Stone Dragon Mountain

Stone Dragon Mountain Cover

Stone Dragon Mountain

The stories that got you started up the mountain were plentiful. After an earthquake the frozen maw at the peak cracked open and a world of splendors awaits those brave enough to climb its forbidding steppes and delve its depths. A drunk in the House of Seven Wonders held aloft a jagged spike of gemstone, a Dragon’s Tooth, that he said rolled right down the mountain and stabbed him in the foot. He still has the limp to prove it!

Wise women gossip about gods buried inside the mountain, and their crypts laden in gold. There is even rumors of the Dragon’s Heart, an eternal flame, nestled inside Stone Dragon Mountain.

Stone Dragon Mountain is an introductory adventure for Torchbearer in development. The adventure starts with a climb up a deadly snow capped mountain and then into it’s depths. Many creatures, human and otherwise, call the mountain their home, and each of them will want something from the intrepid adventures, even if that something is the creature’s next meal. The adventure takes between 2-4 sessions to complete.

The adventure was originally written in the summer of 2014 and I ran several playtests of it at Go Play Northwest, Gen Con, CelestiCon, and with my Google Hangout group.

After the adventure felt workable to me, I hired Thor Olavsrud as a developmental editor…and together we ripped the adventure apart, took all the best parts, tossed the rest, and rebuilt it. Thor has improved the adventure a hundredfold!

In 2015 I ran an an open playtest with over fifty groups participating and received a ton of fantastic feedback. After that I worked on shoring up the weak portions of the adventure and fleshing out the social structures. I also hired Michael Wenman to start making the four maps needed for the adventure.

In 2016 I plan to complete the final edits and release this as a digital product!

Current Project Status:

Complete. Available in Print / PDF

SDM Design – Tell the GM what is going on (12/3/2014)

The adventure… as I presented it to Thor had a lot of history and a lot of challenges, but not a lot tying those two together. Reconciling this first required a lot of discussion between Thor and I about what actually did tie everything together (which meant filling in a lot of mental blanks of my own) and then adding these sections to the adventure:

Note to the GM

This [insert topic] is a touchstone to play off of. Feel free to add in your own details and make it yours.

What’s going on

A barebones version of the history on the mountain, recent events, the factions on the mountain, and their motivations.

Religions

The followers of  Kisha, Rava, Anala, and Namakambhari. The gods edicts and exceptions of their followers. The way the gods exist celestially (as myth and legend) and corporeally (as the physical mountain, the sun, the lakes, etc.)

Sharwa (people of the mountain) – Synchratic path of pulling in lowlander religion with their existing worship. Wearing artifacts that would not appear on the mountain (glass, tropical wood). Making them religious symbols.

What happens to the monks who shepherded the old ways when the Sharwa’s practices change based on influence from the lowlanders? No more clothes, tool, food, etc.

Some personalities withing the order. The abbot, his sister, and the cast out.

Personal Motivations

What does every NPC want? What do they need?

Actual Play – Stone Dragon CelestiCon (8/29/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Greg Wirth, Sarah Hawklyn, Sean Phelan, Mike Garcia, and Bay Chang
System: Torchbearer
Module: Stone Dragon Mountain

Up Diamond Tooth’s pass they went. Karolina made the dive to leap the expand unto his bridge and she came very, very close to making it!

Introducing the game

Not sure why but I really felt the need to disclaim the nature of Torchbearer by way of apology at the start of the game. Mike Garcia has played in my Apocalypse World games, Greg and Sarah run a Teenagers From Outer Space LARP, and Bay and I have often talked about simple game mechanics. Torchbearer is none of those things. I started with these introductory snippets:

  • Torchbearer is a game of survival and exploration; neither is easy.
  • There are treasures to be found, but they will have to be pried from the frozen grip of the mountain.
  • Your characters are desperate people. Foolishly optimistic opportunists.

Here were my questions to get them thinking about their characters:

  • What led you to this life?
  • What was the last thing you ate? Did it make you sick?
  • Who have you let down?
  • Does anyone depend on you?
  • What gives you hope this band of adventures will succeed?
  • Who shows the most promise?
  • Who is the leader?

We got some interesting results. Taika had betrayed Ulat, the head of the rangers. Berren knew Karolina’s father. Ulrik killed a puppy.

Adventure Highlights

Ulrik trying to save the dying Dermot and being interrupted by the snowfall.

Adventurers trekking up the mountain in the snow! Pathfinding has never been so hard!

Taika saving Karolina by casting Lightness of Being on her when she was about to slip off the edge of the walkway.

During camp Varg casting Wisdom of the Sages to speak with the caged Mikra and someone for the first time learning who they are!

Some pics of the game

Thoughts on the game

There was a moment when Karolina almost fell off the walkway and Taika saved her by casting Lightness of Being. Sarah (who was playing Taika) asked if why Karolina was levitating if she could also cross over the expanse they were looking at. I declined because that was a separate test. It was a pixel bitch move of me to make Taika’s spell end once Karolina was safe and not let her traverse the bridge first. I was interpreting it very literally (last for one test) when within the fiction it should have covered both.

Once again I think the adventure would be stronger not starting in the base camp. That one is going in the hopper for edits.

Actual Play – Speed Torches (8/17/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: John Kramer, Alan DeSmet, Steve Nix, Scott Harloot, Brian Habenicht, and Jesse Butler
System: Torchbearer
Module: Stone Dragon Mountain

Games on Demand was hurting really hard for two hour games, so when Ajit asked me if I could run Torchbearer in two hours I said sure. I mean, I had done it last year with Under the House, so why not do it now with Stone Dragon.

Except, Stone Dragon starts with a perhaps prolonged social environment and I was worried we would spend the session there, so I just skipped it. Lets start the game at Location 2, The Mountain Ascent.

Also, I didn’t bother going over any of the rules. I just told people to read their beliefs, instincts, and pick a goal.

Speed Turns

Part of moving quickly meant less note taking for me. Suffice to say the adventurers took to the mountain like rocks. They clambered up it, got lost, dug up dead adventurer to take their supplies, hunted for game, and then ended with a fight!

Thoughts on the Game

I learned some interesting things running this game.

First, the base camp location is great, but it shouldn’t be first. Torchbearer starts best with action and the base camp takes a while to wind up to action. We’re moving stuff around.

Teach Torchbearer just a bit at a time is doable, but there are a few challenges.

  • Players instinctively want to find answers on their character sheets. But if they can’t read a character sheet, time spent deciphering it pulls focus away from the game.
  • As a GM I want to be fair to new players. I can think of ways for them to gain advantages (via using traits, creating supplies, describing their actions to leverage the fiction in their favor) when facing challenges and I feel a sense of obligation to give them their best shot. However, often doing so means introducing every option they could take, which slows the game again. In particular, if not told, nobody would ever think to gain checks…but introducing that mechanic when you’re not in the perfect situation (oh, you can’t succeed in this test anyway, why not gain a check to make this a bit harder, it’ll help you later) can send players into dice outcome probability calculations mode.
  • Telling someone, no you can’t use your Clever trait to help someone else is a bummer, especially when they they are trying to help someone who is skilled and they don’t have any of the appropriate skills to help with, so you don’t even have an alternative to offer them.
IMG_2981
Those who remained!

 

 

Actual Play – Stone Dragon Sages (8/16/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Wil Hammerand, Frost Holliman, Joshua Gay, Pamela Alexander, John Alexander, and Patrick Day.
System: Torchbearer
Module: Stone Dragon Mountain

Game number two at Gen Con! Of the players Frost was familiar with Torchbearer, but the others were new to it. They took to it quickly and had the right spirit about diving in doing their best.

Turn by Turn on the Mountain

Turn 1 – At base camp they quickly tended to Dermot’s wounds. There was much negotiating over how they would do this, try to clean the wound and save the leg, or cut off  the leg and save he man. Beren argued fiercely to cut off the leg, Dermot countered that without his leg he could never get vengeance for his sons. Ulrik refused to cut off the leg and instead tried to treat the wound. [Healer Ob 3. Fail: Twist] Dermot thrashed in pain and the operation took place but too much blood was lost. In his last dying words he begged that his sons be avenged.

Turn 2 – Having made quite a spectacle accidentally killing Dermot, the tried to butter up the Sharwa in the base camp in the hopes of gaining supplies for the road. They got them, but they came with a grave warning about the gods and their anger. Jhala, one of the Sharwa women equipped them with rope, an ice pick, and the certainty of their doom! [Persuader Ob 4. Fail: Condition Afraid]

Turn 3 – Feeling short on supplies, and eager to make use of the base camp’s provisions Karolina set out to go hunting for game. The sun moved fast in the western sky however and soon was dipping below the mountain. Any game she might have caught quickly escape her in the dim light [Hunter Ob 2. Fail: Twist]

Turn 4 – Annoyed that so little progress had been made and already daylight was fading, Beren urged everyone to light torches and start climbing the mountain. When the trail was lost Karolina and Takia tested out many routes  up the loose gravel until the found a sturdy one, gaining much needed ground to reach the canyon above. [Pathfinder Ob 3. Success]

For all their efforts now the party really did feel like making making camp. Their bellies were rumbling as they were all Hungry and Thirsty.

Spell – Unwilling to make camp so exposed to the elements, Varg cast upon the wisdom of the Sage to read the sign written in Sharwa. With dangers in either direction they opted for Khumba’s pass, unafraid of demons.

Camp Phase

Instinct – Varg made a map of their progress down to base camp [Cartography Ob 2. Success]

Instinct – Gerald prepared some of his fresh fruits, berries, and cony to make a delicious stew for all [Cooking Ob 2. Success]

The Adventure continues

After camp they had one last harrowing near slip down the mountain, only saved by borrowed rope, and much effort was put into hauling up beleaguered companions.

 Thoughts on this game

I think this is the first time Dermot died. It was the circumstances under which he died, that made it really memorable though. It was an Ob3 Health test no matter what, but how Ulrik tended to his wounds was of critical importance to Beren. It showed him that Ulrik and Dermot were both soft and couldn’t handle the realities of the world. For Dermot that meant bleeding out and dying, who knows what it would eventually mean to Ulrik.

Overall despite saying it was not her “type of character at all” Pamela blew me away with her depiction of Beren. One of the best I’ve seen yet. Accent, attitude, and begrudging bravery!

Developmental notes: The Sharwa should want something (or somethings) from the PCs. Give them something to trade for. Dermot needs to be more forthcoming with information about Kumbha.

Actual Play – My Grudge Stick! (8/16/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Shaun Hayworth, Jason Gunter, William Jordens, Robert Dixon, and Albert Anderson
System: Torchbearer
Module: Stone Dragon Mountain

Okay. Torchbearer at Gen Con. No problem. Did it last year and had lots of fun Under the House. This year, I’m running my own adventure though. Stone Dragon Mountain. One I know is at shortest a two-parter.

Prep work

I think I’ve got Torchbearer prep down to a science.

  • Spiral bound print out of the rulebook, complete with tagged chapters
  • Three player decks composed of a custom grouping of cards
  • A bag of coins to serve as look
  • Red poker chips for Disposition
  • Black poker chips for Checks
  • Fate/Persona coins (originally made for Mouse Guard but they work well here)
  • Seven sets of dice (in different colors)
  • GM Screen
  • A folder with character sheets, table tents, and the adventure

Luckily most of this stuff packs dense!

Climbing up that down mountain

Adventuring Phase

Turn 1 – In base camp Gerald set about showing the locals how to cook, in an attempt to better their mood and impress them. [Cook Ob 2. Fail: Hungry and Thirsty]. He succeeded but in doing so built up quite an appetite himself!

Turn 2 – Outside of the camp Karolina tried to befriend Dermot, but he was insulted by her condolences [Persuader versus test. Fail: Twist]. Enraged by her words Dermot jumped on Karolina when tumbling down the mountain side with her.

Instinct – Always on the watch for Karolina, Beren tackled Dermot and pulled him off, but in the rucks Dermot’s axe gave him an ugly gash across the dwarf’s hip [Fighter versus test. Fail: Injured]

Camp Phase

Disheartened by their early setbacks, the adventurers opted to make camp with the Sharwa

Instinct – Karolina set out to go hunting for game on the mountain [Hunter Ob 5. Fail: Twist] She spent hours trying to hunt a hare when she realized something was trying to hunt her.

Check – Meanwhile back at the camp, Beren would have sought her out, but his wound was killing him. Taika set out to finder her. She found Karolina watching the woods around her very carefully and wary of something around her. Taika spooked the very rabbit that Karolina had been hunting and they both used the distraction to run safely back to camp. [Hunter Ob 2. Success]

Instinct – Without any fresh game to use Gerald used his rations to cook up a hearty meal for all… or mostly him! [Cook Ob 2. Success]

IMG_2965Check – Beren, taunted by Ulrik that the locals used spike boots and that he should make some, set about crafting. He took some of his iron spikes and a hammer and tried to fashion some of his one. That damn nails kept slipping, and there was no good surface to work on, and the bloody cold was numbing his fingers. [Carpentry Ob 2. Fail: Angry] He made the boots alright, just like any dwarf worth his salt, but the wasted time rose up a terrible ire in him. He pulled out his “grudge stick” and wrote a grudge against Ulrik, that he would make the Cleric walk barefoot across a bed of Dragon’s Teeth to appreciate the value of good footwear!

Adventuring Phase

Turn 1 – Up the mountain they went until the path faded away into nothing but loose gravel and rhododendron bushes. Karolina forged ahead an with some help from Beren and Taika’s watchful eye, they found their way up the mountain and bath onto a path! [Pathfinder Ob 3. Success]

Turn 2 – As the path split, leading off east and west around Wing Glacier Canyon, the adventures did what they could to transcribe the sign at the pass. They gathered that it indicated in either direction, only varied in form. Diamond Tooth or Khumba’s pass? Beware greed from the first, a demon on the second. [Scholar Ob 2. Success]

Turn 3 – Oh god I love the nigh impassible walkway. Using a rope and grappling hook to catch the pulley lines, the clever adventurers raised the fallen bridge [Health Ob 4. Success]

Turn 4 – Ignoring Diamond Tooth they continued up the path to the river of bounty where the spotted a mother bear fishing with her cubs. Fishing for golden fish! Karolina was going to get some of those fish. The scared off the mother bear and her cubs but not without Karolina taking savage blow to her head,  claws tearing at her face and ear. [Drive off conflict won with a compromise: Karolina Injured]

Up ahead they saw the great Dragon’s Maw… open and full of promise within!

Thoughts on this game

Teaching new players how to play Torchbearer in a loud room can be a challenge. There are lots of moving parts and the noise is distracting. This game I think went better than the next one because I had Shaun Hayworth in it, who was able to help out with teaching the rules and giving good advice to the other players (especially when we were scripting the drive off conflict).

Oh my god, my favorite thing in this whole game was that damn grudge stick. I love the idea that Beren carves his grudges into a stick and breaks it when they are resolved… if ever. The banter between him and Ulrik was great.

My highest praise for Torchbearer game from Shaun Hayworth:

Actual Play – Stone Dragon Mountain (7/29/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Mark Miller, Alex Miller, and Max Külshammer.
System: Torchbearer
Module: Stone Dragon Mountain

We had lots (lots) of technical difficulties getting started, part of that was due to connectivity, and partially to devices. We also ended up finishing some character creation for Amos at start, so the end result was a slightly shorter session than normal.

Alex introduced us to Amos the Halfling Burglar, the little one that takes the path of least resistance and always recovers expended gear after climbing.

Setting Goals

After this introduction goals were set.

The mountain ascent is a slow and arduous one. After several days of hiking you still haven’t reached the snow line, but have passed several Sharwa, the people of the mountain, who have told you stories of woe on their way down. Goats and sheep have gone missing, climbers have ascended the mountain and not returned. They speak of beasts of legend, the Mikra, never seen before, now casting shadows in the moonlight. The heat — what heat, it’s freezing and you haven’t even hit snow yet — they say is a bad omen.

Cleg – I’m going to loot this place for all it’s worth.

Amos – I’ll return with a sack full of dragon’s teeth.

Milton – I will enter the Stone Dragon Mountain to discover the secrets hidden inside.

Actual Play on Air

Turn By Turn

In base camp Milton spoke with Ankit and learned of the missing sheep. Cleg befriended Jhala and learned of the two mountain passes above. Amos spied Dermot at the edge of camp.

Instinct – Milton set about mapping their way up the mountain so far but in the process offended the local Sharwa [Cartography Ob 3. Fail:Twist]. Dhara, Jhala’s daughter, was offend that Milton was sitting on an idol of Rava that he thought was a bench seat. She pushed him off the idol, ruining his map as ink spilled over it.

Turn 1 – Amos convinced Dermot to “loan” him so rope to go climbing up mountain and gain vengeance for his sons. [Persuader Ob 3. Fail: Condition Hungry And Thirsty]. Amos had to sit with him for a long time swapping stories and building up a powerful thirst.

Turn 2 – Cleg led Milton in a prayer to Rava to beg forgiveness for his transgressions. Asking Milton for help “You don’t have to believe it, just do it!” [Ritualist Ob 1: Fail: Twist] The Sharwa went from annoyed to angry. Dhara punched Cleg for his clear deference to the gods of earth instead of the new gods of sky. She was on him, trying to goad him into a fight.

Turn 3  – Desperate to try and make peace and not incite them further Cleg asked Jhala to come to his aid. She had sympathy on him, told the Sharwa he was young and inexperienced and that to make up for his offense, he would make amends. The Sharwa laughed, and Dhara invited him into the cooking tent where he could rub her feet.

Turn 4 – Meanwhile, Amos used the distraction of the camp being angry at his friends to try and snatch an ice pick from the camp. [Criminal vs test. Success] Amos stared down the young boy Ankit who was watching him and never flinched so the boy did not notice when he picked it up.

Hungry and Thirsty applied to Milton and Cleg. Exhausted applied to Amos.

Turn 5 – After sharing a meal with the Sharwa, the brave adventurers set out. They went to the grove of trees where Ankit indicated the sheep disappeared. Milton found signs of passage tried to identify them. [Hunter Ob 2. Twist]. Before they could idenfity the tracks the sun began to set without daylight they couldn’t make out the tracks.

The adventurers tromped off into the dimming light. Current status: Sun setting.

Rewards

Amos – Belief: Take the path of least resistance (Fate), Preparing for the mountain trek (Fate), Teamworker (Persona), Embodiment (Persona)
Milton – Belief: Careful planning (Fate), Learning the mysteries of the mountain (Fate)
Cleg – Belief: Serve others before serving myself (Fate), MVP (Persona)

Thoughts on this game

Handling escalation – I used twists in the camp to worsen the camp disposition towards the party. The first time Milton was defiling a shrine. Then Cleg performed a ritual and prayed to the wrong gods. In my mind then went from indifferent, to unfriendly, to hostile. The next step would have been violent. I think I should have been better about punctuating those differences with a particular act. Something Dhara could have done that would have made it clear that they were not welcome. Perhaps folks raising weapons to drive them out of the camp, or Jhala speaking for her and turning on the party. It seemed like I gave them too easy and out to have Jhala stay there as someone they could talk to.  Also, I think having Jhala “fix” the problem deprotagonized the players.

I totally should have made Amos either hide the ice pick in the show and give it to Cleg after they left camp and eat on his own since he had no place to hide it on his person.

Still hard to break people away from “mechanics first” driven play. I think I said about 10 times, “just describe what you do”. I think I need to lead by more example by just carrying the fiction forward more based on their descriptions until a danger is presented.

Cleg needs to update his belief for next game.

 

Actual Play – Stone Dragon Mountain SUN-03 (6/29/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Matt Klein, Dale Horstman, Zed Lopez, Zac Bond, and Jon Edwards.
System: Torchbearer
Adventure: Stone Dragon Mountain

THREE GAMES! FOUR SESSIONS! FIVE PLAYERS! ZERO BRAINS!

Seriously, I had planned to run one, then two games of Torchbearer, but because I filled in for one slot, and because we ran the next slot as well as a second session, I ended up running 14 hours of Torchbearer. And it was awesome!

I ran at the same table so all I needed was get the characters ready (with some help from Jon Edwards), and set back up all the player decks.  Boom, adventure was served!

Who Bears the Torch

Matt was waffling on characters and I told him to take Ulrik the Cleric. He looked disappointed. “Okay, if someone has to play the cleric… I guess I will”. Matt, read that belief. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get ahead in this world, and I’ll wear a smile doing it!” A light went on and he played the best Ulrik I’ve ever seen.

Jon took Taika, and mad her suddenly bloodthirsty when he made her goal to “Return with the head of a creatures that is plauging this mountain”. Like, not to kill one, but to remove the head, drain the blood and store it in her pack [pack 2 if you’re wondering].

Dale played Beren. Hardy, tough and out to get a dragon’s tooth!

Zed was Varg, who wanted even more dragon teeth!

And then there was Zak, blood thirsty, gonna kill it with my spear Zak. If Matt played the greediest Ulrik I’ve seen, Zak played the most brutal Karolina!

Here to help, and by help we mean loot!

Would you expect a healer to tend to an injured man? Sure, why not. And then rob him? Hell yes you would! What better cover could there be.

Base camp? Bah, whatever, lets go kill some stuff.

Cross a perilous bridge? Forget it, just bang on that old bell till an old man comes out to lower it down, promise him riches, and then brain him. Okay, Diamond tooth totally had it coming, but it was one of the most surprising move I had seen running the game. Brutal and awesome.

Fish of gold? Take em!

Monsters without loot? Fuck it. Lie and run.

Guys with loot! Kill the fuckers. Take their stuff.

Could you believe this guy would give you a hug and then stab you in the back? You bet he would!

bestbitches

 

Thoughts on the game

Amazingly I wasn’t tired at all (or at least didn’t feel tired) running this game. We really fast tracked as soon as they got inside the mountain but otherwise played the game straight up. Part of our speed was using tests in place of conflicts. For braining an old man it felt really perfect. This wasn’t a kill conflict, either he was going to brain the guy (success) or the crazy loon was going to bury them all by collapsing his cornice on them (failure, twist)!

Starting characters with 1 fate and 1 person makes them incredibly powerful in a con game. I tried that this time (and I’ve done it when I ran Dread Crypt at Dead of Winter) and I think it was a bad call. I may try 1 fate in the future but I think not. Not only does it make the characters more powerful, but it also introduces several decisions points that new players aren’t necessarily ready for. As a GM I am judicious in when I suggest using them, but they are still one more thing to factor in.

Players that are totally immoral opportunists do just fine in Torchbearer. I mean it. In this case, has we continued playing they would have walked out with some treasure and stopped the worst of the problems that brewed in the mountain. Leaving behind a civil war? Sure, but there are worse outcomes.

Not tired before the game, but as soon as it finished…wasted.

 

Hungry & Thirsty and Exhausted
Hungry & Thirsty and Exhausted

 

Actual Play – Stone Dragon Mountain SUN-01/02 (6/29/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Tony Dowler, Morgan Stinson, John Powell, Warren Powell, David Fooden, and guest starring Twyla Campbell
System: Torchbearer
Adventure: Stone Dragon Mountain

Dude, I had a bunch of rock stars in my game… and they kept wanting to play! The morning slot was supposed to be Gary Montgomery’s Treasure of Traveler’s Hill Torchbearer game. And then life happened, child care vanished, and Gary couldn’t make it to the con on Sunday.

Morgan grabbed me at one point and asked if I could run in his place. Hell yeah, I could!

After Matt’s World of Dungeons game I stayed up for another hour drinking substances potent and potentially blinding, and making characters for the Sunday game. Well, I made two characters and then I wised up and realized I should just copy the ones out of the book. It was faster and didn’t require as much thought, both perks that late at night!

Who Bears The Torch

Morgan played Varg as a condescending know it all magician that made enemies easily. He was indispensable to his allies and he liked to remind them of that as he called them lesser beings. A great guy.

John played Karolina the skeptical warrior. She didn’t believe in magic and loathed to lend Varg her bearskin cloak, given to her by her father that she never knew.

Warren played Ulrik the greedy and mostly deity-ambivalent cleric.

David played Bassle Brune, not a cook, but a chef! He was put out by the mayor of Carin when he was betrayed by his sous chef Denny that intentionally spoiled his hollandaise sauce! Now accompanying new companions, he sought to impress them all with his halfling bravery.

Tony played Torril the dwarven adventurer who was always cognizant of how his actions, and the actions of those around him might be viewed by the gods.  He had been banished from the temple of brick and mortar and carried a grave memory of that denouncement.

In the second session, Twyla took Tony’s place and played Beren the dwarf adventurer seeking out Karolina for a debt he owed to her parents, who were old allies of his but died some time ago. He did not know Karolina but knew he would recognize her by her father’s bearskin cloak.

Highlights of the Game

At base camp the Sharwa were generally friendly despite their lack of a common language. That was until Varg decided to use his eldrich magics to summon sages that would help him commune with them. Unfortunately doing so required clipping the hair of one of the Sharwa and eating it. The Sharwa man had no idea what Varg was doing but he did notice that Varg cut and ate his hair. Awkward.

It fell upon Karolina to drag Varg out of the camp and Torril to make peace with the locals. That is how Torril met Jhala, a woman who spoke the common tongue. She aided Torril by giving him supplies for the climb… but also told him of the curse on the mountain and that the Gods were punishing them. For me this was about the best “fail” result I’ve ever had. He got what he wanted, with the condition of being afraid, and I got to do some exposition in the process. Bad ass and not expected.

While hunting for game (the first time) Varg tore his cloak on a stout tree branch. Rather than try to repair it, he left the torn cloak in the base camp and borrowed Karolina’s bear skin cloak. This caused much awesome confusion later when Beren (who arrived in the 2nd slot of the game session as Twyla joined the game) found Varg first and identified the cloak because it belonged to Karolina’s father. That were some awesome misunderstandings there!

Discovering the ambushed camp was awesome. Watching the players realize that they were looting from other fallen adventurers that were killed in their sleep was awesome. Good treasure (supplies they needed) and a grim bitter moment breaking off a halfling’s frozen finger to take the ring on it!

Torril, who already felt cursed by the gods made the most amazing sacrifice. As they were climbing up the edge of the mountain, Torril lost his grip and went falling down. The rope that was tied to him caught him, but it pulled Bassle down with him and threatened to take Ulrik and Karolina as well. Torril knew that with his weight he could very well pull down all of his companions with him. Instead of trying to climb back up, he spit on the god’s curse and with his sword cut the rope holding him and fell to his death below. Such sacrifice.

These adventurers camped often and camped well. Hunting in the mountains is tough though and the second trip led Karolina and Beren into a Mikra Ambush. The fended them off, but in doing so realized that the creature wore fur and loped on all fours, but fought with weapons and in their eyes they could see the spark of intelligence of man!

Karolina had been besmirching magic the entire game, saying she didn’t believe in it, which was just an awesome interplay between John and Morgan. When Varg finally did cast a spell (lightness of being) and levitated up over a huge chunk of ice that blocked their pass (the same one that killed Torril on their first attempt) Karolina’s chiding dismissal turned into awed reverence. It was pretty awesome.

Encountering Kumbha’s goats and deciding that “forget about the giant, I don’t want to mess with goats, let’s get out of here!”

A knock down, drag out, gnarl fight that ended in a total party kill (minus 1) when the adventurers rolled down the slippery slope of the maw and were ambushed again by Mikra. Karolina lived but woke up in the dark, alone, bleeding and half frozen. Ouch.

Highest praise I could hope to receive

Morgan, in discussing the game with me wrote “Thanks again for running this for us. I had a fantastic time.”

Tony, in his GPNW write up said “Sunday morning I got hijacked by a Torchbearer game on the way to White Books. Sean Nittner runs a seriously tight game of Torchbearer. This is a game that really rewards DM mastery, and Sean has it. My Dwarf sacrificed himself nobly to save the party and spite the capricious gods.”

More than anything though, what really put a spring in my step was when all of the players but Tony (who had another game scheduled) asked to play a second session in the next slot. How great is that! We did end of session rewards (beliefs, goals, instincts, etc) at the end of the first session and the characters got to have a few fate and persona points to spend in the second. That’s how I’d like all of my con games to run!

Thoughts on this game

Extra uses of conditions – Exposition about the terrible things happening in the game are awesome. When Torril failed his persuader roll to get Jhala to give him climbing gear, instead of refusing him, I had her tell him of the curse on the mountain and gave him the afraid condition. It worked out to be a great way to spread the lore of the mountain. I’m going to look for other wise to do this in the future. More ideas for it here.

In addition to their enthusiasm for the game this group showed me more than the other three that the adventure doesn’t exactly make sense. Several of he players asked after the game “what was up with that guy” or “why weren’t the dragon’s teeth there/why should we go inside the cave?”. These questions are great. They tell me that I need to do two things:

  1. Make the promise of reward more obvious and tempting. The cave will now have a glinting that can be seen below and the frozen lake will have a treasure visible beneath it.
  2. Make the story of what is going on more obvious and accessible. Dermot is a great example. The character exists to (without malice) lead the characters astray. I’ve revised him now to instead provide accurate information about the dangers he faced, and where his knowledge is fuzzy, to give incomplete (but not misleading) information.

I lost more characters (5 of the 6) in this game than in any other I’ve run. Killing is my Business is serious business.

We got to do two sessions this game which was great. It means players reviewed their beliefs and such, were rewarded appropriately, and got to rewrite them as appropriate. Karolina changed her goal from “I will impress my companions with my bravery” to “Bring the party to the top of this mountain. For TORRIL” That was personal and it was awesome!

Be a fan of your players. Really, I mean I know you’re told to do it, but really do it. It makes such a difference. I was so excited to run Stone Dragon Mountain that I embraced every character with exuberance and it really paid off. It also make it so much better when you do kill them all off.

Twyla showed up for the second session and brought Beren into play. They met up at the base camp and Twyla devised a reason to be looking for Karolina. That was the smoothest new member of the party integration I’ve ever seen. Bravo!

Thanks to Morgan Stinson, John Powell,  and Twyla Campbell for giving me feedback on the adventure. For those that haven’t, if you’re inclined, here is the feedback survey.

Feedback so far (two new entries since the SAT-02 session)

Torchbearer [How familiar are you with the following?]

Mouse Gaurd [How familiar are you with the following?]

Buning Wheel [How familiar are you with the following?]

How well were you able to understand what was going on in the adventure?

Challenging the players [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Rewarding the characters [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Delivering a compelling situation [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Keeping your interest [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Depicting a harsh world [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Depicting a fantastical world [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

What was your favorite memory of the session(s)?

  • When Morgan’s character actually successfully used magic to float up to the top of the ice block.
  • Crossing the Walkway
  • The dangerous lowering of the bridge
  • Diamond Tooth’s demise
  • Dealing with Diamond Tooth
  • Trying to pass equipment and light sources up and down the line while supporting Sparky in crossing the gap.
  • The whole bit at the bridge.
  • Snot. You should emphasize snot.
  • Balls out fighting the mikra and failing miserably, allowing for only one survivor who was surely going to die soon.

Any other comments about Stone Dragon Mountain?

  • Very fun game. Lots of laughs and holy crap, that is impossibles!
  • It seems like the set up is simple, which is cool, but I wanted a touch more complexity. We had the Sharwa, on one side, and the Mikra on the other. The Mikra seemed to be savage, beasty killers. That set up seemed too straight forward. I long for a third faction to make things really jacked up and complicated. Did someone back in town want us to do something specific, maybe? Is there are third group to add to the ecology of the mountain? When I think of keep on the Borderland, we have Bandits, plus the people in the Keep, plus a variety of Tribes in the Caves of Chaos, without even messing with the greater outside world. The more groups we have, the more our decisions affect those around us. To me, this is the thing I look for as a player. I came to a place and I may have fucked it up pretty badly, but I made an indelible mark.
  • Also, after we get to the maw of the cave, and find that the teeth aren’t gems, it seems like we need a new promise of treasure. The Mikra have worthless stone idols and crude axes. Why would we go in the cave?
  • What was up with that guy who was wounded at the beginning? He was really weird.
  • I love the “loot” available from the Sharwa and the bodies at Taleil’s. It felt really organic and natural and not like crap from a random treasure table.
  • The demon thing with the sheep was confusing, tone-wise. Did we just forget to ask about that guy.
  • Just kind of a reminder of our conversation, for a convention setting, it would be best to have pregens and the players just pick their inventory and answer the pregame questions. Other than that, the part I played was fun.
  • It was too bad we didn’t get to more of a part where other people further back in the line on the trail could do stuff.
  • I wasn’t clear on the player’s motivations in the set up except “get some kind of treasure.” I might have been distracted or walked briefly away from the table.
  • I wonder about the value, just like in computer rpgs, of having content in branches that half the players won’t see. Aftertward, I wanted to see what we’d missed since it sounded like it contained some of the best content. I suppose with another session we could have ventured to the path we didn’t see.
  • Nothing beyond what was already said at the table.
  • I rated kind of low on rewards and fantasy just because I don’t think we quite got to that part.

More thoughts on this feedback on in the first playtest report for Stone Dragon Mountain.

Actual Play – Stone Dragon Mountain SAT-02 (6/28/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Mark Levad, Fred Lott, Soren Ludwig, Peter Adkison, and Wilhelm Fitzpatrick
System: Torchbearer
Adventure: Stone Dragon Mountain

Woot, my first chance to play-test Stone Dragon Mountain. I had been working my ass off to get it play-test ready and I’m really glad I did. The game ran very smoothly and was deliciously perilous for the characters and (from what I could tell) delightful for the players.

Who bears the Torch

We started with character creation. Which although it ate up too much time (see thoughts below) was a ton of fun. Here were our heroes.

Recordin the human warrior (Mark) grew up in a wizards tower, but got kicked out when thought to be trusted companion Boggin framed him for stealing form the wizard. Now he walks these lonely roads a loaner, tough and cool.

Sparky Bigglemeister the halfling burgler (Peter) would have been head cook for the mayor of a bustling metropolis, if not for Gordo Ryebread who soured his stew! He was now adventuring with a new found hunger for gold and a thirst for luxury.

Feylimige the Wanderer (Soren), an elven ranger. She had left the Elflands because she was different. Curious about different things and could not conform. She played to return one day and give the elves what for by proving that the traditional way isn’t the only way.

Jaesik the Loud (Wilhelm), a human cleric.  Jaesik was actually a good person. He helped the weak and stood against the darkness. He wore a medallion of Sigrun the Defender, lady of Battles that his mother had worn before she died. He was also very loud about his beliefs! Benedictus the high priest sent him on this holy mission to help the Sharwa people after he dragged the mayor’s daughter back to the temple to be purged of sin! Not at all to get Jaesik out of his hair and finally get some peace and quiet in the temple, no, not at all.

Agar Dirtsmith the human magician (Fred) from the small village Bayrit where his magics were not understood. He wanted to move up in life, I mean, how do you get any lower than being a dirt smith!

Depicting the World

Here are notes that I’ve written to myself when trying to describe the feel of Torchbearer in play. I don’t read them down the line, but whenever I come to a moment where I feel like the style of play or setting needs to be articulated, I’ll pull one of these out:

  •  Torchbearer is a game of exploration and survival, neither of which is easy.
  • It’s less like Lord of the Rings, and more like surviving Vietnam.
  • There are treasures to be found but they are going to be pried from the frozen grip of the mountain.
  • Your characters are desperate people with no respectable or promising opportunities.
  • Your characters aren’t heroes, but they can become heroes.
  • Like characters in Fiasco, your adventurers have powerful ambition and poor judgment.
  • They are foolishly optimistic opportunists.

As we start I’m also asking questions to develop the world. Here’s some of them:

  • What led you to this life?
  • What as the last thing you ate that didn’t make you sick?
  • What have you let down?
  • What was the job that was going to get you off the street? How did it fall apart?
  • Does anyone at home depend on you? How have you failed them?
  • Who in your new group besides you shows he most promise?
  • What about this adventure gives you hope?
  • Who is your leader?
  • Really, who is the leader?
  • To the leader: What heroes story inspires you?

These are pretty standard fare questions, but asking them reminds me to make the game not just about adventurers, but to make it about these adventurers. Hearing their answers also helps me be a a fan of their characters.

 Notable Moments

By far, the highlight of the game was when the adventurers had to scale a bald mountain face to cross over a stretch of missing walkway that loomed over an impossible fall below. Everything working up to the climb was so tense and when Peter’s Halfling Sparky finally made it over to raise the bridge, the whole table cheered in triumph! Peter has done some mountain climbing and said that the depiction of the challenges felt very real. Huzzah!

 Pictures from the game

Thoughts on the Game

When you’re play-testing a game, never do character creation in a con slot. It eats up way to much time. We spent 90 minutes on it when we could have spend 15-20 going over pre-generated characters and started playing. I wanted to see if characters made by players planning for a mountain climb would make a difference. Nope, or not enough to be measurable.

Mountain climbing in the snow is amazing dungeon delving. So much my fave.

Playing a game that doesn’t require torches every turn all the time actually makes it more interesting when people have to light them. The sun going down was a favorite twist of mine because it changed the status quo a lot!

Feedback. I’ve asked all my players to give feedback on the adventure. Thanks so far to Soren Ludwig, Mark Levad, Wilhelm Fitzpatrick, and Fred Lott for their responses. To everyone else, if you’re interested, here is the link to the survey.

Feedback response so far (over all three sessions played). My take away was that I should be more obvious about the various people’s and their motivations (a constant reminder to myself to just in general be more obvious). Also, rewards weren’t clear enough, there should always be something enticing them to delve a little deeper.

Torchbearer [How familiar are you with the following?]

Mouse Gaurd [How familiar are you with the following?]

Buning Wheel [How familiar are you with the following?]

How well were you able to understand what was going on in the adventure?

Challenging the players [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Rewarding the characters [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Delivering a compelling situation [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Keeping your interest [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Depicting a harsh world [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Depicting a fantastical world [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

What was your favorite memory of the session(s)?

  • When Morgan’s character actually successfully used magic to float up to the top of the ice block.
  • Crossing the Walkway
  • The dangerous lowering of the bridge
  • Diamond Tooth’s demise
  • The whole bit at the bridge. 
  • Snot. You should emphasize snot.
  • Balls out fighting the mikra and failing miserably, allowing for only one survivor who was surely going to die soon.

Any other comments about Stone Dragon Mountain?

  • Very fun game. Lots of laughs and holy crap, that is impossibles!
  • It seems like the set up is simple, which is cool, but I wanted a touch more complexity. We had the Sharwa, on one side, and the Mikra on the other. The Mikra seemed to be savage, beasty killers. That set up seemed too straight forward. I long for a third faction to make things really jacked up and complicated.Did someone back in town want us to do something specific, maybe? Is there are third group to add to the ecology of the mountain? When I think of keep on the Borderland, we have Bandits, plus the people in the Keep, plus a variety of Tribes in the Caves of Chaos, without even messing with the greater outside world. The more groups we have, the more our decisions affect those around us. To me, this is the thing I look for as a player. I came to a place and I may have fucked it up pretty badly, but I made an indelible mark.
  • Also, after we get to the maw of the cave, and find that the teeth aren’t gems, it seems like we need a new promise of treasure. The Mikra have worthless stone idols and crude axes. Why would we go in the cave?
  • What was up with that guy who was wounded at the beginning? He was really weird.
  • I love the “loot” available from the Sharwa and the bodies at Taleil’s. It felt really organic and natural and not like crap from a random treasure table.
  • The demon thing with the sheep was confusing, tone-wise. Did we just forget to ask about that guy.
  • Just kind of a reminder of our conversation, for a convention setting, it would be best to have pregens and the players just pick their inventory and answer the pregame questions. Other than that, the part I played was fun.
  • It was too bad we didn’t get to more of a part where other people further back in the line on the trail could do stuff.
  • I wasn’t clear on the player’s motivations in the set up except “get some kind of treasure.” I might have been distracted or walked briefly away from the table.
  • I wonder about the value, just like in computer rpgs, of having content in branches that half the players won’t see. Aftertward, I wanted to see what we’d missed since it sounded like it contained some of the best content. I suppose with another session we could have ventured to the path we didn’t see.
  • Nothing beyond what was already said at the table.
  • I rated kind of low on rewards and fantasy just because I don’t think we quite got to that part.
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