Scripting Advice

I’m going to try running Torchbearer for some friends in a few days, and I could use advice on conflict scripting.

I don’t have a lot of experience with BW, but if I’m remembering correctly, there were a number of “tells” that you could use to reason about what your opponent might choose to do. If they aren’t armed with a fast weapon, they can’t just chain Strike, Set before Great Strike, you can expect them to try to position to the best range for their weapon, etc (of course they might use this expectation to bluff).

Torchbearer doesn’t seem to have anything like this. A combatant can do anything at any time, so how do you try to guess at their actions? Does the GM need to strongly roleplay the monsters through their actions? (the shambling dead have no self-preservation or subtlety, so it’s all Attack, the kobolds are skittish and clever, so expect lots of maneuvers and feints) Presumably once a side is beat up a bit, they might try to Defend their way back up to higher disposition to avoid a nasty compromise. Any other tactics hiding in there that I don’t see?

Or is it just a big ball of chaos and you see what shakes out?

There’s actually a lot more information at your disposal than you might think.

First and foremost, there’s simple things: It doesn’t really pay to Defend in the first round. It’s possible you won’t have lost any disposition by that point, so you won’t be able to benefit from the action. That means you’re somewhat less likely to benefit from a Feint, though people do like to Maneuver early on, so you don’t want to write Feint off altogether. Also, differences in disposition can be very telling. If one side has a low disposition and the other side a relatively high one, expect the side with low disposition to choose very aggressive actions in an effort to generate as big a compromise as possible before they go down.

Second, everyone has to announce the weapons they’re using for the round. If someone announces they’re using a Shield, you know they get a +2D bonus to Defend actions. True, you don’t know which action that character will act on, and you don’t know for certain that character will Defend, but it’s a good indication. The same is true of other weapons. One of the great things about a sword is that you don’t give away much of anything the first time you use it. In subsequent rounds, though, everyone will know what action it benefits. With monsters, you might not know what their weapons do, so you’ll have to observe carefully to get a similar sense.

Third are the skills and abilities. For instance, starting Magicians don’t have a Fighter skill, so in a kill conflict it’s a good bet that the Magician will opt for a Defend or Maneuver unless she has the Eldritch Darts spell (a tell of its own), or they have the personality to go for Beginner’s Luck in a deadly situation. Likewise, low-level clerics tend to have a low Fighter skill, so their calculus is similar.

Finally, and perhaps most important, there’s roleplaying. The character and demeanor of your opponent should heavily influence the actions that you choose for them. In my view, for instance, ogres are pretty straightforward. They can be cunning, but they’re not really tricksy. They’ll mostly use attacks and maneuvers. Occasionally they’ll defend (if they find themselves badly hurt), but they generally won’t do it early in a fight. Goblins are completely different. They’re conniving yet murderous. They won’t come at you directly unless they outnumber you. Feints and maneuvers tend to be their bread and butter.

Good points, I definitely hadn’t thought about weapon choice as a tell.

Your example about announcing the use of your shield made me wonder: can you declare the use of a one-handed weapon and shield during a round, or do you have to pick one or the other? Your example makes me think it’s the latter.

With monster weapons, how up front are you with their mechanical effects? If a monster has Slimy Scales, would you at the start of the round say something like “its Slimy Scales glisten as it slithers about unpredictably”, maybe implying a bonus to Feint or Maneuver. Or do you just tell them straight up when it equips the weapon (“it’s using its Slimy Scales, which give a bonus to Feint”). If not, then when the weapon helps a newly revealed action, do you say the mechanic then (“it Feints and gets +1s from its Slimy Scales”) or still just narratively show that the weapon helped the action (“it Feints, coming at you as you slip in a patch of its slime”)?

A shield is a weapon like any other, so you have to pick it at the top of the round.

As for monster weapons, I’ve used all those approaches at various times. I tend to prefer to describe things narratively and let the players figure it out themselves, but I wouldn’t say I’m rigorous about it. Whatever feels best to you and your group will be fine!