New Torchbearer GM

Hi all,

Up at GenCon, I’ll be meeting a few distant friends and would like to run a little one-shot Torchbearer adventure to introduce them to the game. In my hopes of being a good ambassador for a game I’ve grown to love, and in the interest of sparking some discussion, I thought I’d ask the forum if they had any tips. I’ve been playing online with some of the Mordite guys for the last nearly 2 years and it’s been a blast and I want to give a good showing of Torchbearer.

  1. What is essential to explain about the game before starting? Or maybe nothing, and just roleplay away. It seems to me explaining BITs, earning checks, the Grind, and maybe nature might be useful before starting. But maybe not?

  2. Are there any blog entries or podcasts that might be helpful for a new GM? I’m not really great at soaking up rules anymore and it might be nice to hear what the essential things to be comfortable navigating early on and what may be more fudgeable in a one-shot.

Anyway, again, I’m hoping to get some discussion going if possible. It’s been 15+ years since I’ve GMed anything, so looking for any resources that might put me in a good position.



Hail Connor! Proud to number you among the horde.

Site Size
The most important thing about a one-shot is size. It should be 3–5 rooms at most. The Dread Crypt of Skogenby is probably a good size match. A lot of one-page dungeons will work too.

What to Explain Up Front
Explain Description Forward (p6). Tell them that in this game you describe your action and the GM calls for rolls.

Explain how the dice work – Obstacles, Successes, Scoundrels.

That’s about it, everything else benefits from being explained in context.

Introducing Checks
Checks are the hardest thing in the game to explain. My current favorite approach is to just not mention them. Open with a single conditional success and then stick to mostly twists (maybe 2-1 or even 3-1) for the rest of the session.

If they ask how they might recover from conditions, say they need to go to town to do that. Then, later, once they start to rack up conditions you can introduce earned checks as a kind of “bonus” recovery without returning to town (a la Mouse Guard).

Don’t muck about with the camp table or the rules for turn-taking during a one-shot. It’s better to get them through the session without camp and run a short town phase so they can get a glimpse of that half of the game. Once they understand the basics of recovery, they’ll understand the limited recovery of camp.

Basically all of my advice for advanced topics is in the Master’s Manual series on Mordite Mondays, but if there’s one stand-out that you should read before GMing it’s the one on Pacing. Don’t overlook the Good Idea! The Good Idea and Description Forward are what make the game work.

Best of luck, you’ll do great.


I’ll echo @Lord_Mordeth’s points about choosing a small enough site and emphasizing ‘describe to live’. I also put together a list of tips for running Torchbearer in a convention setting, as I’ve run it at PAX East and Unplugged many times:

  1. Give the briefest pitch possible. Dungeon crawling with focus on granular resource management and the physical and emotional toll of being in dark, dangerous places. Decisions that feel weighty because you’re under the pressure of scare time and resources.
  2. Briefly describe and lay out each sample character sheet and lay them on the table. Note that players will see a ton of information they don’t understand, and that’s ok.
  3. Give a pitch of the situation: who is willing to pay them, what are the conditions, known risks, and why it’s important.
  4. Jump back to character sheets and focus on beliefs and instincts. Say how they work and let everyone read them. Then have everyone write a goal based on the situation and their belief.
  5. Point out abilities, skills, and spells but don’t explain every one. Just answer pressing questions and let them come up in play.
  6. Jump right into play, emphasizing that they should always be describing what they do. This is a good time to talk about ‘Describe to Live’ but it’s worth reiterating whenever players lead with a roll rather than a description.
  7. Proceed slowly through the first roll that comes up, talking about every possible modification (supplies, help, wises, traits for and against). It’s also a good time to talk about nature and beginners luck. This is a ton of info, but I find it’s better to do this when players are making an actual roll (with something on the line) rather than being abstract.
  8. From there, go from obstacle to obstacle. I try to ‘sell’ players on checks as much as possible, but players really get it when conditions start piling up.
  9. Taking time with rewards is so worth it. It’s like a built-in debrief for the one-shot and gives players the chance to acknowledge and appreciate each other’s contributions.

@Koch has encouraged me to grab a small ‘dungeon’ from The Grind and I’m eyeing Dan’s Middarmark themed adventure particularly. He thinks it’ll be adequately concise for a one shot. At worst, we run out of time and want to go get a beer or do something else, so if we don’t finish, it’s ok, just an opportunity to hang and show them the game.

Thanks for the ideas though. I have a lot to ponder :slight_smile:

I love The Well at Golden Springs. Definitely steer clear of Beiloch’s Cure for newbies, that’s hard mode.

A contrasting opinion to Michael’s (although he probably knows better than I) — I wouldn’t even bother with explaining Beginner’s Luck in a first session one-shot. I would just have them roll nature and pretend Beginner’s Luck doesn’t exist until they specifically declare their intent to learn the skill. That way you can get the more basic nature rules (Faking It, You’re A Natural, You’re Out of Your Element) covered.

“Nature is what you roll when you don’t have the skill” is not 100% accurate, but it’s one of the easiest ways to introduce it.


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