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

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
I really enjoy reading these re-caps. I (still) don't think Torchbearer is the system for me to play, but I (still) want to buy it just to read it.

EDIT:

What's the deal with published adventures for Torchbearer? Is there much official or community-generated content? Or does the style of play mean that you don't need adventures in the way that you do with, say, D&D/OSR? Is it more like Dungeon World that you sketch out some challenges and adversaries, and then find out what happens through play?
 

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I really enjoy reading these re-caps. I (still) don't think Torchbearer is the system for me to play, but I (still) want to buy it just to read it.

EDIT:

What's the deal with published adventures for Torchbearer? Is there much official or community-generated content? Or does the style of play mean that you don't need adventures in the way that you do with, say, D&D/OSR? Is it more like Dungeon World that you sketch out some challenges and adversaries, and then find out what happens through play?

Torchbearer has 3 full phases (Town, Camp, Adventure) and another proto-phase (Journey). Here is an abridged description of GM prep and role in each:

TOWN: Interpret Town Events Roll (procedure with table) by generating a situation and/or a boon/bane condition for the PCs/Town. On Town tests that require GM mediaton upon failure, use typical Fail Forward methodology (Twist or Success w/ Condition or Tax if Resource test) which uses PC motivations/relations, fiction-to-date, and Town dynamics/stats as inputs into resolution. Same thing for Pay Your Bills when you leave Town.

Prep necessary here is (a) knowing PCs/Cohorts and (b) knowing or generating Town stats/rules.

CAMP: Interpret Camp Events Roll (procedure with table) by generating a situation and/or a boon/bane condition for the PCs/Camp. On Camp tests that require GM mediaton upon failure, use typical Fail Forward methodology (Twist or Success w/ Condition or Tax if Resource test) which uses PC motivations/relations, fiction-to-date, and Adventure/Camp environ subtype dynamics/stats as inputs into resolution.

Prep necessary here is (a) knowing PCs/Cohorts and (b) knowing Adventure/Camp locale denizens/environs for input into Events Table result and any Twists (see Adventure design).




Well, have to board connecting flight. I’ll do Adventure and Journey when I get a chance.
 

pemerton

Legend
I really enjoy reading these re-caps.
Thanks!

What's the deal with published adventures for Torchbearer?
The only ones I know of are the Cartographer's Companion: Torchbearer 2E Cartographer's Compendium PDF

The Tower of Stars is the first adventure in that book.

I've written up four adventure sites myself: Mim's Dell, Megloss's House, and the Shadow Caves are all fairly modest, and provided one, two and three sessions of play respectively (all are discussed in this thread); and I converted the T1 Moathouse but haven't used that yet.

The Moathouse is bigger, and overall took me several hours to write up.

In the Moathouse thread (linked two paragraphs up), Thor (the lead TB designer) has a post where he talks about converting classic modules. So in a sense Torchbearer doesn't need its own module ecology!

Or does the style of play mean that you don't need adventures in the way that you do with, say, D&D/OSR? Is it more like Dungeon World that you sketch out some challenges and adversaries, and then find out what happens through play?
I hope my actual play posts give a reasonable sense of how prep works. The game does have a default of "site-based" adventuring, where core exploration action declarations are resolved by the players saying what it is their PCs do - in terms of moving places, and looking around - and the GM then provides answers/responses based on their notes of the site.

In the blood opera session (the one prior to my most recent) I didn't have any prep for Gerda's apartment, and just made it up as we went along, but it was a small area and the real action was not exploratory but rather PCs vs Gerda (and Megloss). The deadfall trap at the entrance to her apartment was probably at about the acceptable limits of "gotcha" GMing; although mechanically it was not unlike the trick ladder, the latter was written up in my notes, and described to the players as part of the situation, and so they had ample opportunity/"telegraphing" to check for traps.

For journeys, I use my Greyhawk maps and calculate Toll by reference to the landmarks on those.
 

Alright, continuing on from my last post. TB2 has a Toll procedure ( @pemerton has mentioned above) as an opt-in. I have yet to use it. I use the stock Journey rules from the game and its TB1 and Mouse Guard predecessor.

JOURNEY: This depends upon Adventure Site proximity to Town. If there is no threat of privation due to proximity to Town, then just cut straight to Adventure phase. If there is a mild threat, then its a simple test with one leg of consequential travel (no real change in dynamics), describe/telegraph the dynamics of the journey, call for 1 x test (typically Pathfinder, but could be something else if its applicable and depending upon obstacle and player approach) or contest (if its an adversary set against the PCs where you're going to roll Nature for the obstacle), factor obstacle or roll Nature, resolve Success w/ Condition or Twist. Charge the PCs 1 ration and begin Adventure phase if no Twist. If a PC earns a Condition, they lose the Fresh Condition if they had it.

If Twist, then resolve. This Twist is its own unique obstacle to overcome which may include 1 Turn of The Grind and/or may include 1 Turn of a light source. After resolution of Twist, cut to Adventure site and first obstacle of Adventure phase.

If the Journey is dynamic enough to feature a couple of legs, then repeat the first paragraph for a 2nd obstacle.

If the Journey is long and truly dynamic, then use a Journey conflict and handle procedure as normal (however, you're going to charge rations regardless). I typically just handle the "Journey Adversary" using Pathfinder distance factors and seasonal Weather factors as a guide for Nature (Mouse Guard just uses the Nature of the Season and this is similar) and describe situations (and their change post-resolution) on each turn of the Conflict that you're resolving. Health is your base disposition + Pathfinder or Sailor (whether land or water travel). Pathfinder is typically used for Attack and Feint (unless its over water and then it would be Sailor) with Survival typically used for Defend and Maneuver. Once Journey Conflict is resolved, cut to Adventure site and first obstacle of Adventure phase.

There is really no prep necessary here. You'll just index the map and possibly the season and use those as inputs to framing and resolution.




All the time I have for now. I'll do Adventure in a subsequent post.
 
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pemerton

Legend
We played a session yesterday. As seems to be their wont when at the Tower of Stars, Korvin and Telemere went missing. But Golin and Fea-bella were there. Both players wrote new instincts - Fea-bella to always prepare elixirs and salves in camp, and Golin to forage when the opportunity presents itself.

The prologue was a shared effort, and the two players diced to see who got the benefit of it - I think it was Fea-bella who got to remove hungry and thirsty. They decided it was time to camp, in the entry level of the Tower. But before they could lay themselves down to rest, they heard the tinkling of light bells, and the clippity-clop of hooves. "Glothfindel!" said Fea-bella (as voiced by her player). So my time spent looking up JRRT's description in Flight to the Ford (the last chapter of Book 1 of LotR, where Glorfindel finds the Hobbits and Strider - I had been particularly interested in how JRRT describes the bells and the hooves, and which it is that the Hobbits hear first) paid off!

Golin (as voiced by his player) was less enthusiastic. "He wants his sword back," or something very much to that effect. I smiled my evil GM smile - clearly we were on the same wavelength!

I described Glothfindel riding up on his steed Asfaloth, no longer lame. He had a message for Fea-bella from her mother Fella, and wished to break bread with the PCs, whom he had been able to find by speaking to the farmers they had paid for food and shelter on their journey to the Tower. But first there was another matter - he thanked Master Golin for taking care of Olorocuivië ("Awakener of Dreams") for these past months, but was now fully recovered from his time being imprisoned by Megloss, and so was quite well enough to take it back!

In my notes, I had anticipated that this would be a Convince Crowd conflict, with Glothfindel using his Oratory 2 and trying to persuade the other PCs as onlookers; but with only the two characters, and Fea-bella taking Glothfindel's side, it turned out to be a Convince conflict. Luckily, as Fea-bella's player pointed out, she was not at her best (her Anger didn't help matters) and so it's not clear that she really assisted Glothfindel much. Golin won the conflict, but with a half compromise owed: he had helped Glothfindel for no other reward, and couldn't now be left weaponless in the wilds; but would return the sword when Glothfindel brought him a replacement. (This was Golin's player's suggestion, and seemed fair enough to me.)

With the capacity for one more test on the Grind, Fea-bella (aided by Golin and Glothfindel) removed some of the rubble blocking the spring in the base of the Tower, so that instead of providing two draughts of water every five turns, it is a water source for a small group (successful Ob 2 Survivalist).

They then camped, with Fea-bella and Glothfindel on watch. The Camp Events roll for Ancient Ruins gave us Whispers: strange voices speak to those who close their eyes - +1 Ob to recover from afraid and exhausted during this camp. I said that the whispers seemed to be emanating from the weird confluence of ley lines at the Tower.

As per the rules for Adventurer Friends, Glothfindel and Fea-bella reminisced, and the free test allowed her to recover from Angry. Glothfindel then gave her the message from Fella. The first part of this was a map of the route from the Wizard's Tower to the Tower of Stars, beneath a note saying "Come and visit m soon", signed "P". "What's the name of The Beholder of Fates?" asked Fea-bella's player. "You haven't heard," I replied. In addition to the map, Glothfindel told Fea-bella that Fella had wanted him to assure her that, although the Wizard of the Tower, in response to the curse on the Tower's food, was now enforcing the law that all families must have one boy child, with failure to do so within a year resulting in the arrest of the eldest family member, she would be alright. "Lareth!" commented Fea-bella, and explained to all who were listening that when they met she would address him as "baby brother".

A camp check allowed Golin to recover from Exhausted, despite the fell whispers Fea-bella spent a camp check to Heal his Injury. Golin then foraged, but the check was a failure -he didn't find anything useful. Before announcing the twist I made sure to remind Golin's player that it is just a game - the twist is one I took from the Tower of Stars scenario in the Cartographer's Companion:

Bad Stars: Ley-line energy flows down from dark stars into this nexus, and one living creature acts as a lightning rod for this force. They are cursed (-1s to all actions) until they have the curse removed by the Sign of Abrogation or similar effect.​

The whispers weren't kidding!, and I commented that the dark stars must be the same ones that Lareth, ill-omened, was born under. Golin's player duly noted down his unhappy curse.

The final test was by Fea-bella, who successfully made an elixir to remove her Afraid condition (Alchemist Ob 2).

Glothfindel left Fea-bella with two portions of fresh rations, and then rode off, back into the wilds. Back in the Adventuring Phase, Fea-bella and Golin took command of the Basalt Guardian (via the command "Follow!") and got it to help them collect the broken metal from the observatory (successful Labourer). Fea-bella conjured up a phase-long Mystic Porter (failed Arcanist, but I allowed the spell to succeed with Fea-bella being Exhausted by the effort) and they placed the barrel on the Porter and the scrap metal in the barrel. They then refilled their waterskins and decided it was time to journey to a settlement; and given that the Wizard's Tower was not an option, and the Forgotten Temple Complex was not too far away, that's where they headed. Somewhere around this time I also mentioned that Golin had heard of the village of Nulb, on the other (southern) side of the Troll Fens from the Forgotten Temple Complex.

I rolled the weather - another 13, minus 1 for season = 12 - yet another gale! But then the Trouble on the Road roll imposed another -1, and so it was just blustery winds. The base Toll was 2, plus 1 for the winds making it 3. Fea-bella, acting as Guide, was therefore Toll 4; while Golin, with his armour and shield, and foraging, was Toll 7. Golin did find a portion of forage; and Fea-bella succeeded in leading them to their destination (aided by Golin's recollections of the description of the path from the Dwarven Chronicles, via Dwarven Chronicles-wise).

Fea-bella's cloak soaked one point of toll, and she consumed a portion of food and a draught of water to soak another. She thus accrued two conditions, and so was Hungry and Thirsty and Angry, as well as remaining Exhausted. Golin abandoned his shield and his damaged helmet, and consumed two portions of food and two draughts of water, and thus brought his Toll down to 3. So he was Hungry and Thirsty, Exhausted and Angry. As there had only been three turns on the Grind - Labourer, Arcanist and Pathfinder (with the Scavenger being instinctual), no further condition accrued before entering Town Phase.

The players had accrued a camp check, and so diced to see who got the benefit of it. Fea-bella's player won, and so ate their last portion of preserved rations to relieve Hungry and Thirsty, and then spent the check to recover from Angry. I described the Forgotten Temple Complex as they approached it - "Centuries ago, this place was the centre of civilization, inhabited by gods and kings alike. Now it is a backwater collection of tottering shrines and empty temples" - and reminded Golin that he "came of age living amongst forgotten scholars, sweeping out the chambers of fallen Immortals." I described the wall, and the sight of the dusty, toppling temples through the open gate, and then rolled for the Town Event, getting a 12:

Serenity. The sky over the complex is cerulean blue, the sun a white disk and the air the sweetest you’ve ever drawn breath from. It’s good to be alive, and you know you are in the right place.​

This was a marked contrast from the winds blowing down from the northern hills!

Both characters also reached level 4. Fea-bella added a slot to her Dream Palace, and chose to learn Wizard's Aegis. I though Golin might opt for Greed, but his player took Stubborn, which means that he is always the last to be knocked out in a Kill, Capture or Drive-off conflict (which goes well with wearing plate armour).

As part of my prep I had already noted that the Forgotten Temple Complex has relatively few facilities - River, Shrines, Temples, Wall, Well - and so told the players that, for accommodation, they would need to join a Temple Cult. As per a further part of my prep, I describe the five cults they could join: Explosives, Smithing, Potions and Vapours, Herbalism, or Wind and Sky. The test required was Resources Ob 3.

Golin had 4 dice (including his +1 for being in his hometown) and joined the Explosives Cult. With his Explosives-wise and a Persona point expended, he was able to persuade them to accept him. He took a drink of wine to relieve his Hungry and Thirsty, some more wine to help recover from his Anger (a free recovery test), and then added one to his Lifestyle to take a second recovery test, but failed to overcame his Exhaustion.

He then made his free test to Haggle (from being a Shrewd Haggler) but this failed too, adding one to his Lifestyle.

He then decided that he need to find a priest to lift his curse: a Circles test. His Circles is 4, +1D for being in his hometown. The Ob was 3 (for a priest), +1 for being the same level (and so able to perform the Absolution of the Lord of Endings, or some similar ritual), and then +2 for being Loyal to Golin's cause (when I asked whether Golin was looking for someone willing to help for a price, or loyal, a quick review of Golin's barren gear and loot list led his player to opt for the latter!). Golin's enemy Golin then showed himself, saying he had heard that Golin was looking for a priest, and might be able to help - he offered +1D to the test. Golin took the help, and failed the test - and so (enemy) Golin showed him an alternative: in what looked like the ruined remnants of an abandoned temple was, in fact, a secret way to a sixth cult whose temple was beneath the ground; and they were very interested in Golin's curse. "The Earth cult," said Golin's player. "Perhaps the cult mentioned in Beholder of Fate's codex," I suggested, explaining that they wore black robes.

Golin joined them in their chanting amid the lotus incense, and I called for a Theologian check to lift the curse - Ob 5, the same as for a propitiate offering at a shrine. He desecrated his sun amulet in the attempt, but the roll failed nevertheless. I told him that he didn't remember all that happened, but when he awoke he was lying on the temple ruins, and couldn't see the secret way. His curse was lifted! But he had a strange mark on his chest, and was feeling decidedly unwell - Sick, in fact.

This took him to an Ob 4 Lifestyle test (additional recovery; failed Haggler; Circles; Theologian).

Fea-bella, meanwhile, joined the Cult of Potions and Vapours. She spent her 3D emerald, which soaked her Tax for a failed Resources test and enabled her to join. She undertook tutelage in her temple (+1 Lifestyle), taking a test in Enchanter which, with her Nature 1, permitted her to open Enchanter 2. To recover from Exhaustion, rather than making the Ob 4 Health test (base Ob 3, +1 for wearisome spell casting), she decided that she would brew an elixir (Alchemist Ob 4; +1 Lifestyle). Unfortunately the roll failed, and so her brewing was successful, but she inhaled some noxious vapours - she, too, was Sick.

She then visited the Temple of the Smithing Cult to see if they were interested in her scrap metal. They offered her 1D, but seeing her Basalt Guardian that was helping her carry it offered her 5D for that, which she immediately accepted. They paid 3D of copper, 1D of silver and 2D of gold coins.

Fea-bella then decided to look for someone who could sell her potions to alleviate Sickness: Circles base Ob 2 (for townsfolk of the Temple of Potions and Vapours), +2 for higher level, +1 for being willing to help for a price. The Ob 5 test succeeded, and she met Heather, who sold her two doses of Sovereign Remedy for 6D of coin. She and Golin both imbibed, and recovered.

Golin then visited his mentor Grantham, and took a failed test in Cook. Grantham cautioned him that the mark on his chest - which he saw as Golin loosened his tunic in the heat of the kitchen - was ill-omened.

Around the same time, Fea-bella succeeded at the Lore Master test to memorise two spells - Lightness of Being and Wizard's Aegis. And she then decided to pursue her Goal, of learning about the signet ring she had taken from Beholder of Fates, by finding someone who might know something about it. Circles base Ob 2 (particular details), +1 for reliability, +2 for genuine knowledge - Ob 5. The test failed, and so instead of finding someone helpful she found herself being approached by Heather, who was angry that Fea-bella had shared Sovereign Remedy with someone marked by the Void Kult (the "K" being Golin's player's view of the correct spelling for this organisation). I told the players that they could either deal with Heather and the angry acolytes and others with her, or skedaddle now, grabbing water from the well as they left and paying their Lifestyle.

The chose to leave, even though they hadn't been able to do any provisioning. Fea-bella had Lifestyle 4 (tutelage, elixir manufacture, and Circles x2) and spent the 5D signet ring to make sure she succeeded. So she left town Fresh. She threw Korvin's 2D silver cup to Golin ("I can't carry this - can you look after it for Korvin?"), and Golin added it to his Resources dice ("I'll pay him back!") but still failed, although the cup soaked the tax.

They decided to return to the Tower of Stars, to try and loot the dome of whatever made it shine, using Lightness of Being. The weather roll once again yielded blustery winds, but then Trouble on the Road was a 6, which improved the weather to crisp and cold - no Toll penalty. Fea-bell's Toll was therefore 2 + 1 for Guide, or 3 in total. Golin's was 2, +2 for his armour - and after some discussion he decided not to take on a role.

Unfortunately the Pathfinder test failed - as I explained, it had been afternoon when they had to leave town and, travelling in the night, they had become confused and wandered into the Troll Fens! And this was only exacerbated by a Troll Haunt trying to trick them and lead them deeper into the swamp. I described the Troll to the players: gaunt yet hulking, with rubbery skin and covered in coarse hair, and preferring to dine on intelligent creatures over all other foods, for the dinner conversation!

The Troll's disposition for Trickery is 10; Fea-bella (being the one who got them lost) rolled her Manipulator 2, helped by Golin, and the PC's disposition was 5. The Troll equipped it's Stubborn Mind (+1D to defend in Trickery contests); Fea-bella wanted to goad it by asking Which is tastier, Elf or Dwarf? and I credited that as an improvised weapon; and Golin equipped a riddle, namely, Whose keys do I have in my pocket?

I scripted A/A/D for the Troll; then Fea-bella scripted M/A/F. I won the first opposed test, and reduced Fea-bella to 1 hp. Then it was Attack vs Attack: the Troll reduced both PCs to zero, but Golin's riddling question reduced it by 4 hp! So a significant compromise was owed: the Troll had indeed led the PCs deep into the Fens, but had itself returned to its lair to consult its Book of Riddles to find out whose keys, indeed, a wandering Dwarf might carry in its pockets.

I also told them that their journey is over, and so we assessed Toll. Fea-bella had lost her tinderbox trying to light fires in the dark, and so took two conditions: Hungry and Thirsty, and Exhausted. Golin dropped his satchel, and with it his forage he had been carrying (but kept his rope on his torso), and so accrued two conditions also: Hungry and Thirsty, and Angry. (He was already Exhausted.) Although both characters are 4th level, they are at just about their lightest ever for gear: Fea-bella has her amulet of the Sun, a backpack, a lantern, a personal mirror, her half-moon glaive, and two full waterskins; Golin has his armour and Glothfindel's sword, his heirloom armoured glove, a pouch with 4 candles, a full waterskin, his trusty rope, and his pocket of keys.

We ended the session there. Fea-bella got two Fate (for pursuing her Goal and using her Instinct in the camp with Glothfindel), and three Persona (for MVP, standing up for her Creed (in the argument between Glothfindel and Golin), and Mouldbreaker (in the same camp, I think in the same conflict)). Golin got three Fate (for pursuing his Goal of becoming reacquainted with explosives, for his Instinct, and for acting on his belief) and two Persona (for Teamworker, and for standing up for his Creed in the argument with Glothfindel).

With the PCs back in Adventure Phase, I have a feeling that in our next session they might find, as dawn breaks, that they are in the environs of the Moathouse.
 
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Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
There is really no prep necessary here. You'll just index the map and possibly the season and use those as inputs to framing and resolution.

Does "no prep" mean, though, that you have to improvise based on a cue? I'm thinking of DW, where you have to decide in the moment what "A Tight Spot" or "Put A Friend in Danger" means in game terms. Is it anything like that?

EDIT: I should probably just buy TB and read it so I understand....
 


Nytmare

David Jose
Does "no prep" mean, though, that you have to improvise based on a cue? I'm thinking of DW, where you have to decide in the moment what "A Tight Spot" or "Put A Friend in Danger" means in game terms. Is it anything like that?

EDIT: I should probably just buy TB and read it so I understand....
To expand on what Pemerton said, and go with what my interpretation of what the game is (less than anything specific that might or might not be written in any book) yes you are improvising, but in my experience it's far less "decide in the moment" and way more "what natural story element did I expect to follow from what the players just said to me."

When I watch a movie, or read a book, or hear someone telling a story, my brain is constantly wondering what's going to happen next. Twists are all the parts where my brain filled in that blank for me, and THEN the players failed a roll. I feel like a lot of people often shy away from the idea because they don't like the idea of being put on the spot where they suddenly have to come up with something "in the moment", but you're only ever really going into this situation where you're going to have to come up with something IF your brain had already come up with that something.

If there's wasn't an obvious (hopefully interesting) fail state, I don't bother making them roll. The story just emerges from that ensuing mess.
 

pemerton

Legend
To expand on what Pemerton said, and go with what my interpretation of what the game is (less than anything specific that might or might not be written in any book) yes you are improvising, but in my experience it's far less "decide in the moment" and way more "what natural story element did I expect to follow from what the players just said to me."

When I watch a movie, or read a book, or hear someone telling a story, my brain is constantly wondering what's going to happen next. Twists are all the parts where my brain filled in that blank for me, and THEN the players failed a roll.
I think this from John Harper on AW hard/soft moves is also helpful: The Mighty Atom

In TB, twists don't have to be completely hard, I don't think, but generally should prompt another test or conflict.
 

Nytmare

David Jose
I really enjoy reading these re-caps. I (still) don't think Torchbearer is the system for me to play, but I (still) want to buy it just to read it.

EDIT:

What's the deal with published adventures for Torchbearer? Is there much official or community-generated content? Or does the style of play mean that you don't need adventures in the way that you do with, say, D&D/OSR? Is it more like Dungeon World that you sketch out some challenges and adversaries, and then find out what happens through play?
There are a bunch of published and community adventures, but one of my favorite things about the game is how insanely easy it is to convert concepts and other adventures into TB.

The scale of what makes an adventure tick is so much smaller than what you need for other games, and introducing new ideas and/or monsters is child's play. A dungeon that fills two or three sessions might be a half dozen rooms or zones. Monsters are essentially two stats, a sentence, and three descriptive words. You might use half the material you see in a typical one page dungeon. People convert full published D&D adventures into what are essentially megadungeons by dropping 75% of the material.
 
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