Torchbearer: Town Phase

Well, we had our first town phase. It was kind of interesting but also kind of shruggy at the end.

The economies of getting shit done in town are, of course, very tight. And since we’d never really gone through the whole cycle before (I never did during playtest either), everyone was kind of conservative about what they wanted to accomplish and how big a risk they wanted to take. I felt the same way! There are suggestions and some light guidance about what happens when you miss your lifestyle roll, and we did have one character miss, but then I was caught at the crossroads of “but this isn’t the RPG part” and “but if we don’t do rpg stuff in town then what is there other than the dungeon delving?”

It’s a conceptually tough nut for me to crack based only on the text. I’m sure experienced players squeeze a lot more juice out of their town phase, largely through knowing what options are available. I spent a lot of time reading, and re-reading, and re-re-reading, the lists of stuff that you could go accomplish at, say, the tavern or the inn or whatever. The town cheat sheet wasn’t a huge help. I feel like the “correct” approach is to have the players just do town things and have me tell them when and if they’ve run into a roll. But given the overall mechanical vibe of the game, and the constant pressure and shortage on every part of their lives, that strikes me as unlikely and unreasonable. It’s nothing like playing through a similar scene in, say, Dungeon World, where everything is driven by dramatic needs.

I did like how, when staged correctly, everyone gets their own Resources stat bumped up from 0 to 2ish on that first town phase. Getting from 0 to 1 just takes a pass, and they all had 5-or-so dice of treasure to spend on gearing up. Getting up to 2 is just another pass, but at that point everyone can help everyone else: five adventurers with a little jingle in their pockets makes for a very powerful buying collective.

That meant that, barring roleplaying reasons (and there were some, I’ve got to give that to the players), most everyone was rolling 6ish dice to pass their lifestyle tests of Ob3-ish. Still, we had the one miss.

So the thing about Town that I’m going to have to grapple with is that it’s both highly mechanical (like the other phases) and leaves you dangling where one might hope for more guidance. Just how many adventurers will your parents put up when you drop in on them after being gone a few weeks? Just an example. I had to make a call (decided they’d let one dirtbag into their home) and I’m happy with it, but still. Every time someone wanted to do something, I felt like I had to make damned good and sure it wasn’t already handled by some procedure, and then I could proceed with making a call.

Another one, purely driven by character play: the little halfling crime lord (she’s got Criminal 4!) decided she’d rather just steal food than pay for it. Cool cool, it’s “personal business” so it’s +1 to the eventual Lifestyle ob, but…hm. None of the Criminal factors really describe such a caper. Do I turn it into a whole adventure-y phase-y thing? Like with scout to spot guards and criminal to bust the lock and, iunno, laborer to haul smoked pork out of the smokehouse? I don’t know. And the book repeatedly tells us to kick their ass the fuck out of town and get on with the next adventure. It left me feeling dissatisfied.

(I just threw my hands in the air and said “uhh Ob4 and you can get two slots worth of fresh rations.” Which isn’t game-breaking, probably, and the twist was super obvious so why not?)

So they’ve got a lead (two players rolled to dig up leads, building on each other’s answers, which was neat) and a super-weird leaving-town event that felt completely inorganic, but whatever, it’s a lead.

8 thoughts on “Torchbearer: Town Phase”

  1. resources at 2 in one town session? Do you not clear successes when the ability advances? The other way I could see that happening is someone spending fate to get helping die count as a success…? I find i have to reclarify the rules of TB for myself like every 3 months.

    I love the grind of town phase economy but the framework is pretty constricting. It feels like soemthing that takes an hour or so if everyone knows their business. But I’ve never entered town phase where everyone knows their business.

    I think the criminal test to make rations makes sense. Setting up on the fly obs can be difficult though.

  2. Aaron Berger go to market with 0 resources. Buy a thing. Log a pass. Resources is now 1. Clear the tests. Go to market with 1 Resources. Buy a thing. Log a pass. You now have passes = the current rank, level up Resources, clear the tests.

  3. More interesting is logging failed Resource tests and still somehow advancing past rank 2. Maybe make bad bets on your friends and cash in a check to get their failed test.

    When to apply tax in TB (versus other choices) is another rules bit I’m not satisfied with. Honestly I’m not sure why it’s not just a “lose all your tests” effect, rather than that and reduce Resources by 1. It’s a huge kick in the pants.

  4. Hardcore dice grubbing, Michael.

    There’s a leeetle bit of Actual Roleplaying going on, too, which was nice. Like, the cleric had to choose which PC he’d invite to stay at his parents’, and that was amusing. And the halfling stole shit she could have very easily just bought, much to the chagrin of the more civic-minded cleric.

    But mostly it’s manipulating the cash on hand to get equipped, find a good lead, and nail the lifestyle test at the end.

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