AKA The “Terrible person hacking Torchbearer to near death with an axe”-Hack
Heyo Torchbearer forums! Long time lurker. Thought I could use some help!
First I would like to say I adore Torchbearer. As a fan of flavorful and abstract game mechanics and ratcheted up tension this game is easily my favorite in the dungeon-crawl genre. I really feel like it brings something completely unique to the table. Also the actual book is so, so good. Thank you Thor and Luke for this amazing game!
I am currently unable to organize the time to play a full Torchbearer game and in order to satiate my DMing itch I’ve been running a small group through a mystery-solving dungeon-crawling play-by-post game in a custom British/Scandinavian folklore inspired things-that-want-to-eat-you-deep-in-the-woods low fantasy setting. The parties involved are completely new to tabletop, but they have taken to roleplaying their characters like ducks to water. They’ve been killing it, it’s fantastic, and in order to facilitate that I handle most of the rules and let them “describe to survive”.
One of the most important things for me in this game, and in this setting, is to bring a sense of tension and ever present danger. I don’t want a high flying, over the top adventure, I want a struggling against the elements, running out of rations, barely making it through adventure, where things aren’t always about fighting, and where many enemies are simply too powerful for the “heroes” to face.
Needless to say Torchbearer is perfect for this kind of thing, but many of the mechanics don’t work particularly well outside of a live gameplay setting and would most likely feel too arbitrary and mechanical to these particular players, so with that in mind I basically ruined Torchbearer. Here’s what I did.
First, what I kept completely intact:
The Grind, Conditions, The Inventory, Light, Conflicts, Twists, Compromises, Weapons, Gear, Ability Advancement, Checks, Phases, Beginner’s Luck, and The Order of Might.
Second, what I removed (I’m sorry):
Classes, Levels, Fate, Persona, Skills, Beliefs, Goals, Wises, and Nature (this makes me the most sad, I love this mechanic).
So here is what changed. I took all of the preserved systems and laid them on top of an alternate Abilities / Skills / Traits setup.
There are 3 raw abilities now, Health, Will, and Skill as well as the original town abilities Resources and Circles, and of course, Might. In addition to these raw abilities there are Traits, Talents, and Tactics.
Traits function the same as level 2 traits in Torchbearer, there are no trait levels.
Talents are skills basically. Anything that isn’t a specialty skill, that only requires basic competence to do, you don’t need a Talent for, but anything advanced that requires training (like picking a lock) requires a relevant talent. Talents have no numbered advancement and are rolled using the relevant Ability score, if you don’t have the required talent then you roll half of that score instead, as a Beginner’s Luck roll. Skill is rolled for things requiring fine motor skills, Health for things requiring strength or athleticism, and Will for things requiring the mind. New Talents can be obtained through repeated beginner’s luck as normal.
Tactics apply in conflicts, and represent specific trained abilities that you can rely upon once per conflict to give yourself “advantage” on a roll, or to give your opponent “disadvantage”. When you have advantage a 3-6 counts as a success, when you have disadvantage only 5 or 6 counts as a success. You can also gain advantage in conflicts by cleverly utilizing your surroundings or by using a weapon that your opponent is weak to. Your opponents can also gain advantage and give you disadvantage. Tactics is in place to preserve some of the excitement and dynamism lost by losing the various re-roll mechanics.
Everything done here has been done in order to keep the flavor and feel of the core Torchbearer mechanics while heavily streamlining and simplifying things to work in an asynchronous play-by-post type of setting, and with the intent of being slightly more free-form. There are no re-roll mechanics as they don’t work particularly well in that setting, and with no discreet sessions it can be hard to know when to award things like Fate and Persona anyway, there are no levels or classes either. All advancement is done by standard pass/fail ability advancement and gaining new Tactics, Traits, and Talents. As there are no classes there are no Spells or Prayers either, tho magic items do exist. Magic items are powerful, and rather than having charges, many magic items temporarily lower a specific ability score when used, much like nature being taxed, but it can be either Will, or Health, depending on the effect. This is recovered in the same way as taxed nature. Unlike Nature, if Will or Health is taxed to 0, you die.
A character sheet looks something like this:
A man of ceaseless questions, unconvinced by the answers the world would presume to supply. He enters the wilds seeking answers promised him, armed only with his wit and his words.
Health 2, Will 6, Skill 4, Resources 2, Circles 2, Might 3.
Talents: Logic, Mathematics, Philosophy, Botany, Medicine.
Traits: Veracious, Deliberate, Incredulous.
Followed by Conditions and Inventory.
A venturesome young spinner of tales, deft in word and learned in verse. She enters the wilds seeking a saga that no bard or poet has ever yet told, and quietly searching for a sister that was lost.
Health 2, Will 5, Skill 5, Resources 2, Circles 3, Might 3.
Tactics: Vital Strike, Soliloquize, Escape.
Talents: Lore, Song, Combat.
Traits: Temerarious, Winsome, Magniloquent.
Followed by Conditions and Inventory.
Well there it is! I would love if I could get some input and thought from you guys if you feel like there’s something that could be done better / done differently, or any major problems that you think could arise in the future. It’s not exactly elegant, and it sacrifices a lot of things I love about Torchbearer, but it seems to work surprisingly well for the specific situation, setting, and group playing it.
I feel like it could do with some improvements to smooth out the lumpiness and still keep the feel and intent, but given a little work, I think it could be a pretty fun tear down, especially for looser one-offs.
And I look forward to taking this group into a proper, live and complete, Torchbearer adventure at some point in the future. wrings hands menacingly