Tips for playing a warrior

I ran Skogenby over the weekend as a sort of practice run for the convention this weekend.

The party was Beren, Varg, Taika and Karolina.

I gave Karolina to the newest roleplayer as an easier character to play but when it came to it she felt like one of the hardest. The other characters have some degree of overlap with their skills which allows them to support each other whereas Karolina’s skill set is very specific and she’s alone for most tests.

In camp (the inexperienced party panicked and decided to camp immediately after becoming hungry and thirsty after turn 4) she and Varg both had an extra check. Varg asked me for suggestions and I came up with brewing a potion, Karolina had hunted a couple of rats already to feed the party but that’s her instinct so she asked what she could do too. In the end I suggested she mentor a character with fighting and she chose Varg but it was a failure due to his high nature so she came out of camp with the angry condition.

Later Beren (the party leader) suggested rushing Jora and putting a large sack over her, but when lobbying for help Karolina was afraid. After looking into it Beren said it’d be better for Karolina to test and receive assistance instead which then felt weird even though they succeeded. By Describe to Live I should have kept Beren testing but felt bad for impotent Karolina.

In the confrontation with Hathor Vash she also sat out the banish conflict holding Jora tight.

Any tips for how I can support new players in playing this character?

  1. Karolina’s belief is: “I am the bulwark that stands between my friends and harm.” Play to it by being conflict captain for kill/ drive off conflicts. You have the highest Fighter, so this plays to your strengths. Whenever it comes to fighting, jump in to take the lead.
  2. Karolina is a good Hunter, which is well-connected to her instinct. It sounds like your player is already making good use of that. During the adventure phase, the versus test to determine a monster’s abilities can also be really useful, but Taika should be doing that on instinct. Instead, Karolina can make traps. Making a snare big enough to catch a man is ob 3; that’s pretty attainable with 3 help. A well-placed deadfall (ob 4) could avoid a conflict completely.
  3. Mentor 2 is not game-changing, but that failed Mentor test is great for advancement. Mentor is mostly going to be useful in the long game, and obstacles are about to go down, assuming the other players are tapping nature for big rolls. When I use Mentor, I ask the table who has the lowest current nature (ideally 1 or 2) and what they want to learn. Now that Karolina has some fails, it makes sense to go for the easiest tests possible. If you are using Weapon Porficiency rules from Middarmark, it could be worth teaching Varg to use a sword (once he learns Fighter).
  4. Field-dressing-wise is pretty cool; she should be leaning on that to help Taika on Healer tests (and to re-roll failures on her own recovery, which makes her substantially hardier.)
  5. Karolina should have first dibs on any recovered chain or plate armor. These will help her stay in a fight longer (and make use of some level benefits down the road).

Besides this Karolina-specific advice, I would maybe check in with this player about the feel of Torchbearer compared to some more super-powered dungeon-crawlers. It seems like happenstance that the warrior wasn’t in the front lines of this session. Drive off conflicts are much more common than banish/abjure and once you’re in one of those, Varg’s player might feel similarly sidelined. Magicians are not all that useful in a fight (though Varg’s Wizard’s Aegis and Skirmish-wise sure helps). No-one is going to be the MVP of every session.

There are plenty of things that a Torchbearer player can do that have no reliance on stock or class:

  • Good Ideas. Encourage the player to ask a lot of questions and think laterally about the problem. They might talk themselves into a test they are not skilled in, or they might introduce a good idea that solves a major problem. That push and pull is part of learning to play. In general, information and insight are as valuable as any character skill.
  • Be a Teamworker. Keep the party focused on their goals, talk food and light strategy, and keep an eye on when you have the cash and rewards to make it worth returning to town.
  • Embody your character. Show the negative side of traits, and earn checks from them. When you have a condition, never let the party forget it. Be aware of the other character beliefs and bring them up around the camp fire. Is Beren truly as jaded as his Belief makes him out to be?

These let you solve problems, earn checks, and earn end of session rewards without needing the most relevant skill. This is probably the side of the learning curve that transfers across classes, so a new player can glean it off more experienced players, regardless of the classes at the table.

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I have had this thought process and made the same adjustment (allowing players to swap out tests); I don’t think it helps the flow of the game or the mindset of players. I’ve taught Torchbearer to dozens of new players, and sometimes people feel like their character just isn’t accomplishing much (usually it’s first level magicians or clerics who say this, but it can be anyone). Players aren’t used to the idea that they can’t help on every roll, that they might frequently lack a relevant skill, and that (especially with a few conditions) that they might have to roll for something knowing they can’t succeed.

I think that the best thing to do is just let the rules stand. Let Beren take the slightly sub-optimal roll and let a turn pass where Karolina can’t help. I have run games where every test was proceeded by everyone listing their skill rating and help and working out who could get the most dice. Play becomes a slog and character beliefs fall by the wayside.

The more I play Torchbearer, the more I think that rolling is not the game. The heart of the game is playing through the fiction, making tough choices, watching characters change. The dice give texture to that: when there is significant uncertainty, it’s determined by rolls that tie directly to the character’s expertise and history. When there are consequences, the conditions provide interesting losses that can’t just be shrugged off.

If you’re playing for a while, every player will get a chance to shine. Karolina can lead a fight and bounce back better than any of the other starting classes. I think that appreciating the successes and failures of the other players is a big part of the game, and it’s ok to have a session where your character isn’t at the center of the spotlight. So I’d say it’s fine just to keep running and see how the player adjusts after they get used to the system.

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You may have underestimated the Afraid condition. It seems like it would be a less punitive condition than many of the others, but through long experience I can tell you I would rather have just about any other condition but afraid.

It looks like Karolina got hit with a lot of conditions in this session. Are you employing twists much? GMs can sometimes be over-reliant on conditional success.

In the long term I don’t think you’ll have to change much or cater specifically to Karolina. Even in Skogenby, her strengths should show in all of the violent conflicts that precede that banishment. From your description I would guess this was just an unfortunate choice of conditions that robbed a player of agency a little too early in the learning curve.

I believe I’ve been guilty of the same thing.

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Yeah, Afraid is serious, especially if more than one character has it. I don’t think a single Afraid character is so bad. Two things to point out to a new player whose character is Afraid:

  1. Using a Wise is not help. An afraid Karolina can still grant someone a die if Field-dressing-wise is relevant to the test (probably not putting someone in a bag, but plenty of other stuff).
  2. Recovery is not the only way to remove conditions. Karolina has a tough time hitting that ob3 recovery test with 4 Will. Varg can make an ob 2 Alchemist test to remove it. Varg has Alchemist 3, Beren and Taika can help. 5 dice at ob.2 makes for pretty good odds.
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That’s how I feel about exhausted!

There was the one fight with the skeletons at the start (when they were fresh) but as the party leader Beren declared it a kill conflict acting on his belief and goal to get the treasure from their necks. He was conflict captain because he’d made that decision.

Taika’s player was convinced that his character couldn’t help in the fight with just a dagger and stood back with Varg holding the torches. Varg played communicator using skirmish-wise to warn the fighters about the tactics of their opponents.

The kill conflict was won with a major compromise so I described the skeletons pulling on a bone concealed in the wall to bring down the entire corridor, forcing a group health test to avoid injury and trapping the players in the tomb.

Karolina did shine in that fight but suffered some unlucky rolls.

Beren was reckless the whole way through and did not survive the adventure.

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Exhausted will grow on you over time. An additional factor isn’t the end of the world — unlike other conditions it doesn’t actually eliminate options, it just makes them harder. In many cases, that’s a good thing, if you’ll believe it. Exhausted makes a great source of versus tests for logging Fighter advances, which are hard to get otherwise (unless you’re a bow or handaxe type).

It’s only rough in the beginning when you don’t have rewards to push past it. Afraid is terrible always. Help is a huge source of dice pool in this game, and making the entire party (or a good portion of it) afraid is probably the single most devastating thing a GM can do.

A party of four is often at half efficiency or worse when afraid. Ouch!

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Players can talk about what they want to do all they want. The GM should listen quietly until a player says their character does a thing. That’s when the GM calls for a test (assuming it warrants one) and that’s when players can no long back out (because their character has already done a thing).

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