Fear and Loathing in Nulb

I experimented a bit with town adventures last night.

I normally play Burning Wheel on Thursday nights, but when we have a cancellation or two due to life, I run Torchbearer for those who can make it.

In the past few sessions, the players finished off the Moathouse from Village of Hommlet. The cast has been somewhat varied, but really it’s been Drujifhrd the dwarf and Sabin the Rat (human warrior) with a few guest stars here and there. They’d hauled out massive amounts of treasure from the Moathouse, but it ran through their fingers like water when they got to town.

Broke, they hit the road, only to run into their old adventuring companion Matthias, who had disappeared on them while they were crawling the Moathouse. Matthias told them a tale of woe: He had been captured, taken to a cult fortress-temple to the northeast and tortured. He escaped, made his way through a horrid little village called Nulb and fled in a hurry.

Drujifhrd and Sabin saw the crazed panic in Matthias’s eyes and urged him to spend some time in town to rest and recuperate. Meanwhile, this fortress-temple sounded interesting to them. The Moathouse may have only been an outpost, but they found more treasure than they could carry. What might the temple hold? Besides, they had a score to settle with the cult.

They had only Matthias’s hazy description of his flight to draw on, so a Pathfinder test to find the road to Nulb was in order. They figured they could pick up leads there.

A few days later they were lost on the verge of a marsh with heavy fog rolling in. They also failed a Scout test to find their tracks so they could backtrack to drier ground. Sabin, who was still afflicted with the Afraid condition, began to panic and shout for help.

Drujifhrd beat him about the head and shoulders to silence him, but it was too late. A wagon, drawn by an ogre in a yoke, came trundling out of the fog. A goblin, dressed in mismatched and ill-fitting finery, sat in the driver’s seat. He had a knout in his hand, which he used to whip the ogre every now and then.

Introducing himself as Mug Ratbag, the goblin told them they had two choices, they could pay him to transport them to their destination, or he could sell them as slaves. All the same to him, but it would be an Ob 3 Resources test to hitch a lift.

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor (over Drujifhrd’s strenuous objections), they made a run for it. Mug freed the ogre, Stinkgrub, from the yoke and promised him an extra ration of grog if he brought the new slaves back.

We did a quick flee conflict. Stinkgrub beat them, but they managed to earn a major compromise in the process: Mug wouldn’t search them thoroughly before tying them up and tossing them and their gear in the back of the wagon with the rest of his goods.

Once Mug was out of eyeshot, Sabin looked at Drujifhrd and said, “Start chewing on these,” referring to the leather thongs Mug had used to tie Sabin’s hands behind his back. Drujifhrd was similarly bound.

With Drujifhrd’s help, Sabin easily made the Ob 2 Criminal test to escape the bonds and then untie Drujifhrd. They claimed their weapons and gear, and Drujifhrd was about to leap out of the wagon and attack Mug, but Sabin stopped him. The goblin was headed to the market at Nulb. They could hitch a free ride and slip off once they were in town.

They made a versus Scout test once they arrived to do just that, and slipped off into the streets of one of the dingiest, most ramshackle towns they’d even encountered.

Here’s where it gets interesting. While Nulb is technically a town by definition, in Torchbearer terms it is currently more like a dungeon. It’s full of river pirates, mercenaries and cultists (and secretly a few helpful folk as well). If the characters join one of those groups, they could treat Nulb mechanically like a town. But until then, it’s an adventure location – they can do things like go to a tavern or the smithy, but the grind is still in effect and twists are likely to be a lot of trouble.

Drujifhrd and Sabin were desperate for a drink, so opted to make their way to Boatmen’s Tavern, a hole of a bar down by the docks – the other option, the Waterside Hostel, was too close to the market square for their liking. Inside they found a number of laborers and bargemen drinking away their troubles, and a rowdy bunch of what were clearly river pirates, led by an orc with a big cutlass on his belt.

With a sorrowful look, Sabin pulled from his finger a ring left to him by his father and placed it on the bar, ordering drink. The proprietor, Skole, told them that Grud Squinteye, the orc, was always looking to bring on more crew. But he got very nervous when our heroes began asking about the cult. He made it clear that they had spies everywhere.

At that point, the players decided it was time to make camp and get rid of some conditions before pressing on. They found an abandoned hovel in town and Drujifhrd worked his dwarven magic to make the place a bit more secure.

Of course, that was enough to push the grind over again, so they were hungry and thirsty. They have a magic item, a statue, that they can set up in camp. At the beginning of camp, it automatically takes care of one instance of the lowest condition in the group. The players didn’t want to waste it on getting rid of one character’s hungry/thirsty, so Sabin went hunting for rats. Neither of them has the Cooking skill, so Drujifhrd used his helmet as a makeshift pot to make some rat stew.

Fortified, they made camp and the statue eased Drujifhrd’s anger.

Sabin used his instinct to try to catch some eel in the river. He managed to get one, but came away angry, which hurt him badly because he flubbed the roll to recover from angry and so wasn’t able to even try to get rid of his afraid condition.

Checks were used to do things like repair armor and so on. At the end, since Sabin couldn’t recover from afraid, he decided to use his criminal skill to counterfeit a badge he had seen some of the cultists wearing in the Moathouse.

They decided to head over to the Waterside Hostel to see if they could get some more info about the cult there. With some careful roleplay, they managed to get the proprietor there to hint that he knew some stuff about the cult. Flashing the new badge, Drujifhrd used Manipulator to convince the proprietor that he was a cultist in need of information.

Through him, they learned that the cult was actually a number of different Chaos cults bound to the same purpose. They were all at odds, but were cooperating for now. He revealed how to get to the temple and the password to get by the bandits guarding the doors.

That’s where we left off. Next time: The Temple of Elemental Evil!

Awesome! Is always great to read from the pros.

So, if I can get something out of the actual play is: you can take the adventure to town but only if its dangerous/bleak/sh**holeish enough to treat it as a dungeon (kind of like some results of the Disaster town table results).

What kind of problems did you encounter when trying to translate Town mechanics in Adventure Phase? Where there an instance when you had to tell the players “you can’t use X like that, but you can test Y”?

I’m still confused about how you solve Circles/Resources mechanics outside of Town. In my game I ruled that outside of Town there are no Resources tests, you can only pay with cash (but if I remember correctly, it was full value, no test, I can’t remember well).

Stay cool :cool:

It’s all still an experiment. They didn’t try to do anything that I felt obligated to block. Each Resources test advanced the grind. If they had made a Circles test, that too would have advanced the grind.

I don’t know that it necessarily needs to be a shithole – it might work with something like Lankhmar with adventure in the sewers or sneaking into the thieves’ guild. But it is the adventure phase. The grind is constant. If you decide to go to the inn to rest up or get a meal, you go into the town phase with all the procedures that pertain to that from throwing out spoiled fresh rations to checking for town events and logging lifestyle.

That’s interesting. Could you treat it as a camp phase instead? (need that check in order to find an actual place to stay? Hive of scum and villainy? Maybe just a crowded metropolis?) And then add a GM imposed resources test at the end?
Either for free as part of camp, or as the first turn of the grind as soon as they check out. :smiley:

Maybe that’s too mean. I’m still fine-tuning difficulty.

I’m really hesitant about that part. Squatting in an abandoned building, maybe. Going to an inn or sleeping in stables, etc., would definitely be town phase. Sacking out on the street probably should be too.

Don’t know if you saw this about a year ago, but I wrote a Mod/Hack for the town phase to allow for more adventuring: Townies: Life in the Rut

It seems relevant to this topic, if you’re looking for some ideas or alternatives.