Torchbearer: Session 2

Now that we’ve gotten through character creation and shook out most of the bugs with last week’s short play time, this week’s session was full-throttle no-pulled-punches time.

Of course “full throttle” in Torchbearer means we got through…one approach and two conflicts. I feel like my dungeon is maybe a little big for a first run. Not sure! But they’re taking lots of camp time and earning lots of checks, mostly due to being in a big party and generating big dice pools. They can afford to pull a check down nearly every time they touch the dice.

I still need to get my head fully wrapped around the different kinds of conflicts, particularly since you’re limited to only a monster’s listed conflict types when you start one from a twist. I’ll figure it out, I’m just a little confused.

My favorite bit last night was refactoring the human warrior’s Instinct. Last session he wrote something like “always hit first” as his Instinct. It was really hard for me to figure out how to make that useful. But we came up with a solution! Now, he gets to start a free Conflict…but only if it’s a Kill conflict. It’s terrifying, very high-stakes.

My favorite twist happened too! The party is helping one another get lowered down into a pit. The wizard is about to go down, helped by the elf. They’re the last ones up on the floor and there’s only dim light both in the room above and in the cave below. Great so the elf tosses a help die and the wizard, feeling good about a huge die pool, generates a check (wizard sight works fine for seeing in the dark!). He misses his roll, and the elf is attached to the twist: the wizard is about halfway down when a couple kobolds come up behind the elf and light a tiny bomb. The elf is holding the rope with both hands. He looks down the hole. Looks back at the tiny bomb. Looks down the hole. Sees the wizard hanging there like bait. Drops the wizard so he can grab his bow and deal with the kobolds. One injured wizard and one solitaire conflict!

I think the players are starting to get a handle on how the turns work. They felt a lot of friction when they tried to map turns to time: like, what the fuck, the elf’s down scouting that hole, why can’t we be reading these runes and sacking the kobold’s campsite? Why is that three turns? But they’ve got it now, I hope: turns are a stress meter. Splitting up and doing stuff alone is stressful. Sticking close and helping each other is not. Neither is whipping out your sword and diving into a fight, apparently, according to our warrior. 🙂

Another cool moment, a hiiiilarious camp roll: Down to the last check, the wizard finally start drawing his map. Gets help from literally everyone. It’s a slam-dunk roll, right? Ob 2 on like 6 dice. Aaaand he failed it. So everyone is starting the next bit of exploration angry at each other the wizard.

We’re getting used to the density of play, still. It’s the anti-PbtA: we’re not moving from bang to bang, we’re grinding through hard choice after hard choice but the actual situation isn’t evolving that fast (where situation = moving through the dungeon, which yes yes it really isn’t, please don’t ‘splain me). The interpersonal stuff is interesting! I think they’re gonna end up social-PvPing each other eventually, and that’ll be sad for them because it’s gonna cost turns. Whatever! Work it out.

Other note: I’m using the TB GM screen that Jesse Coombs so generously sent me. It’s weird! I kind of enjoy having my little hidden space out there but it also feels like I’m removed from the table. Maybe that’s a good thing.

0 thoughts on “Torchbearer: Session 2”

  1. From your pace of play, it sounds like the players are coming to grasps with the mechanics fairly well. When I’ve been teaching the game, i’d be happy to get to 2 conflicts.

    I know you have atleast 1 die hard BW fan in your regular group and I’m curious if this torchbearer is sating their appetite enough or if they still want more.

    Another way to think about turns also is that the leader of the expedition is a sort of bottleneck. That the leader is too concerned with whats going on at the bottom of the hole to think about asking someone to read some runes.

    Were you able to manage light well enough?

    Sorry probably too many questions.

  2. I asked my BW hardcore player if TB was scratching the itch or if he was in the uncanny valley. He laughed and said it was the latter, although he liked it fine.

    The mechanics: yah for sure. Everyone at the table thus far has a good head for them. The BW players have some bad habits (misunderstanding what a TB Instinct is, how help works, etc.) but not bad at all. But Torchbearer is a fundamentally high-handling-time game. That’s just how it is. So a big table tends to magnify that, like, a lot. One player started working out their conflict scripts to maximize skill and ability advancement, for example. That’s high level play but it doesn’t come for free.

    That’s a good insight into Turns. Our expedition leader is also one of our quieter players and he hasn’t really invoked his privileges much at the table. Everyone’s kind of running around doing what they want, which is turn-expensive but again doesn’t matter so much because they’re camping a lot and generating a lot of checks along the way.

    Light was kind of a hassle but also kind of fun. It was an ever-present problem, which is a good thing. It feels much grindier and difficult than when they first showed up, fully lit and well rested.

  3. I may have fudged the twist/condition rules a bit with the whole elf/wizard thing. I went straight to 7-9 mode and it was too delicious to pass up.

  4. I feel you with the screen. I use one in my playtests ’cause I have a bunch of maps spread out, but it’s alienating, especially with a long table. I stand up a lot. Should I get Google Glass instead? 😛

    My rationalization of the sequential turns thing is that coordinating is hard. You’re strung out in a long corridor, and then the guy at the back is like, “Why have we stopped?” Bjarn at the front is doing something. Then the wizard near the back starts checking out the runes on the wall and before you know it Bjarn’s ready to go again, but now the wizard is holding everyone up, etc.

  5. I’m really appreciating the very gentle “shut up and throw the dice” moments. The game just doesn’t support narrating around problems. I also like the moments my character has been caught having to make a roll because I said I did something, i look at Paul and say I don’t have that skill, he looks back and says well that is unfortunate.

  6. Robert Chilton I love doing that as a GM. Although you can narrate around problems. It’s called the good idea rule!

    The key is to figure out what you think the GM thinks is a good idea. You don’t get to advance your skills, but you may end up with more treasure… or life.

  7. Well you can narrate the situation to your skill advantage. Since all my character has is a hammer I’m trying to narrate problems into nails. The town phase is going to be a total poop fest. I’m almost positive I’m going to have to kill someone to sell my goods for a decent price.

  8. Robert Chilton Ha that sounds fun too. And I’m actually talking about narrating beyond your skill advantage, if that makes any sense. Doing the logical thing in whatever situation make get the GM to like what you’re doing and not ask for any roll at all.

    Of course, this sounds like it will go against your belief, instinct, and goal; so it’s a hard choice in determining how to play your character.

  9. Yeah totally egocentric, the party is very good about narrating to their advantage. While they were discussing light and dice I jumped down the hole. When Paul has to kill me for stupidity I expect a lavish wake.

Leave a Reply