Notes re Torchbearer

So, I’ve been playing Torchbearer on Roll20. Two sessions in, so far - and after yesterday’s session the GM asked us what we thought about the system. Decided to write mine down. And here they are:


Clear Intent
Torchbearer’s laser focus on party-based dungeon adventure is a good framework that lends easy direction. “Hey you’re all in this death trap to get treasure, stick together, work together!”

A plus in my book – especially when contrasted against Burning Wheel, which because of its open-ended nature can result in long stretches of single characters dealing with individually-relevant minutiae, while other players twiddle their thumbs. (In the campaign I was in, at least.)


The one-test-one-turn structure, plus the help mechanic, makes cooperative play implicit. Everybody can potentially be doing stuff to mechanically affect a test. I really like this!

Am contrasting this with stuff like D&D’s skill checks, where players might be counting on a Ranger making their survival roll, but nobody’s quite as invested because they are not actually participating.


Failing Forward
The BWHQ (and PbTA) games are explicitly about making rolls have dramatic weight. No surprise that Torchbearer is good at this -

Like, really good, I’m finding? Guess I’m a sucker for that downward spiral of twists and conditions.


Intra-party Drama
The Trait / Check interplay is clever. It encourages playing colourful, potentially abrasive characters without punishing the group as a whole.

A kender-fingered burglar might be exasperating in fiction, but a boon at the table, since her antics will be earning us Checks for camp. Lessens that “play true to my stick-in-the-mud paladin, or play along with the rest of the party?” binary.

(Also there’s the “WORK TOGETHER OR DIE” difficulty level.)


Hard-mode Co-op
Man, what a punishing game. With the rules so adversarial, seems like a GM would have to embody Dungeon World’s be-a-fan-of-the-characters principle just for players to have a chance.

Which is nice! “Fair, but sympathetic” is a nice space for a GM to be in – in a way, the GM is also playing co-op with his players.


Story-led, System-bound
Keeping Torchbearer ”fiction first” is tough when the rules gird everything, there are abstract concepts (Checks, Turns), and a zillion situational niggles to remember.

I like the crunch! Rewarding to learn, and watch work. But buy-in level is high, and the rules are tough to grok at a glance. Not sure whether I’ll be able to convince my meatspace group to try this out … :frowning:

Welcome! Good stuff!

You’re right that buy-in can be high, but it sounds like you have the right attitude toward it. If you can communicate that, you might have some success. Torchbearer characters are definitely colorful. They will struggle and suffer, no doubt. But if you’re in the right frame of mind, their trials and tribulations can be incredibly funny. And their ability to pull through tough situations, to take a beating and keep going, can surprise you. Players who really enjoy Torchbearer seem to find a way to enjoy their characters’ trials (and are suitably impressed when they pull through despite the odds).

Also, ‘fair but sympathetic’ is a great way to think of the role of the Torchbearer GM. When I GM, I want the characters to do well, but I’m going to give them hell so they show me what they’ve got.

great notes and insight.

Damn i wish I could play the game and not run it.

Thanks for making the game, Thor!

Safe to say Torchbearer is my favourite system, currently. Design-wise it’s just so well-crafted; and I appreciate that it’s so different from the OSR, while still embodying the same ethos. I’m all for “lowly joes struggling through adversity / hilarious misfortune with grit and cunning”-type play - am a big fan of low-Career WFRP - I think it just fits my predilections. (Not everybody does; our Roll20 group just lost a player because it wasn’t his cuppa … )

Glad you’re enjoying it!