Another House of 3 Squires

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Cross-posted from the G+ Community

As I mentioned yesterday, I ran my first #Torchbearer game yesterday. (Actually, it was the first game I’ve run of anything at all…) I ran Under the House of the Three Squires so that I could focus on getting the rules under control rather than coming up with a scenario; I also like the idea of everyone having a common gaming experience, to help build a community around a game. Here’s a quick write-up, in case you’re interested.

Two of the players have been playing RPGs together for many years, mostly AD&D I think, who were interested in the different mechanics, especially the condition track and the conflict resolution system. The third had never played an RPG before. The former two rolled up their characters ahead of time, and I talked the latter through the process at the start of the session. This was useful as it gave us the chance to talk about some of the rules.

The characters were:

[li]Murk, Goatherd-Magician, a human magician whose magical potential had been recognised by a goat with a glowing green beard (in fact a magician whose experiments had transformed him).

[li]Rothgar Unread, a human warrior destined for fame, who always carries a mirror and a change of clothes, to ensure he is dressed for the occasion.

[li]Brûlée, a human warrior who was turfed out of the Cooks’ Guild in mysterious circumstances possibly related to his Criminal specialty…
I scribbled a quick map and asked the players to name their hometowns and explain how they came to be travelling together: Murk was headed to the Wizard’s Tower to pursue his new career; Brûlée needed to get out of the city; Rothgar was looking for trouble so that he could heroically save the day and have his story recorded for the ages, so he reluctantly tagged along with the others.

On that basis I dropped the House of Three Squires on the road from Redham to the Wizard’s Tower, and described their arrival at an eerily empty inn, quiet and stripped of everything that wasn’t nailed down (and some things that were). They saw the trail of blood leading down the stairs to what they presumed was the cellar, and saw that the door had been torn off its hinges.

After poking around upstairs, they accepted the railroad and the adventure phase began.

[li]Rothgar moved to the cellar door and announced his presence, challenging any evildoers to show themselves. He heard his echo in reply. Murk lit a torch to reveal the wooden staircase leading down into the darkness. He strained to see whether he could hear anything (Scout test, Ob 1, passed), and made out a faint scuffling noise from below.

[li]Again, Rothgar called out, again no response. Murk passed the torch to Brûlée, who agreed to descend with Rothgar. The stairs creaked as they set off. Rothgar invoked his Foolhardy trait and began marching boldly down the stairs, setting off the Collapsing Stairs trap. Feeling the timbers give way, Rothgar launched himself forward (Health test, Ob 2, passed), grabbing Brûlée with one hand and the far side of the collapsed section with the other. Only about a metre of the stairs had broken away, so Murk easily jumped across to join them. They inspected the stairs and saw that this was a deliberate trap, and determined to be more cautious going forward.

[li]At the bottom of the stairs, they saw the barricades built up from the furniture and bric-a-brac that had been stripped from the inn upstairs. Listening, they could now clearly hear the scuffling noise and occasional whining coming from the left-hand side of the barricade, which they also noticed was thicker and more solidly constructed. They decided to investigate, and Brûlée fixed his grappling hook to a large piece of furniture near the base of the barricade, ran a rope around the bannister of the stairs, and he and Murk used the pulley to tear the barricade down (Laborer, Ob 1, passed).

[li]Rothgar threw open the left-hand door and burst into the room booming his usual “show yourself” spiel. As he did so, an emaciated cocker spaniel ran through his legs and out the door, dodging his comrades and cowering in the far corner of the room. Brûlée was immediately sympathetic to the animal, and offered a steak from his rations to attempt to befriend it (Hunter, Ob 2, passed). The dog warily came forward, but then snatched the steak and ran back into the wine cellar and hid in the far corner. (I decided to use the passed test as justification for dropping a clue: there is a secret door in the back corner.) The other two made a cursory inspection of the room and found that while most of the contents had been broken, there were four intact casks of the famous Three Squires sour beer. They debated what to do with it: Rothgar proposed taking it to town and giving it free to the residents to improve his fame, while Murk thought they should sell it; either way they would leave it for the way out. Rothgar grew impatient so they left the dog and went to the other door, again opening it and loudly announcing his presence. They couldn’t see a lot without going in, but they could smell urine and a dirty, musky scent. They saw a gnawed bone near the threshold, which Brûlée the cook immediately identified as a hambone; he took the bone and the torch back to the wine cellar to try to coax the dog out. The dog was hiding under a shelf near the back corner. At the offer of the bone, the dog leapt forward—but in doing so, bumped the bottom of the shelf. The shelving unit toppled over with a domino effect, knocking over others on that side of the room and ultimately triggering a net trap. The dog bolted from the room with the hambone, and Brûlée was pinned down by a heavy net (Health, Ob 3, failed; twist: snared by the net). Hearing the crash of the collapsing shelves, the others ran in to investigate, and Murk managed to cut Brûlée free (Criminal, Ob 2, passed). (You’ll note that there were several tests in this turn; I need to work on my bookkeeping!) The torch burned out, and the group began to feel hungry (Condition: Hungry & Thirsty). Murk lit another torch and passed it to Brûlée. They discussed drinking the wine in their skins and refilling them with beer, but when Rothgar checked he found that three of the casks had been broken in the chaos. They decided the last would be more valuable intact, and tucked it away carefully to collect later, but they did drink their wine to remove the condition.

[li]Rothgar was again impatient and decided now was the time to investigate the other room. He strode into the middle of the room, with Brûlée close behind him for light. Three giant rats emerged from the shadows at the far side of the room, and stalked menacingly forward. It was clear that they did not welcome this intrusion into their home. Rothgar brandished his sword and began swinging at the rats; Brûlée joined the fray, but was bitten on the ankle. Although Murk was not keen to fight, he flailed and shouted at the rats to distract them. Rothgar swung his long sword and cleaved through all three rats with one blow. (Kill conflict, players succeeded with a minor compromise—but I don’t think I applied the order of might correctly and they should have won by more.) Rothgar became Angry that he had to dirty his sword on the vermin; he wiped the blade clean on the fur of one carcass. The others became Hungry & Thirsty.

[li]Having spent (and, he felt, perhaps wasted) some of his rations on the dog, Brûlée decided to try to harvest some edible meat from the dead rats. (We discussed the appropriate skill, but I decided this was less Cook and more Survivalist with Beginner’s Luck, Ob 2, success.) He managed to skin and fillet the rats, and because he had little space left in his pack, he ate his remaining fresh rations to make room (and removed Hungry & Thirsty). They investigated the room, and found a tunnel near the back. The group discussed making camp before continuing, but decided not to. (Only Rothgar had a check to spend, so Murk decided to earn one by invoking his “scout for predators when entering a new area” instinct, and using a his “loner” trait against himself). Murk volunteered to crawl through the tunnel to see if it was safe to emerge at the other end. He could tell that there was a bigger space at the end of the tunnel, but couldn’t make out more than that without entering the new chamber (Scout, Ob 1 - would have been Ob 0 but for the “tight space” factor, failed). After waiting a reasonable time to make it seem like he had done something useful, he backed out and told the group he thought it was safe to proceed.

[li]Rothgar led the group through the tunnel, but couldn’t see where he was going because the torch was behind him. He emerged blindly into the chamber at the other end, and when his comrades joined him they saw a natural limestone tunnel, and heard the faint sound of wailing and crying. They observed that much of the tunnel towards the right was covered by stalactites and stalagmites, but towards the left it was smoother. Brûlée listened to hear whether he could identify what was making the noise (Hunter, Ob 2, success—but I think Scout was probably more appropriate because Hunter seems to be more of a physical skill; in any event I forgot to mark it down as a turn). The noises were almost certainly people, and seemed to be coming from the left passage. Ever impatient, and following his goal of determining what had happened in the inn, Rothgar marched forwards; the others followed but were wary of being attacked from behind. As a result, the group walked straight into a trip-wire that set off a loud clanging noise. Rothgar decided since they were caught anyway, he would charge into the breach, and ran ahead into what he did not know was a kobold guard room. He saw a few kobolds readying themselves to investigate the noise, yipping loudly, and a few more came from a passage at the far end of the room to join them. (Rothgar’s instinct is to try to Manipulate people he encounters; because he does not speak kobold and there were too many of them, I said he couldn’t test in this situation, but he decided to try to essentially bluster his way through anyway.) Rothgar began swinging his sword and loudly commanding the kobolds to retreat. Brûlée also brandished his sword and waved his torch around, and Murk gesticulated intimidatingly as if casting a spell. The kobolds rushed forwards and spread out to surround the group. One kobold hurled a bomb at Brûlée, but he stood his ground and the bomb bounced off his helmet and went off at the kobold’s feet, he dropped to a foetal position with his hands over his ears. The kobolds advanced again and pushed Murk towards the tunnel, but their advance was stopped as Rothgar launched himself in a flying body-check to defend his friends. Brûlée was the last one standing, and he charged forward with the torch and his sword. The kobolds saw this bomb-proof madman running at them, and turned tail and ran back through the other passage. (Drive Off conflict, players succeeded with a major compromise: twist.)

[li]The party pulled themselves together, and patted each other on the back; Rothgar made sure Murk had seen him heroically throw himself into harm’s way, and urged him to write it down for future reference. After a few moments, the group stopped to look around the room, and as they did so, they saw (twist!) a huge spider walking from the ceiling, down the far wall, and towards them. It was between them and the exit the kobolds had used. Rothgar leapt once again into the fray, swinging his sword to try buy time for the others to escape. He clipped the spider’s leg, slowing it down. Instead of running, perhaps on a high after his success against the kobolds, Brûlée also approached the spider and thrust his torch towards it, hoping to intimidate it into backing off. Murk cast Dance of the Fireflies to create a magical floating light that he caused to dart around in hopes of confusing and distracting the spider. (We discussed the best way to implement this; the spell duration is expressed in “turns”, so I said that each turn the light lasted could be used as Supplies to aid an action during the conflict; he could use them in non-consecutive actions.) Unfortunately, the spider used its camouflage to good effect, and with the party not sure which way to run, managed to pounce on them. (Flee conflict, players lost with a minor compromise. In addition, this was the fourth turn, so the players moved up the condition track.) The spider had eaten recently, so instead of a lethal dose, its bites merely paralysed the group, and it spun a thin and crude cocoon around each of them, and set about dragging them down the limestone tunnel. And the torch sputtered out…
That’s where we finished up. We didn’t do the end-of-session wrap up and awards of Fate and Persona points, etc, in part because time got away from us, but also because I wasn’t sure that this would be more than a once-off game. It looks like there might be a follow-up session at some point, so I’ll suggest doing that housekeeping over email. And there is talk of bringing in a halfling burglar who can free them from the spider’s lair…

If you’re interested, here are some flow charts I put together while preparing for the game, to make sure I had my head around the rules. I think I’ve got an okay handle on them now, but really it’s going to take practice more than anything else. I’m not sure if my shorthand or notations will be of any use to anyone else, but anyway, here they are.