Got back to our Torchbearer game last night. One week off didn’t do any real damage, although the recap was iffy. Good thing it’s built directly into the game!
This was the climax for their delve: facing a pair of guardian statues, loaded with conditions, out of food, balanced on the edge of their 16th roll. Go for a kill, using the warrior’s instinct to always do so (and not take another condition by making that 16th roll) or run the hell away? They chose run, which normally would be great because statues are slow AF and their party size generated a huge dispo (11?). Yet they still fought to a tied-at-zero, because when I put my mind to it I’m a brutal scripter. Everyone escaped, and everyone was injured.
They tried sealing the guardian room with a spell. Failed that, and instead sealed themselves inside an old warehouse infested with giant spiders. No way out but down. Finally they found a decent (only unsafe, not outright dangerous) camp spot, loaded with a zillion checks, and still it was a narrow thing to clean up everyone’s conditions. It was the halfling player’s first camp phase so there was lots of explaining to do. Good news is that now she has a firm grasp of just how important earning checks is — she’d picked a couple up at the prodding of other players but hadn’t completed the circle.
Finally, with a decent map in hand (it’s been 4 sessions and the mapper just now got around to it), they steeled themselves for a final Drive Off, which of course is enormously harder to beat mindless automatons at (dispo 12 + 2 for the number of monsters), yet they fought down to their last dispo, fought it back up, and did the thing. Loot, so much loot. And some intriguing leads going forward.
It’s been remarkable how every scripted conflict has been a nail biter. I keep thinking the party size provides so many dice that they’ll steamroll anything. And they can’t. I may be misinterpreting a rule, though: can only the non-scripted party members provide help? We have six, so we always have an A Team of 3 going with the 3-person B Team providing help dice. I think it’s right.
A few observations, four sessions in:
* I really thought I’d set up, you know, a nice little tutorial dungeon. I did not! They survived but it took extraordinary teamwork and a huge party to pull off. If I start or one-shot another TB game I’ll have a much better idea of how to scale it.
* Everyone, I think, will level up when they get back to town. Some of them are even close to level 3 now. Because of the extraordinarily tough dungeon and brutally dangerous script-fights, everyone’s blowing all their points all the time. I gotta say, I really like how leveling is keyed to artha spends. That’s sharp. Almost entirely eliminates artha-hoarding like you get in Burning Wheel sometimes. I kind of wish leveling was a bit more dramatic.
* I feel like the players are forming a tangible esprit de corps because of the shared danger and absolutely obligatory teamwork. So that’s neat. It’s getting hard for the loners to go it alone.
* We had a few moments where Beliefs 100% drove difficult play. The dwarf adventurer would not leave without a better payday, even when the rest of the party was ready to call it quits, and talked them into sticking around just a bit longer. The human warrior struggled mightily against his Instinct (free Kill conflict) knowing it was probably suicide for everyone else, even while not really caring about his own life. And so on. I’m glad the BIGs are providing good differentiation, although I’m hoping we’ll revise them a bit during/after Town. There are some not-awesome Beliefs that are kind of a stretch to trigger, although I err on the side of generous artha so mechanically it’s not a big deal.
* The halfling stumbled into her Secret Rule! I was blown away, and it was such an emotional high point (they’d just fled the stone guardians and were beat to hell) that I’m revoking my uhhh intense dislike of the “secret rule” idea. The halfling’s is IMO the most pronounced; the other “secret rules” seem more like helpful guidelines about some of the more vague descriptors.
* We had time to kill before the game because electricians had to rewire the lighting in my gaming space, and a couple players expressed that they miss the tighter bond between fiction and action in our PbtA games. They feel the drag of building out the die pools and the abstraction of mapping out scripted conflicts. The entire vibe is different, and when they think on what they’ve gotten done in the fiction it seems like the game is crawling. And it is. But they can also feel the high level of engagement with the process of surviving the delve.
*They’re headed into a Town phase. I’ve never done one. Exciting!