bella's player - Gerda kills you, but if you have the will to live, then you will be free of the curse. The reply: "Yes".

So as Fea-bella monologued, Gerda ran her through with her spear. I asked Fea-bella's player, "Do you have the will to live?" "Yes." "You have to say it" "I have the will to live." The Persona point was spent, and Fea-bella's Nature dropped from 2 back to 1. Her Nature cap is now 5 (this is her second "death".) She lost her Enchanting nature - probably because she has renounced her spiritual connection to jewels and the Elven magic they hold - and her Fiery trait dropped back to level 1. (Her previous death had seen it step up to Level 2.) She now has only one Nature descriptor: Remembering.

On the plus side, she took a failed test in Resources, thus stepping up to Resource 3; and with her Nature now at 1 she opened up her Beginner's Luck Hunter skill.

The compromise also had Telemere Exhausted, and Korvin Injured.

Megloss now stepped forward. I checked his Arcanist skill - Arcanist 5 - and looked up Flames of the Shroud in the spellbook. I rolled 5 dice, and got 3 successes; and, noting that mundane armour does not protect against the aetheric flames the spell pulls from the Shroud of Worlds, I declared that Gerda was killed, burned to ashes!

This had an incendiary effect not only on Gerda but on Golin, whose player now declared an immediate attack against Megloss! Fea-bella sat this one out, but Telemere and Korvin both joined him. Megloss was enhanced by the spirit possesing him. Both sides had 8 hp, and there was no doubt that this conflict was all about the killing! Golin, as conflict captain, gave himself the first action, an attack augmented by his Avenging Grudges Nature. He rolled 11 dice, spent Fate to open end his 6s, and cut through Megloss's four manoeuvre successes to deal 6 points of damage. It took another round to finish things, but Megloss was dead and the evil spirit driven off at the end of things. But the players had also lost 3 hp, and so a compromise was in order:

The loser kills half of the winning team (rounded down).​

Korvin, who had lost 2 hits from Megloss, had a mortal wound. But he also had the will to live! He took a failed Health check, and opened up a couple of new skills based on Nature 1; and I took away his Boasting Nature descriptor, and changed his Pragmatic trait to Calm.

Appropriate loot rolls revealed a few useful items: 3 candles in Gerda's apartment; and on Megloss a 2D crescent moon pendant, and also a written description of the evil spirit, prepared (as I explained to the players) while they were cooking, and being taught to cook, in his house. The last test of the session was Fea-bella using her Instinct to Read Every Word, and learn more about the nature and abilities of the evil spirit. (I shared my statblock write-up.)

We then did end-of-session rewards:

*Telemere got a fate point for acting on his Belief, and for pursuing his Goal, and for using his Instinct, and for his remark to Megloss; and got a Persona point for being the Teamworker (this one was unanimous, mostly because of his lamentations over his sacrifice of a tinderbox).

*Korvin got a fate point for acting on his Belief, and Persona for achieving his Goal, Megloss now being cleansed of the evil spirit.

*Golin got a fate point for acting on his Belief, and for using his Instinct; he got a Persona for achieving his Goal, for upholding his Creed in a moment of crisis (Elves are lost in dreams; they need grounding in reality), and for MVP (the mighty blow against Megloss).

*Fea-bella got a fate point for using her Instinct; and got Persona for mouldbreaker (her monologue renouncing the Elfstone), for achieving her Goal, and for upholding her Creed (These are dark times - all Elves need help!).​

If the PCs take a town phase, Telemere and Korvin will both reach second level, and Fea-bella will reach fourth.

Fea-bella's player noted the symmetry of Dwarf kills Elf (Gerda vs Fea-bella); Elf kills Dwarf (Megloss vs Gerda); Dwarf kills Elf (Golin vs Megloss). I expressed surprise that the session ended with both Megloss and Gerda dead. Someone - I think Golin's player - pointed out that it was my NPC who killed Gerda. To which my retort was that the players were the ones who had insisted Megloss come with them.

I suggested that the closing scene of the events would occur after the PCs left the apartment - the camera moves across the fallen body of Megloss, to the charred remains of Gerda, to settle finally on the Elfstone, shining green and unsullied among the death and destruction.

From my point of view, I think the saga of the Wizard's Tower, and Megloss, may be done. Assuming the players do try and take a town phase, I may use my authority over NPCs - in this case Burne, Wizard of the Tower - to suggest that they travel south. We never finished the Tower of Stars (from the Cartographer's Compendium, and our first adventure) and I want to use my write-up of the Moathouse, which is near the Forgotten Temple Complex that is Golin's home town. I've already made a note that Lareth the Beautiful is a Beautiful Half-Elf; and given the banditry of the inhabitants of the Moathouse, it stands to reason that Nob H is involved.
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We played a session yesterday, again with four PCs - Fea-bella the Elven Dreamwalker, Golin the Dwarven Outcast, Telemere the Elven Ranger, and Korvin the human Skald.

The session began with Telemere's player giving us the prologue, and thereby recovering Exhausted.

Then there was some discussion of what to do. With three of the PCs being eligible for level gain, the group decided to enter town phase. Before doing so, Golin's player tested Labourer so that Golin could carry off his newly-found plate armour. Naturally he failed the Ob test despite rolling 3 dice, and so became Exhausted (I think it was?) while the turn count ticked over to 4, meaning that everyone became Hungry and Thirsty.

The one camp check was spent, and Korvin recovered from his Exhaustion.

Then I rolled the Town Event - the roll was 7, with a -2 penalty for two disasters (destruction of the hedge witch's establishment, and of Megloss's house), for a final 5:

Dust to dust. All food in the area has turned to colorful dust. Remain in adventure phase until you reach another settlement or until the magical famine is reversed.​

The players now wrote their Goals: for Golin, to get safely out of town; for the other three, variants on finding out the cause of this magical catastrophe.

There was mayhem in the streets, as the winds (no longer gale force, but still blowing) sent what had been food, but was now colourful dust, flying through the air. The PCs could see the constable who blames Golin (not entirely unjustly) for the fire at the Hedge Wizard's coming down the street. Golin made himself scarce, heading down a side alley and on out of town. The other PCs, led by Telemere, distracted the constable with questions about the food-to-dust situation: the constable blamed "that Dwarf", while Telemere tried to suggest there might be another cause. The PCs succeeded in Beginner's Luck Manipulator against the constable's Beginner's Luck Will, and so Golin got away and the others were able to catch him up outside of town.

The players had discussed various ways of trying to get water, and I had said they had two basic options: Survivalist to try and find something around town, or Pathfinder to take the one Toll journey south-east to the river. They opted for the latter. I then rolled for weather, and again (after applying the -1 modifier for it being early in Autumn) got a 12 result - the winds once again picked up into a gale! Which made the journey 3 Toll instead, or 4 Toll for Telemere (serving as their guide and making the Pathfinder test) and Golin (carrying his shield). Three of them had cloaks as raiment, that protected them from the wind; Golin ditched the leather armour he was wearing, and the rest of the toll was bought down by spending 10D in total of loot in the hamlets and and farmsteads on the path to the river. This caused a lot of consternation from Telemere's less experienced player, who had never before experienced the rigours of Toll!

I didn't call for a Health test due to the gale, but flagged that if bad weather continued, then I reserved the right to do so. And at least there was no trouble on the road (a roll of 5).

At the river, they made camp safely, and Fea-bella healed Telemere's Injury. They all were able to drink, alleviating their Hungry and Thirsty. And they also refilled their waterskins. They then discussed what to do next. I told them that if they crossed the river, it was a one Toll journey to the Tower of Stars - the ruined tower of Beholder of Fates, which they had explored in their first session. Their was no point returning to the Wizard's Tower, and they thought that answers might be found there, so they headed off. But first they asked if it was still blowing a gale, and I said I would have to roll for weather again - and what were the odds of getting another 13 on 3d6? As it turned out, 100%! Which elicited groans. But then the roll for Trouble was a 6 (good weather), and so I stepped the Gale down to Blustery Winds, which lifted the Toll only by 1. So that was overall 2 for Korvin, 3 for Telemere and Fea-bella (guide and forager respectively), and a mighty 6 for Golin (+2 for cook, +2 for wearing his plate armour).

They succeeded at Ob 3 Survivalist to cross the river; Golin's player was pleased, because he had loaned his rope to Telemere to grant a +1D gear bonus, and the successful check meant he got to keep his rope! The PCs then set out on their journey.

Fea-bella found two portions of fresh rations. Golin was able to prepare a meal from one portion, to offset one toll for all. Cloaks again helped for 3 of them. Golin wore out his woollen sweater, and consumed portions of food and drink. And Telemere was able to lead them to the tower. This constituted four turns in total, for another turning of the Grind. I can't recall the final disposition of conditions, except that all were Hungry and Thirsty, multiple PCs were Exhausted, and Golin was Angry.

Given that they had had to travel through more heavy wind, I also called for Health tests. This caused some complaint, but Golin's player backed me up! There was mostly success, but Telemere's player failed the roll vs Ob 3. I decided I wanted a twist rather than a condition, was pondering a bit, and then either he or Golin's player, or maybe both, mentioned bandits, and I decided that was an excellent idea - as the PCs approached the Tower, entering the hills, from out of a blind bluff who should emerge in ambush but Turner, Roy and Nutmeg, trying to drive off these interlopers!

Golin's response was "Charge!", and so by general acclaim he was the conflict captain. The PCs' disposition was 8, and the bandits 6, and so I thought it might be over quickly, but the conflict actually lasted 4 full exchanges. Being a close-quarters ambush, Telemere could not bring his bow to bear, and so had to fight with his hatchet as an improvised weapon. And Golin's player scripted with attention to a careful allocation of Fighter (Attack, Feint) and Will (Defence, Manoeuvre) tests - as a result Golin's Will advanced from 4 to 5, and Korvin's from 3 to 4. Nevertheless, despite some good rolling on my part and the bandits rallying more than once, they ended up being defeated with no loss of disposition by the PCs.

During the fight, the players had been eyeing off possible loot - Korvin in particular has long had his eyes on Turner's nice boots! - but I told them that what they found would depend on the roll on the Loot table. When the conflict was over I duly rolled on Loot Table 1, and was amused by my result. I told the players that the bandits fled, taking all their gear with them but for a helmet and shield that had been destroyed in the fight. But did not yet divulge the loot!

The PCs were in a hurry now to get to the tower, where they knew there was a pool of water at its base. They could see that the scree field leading up to the Tower had been smoothed, and a path made. Naturally they were suspicious - but with a successful Scout test, all Telemere could see was a barrel next to the pool. That was their loot! - as I explained, a roll on Loot Table 1 led to the Gear subtable, which in turn led to the Vessel sub-subtable, which yielded a barrel. Although they could see its utility for storing water, on balance they were underwhelmed.

The damaged head with its sigil was still there, and Fea-bella (using her Instict to read every word) read it. The roll failed, and so when she worked out that it was an ancient sigil of vigilance, for commanding living statues, she became Afraid.

And there was also a wooden ladder, leading to the open trapdoor to the next level.

They filled two waterskins and then decided to camp, and at this point had amassed 5 camp checks. The camp event roll for these Ancient Ruins indicated Penetrating chill:

The air of the ruin - and the very stone itself - emanates a sharp chill: +1 Ob to recover from sick and injured during this camp phase.​

Golin cooked a portion of preserved rations, feeding the group and thus alleviating Hungry and Thirsty. Fea-bella healed her own Injury. Korvin declined to be healed: as a Loner he rolled his Health (5D, +1D for the trait) against Ob 5 (base Ob 4, +1 Ob for the chill) to try and recover, but failed. But the failure did step his Health up to 6. Golin recovered from being Angry; and Fea-bella recovered from being Afraid.

At the end of their camp they were able to fill two more waterskins, and they decided to explore the Tower. Golin went up the ladder, and I was able to deploy the trap I had noted up - unless the metal pin is slotted into place, Turner's trick ladder collapses when climbed! I gave Golin's players two options for his Health check: try and land safely on the floor, or make the harder attempt to grab hold of the trapdoor lip as the ladder collapsed. He opted for the latter, and failed the roll - which took Golin's Health to 6. I told him that Golin grabbed the lip, but pulled a muscle doing so - Golin was Injured.

He used his rope to pull up the other PCs.

The next level was a room the PCs had already explored, in our first session. I told them that this time all the metal screens and silver mirrors (ie the loot) were gone. As was the dead body.

Fea-bella attempted a Scholar check to decipher the ancient writing, aided by Golin with his Dwarven Chronicles- wise. The test was a failure, although the helping die was not, which made her Angry that she needed the help of the Dwarf to make sense of the commands (one of which, I explained, was a human rendering of a Dwarven phrase). So they learned how to control the Basalt Guardians, beginning by commanding the broken one with its banging arm to Stop.

They then checked out the rusty door. Golin searched it for weak points - the failed Scout roll meant only that he broke the handle off completely, meaning that Korvin couldn't try and open it with his thieves' tools. Telemere borrowed a hammer and iron spike from Korvin to try a more forceful methods of opening it, and succeed on the Ob 3 Health test to smash out the lock mechanism altogether.

They opened the door, and looked through to what was for them a new part of the Tower: the main chamber of Beholder of Fates! They were suitably impressed by the description of the book shelves, alchemy gear and the like. But their first action was to examine the glyph circle about the door - Fea-bella made the test with the others' help, and succeeded. So they worked out that the glyphs were the activators for the Basalt Guardians. They entered the room, and Fea-bella commanded the Guardian in it to serve: it brought her a towel from behind the metal privacy screen, and she duly cleaned herself up!

This also marked four turns on the Grind, and so they all drank their water.

Fea-bella then made two Scholar tests by instinct. The first was to quickly survey the books - as per the room description, she identified that

The bookcases are filled with rare books and scrolls . . . [dealing with] ancient celestial language, its laws or the tracking of the passage of time and movements of the firmament. The bookcases contain 25 treatises (pack 1 each) and nine codices (pack 2 each).​

One codex in particular that she noted, and placed in her backpack, was On the Mingling of Elven and Human Knowledge of the Firmament. It contained a loose sheet. She pulled that out and read it: it mentioned the Elven Lady scholar of the Wizard's Tower, ill omens, and suggested that the birth of Lareth - though he was a beautiful child - was not fortuitous.

A successful Lore Master check allowed her to recall that Lareth is a favoured name for Half-Elves.

A third bout of instinctual reading had her looking through the codex itself, for more information about this Lareth. A marginal note referred to "Fella" - the name of Fea-bella's mother, who is a scholar who lives in the Wizard's Tower - and also recorded that

as the earth moved, so did the firmament, and the dark constellation of the void was ascendent when Lareth was conceived.​

The codex proper also recorded that, according to the lore of a now-forgotten temple, the void is an evil admixture of elemental air and elemental earth.

Golin's player asked me if the Forgotten Temple Complex where he grew up is full of nut-jobs. I told him that, as per what he had said back at PC creation, he hung out with the nut-jobs who worked on explosions - the combination of elemental fire and elemental air.

Fea-bella's player, meanwhile, was speculating about the coincidence of an earthquake and a constellation, and there was some laughter at the table. I asked if a Lore Master test to interpret human folk idioms was in order - it was made, and succeeded, and so Fea-bella learned that "the earth moved" can also be a reference to a sexual experience. Golin's helping die was a success, and Telemere remarked that one can always trust the Dwarves to make everything tawdry. I suggested to Fea-bella's player "Wasn't it your mother who asked you to come to the Tower of Stars in the first place, to see what had happened to the Beholder of Fates?" The player agreed.

A Healer test then revealed that Beholder of Fates, lying on his bed, seemed to have died peacefully in his sleep. Fea-bella, claiming right of inheritance from her apparent step-father, took his 5D gold ring and placed it on her own finger.

And Telemere made a Scholar check of his own, which succeeded, to find information about his brother - the original reason he had come to the Tower of Fates. He learned that Kalamere came to the Tower six years ago, seeking information about the Elf Celedhring who was rumoured to have entered into communion with the Outer Darkness. Beholder of Fates notes recorded that he did not tell Kalamere anything - including the connection he discerned between Celedhring and the demon of the Outer Darkness called Duran - and Kalamere left the tower unhappy. The players took this opportunity to remind one another of the various details of what had happened in the Shadow Caves beneath Megloss's house, where they had freed the demon Duran and driven him off, and had found the wight Celedhring in his sarcophagus but successfully escaped from him.

This triggered the Grind again. But they had no camp checks. So Golin, bored, went up the stairs to the top level of the Tower, the observation dome. Telemere followed. They noticed that even though the crank on the controls for the dome seemed to be turned fully in the shut position, the dome was slightly open. Golin made a Labourer check, buffed by channelling his Crafting Nature, to try and close the dome fully; but failed, and so broke the mechanism. But he had used a trait against himself and so collected a check.

And we finished the session there, with the PCs ready to camp, and handing out rewards. (I recall that Fea-bella got Teamworker, and Golin MVP.)


In preparing for this session, I had assumed that the players would want to enter town phase, and had decided that I would take that opportunity to encourage them to go back to the Tower of Stars. My thought had been that, given all the mayhem they had caused in the Wizard's Tower, that they would be "gently" encouraged by some or other authority figure to go elsewhere.

And I had made notes on how that might happen. I will sblock them on the off chance that a player in my game reads this:

The Wizard's Tower has a town law (as per the Scholar's Guide) that "All families must have one boy child. Failure to do so within a year will result in the arrest of the eldest family member." I had decided that the recent, seemingly ill-omened events, would trigger a renewed enforcement of this law.

Vaccin, Golin's mentor, would offer to adopt Golin as his boy child, to ensure his compliance. (He could also give Golin a free check for Cook.)

Korvin's friend, the tavern owner Jann, would offer him 1D either to buy shoes ("I know a guy") or to pay for Lifestyle before leaving town.

And Fella, Fea-bella's mother with whom Fea-bella stays, would do two things. First, she would provide Fea-bella with a map, twenty or more years old, to the Tower of Fates, with a note on it saying "Come soon to visit me" - an Ob 2 Scholar test would reveal this to be the second or subsequent page of a longer message. Second, she would insist to the authorities that she has satisfied the boy child law, as her boy is Lareth.

As it turned out, this prep was bypassed by the Town Events roll. But the other part of my prep - making notes on the changes to the first three areas of the Tower (scree field, entry way (including the trapped ladder) and waiting chamber) - did prove useful.

In our next session, after the PCs camp, I would expect them to make another effort to find out the cause of the food-to-dust in the Wizard's Tower. Or perhaps to head south to the Forgotten Temple Complex?

@pemerton in terms of the fantasy genre, is Torchbearer scratching that itch more so or less so than 4e, for you?
I realise TB is grittier and that you played 4e for much much longer - but if you had to take a rough stab at it at this point, what is your opinion?


@pemerton in terms of the fantasy genre, is Torchbearer scratching that itch more so or less so than 4e, for you?
I realise TB is grittier and that you played 4e for much much longer - but if you had to take a rough stab at it at this point, what is your opinion?
They're completely different games! (Allowing for the fact that they're both FRPGs.)

Torchbearer will never create the epic, gonzo scenes that were some of my favourites in 4e - from a 1st level fight in a river with boat and raft and an enemy slinger on the bank, to a fight that ranged over the whole length of the Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and culminated in an aerial assault by dragons on the PCs' Thundercloud Tower.

But even though Torchbearer is gritty, the personal stories for the PCs that it creates - which for me are very evocative of Burning Wheel - are much more intimate than 4e. And 4e would never have a PC hoping for nice boots as loot from a fight with bandits! Torchbearer also, on balance, gets through more content per session, because it doesn't centre intensive combat experiences in the way 4e tends to.

Both are rules heavy - in PC build mechanics, in their resolution mechanics - and require GMing in a different vein from (say) 2nd ed AD&D or CoC. So in that sense neither is for the faint-of-heart. (Of RPGs I play and love, I'd contrast with Prince Valiant, which is very light in comparison.)

But I'd recommend either. At the moment I'm enjoying Torchbearer a lot, but as you say it's still newer for me (12 sessions now, whereas I would have GMed well over 100 sessions of 4e).

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