Secrets of the Old City

Been wanting to run some players through Simon Bull’s Secrets of the Old City (PDF here) for a while now, and my first Torchbearer session seemed like a great fit.

Spent about the first 90 minutes of the session making characters, which went smoothly considering it was everyone’s first time with the game. Half the players hadn’t experienced anything from Burning Wheel Headquarters previously.

Dramatis personae:

Cawshis, Human Warrior, played by P.
[ul][li]B: Nothing for me but blood and treasure, spent and earned.
[/li][li]I: Always leave out traps for small game.
[/li][li]G: I will rescue the kids and get the reward.[/ul]
[/li]Finnegan, Human Cleric, played by J.
[ul][li]B: With enough fame and fortune, I can protect and serve my parish.
[/li][li]I: Always look for the safer path.
[/li][li]G: I will come out stronger, richer, and retake my synagogue.[/ul]
[/li]Moony, Human Magician, played by M.
[ul][li]B: Knowledge is the key to survival.
[/li][li]I: Always study the enemy before engaging in conflict.
[/li][li]G: Find secret knowledge.[/ul]
[/li]Silver Ox, Halfling Burglar, played by C.
[ul][li]B: Anything I can steal is money in my pocket.
[/li][li]I: Always double-check for valuables.
[/li][li]G: Find treasure to pay off my debt.[/ul]
[/li]The players started out with a lit lantern, descending the staircase at 1. There was a lit torch and light spilling into the hall to their left. They went south.

As they approached the guard house (2), they could hear voices, but they were not able to make out what they were saying. Silver Ox volunteered to sneak ahead and check out the room. He wanted to use his halfling nature for this test, but could not as he had 2 ranks in scout. I used the solider profile for the guards, testing their nature against Silver Ox’s scout. With some help from one of his companions’ mirror, was able to see and hear what was going on around the doorway. (He passed the test; his fresh conditioning canceled out the penalty for operating in dim light.)

I decided it was a Dutch door, half open. Inside, the soldiers were playing cards and making smalltalk. The players decided they would march in confidently and tell the soldiers they were their relief. This seemed like a great opportunity for a conflict.

Finnegan’s player was the conflict leader, as the plan was his suggestion. The characters were trying to convince the soldiers to give up their post; if the soldiers won, they would arrest the party. Soldiers tested halved will against the players, and had a lousy disposition to boot; but helped each other, produced a work order as evidence against the players (which they stole in short order), and made use of their stubborn trait to knock off half the party’s disposition during the conflict. One of the soldiers was knocked out in the first round and was conscripted into helping Silver Ox cook dinner.

Compromise was that the soldiers abandoned their post, but planned to come back with their superior and get to the bottom of this, so the party better wait right there for them. The loot table came up with mundane equipment, so I told the players there were shields, spears, and torches aplenty if they wanted to take any.

Not wanting to hang around for the soldiers’ return, the players continued south. They came to the causeway (3), and I said it would be an obstacle 2 health test to traverse, the narrow, slippery, and and rubble-strewn ledge along the sewage channel. Moony recommended they tie themselves together, so he tested with help from the rest of the party. No problem, and they made their way across toward area 12.

At this point, their lantern went out and they lit a new flask of oil. (No test?! grumble grumble)

Examining the area, I described that it looked like things had been dragged through this passageway recently, and the party slowly made its way toward the spider liar. When the huge cobwebs and dry bones hinted that they were getting in over their heads, Moony tested hunter to see what he could discern about the spiders. This was versus their nature, and for his success he gleaned their hiding descriptor; after some deliberation, the party decided to turn back.

Four turns had passed by now, however the party eschewed to set up camp, as they had no checks, simply eating and drinking of their provisions to remove their hungry and thirsty condition. At least they were no longer fresh.

Returning to the causeway, it was an Ob 2 test again as they decided to try going southeast. They repeated the rope plan and succeeded, but having them head off away from the action seemed lame, so I told them that after a ways they reached an arched gateway in the stone tunnel, through which none of them could pass. Not wanting to negate the successful test, I offered that they stumbled upon the secret door in that area, and we called it a night.

Solid first session. Lingering observations:
[ul][li]Does the party either test or at least lose a turn every time they navigate from one area to another, if they have not tested cartographer to make a map? This seems to be the case, but I didn’t find it spelled out in the rules.
[/li][li]No test or turn passing to relight new light sources, only dependent on the players’ supplies, right?
[/li][li]Similarly, no test to eat and drink if the players have provisions, right? This might have cost them a turn, but I can’t remember.
[/li][li]Moony’s player earned two checks with his foolhardy trait in the versus test against the spiders as he wandered into their liar and thrashed about in their webs, so I’m hopeful they’ll have some incentive to camp properly next session.[/ul]
[/li]Any thoughts or feedback? Things it looked like I missed? Situations you would have handled differently? Can’t wait to play again!

Hi Daniel!

  1. This is up to you. Until they map it, they are at risk of getting turned about or intercepted by unexpected encounters.
  2. Not unless there are extenuating circumstances. Consider lighting a torch on a torch the best of all good ideas. Consider lighting a torch alone in the dark to be a Survivalist test. :slight_smile:
  3. Correct. No test or turn.

How did you feel about the game?

Hello, Luke!

Thank you for the comments. I feel that the players should have been beaten up more by the end of the session, but that’s on me. Navigating the rules of a new game and trying to provide challenging opposition required more mindspace than I had available to me that night. Your first point above is a very important part of running the game that I don’t think gets enough coverage in the book. The two times the party traversed the causeways were the least interesting parts of the session, and yet these mundane exploration tasks seem like they should carry a lot of mechanical weight in the game. I’ll be better prepared to make them more interesting next time.

Also, this post of yours was invaluable post-game reading. I’d avoided most of the Torchbearer discussions until after I’d skimmed the rules and ran my first session, so I’m glad I found that one.

I agree, that was definitely a great behind-the-screen look at a very core philosophical aspect of Torchbearer.

Second session! Where does a secret door in the sewers lead, but to the Lair of the Possessed Otyugh! (See, it’s right there the comments.)

Finnegan gave a great prologue, but had no taxed nature to recover. Party (missing P./Cawshis this time) decided to explore the naturally carved tunnel they found beyond a weakened sewer wall. Sending forth Silver Ox, with his trusty candle and Moony’s rope around his waist, I called for a Ob 4 Dungeoneering test to navigate the tight space. Silver Ox failed and was knocked unconscious (twist).

Cut back to Moony and Finnegan. The rope in Moony’s hand goes slack, Silver Ox’s candle can no longer can be seen, and Silver Ox won’t respond to their calls. The grab their torch and make their way in after him. They fail the Ob 4 Dungeoneering test. (Should I have changed the circumstances? Probably.) Another twist!

In the dim light, Moony and Finnegan see Silver Ox’s cloaked form lying in in the tunnel, but when they prod the unresponsive form, it’s a ghoul. His filthy claws grab hold of Finnegan’s shield, but the cleric calls upon the fury of the Lords of Life and Death, and he sends the monster running.

Meanwhile, Silver Ox comes to in one of the cells off the preparation room. He finds his way to the lock, manages to pick it despite the dark, and searches the other cells, finding a strange, monstrance-like object. He leaves through the cell with the collapsed wall, and runs into Moony and Finnegan, who were headed that way following the ghoul.

They made camp in the preparation room, despite the bloody butcher block and bonesaws. Moony cooked to alleviate their hungry condition, and shared his other check with Silver Ox, who recovered from being afraid.

The party made their way out of the preparation room and were ambushed by ghouls from the temple alcoves. Silver Ox tried crawling underneath one and he and Finnegan were grabbed by ghouls. Finnegan drove off the ghouls with the Fury of the Lords of Life and Death, which he rememorized at some point, and they made their way to the temple.

Standing on the alter, the party examined a carving of great warriors casting down wretched humanoids into hell. Finnegan used Theologist to identify the warriors as the pantheistic gods of the old religion the was in place before the monotheistic faith to which he adheres came into vogue. By making off-color jokes about the carving, Silver Ox used his merrymaking to relieve Moony and Finnegan of their afraid conditions, which had been hampering the party’s exploration, but became angry himself in the process, when he realized that by laughing at small, wretched creatures, they were laughing at the halfling, too.

We called it a night and made some awards. Pretty smooth session, although I didn’t enjoy splitting up the characters, even for a short time.

M. made some really cool tiles that we’ve been using at the table, so I took a picture to share:


At the top are weapon tiles for dagger, mace, and shield. On the right are one of the sets of torch tiles. Conflict actions are in the middle, and conditions are at the bottom.