Getting learned up on how best to run Torchbearer has proven to be quite a lot harder than I remembered!
We had our sixth and, I think, final player join us this week. Six! It’s a full complement of class/stock sets, because why not. Everyone but the noob has a little supply of artha, pretty much everyone understands the various gears in motion and how to keep their economies lubricated. There is, I think, just the right amount of tension between the feels and the logistics — the killer app of Torchbearer imo.
What I’m constantly checking myself on is maintaining the right amount of pressure. Like, I couldn’t sense the difficulty of dealing with The Grind until the end of this session, because it seemed like they had infinite food available to them. Which…they don’t. So for a while there, you know, I’d be all “okay, fourth roll, drop your lights and go hungry” and they’d all happily turn their little torch cards and scratch off another ration. We knew it couldn’t last forever, but there was no urgency. Until last night.
In my head, I feel like I should be able to run this totally sandboxy: if something is too hard to face, it’s on them to run the hell away, yeah? And we’re all on the same page there. Where my skills are still lacking is in what to do with twists. Getting angry might not be bad at one moment of play, and utterly devastating in another. Spooling them off into an obnoxious little side-survival-adventure is nbd and then all the sudden, oh god, they’re 14 rolls into the Grind with no place to safely camp and facing a very fucking dangerous conflict the moment the next session starts.
So, all in all, I think things are going well. 😉
But there is definitely a tension in my head, running the thing, when it comes to inflicting consequences. On the one hand, sure, be true to your prep (mine has been frankly inadequate, given just how much stuff six players can throw at any situation). But on the other, there’s still the soft art of setting up bigger and more interesting challenges. Sometimes a twist isn’t a whaddayadowhaddayado crisis, it’s Announcing Future Badness. I mean shit, probably the most panic-inducing moment last night was when the dwarf invoked his “always look for traps” instinct while inspecting an ancient sealed door inscribed with a dire warning, failed… and the door opened.
“The door opened? That’s the twist?” he asks.
“Oh yes,” I say.
There’s also the balancing act of keeping things moving but not too fast (because The Rules kind of don’t allow it, even invoking the Good Idea rules on the regular) so as to maintain my own interest. I’ve got stuff prepped! And it’s gonna take a lot of fussy rolling and check-earning and artha-spending and help and wises and teamwork to get there. Every moment of play feels overwrought and slow even when the outcomes are solid and tense.
It’s definitely fun. A different kind of fun than I’m accustomed to. My instincts are to keep spooling out plot and story and implications and hints. This game isn’t about those things.