Horrible Hack: Simple Man's Traits, Checks, and Camp

I’m gutting your system… I’m so sorry… I feel like a serial killer… Somebody, please, stop the horror! Aaaanyway, another system dissecting hack from that darn bard guy…

I was thinking about the mechanic where you use traits against yourself and it provides a resource you can use to recover and perform other camp activities. It’s a great mechanic in that it encourages you to play the depth of your character’s traits and provides a limit to camp at the same time… umm… it’s just… well… it feels obtrusive. I have to think about camp all the time. I have to decide, oh I need to camp, and then choose to play up a trait, not for the rps, but so that I can get a resource to use for something that seems to be completely unrelated. Look at Fate and Persona as a counter example. You aren’t thinking hey, I could use some fate in a couple minutes, better actually roleplay here for a bit. Instead you are continually immersing yourself in your character, playing up their beliefs and instincts, and if you do it well you get a reward at the end. And the reward feels right. It’s your dharma, it’s your self-actualization, and it’s monetized! Yum! You become more awesome when you are the best you that you can be, even when that you is a flawed human being. Genius! Checks just don’t feel that way to me. They make me feel like I’m being blackmailed into playing my character, not rewarded for it…

So… great mechanic… makes me feel dirty and takes me out of the immersion. Can we serve the intents of the mechanic without crossed purposes? Can we encourage players to play the downside of their traits and make camp a scarce resource without conflating the disparate notions?

Camp without Checks

You don’t need Checks to camp. Instead the GM will keep track of a Camp Security counter, which can, and often will be, negative. When you would gain a bonus on the camp events table you instead add to the Camp Security. Every time the GM rolls on the camp events table he adds the current Camp Security. When you first enter the camp phase, after the initial roll on the camp events table, you decrease Camp Security by one.

The Watch
During camp you should keep track of turns as you would with the Grind, however this is not the Grind, it is now the Watch. Every fourth turn Camp Security decreases by one and you must then roll on the camp events table again.

While your Camp Security is less than 0 every successful turn outside of camp improves it by 1. Successfully applying instincts does not improve Camp Security in this way.

GM’s Note: Decreasing Camp Security can be a good compromise for a Drive Off or Flee conflict. The enemy is still out there, and now they know you are too.

Camping too often or spending too much time in camp makes you a sitting target for mischief and mayhem. Will you stick around and recover more, risking the disaster that awaits you? Or will you pick up camp and keep moving, pushing through the exhaustion and pain?

Instincts still allows you to test without a Check. The GM does not increment the number of checks against you, nor do you have to roll against the camp events table.

I think this would work well with my “To Life!” hack. Spending life points during camp does not count as a Check and does not require rolling against the camp events table.

Fresh, Hungry, and the Grind
If players are camping after every third turn to avoid ever having to eat or drink, consider adding the following rule for added challenge:

Every time you leave camp you become hungry and thirsty if you did not drink or eat during camp.

Traits for Rewards not Bonuses
No more +1D for using a trait to benefit yourself. No more checks for using traits to hinder yourself. Traits are no longer a mechanic, they are a part of your character that you either play or don’t, so instead…

At the end of each session we do a modified and abbreviated “winter phase” type thing. Each person at the table including the GM names one action or bit of roleplaying that they think expressed something about another character. The GM then extracts an adjective from that description in the form of a trait. If the character already has that trait or something like it, then they get a fate point. If they don’t then they may add that trait to their list or replace one of their existing traits with it.

Working Toward Goals as Bonuses not Rewards
Since I’ve added a new source for fate points with traits, I decided to remove the fate point for working toward your goal (though you still get a Persona point when you achieve a suitably challenging goal). Instead the players can once per session add +1D to any test they make that is working toward their goal. If they have the same goal for more than one session then they may gain this +1D twice that session.

Alternaltive - Simultaneous Actions

During camp the party isn’t usually all together doing the same thing. This alternative works the same way as the above rules but with the noted changes.

The Watch advances every turn in camp instead of every four turns. During each camp turn each character may take one action or help, but not both.

Alternaltive (original post, for posterity)

Traits and Checks

Every time you leave town put a minus next to each trait. When you use a trait against yourself on a test that it was possible to pass, you may erase the minus or, if you have already done so, put a check mark next to that trait. If at any point you return to town with a number of check marks equal to your Nature then the level of that trait increases. If you return to town with a minus next to your trait, then the trait goes down one level. If the trait is already level one and it is not your last trait, you lose it!

Ignore any of the core Torchbearer rules that allow you to level up your traits, but continue to apply any rules that allow you to take new traits or replace existing traits. Removing or replacing a trait removes all check marks. A new trait starts with no check marks.

Checks and Help

You may spend a check mark for trait advancement to advance with help as per the normal rules. If you spend the check mark in this way it no longer counts for trait advancement.

Questions and Concerns

Is the Watch a reasonable replacement for Checks? Is it too harsh or too lenient? Is it too crunchy or time consuming?

Does the mechanic of improving Camp Security as the players complete successful turns work? Does it make sense? Does it feel right? Is it too harsh or too lenient?

Would you use a trait against yourself with these rules or would you forget about traits altogether? Would traits level up to quickly with these rules? Is there a risk that they would be used too frequently?

Hmm… Only successful tests during the adventure phase reduce the number of Checks against the players? Spicy, definitely spicy…

eta: incorporated into OP.

You’re definitely on to something! A different mechanic for checks and camp would be welcome in my book. I don’t have anything good to add to the mix just yet, but I just wanted to encourage you to keep fiddling with it. :slight_smile:

I’m interested in seeing Thor’s and Luke’s input on this. :slight_smile:

Personally, I like the check-based economy of the game. All too often, players will just shift their characters’ actions to fit the current situation rather than playing to their characters’ BIGs and Traits. I like that there is a game mechanic/reward for playing Traits both for and against one’s self, and that making Camp is difficult, and has a requirement.

I’ve also noticed that the need to earn checks feeling “cumbersome”, “obtrusive”, etc., seems to go away pretty quickly after playing the game more than a session or two, as players become more in-tune with not only how the system works, but how their characters “work” (or think).

If players (including the GM) decide to dislike an aspect of the game, and dwell on that aspect, the whole group is likely to now have any fun. I have had a few players in my games who do not like some of the “crunchy” aspects of Torchbearer, but instead of letting them (or me) complain too much about it, I try to use these points to challenge them. Of course, that may not always work (“haters gonna hate” :wink: ), but it’s been helpful to just acknowledge the parts of the game that all players at my table enjoy as well as dislike, and try to focus as much of the game as possible on the players’ favorite aspects, but not entirely throwing out / replacing the other bits.

That said, I don’t necessarily hate this hack, but I’m fairly certain I would not incorporate it into my game.

Yeah, I could imagine it gets to the point where you start to use traits against yourself regularly just out of habit. And if this were Burning Wheel I could see that even more. However, this is a game specifically about desperation and survival, not just storytelling, so I feel like part of you always needs to think about how many checks you have and when’s the most optimal time to use a trait against yourself to get those checks. If you’re making those calculations you aren’t in the moment. That’s not game breaking, but it just got me wondering if there was another way. Consider me the princess with the pea under her mattress :wink:

Actually, I think I’ve seen the most common use of Traits against one’s self following a statement such as “I’m never going to make this roll anyhow. How can I earn a Check?”

But even given that, I kind of disagree with you about the use of traits against yourself as a habit. That makes it sound like a bad habit. To me, it seems more like a good habit, in that players are paying more attention to what are considered more “soft” aspects of their characters in other game systems, and not just their skill lists and numerical values of their stats.

And as to the desperation and survival, again, I think that’s why having a cost for Camping is even more crucial.

Not trying to be too negative with these posts, just sharing my take on the game. :slight_smile:

Oh, I wasn’t implying using a trait against yourself was a bad habit. I agree with you, I like that it makes you think about your character. I’d just rather think about traits when I’m using traits and think about camp when I’m making camp… if a reasonable mechanic for disentangling the two can be developed.

Wouldn’t the trait hack result in traits levelling up rather quickly? The number of required checks would have to be rather high to keep the advancement rate the same, considering you only can increase traits in the winter phase. Instead of once every three complete adventures, this would result in a trait increase once per single session, if the player works at it.

If you have a level 1 trait then you can’t use it more than once per session. So it would require 4 sessions to level your trait, 3 sessions using it against yourself and 1 using it to your advantage. Unless I’m misunderstanding the use limits on traits.

I do agree that a level 2 trait could level fairly quickly though, if you push. Then again, if you push it you are taking a lot of penalties, so does that offset the benefit? Alternatively the rule could be that you don’t earn the check for advancement until the end of the session when awards are handed out. That way you can only get at most one per session.

I understood you could use traits against yourself as often as you want, as in Mouse Guard; the character sheet seems to assume this as well.

However, I just realized the Traits chapter doesn’t spell this out – it only tells you that you can use Lvl 1 traits once per session (p. 22, “Trait Refresh”), though this is in the context of beneficial use.

Can anyone give me verse and chapter?

To the Questions forum!


You were right! So yeah, I’ll have to think about that one.

The best fix I can come up with at the moment is having the beneficial use of traits requiring those traits to be (re)charged by using them against you. This has obvious problems of its own, however (value of checks, desirability of maleficial¹ trait use, handling of trait levels, balance of available resources vs obstacles/conflicts).

¹ Why is this not a word? It should be.

So, having played a session without the ‘using traits against yourself limit’ misconception in my head… I really see how it seriously affected my conception of traits and camp. Only being able to use a trait one per session would make you a lot more paranoid about when to use a trait against yourself.

Still, two of my players have never roleplayed, or maybe tried it once, before playing torchbearer. They have a lot of trouble both interacting with the world and playing a character at the same time. They tend to interact with the world like an audience member watching a murder mystery, rather than adopting a character in that murder mystery and playing it out. Using traits against themselves is very difficult, both because they don’t have the skill of embodying those traits and because they don’t have the skill of being a creative participant in storytelling. That would be fine if it were like Fate and Persona, they just wouldn’t get the rewards and maybe over time they’d build up their comfort level and start getting into character and the rewards would start rolling in for them. However, having traits tied directly into the absolutely essential function of camp is just game-breaking for them. It paralyzes them because they know they need to use traits against themselves but they don’t know how and they always forget to do it anyway.

Bottom line, I still think there’s a value to this hack even if my original motivation (that having to use traits against yourself made you paranoid and un-immersed because of how infrequently I thought you could do it) was invalid. It can help utter newbs to roleplaying. So I’ll keep looking at this.

It’s totally okay to play Torchbearer from a sort-of-third-person stance. Moreso, they should be learning to interact with the rules as they go. If they’re having trouble remembering to use Traits against themselves, ask them if they want to do so when they have fewer dice than the Ob of the test.

Sure and they could just say “I use quick-witted against myself” but saying only that defeats the purpose of the rule. The traits may as well be called “Trait 1” through “Trait 4”. They need to describe how they are using the traits against themselves. That requires a certain skill in cooperative story telling and playing a character that they haven’t developed. They will, I’m sure, but for now it engages their whole mind just to interact with the story like audience members at a murder mystery.

eta: Maybe we should play a round of Fiasco or something before the next time we play.

New thoughts. When you use a trait against yourself a number of times equal to your Nature (like beginners luck) it’s level increases. The less ordinary you are for your stock the more significant your traits become. Thoughts on that?

With a low Nature, a milkable trait like curious or fiery, and a player in need of several checks, that could mean advancing that trait every 1–2 sessions. Even with a high Nature, you could probably max out your 2 or 3 traits in one year cycle. If that is your intent, then go for it.

Okay, revamped the trait rules. Hopefully, that feels a little better. Also updated the questions section if anyone has any feedback.

Have you been explicitly asking them like this:
“Do you want to use quick-witted against yourself?”
“Yeah, sure.”
“Okay, how does being quick-witted make you screw up?”

Does that work? I’d think most people would be able to at least come up with an answer to a question like that, experience or no. Then they can expand from there once they start to get the hang of it.

Unfortunately, you would be wrong. I have been prompting them a lot because they’re so new, but when I prompt them I get deer in headlight eyes. It’s amazing how much creativity and story telling you learn from roleplaying (or gaming in general) that you just don’t get otherwise. Roleplaying should be part of the school curriculum :slight_smile: (<-- 90% serious)