Another adventure! This one is back underground, and so more obviously suited to Torchbearer than the last few. A delve into a natural cavern system turns into a tangle with an underworld monastery on the brink of self-destruction. Though Flesh Be Vast
I am planning on running the Stellarium of the Vinteralf this weekend at a convention.
I have just realised from this thread that Prince Thavir and his buddies are actually Vinteralf and not just some some human prince who fancies conquering the ruin. To change it back or not… I put Prince Thavir as one of the character’s enemies.
Changing things is obviously completely okay. But yes, Thavir et. al. are Vinteralf. The whole thing is a sort of chilly inversion of The Hobbit - this time it’s the dragon that’s invisible, and it’s the Vinteralf that have the right to the place: they’re the dwarves. There’s even a halfling burglar in the freezer!
I think I’ll make them Vinteralf after all. Having frozen humans defrost makes for either oddly behaving magic or oddly behaving physiology.
Here’s the twelfth adventure, The Necromancers’ Wish. An host of ancestral necromancer-kings puts their beloved community on a collision course with everyone around them.
These are beautiful! Has anyone run through any using the TB rules yet? Would be curious to hear how it went.
I gather Tannoch has been used in TB a couple of times, yes. Most people tweak them a fair bit before using them, so there’s that.
I used Stellarium without any tweaks. Worked great.
For this adventure, I decided to indulge a yen for a hex map: behold, the Extent of Gamandes! Gamandes, demigod of the Carreg, has been slain by the alien Void Gulls and their treacherous allies, the Nuss. Now Gamandes’ home plane is being devoured by the void while bands of Carreg struggle to survive in the apocalyptic landscape.
This one is special to me, since it’s the adventure I used for my very first Torchbearer playtest. Rather than say much about it now, I’ll just quote the email to Luke and Thor I penned after playing, back in 2012.
This is just fragmentary - but wow, that was fun. I’m impressed.
We made characters in the first hour, and then played for four, finishing off with a slightly rushed town phase (which the players were too beaten up to do much with, as it happens).
From the GM’s perspective, it was almost like the game ran itself. I went in with a sketch, worrying that it was going to feel too bare, but the mechanics leapt up and filled the void. The choices felt meaningful right from inventory layout, and the players always had plenty to worry about, even if they were just poking around. It felt tense, and tentative, like exploring a ruin should feel.
The adventure I went in with worked well with it, I think. I deliberately didn’t want a linear adventure, so I created a fairly connected space (a ruined cloistered monastery) that the players could wander around in.
I followed the pattern that LOFP’s “Death Frost Doom” and Zombie Elves (a 2012 1-pg dungeon) use, which is to tuck the monsters away for a bit. You don’t meet them until it feels you’ve explored a bit, gotten a bit scraped up, and advanced just a bit too far for an easy retreat.
I’ve said it before, but the ‘adventuring minigame’ has the effect of stretching a simple dungeon idea into a longer story (kinda like the way an episode of Lost or X-files really only has a few plot payoffs, procedure and logistics make up a lot of the meat), which made GMing it feel easy. I felt like a stage manager more than a director.
That’s both good and bad - while it’s amazing that this really true-to-genre experience rises out of the pages unbidden, I did also feel slightly disconnected from the players’ emotions. I wasn’t responsible for them - it’s not me grinding them, it’s the system! This feels like a triumph, because the game clearly produces the experience described on the tin. At times I felt like a worried witness to their scarcity.
I think the dungeon was tough. Not … deadly, exactly, but - first of all, there were only two of them. That makes everything quite a bit harder. Secondly, my adventure design didn’t mete out treasure in proportion to their effort - the treasure had been scraped up by the two factions. To get it out, the players will have to make a determined push at one or the other to get at the hoard.
The players played opportunistically, and as a result wound up sampling a lot of the dangers without ever quite pushing through to the big payoff. As a result, they’re in decidedly worse shape than when they started. So much so that Tim spent much of the aftergame trying to figure out whether players can just get so bad that they can’t recover. (Homeless, all conditions, and broke, which isn’t far off from where they are now.)
Having said that, in some ways this dungeon was easier than it could have been - there’s a stream of drinkable water that runs through a ravine that bisects the ruin that basically reduces long-term food pressure, and as a ruin, most rooms are in dim light, rather than darkness. (The catacomb beneath is the exception.)
I really like the way kobolds handle. A posse of kobolds can generate an impressive die pool from all that Help, but the teammate-knockout effect means a solid first attack can scatter them and shatter their fighting effectiveness.
The ‘drive off’ goal is also very fun. Losing is painful, but there’s a safety net - and also it’s nice the way it has geographic implications. In a linear adventure path, the encounters are liked staged boxing matches. Knock them down, proceed. But a pack of fleeing kobolds has to go somewhere, making geographic knowledge of the adventure more valuable.
That’s the one thing the players now have - knowledge. They burned through all nine of their torches and most of their food, and came out of it with a measly 1D of copper and the crypt master’s prize tome. (The tome contained a spell, but poor Logi the Wizard was too Exhausted to actually read it! Desperate for cash, he reluctantly pawned it. Painful.) Even so, they’re way behind because of lost or damaged equipment and consumables.
But now they know the lay of the land. For session two, we may be adding two more players, which has a fantastically organic feel to it. Two players will get to experience an adventure hook from people who really were there. “Listen up, boys, here’s how this is gonna work.”
Second time in, the locale might feel underwhelming, I’m not sure. The logistical challenges are still there, but four players will bash through the first layer of the opposition with ease, so we’ll see how they fare against the second tier.
A couple of specific things worked really well in the adventure. One was a little running mystery - every single bit of wood in the place had been taken away, even the interior and exterior doors. This gradually built from a ‘huh, that’s weird’ into a genuine puzzler.
Secondly, when the players finally decided to drop themselves down the shattered fountain into the half-flooded chaos chapel below, the master of the crypt had to do little more than bang the gong to summon his servants to tear them to shreds. This unexpectedly turned into my favourite scene of the session. Each turn they scavenged for treasure, another crypt servant arrived to block the exit. After two desperate turns, which only turned up a sack of copper coins, their fear got the better of them and they bolted through the unexplored catacombs. (They’d inadvertently dropped into the boss room; I had expected them to come in another way.)
This made the discovery of what happened to the furniture all the more awesome - the kobolds had used it to erect a barricade to keep out the undead. I had been looking forward to this moment, but it was totally awesome that the players ran into it from the undead side, while fleeing for their lives on their last torch, stolen coins spilling from their hands.
I can’t wait to play again, particularly with more players. The players are cautiously optimistic. They’re hooked but they’re scared that they’re being slowly ground out of existence. They might be right!
It’s fun how hard the PC’s have to work in this game. Coming out of the town phase with 1D of silver leftover is like a major victory … and just enough to lure the poor sods back for more.
Is the Torchbearer system going to influence your future designs you think?
I think I’ve muddled you with the timing - this adventure site was originally written and played (using Torchbearer) back in 2012, which is when I wrote the text of that post. And yeah, Torchbearer has been hugely influential for me.
It’s a great module, Michael. I just had a few teensy issues:
- How deep is the ravine in which B, C, and D are located (J implies 20’)?
- Any notion of the Ob for climbing down the ravine with/without gear?
- Looks like the “H” in the “H. Dormitory” heading isn’t bold.
- If the fire drake is in its lair (I) then what will it be inclined to do besides calling for the kobolds? Kill, Drive Off, Flee?
Always a pleasure!
- Yes, 20’. Updated.
- When I ran it, I just used the factors in the back of the book - I don’t usually work out Obs before play. Assuming the players try to use Dungeoneer to climb down, I’d call it a vertical pitch (p. 138).
- Weird! Thanks! Updated.
- I imagine the players will be neck-deep in kobolds by the time they reach ‘I’, unless they go in through the roof. IIUC, in Torchbearer the specific conflict type is largely up to the player. In terms of the narration, the drake is small, greedy, bitter and flighty - it would be inclined to drive off small parties, kill lone interlopers, and flee any determined invaders. This adventure is definitely not overdeveloped in terms of the motives and likely behaviors of the occupants!
This one’s a bit weird, I make no apologies.
A ruined mountain garrison is now occupied by a peaceful band of giants and their followers. Inside, they work to perfect a ritual of tea making, a task they see as essential to the well-being of humanity.
Also, they abduct people.
Really incredible stuff.
When are you going to let us collect and publish them all?
Doing that has been in my mind for a while now, I’ll email you.