How hard do you twist?

Lets say that Dudrik the Dwarf, brave adventurer, is trying to heroically climb a cliff in some unnamed dungeon. Luck’s not in his favor, and the player roll all ones. Time for a twist (or a condition, but we disregard them in this post)! Now, this gives me as a GM a choice:
“Dudrik, as you heave yourself pass an especially difficult outcropping…”
A. “…you drop the torch you carry in your belt. It’s lost, remove it from your inventory”
B. “…your satchel slips open and the entire bundle of torches you have on top gets dropped.”
C. “…you drop your entire satchel! Gone forever!”
D. “…you are spotted by a vile stone spider! It hurries down the cliff towards you!”
E. “…you are spotted by a horrible dragon! It comes soaring down the cliff towards you!”
F. “…you are spotted by a horrorterrorific dragon! It has you cornered on the cliff, roll for kill conflict disposition. Also, you drop your satchel AND your shoes, and it starts to rain.”

Well, you get my point. Twist can go from minor issues to certain death. How do you handle this as a GM without making them arbitrary? I have adopted some habits around this:

  1. I always try to pick twists or conditions that make sense from the established fiction. Example: If there have been no signs of trolls, trolls wont suddenly appear and attack the players. (This forces me to be generous with signs of trolls wherever the PC:s go.)
  2. If it’s a high stakes situation, the consequence of failure is more severe. For example: sneaking past the dragon is more dangerous (worse twist if you fail) then sneaking past a kobold, even if the Ob is the same.
  3. I try to give the PC:s a choice in all major twists. Never: “Monsters attack, roll for disposition”, instead: “You see monsters, what are you going to do about it?”. This is ignored for minor stuff (like “Thing X breaks”).
  4. I try to spread the pain. If they lost some food last time, I try to make the next twist something else, like an encounter with some monsters, a trap or that a lantern breaks. (I guess you could hit them repeatedly in the same spot if you are particularly evil, has someone tried this?)
  5. I try to not consider their current situation. If they are low on torches, I will still break their lantern if it makes sense from the fiction.
  6. I don’t care about the margin of failure. The twists aren’t any worse when the players fail with a margin of one compared to when they fail with a margin of seven.
  7. I’ll still give them what they want. Like, if they roll pathfinder to travel trough a forest and fail, I might decide that they get ambushed halfway through. But I wont have them roll pathfinder again for the same forest. Or if they try to loot a room with hidden treasure and fail their scout roll, they might get ambushed by kobolds, but they find the treasure first. This one I’m really unsure about as it seems to go against the rules as written, but I don’t like the idea of the players rolling for the same thing over and over again.
  8. I try to make the hurt affect only the PC that rolled and any helpers. (This is more for breaking their stuff, not for conflicts which usually involve the entire party.)
  9. I love to do non-mechanical twists, but almost never do. Like a twist that is a conflict between the PC:s: “Dudrik manage to climb the cliff, but his obtrusive swearing insults someone in the party. Any takers?” Or like: “You manage to decode the ancient runes, but their vile magic takes the happiest memory of your childhood from you. What was it? Now it’s gone forever.”

Well, that was a wall of text. I am not trying to codify how to do twists, but it’s an art to do them well and I would be very interested how others do it. Do you agree on my habits? Or are they stupid? I could see the argument for doing the complete opposite on all points (except maybe 1 and 3), and I kind of fell bad for inventing all these “house-rules” (guidelines!). What if this isn’t the way it was meant to be played? Your thoughts!

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This is a conversation I have long awaited, so thank you.

A good twist ought to interfere with the player’s intent. I tend to think of proper interference as an event that is likely to advance the grind before the player’s intent is achieved, or at least force a meaningful decision to be made. Merely losing a torch and then continuing to climb is actually more akin to a conditional success than a twist, right? But if the torch lands on a ledge just out of reach, and the player needs to make a health test to grab it, that’s a choice.

Twists are basically the opposite of conditional success. something has happened that is likely to advance the grind-- or impose a significant cost for not advancing the grind-- before the player can achieve their intent.

We can break things down into different species of twist: (by all means, correct me or add more here)

Redirection twists, where something about the situation changes to prevent the player’s intent. The door you wanted to go through was a false door. The advisor you were seeking is dead. The important thing here is that your intent is closed to you. There’s no reason to simply try again. Redirection twists are challenging to dream up in a logically consistent way, but sometimes you get one that’s just too good to pass up.

Interruption twists, where another roll is called for immediately because the players didn’t have a choice to initiate the action. You fall down a pit trap. Goblins attack you before you pick the lock. There are a few nice things about these: they’re logical. They pretty much guarantee an advance on the grind. They can leave room for player creativity without space for a bunch of hemming and hawing. Or the GM can just cram them down your throat (pit trap!) and you can resolve the whole matter quickly. And lastly, these options leave a pathway open for the original intent, which can help GMs retain their game plan integrity.

Fork twists, where a new option comes to light before the intent is completed (and may involve some risk). Your satchel falls, but is caught on a shrub halfway down. Your hand slips and you find a secret door mechanism. Unless you incentivize the newly introduced option somehow (or penalize the old option) then you haven’t added much in the way of drama or meaningful decisions; you’ve only revealed a new option with no interference with the player’s intent.

Loss twists, where gear is stolen by gremlins or gravity. I think this is actually more like a conditional success, almost, unless the loss of gear interferes with the intent. The latter makes this a species of plot twist. There’s nothing too wrong about just poaching inconsequential gear from the players, but you should use this at times where you’re not trying to increase drama (i.e. rarely). In general, I’d say it’s better to Fork Twist gear loss than to vanish things. The best Loss Twist of all time is to have skill supplies run out. It can be applied to so many difficult-to-twist situations, and it has a fork built in (return to town to reup on supplies).

I have experimented with my point nr.9 during the past weeks, and I have settled into doing hard and soft twists, like hard and soft GM moves in Dungeon World. So if the PC:s enters a cave and fail some roll, they might see signs of something bad. Like: “You see an abandoned orc camps. Seems like the orcs made it here before you”. This is a “soft” twist (compare to a soft move in Dungeon World) Later, I make “hard” twists, like traps left by the orcs, ambushes or orcs trying to steal their loot. The “soft” twists are entirely fictional. The problem with this is that the PC:s essentially get of scot-free the first fail (and they might even gain useful information!). In the later fails, something bad would have happened even if there where no orcs (it’s usually quit easy to make bad stuff happen in a dungeon). I try to compensate by making the follow-up twists extra bad, but that seems a bit arbitrary. Still, I like the flow it gives the game, as bad things build up around the PC:s.

I agree that some “twists” are better described as conditional successes. But should these be avoided? They seem to be against the intent of the rules. And still, I believe that if the players roll to pick a lock, they should never have to roll again for the same lock. And that requires a conditional success unless the twist is directly related to the opening of the door (e.g. the pick gets stuck blocking the lock, or the door opens to something unexpected). But if it is: “As you pick the lock, goblins!”, then I won’t have them roll again to pick the lock after the goblins are dealt with. The twist becomes: “You open the door, but some goblins makes trouble for you” (conditional).

Also, as I said above, I hate what you call “Interruption twists”. I replace them with fork twists. Never: “You fall down a pit trap, roll Ob4 Health.”, instead: “You feel how the floor gives away under you, what do you do?”. This gives the players agency, even if the result often becomes the same (PC: “I throw myself backwards, trying to grab hold of something!”. Me: “Ok, roll Ob4 Health.”. But, in House of the Three Squires (Minor Spoilers!), the first trap encountered by the players simply says “Anyone on the TRAP must make an Ob 2 Health test or BAD STUFF.” A paradox is that i have no problem with choice-less loss twists. “You manage the climb but you drop your battle-ax down the abyss. It’s gone.” is a perfectly acceptable twist to me. I think it’s because they are a lot quicker then a die-roll, which gets us back on track to the PC:s making decisions again.

It’s fascinating to me that we basically have completely opposite views on a lot of these topics. I certainly respect your interpretation though.

I’m really interested in developing a taxonomy for twists, because I think that help GMs maintain variety and keep things on track. I don’t feel that there’s a “right way” to do it, though.

Regarding Loss twists without interference (i.e. the intent is achieved) – yes, these are basically a form of Conditional Success without a condition. You pay a penalty for not passing the roll, but the intent moves forward. I’m not against this, in theory, but I do think it belongs on the “Conditional Success” side of the equation. There are lots of alternative Conditional Successes in the game – The Gift of Kindness for example. That’s a BW term, I think, but it’s a Torchbearer rule too-- giving the player the desired item after a failed resources test. In that case, Tax takes the place of a condition.

The thing to consider is that a Conditional Success does not offer the players a decision. It is my opinion that the game is about presenting decisions, and so the Twist is the nobler of the two options.

Unlike you, I love Interruption Twists. It’s the Grind that makes them work. In Burning Wheel, I’d say that Interruption Twists violate the premise of failing forward. But in Torchbearer, diversions cost time, and therefore resources, and that’s enough cost that I think it works very well within the system. They also tend to offer more player agency than Loss twists/Conditional successes. If you are interrupted by goblins, you may hide or fight or any number of things.

It’s Plot Twists (which should perhaps be called “Redirection Twists”) that give me the most trouble. These are the ones that seem most central in Burning Wheel. I hate them as much as you hate interruptions; it’s so difficult to pull them off without feeling contrived. Sure, there’s a place for them, but they also tend to be destructive to the GM’s game plan, which is important to me.

I love your addition of “Soft Twists” and I should like to include it in the Taxonomy. These are consequences that are negative but intangible-- and it seems that they may not offer interference with the intent, so they can also qualify as alternative Conditional Successes. I’d love to get your thoughts on that.

One last point about Plot Twists and Soft Twists – I find myself dwelling on the Obstacle to Obstacle passage on pg 117 lately. With certain kinds of twists, it’s crucial to present new information immediately. I think that Interference Twists are nice (in my opinion) because players will naturally take up where they left off, if possible. Loss twists (that are Forks) and Forks in general have the advantage of baking Ob-to-Ob right in there-- the new information is the new path or option.

But if you do a soft twist or a plot twist, it’s really crucial to have the new info ready to dump right after the roll. If you change the parameters on the players and interfere with their intent without providing a new obstacle, the game WILL come to a sputtering halt. Most times, the GM takes control after a moment of flailing amongst the players, but it’s much better to skip this moment of ambiguity. So if you’re going to use a Redirection or a a Soft twist that derails the intent, be sure to have a new obstacle to chase it with immediately.


Twist Types - Twists interfere with player intent*
Redirection (includes the Enmity Clause)

  • Retrievable Loss
  • Fixable Breakage

Penalized Success - Intent is achieved, but…
Irretrievable Loss
Irreparable Breakage
Tax (i.e. “The Gift of Kindness”)

There is design space for all sorts of other craziness in the system. Clearly, looking at the above list of things we’ve discussed, one can imagine a Redirection or a Fork version of a conditional success. But redirections, forks, and softs don’t have an inherent cost – so what delineates a Soft Conditional Success from an actually passed roll result?

  • It must be said that this definition is extrapolated from Burning Wheel (likely inaccurately), so if anyone wants to challenge me on this I welcome their wisdom.
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Penalized success is a tool for the GM to keep things on track. It’s a very welcome change from BW, in my opinion, because I find that “twists only” quickly degrades whatever plans I had. In a character-driven game like BW that can work, but Torchbearer has a map. It has a dungeon. The GM is meant to have a plan. The players are exploring a space, not defining a narrative.

Still, the time to use a Penalized Success (in my opinion) is when doing otherwise would degrade your plans to an unacceptable degree. If you can twist, you should twist, because the game is about presenting choices and ratcheting up tension.

So no, they shouldn’t be avoided, but nor should the be overused.

I agree 100% with this sentiment, and yes, it does pose complications for Interruption twists. To take the example of being interrupted by Goblins whilst picking a lock; do you have to roll to pick the lock again once the goblins are dispatched? Of course not.

Torchbearer rolls are not a simulation-- rather, it is the player and the GM vying for control over a salient moment in the plot. The roll was never to determine whether or not the lock would open, the roll was to determine if anything would go wrong. The interruption of the goblins costs time, and may blow out into several other rolls, conditions or consequences, depending on what the players choose to do. After they return to the lock, that roll still stands. Opening the lock with no threat of Goblins is now a Good Idea.

By extension, if there was no threat of Goblins to begin with, opening the lock should have been a Good Idea. Quoth Describe to Live, p116: “If the action doesn’t merit a possible twist or condition, then you should simply describe the outcome of the action and move on.”

Did I manage to sway your opinion of Interruption Twists with the above logic?

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Why do you assume that BW can’t handle penalized success as a failure condition?

Probably nothing more than my own ignorance-- I’m less familiar with BW than I am with Torchbearer, but I don’t recall seeing penalized success as an option in the book. I’m sure it would be simple enough to hack it in there, but to the best of my recollection it is “twists only” from a Torchbearer perspective. Am I incorrect?

Penalized success in BW would be like: “You make the leap across the chasm, but only barely. Your chest slams into the top lip, knocking the air out of you before you scramble up. Take a Superficial wound.”

Burning wheel doesn’t have an explicit Twist or Conditions mechanic, but it can model either, as Shaun’s example shows.

A conditional success does not offer the players interesting choices, but they are fast and easy to handle, so that the game can progress, which leads to new interesting choices. I think you could run a session with almost only conditional successes and one with almost only twists and have the same number of interesting decisions being made. After all, your dungeon is full of interesting stuff for your players to find.

You have swayed my opinion on interruption twists. I think i got confused by what you meant by it. Goblins arriving while the PC:s pick a lock is a perfectly fine twist! (This is especially true if the goblins have been established in the fiction). What i dislike is the very similar twist: “While you pick the lock, goblin attack! Roll for disposition!”. I feel that we agree this version is inferior, as it gives less agency to the players. Another example (from my previous post): “As you open the door, you feel the ground give way from under you. A pit trap! What do you do?” vs. “… A pit trap! Roll Health Ob4 to dodge”. The first one is a good twist, the last one is lazy GM:ing.

Well, I think some are really easy. “The cliff is unclimbable, you must find another way”, “The lock is to advanced for you to pick it, you must try something else”. But this is also kind of boring. I have a hard time wrapping my head around “Redirection Twists”. A good one might be: “You fall down the pit trap to a lower level of the dungeon. You land in a small room with strange door. What do you do?”. Or is that an interruption twist to you?

I agree that “soft twists” are more like “soft conditional successes”. Sometimes, I’m tempted to combine soft conditionals with other stuff. “The door was trapped with a poisoned needle. It’s now an inch up your arm. This must be the work of goblins” (interruption/condition + soft). But I think this should be avoided, as it lessens the soft impact (the players will focus on the “hard” trap and forget the “soft” goblins).

I agree that “Obstacle to Obstacle” needs to be kept in mind when doing soft twists. But this is true for all conditional successes. Example: if the players fail a criminal to pick a lock, i might say: “You pick the lock, but it’s a hard one and it takes all your mental energy to keep yourself steady. Take the “exhausted” condition” (conditional success: condition). I might also say: “You pick the lock, but as you twist the last tumbler, a sharp needle jabs from the keyhole. You snap away just in time. A trap! You have seen these before, in the caves of the goblin king!” (conditional success: soft twist: There are goblins and traps in these dungeons). In both these cases, i need to present new info per “Obstacle to Obstacle”.

What separates soft conditional successes from a straight success is a problem. I see it as a way to give the GM permission to hurt the players hard. If they find signs of goblins, you can hit them hard with the goblins later, especially of the take no precautions. But just throwing a huge goblin ambush at the players with no previous indication is unfun. Of course, you can just put goblin signs in the dungeon anyway. But using a soft twist is a way to establish legitimacy. “I could have given you a condition, ruined your stuff, etc. but instead, I want you to know that there will be goblins and they will be mean.” Now it feels legitimate to throw a huge goblin-sized wrench at the players.

Inspired by your list of failures, I made my own (with examples):

True Conditional Successes (The PC:s can just move on afterwards)

  • Condition (“Take exhausted!”)
  • Irretrievable Loss/Breakage (“You make the climb, but you drop your ax down the abyss”)
  • Fixable Breakage (“You dodge the spear trap, but your cloak is torn. A Weaver might be able to fix it next camp”)
  • Tax (i.e. “The Gift of Kindness”)
  • Soft twists (“You make the climb, but halfway up the cliff you find strange marks. They look like the tribal markings of the orks.”)
  • Story twists (“You read the ancient runes and they tell of a secret escape from the tomb. But they also contain an evil spell that strikes at your memories. Your character no longer remembers their parents!”)
    False Conditional Successes (The PC:s must deal with something new)
  • Interruption (“You pick the lock. But as the last tumbler clicks into place, a party of goblins comes walking towards you!”)
  • Retrievable Loss (“You start to outrun the chasing goblins, but you in your haste you drop the sack of loot you are carrying. If you return for it, the goblins will catch up!”
    Failures (Either the task was impossible/meaningless, or the PC:s position changes for the worse in a way which makes it impossible to try again straight away)
  • Redirection (1) (“You try to climb the cliff, but it’s simply impossible. You need to find another way around.”)
  • Redirection (2) (includes the Enmity Clause) (“You try to jump back, but you are to slow. You fall down the trap to a lower level of the dungeon. You land in a small room with strange door. What do you do?”)

Some thoughts on this:

  • Instead of twists and conditions, I have three categories: “True Conditionals”, “False Conditionals” and “Failures”.
  • Almost everything becomes conditional. I guess thats the point I’m trying to make.
  • I fail to put what you call fork twists anywhere. Any fork i can think of becomes an interruption. Maybe interruptions can be ordered by degrees of freedom, and forks are interruptions with only a few possible choices?

It is genuinely fascinating to me how differently our minds work on this problem. Far from being a criticism, it’s made for a very interesting conversation.

Tell me, why does your list not incorporate the player’s intent for the roll as the difference between success and failure? I understand that intent as a mechanical term is really part of Burning Wheel, not Torchbearer. But my understanding, and the basis of all my above theorycraft, has been the following:

Success = Intent Achieved.
Failure = Intent interfered (twist) with OR achieved at a cost (penalized success: condition, tax, or the like).

Your post leads me to ponder why you arrived at a category of twists that do not interfere with intent.

Also, I think even by the logic presented, Fixable Breakage falls under “False Conditional”, because it is a new task being presented as a choice. It has more in common with the Retrievable Loss than any other. But I must admit, I find the “true/false” terminology very confusing. Maybe replace it with something that reveals the assigning GM’s motives a bit more?

I also really enjoy this discussion. I think it might be applicable to fail-forward mechanics in general, not just Torchbearer.

I would put Fixable breakage under “True conditional”. In many ways, it’s the same as giving a condition: “Suffer x penalty until you can camp and try to fix this.” But sometimes, it might be more like an Retrievable Loss.

After some heavy re-readign of the rules, I think this might make sense:
There are Conditional Successes. The players achieve their intent (eg. climb the cliff, unlock the door, find the trap etc.) but with a cost. In the rules, the cost is a condition, but i find it useful to include all sorts of “costs”. There are also Twists, which according to the rules are “new challenges for the players to overcome”. But Conditional Successes and Twists might overlap! The players might achieve their intent but be faced with the “cost” of a new challenge to overcome! Or they might face a Twist without any Success, fail at their intent and this presents the new challenge. This creates my three categories:
Conditional Success: The “True Conditional” is better called a classic Conditional Success. It might also be called a direct cost, or a choice-less cost. This includes conditions, things breaking, “soft twists” etc. The players get what the want but a bad thing also happens. The players can’t do anything about this bad thing, the simply “pay” the cost. Then they move on to the next room.
Conditional Success + Twist: A “False conditionals” is a Conditional Success where the “cost” is a Twist. The players achieve their intent, but face a new challenge that must be dealt with or reacted to in some way. This includes “Goblins appear”, “A trap triggers” etc. Something that gives the players a choice. They can’t simple move on before doing something. But they still get the intent! Never: “Goblins appear as you start picking the lock” -> *PC:s scare away the goblins -> “Well, now you can try to pick the lock again”.
Twist: A “Failure” is a Twist without any Success. The players don’t achieve their intent and it’s impossible to simple try again. They try to pick the door but the lock is an unpickable dwarfish masterpiece. They try to avoid a pit trap but instead they fall down into a new area. These are hard to do well as a GM. They should present a new challenge to avoid being boring. But they shouldn’t be “The lock is unpick-able, and ALSO, goblins attack”.

So i think a lot of my confusion was caused by this middle-category “Conditional Success where the cost = Twist”. Because I find them highly useful and enjoyable, but lack the terminology to talk about them until now.

Also, there are no things that “interfere” with the players intent. To me that just sounds like the “Goblins” -> dealt with -> “Try again” anti-pattern discussed above. Can you give an example of this, I don’t think I really understand.

With pleasure. I bet we’ll drive some folks crazy with our attempt to codify this process-- but what do they care what happens between two consenting ruleswonks?

OK, so this is where you lost me. I think it’s because my conception of Burning Wheel intent, success and failure has informed my reading of Torchbearer. I’ll grant that they are different games, but I feel like the central mechanic is the same (despite it not being explicitly stated) – the die roll is a decision point. Who gets to decide what happens, the player or the GM? It depends on who wins the roll. If the player fails the roll, then their intent must necessarily be interfered with.

Penalized successes (like conditionals), seem like an augmentation of the system. Basically, if the GM feels that the player’s intent is something they also want, they can grant the intent and exact a price. But the purpose of the roll-- who decides what will happen? – is the same.

So i think a lot of my confusion was caused by this middle-category “Conditional Success where the cost = Twist”. Because I find them highly useful and enjoyable, but lack the terminology to talk about them until now.

My issue with this is that the Obstacle-to-Obstacle premise basically enforces this anyway. The GM’s mandate is to drop a new issue or challenge in right after the last one is dealt with. So since then new challenge is coming anyway, if you don’t use the twist to interfere with the player’s intent, what was the price of failure? If you remove thwarted intent entirely from a failed roll, then unfortunately that undermines the core mechanic of the game.

Now, I’m not sure why that’s such a big deal to me, but it is. I don’t think I would enjoy being a player unless I understood what was on the line for each roll. And allowing a twist penalty with achieved intent on a failed roll seems like nothing was actually on the line. Subjective, I know. And I look forward to your counterpoint.

Well, for starters, your framing the situation as though the goblins are easily dealt with. Do not ignore the glory and majesty of the Compromise. Conflicts of any type have a tendency to cost the players something, so although that scenario is possible, it is rare.

The player is trying to achieve something with a modicum of risk. That’s their intent. Penalized success is an interesting facet of the game that allows the Player and GM intent to align when it suits the GM. But I’m arguing that penalizing with a twist (and yet granting the intent) is functionally the same as actually passing the roll, since Obstacle-to-Obstacle demands a new challenge anyway.

Now, perhaps you’re thinking that it’s a penalty to escalate the severity of the next obstacle, which I suppose I can get behind. But I still can’t shake the notion that a twist result must undermine the player’s intent with the roll. Without that, it feels too disengaged.

So tell me, how do you reconcile a failed roll twist penalty, intent achieved, with the Ob-to-Ob mandate (TB1 p117)?

The reason I think these kinds of interruption twists are legitimate relies on the logic of the Good Idea and Ob-to-Ob.

While opening a locked door, you roll Criminal. Why? What was the potential for failure – not as a simulation, but as a story? If there were no lurking goblins, no sense of urgency, then there would be no roll.

Or perhaps the lock mechanism is particularly tricky, and if you fail to pick it once you break your picks, etc. So let’s tackle both scenarios.

In the goblin attack, let’s take your rare case. The party is ambushed, but they dispatch the goblins with a flawless victory; no compromise (yeah, right). Do you then turn around an “finish” picking the lock? YES. But it is only a roll if there’s something worth rolling for! If there is still drama and tension in the act of opening that door, then it should still be a roll. But if the ambushing goblins were the dramatic payload, then the door will be opened as a Good Idea – NOT as a penalized success.

If there were no goblins and the source of drama were the lock itself (let’s say it’s a safe, or the character is trying to escape a jail cell), then what consequences? Surely breaking whatever implements they’re picking the lock with would be a satisfying closure there. The GM is still bound by the Good Idea and Ob-to-Ob. In light of that, it’s not a roll to open the door so much as a roll not to break your tools!

The players have goals they want to achieve. They want to steal the treasure and get the hell out. They don’t want to Drive Off goblins who only drops Dried Leaves and Lint as loot. So obstacle-to-obstacle only means that the GM always should present new choices. It doesn’t mean that all choices are equal.

An example: The players are deep beneath Goblin mountain, trying to steal the hoard of the goblin king. They can smell the gold, but a locked iron gate is in the way. They try to pick it but fail the roll. As a cost, I decide that some goblins stumble upon them as the lock clicks open. Now, according to obstacle-to-obstacle, I must present new choices (not issues or obstacles, choices!) to the players anyway. But if they had succeeded the roll (or succeeded with a condition), the choices would have been “How much useful stuff should I drop in favor of gold?” and “How do we sneak out unnoticed?”. Now, the choice is “How do we deal with the goblins without alerting the entire mountain? Or should we just grab the stuff, run and pray?”. This is a far worse choice to make. Do you agree that the players succeeded at opening the locked door, but at a cost?

And also, wandering monsters are the typical specimen of twists! How do you do them if not as a conditional success? I don’t want to say: “The lock is unpickable, guarded by strange enchantments. Also, goblins appear.” (this seems like twisting twice). And i would hate myself if I ever said: “As you start picking, goblins appear. You can try again when you have dealt with them.”.

Well, I mean, it seems like we do the same thing. The PC:s rolls to pick a lock and fail, some goblins show up, then they don’t have to roll for the lock anymore. And it seems that my “Twist” is the same as your “Twists” and my “Conditional Success + Twist” is a bit nicer then your “Twist”, so whats on the line changes a little to the players benefit, which is not to bad. And the main issue (and the reason that I started this thread) is still that “A dragon attacks, roll disposition for kill conflict. Also, you drop your shoes and your backpack.” is a perfectly fine twist according to the rules, even though it’s never on the line in practice.

I agree. But the players are crawling through dangerous dungeons, there is always something that can go wrong. If nothing else, there is the “soft twists” (maybe better called “soft costs”) that i talked about. “You pick the lock, but notice signs of goblins. You better watch out.”.

Well, I think I understand what you are saying. But to me this makes little difference to me. The players get to pick the lock, but suffers the “cost” of a goblin ambush. I think my way of thinking makes this clearer. GM:s don’t have to wonder: “Wait, do I need to have them roll again?”.

And as you say later, there is always a risk that they break their tools. So it’s tempting to have them roll again.

Also, i feel like you focus to much on the “Drama”. I GM a dungeon as a challenge. If the players manage to get the loot and get out without much drama, good for them! It just means that i designed a bad dungeon. I shouldn’t do things to “add drama”, I should portray the fictional world in a realistic way. But maybe it’s just me being Simulationist, I understand if other play in different ways.

Yeah, we’re definitely splitting hairs at this point. But, I think it comes down to a statement of philosophy, so there’s more value in splitting hairs than it may appear.

Well, technically no. I understand this was an intentionally absurd example, but I’m compelled to point out that the GM cannot set the conflict as Kill-- conflict types are explicitly determined by player actions under Describe to Live. So it’s only a kill conflict if the players are trying to Kill the dragon.

A lot of GMs seem to rule that if the players fail a Flee conflict, they are cornered and must fight or die. Even this is a player defined conflict by Describe to Live, it’s just that the GM has literally given them only one option. And honestly, if your party fails a Flee conflict and is cornered and one of the players thinks of a legitimate action besides a Kill conflict, let them do it!

Sorry, that was probably too specific a response.

Indeed, I will not be swayed on this point. Drama determines when we roll. If there is no inherent drama, then a Good Idea should be used – always. It’s a style of play thing, but I feel strongly that Torchbearer breaks pretty hard if you approach it as a simulation*. Maybe this difference in style accounts for why I place so much emphasis on intent with failure outcomes. For me, it isn’t about whether the door opens or not – it’s entirely dependent on the dramatic context, because without that there will be no roll. Intent is what’s on the line-- we’re rolling to see who decides how it’s going to go.

  • There’s nothing wrong with simulation in rules design, but I think it’s pretty obvious that Torchbearer is not aiming for simulation. Wrong tool for the job, in my opinion.

Except if the whole door that is locked is optional an interesting Twist would be that the lockpicks break and the door is still locked. That way you could gain creativity or the players will have to go to a different place and maybe hope that there is another way in. Or they will have to buy new lockpicks/fix existing ones before they roll again.

These would be a Redirect Twist (the hardest, IMO, to pull off) or a Retrievable Loss/Fixable Breakage Twist.

And since the door remains closed, the intent has been thwarted. It would be a Twist with thwarted intent-- the kind that I’m suggesting are the only valid twists.

If the door opened, with the intent achieved, it would be a penalized success as Triumviratet has been suggesting. You open the door and break your picks.

If the door opened and there were planned monsters on the other side, that would be Ob-to-Ob, and functionally the same as a successful roll.

Trium’s suggesting that the door can open and there may be worse monsters on the other side because of the failed roll – a kind of conditional success with a twist rather than a condition.

I think it can be done in the spirit of the rules, but I favor convoluted logic to explain how. In my formulation, what you were really rolling for was opening the lock cleanly enough that the rattling noise wouldn’t attract more enemies. Without that potential consequence, opening the lock would have been a Good Idea.


So imagine locked door and behind is treasure, one twist as I said would be that they cannot open the door and there lockpicks are broken so they can’t lockpick it anymore but nothing else happens. The twist is that either players have to think of another option fo open the door or walk away to find another opening/fix there lockpicks.

And also, think about all the fun! :smiley:

Very true, bad example by me.

Well, i guess the drama discussion is a sidestep. I agree that there must be dramatic context for rolls to matter, but in Torchbearer, you are crawling through dungeons and there is almost always dramatic context. Example: The players try to climb a cliff. Twist! A great eagle arrives and starts messing with them when they climb. They scare him away (with great displays of alchemy!), and continue to climb. For me, it was a BIG realization when I grocked: “Wait, I don’t need to have them roll to climb again. They succeeded the climb at the cost of an eagle-attack!”. And I guess you can go your way (I hope I get you right here) and say: “Wait, the climb isn’t dramatic anymore now when the eagle is dealt with. The entire roll was not to see if they could do the climb, but if they could do the climb without getting noticed by the eagle. They don’t need to roll again!”. But it’s still the same cliff. It’s still tall and imposing and the PC:s could drop something or fall down and get Inured or Dead. I mean, the eagle-thing was something I made up because it sounded cool. How can we be sure they don’t need to roll again? And with my way, the answer is easy: because they already succeeded the climb!

Well yeah, but sometimes i want the players to open the door AND face monsters. And “you open the door but monsters” seems like a nice way to get that.