• The VOIDRUNNER'S CODEX is coming! Explore new worlds, fight oppressive empires, fend off fearsome aliens, and wield deadly psionics with this comprehensive boxed set expansion for 5E and A5E!

Torchbearer 2nd ed actual play


Since posting this thread, I've had two more play experiences with Torchbearer 2nd ed.

Last weekend my other daughter built two PCs: Peony, a Halfling burglar; and Laegolas, and Elven ranger. We were planning to have them show up in the Tower of Stars to meet Tharin and Gondolf, but the player of those latter PCs was not amenable. So I had to make up a different adventure on the spot.

I had been thinking for a few weeks - thought not with any great depth or sophistication - about how one might do a Fighting Fantasy Gamebook-style adventure, along the lines of Forest of Doom or Scorpion Swamp, using Torchbearer. I decided to try and operationalise that, initially sketching out three locations in Darkwood Forest linked by paths, a stream, etc.

I established a context for the PCs being there - looking for the reputed tower of the wizard Nicodemeus - and then we made some minor tweaks to goals that had been chosen to suit the Tower of Stars. The first area was thickets, which had to be passed through to make it deeper into the forest. Peony went through using her Sneaking Nature; Laegolas used Pathfinder to identify the easiest way through, and then Labourer to hack a path with his hatchet. My recollection is that Laegolas failed and hence became hungry and thirsty as a result of all that brush-clearing.

They came to a clearing in the woods, with a waterfall dropping from a ridge at one end. One of the PCs searched behind the waterfall, and failed a Scout check. So (as a twist) they heard four people approaching along the ridge towards the clearing. The PCs decided to greet them, and try and trick them: We're just out for a walk in the woods - would you care to join us for a picnic? This was a trickery conflict - Peony used her Riddling and Merrymaking Nature, and I can't remember how Laegolas helped. I don't think he has Manipulator (though may be misremembering on that score) but may have used Beginner's Luck. The PCs won the conflict but with significant depletion to their own disposition. Before we could resolve a compromise, though, play had to finish up to make time for other family activities. I don't have my notes in front of me, but I would say we played through 5 or so turns.

I'll make a separate post about today's session.

log in or register to remove this ad


We played a session today with my regular group. I used the eastern GH map for our starting point, focusing on the area around Urnst/the Bandit Kingdoms/the Pale/Tenh.

The four PCs were:

Korvin, 21 year old human skald - from Fayan's Way, a prosperous wayhouse on the Urnst side of the river between that land and the Bandit Kingdoms. A skirmish-wise, pragmatic loner, he's a bit of an all-rounder: talking, fighting (with a sword), scholarship, criminal, riding and hunting. His raiment is a night-black cloak. His enemy is a bandit lord. He never tells the truth, and believes in following the clues to hunt down the wicked.

Telemere, 71 year old Elven ranger - from Elfhome in the Fellreev Forest. A stars-wise, calm loner, his enemy is his brother Kalamere who stole his place in a boat to the west. He believes that one should see things through to the end; and when he enters somewhere new, he checks to see if he is being watched. A pathfinder, cartographer, scout, survivalist, healer and archer, his raiment is the traditional Elven greycloak.

Fea-bella, 69 year old Elven dreamwalker - from the tower of the wizard Jobe on the edge of the Bluff Hills, not far from Elfhome. A hills-wise and herbs-wise scholar, healer and Elven enchanter, she believes that one should delve deeply, for knowledge holds the power to change the world. Her instinct is to read every word. Her mother Fella is a scholar, she was mentored by Vaccin (a 7th level Dreamwalker) before Vaccin was betrayed by her enemy Megloss, the elder apprentice of Jobe who set fire to the tower. Her friend is an adventuring Elven ranger whom she last saw riding his steed in the Fellreev. Her raiment is a forest-green cloak.

Golin, 43 year old Dwarven outcast - from a forgotten temple complex just inside The Pale. He is cynical and explosives-wise, and believes that explosive solutions are good solutions; he always looks for weak points in structures and mechanisms. As well as fighting, orating and Dwarf-y stuff, he is the group's cook. He carries a huge maul. His friend Vaxen (who may be the same personage as Vaccin?) is an alchemist from Jobe's tower; his mentor Grantham is a 7th level outcast; and his enemy is also called Golin, and cheated on the exams to get the best apprentice position. He is an orphan (or, at least, has repudiated his parents) and in memory of them wears an armoured glove worth 1D. He also wears galoshes as his raiment.

Although not everything about these PCs is stone-cold serious, I think they bear out what I said in my OP in the other Torchbearer thread: the colour in this game is first rate. These first-level characters have personalities, backstories, and relationships.

I had already decided on my way to the session to use the Tower of Stars as my scenario, but also - inspired by my Darkwood Forest experience - to open with a bandit encounter if any of the players built a talk-y PC. So when one built a skald, that settled that!

In the introductions phase we established that the PCs had met on the road, although Fea-bella and Telemere had once met in the Elfhome, while she and Golin had met at Jobe's tower. I read out the scenario backstory, and the players chose goals (Korvin: discover the truth about the Beholder of Fates; Telemere: discover if my brother came through here; Fea-bella: raid the tower for the secrets of the starts; Golin: raid the tower for its laboratory ingredients). Then I described the approach to the tower, where the PCs could see four rough-looking individuals sitting at the base of the basalt-scree slope up to the tower, one of them bandaging the feet of another.

The players decided to go for a social option, but for reasons I didn't follow decided to have Fea-bella (Persuader 2; cf Korvin's Orator 4 and Manipulator 4) do the talking, trying to persuade them to let her do the bandaging. Her goal was then to administer some sort of soporific. The Persuasion test failed; so she became angry in the course of the debate with Aunty - the one doing the bandaging. (The one with the injured foot, which the players had inferred had been cut on the basalt, was Rot Grub.) Telemere had been helping with this, and so became hungry and thirsty while the argument went on. He drained his waterskin and also his Fresh condition.

Once Aunty relented, it was then time to administer the soporific as part of the healing process - which was beginner's luck Alchemist, another fiasco, prompting the leader Scaramander (wearing a helmet and carrying a knife - the only arms and armour in this group of bandits) to try and drive the PCs off.

The players decided that Golin was their conflict captain; and Golin decided that their intent was to kill. Disposition was 8 for the PCs and 7 for the bandits. I scripted M/A/D; the players - mostly Golin and Fea-bella's players - initially canvassed opening with an Attack but then opted to Manoeuvre for advantage. And decided to try for a third-round Feint, anticipating a likely Defence at that point. Thus they scripted M/A/F.

Opposed manoeuvres are independent checks against Ob 0: the bandits got 3 successes and disarmed Telemere by closing with a dagger (there must have been other effects in there but I don't remember them); Korvin for the PCs got 6 successes and disarmed Scaramander, and both debuffed the NPCs and buffed their own next action. The Attack vs Attack was a massacre - the NPCs got in one point of damage, which damaged Golin's helmet, while Golin got 8 successes (5 rolled, plus 2 for Maul, plus 1 for superior Might) which eliminated the NPCs' 7 points of disposition. With no compromise required.

I had already rolled for the bandit's loot (Loot Table 1 for my area, and 2 times Loot Table 2 for four Might 4 NPCs): 2 candles, a helmet and an indecipherable note. So Scaramander's knife turned out to be broken by Korvin's disarming of it; but Golin was able to take the helmet to replace his damaged one, and Fea-bella successfully deciphered the note (written, it turned out, in a wizard's cypher by the adventuring enchanter Maila, and consisting of instructions on how to travel from Stoink to the Tower of Stars). They left the candles on the bodies for the moment, having nowhere to put them.

Not liking the look of the scree slope, Golin searched for another way into the tower - a weak spot - and the Crafting Nature check failed and so he was angry by the time he found it. His beginner's luck Labourer test to knock a hole in the wall also failed, and instead of opening up a hole in the wall the whole tower settled further on the basalt rubble, opening up crevasse which Korvin (who had been helping) avoided with a leap.

That sequence of events cost 3 turns and took the clock to 5 turns, and so everyone was hungry and thirsty. They ate and drank.

They then decided to go up the basalt scree, with Telemere making the test (beginner's luck Dungeoneering) helped by everyone else, and using a rope to assist. The test succeeded (5D, I think, vs Ob 3) and they entered the tower. At this point - 6 turns in - they lit a torch.

Looking around, they found a pool of water (which enabled them to refill their two empty waterskins) and a broken Basalt Guardian. They deliberately decided not to reassemble its broken head, and thought about making copies of the markings (runes?) on the head another time. Instead, Telemere (with Survivalist) helped Golin use rope and spikes to make a way through the gap in the ceiling. (With my daughter, I had assessed this as two tests; today I did it as one, having reread some of the advice in the Scholar's Guide.)

7 turns.

In the second level (which Golin correctly identified as a waiting room), they started with Telemere inspecting the corpse. His Healing test succeeded, and he was able to identify its cause of death (a severed wrist). He also spotted the signet ring and removed it. The mucking about with the body disturbed the dust (ie I had forgotten it for Telemere's Healing test) but despite the extra obstacle penalty Fea-bella was able to identify the ring, using Lore Master and assisted by Korvin and Telemere (both Lore Masters) and Golin (Dwarven Chronicles-wise) as a cult ring from Golin's forgotten temple complex, most likely crafted by Golin's nemesis Golin.

9 turns. During this time the torch burned out, and Fea-bella lit her lantern which had burned for one turn.

Looking in the alcoves on the inner wall of the semi-circular room - which the players (as their characters) identified as places to clean up before having one's fortune told - Telemere found inscriptions in a strange language. Fea-bella read them instinctually, but struggled to make them out (especially as strange inscriptions in the mouldy dust reminded her of her haunted dreams - about 3D vs Ob 6) and once she had identified them as writings about having one's fortune read in the stars had become sick from inhaling the dust.

Still 9 turns.

Once again the poor layout of this room description got the better of me - I had remembered this time to mention the door, but had not mentioned the glyphs - and so did now, when Telemere's player went to look at the rubble in front of the door; I suggested that the glyphs near the body must have been concealed by the dust before it got disturbed. When I also described the arm of the Basalt Guardian banging as Telemere crossed the glyphs they inferred that the glyphs must be some sort of activation mechanism without bothering to try and read them. Though their were differences of opinion as to whether the Guardian was trying to beat them up as intruders, or offer to help them change into their finery for having their fortunes told!

I asked Telemere's player if he was concerned about being watched, and he made his instinctual Scout test. It failed, and so he did not spot the head of the Guardian, with its sigil, in the rubble; but instead my favourite ley-line mutated moles swarmed out of the rubble towards the PCs. At which point - still at 9 turns - we has to finish the session.

In our end-of-session phase, rewards were distributed: Korvin got two Fate, for pursing his goal and his belief (as he had helped to interpret the signet ring); Telemere got two Fate, for pursuing his goal (he had been trying to find records, in the waiting room, of who had been there) and for trying to see things through to the end, and also one Persona, being judged the teamworker; Fea-bella got three Fate, as she had delved deep for knowledge, had sought the secrets of the stars, and had aided the group with her instinctual reading of the indecipherable note; and Golin got one Fate (for trying to find and take laboratory ingredients) and one Persona as MVP, for taking out the NPCs in a single round with his maul.

I'm now at three first sessions for this system, but its uncertain when a second session will happen for any of them.


Today I played a second session with two players from my regular group: we had Golin the Dwarven Outcast and Fea-bella the Elven Dreamwalker.

We started with a prologue from Fea-bella's player, which lifted her Angry condition. Then we agreed that, when the ley-line mutated moles attacked, the other two PCs (Korvin the Skald and Telemere the Ranger) had fled (or perhaps been driven) back down the trapdoor to the lower level.

Golin was appointed conflict captain, and declared it a kill conflict - he wasn't interested in merely driving off mutant moles! He also used one of his traits against himself (Cynical, I think - he couldn't even take mutant moles at face value) on the Disposition roll, so the PCs ended up with 7 hit points (4 for Golin, 3 for Fea-bella) while the 4 moles had a disposition of 8 (ie 2 hp each).

I scripted M-A-A (swarm, burrow, suck blood) while the players scripted D (Golin) - M (Fea-bella) - A (Golin) - they blocked the moles' manoeuvring, but then took some hurt from the first attack and there was hurt all around from the final set of actions, the PCs being taken down to 1 hp each.

In the second round, there were only two moles still in the game. I scripted a cunning A-F-D against the PCs' D (Fea-bella) - D (Golin) - A (Fea-bella). Fea-bella's defence was effective (and my attack roll poor), so the PCs regrouped; my cunning feint achieved little (poor rolling), but Fea-bella's attack was rather weak (Beginner's Luck, and Sick) even with Golin's help and so the moles also regrouped (but not before one of them had carried off Golin's helmet after it absorbed a point of damage).

For the third round, I scripted A-D-A. The players discussed a fair bit between them, and sought (and got) advice from me on the scope of kill conflict compromises. And they decided to go for victory and risk a minor compromise, rather than muck around, by scripting A-D-M (with the D and M in there as backup in the event the big strike up front didn't work). Golin's player rolled well for the attack and, as planned, wiped out the moles (he had +4s, with +2 from his maul and +2 from superior Might). But I rolled successes on all 4 of my mole dice, forcing a half compromise! I reviewed the options and settled on both PCs being Angry, Exhausted and Injured (having had their blood sucked by crazed mutant moles).

The players decided it was time to camp. And the module says that the room the PCs were in is a suitable camp site. So we did a camp phase. We all agreed Ancient Ruins made the most sense - I rolled for a camp event and got a 10 (the chill stone of the room causes +1 Ob recovery). And that the danger level was typical. There was some discussion of whether or not the kill intent was a mistake, but Golin's player defended his choice on the grounds that only driving the moles off would have led to an increased danger level and hence a worse camp event.

The players had one check each and both waned to test to recover from Angry, so there was no watch set. Fea-bella recovered (but was still Exhausted, Injured and Sick); Golin did not (and so was still Angry, Exhausted and Injured).

So they decided to loot the silver mirrors in the room they were in - the looting roll (Dwarven Crafting Nature) was a success - and then head back to Stoink, following the directions on the notes they had taken from the bandits in the previous session. This gave us a chance to test the journey rules. I outlined the rules for measuring and paying off toll. They worked out what gear to leave behind to make room for the mirrors (3 x pack 3 each) but made sure to keep their food.

I explained that either a Cartographer test would be needed to turn the notes into a map (Ob 4, for modest region + working from notes) or a Pathfinder test would be needed to guide them (Ob 4 for a short journey along an infrequently used route, with +1D for having the notes). They opted for the latter, with Golin making the test - he failed of course (rolling 5D Health -1D for Injured, +2D for help from Fea-bella + the notes, all halved for Beginner's Luck ie 3D - he forgot to use a trait against himself until it was too late). I opted for success but with Hungry and Thirsty for both of them, which consumed one of their lots of food.

But the weather roll was kind to them (they decided the season was early spring, and the roll was Cool and Clear, -1 toll) and so was the trouble roll (a 5 - no trouble on the road). So they made it to Stoink. With two landmarks on the way - the Phostwood Forest and the Artonsamay River - the toll was 2, +1 for the terrain, -1 for the weather, +1 to Golin's for acting as guide. They paid of one toll each with their remaining food and water, and traded a 3D mirror to pay the rest (I think I may have been on the generous side there, but it seemed to me that finding a trader or unmarked village on the borders of the forest and the river was far from being out of the question).

So we then had a town phase, in the Bustling Metropolis of Stoink. I rolled for a town event and got a 15:

Actually. On the street, you hear a fool prattling on to their lady friend about the nature of the moon and the stars. Tip your hat and correct them using Scholar vs their Scholar 4. Suggested twist: you make a new enemy.​

Fea-bella had no interest in interjecting with a correction, but Golin did! With Will 3, -1D for Injured, +1D for help from Fea-bella whispering in his ear, all halved for Beginner's Luck, he rolled 2D against my 4D. And lost. The player anticipated he had to add a new enemy to his list before I even got a chance to tell him: Ebenezer the Erudite had plenty of rude things to say about this rude and ignorant dwarf. But the PCs went off to find the houses of healing - ie after I explained the accommodation options they both chose to stay in a hotel.

Fea-bella automatically recovered from Exhausted, and succeeded against Injured (four successes on 3D Health +1D from the Hotel) and then against Sick (more than three success on 5D Will +1D from the Hotel +1D from her First Born trait). Golin automatically recovered from Exhausted, and then failed against Angry and Injured. So Fea-bella had to treat his injury (Healing 4 against Ob 2 for bruises from blood-sucking moles) which I thought counted as +1 Lifestyle personal business. She clocked up another +1 Lifestyle by making a Circles check to meet her adventurer friend, the Elven Ranger Glothfindel, who would then be able to guide the PCs back to the Tower of the Stars. But her player failed to get 3 successes on six dice (Circles 5 +1D for Dream-haunted trait) - so whereas she had hoped that her dreams would reveal that Glothfindel was nearby, in fact they revealed that he had been riding near the Tower of the Stars having heard Fea-bella was there, and had been captured by her enemy Megloss!

To fund her lifestyle (she had only 4D of treasure plus Resources 0) she sold her spellbook (part of her starting gear) for 1D - because we had reviewed the Dreamwalker spell-use rules and she doesn't need a spellbook.

Golin, meanwhile, also added 2 to his lifestyle cost. First, he went to the Guild Halls and repaired his helmet. Which succeeded. (Yay!) Then he went to the markets to try and buy food, hammer and pitons. He decided to test for food first, Resources 1 against Ob 1. And failed. He learned that no one would sell to him - not food or hammer or pitons - because Ebenezer had persuaded them to blackball him! So, still angry, and having already been contemplating the possibility, he sought out Ebenezer with the plan of making a fool of him in front of his lady friend. I used the Professor NPC stats for Ebenezer, and calculated he had Beginner's Luck Orator 3, the same as Golin's skill level. The rules for Angry say that at the GM's option it causes an obstacle penalty to Orator, but I thought that in this case the angry was fuelled rather than hindered by his fury! The result of the versus test was a clear victory to Golin, and he shamed Ebenezer in front of his lady - the note on Golin's PC sheet describes Ebenezer as now shamed, hot, and single.

With all personal business concluded, they left town. Both players rolled 5 dice for Resources vs Ob 5, and both failed. But their treasure absorbed the tax.

We then handed out rewards: no Fate for Beliefs or Instincts, but one each for goals. And they agreed that Fea-bella was the teamworker (taking the lifestyle hit to heal Golin) was Golin was the MVP (in the judgment of Fea-bella's player, for killing the moles; in the judgment of his own player, for shaming Ebenezer in front of his girlfriend),


I enjoyed this session. We got to see a lot of the game's subsystems in action: a reasonably extended conflict; camping; journeying; and a town phase. I was happy with how I handled the failure and consequence narration, including the weaving in of the friends and enemies (in both cases the players made this easy).

For me, it reinforced my view expressed in the other thread that this is not really a "story now" engine: it's all about super-skilled play plus testing your luck with the dice. But it also confirmed my view in that thread that the colour in the game is really strong: in this session we had the camp in the ruined tower, the journey with an inadequate guide, the stay in the houses of healing but the dwarf remaining angry, the dreams of the Dreamwalker, and the feud with Ebenezer. How many FRPGs can have a whole story cycle between vindictive Dwarf and arrogant scholar play out over the course of a reasonably brief period of downtime resolution? And not as any sort of accident - it shows the design of the system at work.

Afterwords, Golin's player - who is not a huge fan of Burning Wheel - reflected ruefully that he's beginning to enjoy Torchbearer. (Though he hates the advancement record keeping.) So there may be more play of this game in my future!


Small God of the Dozens
So this is my first Torchbearer campaign. We just finished the Dread Crypt of Skogenby, and while the party got crushed early, the finish was one of the finest role playing moments I've been a part of in a long while.

Our party got brutally abused our first time down into the crypt. Honestly, I never seen a group of four players roll worse for a whole session. To sum that up (as I told this story in more detail upstream somewhere) we had one successful role all session. Great role playing, but brutal rolls. My Outcast had to bite the bullet after that first session. So the finale of last session was about as bad, despite a better on showing on the dice by us. My Outcast found the secret door just fine, but then the whole party failed rolls for the sleepy dust. TZzzzzzzK. We wake up confronted by the Big Bad and her 4 skeleton bigwigs.

Tonight was the grand finale, essentially just this one conflict. We elect to go Capture Conflict because the odds a seriously stacked against us. So we'll try to rescue the village girl, and the evil spirit comes after. Two of the PCs are from Skogenby, so this is a pretty easy choice. We manage through the first two rounds, deal a little damage and manage to lose and then regain a PC, and my Outcast manages to lose and then regain his weapon. Our combat leader, the Halfling, makes a great maneuver to add another couple of dice to my nature-channeling big shot. I end up rolling 16 dice and rolling well enough (against even at-best odds) to score a victory with a ton of compromise. In order to shield the party from a ton of bad consequences, and to save the girl, one of the PCs volunteers to sacrifice their PC to be a new vessel. What a finale! Anyway, it was great.

So, @pemerton, what are your thoughts on the slightly non-canonical milieu (Greyhawk vs the assumed 'Post Apocalyptic Far North'). I think the assumed milieu pretty obviously plays into the "harsh world" thing, as canonically civilization (and possibly humanity) are 'on the outs'. You can't easily survive outside of civilized areas, and those are pretty restricted in scope (IE you're stuck dealing with town, or else you're out in the wilds, and pretty much doomed to eventual death). While some areas of Greyhawk might be deemed as rather harsh, it generally carries more of a tone of an ongoing vital civilization, albeit one in which PCs may find their lot is less than great. I wonder how the difference would affect the outcome of a longer campaign. Obviously a single short adventure is not so deeply related to the overall context to make a lot of difference, but I can imagine there would be a lot more scope for high level adventurers to operate in Greyhawk generally.


@AbdulAlhazred, I chose the Bandit Kingdoms and environs as a starting point. The Elven PCs are from the Fellreev Forest, the Forgotten Temple Complex is on the borderlands of the Pale, etc. That's reasonably far north, and I don't think departs hugely from the feel of Thor's map in the front of the Scholar's Guide.

Where I suspect we did depart from the assumed default is in the density of landmarks etc for calculating journey toll. Two toll from the adventure site to the bustling metropolis is probably generous. But I doubt it will actually break the game!

@AbdulAlhazred, I chose the Bandit Kingdoms and environs as a starting point. The Elven PCs are from the Fellreev Forest, the Forgotten Temple Complex is on the borderlands of the Pale, etc. That's reasonably far north, and I don't think departs hugely from the feel of Thor's map in the front of the Scholar's Guide.

Where I suspect we did depart from the assumed default is in the density of landmarks etc for calculating journey toll. Two toll from the adventure site to the bustling metropolis is probably generous. But I doubt it will actually break the game!
Well, landmarks in Greyhawk, outside of the very most core areas around Greyhawk itself, are pretty sparse. I mean, presumably if you have access to a lot of the old 'Living Greyhawk' and whatnot there are a lot more 'official' details than the Darlene Map, but I was never that into it. I don't think 'density' really matters anyway, its all just relative mechanical whatever. A 'leg' could be 2 miles or 200, it is really not going to change anything much.

Greyhawk, OVERALL, just has the genre conception of 'big heroes', half the countries are clearly run by adventurers (maybe a lot more than that, lol). Its a land where you pick up a sword and head off with some companions into the boonies and come back rich, famous, and powerful (or maybe you die, but nobody remembers those guys). Rather different from the grim "you are almost surely doomed" TB2 vibe. Not to mention that in TB2 it is, canonically, pretty explicit that ALL OF SOCIETY is doomed. The monsters aren't just nasties out in boonies to be cleared out, they COMING, they intend to, and WILL end civilization, and its pretty well acknowledged this is how things will end (I mean unless something even more dire transpires first). That's why I wonder if Greyhawk can sustain the same sort of high level play that stock TB evokes. I'm sure you can make Greyhawk grimmer! Iuz is unstoppable, its just a matter of time, etc. (depends on the timeframe you take for your Greyhawk I guess).

Remove ads