First session of TB - half disaster, please help!

Hi folks,
this evening I GMed my first Torchbearer (and first BWHQ game at all) session. It was half a disaster and I’d really love to have all of your suggestions. Thank you so much in advance!

Group of three players coming from different roleplaying experiences, one “hard dnd”, more stiff than the others, the two others more “soft dnd” experience (and also, about these two I have plan to bring 'em to Burning Empires or Burning Wheel).

Hard dnd played a halfling, Instinct “primum, edere” (to eat first, which mean always to look for food and water).

Soft dnd 1 played an elf, Instinct “my foot will not sink and the sky will not fall on my head” (to look for traps).

Soft dnd 2 played a thief, Instinct “whenever I enter a room, I ogle for precious items”.

My first problem of the session was this, each of the players, independently and very faithful to their characters, chose a scouting instinct. How should I play this? I played that in every room they entered (we played the first few rooms of Three Squires Inn) they got a free Scout test.
I have many problems with this:
A) When there is nothing to be searched (room without food or traps or precious), should I roll? should I give a twist/condition? should I “fake roll” just to keep them believing that something might be there?
B) All these instinct rolls are logged for pass and failures in advancements?
C) Some obstacles are set for a PC+helpers roll, when they roll all together for their instinct can they help each other? How should I handle the roll?

Beside these rolls for instincts, here are the eight turns played:

  1. First turn, they enter the Inn, they search around scavenging also for lantern and oil (“good idea”, no rolls needed), until they decide to ignore the upper floor and to head for kitchen; they see the blood trail to the cellar, the elf steps into the stairs, his Instinct triggers, he fails the scout test, (no log for the failure “since it’s an instinct”, provisional ruling to solve previous point B), he does a Health test to prevent the pitfall, he manages with the help of friends (logs Pass).

  2. Second turn, they explore Cellar and Cold room, elf makes a Hunter test on the moulted scales with the help of halfling, they fail, twist: Kobold patrol appears (logs Fail).

  3. In the same moment, third turn, thief takes away the gouges in front of dog’s room, Laborer test (logs first test on Beginner’s luck).

  4. Fourth turn, a conflict arises, Kobolds want to capture them, they want to drive off kobolds, with the help of the dog they just freed (I decided it counts as help in the conflict, +1D to every roll as if he were a mate). They manage the conflict very well, after our first problems with Discord (unfortunately wonderful @Saelvarath’s Arenjii wasn’t used this evening, we’ll catch up next one, definitely it’ll be most useful). In particular they manage, having chosen “defend” at the right timing, to win the conflict with full disposition.
    First problem: what do they win since they are driving off and the kobolds are capturing? I ruled “kobolds flee, you are intact [no condition at all], you log each one fighter test at your choice [either pass or fail]”. I’m quite sure I mistook something here.
    Second problem: we all enjoyed the “mini game” nature of the combat, but I wasn’t able to convey the wonderful “narrative” aspect of this ruleset, as depicted in “conflict resolution example” in the handbook, just after the Three Squires adventure and before the Index. Please, give suggestions, I perceived that at times “hard player” got bored (“what is disposition?” “what do I do in the meanwhile, beside just saying that I’m helping?”).

In the meanwhile, they all got hungry and thirsty, at the end of combat. Because forth turn was passed. Elf drank immediately, the others did not, wanting to save wine.

  1. They got in the dog’s room, they actually got their instinct triggered on real things (trap: the net; precious: the hidden stash; food: the beer). They all failed, trap activated, thief got a Health test with help from friends, fails, they got captured by returning kobolds patrol (maybe here I should’ve put rats stealing their food? maybe just capture after having driven off previous capture was a bit sadistic? :tired_face:) Since they are dragged for many rooms they get exhausted. Did I exaggerate, giving condition and twist? I think yes :-1: (logs Fail)

  2. They are in cages, robbed of weapons and backpacks/satchels but not of everything else (kobolds are in a hurry). Halfling has swiss-army-knife as raiment, he tries to open the cage, he fails, gets angry (logs Fail).
    Also, another problem: they are in dark light, can the halfling try to Criminalize the lock? Or does dark light prevent that? Or does dark light give double obstacle? What’s the difference between dim light and dark?

  3. Thief tries to scavenge stuff left there looking for some leverage or tool, with the help of elf, he fails and they both get angry. (logs Fail)

  4. Halfling gives the swiss-army-knife to thief, “you better try”, thief manages with help of halfling, and then immediately frees (without test) also halfling and elf. They recover all of their arms and stuff, and halfling and thief drink wine and recover hungry and thirsty; then the whole group gets h&t, plus already exhausted and angry (next grind might be disastrous sick :scream: ) (logs Pass).

We stopped here, and I also forgot to give artha.

So, please be thorough and harsh on all the things I mistook as the noob I am. But especially, if I gave too many conditions, how do I remedy? Do I just say “sorry guys, I was wrong, actually you only are hungry and thirsty”? What did you do between a session and the subsequent, if you realized you mistook rules and gave to many conditions?

Thanks in advance to everybody! :heart:

2 Likes

The big misstep was with the instincts. They definitely should not be granting a zillion tests. The instincts should be less flowery, and clear on what they accomplish.

This should likely grant a Survivalist test when making camp to find a water source.

This is the only one that should let the player test for traps, but should likely still have a tighter situation.

I’d clarify if this is meant to be looking for hidey-holes, or if wanting to spot them first, and not share.

(more later)

5 Likes

For the instincts portion I agree with stormsweeper that they should be a bit more clear.

franzvw
A) When there is nothing to be searched (room without food or traps or precious), should I roll? should I give a twist/condition? should I “fake roll” just to keep them believing that something might be there?

You could go either way with this. Either tell them they find nothing dangerous/of interest in the room, or have them roll anyway. If they succeed tell them they find nothing of interest in this room and maybe give hints into dangers that lie in adjacent rooms or the dungeon’s current inhabitants. Giving out tests does provide the risk of handing out additional twists/conditions but also gives the players advancement checks and the opportunity to earn checks towards camping/recovery.

As a note I personally don’t feel the need to make hidden rolls as a GM, especially with the fail forward nature of Torchbearer.

B) All these instinct rolls are logged for pass and failures in advancements?

The instinct rolls do count for advancement.

C) Some obstacles are set for a PC+helpers roll, when they roll all together for their instinct can they

Normally helping is not allowed on instincts unless the helping characters also have a relevant instinct so even though your players have overlapping instincts they will still gain a benefit from them.

First problem: what do they win since they are driving off and the kobolds are capturing? I ruled “kobolds flee, you are intact [no condition at all].

When starting a conflict I like to record the goals of both sides, in this case the kobold’s goal was to capture the PCs and the PC’s goal was to drive off the kobolds. As for which conflict type to use I typically use whichever has the highest stakes kill > capture > drive off.

you log each one fighter test at your choice [either pass or fail]”. I’m quite sure I mistook something here.

Players record the 1st check they earn for each skill used as it happens in the conflict.

  • If a players first turn was a successful attack they would record 1 success mark for the fighter skill and ignore any further checks.
  • If a player does not succeed or fail at fighter (either they didn’t use it or only had independent checks) they do not get a check.
  • If multiple skills were used players can earn multiple checks. Ex: if a player made fighter and will checks they could earn checks for both.

Second problem: we all enjoyed the “mini game” nature of the combat, but I wasn’t able to convey the wonderful “narrative” aspect of this ruleset, as depicted in “conflict resolution example” in the handbook, just after the Three Squires adventure and before the Index. Please, give suggestions, I perceived that at times “hard player” got bored (“what is disposition?” “what do I do in the meanwhile, beside just saying that I’m helping?”).

Give descriptions of what the opposition is doing to give an example and set the tone. After that have the acting player describe their action and if players want to help have them describe as well. This is somewhat of a group effort and will require some by in on the player’s part. Personally I feel it is the GM’s job to lead by example but it is very much a group effort.

They got in the dog’s room, they actually got their instinct triggered on real things (trap: the net; precious: the hidden stash; food: the beer). They all failed, trap activated, thief got a Health test with help from friends, fails, they got captured by returning kobolds patrol (maybe here I should’ve put rats stealing their food? maybe just capture after having driven off previous capture was a bit sadistic? :tired_face:) Since they are dragged for many rooms they get exhausted. Did I exaggerate, giving condition and twist? I think yes :-1: (logs Fail)

I don’t think giving a twist + condition is wrong 100% of the time but you may have over done it a bit for new players PCs but I wouldn’t seat it too much.

They are in cages, robbed of weapons and backpacks/satchels but not of everything else (kobolds are in a hurry). Halfling has swiss-army-knife as raiment, he tries to open the cage, he fails, gets angry (logs Fail).

Even though he failed you could optionally allow him succeed at the task but given a condition or a twist along with the success.

Also, another problem: they are in dark light, can the halfling try to Criminalize the lock? Or does dark light prevent that? Or does dark light give double obstacle? What’s the difference between dim light and dark?

Personally I would count it as a factor and increase the Ob by 1.

  1. Thief tries to scavenge stuff left there looking for some leverage or tool, with the help of elf, he fails and they both get angry. (logs Fail)
  2. Halfling gives the swiss-army-knife to thief, “you better try”, thief manages with help of halfling, and then immediately frees (without test) also halfling and elf. They recover all of their arms and stuff, and halfling and thief drink wine and recover hungry and thirsty; then the whole group gets h&t, plus already exhausted and angry (next grind might be disastrous sick :scream: ) (logs Pass).

Rather than let them fail multiple times I would let them succeed but give out more severe conditions, maybe afraid or exhausted to everyone involved in the check or through a twist: You manage to get the lock open with the swiss army knife but hear the footsteps of the returning kobolds.

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Hmmm, I don’t agree with @Ethan on a few key points.

Never test if there’s no obstacle or nothing to find. There’s no automatic test; players must describe exactly what they’re doing and the GM should ask questions and give detailed descriptions back. This back and forth is the heart of the game. When the GM thinks there is an obstacle, then they call a test. If a player has an applicable instinct, they call that out after the GM asks for a test.

You always log advancement for instinct tests (unless you’re Sick, of course).

Don’t give a twist and a conditon; pick one or the other. Succeeding with a conditon is punishing enough.

6 Likes

Hi there Franz. Welcome!

First things first: Instincts don’t trigger automatically. Everything in Torchbearer starts with your descriptions and the players then asking questions and telling you what their characters are doing.

You, as the GM, decide when those characters’ actions trigger a test. It is up to the player that triggered the test to say, ‘Oh! This falls within my instinct!’ It’s not enough for a player to say, ‘I search for traps.’ Instead of calling for a test at that point, you should respond, ‘OK, how do you do that? What do you do? Where do you look? What are you looking for? What do you touch? Where are you putting your feet?’

You don’t need them to lay everything out in minute detail, but they’ve got to give you something. When you decide that something that character is doing has triggered a test, it’s that character that tests. It doesn’t matter if another player has the instinct that covers that situation.

It might be helpful to take another look at the Describe to Live section of the Tricks of the Trade chapter.

On to your specific questions:

A: You should only call for a roll if there is something to find. If there’s no trap, describe them searching but tell them they find nothing. This is described, but perhaps a bit buried, in the Obstacle to Obstacle section of the Tricks of the Trade chapter (page 117):

If there’s no new information to be gained, there’s no reason to test. Simply describe what’s happening and move on.

B: Whether something is an instinct or not, if a test is rolled, the player who rolls the dice always logs an advancement except:

  • If the character is Sick (see Sick Effect on page 78)
  • The test had an Obstacle of 0 (e.g., rolling for disposition in a conflict, rolling for a Feint against a Defend, etc.) (See Obstacle 0 Tests on page 104)

C: Players can help each other on Instinct rolls, but only if they have a related instinct or a related Nature descriptor. (See Acting on Instinct on page 107). It’s up to you, the GM, to decide whether something is related or not. Would someone scouring a room for treasure help a person find a trap? Maybe! You decide.

As others above have mentioned, you may benefit from helping your players refine their instincts.

My recommendation is to scrap the poetic framing. Instincts are instincts because they don’t require a lot of interpretation. Check out Writing Instincts on page 108. Instincts should be specific. You want each instinct to contain a conditional trigger and an action undertaken when that trigger is activated:

  • Always scrounge up food when we camp.
  • Always find a source of potable water when we camp.
  • Always search for traps before picking a lock
  • Always search for secret doors when entering a new chamber in a dungeon

Soft dnd 2’s instinct is actually fine, I think.

Other questions:
4: First question: The kobolds don’t have a conflict goal. You, as the GM, decide what the conflict type is based on what the players describe their characters doing. See Intent on page 67. If the players describe their charaters shouting and hollering and being intimidating, call for a Drive Off conflict. If the players describe their characters running in among the kobolds and slashing with swords, call for a Kill conflict. Only what the players are doing matters. If you decide the players have triggered a Drive Off conflict and the players lose, then your monsters probably drive off or capture the PCs instead. If the players beat you, you can use your compromise to injure one or more of them, raise the alarm, etc., based on how significant the compromise was. The Suggested Conflict Compromises table on page 73 should help you.

Second problem: Make sure you describe your monsters actions and insist that the players describe their actions as well. It’s not enough to say, ‘I attack,’ or ‘I help.’ Before they can roll the dice, they need to describe how they’re attacking and how they’re helping. You don’t need a soliloquy, but everyone must describe their actions before they can roll dice.

5: You should never give both a condition and a twist. It’s one or the other. Either they get a condition and achieve what they were trying to accomplish, or they get a twist.

  1. Operating in darkness increases the obstacle by 1. Darkness prevents you from reading or mapping. In conflicts you can only flee or riddle/trick in darkness. Anything else is fair game. See Darkness on page 61.
7 Likes

just as a player in a completely other TB game, I’ve noticed that the random loot tables and the volume of things being available is still a challenge based on the caution about space in the pack, satchel, sack, or hands.

So, it is true there are elements of loot that I really want to carry above ground, but there are other pieces that would overwhelm and encumber.

If you get a bit worried about the instinct that searches for food/drink or ogles for loot are too often going without relevant results, consider using the random tables to describe inventories of simple, sometimes impractical things. After a while, that decision of whether to pick up more things and which items to drop becomes a small portion of the table chatter.

I think those casks of beer are a good example, hard to carry around a cask of beer through all the caverns beneath house of three squires. If there is a room filled with kegs and casks, maybe they decide to leave those until later, and find they can only afford to attempt taking away one cask after picking up other things.

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I wish to thank all of you for the precious advices you give me. I’ll have next session in eight days, I’ll report that as well, such as it can be useful both for me and for other readers.

4 Likes

Yeah, not how instincts work. When the thief looks around for precious items, if it leads to a roll, it doesn’t cost a turn on the grind. It’s not a generic free scout test.

Why would you roll? Are you searching? But, no, if there’s nothing there to find, do not ask for a scout test to find food or traps. Just tell them that they won’t find any food. You can give them a general description of the room, but finding anything else, if it’s there, is going to be a Test.

Again, fake roll of what? They’re the ones searching. What skill are you rolling?

Yup.

If they have an instinct or Nature descriptor that fits, they can help each other. But an instinct to look for food is not the same as an instinct to look for valuables or traps.

What do you mean by triggers? Did he say he was looking for traps or did you just ask him to? Of course, he should have logged that failed test for advancement. [/quote]

Resolution of the victory looks fine to me. Conflict type is set by what’s happening. The players describe what they’re doing to drive of the kobolds, and then the GM chooses what Conflict Type they are in. It’s up to you to decide the Conflict Type based on they’re actions. They should each get one of their actual rolls for advancement, rather than everyone taking Fighter.

You don’t just say I’m helping. Describe to Live! If you want to pass a helping die, you need to describe what you’re doing. This one always perplexes me. Why is it less interesting to describe how you’re helping, then it is to describe what you’re doing when you’re rolling dice. Helping move’s I’ve used are knocking a table full of dishes over in front of charging weasels to help my friend’s Defend, or pelting a badger with arrows to aid our Maneuver.

It should be a Twist, or Success with a Condition, not Twist plus Condition.

Just to clarify, he gets Angry but he succeeds in unlocking the cage, right?

Also, another problem: they are in dark light, can the halfling try to Criminalize the lock? Or does dark light prevent that? Or does dark light give double obstacle? What’s the difference between dim light and dark?

Darkness prevents reading and drawing, so no Cartography or Scholar tests. But it’s just a factor in all other tests. Dim light is also a Factor in all tests, save riddling.

  1. Thief tries to scavenge stuff left there looking for some leverage or tool, with the help of elf, he fails and they both get angry. (logs Fail)

Okay, they both get angry, but what useful tool did they get?

  1. Halfling gives the swiss-army-knife to thief, “you better try”, thief manages with help of halfling, and then immediately frees (without test) also halfling and elf. They recover all of their arms and stuff, and halfling and thief drink wine and recover hungry and thirsty; then the whole group gets h&t, plus already exhausted and angry (next grind might be disastrous sick :scream: ) (logs Pass).

Finding somewhere to camp would be a good choice right now, huh?

We’re here for you, Franz!

By design, Torchbearer does not have a “quick start” or a “walk-through tutorial,” but it has all of us. It is that OD&D idea that you explore the game itself by playing and making mistakes and asking questions. You pick it up a little bit by bit, session by session-not all at once.

You say ‘half disaster,’ but I say any game where the players survive is ‘success.’

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I said half disaster because we enjoyed playing together, and some things went smooth and funny :smile:

Thank you all guys! Another question, how is the “sneaking” vs. “detection” ruled? As a conflict? Or as a simple versus test? And which skills or abilities should come in play?

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Use Scout vs monster Nature for sneaking (or Scout vs Scout for NPCs if applicable). Typically, it is a single test-a climatic moment where the character or the party moves past the guards.

For help: a halfling’s sneaking Nature can provide help to the scout test. The same skill (Scout) can always help. Pathfinder or Hunter could help as well. As always, it is the players’ description that determines help. If it makes sense in that situation, you can add another one Skill to that list for that roll.

Some more food for thought…

In general, to determine if something is a conflict, ask if it needs to be a protracted series of rolls or if it is something where the stakes are high and the outcome uncertain. Conflicts work great in situations where a compromise is expected. There are a lot of other considerations for conflicts, but that’s a good start.

As always the players’ description is the first thing to weigh. So, it could be possible that the sneaking becomes a conflict if the group is moving across a battlefield-ducking from spot to spot, but that is unlikely.

Then, you have to determine what the monsters’ response ought to be. Stepping on one ant is not a conflict-it is not a challenge. Crushing an entire colony of ant hills is another story.

Sometimes the rules or the adventure will even provide some guidance. For example, monsters that appear as an inconvenience for making camp is not a conflict-result in the table tells you can treat that with a single Fighter vs monster Nature test. But, it is a good principle to understand.

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Thanks for your help, @Koch!

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