I chased two players away

So we’re all trapped in our homes and I’ve been trying to get a game going for a long time, so why not set up a remote game? We finally got together on Sunday to run through “The Caverns of Silence,” a 1st level dungeon I created using The Location Crafter by Word Mill Press. Great way to make a dungeon on the fly. After over 2 hours of tech support to finally get ourselves connected and able to hear each other, so got started. I’ll explain exactly what happened in our play and then explain the fallout.

3 of the 4 players resumed playing their characters who already survived The Three Squires. We reset them to square one because it’s been four years or so since that game. We quickly made a new character for the new guy, and he made a Dark Elf Sorcerer who was all sorts of evil. This was the setup:

"The town of Kehvere always knew that it was the hiding place of Ismene, the “Bandit Queen of the North.” It felt it was best to keep quiet and let her live her life in peace, hiding her spoils in the caves in the pock-marked hills outside of town. But as the winters became colder and earlier in the years, the Queen seemed intent on stealing more than just shiny baubles from travellers. This year as the snows have fallen before even the crops could be harvested, all of the food stores have been pilfered in the dead of night and the small town will more than likely become a ghost town before the flowers of spring begin to bloom.

A call has been sent out to anyone willing to find the Queen’s hideout and return the foodstuff to Kehvere. The townspeople can offer no payment, but they do suggest that those caves should be filled with the other ill-gotten gains of years of highway robbery and no one will inspect the bags of a group of heroes that will save a town from certain starvation.

Short on coin and food yourselves, what better way to make it through the winter?"

The adventure started with them in ankle deep snow in front of the cave entrance. They made their Goals which ranged from returning the food, looting the joint to “I will kill something bigger than I am.”

Two torches were lit and into the cave they went, a character Scouted ahead and failed meaning a sentry spotted their light and they heard him run off deeper into the cave. They made chase, passing the stack of furred cloaks and saw the sentry cross a fast moving underground river, stop and grab the bridge (which was little more than a board to prevent them crossing. The elf shot the sentry with his crossbow and made a good roll, felling the poor guy. Of course, now they had the issue of crossing the river. They decided to have their spear holder leeeeaaannnn as far as he could over river and harpoon the board and drag it back over the river while their strongest character held onto his waist.

Yeah, the ideas for twists were long.

Yet she made her roll, so they had their bridge. They stopped briefly to rest and not let the Grind take their Fresh condition away. They had a check or two, so a poultice and poison was made as they caught their breath, checking out the stack of cloaks near the entrance, seeing that they would be worth some cash back in town (checking the rules later, they’d be worth about 2D).

The delved further into the caves, and found a room off of the main corrider. In it were a moldy desk and chest, the ceiling dripping water on them, causing everything in the room to warp and decay. The two greedy characters immediately started poking around the furniture. The fighter went with them, while the sorcerer kept watch at the entryway. Lurking inside the desk was a “Mold monster” that struck when all eyes were on the rotting chest that’s filled with silver.

They decided to start a kill conflict. I tried to talk them into chasing the thing out of the room or getting themselves out of the room, but they justified their actions refering to their Goals and Beliefs, so I went with it. The Moldy thing was Might 2 and had 7 Disposition, so I figured it wouldn’t be too bad. His Objective was “Decay all of their edible items.”

Combat began with the fighter rolling one success for their Disposition. 5 Total Disposition. It was decided that the elf would stay at the door and get 0 Disposition so they could spread that 5 among those that were in the room. Mmmmkay. Then the fight happened. It took a lot longer than expected as we hit mostly Versus tests and getting ties over and over again for no gain. Finally the combat ended with their dropping to 0 and the monster having only lost 2 points. It was pretty horrible.

So I described a scene of it jumping on top of them while the elf dragged them out of the room as their belts and such decayed, their items falling off of their bodies. I made the elf’s shoes get eaten in the process, but he kept everything else. The compromise was that the wizard kept his spellbook and supplies. I also let them keep a few other things here and there. They weren’t completely equipmentless, to be honest. No metal was taken, so all their weapons were still available, though leather armor was dissolved. They also earned no conditions, so they were technically still Fresh.

Despite this, they decided to go back to Town to sell the cloaks and reset. I told them that the elf walking that far without shoes in snow would be a horrible idea, so they decided to use the Survivalist skill to fashion one of the cloaks into workable shoes. I made it a high Obstacle and the rat bastard actually pulled it off. So back to town they went.

They sold the clocks, got their 2D cash and used it to get their backpack back and the torches they lost. They got a night’s sleep and then they rolled their lifestyle, which was 2D and failed the roll. I told them the townspeople expected results and would not be as kind the next time they came back if they didn’t have any food. At that point one player said he had to go, so we called the game there.

About a half hour later I got word that the elf doesn’t want to play because he hates the conflict system in the game. This morning I got word that another player doesn’t want to play either because the whole game frustrates him. This is not his first time playing Torchbearer, and while he enjoyed our first game, he was also frustrated at the end of game 2, so there you go.

Maybe it’s me as the GM not making the game work like it’s supposed to. Maybe it’s just not the game for them. Maybe they didn’t view that failure as an opportunity to do something cool (one player did have the idea to go back into the room naked…I would have TOTALLY made that work) and instead took it personally or something? I don’t know. I feel bad because I LOVE the system and I really, really, really want to run/play it, but now I’m down to only 2 people who want to continue playing it.

Is it me?


I often tell GMs that their first responsibility in Torchbearer is, counter-inuitively, to cut the players a break at the right time.

The system does a very good job at making survival matter. It also does a good job of turning up the pressure, almost on its own. As a result, if the GM relies on their instincts (frequently learned from other games) to play adversarially, it can become too much. It becomes oppressive.

This doesn’t mean you should be santa claus or not keep the pressure on. You need to control the rhythm of the game though. Push things to the point where the pressure is interesting and then cut them a break, having accomplished the drama.

Treasure is the best way to do this. Treasure is both ephemeral and self-regulating in Torchbearer due to the inventory system. Imagine how great it would be to hear players say “we never could have pulled it off without that potion we found!”

Many, many groups will dig their own grave if you let them just play the survival rules on autopilot. You need to be there to make sure that once they’ve made the situation dramatic and exciting, they catch enough of a break to maybe make it out alive.


I had similar feelings after a player dropped out of my Burning Wheel game, and while it’s probably true that I didn’t get the most out of the game, in the end I just accepted that the game isn’t for everyone. The same goes for Torchbearer, and any other game you care to mention. Some are going to love it, and some won’t. That’s okay, and it’s not your fault.

“They chose to drop the game” and “I drove them away” are two different things.

It sounds like you gave good advice on handling the situation and they decided to do it their way, and made a bunch of terrible decisions along the way. I had a couple of fighting conflict where players tried a bunch of vs tests hoping to chip away opponent’s disposition away while losing none, and both resulted in tpk.

You can’t control player feelings. Some will be willing to die and retry and others not, and it’s all dependent on their perspective. I restarted so many Xcom games despite frustration, while I couldn’t be bothered to give another try to darksouls after dying to the tutorial boss. I had players reacting both ways to the situation, half of the group finding it super cool and the other half quitting. This game is not for everyone, and that’s ok.

Now it doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. I think having a discussion about the game beforehand and tell some game stories could help. Just so the players know what they are getting into (a tactical misery simulator :smiley: ).

I’m sure other people have good advice here. Also, you have 2 players who stuck with you. Discuss and run experiments together. Have them play two characters each. Try to get in the mood “die and retry is fun” if you can :slight_smile:


This topic was automatically closed 90 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.