Torchbearer is very GM friendly in a lot of ways. In fact, it can sort of begin to feel like it is running itself. You need to be really careful when that happens, because left to its own devices it becomes a hamster wheel of pain for the PCs as they cope with procedurally generated events and only gain enough resources to recover from those, never making any true progress toward their goals.
Getting stuck in a logistical quagmire is totally within the themes of the game, but unfortunately it is really only fun once in a while. Most of the time, the GM needs to intervene in order to keep the pacing entertaining. This can be counterintuitive for a lot of GMs because, as I said, the game seems to run itself, and the game wants to generate a quagmire.
The Good Idea is the antidote to this problem. When players start to get frustrated at logistical problems – things they planned for, role-played, and invested wisely to prevent – use the Good Idea. A Good Idea has players interacting with the dungeon to bypass an obstacle. It’s every bit as meaningful as a die roll. It is not “cheap” for a GM to observe the Good Idea. In fact, it could be considered a more pure form of dungeon crawling than a die roll. Respect the Good Idea. It is not a footnote, it is the heart of the game.
Conditional successes can also help the GM keep the party on track for their goals. But you should be cautious and attentive when handing out conditions… they have emergent properties that new GMs do not fully understand. Giving out Hungry Thirsty as a conditional success on turn 4 is essentially the same as giving out Exhausted. Angry is almost a gift for people with low to mid level Will stats, whereas multiple Afraids in the party may be the worst of all possible interactions. Sick and Injured are highly intimidating, but actually trivial to remove. They will fuel advancement to Raw Skills and Healer tests. Exhausted hit some players much harder than others.
Because of all of this, the GM can apply the right condition at the right time to either increase or decrease the punishment.
Lastly, keep the treasure constant and varied. Reading the Torchbearer rules makes you feel like the GM should be a mean, stingy opponent of the players. In the case of treasure, you need to keep pumping that treasure table. 80% of the table results will be kind of crappy, but that crap feeds the engine of the game. Be aware that the prescribed treasure rate is very high in volume: 1 ROLL per POINT of Might for planned encounters. That’s 8 rolls for 4 goblins, folks. And from Loot Table 1, no less. If you neglect this, the momentum will drain out of your game. Without treasure, you will have to show the players mercy, and that’s unacceptable.
Treasure is self-regulating in Torchbearer more than any other game because it takes up space. As a result it is virtually impossible to plant too much treasure, and there’s no such thing as a rich party that cannot be easily made poor again in due time. Embrace this. Place a ton of highly descriptive treasure, make it take slots and force rolls, but be worth tons of money. There’s nothing wrong with a 20D Objet d’Art in this game, that will evaporate so quickly. Make the players understand why dungeon delving is a viable career in this world.
Actively pace the game with Good Ideas; know your Conditions; pile on the treasure.
I’d love to say that’s all there is to it. It’s not. But it’s a good start!