Issue and questions about conflicts and the fiction.

Hello, new D.M here. I’ve recently run Torchbearer for the first time by only reading the book (I never was a player in a game and I don’t know anyone who has played it in my circles) and, while I loved the grind, inventory and checks rules, I’ve run into a bit of an issue with the way conflicts work, which leads me to guess that I may have not understood one or two things.

We had two conflicts in my game (Skogenby): A kill conflict with the tomb guardians which almost wiped them out, and a flee conflict against an ooze, which was… Well… Weird. As all hell.

The first conflict was fine. Awkward, sure, but we didn’t know the mechanics very well, so that explains it. We all were very uncomfortable about describing our actions though and all the conflict was metagame discussions with some fluff descriptions thrown in when we felt like it. Basically it was more of an extended test than a “conflict” for us. Also, we didn’t quite understand how to apply the rules of Killing is my Business as the player’s won. In the rules there is “These rules are written from the player’s perspective.” p74, but there are no rules for compromises versus the players. So we applied the rules backwards and I injured and exhausted all of my players. But I could also have killed one of them? Arbitrarily? That’s tough, I think. It seems like there’s an absolutely massive difference between all the party being injured or exhausted and a straight kill, no? Besides, how do you pick as the G.M? I’d be massively uncomfortable with that.

The second conflict though was much more problematic. It was one player, the halfling burglar, versus the ooze.

  • First: Apparently it is almost impossible to flee the ooze if you are alone even though it is supposed to be its weakness? It threw 6 dice every turn against my player’s 3. But that’s okay, it’s just a faster ooze than we pictured.
  • Second: In the first conflict we had issues describing our actions in the fiction since we couldn’t really “say” something was happening before the compromise made them canon. But during the flee conflict it just seemed straight-up impossible. We couldn’t figure out the link between our actions and the fiction, at all. We had explored two rooms by this point and saying that their “Attack action” represented them dashing into a new room seemed weird, since it could activate traps mid-conflict diegetically, but no rules seem to support that. It also seemed impossible to say that he ran towards his friends, since that, too, would have diegetic consequences that weren’t accounted for in the conflict (The reason he was alone is that the other players specifically didn’t want to share in the consequences of his acts, which is a part of the system I liked). So it seemed to us like conflict actions were non-actions. So why even make it a series of actions? We didn’t get it. We could have said that he ended up into a new room or ended up revealing his friends to the ooze during the compromise stage, sure, but it seemed unfair to do it during actions. So all the conflict was static but the end. And we didn’t really enjoy that, nor see the point of it. If conflicts were the places for lively descriptions that would make them worthwhile, but as we understand it the systems prevents any descriptions at all. Any tips?

Another weird thing about compromises in this game is that I didn’t see any way to get non-symetric conflicts in. Which would mean that a dragon or an elder god can’t kill you. Which I don’t think is the intent, so I guess I must’ve missed some rules there too. Which would make sense, I’m not a native speaker.


PS: Also I have some questions about Middarmark’s pdf but the feedback link you gave in the e-mail seems dead.

Luckily, it’s not the GM’s decision.

The whole group must decide if the compromise is appropriate. If everyone complains that the compromise is too much or inappropriate, the loser can change the terms.

If no consensus can be reached, the GM can approve the compromise or ask the loser to modify the terms.

This negotiation takes place as table chatter—a brief conversation between the players—not in character (Page 73).

Why are your players only able to throw 3 dice? With helping and traits and weapons. A well scripted maneuver can make a big difference. Also, humans have running as a nature descriptor, so they can roll Nature if they’re running away with no penalty.

As for describing, say what you’re doing and the GM says what they’re doing. You roll. Then, you recap based on the results to describe what happens. You can certainly describe running towa DW your friends or running to the next room, provided that if you role poorly, the GM says something like "you head for the door, but find your way blocked by ooze, or you slip, or you notice there’s no way you can make it to the door before the ooze gets you. Or even, you make it to the next room with the ooze right on your tail

if you set off a trap mid conflict, I’d interrupt things to deal with that.

If you’re Not in a kill conflict, the dragon can’t kill you. But the GM determines if you’re in a conflict and what type, not the players.

It seems like there’s an absolutely massive difference between all the party being injured or exhausted and a straight kill, no? Besides, how do you pick as the G.M? I’d be massively uncomfortable with that.

You decide on how big a compromise the monsters got. Yes when you get into a gight mostly at the start you will probably choose injured but as it says if you go in killing then expect the knives to be on the other side. If the monsters get enough of a compromise on the players or the ppayers are already injured then yes I don’t see a problem wih death. That’s why I make sure to tell players this before a kill conflict.

Also as another note check the Might of the creature. If they are lower might then players then the creature can’t kill them no matter what.

That doesn’t work when the group is new. Maybe when you play with people who have developed an implicit understanding about what is acceptable or not it becomes an applicable rule. But I tried to apply it (Because I wanted to respect the rules), and the players complained that there is no way for them to know what is appropriate or not, since they have never played before. So they just told me to tell them what happens. Besides, when no consensus is reached and the G.M lost, he decides what he applies, per the rules. The game isn’t exactly Polaris, there are no counterpowers. But that’s only an issue with new groups, and clearly isn’t the thing I struggled the most about.

For the 3 dice: As I said, no help could be given (No one wanted to get oozed, and they all hid away), and he was a halfling. The ooze just attacked every turn with its 6 nature dice, because it’s dumb like that. So that manoeuver wasn’t going to happen. Besides, I don’t think we’re allowed to twist on failures in conflict, which is why I don’t think I can describe them running into a new room/activate a trap.

For the impotent elder god: The thing is, as you said, the G.M decides the type of conflict you’re in. But the G.M has rules, too, which is nice: you can’t put players in a kill conflict against something bigger than them. Like, you can’t, per the rules, right? Because that would mean the players have a shot at the dragon, which is explicitly forbidden by p74 “You may attack and kill creatures up to one order higher than you on the scale.” Hence my question about asymetric conflicts. They seem important.

I mean, asymetric conflicts are a requirement of the rules:

  • Wage war is never going to be symetric vs a single large creature, since it is not going to have an army. Or maybe it counts as an army? Sure, but that’s not in the rules AFAIK.
  • Capture is only possible against a lesser or equal creature. Which means you can capture lesser creatures. Which means you can put yourself in a conflict in which one of the sides cannot capture the other, unless that restriction only applies to the players. So it’s not going to be a symetric conflict.

Here’s the thing, I don’t think that’s a huge issue, and from reading the forum, it seems everyone does asymetric conflicts. I just would like some clarification on how to do them, because as I read the book, well, it’s a hack. So either I’m mistaken and there’s actually no need for asymetric conflicts (And I think I have presented conclusive arguments for the fact that asymetric conflicts are implied by the rules) or there is a need but there are no rules to apply them, in which case I’d like pointers. And I’m not playing dumb here just to show there’s an issue with the book as written. The reason I want rules is because I risk putting players in too many asymetric kill conflicts in which the other critter wants to kill them but they don’t. Which could frustrate the players and betray the “reap what you sow” vibe that I like about conflicts.

By the way: I just read p73 again (To search references to back up what I was saying) and the solution to my first issue is right there: “Apply the Killing Is My Business compromises to the GM’s monsters”. So I did the right thing, good to know!

Every conflict is asymmetric, but not quite in the way you’re thinking. The monsters/NPCs don’t have their own agenda, what they can accomplish is always a degree of the players’ goal.

Then that does mean a dragon cannot engage you in a kill conflict, since you cannot be engaged in a kill conflict with it. So I guess dragons kill if you fail too many fleeing tests and the g.m pick injured every time?

It would also mean that smaller creatures can capture you if you engage them in a capture conflict. So the might meter is only player-centered?

That would make a lot of sense, but that would mean large creatures act strangely. What do you do if your players fail a flee conflict?

First, the GM determines if the player’s actions have tiggered a conflict.
then, the GM determines what kind of conflict the players have triggered.

If youre running from a dragn, the GM is probably going to agree that’s a flee conflict. The Dragon won’t be able to kill you as a result of the conflict. If you lose you’re likely starting with Captured and negotiating compromises from there.

The order of Might pertains only to players.

You cant put PCs into kill conflicts with things that are too big. The GM doesn’t have a goal if killing the characters. They’re going to survive the dragon attack, but may end up captured or driven off injured, etc. why is that a problem though? I mean killing the characters, if that’s the goal, is just one failed roll away. Fail, choose to grant success plus the dead condition. Not terribly difficult.

Yes, that was my initial mistake, I didn’t understand that the order of might was a player-centered mechanic. I thought it was a rule of the world. As for why that is an issue, well, it isn’t anymore since we do not have to care about things like “how can a lone kobold kill an adventurer if he’s might 1?”/“How can frogmen capture the wizard if they are a lower might than he is?”.

Another mistake I made was to think every conflict was symetric. Meaning: If you fail a capture conflict, you are captured. If you fail a drive off conflict, you are driven off. If you fail a convince conflict, you are convinced. That would have been an issue. I think the source of my mistake came from the nature of the kill conflict, which looks like it is the only symetric kind of conflict in torchbearer.

It does make big creatures act slightly weird, but that’s a minor inconvenience at best. Think of the situation where your players are saying “I plant a stake in the dragon / I make it turn away from the town”. You, as the g.m, should be putting them in a conflict, or saying “Something” to them. You have two options:
1: Meta-game discussions in the spirit of: Actually you can’t hurt the dragon, want to do something else?
2: “Okay, you try, and you discover that the foe is too much for you! You start fleeing” (Only available flee conflict)

I’m not too worried about that, it is just a quirk of the system.

Two last questions:
Do you often make non-conflicts fighter rolls? They seem like an interesting tool to have.

I’d also be very much still be interested in answers about how you do descriptions in conflicts. Especially non-kill conflicts. Trick and flee, mainly. Flee was a huge issue for us, we genuinely didn’t get how it was supposed to work if we were to describe our actions (Since, as per the first post, they would have had to have fictionnal implications). And conflicts like trick seem almost impossible to describe. Any tips?

We’ve use Fighter tests outside of conflicts for trick shots with a bow and for taking out a lone guard, assassin-style. Failure for that one meant the guard would raise the alarm, leading to a full-on Fight.

I’ve also used it in things like Chopping through a Spiders web where I feel no other Test really works even a health check.

We’ve use Fighter tests outside of conflicts for trick shots with a bow and for taking out a lone guard, assassin-style

Hmm interesting one of my friends said as a GM they always make an encounter with a creature a full blown combat and wouldn’t allow this…

If you’re running skogenby, then fleeing might not be possible? The tunnel the adventurers use to get in is very tight. I would of skipped the flee conflict and see if the halfling could of made it out by themselves. On failure he succeeds with an injury. Then the rest of the party is trapped in the dungeon with the ooze down a player.

The trick with the injury condition is that the players are in control. If an injury is ever applied twice they die. But the players are for the most part able to get rid of an injury condition with the Sucking it Up rules. You should remind players that going into a conflict with an injury condition is putting death on the line.

If the halfling instead runs deeper into the dungeon I would ask how the rest of the party escapes notice from the ooze. I guess they are over in the hallway where the entrance is? because otherwise the halfling would be running past them. Perhaps a scout test vs the monster’s nature to see if they escape notice. There isn’t much room for the halfling to run the other way either without knowing about the hidden door. So best I can picture is the halfling running circles waiting for the ooze to get tired? The only reasonable way out is the tunnel so i would jump to the dungeoneer test.

Conflicts take a little bit to get use to but you shouldn’t be scared of laying some substantial fiction on the line. It can help inform the compromise later. One trick I’ve found with injuries suffered by the players or monsters is to be vague enough, so that it seems reasonable that someone is able to get up later with the defend action.