today I’d like to share with you my impressions of my last session. Our group consisted of me (the GM) and 4 players of differing experiences with Torchbearer. I ran an introductory dungeon that I wrote myself. It was actually the second time that I used this dungeon for a group, so I would also use this platform as a general evaluation of the dungeon so far. You can find links to both the dungeon and the map at the end of this post.
I designed the dungeon with new players in mind. I myself am fairly new to the game and was eager to teach the system to some players who are familiar with RPGs but not with Torchbearer. We used the 2e rules and pregens. Because of technical difficulties one player dropped out mid-session but it was easy enough to adjust to for us. The following paragraphs contain spoilers.
The reasons why the adventurers know of this dungeon in the first place varied both times because I am still trying to find a hook that is simple enough and yet catching. The first time it was a shepherd who wanted to use a special path in the mountains as their traveling route but was too scared of the dark presence of the tomb that is located there. Last time it was a traveling merchant from the other side of the mountain range who came across a map and sold it to the adventurers. Since there are Troll Bats in this dungeon, I think that the next group has the task to clear this part of the mountain of those bats for good and maybe find someone who got lost there. Gives good goals for the session.
The adventure party consisted of a Dwarven Outcast, Human Magician, Human Warrior, and Hafling Burglar. All level 1.
We started right at the entryway to dungeon, which was blocked by a small pile of rubble and debris. A quick Laborer roll made by the Dwarf and Warrior cleared the entryway right up. A horrible stench crawled up their noses. Hesitantly they decided to advance. They went down a long, straight corridor with richly decorated walls. They examined the walls quickly and found out that what they thought were wall carving were actually very valuable marble reliefs. They weren’t that intersted in the reliefs though and went deeper into the dungeon. At the end of the tunnel was a rectangular, smooth wall with a wolf-headed warrior chiseled into its left side. They already gathered some clues that I didn’t mention and were able to solve this puzzle quickly. They drew a boar-headed warrior on the right side of the wall with some pieces of chalk that lay on the ground and entered the first room of the dungeon.
The room was octagonal and the air with imbued with the abominable stench from earlier. The source of this stench were 5 Troll Bats that roosted in this part of the tomb and covered the whole room in their guano. The Halfling decided to sneak up to them to discern what type of bats they are and how many they were exactly. After that the group decided to successfully drive off those nasty Troll Bats! They were rewarded with a bit of junk and gear. Having cleared this room from immediate threat, they decided to follow the western corridor.
The corridor serves as an ossuary and the adventurers had the opportunity to learn something more about the lore of this dungeon at this point. They went further down the ossuary and arrived at a gateway that was covered in arcane runes. The runes were in a very bad condition and had to be deciphered by the Magician. There was an opportunity here to restore the runes and reactivate the spell but either I didn’t telegraph this enough to the players or they didn’t see this opportunity themselves, I don’t know. In any case, they didn’t restore the runes and went into the next room.
This was the main stage of the dungeon: a pentagonal room with a sarcophagus in its middle and a statue of a boar- or wolf-headed warrior with silver bracelets around their left arm at each corner. Stealing from the sarcophagus or the statues leads to the statues coming to life and attacking the adventurers. In each game so far one player tried to snitch one of the bracelets. This time it was the halfling who tried his luck and was promplty grabbed by one of the statues. I am still not fully certain how to run conflict-less encounters (which I did in both oneshots), but this time I asked the players what they wanted to do and told them what they would have to roll to accomplish that. They decided to fight their way out of the room. I handled this as a Flee conflict. I made a mistake here by letting only two of them roll because of the way they described their actions (two players described that their characters would fight while the other two characters would use the opening created to sneak out; I decided that the two fleeing characters were not of any interest for this conflict and could just leave while the other two had to make a test). But it all worked out and they managed to flee the scene.
Back at the room they came from, I introduced some Corpse Candles, that were attracted by the energy of the ghost that haunted this tomb. They trapped the Magician, who tried to examine them and used his Wizard’s Sight against himself. The Corpse Candles led him down the eastern tunnel. The other characters followed him. They were all caught by surprise as the vile stench of guano overwhelmed their senses. I asked for a Health test and only the Hafling managed to pull himself together, the others had to deal with an Evil GM Factor for as long as they remained in this part of the dungeon.
It was really great roleplay here, because the characters didn’t know that the Magician was actually entranced and only realized their predicament when they reached a large cave that was the main roost of about 15 sleeping Troll Bats. They decided to slap the Magician and brought him back to his senses right in time. There was a large cave-in at the back of the room that filled half of it with daylight. The corpse of a dead adventurer lay near the cave-in. The floor was completely covered in guano as well. The Halfling decided to sneak to the cave-in and climb up the rubble to take a look outside and orient himself, and to check out the dead body. I decided that sneaking past the Bats was easy enough but to climb the rocks was the real obstacle here. The Halfling failed and woke up all 15 Bats.
Because the Halfling was drenched in daylight and his buddies decided to stay behind in the shadows, the Bats attacked them instead. They decided to fight back and Kill (!) those Bats. A nasty fight unfolded and two of the characters got ripped apart by the Troll Bats. Only the Halfling and Magician were now alive. The group managed to kill half of the Troll Bats, though. Again, I could’ve handled this encounter a bit better. I don’t mind the two characters dying since it was near the end of the session, but I did let two character get off unscathed, which doesn’t seem fair. The Halfling contemplated to abandon the Magician for a short moment but then decided against it and threw down a piece of rope to help him. The Magician had to make decision: run back to the entryway and hope to lose the Bats in the tomb or run through the daylight and leave the tomb through the cave-in. He decided to run to the cave-in. I asked for one last roll in favor of the Magician (because he ran through daylight and Bats hate this trick!) but it wasn’t enough. One Bat snatched him right from the ground and threw him against the cave wall. I gave him the Injured condition.
Not it was the Halfling who had to make a decion: leave this tomb for good and sell the one bracelet he snitched from the Statue’s arm or help his adventurer buddy? He decided to help his buddy. He sneaked around the tomb back to the entrance and then to the cave where the dead Dwarf and Warrior lay. He quickly searched the Dwarf’s body for some loot and found a pouch of coins. Then he directed his attention at the screaming Magician, who cowered at a wall and was attacked by the Bats that were brave enough to fly through the daylight. The Halfling knew there was only one way to help his friend. So, he lit his torch and threw it right in the middle of the room. In only a matter of seconds the Hafling set the whole cave ablaze. He jumped through the fire, grabbed the Magician and ran as fast as he could back to the entryway. Of course, he failed his roll and got severly burned but managed to rescue the Magician.
They both successfully fled the dungeon and we had a few minutes of gametime left, so we decided to enter the Camp Phase, just to show the new players what this would look like. They tried to recover from their wounds but failed and the Halfling cooked something. We ended the session with both remaining characters having a heavy stomachache and ugly diarrhea. Seems like there was some of the guano at the Halfling’s cooking utensils.
This concludes the report. We all had a lot of fun and I am quite positive that I’ll play Torchbearer with some of them again in the future. I noticed that both groups I played with only entered the Camp Phase at the end of the session, when they already left the dungeon. I am not quite sure if this is because they only started usin their Traits against themselves at the end of the session each time or because of the pacing of the dungeon.
I hope you had as much fun reading this as I had running it. I think that Torchbearer created very memorable and funny situations and I hope that I can run a whole campaign in the future.
Keep the torch lit!