Tips for Fresh DM's and new PCs

Ah yes. "this isn’t dungeon world’ was the main selling point for me so I know what I’m in for.

How many PCs would you recommend for a first time run? 3? 4? Maybe 5? I have up to 5 people that would be interested but I am worried that’ll be overwhelming.

I’d go with with 3-4.

The conflict mechanics are a lot easier to learn when there are only 3 PCs. But with 5 PCs there are more resources and dice available to the players to overcome obstacles. First time out I would start small, see if you and the players enjoy it. If you do you could expand the group.

As for the captured kobold. I’m pretty sure that qualifies as a ‘good idea’ so wouldn’t need a roll. Kobolds aren’t very scary by themselves anyway. The use of a captured Kobold is dubious though. I think you need kobold-wise to be able to speak with them.

As for actual advice for a new GM. Take it slow, stay submerge in the tone and theme. I would only bring enthusiastic people to the table. Anyone who is playing half-heartedly is going to have a bad time. It’s a bit of a daunting game like say Dark Souls or Dwarf Fortress.

All the procedure is there to help create moments for roleplaying. So enjoy those moments and don’t skip over them too fast.

Allow them to discuss amongst themselves what they want to do, but if they start asking you for information, then ask how they are acquiring that information? Do you stick your head into the room to get a count of the kobolds? It’s around this time that I would enact the “never volunteer” rule.

If you think you’re in it for the long haul, I would suggest going through character creation. And maybe going with your own adventure. But maybe I’m only suggesting the later, because I’m bad at running pre-made adventures.

I was going to run them through dread crypt and then house of three squires. But also have a map of a world over created with a bunch of locations allowing for expansion and running my own adventures.

Thanks for the advice. I’ve got 4 committed next sat. Going to spend some time re reading the book and making sure I don’t miss anything.

This game is very machanical and you can get bogged down in what people are rolling, how to use traits and stuff like that. It will be hard but Describe to live is crucial, do not just accept I will do a Scout roll because it is easier, get them to describe that stuff and GM describe what is in the room. Surprisingly this makes the machanical side a bit easier since everyone will know what they are rolling, and maybe what traits would apply.

Be open and honest, people will get pissed at the grind just say your following the rules. Give them a visual reminder of that grind turns. Say everytime you roll you are going to be advancing this, then the players will get clever usually because well they will say to themselves how can we not roll. That’s how Good Ideas are born.

Going against a yourself with a trait is a very foreign thing, be aware of that and just push them as much a s possible to actually do it. They need to otherwise the Grind will eventually kill them.

I’m kind of concerned about going to harshly on conditions and bogging players down. (coming with twists seems intimidating even though that’s all I’ve done in dungeon World!)

Take the given example.

A player finds a very good manuscript and it requires a scholar test to read and decipher.

They fail the roll. Maybe it takes them a while ro read and they get angry (condition) at the infuriating task

Would an equally viable twist just be “you pick the manuscript up to more closely examining it. But it’s so old that it disintegrates in your hands. It’s knowledge is lost forever”

I mean compared to a condition this result would be so much less taxing on the player. But at times I just don’t want to be a dick to my players and I don’t think that ‘yeah reading this book has put you that much closer to death’

Would this be a fair twist? I’m not sure how hard I’m meant to make them.

I’m kind of concerned about going to harshly on conditions and bogging players down. (coming up with twists seems intimidating even though that’s all I’ve done in dungeon World!)

Take the given example.

A player finds a very old manuscript and it requires a scholar test to read and decipher.

They fail the roll. Maybe it takes them a while ro read and they get angry (condition) at the infuriating task

Would an equally viable twist just be “you pick the manuscript up to more closely examin it. But it’s so old that it disintegrates in your hands. It’s knowledge is lost forever”

I mean compared to a condition this result would be so much less taxing on the player. But at times I just don’t want to be a dick to my players and I don’t think that ‘yeah reading this book has put you that much closer to death’

Would this be a fair twist? I’m not sure how hard I’m meant to make them.

Both are perfectly fine options. But, I’d much rather take the angry condition and get to read the book. Any day. Like, it isn’t even close.

To many twists and the players will feel like they are going nowhere, as Twists impede them carrying on with the dungeon.

I heard a good tip which I’ve followed and its worked pretty well: The first part of the session will be more twist heavy and then the second part of the session should probably be more condition heavy. Basically its for narrative purposes if you feel they are getting to the end adding a twist might make it mean they have to finish next session and that might frustrate players and might the session next time a bit weird since you might just play out 1 room.

Just do what feels natural to you though.


I found that when I was doing things correctly, the players never felt like I was “screwing them,” but more like they were screwing themselves. Every Twist was because their Scout was a terrible scout. Every condition was because walking around a dungeon was hard and they didn’t prepare properly. It should never feel arbitrary. Sometimes I would “think outloud” to see what kind of reaction I would get. “So I’m thinking I might make you angry because that test should have been a lot easier for you, but Ulrik got in the way, but then again, there ARE giant rats roaming about and they could find you before you’re able to finish.” Usually one would cause the players to lean forward in their chairs, and one would cause them to lean back with a bored look on their face. If they don’t feel like fighting rats and getting angry and having a roleplayed out grumblefest sounds fun, it’ll happen. If they’d rather get a bunch of checks (and maybe a dreaded Injured condition) by getting into a Conflict, they’ll jump on that (I can tell when the fighter grabs for her dice).

Read the room, if they want to succeed, they’ll take the condition. Especially if it’s for shiny, shiny coins.

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!

Bonus Conflict Round because coffee:

Alternative Conflicts (that is, Conflicts other than Kill, Capture, and Drive off-- the ones that don’t use weapons and armor) – These are not very well supported in the game. They work great, conceptually. But don’t expect that you can just dive into one without a little bit more planning than fight conflicts require. Before entering into an alternative conflict: Decide what each side’s disposition represents, decide what each action does to affect enemy disposition, and decide what weapons (if any) should be in play. Take a minute at the start of the fight to outline this context for the players.

And honestly, if you didn’t have a plan going into an alternative conflict, skip it. Make it a single opposed test. Scout for flee, Persuader for Arguments, Lore Master for Riddles. Nothing derails a game quite like an ambiguous and arbitrary alt conflict.

Now for conflicts in general: Adopt the Burning Wheel routine: Reveal, Roleplay, Roll, Results.

When I GM, I expand the “Declare Weapons” phase for the GM into a full on teaser description of each action. We call it chewing the scenery. That way, the players can choose actions most suitable to their role-play and still maybe end up in the right slot. It helps that monster weapons are usually very evocative. The GM is totally allowed to mislead, and be ambiguous, especially around Feint actions. Some might think this makes it too easy, but I assure you is just adds a layer of complexity and more description is never bad.

If I were starting the game for the first time today, I would forbid tapping Nature on Disposition rolls.

Keep a special die on the table to represent the Might advantage! It’s the most oft-forgotten rule for newbies, and it makes a huge difference.

I cold be wrong, but I don’t think of that as a twist. That’s just a failed roll and, IMO, is too harsh. A twist is an added difficulty to the task. Not a tanked roll. A twist should cause another roll to succeed in the task (or a conflict, if that is more appropriate.) For example, if they fail the Scholar test to read the book that the book is written in Elven and can only be read by elves or those with Elf-Wise. Or, you could use your idea of it falling apart and it takes magic to keep it together, requiring an Arcanist test. Or maybe the book is cursed and opening it release a spirit the party has to fight or banish.

It also depends on what the book means in game terms. Is it a random item they found? Giving a condition or a minor twist (additional skill test). Is the book something you planned? If so, you should plan ahead on what the twist/condition should be, preferably tied to the purpose of the book. If its a book of maps or directions, it might take a Cartographer test to read it. If it is a book on magic, it might be cursed as above. Even with “random” gear, as the GM, you can roll for the gear ahead of time (saving play time) and make plans for any failed tests that might result from the gear.

But rare (if ever) should a failed roll simply be a failed roll. Now, if you make it a twist and the second skill test fails, that’s another story. If it fits the story, make it a simple fail. But, normally, even the second failed roll should result in a condition or a more severe twist.

I’d be OK with the disintegrating book. Sometimes those are the breaks. But I’d push for more. How does the situation change? As Camyron notes, you don’t want to just give them a dead end. Give them something new to respond to.

“The ancient manuscript crumbles to dust as you shift it. And just then…”

Running out of basic skill supplies is also a great twist for things like scholar and cartographer.

“You reach for your pack to make some notes on the translation, and your ink pot has dried up completely.”

That kind of twist says you’ll need to make another roll for scavenger or something if you want to do this, or go back to town first. In the mean time, carry this thing around in a valuable slot if it’s that big a deal to you.

The GM should use twists to ratchet up tension, but that doesn’t always mean immediate life and death scenarios.

First off, this is a great thread.

I just got a group to switch to torchbearer from DnD and the things I learned are:

Really emphasize that failure isn’t like failure in other games. I’m constantly reminding players that whenever they attempt something, the story will progress, just maybe not in the direction they initially though. In most systems, failure is death, here the right twist can make failure awesome.

Which goes into point two. Players really seem to struggle with using traits against themselves. I always try to remind them that unlike most systems, there is a very clear difference between the player and the character. Many times I wont even explain what checks are for to new characters. I just encourage them to gather a them then once they start to get the hang of the rules I explain all the cool things that the checks can help with.

Stress the game focuses on conflicts not combat. When they run into the kobolds, talk them out of kill and have them pick something else. And run with whatever they want even if it is busting into show tunes to convince them that war, what is it good for? Nothing. So lets work together to loot this inn.

Finally, the rules in Torchbearer are very well balanced and tightly tuned but when just starting, I think its better to just introduce a few new rules each adventure. Introduce weapon modifiers the second session. Go into taping nature the 3rd session.

PS, remember to log checks!

Hardcorer’s points are all great. Just to build on one: When the players face a really high obstacle and don’t have enough dice, or when they face a really easy obstacle and have plenty of dice, maybe nudge them about using a trait against themselves. If you’re facing certain failure, get something out of it! And if you’re almost assured of success, go for the additional benefit. These are the moments to let your character’s personality shine a little bit! Play it up well and make your character memorable and you might even earn the Embodiment award at the end of the session.

I forgot my best tip, Poker chips! Whether its tracking disposition, earned checks, lifestyle cost, whatever, poker chips help a lot. Also, get the torchbearer cards. Without both, there is a lot to track.

Twists are good to hand out when they’ve accumulated a bunch of conditions —*because if you don’t twist, there’s a chance you’ll repeat a condition and then the character gets off scot-free! And if you pick a more serious condition, you might kill the character for a dumb reason (“You pick up the scroll to read it and get a paper cut—take Injured.”).

You can use the Good Idea rule to finetune the amount of soul-crushing you’re inflicting on your players. If it gets too much and threatens to turn from fun to no longer quite fun, you can provide some breathing room by being a bit more generous with Good Ideas.