In need of a mentor to teach me Torchbearer mechanics / GMing

I have not actually played a Torchbearer (or Burning Wheel) game so it’s all sort of a mystery. I have watched the streams on and have read through the book. I played D&D and Pathfinder years ago so am not unfamiliar with role playing itself, etc.

What I think would be useful is just a couple hour long sessions when I could throw out an imagined scenario and then we work through the mechanics of what happens. Maybe this is even possible in chat form (IRC or slack or something?). Or even inline here?

Scenario: Karolina and Beren of Carcaroth (p171) have a lead that takes them to the docks. There they must get information from a soldier (p161). Following the information they must gain passage on a ship through an encounter with two sailors (p161). Either way, Karolina and Beren end up on the ship as either guests or conscripts.

How do I set this up and then play it out?

Do they know where the Soldier is to be found or is this a time for Circles roll?

edit: thought I was in the Burning Wheel forum for a sec. I’ll need my book handy to do Torchbearer. :wink:

In any event, how are they looking for the soldier?

I’m not available to chat, but I gladly discuss the issues on forum. That way, others might learn from it as well. I’m not super experienced, but it’s always nice to bounce ideas.

Torchbearer is a game that does dungeon crawling very well. Wilderness survival works kind of ok. Doing investigations in a city works bad, the rules aren’t designed to handle it IMO. “Town phase” in Torchbearer is abstract and there is little detailed interactions between PC:s and NPC:s. So what you are trying to do is hard to do well. I would simply say: “This is your backstory, you were on the docks, talked to a soldier, got on a boat, yadayada, now you are standing outside the Tomb of Horrible Horrors!”. Also, it seems as if you have a story in mind (The PC:s will talk to soldier, the PC:s will get on ship). Player agency is important! Plan situations (dungeons, NPC:s, factions), don’t plan stories and plots. The players might do things differently then what you plan, and you don’t want to run a railroad.

I was imagining that the pair had previously been directed to head to the docks and enquire about ship named X. The soldier stands between them and the docks. So some sort of conflict resolution to get further.

TBH, I first purchased Burning Wheel but then was hoping that Torchbearer would be a bit more accessible to players I would GM. My style lends itself to be more story telling than mechanical combat and I think both are of a similar vein.

The soldier encounter would be a non-combat encounter (a chance to persuade), though it could lead to (likely disastrous) combat. The next could go either way, with the adventurers dominating persuasively or physically, or losing and getting tossed in the hold, or… we’ll have to see where the story leads.

I think of torchbearer more as an exploratory game then a story game. There is a world/dungeon that the players explore, not a story that they follow. (IMO trying to make the players follow a story is almost always bad GM:ing in any RPG.)

That sounds fun, but it’s not dungeon-crawling. Where’s the Grind, the need to track light, the need to balance inventory and all the other things that Torchbearer does well? To me it sounds like you should just use a different system.

TBH I was hoping for more guidance rather than don’t even try advice. :slight_smile: I’ll find another system that let’s the players create a dynamic story guided by the GM.

Okay, so I head to the docks looking for the ship. What does the soldier do? I’m looking for the ship and presumably, the soldier knows where the ship is. My fighter says “excuse me, can you direct me to the Cantering Wallaby?” Let’s assume the soldier takes the view that I’m not supposed to be on the docks and tells me to move along. I might try to argue or bribe him or stab him and toss him into the bay, or capture him. So many options. What happens next depends on those choices.

Since your typical NPC soldier doesn’t have much in the way of social skills, that seems like a good course of action. Let’s say I try to trick him with my Manipulator 3. It’s probably not worth a full on conflict, so maybe you decide it’s a simple versus test against your Soldier’s Will 3 (Beginner’s Luck). I roll 3 dice and get 2 successes. What does your Soldier roll?

Don’t get me wrong. Torchbearer is great for creating dynamic stories. It’s just that those stories involve crawling through dungeons. And “guided by the GM” sounds a bit creepy. Are you sure you shouldn’t just write a novel? Play to find out what will happen!

Wow, I really am not sure how to answer these responses. To me a GM is a story teller with the luxury of randomness. Given a situation, and all the modules are just that, the GM has to adapt to what the players chose to do as well as the dice. This isn’t a choose-your-own-ending computer algorithm, this is a vibrant interactive story. Yes, if the players go off the rails of expectations then the GM is there to adapt. If you imagine the docks as being a tunnel complex, does that make it easier?

Look, I’m not asking for judgment or critique on my game design and GM style; the players will do that, and rightfully so. I was, and am, asking for assistance in learning how the mechanics work. If the adventure happens above ground and in daylight, then that’s my choice.

I liked what I thought the playing style of BW was. I thought that Torchbearer was a simpler set of basic mechanics that would still include character depth. If you want to play a pen&paper computer dungeon crawl, great. That’s not how I’m interpreting the spirit of these rule books.

I do appreciate the responses to my query. My apologies for being disappointed that Torchbearer is not what I thought it was. Suggestions for alternatives welcome! Any OGL games even better. (I thought the licensing for Torchbearer was very generous and supportive.)

Hey, PenNPopper! Welcome to he forums.

Torchbearer is a game that does one thing: explore dungeons. The rules, by virtue of the way they work, help you and the other players create a story centered around that kind of action. Everything is built to funnel play into that theme. It assumes that the dungeon is an environment that you’ll explore, and it focuses on things like resource and inventory management. It is a vibrant, interactive story. But it uses a very specific definition of story, one where nobody knows how things will turn out, not even the GM! If you want to plan a narrative ahead of time, Torchbearer’s mechanics will actively hinder you. If you’re interested in playing a game about a group of poor adventurers crawling into caves and crypts for treasure to find out what happens together, it’s an awesome game that provides that experience in spades.

Honestly, if you have a group of players interested in playing Torchbearer, I would happily get together on Roll20 and run a session for you. But, I’ll reiterate: this is a laser-focused game. It does its thing really well, but it’s not the “Burning Wheel Beginner Set,” nor is it yet another fantasy role-playing game that does generic Western fantasy like D&D, but crooked slightly so.

I’m actually going to be a bit different to everyone and say you can actually play Torchbearer in the manner you describe, you just got to think of Turns and the Grind as scenes(though the grind may make not much sense in a more narrative focused game since it is meant to be the clock of a dungeon though maybe you could just say its a natural clock for people).

The only thing I will say is there are certain things you need to be aware of, players need to get money because thats one of the major cycles of the game. Your poor get money, go to town, become poor again because you had to spend it recovering and buying stuff, so you have to go out and get more money. That loop is the most important part of the game so your adventure, narrative or whatever has to have treasure as part of it.

To be honest the machanics aren’t that difficult to grok, people say what they do and it connects to a certain skill, that skill gives certain amount of dice in a pool, they have to beat a certain obstacle using those dice. If they fail either a Twist happens(suddenly ogres, your stuff is broken etc) or you get to do it but the fact your doing it gains a condition(angry that your stuff is taking so long to fix, exausted that you had to climb that cliff etc.)

But yes I kind of agree with everyone in that Torchbearer is not Burning Wheel Light, it is not even like Mouseguard. It is its own game that does its own thing(very well I might add) and if you do something else with it you are essentially hacking it. If you are fine with hacking then great carry on, but please be aware that if you say you want to GM Torchbearer people will have an understanding of what that is. They might be dissapointed when they play your game and they don’t get what they were thinking they were going to get,

I will agree with Xercies that the money part of TB is the main hindrance in making it play investigative adventures or other non-dungeony things. If you’re playing by the rules, then your PCs will be so broke that they simply won’t have time to go quiz people at the docks or what have you – they MUST go into the bowels of the earth and bring out sweet lucre, if they are to have any chance of not starving.

So if you want it to play like a more traditional RPG, you’ll have to start with hacking the money system. Which is fine, with two caveats: (1) BWHQ games are tightly designed and mechanically very interconnected, so tweaks to one subsystem will often have unpredictable, and not necessarily good, ripple effects throughout the rest of the game. (2) There’s a question of return on investment: at some point you might find yourself spending so much time on hacking the game to be what you want that it would have been easier to start with a different game and hack that.

In my case, if I were really enamored of the basic structure of Torchbearer, and loved the system of checks, conditions, BITs, etc., but wanted it to play more traditionally, I’d play Mouse Guard but reskin it. MG doesn’t have the money system or The Grind, and is much more about being a hero than a grubby misfit who digs for gold in slimy holes because they have no other job prospects.

Torchbearer is great for stories, as long as those stories focus on exploration and survival. It is a poor choice for a story about palace intrigue, for example.

If you don’t want to tell a story about getting lost, running out of food, or dealing with debilitating injuries far from help, then it’s a waste to use Torchbearer.

Mouse Guard’s system is a little more character-focused than Torchbearer’s. Players aren’t constantly fighting against their basic needs, and so they have a bit more agency. You’d have to hack it a bit to make it about something other than anthropomorphic rodent warriors though.

If you want to run a game centered completely on the characters in a trad fantasy setting, but paced more like a novel, then Burning Wheel may be your thing.

My Torchbearer games are all about story – but the stories are about survival and exploration, so it works very well.