How to Play Torchbearer?

Ok, maybe some of you can weigh in here. When I run well-designed games, I tend to lean very heavily on the rules and procedures listed in the book, possibly to the detriment of actual play. When I read Torchbearer, I see: Enter dungeon, go to town, heal up, get new lead, repeat. However, I feel like I’m missing a bunch of… stuff.

Should I be trying to do more with the game? Should I just wait for random town events and rumors to provide the distractions from dungeon delving? Maybe I’m doing it wrong, and I should be approaching it fiction-first and finding places for the rules to fit in there?

Any thoughts? I feel like I’m running it like a board game, but I’m not sure how to break out of that, or if I even need to.

Happened something similar yesterday while we talked about the game after the session (it was our group’s first one, and my second experience with the game), that, I’think, can contribute to what you say:

We had a really tough session. Some of the guys in the group felt like it was really hard to test in the game, that it was so complex the dice system (the turns, the checks, the phases) that it felt really intrusive. And that’s where it hit me: Describe to live.

One of the main foundations of the game is the relation between fiction and dice and it’s something easy to miss in the complexity of the hard numeric mechanics. Fiction comes first and then it is developed by dice rolls. What I mean? I mean that you describe what’s happening, problem arise, tests are rolled and then consequences met. But the beginning and the end of the cycle are what happens in the adventure.

Anyway is just one idea from an inexperienced DM.

Stay cool :cool:

Thanks, DagaZ, that’s a good point. I did try that, to some degree, but I might have been hindered by my own players’ character sheets. They kept pointing out their skills, rather than describing what they did, and that made it hard for me to describe back to them.

Also, and I might be wrong here, I think I needed to make more notes about the town besides just the name. What are the names of the Inns and Taverns? Which Temple(s) are available in the town? What is the Guild hall like? That sort of thing. Basically, there was a lot less describing in town, and I think that might have hurt the feel of our session.

Casey Steven Ross did some awesome sheets for customising towns.

Here’s photos of his Skyrim towns:

and a link to his excel template:

I think DagaZ has the idea. It was designed to be a story telling game first, with the mechanics there only to resolve conflict and risk and set the tone by applying restrictions and setting pace. That said, I feel like town is meant to be more mechanical, because instead of being narrative driven it’s primarily driven by the players at their own pace, unless they get into some trouble…

Happened the same to me, and it really made the experience a little rougher.

Stay cool 8)

If I’m GMing and a player points to his or her skills and asks for a roll, I say “That’s nice. Maybe you’ll get to use it at some point. What’s your character doing?” See Description Forward! on page 6 and GM’s Role on page 116.

The players describe their characters’ actions and the GM decides whether those actions constitute a roll and, if so, what skill or ability covers that action. It doesn’t matter what skills the characters have or what skill the players wanted to use.

There is a huge carrot for players in describing their actions thoughtfully: The Good Idea. As the GM, make sure you apply the Good Idea liberally whenever players do something clever. The combination of Describe to Live and the Good Idea really drive the game.

Town is meant to be a little more removed from that mode. You can get in there and roleplay scenes, of course. But it’s a chance to take a bit of a breather. Spend your loot, recover your conditions, dig up some leads, restock your gear and head back into the dungeon. You want to play it to advance your Resources ability. You don’t want to have any loot left over when you go (it takes up too much room in your pack!).

Yeah; the Good Idea is what it’s all about. You survive a dungeon by cutting corners and being sneaky. Which should encourage them to think about the dungeon in terms other than their skills.

Also, Beliefs and Goals still drive play; pay attention to them and use opportunities to hit them. They really help to flesh the game out.

having the players point to skills is a tough one cause there are games where a skill test is quite easily I roll stealth to get past the goblins. Then you got games like Torchbearer where you could say I am going to sneak past the goblin horde. By the way you mentioned that there is a wooden floor can I use my carpentry to figure out what the weakest points are to avoid making noise? Also I am goblin-wise (might be thinking Burning Wheel) but with that wise I know that goblins don’t hear well past 5 feet so I am going to make sure that I am staying at least 6 feet. so I would be rolling sneak +2d for describing the skill and because of the little extra work I can get a little better chance.

There are no FoRKs in Torchbearer and you can’t help yourself with Wises, so this isn’t really an issue.

Quick point of clarification: no FoRKing of skills or Wises in Torchbearer. It’s a much, much more restricted game. You boil things down to the main skill that you’re using–and it’s usually pretty obvious, given what you’re doing.


There are no forks in Torchbearer. If you have the Cook skill, it’s assumed you carry forks, spoons, pots and other cooking utensils.