Narrative Control – Episode 76 – Talking Torches

Hi, welcome back to the show. This week I’m talking torches with Shaun Hayworth, Josh Curtis, and David Gallo. We discussed GMing and playing Torchbearer!

Host: Sean Nittner

Guest: Shaun Hayworth, Josh Curtis, and David Gallo

Length: 1:35:16

[00:23] Intro to the show
[01:36] Introducing the guests: Shaun Hayworth, Josh Curtis, and David Gallo
[03:48] Keeping suspense in the game. Setting player expectations to expect and enjoy the grind.
[09:40] The system is definitely a <em>game</em>. Keeping focus on fiction instead of the mechanics are driving play.
[15:27] Signal to the GM that stakes aren’t high enough? Bigger rewards, more consequential actions.
[17:03] Counterpoint. Putting constant pressure on the characters prevents the players from exploring other options (camp, town, pursuing belifs/goals). Deciding on how hard to push.
[21:23] Reluctance to back down. Player skill to recognize when it’s time to cut losses and run? GM and Player skill.
[27:38] Torchbearer teaches you how to play it, but there are some growing pains. Signpost things of significance.
[29:29] How beliefs function in Torchbearer, compared to Burning Wheel. Beliefs as signals to the GM, and as aspirations for a better life.
[37:22] Tracking moving parts (Conditions, Light, Turns, etc.) Gaining mastery over time. Comparing playing in person vs. online.
[41:08] Role of party leader. Doling out tasks (and conditions) to the other characters and giving the GM some time off as the players discuss their options among themselves.
[47:47] Resource management for the GM. Tracking light, tests, etc.
[49:19] Managing real estate on the table (players deck cards, fate/persona/loot/checks tokens), dice, character sheet, etc.
[52:53] Tokens for check to signal to the GM when they have/need checks. Finding locations for check and setting Ob levels accordingly. Tokens in person, Roll20 online, etc.
[55:04] Pacing, when to use make test, a conflict, and when to continue pushing forward with narration.
[1:03:22] Another conflict litmus test, applying a broader scope of consequences. Using conflicts when that granularity is needed.
[1:04:26] Burning Wheel HQ games and Apocalypse World (and hacks) both direct you to keep having the conversation of what happens until the fiction demands you go to the dice.
[1:05:49] The game atmosphere is heavily curated by the GM. The more energy you put into describing the world and talking about what happens in the fiction, the more invested the players become in the fiction. Don’t be a tired, lazy GM!
[1:11:02] It takes time to learn the game. Give that time for people to learn.
[1:15:06] Keeping the fiction in front during conflict (where mechanical choices are made before the fiction is described).
[1:24:02] The skills I want to see players develop are based on patterns in the fiction instead of a mechanics to engage. Learning strategy in the fiction by asking over and over “What do you do?” Good idea!
[1:28:59] Best twists come from following the player’s lead. Knowing that they are doing makes it easy figure out what could go wrong.
[1:30:07] Miscellany – Final thoughts. 2D cash dice right here!

Direct download: NC_Episode_076.mp3

8 thoughts on “Narrative Control – Episode 76 – Talking Torches”

  1. A bit of a forewarning, this is mostly comment/complaint on what I have experienced thus far with Torchbearer with my local group.

    Nearly all the potential misgivings of TB voiced in this podcast were made vocal by my players just last night. I can’t tell if this game has (I apologize to Thor and Luke if you read this) some bad mechanics to it, we messed up playing it, or the game just was not for us.

    I enjoy playing this well enough as a player with a very experienced GM, but I will never play this again as a GM. It may have been some mixture of being bad, inexperienced, and/or the game is unforgiving. Even as a player, I’m not going to put too much mental energy into making an interesting character if he or she could could by eaten by monsters half way through the first session.

    If I had to list out the two biggest grievances we about the game are as follows:
    1) Time as a resource. Cool in theory, but it broke everyone’s suspension of disbelief. For example, 4 checks could happen over the course of a few minutes. The players pointed out “Hey, we ate like 15 minutes go. How are we hungry and thirsty again!?” The it is way worse with torches. Torches in the TB world must be like flash bangs, considering how long they last.

    2) Conflict system. We struggled. One player struggled understanding attack, defend, feint, and maneuver in non-kill conflicts. Even in kill conflicts, people didn’t really understand why feint beat defend. Also it felt like there was no real distinction between the three players using any of the conflict options. Like the thief attack felt the same as the paladin attack. They also didn’t like the fact our skill list was limited. The example that I can remember is my thief wanted to use Criminal and Scout to create opportunities or back stab people. He became annoyed when he tried to do that, he was pigeon holed into Fighter or Health. The final part that we didn’t particularly like was that getting knocked out of a conflict was way too easy. If the enemy gets a success, it is likely enough to knock someone out right away.

    I might just be whining because I suck at this game or I don’t know how to use it properly, but I don’t think we’ll be revisiting this as a group.

    1. The lesson, which unfortunately I learned on the backs of my first players (i.e. you) was really that you can’t pixel bitch your players and call for rolls at every turn.

      You’ve got to spend a lot of time describing what’s around them, and really getting the details from them about what they do.

      An example of me doing it right (I think) was that for you to escape the spider, I had you make one roll (a Heath test) but then didn’t follow up with a criminal test to lock the door. I just kept pushing your for details about how it was done.

      I think that goes a long way toward turns not being eaten up (and resources the same).

      Conflict is just one of those things you’ve got to get used to. There’s no easy way to learn it except the GM walking your through every step. Okay pick a weapon to use. You’ve only got one, great, use that. Okay, pick some moves that sound good. Okay, describe your action. Okay, here’s what you’ll roll. Next time around ask them if they want to use a trait, or spend Artha, etc.

      Back in yee old days of Mouse Guard, I wrote the Pedagogy of Play to teach some of those principles. Most of them would still apply to Torchbearer.

      1. Aaah. That makes sense. I’m used to “you do something, you make a check.” Or even more specifically “you try something that is non-trival, make a check.” It is especially easy to fall back on that when I’m trying to juggle all these mechanics, rules, and story elements, best practices fall away. I think I may just need more up front planning or experience so that I can focus more on describing more and asking more questions.

        The spider encounter was good. I felt the panic of the moment but none of the grindy bits wearing us down second by second.

        I suppose that would help. Also, what can you do to prevent the monsters blowing the players out of the water? The Nature score of most monsters seem in general more than the player’s skill scores. I found myself chunking player dispo. In part because of how much dice I have, but also just from some dumb luck (my black dice are evil apparently).

        Thanks for the tips Sean!

        P.S. We should do more delving into the moathouse sometime (if people are still interested).

        1. Hey Soren,

          Encourage players to tap their resources. Even one point of persona used to add nature to a roll, or a trait plus some help can really make a difference.

          Also, don’t have every creature script as wicked smart as you possibly can. I often stick to Attacks and Maneuvers for simpler critters, and I’ve been totally out-scripted because of that. Hold off the the dirty Maneuver/Feint/Attack (or MAF if they aren’t hurting) combo till they fight something that should be smart enough to use it.

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