West Marches Torchbearer?

Has anyone considered a West Marches-style Torchbearer campaign? Multiple parties, exploration-heavy, etc.? Any thoughts on how to handle that? Since exploration is such an important part of that style of campaign you have to have some sort of test as you traverse the wilderness, and those tests should make long-range expeditions difficult. I had thought about a test per wilderness hex, but I was concerned that might put too much emphasis on Pathfinder.

It has been mentioned a couple of times:


Jovialbard, thank you! I hadn’t seen those threads and apparently I’m not great at searching. A couple of thoughts on those:

[li] I don’t feel like each session needs to end in town. West March campaigns don’t need to be one dungeon/session, it’s just that by joining a group you’re only committing to a single adventure, not a campaign.
[li]How do you handle wilderness travel? A large part of a WM campaign is filling in those blank map hexes. I feel like TB could handle it if I could just figure out how. I know GreedyAlgorithm had a hack for making wilderness exploration a conflict. I suppose you could do that, with high obs if you were going beyond just “the next unexplored area”–for example, if the Whispering Fields are just outside town and you’ve explored them up to the Fellwoods, heading for the Lonely Mountain (which you know to be somewhere beyond the unexplored Fellwoods) would be a high Ob, both for the Conflict and for any Cartography test.
[li] If you were to go that route, how would you handle The Grind? The whole passage takes one turn? Seems a little unrealistic, but I also have a hard time seeing a group making it far into the wilderness if they’re marking off a dozen rations just to get to their destination.
[/li][li] How would you handle determining if the party has encountered a major feature of the area? Obviously wandering monsters could be handled through a compromise in the conflict, but a common feature of a West March campaign is finding the neat wilderness stuff (random check to see if they find the old druid stones as they pass through the hex, etc.). I suppose you could do this through rumors and adventure seeds in town and in adventures, so they don’t encounter something unless they specifically search for it or through a twist or the like.
[/li][li] Towns: Torchbearer assumes multiple towns, generally of varying size and with different amenities. A West March campaign assumes a single town. How would you handle the disparity? A single town with all amenities?
[/li][li] As a follow-on, what about friends, family, and mentors? I’d lean toward allowing all the standard choices for hometown, but that leaves anyone who doesn’t choose the “main city” as their hometown stranded for mentor/parents/friends. Have them all migrate to the city on the edge of the wilderness, perhaps?

I don’t know much about west marches but it seems like you’re developing a decent plan for how to go about it.

  1. It has been hinted that the creators of the game will be coming out with some travelling rules at some point in the not too distant future, if I’m not mistaken. I’m not sure if they’ll expand on that when they release the higher level stuff or if it’s planned for later than that, but I suspect it’s coming eventually.

For now: A travel conflict is fine, or just do a travel adventure for each hex. What obstacles are in this hex? What opportunities and dangers do these obstacles hide? Will the players be tempted by the opportunities and face the obstacles or will they scurry along as fast as they can, just skimming along the surface. Use describe to live as you would in a dungeon, leave hints and give them a choice to delve “deeper” or not.

  1. If they’re just passing through, then I think it’s assumed that they are foraging and finding water sources as appropriate along the way. Or maybe they brought enough rations for the trip as part of their assumed gear, and it will last them… so long as they don’t fail a pathfinder test that is. This is an adventure game, so the idea is to get to the adventuring as fast as possible. If the journey isn’t an adventure then it isn’t that important, let’s just get through it so we can get to the fun part. But yeah, you could have them mark off rations for every hex they travel through, or something like that, that would be a nice quick way to do it, and to limit how far afield they can travel. If they want to go far that just means they need to either bring a pack animal loaded with supplies or hunt and forage along the way. That doesn’t seem too intrusive to play or immersion breaking.

  2. I think you’ve got the idea. Also, what I said earlier, make an adventure in each of (or some of) the hexes and employ the same describe to live mechanics, leaving hints and letting the players explore them or not.

  3. Districts? Instead of having a wizards tower as a separate location it could be a district in the city. The outskirts are the village, the city center is the metropolis, the market outside the walls is the crossroads, etc. Each district has it’s own flavor and politics. Also, since TB is specifically about delving dungeons and not politics or travelling between civilizations, I don’t think it really affects things much if there’s only one city. The mechanics work out pretty much the same, and your still encouraged by those mechanics to not stay too long there.

I like that. I don’t think I want each hex to be its own challenge, or they’ll get bogged down quickly–and I don’t want Pathfinder and Survivalist to be uber-skills (though they will necessarily be more important than a standard TB campaign). In a West March campaign, exploration really is the biggest part of the adventure–it’s basically an old-school hexcrawl, where you wander out into the unknown to see what’s there. There are sites of interest scattered about, but those can be introduced either by clues that they find while adventuring, digging up leads during the Town phase, or simply by making a test while in an area (if they decide to describe exploring the area to see what’s around).

The districts idea is neat! To keep the town from becoming the adventure (and because it’s difficult to limit them from wandering between districts, thus making it irrelevant which “town” they come back to), I think a single city/metropolis is best, with the Circles questions really being “do you have parents/friends/mentor in this town.”

Thanks for helping me brainstorm!

Something else to think about is how torchbearer subverts the grid based dungeon crawl of 3.5 and 4.0 d&d. Instead of exploring individual squares looking for the interesting thing TB has you explore locations. There are less of them, but they are richer. You could apply that same notion to your west marches style play. They aren’t flipping hexes, they are travelling from one zone to another using pathfinder. Each zone has it’s own rich challenges and adventure, but there are less zones over all. The exploration is abstracted and the focus is placed on the interesting stuff.

That’s another possibility I’m considering. That will probably require a greater number of regions on the map (to keep them from filling it in too quickly–the map should have plenty of blank spots throughout the campaign), but it’s certainly possible. If I’m clever I can come up with interesting obstacles in regions beyond just “test Pathfinder to keep from getting lost”.

I may finish up a map and try it both ways–give each region an obstacle and see how that would play out vs. a conflict to get to where you’re going.

Well, the pathfinding is how you get from one zone to the next, because they’re just looking for the paths. The “rooms” would be things like:

  • a ravine
  • a mountain pass
  • a rickety old bridge (with or without troll)
  • a dense forest path riddled with giant spiders
  • a cave
  • an underground shortcut
  • a landslide
  • a hermits hut

Each navigable path is like a hallway that connects these “rooms”. You say “It looks like you can forge north through the forest or follow the stream west” if they go north they hit the mountain pass, if they go west it leads to the bridge. I don’t know if that feels like west marches, but it feels like Torchbearer. But basically you wouldn’t be making pathfinder in the locations, you would be describing to live in the locations, and you just use pathfinder to move between them.

That’s more-or-less what I’m thinking of in terms of obstacles in each region. Within each region will also be one or more “adventuring locales”, for lack of a better term: an abandoned dwarven mine, or a wizard’s tower, or the lair of a bunch of harpies. These might be discovered through clues found while adventuring elsewhere, through digging up leads in town, or simply by describing searching in a region.

EDIT: I really like some of those ideas as the obstacles to be overcome in a region. Great flavor for differentiating regions. A region where the obstacle is a spider infestation is much different than one where you need to find a way to cross a river. Darn you, now I’m considering just making each region a “room” with secrets to be found beyond the primary obstacle.

A rickety old bridge may make a good obstacle on its own without the troll: the players can cross however they want (although Dungeoneering seems the obvious choice). A troll makes a great Twist if they fail.

Part of me feels like it’s like having to go through a dungeon to get to a dungeon. My other thought is that there is no mention of making camp (which needs to be done every night of travel, clearly). I’m certainly interested in seeing what Thor has up his sleeve.

In original D&D it was either lairs, crazy strong monsters (Giants dragons), strongholds, or whole villages of monsters encountered (if you rolled werewolf on the wilderness encounter chart, it was a whole pack, not an individual). See as they are talking about mass combat rules in the “X” of the B/X part of the game, I’m hoping overland travel is more than just above ground dungeons.

I think that’s accurate, in a sense. There’s nothing in Torchbearer that says that a dungeon needs to be belowground, although admittedly my idea does have “rooms” being vastly larger than is traditional. The big difference to dungeon design is the introduction of frequent sub-dungeons, dungeons that can only be accessed from a particular “room”. A West Marches campaign is very much about wilderness exploration.

As for camping, I’d assume they’re camping every night, but that’s not the same as saying they enter the Camp Phase. They enter the Camp Phase as normal: when they’re relatively safe and have at least one Check between them and choose to do so.