Actual Play – We actually have the rules this time (7/11/2013)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Tim Sanders, Jon Edwards, and Soren Ludwig
System: Torchbearer
Module: Temple of Elemental Evil

Torchbearer is out, yo! If you were a backer, you’ve got the email.

Rules in hand we set off for our fifth session in the Moathouse!


Last session ended so late we didn’t do Artha awards. I figured the best way to remember what we did was to have one of the characters do a prologue and then award Artha after that.

Sixtoe, as he had not done the prologue last game, recalled their story of glory as they fended off the zombie horde long enough for him to fashion four torches out of torture devices and human remains! With the doors held fast, they scurried down the secret ladder they had found into a dark and musty crypt!

Watch the Actual Play

Below I’ll recall the game, and my thoughts on it, but if you have the inclination, here’s our recording of it!

Artha Awards

Sometimes Artha is awkward. When you’re on the fence about giving a reward, it can feel really uncomfortable as the player weaseling for the awards or as GM wavering over whether or not to give them.

Torchbearer has so far been really easy adjudicate. Beliefs and Goals are specifically awarded Fate if you take actions to further them.  In my mind these actions neither to either be a challenge you faced (resulting int a test) or something clever you did (and therefor not taking a test) that furthered them.  Instincts are even simpler. Did your party benefit from a role you were granted?

MVP, Teamworker, and Embodiment are a little more subjective, but in our case it felt clear. Some people shined for their efforts and were rewarded. I ended up not giving out a reward for Embodiment because all the sessions so far (including this one), we’ve focused so much around how the game works that I haven’t seen much in the way of “Embodiment”. I think Thaspar is going to be the first to get it though, that wizard has a chip on his shoulder!

Into the Crypt!

They had only the tiniest bit a light coming down the shaft form their abandoned torch. As the descended they immediately picked up the pungent odor of things modling, the putrid decay of rotting flesh and the sounds of animals gnawing away at a fresh kill.

Thaspar took this tinderbox from his pack and sparked it to light a torch. In the first flicker of light, they saw creatures huddled over a corpse. In the second they saw the creatures rise, looking menacingly towards them, and in the third spark, when the torch finally lit, they saw the creatures charge. Undead abominations with thin skin, fingernails grown and hardened into claws, teeth broken and sharpened into fangs, and eyes…eyes that were endless pools of darkness and death. The found ghouls!

Turn 9 – That had done enough running. First from the bandits, then from the zombies… and where had it got them, deep and deeper into this dank horrible place. Sixtoes, against his nature, decided it was time to take a stand, and so they did. To the death!

Kill Conflict Disposition Breakdown

As Sixtoes was their leader, they also elected him captain of the fight. He was rolling his Fighter (2) and adding it to his Health (3). Orrin held with Fighter (+1D), but Sixtoes was sick (-1D), and a few of the were hungry and thirsty (-1s). Knowing things were dire, Sixtoes spent a persona to tap his nature (+5D), knowing that fighting was against his nature and sure to tax it, but this halfling was a brave one. He rolled a fantastic six successes, minus one (hungry and thirsty) plus his heath, the party started with a disposition of 8 vs. the ghoul’s 9. It was going to be close. Orrin and Sixtoes were charging ahead so they each took 3 stones (hit points), Thaspar was given 2. The ghouls took an even 3 across the board.

The battle went well for the adventurers, all things considered. I was rolling pretty terribly (three times getting 1s on 6 dice) and the fortunes were with them. They also taxed many of their reserves (using traits and artha) and ended the battle with the Ghouls taken out, and down to a disposition of 2.

Throwing a softball?

Page 74 has a special section called Killing Is My Business, which covers compromises for Kill conflicts. It says in the decription these rules are written from the player perspective and since all they cover is losing a conflict I didn’t use them (as the players won). Looking back at the chart on page 75 thought, it says that if the GM looses, the Killing Is My Business section should be used, but from the monster’s perspective.

What I should have done:

  • Left one of the ghouls for dead, but have in actually survive, albeit horribly maimed and given all the conditions. Or,
  • Kill off all but one of the party members (Thaspar was taken out and Orrin took a terrible bite to the neck, they could both easily have died from these wounds). Or,
  • Badly injure the party members (reducing their nature by 1 and removing a trait). Or,
  • Introduce a major collateral damage (all of the backpacks dropped in fight sunk into the ghouls ichor and were destroyed, along with all of their contents).

What I did:

Applied two conditions. Injured for Orrin, and Afraid for Thaspar. The latter was because I really wanted to play up the Ghoul’s paralyzing touch and its effects of seeing yourself cold and dying. If I was going with conditions, I probably should have given Thaspar Afraid and Injured. Or you know, murdered the two of them.

Good to know for next time.

Make camp already…almost

Turn 10 – They wanted to make camp, but first they wanted to secure the space. Sixtoe, with the help of Orrin strung up his pots and pan an utensils with a rope across the open hallway to the easy (the only entrance they had found to the crypt besides the secret passage they came down). The apparatus was constructed as before but at some point the rope dropped in the ghouls ichor, a slime that could not be removed and would get over everything in his sack, should the rope be put back. Farewell sweet rope [TWIST].

And then they made camp… almost

Instinct – Thaspar just had to investigate the crypts. Who was buried there. What did the markings mean. Orrin was interested in as well and lent his aid as a scholar.  Thaspar learend

The builders of the dungeon planned for a long tenancy (though their expectations were not met). Most of the niches are empty, but a few contain splintered coffins, wrappings, and gnawed and split bones (a sure sign that all is not well).

Investigating one coffin further, they heard a rustling noise come from inside, and moments later rats (who had been nibbling on bones) burst out, dropping onto Thaspar and trying to nibble away at him too! [TWIST]

Turn 11 – Being wise in the way of rats (rat-wise), Sixtoe knew that it you just give a rat a good punch, it will stun it long enough to both extract it from your friend’s undergarments and make a meal of it. Orrin knew that kicking and shooing and waving a torch at most small vermin helped to scare them off as well. With a bit of Deeper Understanding (rat-wise), Sixtoe and Orrin scared them off (leaving one stunned one behind for cooking) and watched as they all fled to the south, into one of the alcoves where they disappeared [SUCCESS]

Okay, now it’s time Camp

Checks were spent. Things were done! We rolled on the Unsafe Underground Camp table and thanks to Sixtoes’ alarm (giving them the needed +1 on their roll, they had a safe camp!)

First they drank wine! Removing hungry and thirsty.

Sixtoes – Drinking that win helped him recover from being so angry! [SUCCESS]

Thaspar – Wine soothes many ails! Drinking some, coming back to earth, and commiserating with his allies all helped him overcome that brush with death!

Sixtoes – His instinct is to always cook when they make camp. With some help of alchemical ingredients of Thaspar, Sixtoes cooked up that rat into rat steaks! Preserved rations for one [SUCCESS]

Orrin – Orrin didn’t have checks but he did have an instinct to never leave the dead unattended. The woman who had been consumed by the ghouls was hardly recognizable. Just the same, he had empty coffins and sacraments necessary to lay the dead to rest.

Sixtoes – With his final check, and the aid of Thaspar alchemy for a finish, Sixtoes crafted the broken remains of a coffin, into a wooden holy symbol of Pelor for Orrin. [SUCCESS]

Adventure Phase!

The three smelled the tell-tale signs of a loot and followed the rats there!

The back of a crypt is broken out, leading to an earth tunnel, which is foul and damp and only about 5 feet high. The tunnel leads to a noisome den where a heap of bones and skulls indicates the ghouls’ nest!

In the nest was their scattered treasures. Sculls of the consumed. Gnawed bones. But also piles of silver, corked glass vials, and scroll cases. A trail of gold pieces lead off, further down into and even more cramped cavern, further into the wet darkness…

Artha Award

I was smart and made sure we ended soon enough to have time for Artha. Again, I really enjoyed how easy it was to determine who should get the rewards. Orrin for getting the kills on all  three Ghouls with his mighty warhammer. Sixtoes as Teamworker for being Johnny on the spot making holy symbols, feeding the group, securing camp, and scaring off the rats…rats which lead to treasure!

Thoughts on this game

This is such a technical game, with so many mechanics to engage, that it’s really easy to forget about leading with the fiction. It was something that all of us needed to be reminded of from time to time during the game.

I think I fucked up the end of that Ghoul fight. I’m not sure how much fun it would have been to have everyone loose all their gear, or for two of them to die, but ultimately having integrity in a BWHQ system is what makes it sing. They were in a grim situation and made a dire choice. How heartbreaking would it have been for Sixtoes if that choice cost him his friends lives?

4 thoughts on “Actual Play – We actually have the rules this time (7/11/2013)”

  1. I listened to it while I was at home finishing some work today, it was really fun and useful!

  2. Do your players understand the Kill Option rules now – how close they came to having everyone dead, or at least much, MUCH worse off. (Or rather, that’s what SHOULD have happened, if you had applied the rules correctly, or God Forbid, you had rolled properly. 😀 )

    1. They don’t yet, as I realized this after the game, but I’ll be bringing it up at the start of next session. 

  3. Watched last night. Loved it! Seriously Sean, thank you for posting those AP videos, and thank you too to your players for being okay with it. They’re a huge help in actually seeing people play these rules out.

    Also, still laughing over “ghoul-osh.” So good.

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