A Question About Instincts

I’m wondering if the following would be appropriate as Instincts:

“Whenever we enter a new location, I draw a map.”

“Whenever we clear an area, I loot it!”

They would seem to fit the mechanical requirements (If/then statement, action), and obviously a big part of the purpose behind Instincts is to save the party some actions, but they seem rather potent compared to the examples given in the book. For example, a character with the one about map drawing running through Under the House of Three Squires is going to get something like 18 free rolls, which is going to mean that they advance their Cartographer skill very quickly, and probably save at least 5 or 6 turns compared to a party without an Instinct along those lines. (Which of course translates to fewer conditions gained from The Grind and fewer light sources expended.) It also virtually guarantees a Fate point every session. Now, there is of course a balancing factor here, in that more rolls means (at least potentially) more failures, and thus more conditions/twists, but still, it seems like any party that doesn’t have a set of Instincts that specifically deal with these very common actions will be at a pretty big disadvantage to one that does. Of course, that’s not inherently bad, because rewarding system mastery isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it seems like it would have a significant homogenizing effect on different parties’ Instincts, and that strikes me as a bit boring.

So, are these types of Instincts fair game (or even encouraged?) or should we as players aim for something perhaps less efficient but more flavorful? Or maybe as GMs we should discourage characters from starting with these sorts of Instincts, to reflect the characters’ lack of experience with dungeon delving, but have no problem with characters switching to them later, after they’ve developed a healthy paranoia about the dark deeps?

The second instinct is fine.

As for the first, I believe cartography is a camp activity. So you could say “Always draw a map of newly discovered locations when I camp” and that would be fine.

Yes, you’re encouraged to make the most effective (but legal) instincts you can. It’s kind of like a relief valve for the desperation of dungeon delving, a chance to take a breath and be thankful that you were smart when you made your character (and in an rp way as opposed to a crunchy combat optimization way).

There’s likely to be some very common instincts. Scouting, looting, mapping, trapfinding, finding a good camp… that’s the thing, the list goes on. So it’s up to you which ones seem optimal for your party’s general tendencies (their habits, or, dare I say, instincts) or character development, which actual tie together nicely, because you tend to frequently do the things that your character would frequently do…

Hm. I don’t think so. I took a look at the section on skills in the character building chapter, and the section on skill factors in the GM chapter, and neither entry on Cartographer mentions it being camp-only. In fact, the text of both reads “As the cartographer explores, he draws a map.” The camp section says nothing specific about Cartographer, either. Camping-only Instincts are still good, of course. You’re just trading saved turns for saved checks. The major distinction would be between Instincts that give you rolls versus ones that don’t, because Instincts that give you lots of rolls are a) improving the relevant skill and b) earning you Fate points.

I don’t really see a meaningful distinction between optimizing for dungeon survival in a game like Torchbearer vs. optimizing for combat effectiveness in a game like D&D4e. In both cases it’s a huge part of what the game’s about, and in both cases they might be rooted in a strong sense of character or might just be chosen for their mechanical effectiveness. My concern isn’t really that Instincts like this are “gaming the system” so much as that the difference in effectiveness between a party that has these sorts of Instincts versus one that doesn’t is large enough that characters are heavily incentivized to each take one of a pool of maybe half a dozen Instincts, leading to a great deal of homogeneity among adventuring groups.

No skill mentions itself being “camp-only” but you cannot make cartography tests, recover or cook in the adventuring phase. Not sure about crafting. (Only in Town Phase? Only in Town Phase if it’s something big?)

Thor’s weighed in on that one, though I have no idea where it was.

Yeah it’s never mechanically made clear what is camp phase and what isn’t. I think it comes down to “it should be obvious” but the best heuristic I could draw from those discussions was: Are you recovering from a condition in any way (non-magically)? Are you crafting something? Are you doing something that requires safety, quiet, and calm? Does the activity specifically relate to or improve camp? If you answer yes to any of those questions then it’s a camp activity. Drawing a map is a crafting type activity and requires relative safety, quite, and calm. Unless you are just jotting something down quickly, which is basically just a good idea but does not give you the “narrative teleportation” powers of a proper cartography check.

Back on topic: I think the difference for me between combat optimization and instinct optimization is that combat optimization often is contrary to a compelling realistic character. On the other hand your instinct is the thing you always do, which you always do because you always need to do it… it’s a character thing. It says who you are and what you get up to. It adds to your character. Like I said, you’ll see a lot of common instincts, but then again, you’ll see more of the same character classes than you will instincts. This is admittedly a trope game, and adventures tend to do the same sorts of things a lot.

In that case, how are you supposed to handle backtracking to previously explored areas in a dungeon before you’ve made camp (and drawn a map)? The Cartographer skill outlines a system for backtracking once you have drawn a map (i.e., if your roll was successful, you get to your destination automatically with no turn or roll happening), but otherwise things seem a bit hazy. Pathfinder seems to only be used for getting places in the wilderness, not in a dungeon. Dungeoneer only lists factors for navigating specific features (like vertical shafts or narrow tunnels), not generally traveling from one location to another. Scout specifically says it’s not for getting places.

Let’s take an example from my actual play experience the other night:

The party found the secret room in the cellars of the House of the Three Squires (see pages 164 & 167), and immediately came to the conclusion that it would make an excellent spot to camp later, when they actually wanted to camp. We carried on and explored some more rooms, fought some kobolds, etc. Then when it was time to camp, we headed back to the secret room. The way we handled it in play was that my character had the mapping Instinct mentioned in the OP, and had succeeded on those rolls, so we traveled there automatically. How was this actually supposed to work?

This is what I’ve turned up so far.

p. 60, Turns: A turn is not a fixed amount of time. It can be a 10 minute skirmish or a night’s watch.

p. 63, Checks: Tests in camp are slower paced than those in the adventure phase. They’re not moment to moment actions, but rather longer activities like cooking a meal, sleeping off your hurts or drawing a map.

p. 83, Spending Checks: Spend your checks to recover, improve your camp, find food and water, draw a map, make tools, research or read books, debate a course of action, create scrolls, pray or other acts that may be accomplished in and around camp.

There are numerous, specific indications that spell memorization, making scrolls, and recovery only occur in Town or Camp phases, but I find nothing saying cartography is prohibited outside camp (though you could infer it).

Right. It seems trivially obvious that Cartographer is something you can use in camp. I haven’t seen anything that made me think it could only be used in camp–unlike, say, memorizing spells or recovery checks, which are explicitly stated to be camp-only (well, and town too) activities.

If you haven’t had time to draw a map yet then you have to backtrack the same way you forward-tracked, by describing what you do and saying where you go. The map maker has been making notes as you go, describing which areas are connected, so you should have a good idea which way to go. But if there are obstacles in the way then you have to make the tests to get past them, you don’t get to just skip it.

Spending Checks specifically says “draw a map” in the thing you quoted. Now that’s not to say that it prohibits drawing maps outside of camp, but like you said, it’s all just indications, it doesn’t ever say explicitly, only that “camp-like activities can only be done in camp”. However, scribing a scroll or banging out a dent seems to be the same sort of activity as drawing a map (which presumably includes detailed explanations of how to get past the obstacles, like where the best handholds and footholds are, and what the kobold patrols are, or some other means that allow you to quickly and easily get past all those obstacles without risking anything).

Basically, when I suggested stopping for lunch to cook up a quick meal without taking time to set up a full camp the response from luke was “Come on.”

eta: I think the key here is the term “camp-like”. Is this an activity you do while trudging through a dungeon or is it an activity that you do when you have some down-time and quiet to focus. Drawing a detailed map seems like the latter. But again, nothing is ever specified. It all comes down to that one sentence about “camp-like” activities.

Well, that makes sense to me, except that in the Cartographer entry in the chapter on skill factors (page 137), it mentions that a failed Cartographer test opens up the possibility of a location-based twist–i.e., the players ending up at the wrong destination due to a failed roll. But what roll exactly would they be failing at in order to produce this twist?

I think the idea is that they set up camp and attempt a cartography test to see if they mapped the place well enough. If they fail, they didn’t, next time they use that map they’ll run into something instead of just quick-travelling as expected. That’s why I think it says “opens up the possibility” instead of the usual immediate twist. Yeah, they’ll metagame know it’s coming, but it doesn’t’ matter because if they need to go that way they’ll either activate the map twist by using it, or encounter the twist anyway by navigating manually. Or you could just give them a condition like Angry, Exhausted, or Afraid. Conditions are great for the lazy GM :slight_smile: (Err, that is, if you can’t think of anything else… I’m not lazy, what are you implying?)

See Twist on p. 65, twists can be held back and used later. So, as jovialbard says, when the players go to use the map, they wind up somewhere else.

Okay, gotcha.

Getting back on track with the original intent of the thread, I’m thinking about a list of these “best-practice Instincts.”

[ul][li]When we make camp, I draw a map.
[/li][li]When we clear an area, I loot it.
[/li][li]When we enter an area, I check it for traps.
[/li][li]When we move to a new area, I Scout ahead.
[/li][li]When we make camp, I cook a meal.
[/li][li]When we make camp, I scribe a scroll.
[/li][li]When we make camp, I memorize my prayers.
[/li][li]When we travel in the wilderness, I hunt/forage.[/ul]
[/li]One that I think is sort of borderline is “I always keep the light lit.” On the one hand, it’s a useful guarantor of options when it comes to conflict time. On the other hand, it’s not giving you skill advances or Fate points. Along similar lines, note that an Instinct for memorizing spells is not as good as one for memorizing prayers, because spell memorization doesn’t involve a roll.

Any other ideas or insights on the subject?

Our paladin instinctively makes poultices.

We have a very similar list, but for some reason we’ve all opted to concentrate on the camp phase. There’s something delightful about spending one check and getting five things done.

Does it use up a test or check to memorize prayers? I thought you got to do it automatically, but you just had to roll to see if you got the spells you wanted, in which case that instinct wouldn’t help.

Yeah, loosing light in a tough situation could be awful, so having the “always keep the light lit” instinct might be a good life-saver even if you won’t get as many free turns out of it.

Always pick the locks.
When meeting someone new, always charm them. (free Persuade test when encountering intelligent beings that you can communicate with, combine with the language spell for best effect)
Always carry a large sack in my free hand.
When encountering a good cliff or vertical passage, climb it.
Always sneak past enemies.
Always keep my weapons and armor in top shape.
Always drop my backpack before a conflict. (could get you in trouble if you lose and get chased off!)

One of the players in my game actually considered exactly this, but we came to the conclusion that it probably wasn’t very good. At the beginning of each round of a conflict you get to declare what weapon you’re using, which would seem to indicate that there’s enough time there to drop items held in your hand and draw a weapon from your belt (maybe even your backpack?), making the Instinct basically redundant. Similarly, the game notes that while two-handed weapons (e.g., a warhammer) need two hands to be wielded in combat, they only need one to be carried around normally, which means that you can carry a small sack around most of the time, then automatically drop it when a conflict starts.

At least, that’s the way I’m reading things.

I’m curious about this one - what does it do, mechanically? Players have to specifically say they’re using an instinct, it’s not like they give you the ability to retcon (“Oh, my guy always does xxx, so we should have resolved that differently.”) and putting a large sack into your hand doesn’t cost a turn, I don’t think.

@fifth_child good point.

@Fuseboy It’s a Laborer test to hold a large sack in one hand, and that would take up a turn. It’s questionable how those mechanics would work if you always walk around that way… One test per adventure phase maybe?

Oh, right you are!

You’re right, it doesn’t require a check. I guess in that case the prayer Instinct is completely useless, and the spell one is merely not that great.