Newbie questions - actions & starting out

I picked up what seems to be the last copy of Torchbearer in the UK last week and I am in love. Not sure my players will agree once I get the chance to let loose on them, but I adore the way it combines narrative sensibilities of putting description and story first, with an incredibly strong underlying “gamist” structure once it becomes necessary to invoke game mechanical elements.

I do have a couple of questions around actions and tests:

  1. Simultaneous actions - I understand that any Test takes a Turn. I also understand that if the party splits up, they still keep a single turn count, meaning things escalate pretty quickly for them. However, is it ever possible for two PCs in the same group to take simultaneous Tests, so that only 1 turn advances? E.g. while Faramir is off scouting a suitable path around the Orc camp, Samwise takes the time to cook a brace of coneys.

  2. What is a Turn? When to Test? - I would have thought that a character putting her ear to a door to see if they could hear any sound wouldn’t usually call for a Test or use up a Turn, but would just form part of the overall narrative description. However, the Thief ability “Good Ear” takes a turn to listen at a door to get meaningful information, albeit without a test. Does this mean for non-Thieves, listening is basically pointless (unless there’s something incredibly noisy / blatant on the other side)? Or does it mean that another character could get similar information, but they’d have to Test (and so risk Condition or Twist)?

  3. Several posts I’ve read point out how hard the game is at the start, with newbie players and inexperienced characters. Has anyone experimented with ways to give players a softer landing? E.g. give PCs starting Fate and/or Persona, or give the party of a couple of Healing potions in their starting gear? My group only plays once a month and we move games regularly, so I’m only likely to have 2 or 3 sessions at most. I know this explicitly isn’t ideal for Torchbearer, but I’m keen to get as much from the game as possible, and a TPK or overly frustrating 1st session will mean no more TB for me :frowning:

  4. Earning spends: Thor’s advice is to have 1st camp after 3 turns if possible, to keep party Fresh as long as possible. Does this mean the expectation is that there should be an extended Conflict every 3 or 4 turns, as without one there will be limited ability to earn any Spends. Or is this more advice for experienced parties to try to use the mechanics to their advantage, rather than guidance for GMs when running the game?

Thanks in advance for your help. I am now going to spend the rest of my role-playing life telling people that if they haven’t read (and ideally played, of course) Torchbearer, then they have no right to consider themselves in any way a role-playing aficionado. There are so many wonderful inter-linked sub-systems that support play for both lovers of story and role-playing and mechanically-focused rules crunchers, I’m disappointed it isn’t more widely used.

  1. Using an Instinct or helping/aiding (with a Wise) someone are two ways characters can all do something on the same turn.
  2. You could listen and gain information but it’s going to be either a Good Idea or require a test.
  3. To avoid a TPK, tell your players right off the bat NOT to get into Kill conflicts. Don’t give them magical gear or fate/persona.
  4. Experienced parties can extend that Fresh condition. Newbs might want to earn checks when attempting really difficult actions where failure is certain/likely.

Thanks for the quick reply

Seems a bit harsh that using your senses requires an exceptional case. Would you apply the same to peeking around a corner to see if there is something down a dimly lit corridor? Would you still rule it as a Test if you knew there was nothing to be heard?

  1. To avoid a TPK, tell your players right off the bat NOT to get into Kill conflicts. Don’t give them magical gear or fate/persona.

Completely get the first point. Would love to understand your reasons for not giving them a leg up, if you could spare the effort!

3.) Only having a few sessions to play would be tricky. The system is such a great system where every rule interacts with every other aspect so it really takes time for players to master the rules. I finally managed my group to try it and they players are finally getting into the grove after completing Three Squires during their 5th session. Coming from DnD, I did exactly what Jared said and told the party not to do kill conflicts. Of course they bungled things terribly but the twists made the players feel like their actions actually mattered and that failures can be a good thing!

Good luck and stick with it. The system really is amazing and it gets better the more you play and the more comfortable everyone gets with the rules.

  1. If there’s nothing to hear, there’s no test and no turn. If there is something to hear, it’s generally a test: The character’s Scout vs. the Scout of whatever’s on the other side (or Nature if it’s a monster). A thief with the Good Ear benefit can make that test without taking a turn (it’s like a free Instinct). Of course, if whatever is on the other side is shouting or otherwise being loud, listening might be a Good Idea. Then it wouldn’t require a test.

Like Thor said. Anyway, this isn’t just using your senses. It’s not making noise, not being seen/heard yourself, making out fine details in what could be really bad conditions and also something as mundane as remembering those details. Frex: look around a corner as quickly as possible and write down everything you remember.

The same reason I don’t put $200 on Free Parking when I play Monopoly—that’s not what the rules say.


No rewards at first session underscores the fact that your characters are losers. They haven’t had their beliefs tested, you as player hasn’t done anything noteworthy (worked toward or accomplished a goal, been a teamworker or MVP or RPed extraordinarily well) —*nothing noteworthy has happened because it’s your first game. And the only way to become even remotely noteworthy or heroic is to engage with your BIG and play the game well.

I understand all of that in the context of the pure 10-20 session game. As I said, I’m going to get 3 sessions at most, and I want the players to get the fullest experience possible. My fear, judging from a number of posts from first timers on here and the specific nature of how often my group plays, is that the first session is going to be so grueling that they won’t want to come back. I think this would be tragic, but when you only play 10-12 times per year, the urge for the quick emotional pay-off is I’m sure understandable.

But perhaps, rather than giving a leg up, I should instead go a bit easier on the Twists or encounter difficulties.

Just to clarify, it’s almost the exact opposite of an Instinct, in that it does take a Turn but doesn’t require a Roll. But thanks for the explanation, it really helps (especially the example of a contextual Good Idea)

To be honest despite what Thor said(Still love you though) I would use my GM instinct on the whole Door Listening test or not, this also goes with what the plaayers are describing as well and what the monster is like. Basically is the challenge whether the player or the monster doesn’t want to be heard, then test, or is the challenge what is actually behind the door and how the players want to deal with that, then don’t roll and say there is a noise what do the players do,

I think the thing with listening at doors is that it’s an iconic skill in the early DnD rules, which Torchbearer is emulating. Looking around a corner is looking around a corner, but listening at doors is a thing.

No. If there’s no roll, then it doesn’t take a turn. Turns only advance with (most) rolls. This is why magic, instincts, and good ideas are so powerful, because you make something happen without having to expend a turn.

For example, the party comes into a new room and there’s something suspicious about the floors so someone describes checking out the tiles. As a GM if you know there are no traps there then you just say “You check all around the floors and don’t find any traps.” No roll. No turn advancement.

dicemechanic is correct in that the Thief’s Good Ear ability actually allows you to hear what’s on the other side of a door at the cost of a turn. But yes, it should only cost a turn if there’s something to hear.

And we (house ruled?) that Good Ear cannot be used with an Instinct “always listen at the door” to negate the 1-turn requirement.

Oh, right. I misunderstood and thought dicemechanic was speaking in general, not specifically about Good Ear.