Should Goals 'direct' the adventure?


Having come from playing quite a lot of Burning Wheel where the Goals actually sort of direct the action, I’m trying to get my head around Goals In Torchbearer. I wish Luke and now along with Thor would stop messing with my head. Anyway…

Should Goals be predicated on the information given by the GM, based on rumor and rolls, or can you just make shite up?

For example: If the GM had described an old tomb in the hills where a Barron lived.

Can my Goal be something simple like, “I will enter the tomb and look for treasures of old”, or…

can it be elaborate like, “The dead Barron is a Liche lord guarding the <Ring of making something invisible and thus rule the entire universe>. I will recover this Ring, of course while avoiding falling into open volcanoes.”

In the first case I just go on what the GM has told me and in the second I have created story items.

Is the GM required to now insert a Ring’o’Doom into the current adventure? Does the GM need to ‘hit’ Goals as per Burning Wheel? Or is it up to the player to work with the GM to come up with something sensible and ultimately something the character would actually know via a roll of some type, “Ring-wise” for example?


I also wouldn’t mind more of a template for goal creation. Far too often, the players just want to write “find treasure” as their goal, or they will make a goal that more or less sums up their mission for the session, or whatever they decide on doing. I prefer goals that enrich the story and the characters, or involve something between the players, such as “get to the bottom of what is bothering Korgan” or whatever. In this kind of game where the goal really is to amass treasure, it’s hard to get players to make interesting goals.

You can wrie such a goal but it doesn’t make that ring appear. Goals come after you prepared the dungeon.

Goals should be tied to something in the fiction, but not used to dictate it. In your examples above, they would at least have heard a rumor about the ring of doom. Even then, it’s important to stress to your players that these are just rumors. My goal would be, “I will discover the truth about the ring of doom.” That leaves the situation open to finding it, learning it though research, or some other avenue of discovery.

Just to reiterate what others have already said: As a Torchbearer GM, I don’t need to hear your goal until the end of the session when we’re doing rewards. It’s up to the players to drive toward their goals in play.

In my experience, players tend to start with goals about getting loot early on, and will occasionally dip back into such goals from time to time. But as you play and a world emerges out of that play, they will naturally tend to start taking on goals about stopping a particular enemy/villain, righting a wrong, avenging a grudge, fulfilling a boast, etc.

Also, treasure means different things to different people. Describe an ancient vault filled with gold and silver, lost secrets of the ancient world, a terrible evil rising once more to plague the living and an artifact of unimaginable power (bag of holding), and if your players are anything like mine, you’ll see a bunch of different goals around obtaining or destroying.

Yeah, torchbearer is a little less collaborative than BW. Remember that it’s an homage to original d&d, so it’s a little more GM on one side of the screen with players on the other. The world exists for the players to explore or even shape at higher levels, it isn’t so much the creation of a shared experience. The Goal is then the mechanism for making explicit what the players wish to accomplish today, and remember that goals should be small and single session oriented. “I will find the truth about the ring of doom” is probably a bad goal for a player to choose. It may be their ambition, but ambitions aren’t explicit in TB… unless you decide to add that, which I did in one of the hacks I wrote a while ago.

I know Thor said that as a GM he doesn’t need to know your goal until the end, but I just love to disagree with him. A GM who is aware of the player’s goals can drive the action toward conflict between goals using their twists. The players shouldn’t be establishing canon with their goals, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t asking for a challenge or some conflict when they set their goals. This can still be something the GM goes after to create moments of conflict between beliefs and goals, or goals and beliefs for different party members.

Also, if your players always choose simple goals like “find the treasure” that just means that’s what they want out of their game experience, and that’s a perfectly valid way to play a game that is a dungeon delving homage to original d&d. I would say either enjoy the dungeon delving and puzzle solving for it’s own sake in that case, or switch to BW (or any number of other indie rpgs) if you’re really craving mechanisms for encouraging deeper rp.

I can unpack a little: I pay attention to beliefs and instincts (especially for characters that last more than one session), but I actively discourage players from telling me their goals.

I view my job as fairly representing the play location (generally the dungeon), the inhabitants and their reactions to the characters’ actions. They shift naturalistically in response to the characters’ actions, but not in response to the players’ actions. For example, if I’ve put giant frogs in the moat near the entrance to the dungeon and the players cleverly avoid that entrance, skirt the moat and enter the dungeon another way, I won’t move the giant frogs to another location to force the encounter. The players earned their success. On the other hand, if the characters wind up making a lot of noise and warn the monsters of their approach, I’ll have the monsters react – moving to more defensible locations and concentrating their numbers.

In the same way, I don’t want to tempt myself to ramp up the opposition just because a player found a clever way to approach her goal and bypassed the trap or monsters that I thought they would struggle with.

That would be different in Mouse Guard however right? When a player has a goal about something specific i should look at threatening it with a twist or conflict?

I disagree about it being a bad goal. It’s probably not the first goal the player would choose, but it is certainly a logical progression of something like:

I Will Find the Dead Barron Lich’s Tomb.

I Will Take the Dead Barron Lich’s Loot.

I will Learn the Truth About the Ring of Doom.

It’s super important to get players to break down their goals into steps and to adapt those goals as the situation in the dungeon changes. So maybe they find the dead barron lich’s tomb, but, in doing so, cause a cave in. They earn for accomplishing it, but the next goal might be, “We must find our way out of this cave before we can deal with the dead barron lich.”

Yes. Mouse Guard and Torchbearer are different in this respect.

Hi Thor,

I get where Goals fit in now. In some ways Goals are the unwritten reasons in OD&D/1e AD&D that meant we bothered adventuring. Strangely enough your description makes me think of the characters in the old sci-fi show Blake’s 7. They had clear Goals as you term the word.

Cheers once again for helping the Torchbearer crowd get the most out of the game!


…now I kinda want to do a sci-fi hack of Torchbearer where you’re the crew of a ship going on FTL-style runs…

Ah, good points Thor. I wouldn’t advocate for fudging the ecosystem of the dungeon, I was thinking more situations where you have multiple perfectly valid twists to apply and one makes their goal more challenging while the other is irrelevant or maybe orthogonal to their goals. Though, yeah, pressing on their goals too hard might start to feel unnatural, sticking to challenging beliefs and instincts does make sense.

Vanguard, I see your point, that goal just felt a little vague or general to be a really clear and achievable goal. How much of the truth? The history, the powers, the secret purpose, the owner, the location… It would be a compelling belief in BW but it just doesn’t strike my palate quite right for TB.

How so? Adventuring for information is pretty common in TB. I could easily see the player drumming up leads in town at the bar and then using that to make a Circles test to find someone with more information about the ring or who knows someone who might know about the ring. There’s a lot that can go wrong in chasing that down and it would almost certainly lead to an adventure.

Or a romantic encounter. True story.

“A lot can go wrong” isn’t the heuristic for judging a goal in TB though. Achievable this session with a degree of challenge or potential conflict is the heuristic, is it not? If they are drumming up leads that start an adventure then their goal is way too long term, there’s still that whole adventure to get through! Now in that example a good goal might be “Find a lead on the Ring of Doom”. The only situation where “Find the truth about the Ring of Doom” would have the right scope is if the context of the word “truth” is very clear. For example, if they were just outside the lair of the creator and it was obvious that the player’s intention was to find and interrogate the creator. Without an extremely obvious and present context the word “truth” is just too vague, that’s all I meant. It’s a great belief for BW and could drive a character’s motivations for a good story arc quite specifically because the vagueness could allow it to be revisited again and again, a journey rather than a destination. In TB, though, doesn’t the Goal have to be more of a destination?

It’s definitely achievable in a single session. Finding someone who knows what you want? That’s a Circles test. The town is the destination (or wherever this person ends up being).

I suppose I had assumed that something like a Ring of Doom isn’t the sort of thing you can find the truth about with a circles test, that would feel anticlimactic. Maybe a circles test that leads to an adventure that leads to the truth, but then still, you’re right, that last session where the truth is just around the corner it would become an appropriate goal.

It would almost certainly lead to an adventure, but there would also be a hefty amount of information about it, too. Going from the obvious fiction we are drawing from, there was no shortage of people who could talk, with some authority, about its origins, purpose, the risk of using it, and how it must be unmade. Upon learning this, “the truth” about this ring is that, for whatever power it grants the bearer, it also brings a heavy price and must be destroyed. Next goal: I will find a way to Mt. Doom!