How Hard to Twist?

Ran for the first time Saturday night and a situation came up where the adventurers were crossing a hanging bridge over a ravine. Looking ahead, there was a failed Scout test to see what was in the woods on the other side. Twist was that one of their enemies emerged and axed the ropes holding the bridge.

As the bridge fell and smashed into the ravine wall, hanging, I described another enemy shooting an arrow at the remaining bridge above them, carrying a payload of fire and oil!

At this point, hanging on to the slats of the bridge, the characters were able to put out the fire above by spending some water. Good Idea! They then chose to tie off their ropes and rappel down (made it a Dungeoneering test) to continue on by walking the floor of the ravine.


Note: No magician with Lightness of Being was present.

1) Breaking down a Twist so it leads to more than just one more test:

How granular would you get with a Twist like this? I was thinking I could have really hit them a lot harder with this situation - eating up more turns and making things more desperate. A Health test to hang on as the bridge fell, for instance, and then if failed apply conditions or do even more twisting.

2) Just letting go:

Without any conditions marked yet, the players were debating just letting go of the bridge as it fell. The way I described the ravine, it was very deep. A little meta, but the argument was that even if they let go, the worst I could do was make them test Health or something else to handle the fall and then twist it or give them conditions (Sick from the gut-wrenching drop or Injured for impact, etc.).

Or, best case, they succeed and then they just stand up and move on.

In this case, they were insulated from the Dead condition, even though it was about a 50 yard drop! They decided to hang on, but letting go seems a little crazy, right? Is it okay to say, “If you let go you will either die or be injured and there will be no Health test to ‘save’. Strategize again and come back to me.”

Anyway, much fun playing for the first time. We did a couple sessions back to back and one player wowed us all, qualifying for 2nd level - that is if he can make it back to town…

Why wasn’t the enemy shooting more flaming arrows after they put the first one out :smiley:

If the players don’t do anything to stop themselves from dying, then they die. If you tell them the fall will kill them and they decide to fall, they have decided to die.

The goal of a twist isn’t necessarily to eat turns, it’s to present the characters with a new obstacle to overcome so that the story doesn’t stall on failure. It can eat turns, and that’s fun (for evil GMs), but it’s not necessarily the purpose. So don’t think about it in terms of how many turns to eat, think about it in terms of what’s interesting for the narrative and feels right in the situation.

I think a health test to keep hold of the falling bridge would be perfectly sensible. However, if falling means instant death, then I wouldn’t have the result of a failure be falling. Test or die is a little cruel. They could be afraid though, or they could drop a pack while they scramble to hold on, something like that. On the other hand maybe you really don’t want this to be an instant-death chasm. It is possible to survive a 150 foot fall… it’s just really unlikely you’ll make it out completely unharmed. Ob 8 (number pulled directly from my butt) Health if you fall? Still cruel, but it keeps the story moving.

If I’m nitpicking, the one thing I’ll say is that having an enemy jump out and cut the bridge while another jumps out and fires flaming arrows, meanwhile the players can’t react to either, seems a bit overkill. Maybe a conflict would have been in order? A broken bridge sending the party down into the chasm would make a great compromise!

Solid advice. And, you know, I thought about having the enemy jump out, start sawing the bridge, and then I could have just asked them, “What do you do?” This would have most definitely been a Conflict that way.

  1. Sounds like a good twist to me! You could have gone with a Health test there, but I like your decision to let them decide how they would have handled it.
    I would not have allowed the good idea to douse that fire though. If it really was an oil fire, water wasn’t going to help. And throwing a full canteen at a fire while you’re hanging from a wrecked bridge…that’s what we call a bad idea.

  2. I marvel at your players’ cockiness. I salivate at the thought of players being that…um…irresponsible.
    If they had let themselves fall, I would have called for obscenely high Health tests for each character and then proceeded to shred them.
    Injure one or two.
    Make one Afraid.
    And then destroy the gear of the rest: particularly, destroy the warrior’s weapons and armor, and of course take the wizard’s backpack and lose it—no more spell book, no more spell memorization!

Death is a mercy in Torchbearer. If your players think, “He can only slap our wrists with an injury if we fail…” then they have some delicious life lessons coming up!


well, DEAD is a condition, right ?
what would prevent them from getting that condition, should they fail at an Ob6 Health test ?
(though I love Luke’s ideas about that failure)

In a test, a character has to be injured before you can apply the dead condition.

thx, I had missed this one.
That said, if you fall from 200 feet on a rocky ground (and have been warned of that) then Ruling, Not Rules: you’re dead, buddy.

Just remember that the GM gets to choose between a Condition with success, and a Twist with failure; and that the GM decides what the Twist looks like. In your example, a failed Dungeoneer test to climb said 200 feet cliff face may lead to a whole range of outcomes, only one of which needs to be “you fall 200 feet on rocky ground.” The character may well suceed in avoiding the fall, but injure himself (Condition), or find himself in an even more precarious position which no longer deals with the threat of a fall, but something entirely different – perhaps he kicks loose a small avalanche and the noise alerts the people who are after him. He makes it off the cliff, but walks into an ambush (Twist).

Beautiful. We’re all eager for the next session and are slowly but surely learning how high the stakes really are in the adventuring life.

Meantime, I’m trying to locate in the rulebook what one can do with failures, ie: I’m looking for the passage where it says the GM may take gear away in addition to applying conditions. I recall that it’s not just assumed but explicitly stated that gear can be effed with in addition to Twist or Condition. Anyone have a reference? I can never find things when I’m looking for them.

For now I’m taking the advice in Tricks of the Trade that it’s not revenge and to resist the urge to punish unreasonably, but I completely understand that the level of risk in choosing to let go and fall in that kind of situation is high and so the consequences can - and should - abound.

They rappelled down like gentlemen, but I also just realized that the ob was slightly low for that Dungeoneering test (I think it was ob3 or 4, didn’t note). Why? Because I didn’t apply Evil GM Factors (one of which is hanging from a rope!). Have to remember those factors next time!

Well I would assume that repelling down a cliff assumes hanging from a rope (actually, if anything it would give you an advantage wouldn’t it?), but I like your evil spirit!

eta: though flaming arrows continuing to rain down on them might be a nice evil gm factor…

Absolutely. Come to think of it, hanging from a destroyed bridge would be the first EGM factor. Sprays of flaming oil in their general area would be the second. I agree to ropes as advantages, yes. Good thing they had those. Without them it’s just grubby adventurers and a sheer rock face. Good luck fellas.

Check the Wandering Monsters chapter, section Personal Twists on p. 130. The Overcoming Obstacles chapter just defines Twists as “something that causes trouble further down the line,” but he former chapter offers a wide range of all kinds of Twists so you can get a good idea of what is possible.

There are a few references in other places, too. For example, the Gear chapter mentions that ammunition for crossbows and bows may be lost through a twist, and the sample adventure has another Wandering Monster twist resulting in lost gear.

[Edit: I’m stupid and can’t read. See Ludanto’s answer below.]

I think it’s either/or, not both. If you get a condition, you don’t get a twist. If you get a twist, you don’t get a condition. Also, “effed with” gear is a twist in itself.

D’oh – of course, what Ludanto says. Completely misread the question.

Another rules question on that: If you call for Health tests to say, hang on to the bridge as it swings into the cliff face, does it take a turn? Let’s say you call for a Health test for each separate character (can you even do that?). Does each one take a turn? I believe the answer is no, but want to make sure I’ve got it right.

A test following from a twist takes a turn, too. However, if it affects multiple characters at once, all test are made like one and require only one turn. See p. 60, “GM-imposed Tests and Turns”, for details.

I might be incorrect, but I never took the ‘or’ that seriously. For example, let’s say you leap across a gap, but fail - you fall in. Is it legitimate that you’re both Injured (a condition) and now at the bottom of a crevasse (surely that’s a twist)? It seems silly that there’s no way to fail leaping across the gap and both be hurt and have to climb back up.

I read the ‘Condition’ rules as a sort of fail forward clause. You get what you want, but this bad thing happens too - you’re Injured, Angry, Afraid, whatever. I would be equally comfortable granting success but at the cost of a piece of equipment (e.g. your sword snaps as the trap slams shut).

You get a twist - fall into the pit - which triggers a new Health text to avoid injury. So no, you shouldn’t get a twist and a condition at the same time, but the twist can lead to a test that leads to a condition. Again, this assumes that the pcs are doing something to avoid getting a condition. If you say “this will injure you” and they do it anyway, then I think it’s fair game to give them the injured condition without a test. An example might be making a blood sacrifice at an evil alter by cutting your arm.

Another point. Sometimes I treat lost gear as a condition instead of a twist. That is, they get what they wanted, but they lose a piece of gear along the way. This feels appropriate to me in some cases, even though technically if you twist then you fail.

Where intent is to leap across the pit, they fail, and I decide to apply a condition, the way I understand it now is that they’d make it to the other side (intent granted), however the landing was rough… They smashed into the wall and had to hang on and pull up or they took a roll on the other side (Exhausted, Injured respectively).

Now if I choose Twist on that failure and the twist is that they fall into the pit - that’s gravy. In the sequence I could take or ruin gear (your backpack rips open on a sharp piece of something on the way down), in addition to calling for a health test for conditions once they hit the bottom.

Twist could also be that they make it to the other side but failed to notice some Wandering Monster, or they make it to the other side but gear was lost to the crevasse. I’m still giving them intent in this twist, but making it harder to do what they wanted to do safely.

This is why I ask “how hard to twist.” As a GM one could put the players in a position where it would take more than one more push to get what they want and instead they are now snared in a series of problems to solve. Sometimes it feels like twists can be minor, normal, or major, much like the compromise system. As a GM it’s a bit of a challenge to decide when it’s appropriate to keep picking them off one by one, or to give them a chance to re-rack.

I like to think of “twist” not as a noun, like “plot twist,” but rather as a verb, like “twist the knife.” :wink:

The way I handle this is in how I frame the test. “OK, using your ten-foot pole as a lever to lift the log is a Good Idea. However, test Health to maneuver it correctly so it’s still usable afterwards.” If they fail, I can give 'em a twist: “You lift the log high enough that Rolend can finish the job, but sure enough, the pole snaps.” Or if I felt like it, I could still use a condition!