Conflict Question: Multiple Parties

Cross-post from Reddit:

Hello everyone!
I’ve been in a regular group of Torchbearer for a couple of months now, and things have been smooth as silk up until a recent encounter we had. An interesting situation came up, and we weren’t exactly clear on how to resolve the issue by the rules, so we had to kind of wing it and it wasn’t as climactic as we would’ve liked. So for the future, I’d like to know what ye olde grognards and fellow adventurers think.

A quick run down of context: We were exploring the natural caverns below an inn which had been infested with Kobolds. We were searching for the previous owner and located them. We were filing them back out to the inn proper when the kobolds came rushing out at us, but they were running away from something much worse: a giant spider. We ushered the people out of the prison in which they were kept, and the spider came barreling after us. Queue conflict.

Now, we’ve had a number of conflicts that have gone very well. We’re getting the nice narrative-mechanical ebb and flow going, and combats are generally quite intense. This time, though, we were faced with a dilemma: there are four or five parties in the conflict.

• First, we had the Spider who wanted to grab someone to eat and lurk back into its den.
• Then, we had the Kobolds who were trying to route the spider and get it to leave the whole area.
• Next, we had two members of the party, the elf and the fighter, who were trying to drive the spider back into the caverns and leave us alone.
• Finally, we had the Burglar (injured and wary of conflict) who was trying to help the injured prisoners out of the cellar and away from the fight.

You can see how that’s a little complex for the head-to-head combat system. Normally it’s the player party vs. an opposing party. And that works fine. We considered two separate conflicts, the Burglar Vs. The Spider in a flee conflict alongside the Elf and Fighter Vs. The Spider in a drive off conflict. We even considered a Burglar vs. The Survivors convince conflict, in which the Burglar would try to organize the chaos. We weren’t sure if the Kobolds would be considered helping us or the Spider, and there weren’t very many of them, so we left them out entirely and would treat them as a sort of factor in the compromise.

We also weren’t sure how the two compromises would play into eachother; what if the Burglar fails and the party succeeds? Or the other way around? And how do degrees of success and failure play into it? The spider obviously would’ve only wanted one creature to drag away… It would’ve eaten up quite a bit of time for the table chatter on the compromises to resolve, we decided, so the Burglar didn’t participate in the fight and didn’t do a second conflict, which we all kind of decided afterwards wasn’t the best decision dramatically speaking.

I turn now to the Torchbearer community. How would you guys handle this? Was there a rule we overlooked, or was there something we handled wrong? Or maybe we were right, and the Burglar’s actions wouldn’t have had enough of an impact to allow a conflict.

Anyways, sorry for the long explanation. TL;DR: We had 4 or 5 groups in a conflict that weren’t all striving for the same goals. We weren’t sure how to pair them up in one conflict, or if we did 2 conflicts how the compromises would affect one another. Ultimately, we decided to only do one conflict and left one of the party members out despite his playing an important role in the game space. How do you handle these situations, or how would you if you were in the GM’s seat? I appreciate any feedback, and hopefully this thread will help someone else in the future!

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I would have done the Burglar as a simple test, done before the conflict, and used that to frame the goal of the conflict. “Give Burglar enough time to get the prisoners out” if they succeeded, or “keep the spider away from Burglar” or something if not.

For the purposes of the spider conflict, I think the kobolds are unimportant. They are just fictional positioning.


Hi there!

I like to think of the turn structure in Torchbearer kind of like the camera in a movie: It directs the audience’s focus to one thing at a time. Even when actions are meant to be simultaneous or almost simultaneous, the audience experiences them sequentially.

I think you need to simplify as much as possible, which means breaking a complex situation down into the fewest number of tests/conflicts that make sense. So let’s take things in order:

  1. The spider. We know what the spider wants, but Torchbearer doesn’t give monsters much agency unless the characters fail a test or choose not to react. If the players don’t do anything, it’s going to eat someone. We don’t need a test or conflict for the spider yet.

  2. The kobolds. Again, monsters don’t have much agency. If they could drive the spider off, they would. But this adventure is designed so the only way to break the status quo is for the adventurers to step in and become the agents of change. No matter how much they want to, the kobolds can’t deal with the spider on their own. So for now, as Aaron suggests, the kobolds are just color in this situation (though we’ll circle back and consider them in light of the players’ actions).

  3. The players. Two players (the ranger and the warrior) seemingly have orthogonal goals from the third player (the burglar). As a GM, the first thing I would ask is which player is the leader for this adventure? In general, if there’s a difference of opinion, the leader’s decision should be the deciding vote, unless another player wishes to initiate a Convince conflict. That, of course, means that there will be a twist no matter what. Though honestly, as GM, I would probably tell them they have no time to argue in this situation – make a decision or watch someone get eaten. That said, my GM instinct would be to run this whole thing as a Drive Off conflict, all three players vs. the spider.

Why? Because the burglar’s description is a perfectly valid action during a Drive Off conflict. It’s a Maneuver to get the prisoners (presumably the spider’s intended targets) away from the spider’s digestive system. The fate of the prisoners can be fodder (ha! see what I did there?) for potential compromises. Try to think expansively of conflicts. The conflict type is the intended outcome, but a broad range of actions are possible within all conflicts. Those actions just need to be placed in the context of the intended outcome.

This brings us back to the kobolds. What do they want? To drive the spider off. What are they seeing? The PCs driving the spider off. So you, as the GM, have a choice to make on the kobolds’ behalf at this point. Do they join in on the conflict on the PCs’ side (provide a few helping dice) and then try to plead with the PCs after the conflict is over to finish off the spider once and for all? Do they sit back and wait with the idea that whoever wins will be weak and can be taken out? Something else?


I would have handled it just as you did with only the team actively fighting against getting to have a Conflict scene while the extra player just narrates running away.

It is like, ‘say yes, say no or roll dice.’ In such a case, the team that wanted to drive off gets, ‘hmmm, let’s roll dice on that,’ while the group mate running away gets, ‘yeah, you get to tell us how that goes, no problem.’

After that battle, then you have reason to assess whether the running away still deserves any sort of test; maybe the result of the battle allows a Compromise where the spider gets past the others to attempt chasing the burglar?!

But otherwise, I would do that same. That’s where more of the action lies.

But also, it might be worth asking the team to conduct enough table chatter to really settle on one single active plan rather than split across two reactions. Getting the table chatter all agreed is a worthwhile pause.

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Thanks for your insight everyone, very helpful!

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