Torchbearer 2nd ed: first impressions

pemerton

Legend
I backed the Torchbearer 2nd edition Kickstarter in April 2020. My books arrived a couple of weeks ago: the two core book (Dungeoneer's Handbook, Scholar's Guide), the expansion book (Lore Master's Manual) and a book of scenarios (Cartographer's Compendium). I also got PDF of all these plus the Scavenger's Supplement, another expansion.

In this post I'll be commenting on the full suite of this material without distinguishing core and supplements. That distinction is a bit unstable in any event, with multiple references in both core books to material in the Lore Master's Manual. Although the two core books are, in both title and the way they address the reader, meant to emulate a PHB and DMG, I don't think they fully succeed in that respect. There is stuff in the Scholar's Guide that players absolutely need to know, including the core action resolution rules; and personally I would have found it easier with a different approach to the presentation of the material, with less overlap between the two core books and less need (as a reader) to read across multiple books including the Lore Master's Manual to get the full picture of a particular subsystem. But maybe there are going to be some RPGers who just use the two core books, which perhaps justifies the way it's been done.

I've not played Torchbearer in either its original or this revised version. But I have played, and am a big fan of, Burning Wheel, which is the system that Torchbearer is (largely) derived from. Where Torchbearer differs from Burning Wheel is first and foremost in the "theme" or focus of play; and the mechanical differences are then (mostly) built around that. The stand-out items in the Games list in the Scholar's Guide bibliography are:

*The Caverns of Thracia, by Jennell Jaquays
*Dungeon Module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, by Gary Gygax
*Dungeons & Dragons Rules for Fantasy Medieval Wargames Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures, by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, Tactical Studies Rules, 1974
*Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Adventure Game, by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson (edited by Tom Moldvay), TSR, 1981.
*A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, by Matthew Finch​

In other words, Torchbearer is what you get if you (i) take the basic Burning Wheel framework for PC build (stock, stats, skills, traits, Wises, Beliefs, Instincts, Resources, Circles, Relationships) and action resolution ("say 'yes' or roll the dice; "fail forward"; pacing and thematically-driven toggling between simple checks and various more-or-less baroque extended resolution systems), (ii) simplify it in places (shorten the length of the stat and skill lists; make traits simpler and more uniform in their mechanical effects; merge the extended resolution systems into a single one - I believe that Mouse Guard did this first, but I don't know it other than by reputation), and then (iii) adapt it and add necessary elements to make it support classic D&D-esque dungeon crawling and wilderness adventuring (classes instead of life paths; levels - from 1st to 10th - as an additional component of the PC; shifting some of the work done by Beliefs into distinct Goal - what are we going to do this session? - and Creed - what's your alignment? - slots; a systematic inventory and encumbrance system; random loot tables, and a whole new suite of downtime resolution systems to soak up that loot).

At a high level of description, Torchbearer can be compared Dungeon World: a modern system dedicated to capturing the feel of classic D&D. At a more detailed level I think there are significant differences; I'll get back to these below.

Anyway, here's my first serious thought about this system: The flavour is amazing. For me, this really started to come through in two ways. First, reading the different settlement types, in the context of the town phase (which is the system's downtime resolution framework) and starting to think through how this might feel in play. The differences between Bustling Metropolises, Religious Bastion's, Walled Towns, Borderland Fortresses, and the not-quite-Rivendell-nor-quite-Lorien Elfhomes - just to name a few of over a dozen settlement types - comes through very vividly.

The second way the flavour struck me was via the classes. Each class has a stock ("race", in classic D&D terms), a trait, some core skills, and a list of level benefit. Around this structure we get Halfling Bounders, Burglars and Stoorish, Smeagol-ish Guides; Elven Rangers and Dreamwalkers (the system's version of an Elven magic-user); Dwarven Outcasts (like Thorin Oakenshield; at higher levels they may be joined on their adventures by their cousins) and Stonetellers (the system's version of a Dwarven cleric); and a variety of options for humans: thieves, warriors, skalds and various users of magic, including magicians with their memorised spells, shamans and theurges (two categories of cleric who are nicely differentiated, and correspond a little bit to druids vs clerics in AD&D) and sorcerers who have no D&D analogue but combine aspects of Burning Wheel summoning and Burning Wheel spirit-binding.

Here's my second serious thought: Play looks incredibly demanding and unforgiving. This is probably the biggest difference, at least on reading, from Dungeon World. There is not the soft-move/hard-move structure of DW; as in Burning Wheel, many checks will probably be failed (due to high obstacles relative to the abilities and augments the players can muster), but unlike BW there is a systematic process for inflicting consequences in the form of debilitating conditions which range from hungry and thirsty to dead. Hungry and thirsty can be recovered by a short rest, provided the characters are carrying rations and/or water. But everything else requires an extended rest to recover (camp phase or the downtime town phase), and the rationing of actions (including recovery checks) in camp phase is brutal; and town phase also rations, not via an action economy but via the need to make a Lifestyle Resources check at the end of each town phase, with the more luxurious accommodations that permit more recoveries also adding to that Lifestyle obstacle. (The relationship between Lifestyle and periodic Resources checks comes from Burning Wheel; the implementation of them in this system is all its own thing!) The death spiral, with multiple layers and moving parts in terms of both PC build elements, the basic structure of play, and the passage of both at-the-table and in-game time, seems as severe as anything I've seen in a RPG.

On reading, it's very hard to tell how the flavour and the play will intersect. I can see how the system has the tools to resolve Bilbo the Burglar stabbing and tricking the giant spiders in Mirkwood to rescue his captured companions. But I can't tell what Bilbo's chance of success would be; though my intuition is that, to Bilbo's player, things would look pretty dire!

I don't know if or when I'll be able to persuade some or all of my group to give this a try. Hopefully at some stage. I think it's a system that wants to be played.
 

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I've got a few games of Torchbearer pending right now. One is on hiatus until a few players are available. The other one just came up emergently Saturday before last as I spent an evening with my old gaming group in person. We talked about TB2, talked about the pending game, I showed them the map (I'll attach it here) and discussed the premise (this Norse-like arctic peninsula is crawling out of their holes after an apocalypse from the last century ruined the connections of civilization and sent their tiny world in a desperate spiral for survival).

They got excited. They each chose one of the iconic characters so we could start play straight-away. We keyed up the map with their homelands and a few areas sufficient for an initial Journey and Adventure and we ran the Journey to the site. I'll say more about that and intersect a play excerpt with the lead post once I have a bit more time. A primer for reference to that subsequent post:


PCs chosen - They went the following route:

Karolina - Human Warrior from Remote Village.

Belief: I am the bulwark that stands between my friends and harm.

Goal: I will find out what happened to Jora.

Instinct: Always go hunting when we make camp.

Traits: Heart of Battle, Defender

Wise: Field-dressing

Nature Answers - Quietly prepare, listen to the wisdom of the elder ones, do not fear those who prey on civilization.

Circles Answers -

Has friends (Njall the Weaver), orphan (mother’s ivory cameo), has mentor (Gudrun the Hunter), has enemy (Grimkell the Warrior).

Skill Selection -

Human skill: Pathfinder
Specialist skill: Hunter
Home skill: Carpenter
Social Graces: Persuader

Taika - Elf Ranger from Elfhome

Belief: I must help my comrades consider every angle before making a decision.

Goal: I will determine what evil haunts this place.

Instinct: Always identify the capabilities of new creatures I encounter.

Traits: First-born, Fiery.

Wise: Elven lore

Nature answers -

Sing the ancient songs, confront evil, prepared for a life of struggle.

Circles Answers -

Has friends (Tua the healer, townsfolk), has parents (Laras and Sanna, mentors), has mentor (Ulla the scout), no enemy

Skill Section -

Specialist skill: Scout
Home skill: Healer
Social graces: Persuader

Aile - Human Sorcerer from Forgotten Temple

Belief: I must master myself to master the world.

Instinct: Always make talismans for my companions in camp.

Traits: Colossal Pride, Foolhardy

Wise: Frost-wights

Nature Answers -

Quietly prepare, listen, do not fear.

Circles Answers -

Has friend (Gaivvas the Shaman), orphan, mentor (Siru the Sorcerer), enemy (Avra the Magician).

Skill Selection -

Human skill: Laborer
Specialist skill: Persuader
Home skill: Theologian
Social graces: Orator

The only house rules we use are as follows:

1) CONFLICTS

Defend vs Attack - 1 HP reduction or 1 HP Regroup (player/GM choice) no matter result of vs test.

2) HELP

Mark for 1 test per session but if failure and its a Condition + Success (rather than a Twist), both the Helper and the primary player gets the same Condition (not a lesser condition as per normal).

3) JOURNEYS

We aren't using the TB2 Journey rules w/ Toll per se. We're (a) treating it like Adventure phase with The Grind suspended, (b) using Journey Legs to represent a day of travel, (b) a Pathfinder Test for off-road Legs (with attendant Twist/Danger-related decision-point pending course charted), (c) Haggler Test for Road to score a caravan (and avoid Road Events) or Road Events if no Haggler Test, (d) mark one food or drink to abate Hungry and Thirsty at the end of each Leg.




I'll do a post in the coming days detailing the map/site conversation we had (their homes, the first adventuring site and premise, the course charted for the Journey) and the Journey phase of play (that is all we got done because we had to cover a lot of things) and have it intersect with the lead post's flavor and unforgiving and demanding components.

The group is going to try to get together at least once a month (maybe every 3 weeks if we can...basically rendezvous is an hour and change drive for each of us). Maybe we'll play online a bit if need be (unclear), but 2 of the players hate online play so I doubt it.
 

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Well, I made a halfling burglar for @Manbearcat. It is definitely not Bilbo! But maybe a somewhat similar theme can be evoked, I dunno.
The grind does sound pretty brutal. Basically every 'scene' is a turn, and ever 4 turns you get another condition. Now, scenes are going to vary heavily in what they represent, legs of a journey, an encounter, some bit of exploration, etc. Given that the FIRST condition you are likely to get is Hungry & Thirsty, and you can cure that reasonably easily, my guess is that as long as you're well victualized you can float around without getting completely worn down. OTOH you're DEFINITELY going to fail a lot of checks, and those will impose MORE conditions. Many of them can only really be dealt with in town, so its pretty clear the drill is you have to gauge when you're approaching the point of no return, and TURN BACK, but if you haven't achieved enough resources to make the town recovery checks when you return, then you're basically forked.

I suspect the most common fate of adventurers is simply to end up utterly penniless, having no equipment or resources remaining, and with so many conditions that leaving town is infeasible. I guess you just lair 'in the streets' until accumulated conditions kill you at that point...

The whole shtick seems to be, thematically, 'adventurers are all scum'. You have 'standing' 0 (and I see no mechanism to improve it), which means literally nobody but peasants and workmen, harlots (yay we have not advanced yet since Gygax), soldiers, and other adventurers are THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO WILL ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR EXISTENCE. Anyone of higher presence than 1 won't even spit on you, you don't exist. I would assume that there's an implied "unless the GM plots otherwise."

Likewise combat is predicated on 'might', though here adventurers are a 3, which makes them somewhat badass (normal humans are a 2, small animals, children, and kobolds are 1s). 7 is a god, 6 is an elder dragon, 4's and 5's are the nasty monster types you MIGHT be able to avoid being slaughtered by if you're lucky. Technically you can capture something up to equal to your might, slay things up to might +1, and drive off creatures up to might +2. This is sort of hard-coded into the combat system as just an absolute limitation of resolution, no matter how good your plan is, how well you roll, or what equipment or etc. you bring to bear, you CANNOT have any impact at all on a might 6 dragon, period.

Your might and presence do increase by one at higher levels. I didn't see in a casual scanning of the material outside of 'how to roll up your character' any mechanism to increase those abilities MORE, so I guess the theme is you were, are, and always will be scum, and even when you reach level 10 (the highest level) there are still 3 ranks of monsters above you (admittedly 1 of those being gods, which maybe aren't really something that shows up in play, I dunno...).

Anyway, I figure you could probably play for years without reaching level 10, simply because this game gonna kill every character dead pretty quick! lol. I could be wrong, maybe items and whatnot, and lucky big treasure hauls, can set you up. I guess we shall see...
 

Well, I made a halfling burglar for @Manbearcat. It is definitely not Bilbo! But maybe a somewhat similar theme can be evoked, I dunno.
The grind does sound pretty brutal. Basically every 'scene' is a turn, and ever 4 turns you get another condition. Now, scenes are going to vary heavily in what they represent, legs of a journey, an encounter, some bit of exploration, etc. Given that the FIRST condition you are likely to get is Hungry & Thirsty, and you can cure that reasonably easily, my guess is that as long as you're well victualized you can float around without getting completely worn down. OTOH you're DEFINITELY going to fail a lot of checks, and those will impose MORE conditions. Many of them can only really be dealt with in town, so its pretty clear the drill is you have to gauge when you're approaching the point of no return, and TURN BACK, but if you haven't achieved enough resources to make the town recovery checks when you return, then you're basically forked.

I suspect the most common fate of adventurers is simply to end up utterly penniless, having no equipment or resources remaining, and with so many conditions that leaving town is infeasible. I guess you just lair 'in the streets' until accumulated conditions kill you at that point...

The whole shtick seems to be, thematically, 'adventurers are all scum'. You have 'standing' 0 (and I see no mechanism to improve it), which means literally nobody but peasants and workmen, harlots (yay we have not advanced yet since Gygax), soldiers, and other adventurers are THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO WILL ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR EXISTENCE. Anyone of higher presence than 1 won't even spit on you, you don't exist. I would assume that there's an implied "unless the GM plots otherwise."

Likewise combat is predicated on 'might', though here adventurers are a 3, which makes them somewhat badass (normal humans are a 2, small animals, children, and kobolds are 1s). 7 is a god, 6 is an elder dragon, 4's and 5's are the nasty monster types you MIGHT be able to avoid being slaughtered by if you're lucky. Technically you can capture something up to equal to your might, slay things up to might +1, and drive off creatures up to might +2. This is sort of hard-coded into the combat system as just an absolute limitation of resolution, no matter how good your plan is, how well you roll, or what equipment or etc. you bring to bear, you CANNOT have any impact at all on a might 6 dragon, period.

Your might and presence do increase by one at higher levels. I didn't see in a casual scanning of the material outside of 'how to roll up your character' any mechanism to increase those abilities MORE, so I guess the theme is you were, are, and always will be scum, and even when you reach level 10 (the highest level) there are still 3 ranks of monsters above you (admittedly 1 of those being gods, which maybe aren't really something that shows up in play, I dunno...).

Anyway, I figure you could probably play for years without reaching level 10, simply because this game gonna kill every character dead pretty quick! lol. I could be wrong, maybe items and whatnot, and lucky big treasure hauls, can set you up. I guess we shall see...
That was actually both entertaining and informative. Thanks!
 

pemerton

Legend
The whole shtick seems to be, thematically, 'adventurers are all scum'.
Or, at least, begin as such.

You have 'standing' 0 (and I see no mechanism to improve it)

<snip>

Your might and presence do increase by one at higher levels.
I haven't thought much about Might yet, but I think you can improve your Precedence by gaining a noble title or other social status, which then yields a corresponding Precedence on the chart.

From p 244 of the Lore Master's Manual"

Titles and deeds are valuable because they grant you access to enterprises like businesses, religious offices and nobility. If properly assumed, these titles can lift an adventurer’s Precedence out of the muck and into something quite formidable.​

harlots (yay we have not advanced yet since Gygax)
In my books (DHB, SG) it says "prostitutes", not "harlots".

you're DEFINITELY going to fail a lot of checks, and those will impose MORE conditions.

<snip>

I figure you could probably play for years without reaching level 10, simply because this game gonna kill every character dead pretty quick! lol. I could be wrong, maybe items and whatnot, and lucky big treasure hauls, can set you up. I guess we shall see...
If a check is failed, a condition is only suffered if the GM also decides that the PC gets what they wanted: so its success (if the player makes the roll); success with a condition (if the the player fails the roll and the GM chooses this); or a failure in the form of a twist (if the player fails the roll and the GM chooses this).

I've only looked at the maths a little bit. I think Help is incredibly important, and so is Gear and also using Nature.
 

Or, at least, begin as such.

I haven't thought much about Might yet, but I think you can improve your Precedence by gaining a noble title or other social status, which then yields a corresponding Precedence on the chart.

From p 244 of the Lore Master's Manual"

Titles and deeds are valuable because they grant you access to enterprises like businesses, religious offices and nobility. If properly assumed, these titles can lift an adventurer’s Precedence out of the muck and into something quite formidable.​
Ah, OK, so there are 'treasures' which can increase your precedence. I kinda figured that might be true, as I say I rather skimmed the Lore Master's Manual as I was mostly looking for information relevant to character generation. It makes sense of course that some kind of fiction-mediated mechanism would exist, even if only theoretically, to achieve that. I'm still a bit in the dark as to the likelihood of useful quantities of treasure/magic.
In my books (DHB, SG) it says "prostitutes", not "harlots".
Ah, the (burning?) wheels of civilization have advanced far since the 1970s! ;)
If a check is failed, a condition is only suffered if the GM also decides that the PC gets what they wanted: so its success (if the player makes the roll); success with a condition (if the the player fails the roll and the GM chooses this); or a failure in the form of a twist (if the player fails the roll and the GM chooses this).

I've only looked at the maths a little bit. I think Help is incredibly important, and so is Gear and also using Nature.
Right, my conclusion is that it really depends on the GM to regulate how quickly the PCs get worn down by A) the frequency and Ob at which they assess checks, and B) the frequency with which they impose conditions vs twists. Of course you can also get into a lot of trouble from the twists, but conditions represent a very real and immediate death spiral!

Help is important, though I wonder at @Manbearcat's proposed tweak, which seems like it increases the risk of helping. One of the salient features of helping is that it is LESS risky (but not riskless in general).

Nature IMHO represents a kind of 'battery', similar to Healing Surges in 4e, you can tax your nature, ideally in a way that engages your traits, and that increases your dice pool and thus removes some failures, at the cost of said tax. Given that successes both avoid conditions/twists, AND presumably could lead to treasures, yes I would say optimizing your use of your Nature is likely to factor heavily into success.

Honestly, from a designer perspective, I think there may be one or two more moving parts here than is ideal, I'm a very 'less is more' type of engineering guy. Still, it should be interesting to see what works, how, and why.
 

Quick drive-by post (I'll get a subsequent post up detailing the Journey phase of that first session...perhaps later today...perhaps tomorrow):

On Difficulty and Skilled Play

I find the game to have a difficulty arc somewhat similar to Blades in the Dark (though ramped up for sure). Its extremely tough to get the positive feedback loop going in your direction, but there is a clear pivot point once you can reliably muster solid Disposition/Attack + Defend pools for the Conflicts that you primarily face and when you can martial resources reliably for Camp phase Tests. Its not set in stone where that is exactly because play is so dynamic on how characters evolve within through the crucible of play (and that can change dramatically in a 4 session interval). But it is there and you feel a little bit of a weight lifted. It never lets up. The game is always difficult and it can always spiral and get away from you regardless of how safe you are, but there is are a few exhales built-in.

In terms of Skilled Play, there are loads of vectors.

* Team build is very important early on. If you have particular holes, the game will find them and exploit them. So build your team and pick your conflicts and targets very carefully.

* Managing the sort of Pictionary + Rock/Paper/Scissors of Conflicts is extremely important. Concessions in Conflict pile up character ablation just like The Grind so you want to be pick your Conflicts shrewdly, escalate only when necessary (Kill Conflicts are very scary things early), navigate the Attack/Defend/Maneuver/Feint matrix skillfully (including your turn order), and know when to cut your losses/de-escalate.

* Navigating The Grind and your Light clocks are crucial. Knowing when/how to Make Camp (there are a host of interlocking decisions that come with the initial decision around Camp-making) and how/when to fuel Camp Recovery with getting Checks in the Adventure phase is massive.

* Dealing with the Twist/Condition + Success rhythm of failed Tests is huge. The GM should basically be doing this every other one so (50 : 50) on the whole (virtually every failed Test could recognizably yield either outcome) so extrapolating outcomes and incorporating that into your decision-space is an important factor.

* Managing the failure component of your advancement (marking Tests/getting Checks) and your thematic space to generate Persona and Fate (to martial for downstream use) is key to passing key tests next session and downstream of that.

* Managing the logistics of the map. Reliably getting to places to optimize bonuses in Town phase for that upkeep/recovery phase of play and minimize Journey Legs (particularly by maximizing Legs on Road rather than in the Wild) greatly impacts the Adventure phase.

* EDIT - Forgot about Inventory/Gear/Supplies and porter/sentry/guide (et al) acquisition and management all have huge effects on play.

* There are so many resources to call upon to manipulate your dice pools. I won't mention them all, but there is a huge array. Managing those and using them wisely for key Tests is as intuitive as a thing gets in terms of importance on Skilled Play. The other aspect is managing the fiction and the attendant risk of Helping to augment dice pools.


Long story short here. There is a fairly significant gap between unskillful and skillful play in Torchbearer. I don't agree that play is cruel. Its just enormously demanding. And the stakes are very high. The intersection of that yields extremely rewarding skillful play but also accepting the reality that sometimes, even when you play skillfully, the game will turn violently against you and you'll pay dearly. Its not for everyone, but its a type of game that some folks love.


On Might/Precedence and PC Status

I don't agree that adventurers are scum to start off play. Its never been that in a game I've run. Overwhelmingly, the games I've run have featured a world under extreme duress so the stratification of society isn't well-positioned to scarlet letter a lot of folks with "scum." That seems to me to be the default position of the game. Further, Precedence 0 + Might 3 actually yields a not-so-tenuous relationship to the hierarchy of the world even early on.

Being on the social strata of soldiers, criminals, and prostitutes means that some level of parley is in play with shopkeepers, laborers, peasants, boatmen, merchants, financiers, and doctors. Given the a robust suite of capabilities for Tests and Conflicts in the social arena, you can be rather formidable within that strat even at 0 Precedence. And beyond the tier-up at level 6 (+1 Precedence), you can possibly increase your Precedence locally in a Town or with an NPC/guild via Adventures. There are also various and sundry "ignore Precedence when x" in various classses.

And the reality that you're Might 3 is a tangible thing that looms. The Order of Might puts adventurers as very dangerous people. The social sphere has to manage the calculus that the person who is haranguing you has the physical potential for harm/resilience as that of a Dire Wolf!


On Marking Pass/Fail for Advancement w/ Help Houserule

So, to be clear, this is something players get to take advantage of at their discretion; its toggled "on" for a boon at a risk. Once per session you get to mark a test that you Help on w/ the increased danger of assuming a worse condition that you would otherwise (if you hadn't marked). So it doesn't push people away from Helping at all. It just adds a layer of advancement/build/threat calculus for play.
 
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Alright, quick excerpt on Journey 1 of the above game.

Referencing map in post above, we settled upon:

* 1 is Elfhome for Taika. 2 is the Remote Village for Karolina. 7 is the Forgotten Temple for Aile.

* The starting point for the game was 2 (Karolina's Remote Village).

* The first Adventure was related to site 8. Karolina's mentor has a pupil named Jora who went to explore the haunted fjord (site 8) called The Echoing Walls. Before The Deep Cold 200 or so years ago (so The Chroniclers say), site 8 was a sister village to Karolina's present Remote Village. When the apocalypse hit, massive landslides caused a tsunami that wiped out the entire village in a single go. It is now just a ruined place, filled with angry spirits wailing in the night about their laments and their lost. Now that the folk of this land are crawling out of their holes (mostly due to the desperation of food shortages, famine, death, and pestilence), many a recovery effort of that once bountiful place has happened in the last few years...all of which have failed.

A few weeks ago, Jora went to that place by himself to scout it out for a prospective recovery effort. He has yet to return (and is long overdue). Karolina's mentor beseeched her to find what became of him.

* So they geared up (default gear) and charted a course from 2 to 4 (via Road) and then from 4 through the Wild to 8. Why not take 4 to 3 and then 3 to 8? 3 is a once Bustling Metropolis (the only bay/harbor of this frozen arctic peninsula) and is fraught with terrible danger. The ferry from there to 8 is presently offline. So 3 Legs - 1 * Road from 2 to 4 and then 2 * Wild (through the Wilderness Twists of Hills then Fjord) from 4 to 8.

The Goals for Adventure 1 (basically a small Adventure of 6 Obstacles OB2-4, Spirits of Might 3 w/ a Disturbed Spirit of Might 5) are as follows:

Karolina - I will find out what happened to Jora.

Taika - I will determine what evil haunts this place.

Aile - I will banish any powerful spirit that sets its will against us.

* Gotta run unfortunately. I'll detail the 3 Tests/results for the 3 Legs of the Journey tonight or tomorrow.
 

pemerton

Legend
I wonder at @Manbearcat's proposed tweak, which seems like it increases the risk of helping. One of the salient features of helping is that it is LESS risky (but not riskless in general).
I'm still catching up on this thread, and I think @Manbearcat may have also replied to this. But my understanding is that his tweak allows a player to choose to risk the full condition in return for marking a text towards advancement when helping without having to spend a Fate point.

it really depends on the GM to regulate how quickly the PCs get worn down by A) the frequency and Ob at which they assess checks, and B) the frequency with which they impose conditions vs twists. Of course you can also get into a lot of trouble from the twists, but conditions represent a very real and immediate death spiral!
From the Cartographer's Compendium (p 6):

[M]ake sure to throw in a few conditions here and there. Conditions often hurt, but they keep the action moving by allowing the characters to continue making progress. If you focus too much on conditions, players will feel that they’re constantly getting beat up and ground down. If you focus too much on twists, players will feel that they never make any progress. So, try to find a healthy balance between twists and conditions.​

The same text, but without the last sentence, is also in the Scholar's Guide (p 232). It also says this (p 213):

Torchbearer provides a series of interlocking systems for the game master to use to create pressure on the characters. However, the system requires the game master to make judgement calls at certain points in play. The most primary mechanism of judgement is when to apply a twist or condition to the result of a failed test. That is a serious decision in the context of the game.​

As to the frequency and obstacle of tests, there is advice on that in the Adventure Design section of the Scholar's Guide. But it does not talk about level-appropriateness, although in the Cartographer's Compendium adventures are rated by level.
 
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On Adventure Difficulty

The books have robust advice on this that amounts to:

1 - Decreased proximity to Town means more difficult Adventures. This is two-fold. The first issue is that threats increase in Might as you go further into the Wild. The second issue is that distance from Town yields increased Journey Legs which means more Toll in the orthodox handling or more decision-points/tests/costs/conflicts in my way of handling (which is basically the same thing but there are meaty, consequential decision-points in the TB1 way/may way of handling it. More Toll = more stress on inputs into the Adventure (loading out/costs to do so/potential Resource Tax) and more dynamic issues with respect to Gear/Conditions as you enter the Adventure phase.

2 - There are 3 types of Adventure. Normal which is 4-6 Obstacles and won't/shouldn't involve a Camp phase. Large which is 10-12 Obstacles and should involve 1-2 Camp phases. Mega which 18-20 Obstacles and should involve 2-3 Camp phases.

3 - The bulk of Obstacles should be 3-5 and most adversaries should be able to muster roughly equal dice to the PCs before Traits. Then a handful of Obstacles that are 1-2 or low Nature/Might creatures. Then each Adventure should have an Obstacle/Creature that puts the group in a serious bind. It overmatches them in dice pool such that they'll have to seriously martial resources to contend with/overcome its threat, have to make a concession in their approach based on the creature's Might/Precedence being beyond them, or they'll just have to decide how to avoid it (and perhaps come back another day to explore/confront it).


Some of this should be signaled outright to the players so they can appropriately load out/prepare for their Journey/Adventure in the Town phase. However, during the Town phase (this is kindred to Info Gathering/Free Play for those familiar with BitD) there are various moves to make (beyond simply recovering) to gain better intel/capability on your Adventure to come and then improve/repair/increase your kit, gear out/provision sufficiently, hire on help, make shrine offerings for boons, etc etc.

So players will (a) know what their Journey entails by way of map (determining total Legs, type of Legs, etc), (b) will know the general gist of their Adventure so they can roughly load out/provision for it, and (c) can make Town moves to amplify their understanding of (a) and (b) to better prepare.
 

Alright, back to the 3 Leg Journey from session 1.

JOURNEY LEG 1 - Hire onto/pay for caravan to get from the Remote Village (2) to the Busy Crossroads (4).

So there is basically 2 options here.

1 - The group of adventurers go it alone and we roll on 1d6 Road Events table to find out what happens.

2 - Players Persuade the caravan that they're good/trusted help along the road, players Haggle the caravan down to an inconsequential price, players martial their Recourses and just pay for it outright (with Tax on the line as the consequence). Regardless its Ob2. The reasoning for that is its basically the same Ob as Lifestyle Cost for an Inn or a hire-on of a Sentry. That the analogue I use for caravanning from one town to the next (and it shouldn't be a particularly difficult Ob).

* All of them are Resource 0.

* Aile has Haggler 3 but no one else has Haggler nor Manipulator to Help.

* All three PCs have Persuader 2 so they can muster 2 + 1 *2 (Help) + 1 (Fresh condition) = 5d. They go that route w/ Aile taking the lead and the other two Helping (and marking their 1/session Help for a test as outlined above...they'll suffer full consequence if failure).

Aile's player decides to use their Trait Colossal Pride against themselves to earn a Check (so if they need to Camp...almost surely won't, but just in case...they'll have a Check to power a Test). The PC regales the caravan-master of their mastery over the primordial powers of the universe and their unique access to the spiritual world...of course the caravan-master should see themselves as lucky to have a sorcerer of such implacable will and mystical prowess alongside them! So they take -1d to the test (so now they have 4d) in exchange for the Check.

They get their 2 Successes required so they're apart of the day's long journey to the Busy Crossroads of site 4. Everyone marks one of their 2 Successes required for Advancement in Persuader (they also need 1 Failure).

We start Journey Leg 2 at the trailhead into the Wild. I'll go over that in a later post as I'm short on time!
 


Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen
2 - Players Persuade the caravan that they're good/trusted help along the road, players Haggle the caravan down to an inconsequential price, players martial their Recourses and just pay for it outright (with Tax on the line as the consequence).
Great write-ups! Really enjoying these.

If you'll forgive a small editorial/proofreader's quibble, I think from what I've seen of your usage in this thread you've meant marshal, "to place in proper rank or position, or "to bring together and order in an appropriate or effective way", rather than martial "related to or suited for war or a warrior".
 
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Great write-ups! Really enjoying these.

If you'll forgive a small editorial/proofreader's quibble, I think from what I've seen of your usage in this thread you've meant marshal, "to place in proper rank or position, or to bring together and order in an appropriate or effective way", rather than martial "related to or suited for war or a warrior".

I appreciate the helpful correction! Unfortunately, my brain already knows I engage in this homophone fail with regularity. I’ve been doing it for probably 2 decades or so. It’s weird thing but there is no uptake on the course correction. I guarantee you will continue to see me type martial at a frequency neither of us will be pleased with!

EDIT - Also, N is right next to B and your phone won't autocorrect to homophone! Note this for the future folks!
 
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