Actual Play – Burning Under The House (10/19/2013)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Shane King (Gerald), Hayes Edgeworth (Beren), Brendan Conway (Varg), Mike Sergio (Ulrik), Matt Webber (Taika), and Miguel Zapico (Karolina)
System: Torchbearer
Dungeon: Under the House of the Three Squires

They did it! No town phase (or even a camp phase), but damn, this crew tore up the House. I’m getting ahead of myself, though, more details in the turn by turn synopsis below.

Game Description

This is a wild and dangerous land, filled with forbidding forests and savage monsters. Along the lonely roads that bind civilization together can be found wayhouses—fortified inns where travelers may rest behind stout walls and have a hot meal before venturing forth once more into the unknown.

The House of Three Squires is such a wayhouse. Situated on a lonely stretch of the Post Road, it’s an easy day’s travel from the nearest town. Something is amiss at this humble wayhouse. The stockade gate stands open and unattended, occasionally slamming home with a great thud when the wind catches it just right. The house itself is deserted.


I came with a modicum of props in hand

  • Pre-generated Character Sheets (from the latest download version of the game)
  • A set of dice for each character.
  • Table Tents printing on cardstock, with each characters’ picture, name, and traits on it.
  • Custom Fate and Persona tokens made with token tool, printed on label paper, affixed to 1″ washers, and then lacquered for a smooth finish.
  • Weapon Cards (from the Kickstarter preview)
  • Cash Dice coins (though not nearly enough) for Cash Dice.
  • Heavy poker chips for Disposition (red) and Checks (black).
  • Conflict Sheets, Turn Sheets, pencils, sharpies, the adventure and the like.

What I was missing, but was provided by the kindness of others

  • Scripting cards (lent by Luke)
  • Condition cards (lent by Luke)
  • Torch light tokens (lent by Miguel)

The players gobbled up the PCs pretty quickly. Nobody seemed disheartened by their choice and were quickly getting into their characters. I did my normal intro to Torchbearer, describing the game as one of survival and exploration rather than conquest and heroism, which they all seemed to dig (most of them were already familiar with it). We went over the basic dice mechanics (die pools, obstacles, and success/traitors) and then started play.


After the intro, everyone picked a goal.  Unsurprisingly Beren’s was all about looting the place for all it’s worth, but Ulrik really surprised me “I’ll bring back an offering for my gods”.  I liked it, and I liked even more that it happened!

Turn by Turn

(Not including light source creating and ration/water consumption)

Turn 1 – Karolina, as a hunter thought she might have recognized the musk they smelled, and then when Taika found the scales on the ground, the were even more curious to identify them (Hunter Ob 2. Result: Success). Kobolds afoot!

Turn 2 – Wary of Kobold treachery, they checked for traps on the stairs and found the backs had been sawed through! (Scout Ob 2. Result: Success).

The party briefly deliberated two options. One was to walk one person at a time down the stairs. The other was to collapse the stairs with a few whacks of the sword and then have Taika levitate the party down together safely. After some discussion I turned to the Leader who elected for the magical solution. A few whacks of the sword and the stairs collapsed (see thoughts below).

Spell – Taika cast Lightness of Being (Arcanist Ob 3. Result: Success) and safely lowered the party into the cellar below, now filled with TWO piles of detritus.

Turn 3 – Beren and others, hearing the whining noise, pulled the pile apart (Laborer Ob 1. Result: Success] and revealed the door behind. Opening it a feisty Pomeranian burst out and while happy to be free, growled at the interlopers. The dog was thrown some rations to keep it busy, but otherwise ignored.

Turn 4 – Having found the famed Sour Beer, the adventurers looked for any secrets the wine cellar might hold (Scout Ob 3. Result: Fail. Twist: Net trap) And they found them! A cast that rolled out of the way, and a net trapbut trapped Beren, Gerald, and Taika below, blowing out Gerald’s candle and leaving Taika struggling not to burn herself with her own torch (see thoughts below). [Applied Hungry and Thirsty to everyone].

Turn 5 – With the aid of their un-trapped companions Ulrik and Karolina, the net was removed. [Laborer Ob 2. Result: Success]. After removing it they opened the hidden door and found Ronwald’s treasure below.  Many drank from their wine skins

Turn 6 – Sparing no concern about the rightful owner, Ulrik dove right into first checking for traps and then picking the lock on Ronwald’s chest. (Criminal Ob 2. Result: Fail. Condition: Angry for Ulrik (his lock pick got bent) and Hungry and Thirsty for Gerald (is it 2nd breakfast time already?) but the chest was open!) When they found coin inside, bickering over who would “hold” the treasure started up. After some discussion that started Beren saying he would hold at least one share and other arguing that the only way he could do that was to hold them in a sack in one of his hands, Karolina (the leader) decided how the treasure would be split up (see thoughts below).

Turn 7 – Satisfied with their spoils, the adventurers ventured into the larder where the smell of Kobold was strong and wails could be heard further on. They ventured through the larder into the limestone cavern and when the path split, listened to the echoing wails to determine where they can from. [Dungeoneer Ob 3. Result: Success].

Turn 8 – Walking toward the noise, Gerald accidentally tripped the Kobold’s tripwire alarm, setting off a terrible clangor of metal and bone. Not wanting to reveal the entire parties presence, Gerald moved forward on his own. He could speak with the Kobolds, and hoped to convince them that he was alone and not a threat. They had already rallied the reinforcements however, so he was dealing with twelve angry (and hungry) Kobolds. Seeing him alone however, they invited him to sit by their fire… with every intent of roasting him over it. They got to talking about smells (things of interest to Kobolds) and Lizard Funk mentioned that he had a human sock he wore that was the smelliest sock anyone had ever smelled. Gerald parlayed the discussion into a song to distract them [Making Merry versus Kobold Nature. Result: Success].  The Kobolds put away their weapons and started up a round of the Sock Song, where each of them put their foot in the sock and then smelled it. [Applied Hungry and Thirsty to everyone].

Turn 9 – Unconvinced that Gerald could actually make peace with the Kobolds, Karolina instruction Taika to lead the group in surrounding the kobolds to ambush them. Some of them had already gone back to the room to the north (bored of the sock song) and others were very distracted. But even with that it is tough to sneak up on such a large group. [Scout versus Nature. Result: Fail. Twist: A few kobolds noticed and took up arms to fight!]

Turn 10 – Conflict! Seeing the chance to grab kobolds before they all were armed, Karloina led her fellow adventurers in a fight to capture the gaggle of Kobolds! The fight wa as a brutal one, full of shield bashes, stone throwing, and even some impaling. [Result: Win with a Compromise]. Beren was Injured during the fight, and after Varg and Taika were Afraid that more Kobolds to the north had heard them and would descend shorty. During the fight, Varg cast his Wizard’s Aegis spell from his spell book to better defend the group!

Good Idea – Having the Kobolds subdued, they cut up two lengths of rope to make bonds for them and timed them all up. Them marched them north toward the wailing and shouting.

Spell – It was time for some diplomacy! Varg cast Wisdom of the Sages [Arcanist Ob 2. Result: Success] to speak the tongue of Kobolds. Coming around the corner he found the court behing held with Saw Back and Crooked Tooth.

Spell – After a bit of discussion, Varg ensorceled Saw Back with yet another spell from his spell book, Threads of Friendship. [Arcanist versus Nature test. Result: Success. Margin of Success: 4]. Saw Back saw the cap on Varg’s head, and decided that like the scull headdress that he wore, a cap was a sign of wisdom, and that Varg should be respected and honored.

Turn 11 – During all of this Taika surrendedred her weapon so the Kobolds would let her tend to the wounded (and footless) Joreg. [Healer test Ob 3. Result: Fail] Joreg’s life blood drained out before her eyes, despite every effort she made to save him. In his dying breath he told her of his daughter Elsa, and how she was till lost in the cave.

Turn 12 – Moving things in their favor, Varg and Gerald began negotiating in earnest. The trade of their hostages (9 kobolds) for the hostages that the Kobolds took (all the humans still alive). The Kobold’s resisted, they needed the humans (even though they weren’t 100% what they were going to do with them), but Saw Back’s aid helped Varg win over Crooked Tooth (Persuader versus Nature. Result: Success]. They traded hostages and agreed to come back later to discuss another deal where the adventurers could (for a fee) tackle the Kobold’s other problem!


Thoughts on the game

I should remember that just because a test isn’t listed in the adventure, if someone tries to do something, and it poses a challenge. A test should be made. In the case of collapsing the stairs, I wanted to reward the players for making the scout test and figuring out that they couldn’t walk down the stairs safely (at least not all together), but cutting them apart involved some effort and work. I should have called for a Laborer test (probably Ob 2) to break it apart.

I should be more bold about extinguishing light. Taika had a torch and Gerald a candle when the got trapped. I put out one but not the other. I think, in retrospect trapping them in darkness.

When the net trap fell, I don’t see a Heath test written on my turn tracker to indicate they tried to leap out of the way. I can’t remember if I forgot to give them that option, or if they elected to just let the net fall on them.

I really thing using actual physical coins when giving out cash dice makes a huge difference in how players relate to treasure. I loved it.

The last roll should have been a convince (or convince crowd) conflict instead of a persuader test but we were running out of time. I’m convinced that even it it had, with Saw Back on their side, and a gaggle of hostages, the adventurers would have swept the conflict anyway.

After the game Miguel and I had lunch and talked about it. We riffed a bit on which props served the game best. Not enough and it’s hard to keep track of all the states (light, conditions, turns, weapons wielded), too many and the table is cluttered with them.

Hilariously, when they found the Kobold strapped to a table on trial, Ulrik whispered to Varg “That is my offering” and part of their negotiations involved getting that one as well, who thought he was being freed. Kind of awesome and awful all at once.

Kobold names I’ve been using, that I think I’ll keep: Lizard Funk, Soft Shoe (maybe should be Soft Heel), Broken Egg, and Boiled Egg. Lizard funk, and his game session agnostic smelly socks has caused me much amusement.

I tried a Pomeranian this time and got really ambivalent responses. Nobody wanted to interact with it.  That’s a first. I really do thin the breed has a huge effect on people’s responses, though it hasn’t been as simple as big dog = hunting companion and small dog = creature to protect. More research forthcoming.

3 thoughts on “Actual Play – Burning Under The House (10/19/2013)”

  1. My first game of Torchbearer, and, Sean, you’ve got me hooked. You’re a GM to behold brother. Just lucid. I never thought Kobolds could have such… such personality. Left the table feeling inspired. I’ll have to initiate some riddle conflicts with you for trade secrets! 🙂

    I’ve got the book and will be carrying the torch very, very soon. 

    1. Oh man, it was totally my pleasure to run for you guys. I love it when people take risks, try things out of the ordinary, and make up crazy shit. The sock song was brilliant!

      Happy to talk torches anytime. 

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