GM new to Torchbearer, some questions

Hi all,

I’m about to GM a game for a group who (including myself) have zero experience with Torchbearer.

I’ve managed to find (mostly on these forums) the answers to many questions I’ve had, but still have quite a few remaining, if anyone could set me straight on the following it would be greatly appreciated!

  1. I’m looking forward to trying the conflict system, but it’s a new concept to understand…I’ve seen a post where Thor says to disregard what monsters/NPCs want when deciding what a conflict, it’s all about the PCs.
    1a. What do I do if for example a raging band of orcs, frothing at the mouth, weapons drawn runs screaming at the party, and the PCs try to riddle with them? (That’s a very extreme example, but what I mean is how do I handle a mismatch in intents between sides when choosing a conflict type?)
    1b. Do I pick the conflict type based on the PC actions and ignore the orcs behaviour?
    1c. What if the answer to the above is that I should declare a riddle conflict, and then the homicidal orcs win, am I allowed to kill the players if they lose this non-kill conflict?

  2. What would I do if the PCs won a drive off conflict against some monsters who were in a dead-end with nowhere to flee to?

  3. What do I do if the players want to kill some monsters whose immediate reaction to danger would be to flee?
    3a. Should I declare a kill conflict and describe them fighting the PCs?
    3b. If the monsters, who would like to flee, win the kill conflict do I describe them as having successfully fled or as having killed PCs?

  4. Barring special circumstances, can a conflict only kill pcs if it’s a kill conflict?

  5. How do (hypothetical) parties without a cartographer navigate?
    5a. How do you handle fast travel via a map if there’s an obstacle in the way?
    5b. What do you do if your party starts making a habit of fast travelling out of the dungeon to camp, and then fast travelling back to where they were again to continue adventuring?

  6. Can Supplies be made in the adventure phase?

  7. Can you fail a roll, log a failure, then reroll with Fate and potentially succeed?

  8. Can a PC choose not to help a disposition roll?
    8a. If so, can they avoid giving their Hungry&Thirsty penalty to the roll?

  9. You can’t use a trait against yourself in camp to earn a check, but can you use it to help log a failed test?

  10. Cartography tests are to make maps, not use them, correct?

  11. Besides fighting and exploring (adventure only) and recovery tests (camp only) are there any limits to the phase in which things can be done?
    11a. e.g. Cartography can be done in either?
    11b. Is the Survivalist test for a safer camp done in the adventure or camp phase?
    I’ve seen Thor say creating scrolls can be done in the adventure phase.

  12. Can you use a check to make a recovery roll when entering town and then test recovery for the same condition in town?

  13. Is there any reason, besides the fact that coins can be split up into 1D units, to sell loot first instead of trading it directly when purchasing something?

  14. Does a -1s penalty always apply, regardless of whether a versus test was lost, tied, or won?

  15. Do conflicts advance the grind by 1 when complete?

  16. Can wises and traits be used in conflicts?

  17. Can Heart of Battle, Wizard’s Sight, Touched by the Gods be used by players essentially as a +1D bonus once per session to Fighter, Arcanist, and Ritualist respectively?

  18. How do Wises perks (if not changing a wise) work? Do I then roll a test for any skill I like (can I be helped?) and log a pass or fail (can I choose which to log?) or do I simply advance a skill?

Thanks!

Hello and welcome, Ristomo!

I’ll take a stab at answering a few regarding conflicts.

The PCs describe how they take action, and the GM updates the situation.

So, before we even get to the question of “what conflict is this?” we need to get to the point in the situation where fighting or riddling occurs. The PCs might want to riddle, but if the orcs are having none of it, then a fight might break out.

You need to keep updating the situation until you, as the GM, determine when the conflict occurs. The PCs cannot literally say, “I want to riddle with the orcs” to start a conflict.

Here’s an example of how handle a party that wants to riddle:

GM: 'You see a raving-mad band of orcs rushing toward you."

PC: “I hold my hands up to slow their advance and offer forth a riddle…”

GM: ‘The orcs have their weapons drawn and are screaming… They don’t seem to understand your tongue. The orcs are upon you now and ready to strike.’

PC: “Alright then, let’s get out of here! I rush out the door and up the stairs toward the exit.”

GM: ‘This will be a flee conflict. If you succeed, you will escape from the orcs and out of the exit.’

There was an initial intent, but it was not reasonable. The GM is not a slave to the PC’s whims. The players take action, and the GM updates what is happening. If the players ignore that information, then it is on them. But, give them a chance to react and clarify.

Here’s that extreme example of how it might play out with an insistent riddler trying to force a riddle conflict:

GM: 'You see a raving-mad band of orcs rushing toward you."

PC: “I hold my hands up to slow their advance and offer forth a riddle…”

GM: ‘The orcs have their weapons drawn and are screaming… They don’t seem to understand your tongue. The orcs are upon you now and ready to strike.’

PC: “Holding steadfast, I bellow out my first question of the riddle.”

GM: You are trying to riddle them as they attack?

PC: Yes.

GM: ‘OK. Since you did not avoid the orcs’ ambush, you are now in a Kill conflict with the orcs. Death is on the line."

1a. What to do with differing intents?
The GM updates the situation, interprets the PC’s intent, and determines the conflict.

In the first example, the party wants to riddle, but they haven’t done anything to really make that happen. If they had orc-wise, it might be a different story, but you as the GM keep providing more information to the players until there is a test or conflict (extended action).

To be clear, you are not forcing them into a conflict of your choosing. You are letting them know that it is not currently possible to converse with orcs, and the rules say as much. Instead of quoting a page number, you can let them know that their desired outcome is not on the table. Then, the party has the choice of what to do again. At that point, they could have chosen to fight, drive off, or capture too.

In the extreme example, the party did not avoid the orcs assault. This is a very rare situation, but the party acted recklessly.Then, the GM determines that the players’ actions led to a kill conflict. This shouldn’t really happen, unless they stumble into a trap or ambush.

More commonly, you will see a party trying to drive off, but they describe shooting arrows and throwing axes. Well, that is not drive off narration. The GM should ask some clarifying questions (if it is an inexperienced group) or just go into the Kill conflict.

1b. Picking the Conflict
The GM always picks the conflict based upon the players’ description AND the situation on hand. If it is not clear to you what is going on, ask questions. If it is not clear to the players, describe the situation in greater detail.

You determine when the conflict triggers. Don’t rush into it. A clever party might find ways to hide, disguise themselves, or any number of ways to avoid fighting.

1c. Killing the party
Unless the party is in a kill conflict (or they are already injured), you can’t give them the dead condition at the end of the conflict. You can give them other conditions as a part of a compromise though.

The rules say death is only on the line in a Kill conflict or from the grind. You can’t, for example, fail one Health test and jump from Fresh straight to Dead. In the situation of the ambush or trapped conflict (Ooze special), players can end up in a kill conflict, but again this is rare.

Now, however, let’s say the party could speak orcish and had captured the orcs’ chief. The orcs rush in, and the party holds the chief hostage. Now, a convince conflict could be possible. Still, if they lost, they would not be dead. You could go into a Kill or Flee conflict afterwards or perhaps treat it with a single versus test for some skill.

2. Can a party always drive off?
No. If there is nowhere to go, the monsters cannot be driven off. It doesn’t make sense. As above, you should describe being at a dead end. If the party insists, ask, “where are you driving them off to?”

The party cannot game the system to manipulate the desired conflict.

3. What if the monsters are fleeing?
Then, the party should need to do a chase or capture conflict, and then a kill conflict or skill test. If the monsters are running away, a description of “stab them with my sword” is not possible. If it’s not possible, then it doesn’t happen.

4. Dead only from Kill Conflict?
Yes. Death is only on the line in a kill conflict or the results of subsequent injury or illness after already having the injured or sick condition. So, it is death from a compromise in a kill conflict or from the grind.

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Someone tries to make a map using nature or beginners luck or you just have describe yourself walking toward things and see when tests are triggered by your description. Not having a map just means you may have to test to recross terrain you’ve traversed before.

If it’s a dynamic obstacle (orc fort) you can’t fast travel past it. If it’s a static obstacle (steep climb) the map lets you bypass it. [This is my read, there are reasonable alternate readings.]

High-five them. They put the time into establishing a safe camp and mapping their route. Careful logistics prep in Torchbearer pays off.

Depends on the circumstances. I say that anything that requires unpacking your pack (making scrolls, healing wounds, mapping, cooking) must be done in camp.

No. You log the final result of the roll.

Yes, but that seems unlikely. They can also choose not to contribute to the conflict entirely. If they choose to enter the conflict, they presumably should try to win it.

No. If they are in the conflict, their penalty is added.

I would say that’s fine. I don’t know that it has come up. I have understood the rule to be simply: you can’t earn checks in camp.

Yes.

Memorizing spells and prayers are camp only for sure

I say that anything that requires unpacking your pack (making scrolls, healing wounds, mapping, cooking) must be done in camp. There are instances that an action usually done in camp could be done in the adventure phase. I might add an evil GM factor if they are not well-situated to perform the task.

Camp only.

Adventure to find a good camp site. Camp phase to improve the one you’re in.

Huh. I haven’t allowed that except in unusual circumstances (in a wizards study, or something).

Yes.

For some loot types, the value is determined when you trade it in, so you can find out how much cash you have before trying to buy something.

Yes, always.

Yes.

Absolutely.

They can be applied to many other things as well.

You just log the test. No roll

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Wow thanks very much Koch and moconnor8!
Looks like fantastic info there - I don’t have time to absorb it right this minute but will respond

Ah, thank you, I had the wrong idea about mapping, for some reason.

I was surprised too, my impression had been that scrolls were a camp activity.
It’s definitely possible that I misunderstood him

And although fictionally the orcs want to kill the party, if the orcs win this flee conflict then killing the party would have to be a separate kill conflict after the flee conflict?

What if the party came face to face with a single frail old kobold who, although armed, looks terrified and tries to flee. If the party says “we cut him down” then a kill conflict starts, but what will the result be if, against all odds, the kobold wins?

Or would I use the kobold action, not the party action, as the basis for the conflict type and declare it a chase instead of a kill?

Yes, if the GM Wins, the orcs would catch up to or capture the PCs. At that point, it would depend on the conflict compromise and what happened next. But, yes, you could handle it with another conflict at that point or continue with tests on the grind.

If you check out page 73, there are some suggested compromises. The losing side offers up a compromise in a negotiation. The winning team can counter or accept.

Appropriate compromises depend on the disposition of both sides.

For example, if the orcs win with only a little disposition loss, the players are in trouble.

The party (losing side) offers, “They catch up to us, but we’re ready to fight this time.”

GM: “That’s not enough. How about everyone in the party is angry and furious about not having escaped, two of the orcs got lost, and you can fight your way out of this with a Kill conflict.”

PC: “Right, we raise our swords, huzzah!”

The GM and players have struck a deal. The kill conflict begins.

In thinking about compromise, consider “why” the monsters want to kill the party. Has the party invaded their home? Are they defending their families? Are they jealously guarding some plunder? Make the monsters motivated.

For the frail kobold scenario, not everything is a test. It would depend on the situation, was the kobold the only survivor from a wandering monster encounter? Is the kobold a tired elder that is just fetching some water? Can this kobold actually hurt the party? Can it really escape? Why is the kobold in the dungeon at all?

You only roll dice when you hit a wall in the adventure where you cannot progress any further. So, it could be there is no contest between a frail, old kobold and a party of 5 in plate armor with swords and bows.

  1. If the party attacks, you could just say, “You dispatch with the kobold with a flash of steel.” No roll necessary. Move on. Or, if they cleverly use a piece of gear, you could call it a Good Idea!, no roll, and move on.

  2. A single Fighter test vs. the kobold nature. The player wants to throw his spear or shoot an arrow at the kobold who is running away. Ok, now this is a test. Let’s see what happens. Roll some dice.

  3. Conflict. Conflicts are extended actions. Think a scene of a movie. There are multiple actions with simultaneous action happening all around. If this kobold had some magic spell or special ability to even the odds, a conflict could be conceivable.

On the other hand, if this kobold were some villain (with increased Might and Nature) that the party had been hunting down for the past six sessions, then you might want to settle it in a climatic and dramatic conflict. Again, you are not forcing or railroading players into a conflict of your choosing. But, you have the flexibility to interpret how to handle this situation based upon the PC’s action and the adventure design.

If you ruled that the kobold was still a tough cookie, and you did a kill conflict where the kobold miraculously won, then it means death for the PCs. See Killing is My Business page 74.

So, never use the monster action alone as the basis for the conflict. The monster sets up the situation, the players take action, and you interpret what happens next.

  • You face a kobold
  • The players draw their swords
  • The kobold flees
  • At this point, only you know if it is feasible striking down the kobold. Is it really a test? Is there a possibility that the kobold can escape?
  • The players take action
  • You rule if there is no roll necessary, a good idea, a skill test, or a conflict

Think of it like a game of ping pong. You serve. The players bounce it back to you, and you continue to volley until it is time to roll some dice. There is a constant back and forth.

Finally, you could use this kobold as an opportunity to challenge alignment, beliefs, or goals. This is more of an advanced GM technique, but it is important for you to have on your radar. For example, the party is ready to strike, but the kobold surrenders. He speaks the common tongue and waves a white flag. Clearly, this is not your common kobold. Now, the cleric of Law is in a pickle. Does she callously dispatch this kobold and go against her belief and alignment? She has a choice to make. If she strikes down the kobold, she gets a Persona point for playing against her belief, but when they get back to town she will have to answer for her actions. In the tavern, the players will vote if her alignment has shifted. This one event is probably not enough for an alignment shift, but if she has been headed down the downward spiral, it could be a tipping point. The point is that you, as the GM, presented the situation to the players, but it is up to the players to take the bait.

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Thanks very much Koch that is absolute gold, it’s invaluable.

I hope you’ll bear with me digging one step further:

What if instead of a frail kobold, the PCs run into a tough group of monsters or NPCs who in a fight would certainly be a very serious threat to the party, but for whatever reason these monsters want nothing more than to flee the party, and the PCs want to murder them.

Assuming I decide at this point a conflict is what’s needed, how do I choose between chase (due to the monster’s desire to flee) or kill (the PCs desire to murder)?

If I go with chase and the PCs win, can the monsters die as a result, or am I at the same point the orc example got to: a second conflict (kill) is now needed?

If I go with a kill conflict when the parties come face to face, what is the result if the monsters win? Their desire/goal was to flee, so if they are forced into a kill conflict and win, what do they achieve?

I hope I’m not crossing the boundary into being annoyng now…

Actually, based on what you’ve already written I can, now that I’ve written it out, probably answer the first scenario (chase conflict, PCs win) for myself: yes, have a kill conflict follow the chase conflict.

But the second one (kill conflict, monsters who’d like to flee win) I don’t know how to handle…does a single “correct” answer even exist?

Glad to help. We’ve all been there.

Conflicts are always from the PC’s perspective.* But what they want to do has to be possible.

If what they want is not possible, then explain why. If they want to do something that is implausible, ask them how they plan to do it. If it is possible, though, then that is the conflict type.

Yes, in the first scenario, Chase and then Kill conflicts seem reasonable because you’ve stated that they are too fast and far away to slay right away. Something has to happen first before that other thing the players want to do. The monsters are serious threat and the result is uncertain. These are good criteria for a conflict to settle.

Now, I just want to add it does not have to be back to back conflicts. It all depends on what the players do next. It could be a conflict and then a test. Say, for example, in the compromise, the players win the chase but some of the orcs get away. The escaped orcs could come back later from a twist (maybe with even more orcs). At the moment, because the other orcs got away, there are only a couple orcs left. You could settle it with a Fighter versus Orc fighting nature test. A party of five against two exhausted orcs isn’t a conflict anymore. You want to move on, so you handle it with a single test instead. The important point here is “obstacle to obstacle.” You are constantly presenting choices to the players. This is the idea that the dice rolls are milestones or punctuation points in the adventure (see page 117).

In a Kill conflict, it doesn’t matter what the monsters want. In a Kill conflict, the compromises are death and injury. So, in the scenario where the monsters want to flee but the party assails them, the monsters tried to get away, but you said, nope, it is a fight. At that point, everyone is in a brawl for their very survival. Someone is going to perish.

*There are special situations like the Creeping Ooze and creatures with really high Might (Dragons) that affect what conflicts are available. These are rare situations. A Might 3 party cannot enter into a Kill conflict with a huge dragon, but if they foolishly try to kill it, then the best they can do is drive it off but the dragon can still kill them through this technicality. Death is on the line only for the PCs not the dragon.

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Thanks so much for the info Koch, I really appreciate it, it’s been a huge help to me getting my head around this.

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I hope I can impose on the forum’s good will a bit more…

  1. Should players always be aware of obs for independent tests? If not it would allow the GM to give twists that initially looked like successes…

  2. -1s always applies, but is +1s an optional choice you can apply after you tie or win the roll? The tiebreaking rules suggest that it is optional: the tie occurs before +1s is applied and the player chooses whether to apply it…

  3. If nature is taxed so that logged passes and fails for a skill are now sufficient for it to advance, does the advance happen as soon as nature is taxed? Or does the character need to log another test first?

  4. For chase/flee conflicts in a dungeon, how do you determine how far the pcs move/where they end up?

  5. I’m reading the conflict action table correctly aren’t I: it’s asymmetrical and only ever used from the point of view of the PCs - e.g. while the PCs might miss out on a roll if they pick Defend and the monsters pick Feint, the monsters can never be out-manoeuvred so that they miss a roll? Monsters always roll?

The left side of the table represents the player or monster taking the action and the top of the table is the target. It changes based upon who is doing the action. The POV changes to the player or monster taking the action.

action%20table

The Action cards from the Player Deck are your best friend here.

Defend Loses to Feint
If the player or monster plays a Defend against a Feint, they lose and do not act. The card says, Do not test Defend against Feint.

defend

Feint Loses to Attack
If the player or monster plays a Feint, they lost against an attack. The card says, Do not test Feint against Attack.
Feint

So, if a player plays Attack and Monster plays Feint, the monster doesn’t roll for that action. If the player played the Feint, then the player would not act.

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Ah I see thanks Koch - you lookup the table twice, once for each party, not just a single time from the PC s point of view.

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To continue taking the non-conflict questions:

Players should always know the ob. That way they can weigh when to spend rewards and earn checks. A test the players know they failed can initially look like a success to the characters. There is room for interesting tension there.

I believe that refers to level 3 traits. You may choose whether to use your level 3 trait for +1s after seeing the tie.

Note that you advance based on current untaxed Nature. If my Nature is 2/3, I need three attempts to learn a skill (the 2 is irrelevant). If I go down to 2/2, I have ruled that you advance skills with 2 beginners’ luck attempts immediately. I don’t know if this is the official approach.

Depends on the terms of the compromise. I have usually set the scope of the chase before the conflict (you need to get to the cave entrance be get clear of this thing, you need to catch the beast before it reaches the woods). The compromise determines where in that range the conflict ended.

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Ah, thanks moconnor8, that’s very enlightening.

So +1s is always applied automatically (if tied or successful) except level 3 traits, which can be left off if desired.

“current untaxed nature” was the cause of my confusion I think: I thought nature has a maximum value and a current value that only differs from the maximum when nature is taxed, the intent is clear now (although I suppose the question is still valid because maximum nature might drop and cause the same scenario).

It sounds like good advice, I’ll do the same for chases -set the scope in advance.

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… Another one…

Secret doors are found with Scout, but the factors for using Scout for this are unclear to me.

Most importantly though, how do I handle players searching a room? Especially a room that doesn’t have what they’re searching for? What will the ob be?

Do they need to specify what they’re searching for (secret doors or traps) and then I figure out an ob based on the the factors in the book?
This would work, even for rooms with nothing to find, but then two tests are required to search a room for both traps and secret doors…

Or would I tell players more than their characters know: if a room has nothing to find I just tell the players they don’t need to roll, and if it has something give them an ob and if they meet it they find anything and everything there is to find? (Even if that’s both traps and secret doors)

The first method seems better to me, but is that the intention: players declare what they’re looking for with a test, and cannot find anything except what they’ve specified unless they make another test?

Check out these two threads first if you haven’t already:

There’s lots of good discussion in there.

The short answer is: if there is nothing to test, no roll. No secret / no trap = no roll

Yes, the players always need to describe how they do something. How they do something makes all the difference in the world. If, for example, they correctly ferret out discovering the trap from your GM description and use some gear, like a 10’ pole, to detect it, you can say, “Good idea! You’ve found the trap.” (no roll) But, now they need to disarm it with Dungeoneer.

Or if there isn’t a trap, you could say, “Yeah, you poke around the floor, but there is nothing there save for the cold stone. You’re certain there are no traps in the chamber.”

Don’t worry about parties “searching too much.” It is not really a problem in the game. All it takes is one failed search to set off a series of twists that burns through torch light. If it does become an issue for you, give them some twists, grind them down, and then they will learn that they need to be judicious in their actions.

However, I find parties don’t search enough. They are so cautious in trying to survive or focused on something else in the room that they miss a lot of secret doors, forget to trigger instincts, or wade right into traps.

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Fantastic, thank you Koch. That clears it right up (that first link was particularly useful).

I had my first session last night, there wasn’t much time for adventuring after character creation, but what little there was went smoothly.

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You’ve gotten some great responses so far. One thing I do disagree with is that you need to wait for camp to test Cartography or to make supplies. That would be true of the player’s turn in Mouse Guard, but there’s nothing stopping a player from testing cartography if the fiction allows and they’re willing to spend a turn on it.

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I also don’t make players wait for camp to these things in my games. I feel like the grind balances everything out. This also allows the players more freedom in their actions and I think leads to a more interesting adventure phase.