Advice on using Stonemason rather than Sapper

I am writing a module in which I have placed a door behind the encrusted detritus of bivalve mollusks (e.g. oysters), so the door is locked, but also jammed or fastened shut.

My proposed course is: adventurers can unlock the door by Criminal, but then it doesn’t open; they can break free the encrusting by Stonemason, but then it is still locked; they can break free the hinges by Sapper, but it is still encrusted.

So, I do not mind that there are two turns at stake, the door requires two of three options: unlock and break free OR unhinge and break free.

Does it seem that Sapper should cover the role of breaking it free from encrusted detritus, or is it appropriate to use Stonemason?

I’d say it depends entirely on the player’s approach to describing the action. Are they a stone mason with a chisel at the ready, describing how they carefully clear the stone without leaving any damage to the structure? Roll stonemason!

Are they a tunnel-rat known for their ability to slip into any fortification, and do they describe prying the door open just enough to squeeze through? Sapper!


Yeah, this narrative approach has been difficult to entirely pin down. I want to describe the module similar to my efforts with MG where there are suggested Skills in the module, without suggested Ob or Vs xyz notation.

I initially thought Stonemason would be fitting for (1) rules say you have the tools to do the things you have skills to do, (2) it opens an avenue for using an existing skill rather than Health or Nature, (3) the surrounding structure of the cavern has examples of stonework and brickwork installed by some previous occupant.

I also considered Sapper for (1) demolition tools or hooligan tools, (2) existing skill, and (3) tearing apart the structure seems appropriate to Sapper.

But, I later thought a good candidate is Laborer. It can still (1) use tools, (2) fit as an existing skill rather than Health or Nature, (3) does not craft or build a product or structure (as Stonemason seems oriented toward).

But, ultimately, I’ve made an initial revision mentioned in discord; I still might revise d a a bit further, but it is standing for now.

Aw, shucks. Cook test?

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The proper design approach for Torchbearer is to present a descriptive obstacle and then allow the players to ask questions and describe their characters’ actions (describe to live!).

This is where TB and MG differ.

The set up in Dread Crypt is an exception and meant for example only.


For the win!

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This is the change in practice that has been a learning experience. I’m working hard to reduce any instance of mentioning a skill or ability that applies. So far I still have spotting secret doors, disarming a trap and crawling through narrow tunnels.

Linked to this is the question of writing suggested outcomes into the module. I see it in Dread Crypt, and am still vacillating about including something like that in more than traps or magical effects. E.g crawling through the narrow tunnels in Dread Crypt has suggested outcomes that seem like a good reminder for a GM, rather than a pattern for other module writers.

Revising the question a bit, are there cases in which a required skill needs to be written in? Like telling a GM about a Ritualist scenario where other skills could not replicate the desired outcome.

So, this is a really tough problem for module writers in Torchbearer. I’ll admit that I’ve struggled with it and my opinion has certainly changed over time.

I think the time to mention skill Obs is if it adds clarity. For the GM specifically. If you’re including something that really isn’t covered by existing factors, for example, or if you want to reinforce a theme that wouldn’t be obvious otherwise (like a magic mirror requiring Manipulator or something).

A module is like a play script. The writer makes creative instructions for another artist to communicate to a third group of artists. I think Torchbearer modules need to trust the other artists down the line to use the basic elements (dungeoneer, criminal, scout) in the way they’re comfortable. (And there is definitely some variance there!)

The playwright doesn’t try to describe every element of the set, just what’s important for the story. And even then, creative interpretations can deviate, and sometimes enhance.

So you can go ahead and mention skills and obs, in my opinion. The thing to do is be deliberate about it. Ask yourself whether it is actually adding something.

No I have to go back and rewrite all our modules.


We ask that you not be prescriptive, that’s all. Suggestions can work of course, but TB can become a boring, mechanical slog if every obstacle is prewritten and the outcomes predetermined.


One of the things I love about TB us the flexibility you have as a GM. No characters have the right skill? Let them come up with a way to solve the problem you didn’t expect. If it makes sense, great. If not , jack up the difficulty and let therm roll. Don’t want to impose a condition? Hit them with a twist. Or advance the grind two steps. The system seems lethal – but it gives plenty of ways for you to push the players to the edge without a TPK.


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