Hack: Townies - Life in the Rut

He’s doing it again…


If you want to play a game of intrigue in a city, play Burning Wheel. That’s what they tell me.

Well… what if I want to play a game of dungeon delving adventure madness and happen to stumble upon some intrigue? Should it be squashed? Should you throw the rules out and play things out without them? You could. But what if it’s something like doing some extended dirty work for a Guild. It could work oh so deliciously with the Torchbearer rules… but you can’t camp in town and the lifestyle costs would skyrocket. Well, you know me, I’ll just hack my way out :wink:

Escape the Grind

The Grind wears you down. It eats away at you until there’s nothing left but pulp. If you’re lucky then you get out alive to see another day. So why does anyone go out there? Why would anyone face that horror? Because it’s better than being stuck in a Rut.

Townies is a hack that breaks the Town Phase into two components: Lifestyle, and the Rut. Lifestyle is how you live in the city, and the Rut is what happens while you’re living there.

The following services continue to add to your lifestyle as in the Torchbearer core system:
-Hiring Help
-Hiring Apprentices

The following service has been added:
Provisional Membership: You’ve paid off a guild for access to their facilities, while you’re in Town and continue to pay your dues you have provisional membership and can use guild facilities for craft skills. Only one guild at a time will accept you as a provisional member. +1 Lifestyle.

The Rut
The more you struggle, and the more you live, and the more you walk down the same old paths over and over, the deeper the Rut gets. That’s town life. The only escape is to be born rich or leave town, but as long as you’re here and not some fancy noble, life is just a never ending slog through the fecal crusted mud.

The Rut works much the same way as the Grind. Every test you make in town that isn’t part of your lifestyle advances the turn counter. The good news is that anything not listed in the lifestyle section above will no longer add to your total lifestyle. The bad news is that every four turns you gain a condition just like the grind… but there’s more. Things are always happening in town and every 4 turns you also need to roll on the Business as Usual table below. When you do so any previous Town Event already in effect ends with the exception of disasters or permanent effects. Burnt building have been refurbished, riots in the streets have been cleared, special merchants have moved on, etc.

Good Ideas and Instincts are just as valuable in the Town Phase as they are in the Adventure Phase. They can save you turns while you’re handling business in town.

Note: Rumors, Pray at the Shrine, and any similar actions from hacks or expansions that have the player roll on a special results table also count as a turn even if they do not necessarily involve a test. If you do test during one of these actions, e.g. using theologian to improve your prayers, it does not cost an extra turn, the test is part of the turn being spent on the activity.

Business as Usual
2: Disaster
3-4: Minor Inconvenience
5-6: Lose Reputation
7-8: Bill Collectors
9-10: Merchants Haggle
11: Minor Break
12: Lucky Break

Lose Reputation
When you receive this result some member of the community becomes offended by your presence. The GM may relate this to one of the tests over the last four turns or it may be as simple as accidentally bumping into a nobleman and drawing his ire. This counts as a Factor against all Resources and Circles tests while you remain in town. If you can resolve whatever caused the loss of reputation to the GMs satisfaction then the factor is removed. If you leave town for at least one session, then the incident will be forgotten.

Merchants Haggle
Whether you like it or not, merchants like to haggle. Have you been to the bazaar? Sometimes they don’t take no for an answer. If you roll this result everyone must haggle as if they just entered town. This test does not count as an extra turn in the Rut. You may refuse to haggle but you will have to avoid the Market until you do. Any previous haggling effect that you were under is lost, wither it was better or worse than the new one.

Bill Collectors
Time’s up. The rent is due. Pay your bills or get kicked out of that fancy hotel you’ve been staying in, and possibly out of town, or worse. When you roll this result you have to pay your current lifestyle with a resources test as if you were leaving town. This does not count as a turn. After the bills have been paid you have the choice of leaving town or changing your lifestyle, assuming staying in town is still an option. The good news is that by changing your lifestyle you get to take advantage of all the benefits your new lifestyle has to offer, including recovery tests. The bad news is that you’ll inevitably need to pay for that lifestyle again, either when the bill collectors come calling again or when you leave town. If you choose to leave town immediately after a visit from the bill collectors you do so leaving matters in town as they are, for better or worse. No, you may not have just one more test to complete that favor you promised your friend. If you want more time, you have to renew your accommodations, or risk sleeping in the streets for a few turns.

You Got Your Grind in my Rut!
Uh… that’s what she said?

The woodworker’s guild is having a feud with the mason’s guild. They want your group to infiltrate the guildhouse of the masons. You could do it as part of the Rut… but it doesn’t really make sense for bill collectors and haggling merchants to show up in the middle of the guildhouse asking for money or hawking wares. Instead, switch to the adventure phase and use the Grind.

If it’s more of a mini-adventure, where camping doesn’t make sense, then you can just hop out of the Rut temporarily and reenter it when the adventure is done.

If it’s a full fledged adventure with opportunities to camp then you can follow the full procedure for leaving town when the adventure starts and reenter town when it’s over. Quick visits to the market during the Camp phase wouldn’t be completely uncalled for during such an adventure, assuming your camp has access to the town outside.

If the players spend at least 4 turns in town and appear to be getting into some intrigue, then the time has come for the GM to ask the players to clarify their Agenda. An Agenda is a single statement like a Belief or Goal, however, while a Belief is a broad philosophical statement about who a character is and a Goal is what that character wants to specifically accomplish this session, the Agenda occupies a middle space. It represents the character’s purpose. An Agenda should always have a social aspect. It can affirm loyalty to an organization. It can describe the doubt and mistrust one character feels for another. It can be a statement of ambition with regard to position or wealth. It can describe a bond of love or friendship that defines and drives a character’s Goals. You don’t need an Agenda in a dungeon. There’s only the group, and the group had best be working together. However, in town, if you stick around long enough, things can get more complicated than that.

At the beginning of a session if you start in town and intend to stay there a while then you may write or change your Agenda. Any time you enter a new town you may write or change your Agenda. If you leave town you may erase your Agenda or you may leave it as a reference point for later.

If at the end of a session you have acted according to your Agenda while in town you earn a Fate point. Acting on your Agenda while away from civilization generally does not count. You can also Play Against your Agenda in the same way that you can Play Against a Belief in order to earn a Persona point. Again, this must be done in town and you can’t earn both ‘Playing Against’ rewards in the same session.

To Life!

This hack could have some great synergy with my “To Life!” hack. Trying to earn Life points can encourage you to burn up those turns or add more to lifestyle. Meanwhile, separating some of these Life affirming activities from lifestyle can make their pursuit more manageable.

Questions and Analysis

But Town isn’t meant to be Grindy!
Town still has the relax and reequip aspect connected to it. When you fist show up you’ll get your accommodations, make your recovery tests, and visit the market. All of that can still be done by the players fairly independently with little roleplaying and no Grind or Rut. The difference is that when that’s all over and you need to find work, dig up leads, or deal with business that is more active and roleplaying oriented it happens in a way that’s consistent with the feel of adventuring. Does that interfere with the downtime and book keeping nature of town too much?

Lifestyle choices
My goal was to restrict lifestyle to the way you live while in town rather than the things you do. How much are you living it up? That’s lifestyle. Did I capture that? Is there anything you’d like to see as part of lifestyle? Is there anything that shouldn’t be in lifestyle but that is?

Bill collector
You have a little more than a 30% chance of getting Bill Collectors every 4 turns. This means that you need to pay off your lifestyle every 12 turns on average. Is this too much time? You do need to spend more turns since many of the actions that did cost lifestyle now cost turns, but am I giving you too many? Or is it possible it’s not enough?

Merchants Haggle
I feel like applying a little more pressure to the Haggler skill doesn’t hurt. Note that you probably bought most of your gear when you first got to town so you could probably just avoid the Market and ignore this result… unless you spend a long time in town and end up using up or losing some of your gear. Is it wrong to possibly make every player need to Haggle a little?

Splitting the Party
I believe that the Splitting the Party rules should remain as they are even in the Town Phase. Without them there’s the risk that the Torchbearer structure could fall apart into abstraction. This creates a tension that encourages players to see their characters as a group, dependent on each other for survival. These rules allow the players to dip their toes in townie intrigue, and maybe play out a little group conflict… but at the end of the day they’re going to run out of cash and have to hit the road together to find their fortunes, again. This reinforces that dependency. That’s good right? Or is that not something I should be worried about? Should splitting the party be okay?

Yes? No? Addendums? Amendments?

Townies Forever?
My goal was to make a system where you couldn’t spend time in town forever without ending up living on the streets. Did I succeed? Can you game this system to make your stay in town indefinite? Even if you have a huge resources score, you will eventually fail a roll and start getting taxed, right? Is the Rut not deep enough? Is it too deep?

This is some quite inspired stuff! I like The Rut, it feels like a natural extension of the Grind. I will wait until I have actually played out a few town phases before testing this though.

I could see non-adventurers as being stuck in The Rut, getting jobs and barely making those resource tests when the tax collectors come calling. Perhaps they are following an Agenda that they might never actually achieve (gain wealth, love, & happiness). Don’t let your Nature reach 7 or this may be your fate!