One of the people I play games with doesn’t care for Torchbearer. He feels that the resource management detracts from the “story”, by which he means a distinct and predictable narrative arc featuring the pacing, tropes and general structure of a literary work (to the degree that’s possible in a semi-improvised medium). I suspect that his preference is for some kind of illusionist/participationist thing, which is probably what he’ll get in the 13th Age game that I’ll be running.
He feels that Torchbearer is the equivalent of a “Rogue-like”: fun and challenging, but with no story or longevity. It seemed to him to lack “external motivations” and “antagonists” and “dramatic tension”. I pointed out to him that we only played once, with pregenerated characters and that the kobolds that they fought were "externally motivated " and “antagonists”, and the pile up of Conditions was certainly a “dramatic tension” pacing mechanic, though I suspect he wants a “Sauron” of some sort, something grand.
So I began to wonder how much “story” I could push onto the players in Torchbearer, while still remaining true to the spirit of the rules. Much of what the player wants doesn’t tie directly into the rules anyway. And while I’m anti-illusionist (stupid gnomes!) the flexibility of Twists I think offers some leeway there.
Right now I’m kind of looking at Pathfinder’s “Jade Regent” Adventure Railroad… er, Path as an example, to see if one could make it bear torches.
Any similar experiences? Any thoughts on the matter?
(On an unrelated note, I’ve decided to call Torchbearer, “Torĉoportisto” in Esperanto. )
To your friend I would say: Maybe Burning Wheel is more your speed. We aren’t trying to be all things to all people with Torchbearer. I don’t expect Torchbearer to be the one and only game that people play for all time. But if you want a survival and exploration roleplaying game focused on dungeon crawling, I think Torchbearer is a good choice.
To you, I say: Push it as much as you want! Lots of old school D&D games evolve into epic stories over time as the players come to know their characters and develop grudges, goals and friends through play. Torchbearer isn’t a board game. It’s meant to give you the framework for exploring a fantasy world that is as rich and deep as your group decides to make it.
You could totally have a series of dungeons geared towards delving into ancient ruins in search of a way to undo some great curse. I don’t the game will fight you when it comes to story, up to a certain point - if you’re staying within the things that are mechanically set (Town is expensive and slow, the game is primarily focused on delving dungeons, etc.), that is. I’m sprinkling seeds of an overarching plot in my dungeons, hints of demonic involvement that might (depending!) culminate in the PCs uncovering a plot from Hell…or not uncovering it, and having to deal with it at some point anyway. We’ll see!
But that said, I have to say, it sounds like your friend just isn’t going to like Torchbearer. You’ll just be offering compromises, and it doesn’t sound like he is super interested in meeting Torchbearer halfway. Which is fine - it’s a leisure activity, he should do what is most fun. I think Burning Wheel might be more to his liking. (As long as failure is an understood part of the narrative arc, that the hero must later overcome!)
Thanks everybody. I think what my player really doesn’t like is the resource management. He doesn’t have to like it. That’s fine. I’m happy that he even set up some players to try the game with me. I just felt the need to defend the game from having any less “story” than any other D&D-like RPG. And yes, he seems to think that he’d enjoy Burning Wheel. We might even play one day.
As for me, I like systems, and tend to get a bit too focused on the mechanics, particularly if I know that they’re good mechanics. So, while I’d be perfectly comfortable planning up the seeds for an epic adventure in pretty much any version of D&D, I tend to approach Torchbearer more mechanically. I just need to relax a bit.
I agree with the consensus here. It’s totally a Burning Wheel slant to things.
That being said, I think that Torchbearer is absolutely a roguelike…but it shows you how to bring story into a roguelike. That’s a strength, not a weakness, of the game.
Here’s my take on Torchbearer: it’s the game which makes characters blossom under pressure. You’re supposed to survive and build your character (by which I mean character, not stats…building the character means fleshing them out, giving them life) from the resulting tensions. Beliefs are the tension between your survival and your self. They send a character in. You put the pressure cooker on. The character falls or survives and grows.
You’re constantly thinking of how your character’s quirks (i.e. traits) help them out or get in the way. You’re figuring out how the miscellaneous bits of knowledge (Wises) play into your character’s past and come forward into the moment. You’re deciding how closely your character hews to their nature. You’re following Beliefs and building bonds with the other characters.
That’s where the story lies in Torchbearer. It’s the story of those who endure. It’s not a high drama story (which is totally how Burning Wheel runs under most GMs) but rather a smaller tale that builds in the telling. It’s about what you do when the light dims, when your food grows short, when hope fades out in the bowels of the earth. It’s about what you do next.
Torchbearer is the story of Kell the cowardly halfling who turns around and learns to stand his ground. It’s the story of Charlemagne the grieving paladin who has to get over his past to survive. It’s about Rogen the venturing dwarf who stands alone against a barrow-wight, pouring all of his final resolve into a hopeless strike. It’s about Telos the elf who held back an undead so that Rogen could scramble out and get to that barrow-wight.*
*All actual characters. Kell is my current character, Rogen was my previous character. Charlemagne is SpydersWebbing’s character, and Telos his previous character.
I’ll chime in quickly to say that if someone is looking for a “reveling in the tropes of old school D&D” game, but is not interested in logistics and suffering, they might want to check out Dungeon World. Especially if they still want a game that lets players keep a strong grip on the fiction, as opposed to a GM conducted train ride.
I don’t know the guy, but speaking from experience with my own friends, sometimes it’s hard to justify that you’re just happy sticking with what you’re already comfortable with, so people come up with lots of explanations and excuses for why they can’t leave the house. Really they’re just happy at home, with the things they already know and the things they know they like. Can’t do much about that, besides visit them.