Torchbearer without conflicts

Hey, everyone. I find that when I run Torchbearer, I spend very little time using the conflict rules. For my group, they just take up too much time and break the flow of things, while regular tests keep things moving at a pleasant pace and are much easier for players to comprehend. At most, I’ll drop a single conflict into a session of Torchbearer, usually reserving it for something substantial. Outside of conflicts, however, many items, magical or otherwise, lose their uniqueness. Someone might have an item that they earned through much blood spilt, but the only bonuses are towards certain actions in conflicts and if a session is played where conflicts don’t happen, that player might feel a small sadness regarding their legendary item that goes unused. To that end, I’d like to know what changes y’all might make to the game if there were no conflicts at all?

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Conflicts provide a good opportunity to earn checks and to spend rewards. So, a game without conflicts would hinder the players and mess with recovery and leveling up.

This would be a tough hack to pull off, but it is an intriguing problem to solve. You’d have to feed check-earning and reward-spending choices back into the system somehow.

Working Around Conflicts
The simplest thing to do is allow those items to work outside of conflicts. Let them affect rolls with a similar lobbying process that traits and wises get. The player says “can Bloodthirster give me a +1D since I’m attacking” and the GM can say “no this skeleton has no blood” or “yes it wants to strike the bloodbeast.”

You’ll want to cut WAY back on rewards if you’re not doing conflicts. Eliminate Instinct awards – not grinding is nice enough. Only one person can win embodiment. Set a minimum obstacle for MVP (level x 2?) to ensure the stakes were high or don’t award it. You don’t want people getting more than one or two rewards per session if you have no conflicts.

Making Conflicts Work better for you
The other option is to tweak conflicts so that they induce less decision paralysis. The first two years we played with a mandate for the GM to “chew the scenery” – during weapon declaration, the GM essentially tells the players what each action will be without using the exact words. If they feint, they describe the action as though it was an attack until it is revealed. Other than that, the GM would overtly hint at the action during weapon declaration: “The hobgoblin hurtles toward you with his scimitar while both his buddies hunker down behind a table.” (A D D)

This was really helpful while learning, since it makes turns simpler to plan out. It’s also a lot of fun! Since the GM gets a chance to be much more descriptive up front, it can result in some better role-play throughout the conflict. In this method, the GM makes no effort at all to conceal those Defends – he’s basically begging you to feint.

If the players start to dither over what action to take, jump in and re-describe the action in a way that offers the maximum clarity. Basically I’m saying that conflicts are as fun (or more fun) without the element of secrecy. It changes the pacing back to description-forward since players aren’t worried about describing themselves into the wrong action.

In the end, the whole conflict system is just “how do we plan a series of rolls that feels chaotic, involves everyone, and doesn’t inflate advancement?” You can still rock all of these points without spending a huge amount of time deciding on the actions.

After a long time playing like this, eventually we switched to the rules-as-written. Once everyone really understands the conflict matrix, a little secrecy is more fun. But “chewing the scenery” is still the way I would teach the game to new players.

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Thanks for these suggestions. I still lean towards no conflicts generally because I feel like we move things so much faster using tests, and this was our feeling even back when we played Mouse Guard. Torchbearer got me to play more with conflicts, but they’ve just never worked better for me than regular tests.