Advice for Dread Crypt of Skogenby?

Hi, I’m thinking of running Dread Crypt as a test game this weekend (assuming I get the players for it :). I haven’t run Torchbearer yet, but I’ve read the book (of course) and lightly browsed this forum. I think I have some idea of how the game is supposed to work, but I’ll do another quick read-through of the rules and write some notes…

Anyway, I was wondering if anyone out there has run the Dread Crypt of Skogenby scenario and would like to share their experiences with it? What worked, what didn’t, any tips on how to make it run smoothly? How much time did it take? Did you use pregen characters or player-made ones?

I don’t have any advice about Skogenby specifically, but if it’s your first playthrough here’s a short list of things that people seem to forget in their first playthrough (and by people I mean me):

The Fresh condition
Order of Might bonuses
Factors for wearing a backpack
Factors for light or lack thereof

Remember those and you’ll be doing better than I did the first time :slight_smile:

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Another general advice (from personal experience as well): avoid taxing the characters with conditions early in the game. SPECIALLY avoid giving the Afraid condition to a novice group.

Stay cool :cool:

Thanks, that helps :slight_smile:

Take care in the first conflict. The players may blithely walk into a Kill conflict and can easily lose (and thus get killed). So, go easy on them there. Don’t Feint!

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Here’s my checklist…

Characters: You should pre-generate a bunch of characters for players to choose from unless you know the players really want to make characters. Not necessary, but try to include a cleric, elf, or a mage as the module advises as they help with the lore and the arcane portions of Dread Crypt. There’s always beginner’s luck, though, and you should bear in mind that beginner’s luck rolls provide an opportunity to teach new players that they can try anything in-game as long as they describe what they’re doing. They’ll fail at first, but eventually they’ll learn a new skill!

The module will help you get set up: At the beginning part of the module, where it asks who takes the arm band, who is the leader, and what goals are, etc, follow those steps closely along with any other “setting out” steps you need to do as that’s the part where you set the game up so it can run smoothly.

Don’t explain rules beforehand: If the players are all new, there will be several teaching opportunities as you play, so don’t explain the rules beforehand. I find it helps, though, to explain two specific things:

  1. The flow of the game - the GM will offer description and then all they have to do is ask questions or describe what they’re doing. Simple.
  2. How to roll dice - D6’s, 1-3 results are traitors, 4-6 results are successes.

Fresh Condition: Jovialbard has it right… At the onset of the session, I give all the players a special colored “fresh die” to add to every roll until they lose it. Trust me, they’ll make it a point to use that die.

Pass or Fail?: Another thing that’s easy to miss is teaching players to mark pass or fail on each test. This is where you teach them that they must fail sometimes in order to advance. We had someone advance scholar during Dread Crypt so it’s totally worth it.

Don’t ignore Conditions: Once you’ve handed out Conditions worse than Hungry & Thirsty, make it a point to have your players check them before each roll or if they want to help.

Checks: Look for an early opportunity to suggest new players earn checks for themselves. They’ll thank you later.

Armor & Backpacks: Don’t forget armor and backpacks if they get in a fight.

Know where to “end”: Usually it’s a “we’re out of time” thing, but, if you can, try end on a good note. The last time I ran it, it took three hours (18 turns in-game) to complete the scenario nose to tail. The players in that game actually “beat” it in terms of banishing the disturbed spirit, dragging Jora out into the sunlight and saving her (healer test, giving her water to keep her alive). They were saddled with multiple Conditions at that point and had lost a lot of gear, but they accomplished their goals and they were proud of that. I’ve seen other awesome endings too: they all run screaming out of the crypt; total player kill in the final confrontation; they leave through the back way - nearly unscathed, sacks full of loot - and bump into the bandits.

Ultimately, if it’s your first time running TB you might feel a little overwhelmed with how much there is to keep track of, but try your best to develop a good system (notes, cards, tiles, whatever works for you) and don’t be afraid to saddle the players with the majority of the computing - ie: let them take care of their own inventory, conditions, etc., and run on the honor system if you ever lose track. It’s actually very much streamlined once you get a handle on it.

The GM turn tracker sheet is also extremely useful. I have a laminated one I use and it’s indispensable.

Also: have fun.


Good stuff!

I just use the pregens from the book.

Thanks, guys, lots of great pointers there. :slight_smile:

Ok, just finished the test game. Almost six hours was spent, but that includes lunch (at the beginning), quite a bit of explaining what everything on the character sheets meant, and we had the added “bonus” of two small children requiring constant attention as a side distraction. My own prep was decent; I had made a lot of notes to myself and even though there were some “let me look that up in the book” pauses now and then, things wen’t without too many interruptions. I felt a bit overwhelmed at times, but not too badly.

Overall, it both was and wasn’t a success. The scenario itself worked pretty well and we had a lot of fun twists, and we ended up with the cleric possessed and the rest trapped (perhaps permanently) in the crypt after a Flee conflict which the party lost. We decided to stop at that point; even though it wasn’t quite a total party kill (yet!), there was no easy way out and it was getting late – and besides, this was a test game.

The bad? The players didn’t much care for the rules. The main complaint was “way too many moving parts!”, with the opinion that the same sort of effect could have been gotten with a smaller and more cohesive ruleset – and yeah, I do see their point, the Burning Wheel baggage that comes to Torchbearer results in a ton of different and interlocking things to keep track off. While probably a good thing to people already familiar with BW, it’s not a positive factor otherwise. It’s quite valid to ask “do you really need skills, abilities, wises, traits, instinct, belief, goal, encumbrance rules, etc etc” as separate entities?", when the answer (as demonstrated by many other games) is “no, not really”.

I myself am ok with the complexity in TB, but I do understand the complaints.

One player said it was more a board game than a roleplaying game, and while I disagree with that I do understand where he’s coming from, TB contains a lot of rules which (quite artificially) restrict what you can and cannot do. Prime among these is the need-checks-for-recovery thing. While it’s valid from a gamist viewpoint, from a roleplayer viewpoint it can seem a bit silly (and yes, board game -like): you need to act in certain ways, possibly harmful to your character and the party, before you can try to make camp and heal. If you think of the game as a sort-of simulation, that’s a very valid complaint: it’s a totally artificial game mechanic, which doesn’t make much sense.

They also felt that the resource grind was too extreme. You might get thirsty and hungry again after just a few moments, and torches seemed to act more like matches (2 turns is a ridiculously short time, there). Yes, I understand that it’s “narrative time”, but still it results in situation where a torch only lasts a few minutes. I’m tempted to rule torches etc on a more freeform basis from now on, having them go out more based on real elapsed time.

That said, they did agree that all complicated rulesets need a bit of time, and that things might flow better now that they sort-of understand the resource management game. They suggested another game in a few weeks time, with the same (pregen) characters but in a different scenario. I of course agreed, we’ll see how it goes. :slight_smile:

At the moment, I’m undecided between finding some nice classic D&D module and (heavily) retooling some segment of it, or trying out the scenario in the main book.

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In a followup discussion, the players suggested that it might make sense to have multiple simultaneous (or near-simultaneous) tests only take a single round. That way the party could save ticks on the clock by splitting their attention (in a certain dungeon room), with the cost of reducing the help it is possible to give to each other. For example, have half the party inspect some mysterious symbols while the other half searches for traps. I’m pondering this, it seems like a possible valid rules tweak.

(post moved to separate thread, since it was actually a bunch of general rules etc questions)

There’s a hack for that :wink:

I have yet to playtest these fully myself (soon hopefully) but hopefully they’ll make things feel more straightforward and less board-game in conflicts.

That said, Beliefs, Goals, and Instincts don’t really add moving parts, since all they really do is reward the player for roleplaying after the fact, you aren’t required to interact with them during play, but you can use them as a reference if you feel like you are out of character or can’t decide what to do.

I don’t find traits to be all that difficult a concept, not really a moving part either, except that you need them for checks to camp (thus my hack above to attempt to simplify that). Wises can be more problematic, particularly since they relate to how you can spend your Persona and Fate, making more limitations that you need to look up and rules lawyer about.

They also felt that the resource grind was too extreme.

It’s not that bad if you get into the right mindset. One person can carry 16 turns worth of food on their person with just one slot of rations and one drought of from their skin, plus you can hunt, scavenge, and cook for more. Light is a bigger problem but manageable if you have a wizard or an elf with the fireflies spell. You just have to get used to the idea that you’re murder hobos scrounging in the mud. When you embrace the idea that you may go hungry and that you may have to make sacrifices, like not achieving all of your goals or dropping some treasure, to make it out alive, it’s actually quite liberating. I’m a hoarder when I play D&D, but you can not horde in TB. Everything in your hands and in your pack is easy come easy go… or maybe hard come easy go :slight_smile:

This would probably make the game too easy, it’s just not built to run that way. I agree with your point philosophically, but some other things would need to be adjusted for that to work. The idea is that survival is the real enemy and the real point of the game. Monsters and struggling to achieve goals under the oppressive weight of time just make that survival harder.

Personally, I’m sort of fine with the Grind as such, but the light sources kill my suspension of disbelief. Torches only 2 turns? Really? What are they, flares? :D. So to keep everyone’s sanity intact, I’ll probably tweak light sources to operate on a more flexible timetable, i.e. don’t count a “tick” for them unless some real in-game time passes. That shouldn’t affect game difficulty too much, methinks.

There are light sources other than torches. Much like in reality, candles in Torchbearer are often a better option than fast-burning, messy and unwieldy torches.

But at least semi-dependable and usable as a weapon…

Could you tell us about the tests in your play-through? How often were you calling for the dice?

Could you tell us about the Instincts and spells of the characters?


That would mean that you have half the party Helping a character for his Scout test and half the party helping for the Lore Master test. Only two turns, and they pretty much solved the area. That is without counting the possibility of having one of the characters write an “Always look up for traps in the room” Instinct.

The game IS hard, but I think that the impact of the first sessions make the players feel as it was harder than the game really is.

The light and turns… well, is not that much “unrealistic” as it seems. In real life torches burn like… 30 minutes, right? Are pretty easy to snuff (it’s an open flame after all) and you never have a set time that a test might take. Yesterday I made a “”“house rule”“” in which the torches that were extinguished before two turns could be reusable after a Survivalist test, the players pack them separately and recharge their oil or whatever in a test (one pack at the time).

The grind? I have a dwarf in the party with an Instinct that says “Always look for sources of drinkable water.” That thing only pretty much rendered the party immune to the Grind, since they always have a source of water nearby. Sure, they can fail or get into a dungeon with no water, but the party has a huge advantage against the Grind in most situations.

I dunno, as more as we play it, more we like the game as it is. I am with you in that there are too few ways to gather checks for camp, but I really love the standard procedure for gathering checks.

Stay cool :cool:

I was running the scenario (Dread Crypt) pretty much “by the book”; i.e. following the suggested tests in various places, and the suggested failure results. I was using the demo characters from the book, we had the Cleric, the Dwarf Adventurer, the Elf Ranger and the Halfling Cook… err, Burglar :).

While the grind seemed ok to me (though a bit shocking to the players, and I think they overreacted to it by going into ultraconservative min-max mode), like I said the torch expenditure seemed a bit ridiculous. Many rooms had 2-3 things to check, and what happens is that the party lights some torches, inspects a couple of strange symbols and whatnot, and suddenly their torches go out again. Sure, I made some noise about some of these tests taking quite a bit of “real time” in the game, but it still seemed a tad excessive ;).

We’ve talked quite a bit afterwards with the players, and I’ve tried to tell them to focus less on the Grind (and that it’s not that deadly, the first condition is trivial to manage) and more on the individual roleplaying and “what would my character do”. The players are actually eager to try again, so it’s no a total loss, we’ll see how it goes (in a few weeks).

I think what threw them off most was the resource management “subgame”, and they started to focus on it and only it. Understandable, but it reduces the enjoyment from the other parts. I told them that it’s quite possible to not minmax stuff and still survive in this game. They maybe believe me. :smiley:

DagaZ, good points. We’ll probably play by the book next time too, and see how it goes with a (perhaps) adjusted player mindset.

As for checks… I like them as a game mechanic, but I dislike them because they’re intrusive, they just don’t make sense (there is no logical connection between acting in a certain sub-optimal fashion and being allowed to make camp :D). I wish there was some other, more in-game logical way. As is, we’ll just have to live with it.’

About torches: it seems my mental image of how long a torch should burn in conditions like that was quite over-optimistic, the number you guys quoted (max half an hour if you’re lucky) seems to be quite realistic. So ok, I’ll stop bitching about TB light sources, the game numbers actually seem ok based on that.

Sure, if we get some crazy situation where a ton of fast tests is done more or less at the same time, the GM (that’d be me) always has the option of counting all that as one round as far as the torch (or whatnot) is concerned.

Live and learn… :slight_smile: