Three Squires after 15 yrs away from GMing. Will I FAIL? Find out!

House of Three Squires Session 1 Recap

Hi, I’m Cheddarmilk and I haven’t GM’ed anything in 15 years. Come with me as I try to cajole three AD&D-addled Torchbearer greenhorns into the cellar below the Three Squires and keep them there.


  • Halfling Burglar
  • Dwarf Adventurer
  • Human Magician

After a bit of back story, I describe the Three Squires setting but become strangely hesitant to provide too much detail for fear of luring the players into a test on something inconsequential. (How should I approach this, generally?)

The party immediately decides to search the upstairs of the pub, which I rule a “good idea.” Among the guest rooms, the party discovers unmade beds and occasional signs of struggle. Back downstairs.

Turn 1 (Scout Fail)

During character creation I had hinted at the value of a high Scout skill. Perhaps catching my drift, the halfling attempts to investigate the staircase, which I rule is the listed Scout test. He fails the test and, as the staircase collapses around him, realizes it probably would have just about held his weight had he been more careful. “It’s a TRAAAAAaaaaaaap.” I throw a twist, and tell the halfling he can see three pairs of reflective eyes moving about in the rubble at the other end of the room.

I feel that, at the moment the rats are visible, I maybe should initiate a rat conflict, but I am admittedly unclear on the mechanics of how to do that given that the other characters are already bravely indicating they want to climb down and help the halfling. (Maneuver?)

I am amazed how difficult this first test is for three characters. The players barely have two or three dice to scrape together against an Ob 3 test (iirc). Is this one of those beginners helping beginners situations?

Turn 2 (Dungeoneer Fail)

The halfling lights a candle and can now see the giant rats in dim light. This puts more pressure on the others to figure out a way down. The dwarf tries to descend using Dungeoneer, but struggles with his rope and ends up hungry and thirsty (failed dungeoneer test). Again, this test seems to have an almost “broken” difficulty given the number of dice available.

Turn 3 (Players Win Conflict)

At this point, I remember that my gaming group——myself included—— are used to saying things like “I attack with my longsword” so I have to slow things down and bring out the Action types and conflict types. The group ultimately settles for a Drive Off, by saying “We want to do a drive off.” (Sigh, I know, I’ll get us describing things.)

Rolling Disposition is relatively straightforward with the exception of a brainfart I have for “rolling Fighter and adding to Health” which I momentarily took to mean “roll dice for Fighter and number of dice equal to Health.” In any case the party ends up with a Disposition of 5 and the rats get 3. The magician is still “above deck” so not participating, and that suits the two on the floor, hit points wise.

We start with an Attack vs Attack. Dwarf adventurer with the halfling helping gets 3s. Excellent work! Then, another confusing moment when I have to work out what to roll for the rats. I decide on Nature + 2 rats helping. (I may be fucking this up, I have no idea.) The rats get 0s and so flee back into the cave system.

Turn 4 (Magician Fails to Climb Down)

With the rats driven off, the magician attempts to climb down the rope ladder using some roll or other and fails. He becomes hungry and thirsty.


Two characters are hungry and thirsty so become exhausted, one is still fresh so becomes H&T. Is this the right thing to do here? (As a side note, what is the real value of listing these conditions in a seemingly random order? For new GMs it’s hard to remember whether exhausted is worse than sick or whether being angry is actually worse than being afraid.)

Turn 1 (Beginner’s Luck Laborer)

The magician beginner’s lucks Laborer on the rubble holding the door shut, with help, and succeeds. Slightly later I realize the candle the halfling lit has already gone out and may have affected this roll. Oh well. The halfling lights a lantern now.

Instinct (“Always Look Out for Shoddy Construction”)

You guessed it, the dwarf’s instinct is triggered and discovers the brickwork around the spigot. The player asks if this might have also applied to the staircase but I rule that, “No, that was a trap, this just looks like shitty workmanship.”

Turn 2 (Beginner’s Luck Laborer)

The magician, possibly being played by the most engaged player at this point, beginner’s lucks Laborer again, with the dwarf helping, and succeeds also gaining a Check. There had been some discussion whether the dwarf——who actually HAS the Laborer skill——should clear the bricks or whether it would be statistically better for the magician to do it and the dwarf to help. There’s a chance I may be screwing this up, but why is it better for a human magician to do “guesswork” at something rather than a stout dwarf who has probably done Laborer for ages. Confusing Torchbearer moment.

Turn 3 (Beginner’s Luck Scout)

The magician moves into the Wine Storage and starts poking around which I rule is a beginner’s luck Scout roll. He nails it AGAIN, even with a Check, and discovers the net and the door.

Nobody seems to care about the poor dog :frowning:

Also, why isn’t it called Beer Storage? The Three Squires are not known for their pinot grigio, if you follow me.

Turn 4 (Scout Success)

The halfling jumps into action and unlocks the chest, with the dwarf helping with Metals-Wise. (It’s a cheap metal lock, that’s fair, right?)

Confusion Phase

Between turns 3 and 4 and the players agitating to initiate a camp phase, I think I’m not clear on what is going on here and miss applying a condition. It’s possible. Foggy memory.

Sweet, Merciful Camp Phase

Halfling’s instinct to “always make sure my friends get a good meal” is triggered. Is this a broken instinct? Anyway, good for the guy to get a Cook roll in.

Magician tries and fails to recover from whatever condition (these are fucking brutal).

The dwarf succeeds at recovering from something else.


Big success! I was happy and proud I managed to make it through the session and, looking back, I was on my toes and “working for the fiction” throughout.

A couple of things, though:

Skills sometimes seem useless in the face of beginner’s luck (and I had even missed the “beginners helping beginners” rule which I can’t seem to find any reference to in the book). Maybe the Three Squires needs a bit of a softer curve until the first conflict?

I purchased Torchbearer PDF last year and read it through twice but set it aside. Preparing for this game, I spent a full week or more reading and re-reading the hardcopy rulebook every day, reading the forum, annotating my printed PDF, flipping through the Player’s Deck, and listening in on Actual Plays here and there. I still felt very, very unclear about certain mechanics (helping, nature, wises, beginner’s luck, and conflict setup). I spent a good few minutes explaining to the characters that they could spend fate or persona points before realizing they didn’t have any and wondering if I’d missed something alongside the slightly tedious Nature questions. Once we realized these were rewards to come later, well, it would be nice for this to be made clear alongside the rules for their depletion. “Fate and Persona points are rewards. Don’t worry if you don’t have any right away.”

1 Like

Hi Cheddar!
Sounds like you did great. Did your players have fun? Are you going to continue to the Three Squires?

One question: Were you rolling half dice for Beginner’s Luck?

To answer some of your questions: Conditions are listed in their recovery order. I would have let the Dwarf use the instinct for the trap. And Starting Rewards are described at the end of the character creation chapter.

I believe the players had fun but were becoming a bit weary since the action was often broken up by me flipping madly through the book.

I may have bungled one of the beginner’s luck rolls, but I think I’m starting to see why BL + Help from someone with that skill might work out better than the skilled person simply doing the test alone. Essentially, the skilled character is doing the real work and the beginner is “learning” from him or her. This is very game-able and I think my players will like it once I can wrap my head around it.

I think the biggest barrier to Torchbearer adoption is just how amazingly different the system is to what we’re used to. I am lucky enough to have had the book for quite a while and really believe in the system as one that resolves a number of key issues I have always with D&D (totally vague/arbitrary torches, rations, and inventory). I think the others will come around.

After I left the session, I thought about writing an adventure that would weave character creation and learning the rules into actually playing the game. It would maybe be a bit of a railroad, but I think for first time GM and player alike, there’s a lot to take in. If there was a way to introduce the concepts in a structured way by slowly stacking them on top of each other… Hmm…

There’s a current thread on here about helping with Nature where I bring up the issue with BL and skilled tests where Luke sets me straight. On mobile so linking is a pain but it’s at the top of the forum.

Your first game sounds VERY similar to mine, down to the lots of page flipping (which I detest midgame). We just had our second session and it was a vast improvement! So I think you did well and probably have an even better second game coming to you. Thanks for sharing Cheddarmilk!

The only problem with using BL + Help all the time is that sure, it may give you more dice than a skilled character BUT if you fail you put everyone who helped at risk of a condition.

It seems like you did okay as is, but I strongly recommend running your first few games with premade characters if possible. In a game like Torchbearer, I find it’s hard for people to really grasp the impacts of their decisions if they have no experience with the system.

I also think it’s best to explain the rules as they happen during play. I just tell my players the only things they need to worry about is playing beliefs and instincts, trying to accomplish goals, and describing their actions in appropriate detail and I’ll handle explaining the rules. Teach them how to help each other, use wises, use Nature. For explaining the importance of checks, I usually just read straight from the rulebook. Then, during a test in which they have less dice than the Ob, tell them to call on a trait since they’re going to fail anyway. Once they seem to grok it a little bit, take the training wheels off and really let them have it.

1 Like