Actual Play – Exorcisms, Bandits, and Snakes. Oh my! (5/23/2013)

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

Shaun couldn’t make it this game (work came up at the last minute) so we forged ahead without Deleran.

At the start of the game I reminded folks our intent, that the game was about exploration and survival, and that by doing those things (rather than say brave heroic acts), they might live to become heroes.

I also did some housekeeping in terms of rules. I didn’t know the turn rules last game, so I started this one off (before the prologue) telling them that as the sun set the realized it was hours since they had put anything in their bellies and the were now all “hungry and thirsty”.


Thaspar recounted the tale of their past deeds and in doing so soothed his own weary soul, removing the angry condition, though he was still sick and everyone was now hungry and thirsty.

Making Camp

The players agreed that they had had enough of this tromping through the mud and much business and were going to make camp right here in this tower. I got some things out of order but it worked out. I rolled on the camp events table created by Clinton and got a 5: Sneaky creatures plan to sneak up on you. A failed check (twist of the GM’s choice) results in someone getting separated from the group (can test to fight or whatever) or the most valuable item (GM’s choice) going missing. Everyone gets a good night’s rest, though.

Unfortunately by the time we got around to using that event (after all the checks were made) I had forgotten the details, so there was some discussion over what was stolen. It really should have been the Ivory Box (the only thing worth anything in the part) but it ended up being Thaspar’s dagger instead.  Sixtoe, the halfling burglar woke up and immediately said “I didn’t do it.” Ha!

During the camp phase though, they had two checks total. Since there is no test involved with removing hungry and thirsty, I ruled that didn’t require a check, but did require them to remove one ration or drink. I’m not sure about either of those rulings though.

Thaspar used his to try and overcome his sick condition but willing the evil demoness out of his body. He failed and her influence sunk deeper into him.

Sixtoe had a check as well, but instead of using it to cook and make more food, he gave it to Orrin who used it to drive out the evil spirit in Thaspar. I decided that while a second chance to remove the “sick” condition wasn’t on the table, since the sickness came from a demonic presence, Orrin could start a conflict to drive it out. Exorcism baby!

In my head I quickly stat’d up the contagion as Nature: 5 (Demonic Fungus) Descriptors: Infecting, Corrupting, Evading. I gave it one weapon for the exorcism “Allusive Contagion: +1D to Feint and Maneuver”. I also opted that Orrin’s holy symbol acted as a weapon in this conflict, giving him +1D to attack. Thorin rolled Theologian (with help) and added it to his Will. The contagion rolled Nature and added it to it’s nature. The skills I picked were Theologian for Attack and Feint. Will for Defend and Maneuver. Later I realized that I probably should have used Ritualist instead of Will, but that would have been really rough for the characters.

The exorcism was extreme. It went back and forth a lot. We had lots of versus rolls with very narrow margins. Pelor’s sun disc grew so hot in Orrin’s hand he had to drop it (maneuver – 3s disarm) and the contagion was concentrated in the palm of Thaspar’s hand (maneuver – 1s impede and 2s – gain position). Both sides took a thrashing. Thaspar spoke in tongues (fungal tongues), and finally the spiritual and physical contagion was driven out but a torch being burned into his hand. Due to a late very successful defend roll though, they ended up with most of their disposition at the end of the fight (more than half) so I left Orrin exhausted from trial, and the others who aided merely hungry and thirsty. Giving Thaspar the injured condition would have made a lot of sense but because they ended with most of their disposition, that seemed overly harsh. Also, this wasn’t Thaspar’s conflict, it was Orrin’s so I wanted the brunt of the fallout to land on him.

Afterwards they got a good night’s sleep. I gave Sixtoe (who said he’d be the last one up) a scout check to notice the encroaching thieves. I realize now I probably shouldn’t have (see below under posting guard). He failed and I ruled the twist was that someone randomly lost a piece of their equipment to the nearby bandits. (see above)

Adventuring Phase

The adventurers woke feeling a little worse for wear. They were all either hungry or tired from the last night’s battle with a demon, but the gates of the Moathouse still loomed over them, challenging them to enter.

Turn 1 – Enter the great hall. I described the chamber as vast and once grand, but now ruined and dark. Only a few strands of light entered from the doorway they came through and a arrow slits in the walls.  They lit a torch (which as far as I gathered is not a test and therefor does not take a turn) to reveal the former majesty of the hall.

This was once a great audience chamber, as shown by the tattered banners and tapestries on the walls, destroyed furniture, and heaps of rotting cloth thrown into corners. Once richly appointed, it has been thoroughly searched, sacked, and despoiled. Leaves and dirt cover the floor, and cobwebs hang from walls and the ceiling above. Looking up, you see that pieces of beams and chunks of stone poke through, indicating that the upper stories of the place are totally destroyed and likely to be impassable to anything larger than a rat.

Yay, boxed text! I told them that there were passages leading off to the west and south along with a heavy door in the north east corner of the room.

Turn 2 – After some discussion, the opted to go through the door, but first sixtoe would check for traps. This was a bit odd for me, because there weren’t any traps, but there were plenty of details about the door (that it had been recently repaired and reinforced, that it had a lock and bar added to it, and that there was someone listening in on the other side of it) that I was ready to reveal to him had he succeeded in the test. He failed though, and so instead he heard the bar latch on the other side – the bandits were ready for them (my twist).

Turn 3 – When subtlety failed they opted to use force and bash down the door with Orrin’s warhammer. Here I found myself waffling a bit. I originallly said the Ob was 2 to knock it down and everyone who wanted to could help. (Factors being Big and Heavy) Because Orring was exhausted though, I counted that as a factor and bumped it up to Ob 3. Then Sixtoe had a really good idea of using his dagger to pry the already sundered once hinges from the mortar in the wall (helping with Criminal) and that seemed like it should make the task more manageable. I ended up allowing him to help and reducing the Ob from 3 back down to 2. I probably shouldn’t have done that, Exhausted is exhausted. That’s the Ob I set though and they hit it, so they busted through the door alert and ready for what was inside.

They entered the Black Chamber, the quarters of the former lord of the castle, now inhabited by a band of bandits.  I opted to call exploring to consider this an extension of the great hall and so did not add another turn for entering it. They were tested soon enough however.

Turn 4- The leader stepped forward and introduced himself as Hurley, and wondered just what it was these adventures thought they were doing, breaking down his door. Some discussion broke out Hurley kindly suggested that if they just left their weapons and valuables on the floor in front of them and then backed out peacefully, not harm needed to come to them.

(Instinct) – Sixtoe’s instinct is always to stay in the shadows, so I gave him a free criminal test to hide in the shadows while Orrin and Thaspar treated with Hurley. I made it a versus test against bandits, and having failed the roll, he slinked back right into one of the bandits who was hiding, and pressed the tip of her crossbow bolt into his back. Mara, the bandit, pushed him out into the light and brought the focus on him. At that moment the glint of a few other swords and spears became visible and the party realized they were outnumbered at least two-to-one.

So far this was all posturing though, neither side quite ready to get into a fight they didn’t have to. I presented to the player out of character, that because the did know the bandits were there (having seen signs of their passing and hearing the door click) and because they hadn’t failed the roll to break in (which I would have responded with a twist of them being ambushed) they were at the wheel here and could try and resolve this anyway they could think of. The got to talking and Sixtoe, tried to strike up some camaraderie with them. They were bandits from Homllett, he was a burgler from Homllett, poh-tay-toe, poh-tat-oh! I probably should have called this a persuader check to get them listening to him, but liked the cut of his jib, so I went ahead and entered discourse. They wanted a good reason to not just take all of their stuff.

Sixtoe countered with an offer to go bring back great loot from below for them, and I thought here we’ve got a test. Haggler vs. their Nature (intimidating). The dice were just not on Sixtoe’s side however, and he failed the test. My twist was easy enough though. Delmar, one of the bandits in the shadows stepped forward and said “sure, you can do a little work for us to pay your way” and then idly spun Thaspar’s dagger that he had stolen the night before between this fingers “just head south down that southern corridor and clear out whatever is in there, and we’ll call it even.”

The asked what was in there and the bandits laughed. Hurley responded “We sent Jasper to go find out a few days ago, and he hasn’t returned. The smell of him is getting ripe though. Best of luck.” And with that they escorted the party out of their chamber with a very “Having fun storming the castle” kind of encouragement.

Turn 5 – Torches out. Really it was out last turn but their discussion with the bandits could take place in the dim light from the arrow slits. Also, everyone was getting agitated. Orrin was now hungry and thirsty from bashing that door down. Sixtoe knew the reputation of the bandits and was pretty sure that not only would they not honor their word, but that they were also sending them into a death trap, so he was afraid, and Thaspar, he was just fucking mad as hell that Delmar was taunting him with his own dagger, so he got angry.

As the party moved into the southern corridor and lit another torch, Thaspar began mapping again. This time he invoked his loner trait against himself and refused the aid of his companions, as last time having them all talk at once just distracted him (and ended him up with a boot full of mud). He successfully mapped the area (they now have both the outside of the Moathouse and the Great Hall mapped) and then they proceeded south, following their noses as the smell of rotting flesh became increasingly overpowering.


Turn 6 – Corner Room. The entered the corner room to the far sound and found the fallen Jaspar. The noticed he he was armed and quickly looted him, taking sword, shield and boots (Delmar had told them he had nice boots).

Turn 7- Orrin examined the body to find the cause of death. Holding his breath avoid the rotting vapors coming off his bloated corpse he used the healer skill to cut away the necrotic flesh and see the source of the wound. To deep incisions from fangs and blacken, poisoned blood in his veins.  He succeeded in his healer check, this was the work of a giant snake.

Turn 8 – Snake attack. I felt like a dick for this one. As they approached the room they did all the right things, inspecting the body for the cause of death so they’d know what they were up against. But after getting the information they all opted to forge ahead into the room, where of course the snake was lying in wait. Since they hadn’t taken any particular preparations (like searching for the snake, or trying to ward it off with a torch, etc) I had the snake attack them, and it got to see the conflict type (kill). Part of his was just me not being sure that I conveyed the information correctly and part of this was I think the learning process of players having to be a bit paranoid to survive in dungeons. Since they knew about it in advance, I didn’t give the snake any special advantage other than getting to set the terms of the conflict. It’s statement of purpose was to kill one of them. Theirs was to turn it into rations.

Fight! Wait, wait, wrong game. I used the same skills for fighting it as I had with the Giant Spider (Fighter and Survivalist), and we got to the fighting. I used these stats for the giant snake. Scary, but not really bad until after the fight.

The fight looked really grim for the players. We ended an exchange with their disposition down to 1, and I had to make a hard choice as a GM. Playing it smart I should have led with Feint. I knew they were going to try and recoup their disposition since it was so low, and so would likely script defend, and were very unlikely to script attack (as it would independent to an attack of mine). I opted not to script that though. It really felt like my experience with the various BWHQ scripting mechanics was going to lead to one dead Magician, and I wasn’t feeling great about that. I opted for a less aggressive maneuver action, and low and behold they did script defend. I really wasn’t sure here, and I never quite am when I’m GMing and scripting. Should I try to “win” a conflict, or should I try to provide an exciting and entertaining challenge.  Certainly feint could have blown up in my face, but I had nothing to lose in that fight.

The battle did last three full exchanges though, lots of going back and forth. In the end, Sixtoe’s sword, Orrin’s Warhammer, and Thaspar’s magic prevailed, slaying the beast.

After the fight, when their adrenaline had faded though, I pointed out that each of them had been bitten and called for health tests. They failed, leaving Orrin and Thaspar immobilized and seeing visions, while Sixtoe was merely sick!

In the rubble where the snake nested they found a jeweled dagger, worth 2D in cash and still a viable option for slitting bandit’s throats!

Thoughts on this game

These are mostly questions about whether or not I’m doing this right.

Hungry and Thirsty – does it require a check to remove? If so can one person roll cook or some other relevant skill to remove it for multiple people?

Hungry and Thirsty – does it require both rations and drink to remove. It seems harsh if it does but weirdly unrealistic if it doesn’t.

Posting watch – It that a reasonable thing to while camping? Seems like someone could spend a check to post watch (roll scout vs. encroaching enemies) to prevent being surprised.

Camp Events table – do you still roll this if the survivalist test to set up camp succeeded? Is it a special kind of twist based on that? If they are independent, what does that survivalist test accomplish if it passes?

I forgot about armor rules in the fight with the snake. It’s quite possible that Sixtoe’s leather might have saved him from that poison. Doh!

Should I script as hard as I can? Go for the feint when I’m sure they will defend? How fun is it to lose a character in the send session? Just part of this game? What the dead condition is for?

Actual Play – Introduction to Torchbearer (5/4/2013)

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

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.

Character Creation

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)
Halfling Burglar
Alignment: Unaffiliated
Home: Hommlett – Remote Village

Deleran ap Denemir (Shaun)
Elf Ranger
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)
Human Magician
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…

T1-4 The Temple Of Elemental Evil - 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).

Resource management

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.