The rules are pretty straightforward. Sure, there are tons of bells and whistles, but most of the game goes like this:
GM: Says stuff Player: “I want stuff to happen, so I’m going to do stuff.” GM: finds what skill and/or Nature descriptor does stuff “Roll that skill or Nature.” Player: Rolls dice equal to that attribute, hopes for 4, 5 or 6 (especially 6) —success— GM: “You did the stuff!” —failure— GM: “You did the stuff, but you got a condition!” OR “You didn’t do the stuff and now more stuff is happening!”
And when you look down at the list of conditions you’ve marked and think, “My God, I’m going to die.” just remember that you’re supposed to earn conditions and carry them around. It’s not failure, just like losing all but 1 hit point isn’t failure. The point is not to skate through adventures effortlessly. It’s called the Grind for a reason. Every choice is an impossible choice, and everything is too close, too far, too big or too small. That first game without fate/persona points is brutal — and even when you have them, session 2 is tough. Not to mention sitting down to play anything for the first time, especially a game that’s challenging (both in terms of succeeding unscathed, and in many of its ideas and inventions) is not the easiest thing in the world.
But trust me, grind on and stay with it. Every session you’ll learn something new that will aid you in the future, as will your characters. And when everything locks in and you’re thinking both as the player AND the character with every decision, and your group is meshing like clockwork, you’ll realize it’s so worth the investment of time, energy and yes, a little blood now and then.
To open a bit of discussion on the topic: Do people here have any particular way of getting a group into this mindset? Sure, you can tell them some of this, but it seems really hard for people to understand until they experience it. How do we get new people into a mood that facilitates this?
I tried throwing pigs blood at them before beginning the first session, but that didn’t seem to help… (/s)
I try and frame the game as resource management and risk vs reward. So the adventurers slowly build up both conditions and treasure, and at some point might have to make the call to leave (either fully or just to make camp). If the players think of conditions as a resource, kinda ablative armour, that they can spend it makes them less intimidating. They’re trading conditions for progression and loot, but push your luck too far and it could all fall apart. Also you can point out that characters can only die if already sick/injured or if they engage in a kill conflict.
In terms of mood I lean into the ‘not heroes’ element of the game, they’re the bottom rung of society, doing a job nobody else wants to do. The most likely outcome is death.
I would say you start playing Torchbearer as a level one player. And just like your character, you’ll start with limited resources and over time you’ll become hungry and thirsty, angry, afraid and sometimes exhausted (but hopefully not sick or injured). But also just like your character, you’ll level up, gain skill, improve your resources and possibly circle up some new friends.
I think the risk vs reward thinking can be helpful. At the same time I’ve also experienced new players almost freeze up because they become afraid to act - the grind becomes this scary thing which makes them not want to act. With experience you learn that the grind can be managed, but it sometimes takes a while for players to discover that.
Another stumbling block is that some people seem the get the ‘not heroes’ element, but that leads them to play in a very individualistic way. One of my great joys as a Torchbearer player is getting to strategize and plan with the group, but some people sees that way of playing as very strange (at first).
I think it’s important to note that Torchbearer characters can become heroes, but it is a choice they must make and continue making. You are destitute and impoverished. Most people look on you with derision and maybe a little fear. Most people don’t care about you and the dangers you face until they need help themselves. Faced with that, who are you? Who will you become?