If you don’t know about it already, Thor Olavsrud, of Burning Wheel HQ, has designed “a riff on the early model of fantasy roleplaying games. In it, you take on the role of an adventurer seeking his or her fortune.” The name of this gem: Torchbearer. (Not:, as of this post, the Kickstarter campaign has 17 days to go. If you read this are are interested, kick it now!)
Torchbearer uses many of the Mouse Guard mechanics but clearly (we haven’t seen all of the rules yet) adds on to those some additional bits, namely a lot of resource management. We noticed this the most when the characters were equipping themselves and only had so much room on their character sheet to put things:
That may seem like a lot of slots, but keep in mind the fine print. Rations take a slot, a spellbook takes two. A large sack can hold six slots but as soon as you start filling it, it takes two hands to carry… what about weapons, and shields, and torches!
As one thing that D&D never handled well at all (oh god, don’t start me with encumbrance rules), I’m very excited about the way Tourchbearer handles these things. Soon the characters will be looking at mules or carts to hold more… mules and carts that can be robbed, carried off, or eaten. This is one of the ways that I see the game taking the essentially connection-free murder hobo character and forcing them to make bonds with people, as they can’t really thrive on their own. I love this.
While I feverishly tried to refresh myself on Mouse Guard and read the first chapter of the Temple of Elemental Evil, the players started making characters. It was really a hoot. I replaced some of the Home town options with local areas Hommlett, Nulb (ew, Nulb), Yggsburgh, and Verbobonc (gotta love Greyhawk names). The players made these characters:
Sixtoe Morbutter (Jon)
Home: Hommlett – Remote Village
Deleran ap Denemir (Shaun)
Agent of Chaos
Home: Nulb -Remote Village
Orrin the Runner (Soren)
Human Cleric of Pelor
Servant of Law
Home: Yggsburgh – Busy Crossboards
Thaspar Flamebringer (Tim)
Servant of Law
Home: Hommlett – Remote Village
To get started I asked some back story questions. Who’s in charge? Sixtoe. What does Sixtoe owe Orrin? He got him out of jail. Why does Deleran thing Sixtoe doesn’t like him? He doesn’t want to be around a dirty thief from Nulb. Why does Sixtoe really not like Dalaran? People from Nulb are always late. What does Thaspar regret saying to Orrin? He disparaged the gods. Why is Deleran watching Thaspar? Because wizards always breed trouble.
I left with more questions that I got answered, which is always a good thing. What is it with this rivalry between arcane and divine magic? How long has it been since either Thaspar or Sixtoe have been to Hommlett? Probably best of all, how did the people come to the lowly life of adventuring?
I was trying to figure out how to start the adventure as it’s written, with the characters entering the town of Hommlett with the hopes of gold and fortune. So far as I could tell though, that would really look much more like a Town phase than an they didn’t have any checks (though further investigation of the character sheet makes me thing check may only be needed in the camp phase). So we started with them having been given just enough clues to get to the Moathouse, a place that used to be ruled by an evil cleric, and it’s current state uncertain.
I started reading he boxed text
…Going is slow, and it takes over four hours trudging through the mod to reach the place on foot. Considerable hacking and clearing is necessary to make the way passable, so thankfully the future trips should be quicker. After two miles, as the track turns more northerly, the land begins to sink and become boggy. Tall marsh plants grow thickly where cattails and tamaracks do not. Off to the left can be seen the jagged silhouette of the moathouse…
After quickly scanning through the book I was able to rustle up some details about this place once being a bastion of evil, about brigands in the area that still inhabit it, and about lost treasures never found. From that, the players wrote up their goals:
Sixtoe: I’ll come back with everyone alive.
Deleran: Uncover the location of the temple to the West.
Orrin: Purify the moathouse.
Thaspar: Retrieve the lost arcane secrets of the evil cleric.
The play is the thing
Having give them a description of the moathouse I told them to do what the Kickstart text instructs “Until the GM calls for a test, the players’ collective job is to describe their characters’ actions. Tell the GM and your fellow players what your character says, pokes, sniffs and tastes.”
They started investigating, checking out the rickety bridge and carefully crossing it. Drawing a map of the surroundings and of the exterior of the moathouse itself. Some of these called for rolls. Rolls that didn’t go to well. A few led to conditions like being angry (which seems appropriate for the loner who would be frustrated with lots of people trying to “help” him), others led to twists like having a wolf spider drop on your back while you’re investigating a tower. Yay.
The fight with the wolf spider was a pretty quick conflict, but it did alert me to some questions. Like, how do I stat out a spider (I very quickly gave it a nature of 3 for lurking, ambushing, and scuttling and just rolled 3 dice for everything that came up)? How do spells work (Clinton posted some great answers here)? What about prayers? What skills should be used in fights to drive off? Does it differ with beasts vs. humans (as it does in Mouse Guard), etc.
Well, we played with it, and made it work. There were a lot of beginner’s luck rolls (which I think is a good thing) and a lot of conditions (maybe too many), but nothing felt like it “broke” or that we couldn’t find a solution to it (see below).
To the victor goes the spoils. In that tower was some loose change and an ivory box that contained a ledger. The box itself was valuable and the question became “where do we put it?” Deleran had one slot (I ruled that it only took one) and that was settled, but next time it comes up, slots are full. Sacks will have to be opened and carried!
We wrapped up the game with Thaspar investigating the box and correctly identifying the deity depicted on it as Zuggtmoy, Demoness Lady of Fungi. Due to a failed roll, he did so only after the fungi got onto his fingers and began to seep beneath the skin. His friends tried to aid him by burning away the fungus with a heated blade, but that only singed his fingers and did not stave off the infection. I gave Thaspar the “sick” condition, but I’m not sure if that is what I’m really looking for as much as I want the demoness to have knowledge and influence over him. I think that will be tackled in the future as a conflict.
The weary and in some cases wounded, the adventurers looked out into the vastness of the moathouse they entered with a new found trepidation.
Thoughts on this game
This was a ton of fun. We plan on doing it again next Thursday, but I’d love to play it as well.
I’m not sure how I’m going to handle their venture into Hommlett, since the adventure assumes they are strangers (most of them are from the area) and many of the clues in the town lead them to moathouse (which we’ve already started at) but they’ll need to go somewhere to sell their wares and stock up on supplies,
Having read over the entry for the town of Hommlett I really enchanted by all the details in there. Two faiths divided between the town. Old adventurers that have settled in but don’t want the status quo disturbed now that they are there. A lot of wealth coming from the Archclericy, but it’s not equally shared. Strangers and new people are discriminated against. It’s rife with challenges right there!
Torchbearer has some real meat to the system already (even with just the character creation rules), I can’t wait to see what the rest of it looks like.
I don’t think I was very creative with the conditions vs. twists. I tended to lean on conditions because I didn’t know the intricacies of the surroundings. As I’m reading more I’ve had some better ideas about potential twists.