Protection from Tax

A character spends 3D of cash on an Ob 2 Resources test, augmenting their native Resources 1. They fail anyway. Thankfully, the cash shields them from the tax!

Does that mean I as GM say: “OK, you fail the test, but the tax you would have suffered is negated,” so the character effectively avoids the penalty for failing? Or am I supposed to say, “OK, you fail the test, so you’re really Angry about getting ripped off,” and give a condition (or, I suppose, some other twist) instead of tax?


You can do either of those things. Or you can introduce a twist. Tax is an additional failure option in your toolbox.

The way I read it, tax is a replacement for a condition. However, if you rely on that mechanic then it essentially means you can trade cash for stuff. Why spend 3D of cash on an Ob 2 item when you could just spend 2D of cash and be safe no matter what the outcome? That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I mean, trading cash for stuff is how most RPGs work anyway and on top of that you have the choice of holding back on the cash a little and risking your personal resources. On the other hand if you want to avoid that direct exchange mechanic and start putting other conditions and twists on top of tax, that can get pretty harsh. Particularly with twists, since if you are instituting a twist then technically they don’t get what they wanted… they lose the cash, they don’t get the item, and a new obstacle presents itself on top of that… ouch. Then again, Torchbearer is supposed to be harsh, so maybe it’s alright if the players lose everything once in a while… particularly if that’s dramatically interesting and appropriate.

Would this be a situation where you would warn them in advance that the risks are great? Or do they always risk everything, even when they’re just stopping to pick up some sacks at the local market?

I may as well post the context I’m operating in.

I come from a Burning Wheel background, where Tax is just what happens on a failed Resources test. So do 3/4 of my players. We just sort of assume that failed Resources tests incur tax in Torchbearer through osmosis. I’m also sort of against handing out other conditions or twists on failed Resources tests, because…it feels like it short-circuits some of the system interactions, I guess? You need failed Resources tests to advance. If you test and fail Resources, and you get tax, it wipes your slate clean - harsh! Incredibly harsh! So you need cash dice in order to gracefully fail and actually advance Resources. Handing out the Angry condition on a failed Resources test to buy rations feels like throwing underhand to my players, so to speak. If the threat of tax isn’t nearly always present, the desperate need for cash dice is lessened as well, and (I thought) that’s the drive mechanism of the game. It also feels against my spirit of fair play: “You spent cash dice so I can’t tax you, therefore I’ll give you a condition instead!” Some gut part of me thinks that if they spent resources to avoid a penalty, switching up and giving them another penalty is cheap. Add into this all of Mr. Bard’s points: trading cash for stuff is how things work most of the time anyway, and you still need failures in order to advance Resources, so succeeding all the time is “safe” but doesn’t really get you anywhere; piling on conditions and twists gets pretty harsh.

And yet, I think I’d give out a condition in some situations - it hardly makes sense for a well-heeled adventurer with Resources 4 to lose a quarter of his wealth buying 2 shares of fresh rations at the market. Maybe I need to think more in the fiction, and levy tax chiefly for costly things while giving conditions or twists for staples and inexpensive things.


I wonder if you couldn’t also give some say to the players as to whether they get tax, conditions, or twists. Not like, “pick one” but more narratively. In advance you could ask them “are you more concerned with getting the item or with conserving your resources?” If they want the item, tax them. If they want to conserve their resources then consider giving them a condition like exhausted or angry for spending so long haggling with the guy, or if they really fail don’t give them the item and give them a twist instead. That might work out well and give the players the sense that they’re working with the GM instead of in opposition to.

They’re all just options at your disposal. Use the option you feel best for the situation at hand. There’s nothing wrong with turning to Tax most of the time. But if something fits better, use it.

Also, once players hit Resources 4 or 5, they get a little cavalier about cash dice. That’s when you can really sting someone with Tax. Sometimes you have to softball it a little bit so they’ll let down their guard…

Taxed Resources are gone for good—a permanent reduction, right? Not counting, of course, the standard rules for advancement (and the fact their tests just got wiped out). I guess that makes using treasure as cash dice all the more important. It’s just confusing that it’s called “tax” when Nature has a recoverable tax.

Yep, you got the idea.