Torchbearer Slim - Chopped in half for a looser, more rules lite harrowing experience

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!

So anyway

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:

The Scholar
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.
Tactics: Analyze.
Talents: Logic, Mathematics, Philosophy, Botany, Medicine.
Traits: Veracious, Deliberate, Incredulous.

Followed by Conditions and Inventory.

Or like

The Rogue
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

I can definitely see the need to mess with the system for play by post games. Torchbearer is one of my favorite systems and I play it rules as written at the table. However, I have a group of friends spread over the country and we use facebook for play by post gaming. However, I use Dungeon Crawl Classics, with a couple rules changes for that, and it works pretty well. I can’t see normal Torchbearer ever working in that format. So, I think you’re definitely on to something for that form of play.

If I were running it, I would keep checks and explain the checks mechanic - you need one to get into camp and do stuff. I think the traits mechanic hinges on it. I also don’t understand the change from skills to talents and tactics. I would just leave it as skills and have the regular pass/fail advancement for those. Lastly, I would personally prefer to keep classes and levels in, just because I enjoy that kind of advancement, although it would require some fiddling when it comes to the level up powers due to all your changes. In which case, you could keep Persona in the game. Persona allows you to spend one point to get +1D ahead of the roll, which works fine for play by post. You could award it during town phases to make up for no end of session stuff. This would also allow you to keep Belief, Instinct, and Goals, all of which I think are very important to the game. It would also allow you to track the amount of Persona spent and level up, using a rough gauge based on the normal game.

This is your game, though, so it’s a very subjective thing when you’re picking the mechanics out of Torchbearer that you like the most, doing your best not to break the game. But, the important thing is that you and your players are having fun. If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right.

Good stuff! (DCC RPG is fantastic btw, was a competitor for favorite before Torchbearer came round.)

I think you’re right on the checks for sure, that’s one area where I was pretty undecided and was already leaning that direction. Consider those back in, I’m gonna alter my original post to reflect that.

As far as the skills change that was meant to be a little bit less intimidating to the new players. That way you’ve only got one number you either roll that number, or half that number, but I definitely think they’d work just fine in the classic way. Most of the other cuts were to cut the intimidation factor as well, but the plan was to bring them in bit by bit as the players were more comfortable, so I’m considering the persona point suggestion and thinking of the best way to implement it.

For now though things have been working pretty well!

And I definitely want to get these guys into a proper as written torchbearer game in the future.

The Tactics thing was from a different homebrew game and I just wanted something that could be as swingy and exciting as rerolls since those mechanics went bye bye, that and the Magic items changes are basically just house rule additions for flavor, not really a sensible solution if you’re trying to keep as close to TB as possible, so those can be safely ignored really.

It may be possible with a little tweaking to create a sort of Torchbearer Accellerated in the spirit of FAE, even for table use, but I’m not sure that would really be desirable considering the crunch of Torchbearer is one of its biggest appeals. I think in order to do that and it feel right you’d have to implement the original torchbearer skill list. That broad base of skills really makes the players seek non-combat and out of the box resolutions to a lot of problems, and I like the breakdown of social skills. Nature would have to make it back in as well for certain.

This has got me thinking about some things…

Thinking a little more on a condensed Torchbearer Slim type of setup and man, it is hard to take anything from this game without making it feel lesser as a result. Out of the context of this specific game and group, removing any of the pieces of Torchbearer really make it feel weaker as a whole. All the pieces feel really well considered and work really well together.