Building Campaigns in Torchbearer?

Hi all,

I’m starting a new Torchbearer campaign with my players, first campaign in a few years. I’m mostly used to running campaigns in Mouse Guard and Apocalypse Engine games, which both work very differently than Torchbearer–in Mouse Guard I had the freedom to give the players missions, and thus do lots of plotting per adventure; in Apocalypse Engine games I am very reactive and can build up as the game goes along.

As I get into Torchbearer I’m feeling a bit uneasy on what sort of approach to use, and am wondering what other people find success doing. What I’m doing now is mostly building a map and planning on dropping the players in. I plan on getting a few dungeons set up and incorporating them when the narrative seems to make sense–for instance, if the players go to a small town next I have Skogenby ready to use, and if they go to a city I have some other adventure hooks in the pipe. Is this the general approach? Do you guys try to be more structured in your adventures? I feel very adrift as I set out in this campaign–Torchbearer doesn’t seem built to “tell stories” as much as it is to put the players through The Grind. I’m definitely still trying to get the feel of Torchbearer, but so far it feels like a game based around survival–it’s more Don’t Starve than World of Warcraft.

In general, I feel like there’s too much going on in the dungeons to “wing it” like I would in an Apocalypse Engine Game, but there’s too much freedom and randomness to build an arc like I would in Mouse Guard. Is this a common problem, and how do you solve it?

Canpaigns like the game are kind of more in the old school vein, it is going to be a series of dungeons connected by a theme or story or thing the characters have to do.

I guess you can add certain things also via friends, enemies or mentors. For example I asked all my players what quest their mentors was going on.

Also the advances of character beliefs could also be an arc in a campaign.

You should definitely though have a different idea from both those games because Torchbearer is so specific to the dungeons, so all campaigns have to include going into a few.

For Torchbearer, unlike the other games you mention, the campaign is not what your characters do or where your characters go, but why they go there. At the beginning it’s pretty simple murder hobo stuff where the beliefs are stuff like revenge, fame, glory, wealth, not sleeping in filth and that kind of thing. As you delve into more dungeons and, more importantly, visit more towns, they’ll meet people and have more interactions amongst themselves and their Beliefs will change and they’ll get more in depth Beliefs about why they are risking their lives for the few bits of coin they manage to drag out of these death pits.

THAT’S the important bit of the campaign. Beyond that, slapping rooms together with monsters and traps and obstacles becomes second nature. Let the players play and they manage to make more problems than you ever will. They’ll piss off the town guard. They’ll unleash an Ogre into the countryside. They’ll steal the cursed ruby of dlgvAH. They’ll return said cursed ruby but say the wrong words. Hilarity will ensue. They will change. And the focus will be on them, not the world.

Or, at least, that’s my look at it. (man, can I ramble)

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I run Torchbearer completely on the fly, using random tables to generate items of interest. Perilous Wilds has also been very useful in this respect more recently. The players in my game decide where to go on a big, open hexmap, and I fill in the details as we go, randomly generating the terrain and major points of interest. In town, they can get a bunch of quests (which I come up with easily enough like I might in Mouse Guard), or they can just go exploring an empty hex and see what they find.

The thing to keep in mind is that some sessions will become about how they haul around a giant tapestry and deal with being angry or exhausted the whole time. The game leans heavily on the survival aspect, I think moreso than the idea that you always have to be delving into dungeons. If the players go into a dungeon, I try to make no more than a few specific areas.

I’ve run TB since its release, and I think it’s a game that maybe some have to kinda play with a little to find their groove. The game always just sort of clicked for me, but differently than I think how most people will play it. I’ve tried running Skogenby and other pre-written stuff, but it went too slow for me and I didn’t enjoy it. I run the game more like how it sounds you run Dungeon World. But I ran Mouse Guard on the fly as well and loved it.

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Think of the encounter site as replacing the mission from Mouse Guard, and you’ll be OK.

Money is the engine that drives a Torchbearer campaign. If you establish the currency cycle early, and make sure to keep fresh new swag at the top of their purchasing power, you can go far. A sufficiently cash-hungry party is basically the same as a Mouse Guard mission-based campaign – just the rumor of treasure will give them the same sense of purpose as Gwendolyn’s orders impart to a guardmouse.

That’s not to say you should starve them for cash, though. On the contrary, big scores should be common, but come with big risks! Ideally, at the end of the adventure your party will have every condition checked (except dead and fresh, of course) and every slot filled with loot. Really pile on the treasure! Inventory will keep it balanced. You just need to beat them up enough for them to need to spend it all. High risk, high reward. You don’t need to be stingy, you need to be cruel.

The other thing to remember is that you don’t need to keep the plot moving all the time. Sometimes it’s the right thing to take a step back and let them deal with the survival and exploration priorities that the game presents. It’s a fine balance, though. Often, new GMs will get drunk on this and let the game run on autopilot. You want to let them fret over hunting and camp and food, but try not to let a whole session go by without some sort of goal- or belief-based progress. If things start to drag, cut them a break moving the story forward, but try to make it look like an accident.