Torchbearer RPG

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A dungeon crawl RPG from the creators of the Mouse Guard RPG
Updated: 1 day 17 hours ago

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changelings

Thu, 05/23/2019 - 13:00
Paton, Joseph Noel (1821-1901); The Fairy Raid: Carrying Off a Changeling, Midsummer Eve; Photo Credit: Glasgow Museums

Hello friends!

Luke has been noodling around with a new Middarmark stock. We’re still playtesting and would love your feedback!

The changeling is a special stock. Trolls pick a human family with a new infant, abduct the child and leave one of their own its place. Sometimes the changeling knows what it is, sometimes it only learns the truth later in life. Changeling children are frequently malevolent or destructive and their unwitting adoptive families often come to grief.

To reflect this, Troll Changelings don’t have a class of their own. Instead they choose from the classes available to humans: Cleric, Magician, Thief or Warrior. They cannot be paladins.

If you’re interested, I highly recommend reading Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword, which also happens to be a great primer for Middarmark gaming in general. In The Broken Sword, the elf lord Imric kidnaps the infant son of Orm the Strong and Aelfrida, leaving the troll changeling Valgard in his place.

Troll Changeling

Nature descriptors: Tricking, Boasting and Breaking

Wises

Troll Changelings choose one wise from the following list to start: Troll-wise, Giant-wise, Changeling-wise, or Folklore-wise.

Trait: Hulder

In addition to their class trait, troll changelings must take a second required trait: Hulder. Hulder are troll changelings left to be raised by human parents, sometimes as punishment, sometimes in exchange for a human child stolen. In their human form, they are beautiful to behold (though most have a telltale tail). In their troll form, they are hideous, long-nosed and misshapen.

Class

Troll Changeling characters may choose from the cleric, magician, thief or warrior classes.

Nature Questions

Do you play cruel tricks on your human parents, frightening them with your trollish ways or do you have mercy on their simple souls and keep to human tradition?

  • If you play cruel tricks, increase Nature by one.
  • If you have mercy on humans, take the Filial or Compassionate trait at level 1 in place of your home trait.

Do you boast of your wild deeds, even ones you haven’t accomplished yet? Or do you remain secretive about your true nature?

  • If you boast of your deeds, increase Nature by one.
  • If you remain secretive, take Secrets-wise, Ancient Grievances-wise or Revenge-wise.

Troll strength flows through your blood. Do you rend and snap your way into and out of trouble? Or do you hide your strength and your trollish origins?

  • If you break bones and snap locks, increase Nature by one.
  • If you hide your trollish origins, increase your Hulder trait to level 2.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Life in a Ruined Village

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 13:00
Evening by Russ Nicholson

Hello friends!

It’s been a bit since the end of the Bridge of the Damned campaign, so I wanted to give you some insight into what I’ve been working on.

In the third update, I provided some details on the Saxaling clan that lives on the northern bank of the Vimur River. I also focused on the manor village of Saxatoft.

Saxatoft is a location you can visit in Bridge of the Damned, but it is currently not a functional settlement. In game terms, the Bjorning raid that kicked off the adventure was a disaster. That disaster prevents Saxatoft from being used for a town phase. Lady Clotildis, wife of Ridder Fulk, is doing her best to keep her people alive and to rebuild the village, but she could use help!

In the meantime, while the village can’t be used for the town phase, it can be used as a camp location.

That’s all well and good, but none of our existing camp events tables are really a good fit for this situation. So I’ve made a custom camp events table specifically for camping in the ruined village. You can make use of this for your own games even if you’re not using Saxatoft, though you might have to tweak some of the entries a bit.

This, by the way, is a process you can go through for your own setting to give it a bit more personalized flair. The generic tables from the Torchbearer core book are great and I use them all the time. But sometimes, especially if there’s a place the players are likely to return to again and again, it’s worth the extra effort to make something more specialized.

Note

This table is a bit different than the camp events rules in the core book. In the Torchbearer core book, you roll to determine whether a camp is a disaster, minor inconvenience, safe camp, minor break or lucky break. Then you roll on a subtable to get a specific result. This method brings all of that together in a single table.

Ruined Village Camp Events

Roll 3d6

2Abandoned. The conditions in the village are too miserable. The survivors
quietly slip away in the night, abandoning the town to ruin. 3Collapse. The flame-licked structure you’re squatting in comes down on your
head with a relieved moan. Camp ends and remaining checks lost; structure
destroyed and may not be used further as a camp. All must choose: Make a
Dungeoneer test to get to safety or Laborer tests to save packs and gear. 4Terror. This place is haunted by those recently slain by violence. They emerge
howling from your nightmares. Camp ends and all remaining checks lost. Test
Willto remain sane. Suggested failure result: afraid condition. 5The recent death and misery in the village has lured corpse-eaters into your
midst. 1D2+1 ghouls investigate the pyres to see if any meat escaped the
flame; finding none, they look for fresher flesh. Spend a check to make a test or
engage in a conflict to avert the disaster. If failed, in addition to the resulting
twist or condition, camp ends and all remaining checks are lost. If successful,
camp continues. 6Raid! 2d6 bandits (the Bjorning and Græling thralls) fall on the camp to take
supplies and the children they had to leave behind when they fled. You may
spend a check to make a test or engage in a conflict to avert the disaster.
Otherwise camp ends and all remaining checks are lost. 7Fouled well. The corpses of humans or animals were dropped into the well
during the raid, fouling the water. The well water is undrinkable (anyone who
drinks it is automatically made sick). 8Barren lands. The game in this area has been driven off by the fires and the
land has been foraged clean by the survivors and escaping thralls. There’s
nothing edible to be had for miles. No Hunter or Scavenger tests possible in
camp. 9Hanged man. There’s a corpse of one of the raiders hanging from a tree
nearby, full of ill omen. You cannot recover from the angry or afraid conditions in
camp. 10Smoking pyres. This place is full of ghosts. Recovering spells and invocations in
camp is impossible. 11The roof leaks or the room floods. It begins to rain if it is not raining already.
Water seeps into your gear ruining: 1-3 torches (d3), 4-6 rations (d3). 12Safe camp! 13Midden. +1D to Scavenge for town items in this place. 14Sympathetic children. The local village kids bring you rations of food and wine. 15Fell off the wagon. Roll once on the Gear loot table. 16Overhear a whispered conversation about: 1-2 a cult, 3-4 a local secret, or 5-6 a
political matter. 17Fruit-bearing trees. The orchard or briar has fruited. Collect 2D6 portions of
forage. 18There’s something valuable buried beneath the floorboards or flagstones of the
structure you’re squatting in. Roll once on the Treasure and Valuables loot
subtable (page 145). 19Volunteers! Neighbors hear about the dire straits of Saxatoft and come to
volunteer help. Roll 1d6: 1-2 Laborers, 3-4 Craftsfolk or Artisans, 5-6 A knight
and their retinue. Persistent Results

Some of these results are persistent. If a building collapses, there will be no shelter until it is rebuilt. If the well is fouled, the water will remain poisonous until action is taken to remedy the situation. If the same result is rolled again on a subsequent visit, things should get even worse.

We Can Rebuild It

When the players first encounter Saxatoft, the village is still reeling from the raid. As a result, all camp event rolls are at -1.

Getting Saxatoft back on its feet requires three things:

  • The manor and outbuildings must be repaired (skills like Carpenter, Laborer, and Stonemason may come into play; Steward might be used to organize work parties).
  • The village must be repopulated (either the thralls that escaped to the hills in the raid must be found and recaptured or the PCs might convince people from other settlements to move to Saxatoft).
  • The village’s stock animals must be replenished (perhaps by raiding other nearby settlements and herding the animals back to Saxatoft, or purchasing some breeding pairs from other settlements).

If the PCs successfully perform one of the above actions, they eliminate the -1 to the camp events roll. If they successfully perform two of the above actions, they receive a +1 to the camp events roll. If they perform all three, Saxatoft once again becomes a functioning settlement that can be used for the town phase.

Each time the players make an expedition away from Saxatoft and return, there is a small chance that Clotildis and the small band of survivors she leads will have performed one of the actions themselves. Roll 1d6. On a result of 1, they have taken an action to get Saxatoft back on its feet.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Lords of the Land

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 13:00
The Wild Hunt of Odin, by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1872)

Hello friends!

We know that settlements in Torchbearer often have temples and shrines to various Immortals—they’re among the locations you can visit  during the town phase. But the temples and shrines are generic. It’s left to the GM to fill in the details. By default, people in Torchbearer give devotion to many Immortals. Most are simply worshipped collectively as the “Lords.” But it is not uncommon for settlements to pay special attention to a Young Lord: say Yngve the Lord of Sowing, an incarnation of the Lords of Plenty.

These rules are intended to give individual settlements a bit more character by giving you tools to determine which Young Lord a settlement especially reveres. You can also determine which Chaos Immortal (Jotunn) the settlement especially fears and propitiates. These rules are intended to replace the Temples and Shrines section of the Town chapter in Torchbearer.

Use these details to color your settlements and give them character. If you’re making use of the cult rules from Middarmark, these results can help you determine if a particular cult operates in a settlement. And obviously you don’t need to roll on the Immortal Patrons table if you already know a particular Young Lord holds sway in a settlement: Freydis, Lady of Reaping, is the patron of Sunnås in Middarmark, so there’s no need to roll.

The ‘Age’ category is meant to give a rough idea of how widespread a particular Immortal’s worship is: People throughout Middarmark and beyond (e.g., Gottland, Holmsea and Svanland) often recognize ancient immortals, though it is unusual for them to have truly devoted cults; they are frequently worshipped collectively with the Lords rather than as individuals. The worship of old Immortals is widespread and often more organized—though different peoples often have different names for them. Young Immortals are recently ascended—within the past several hundred years. Their adherents tend to be devoted and vigorous in the pursuit of their patron’s goals.

Temples and Shrines

Temples and shrines in towns gladly offer prayers for weary travelers—for a small donation, of course.

Immortal Patrons

Most settlements have small shrines to various immortals, but most also have one particular patron whom they favor with spells and sacrifice. The GM may choose a settlement’s Immortal Patron or roll 3d6 on the following table:

Roll
(3d6)Immortal
PatronAgeSymbolsSpheres of
Influence3Lord of the
Wild HuntAncientHunting horn made
of deer antlers and
bramblesTerror, fear,
hunting, the lost4The Shining
OneAncientA youthful girl, hair
not yet plaited in adult
braids, adorned with a
crown of wildflowersYouth, health,
song, spring5Lady of the
Winter HuntYoungA woman carrying a
bundle of skis, spear
and bow over her
shoulderWinter travel,
storms, winter,
death6Lord of
StrengthYoungA young man seated
upon a throne with a
naked sword across
his kneesNobility, youth,
warriors7Lord of Winds
and SailorsOldA sailor with a cloak
made of feathers;
wind-blown waves; a
mountain wreathed
in cloudWeather, luck,
sailors, journeys
by sea8Lady of BattlesYoungA woman armored and
helmed, her great sword
held point down before
herConquest and
war, courage,
order, protection9Lady of ReapingAncientA young woman with a
basket overflowing with
food; a grim-visaged
warrior brandishing a
spearHarvest, death,
war, fertility, sex,
autumn10Lord of SowingAncientA boar or a naked man
with pronounced genitaliaSowing, plowing
fertility, sex11Lord of VictoryAncientA richly dressed noble
figure on a throne with a
sheathed sword across
his kneesBattle, victory,
rulership12Hearthmistress,
Protector of the
HallOldA queen seated upon her
throne, a spear and shield
at her side; a loomHearth, marriage
children, weaving,
cooking, defense
of hearth and
home13Lord of ForgesOldHammer and tongs; a forge;
a thickly bearded faceCraft and crafters,
swordsmiths,
cunning14The HuntressAncientTwo boar spears crossed;
a bare-chested woman
crouched; a she-wolf
stalkingHunting, wild beasts,
pursuit in love, luck15The
DragonslayerYoungA man painted black and
carrying a spearHeroes, lost causes,
valiant death16Lord of MercyOldTwin idol with his sister,
Lady of Valor; they stand
side-by-side. He is a man
bearing a drinking hornHealth, healing,
recovery, mercy,
justice, drinking17Lady of ValorOldTwin idol with her brother,
Lord of Mercy; they stand
side-by-side. She is a
warrior with a sword and
shieldCourage, bravery,
fortitude, sharp
swords, strong
shields, valiant
death18The DaystarAncientAn ouroboros around the
sunSeasons, sunlight,
time, summer Propitiate Immortals

Not all Immortals are beneficent. There are dark powers who seek the destruction of civilization. To keep them at bay, folk make constant sacrifice, hoping to satisfy the dark immortals’ carnal lusts so they do not visit calamity on a settlement.

To determine to whom the folk of this settlement sacrifice—or to determine which cults secretly lurk in the hearts of the guilds and rulers of this place, roll 2d6 on the following table:

Roll
(2d6)Propitiate
ImmortalAgeSymbolsSpheres of
Influence2-3Captain of the
Dead ShipEternal
(Jotunn)A desiccated
hand from which
the fingernails
have been torn;
a ship made of
fingernailsDeath, undeath,
funerals, sailing
in storms,
curses4-5The Stalking
BeastEternal
(Jotunn)A great black
wolf; a shadow
in darkness; a
giant hand
covering the
moonHunting, wild
beasts, eclipse,
nightmares,
ravening hunger6-7Lady of
EnervationEternal
(Jotunn)A spilled cup; a
bent, lamed
woman; a giant
hand clutching a
warrior womanServants and thralls,
gossip, laziness,
time, cold wet
weather, curses8-9Lord of
WhispersEternal
(Jotunn)A knife tipped with
a drop of blood, a
hand over the
mouth; a coin
stamped with a
skullPolitics, trade,
succession,
assassination,
corruption10-12Lord of
SlaughterEternal
(Jotunn)A raven; a dead
man; a shattered
shield; a giant
crushing a powerful
warriorRavens, ambush,
battlefields, battle
madness, murder Pray at the Shrine

A traveler may pray at the shrine of the Immortal Patron or propitiated Chaos Immortal of this place.

Make Sacrifices

You may entreat the priests of this settlement to make sacrifices on your behalf. You may sacrifice to the Immortal patron or you may sacrifice to a Jotunn Immortal to try to ward off bad luck.

  • Increase lifestyle cost by 1 to represent the sacrifice and roll 3d6 on the Immortal Omens table below.
  • Before rolling on the table, you may test Theologian to call upon the proper Immortals. If successful, you may choose to keep the result that you roll or the next higher result. If you fail, subtract your margin of failure from your result.
  • You may leave a substantial offering—something magical, something worth at least 3D of cash or something unique to the Immortal—and gain +1 to the roll.
  • You may make a propitiate offering to the Chaos Immortal who holds sway over your fate: +1 to the Immortal Omens Table roll; increase lifestyle cost by 1.
Immortal Omens Table (3d6) 2Immortal Darkness: You have angered the combined council of Chaos
Immortals and they curse your prayers to the abyss. You may not pray to
the Immortals at the temple or anywhere (including clerics!) until this curse
is lifted.3Hyrm’s Notice: The shade of someone or something you killed but failed to
put to rest stalks you. It acts as a barrow wight, disturbed spirit or draugr
and grows closer with each town phase, waiting for you in the darkness.4Slaughterer’s Boast: The Lord of Slaughter sings of your deeds. Add one
opponent to each kill conflict until the next town phase.5Whispers: The Lord of Whispers stains your reputation. +1 Ob to all Circles,
Manipulator, Persuader and Orator tests until the next town phase.6The Stalking Beast spurns you: No game or fowl to be hunted while you are
in the wilderness until the next town phase. Not even a mouse. Any attempt
to hunt advances the grind and automatically results in a twist.7Curse of Slow Blood: The Lady of Enervation mocks you. You gain the
exhausted condition.8Death Omen: You see an item, symbol or spell you will soon encounter.
Take the angry or afraid condition.9Baying of the Wild Hunt: Dogs bark and fight outside the temple, drowning
out the prayers of the priests within. All invocations fail during this town
phase and automatically result in a twist.10The Immortals are deaf to your pleas.11Wind’s Laughter: The weather suddenly changes. Roll for new weather.12Swan of Blood: A raven lands on your sacrifice and pecks away a piece
before flying off.13Glory of Elves: You are visited with a vision of events to come. You see a
flash of a place or person you will soon encounter. You may remove the
angry or afraid condition once any time before the encounter comes to pass.14The Huntress’s Wisdom: +1 to camp events while outdoors until the next
town phase.15Hearthmistress’s Favor: +1 to town events and +1D to requests for hospitality
until of your current adventure.16Favor of the Lord of Forges: +1D to craft skills until the end of your current
adventure.17Gift of the Shining One: Any conditions you suffer are cured and you become
fresh.18+Immortal Boon: Add +1D to all tests for class skills during your current
adventure.

Sacrifice Lifestyle Cost: 1 plus 1 if making a propitiate offering.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Town Is Where the Alchemy Is

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 13:00
Morgan le Fay by Frederick Sandys (between 1863 and 1864)

Hello friends!

We all know you go to the tavern for drinks and rumors, the shrine for omens and the temple for prayers. But where do you go for your more esoteric needs? Why, the hedge witch of course! Check out this new town location for your game.

Hedge Witch

Some settlements boast a local magician who has retired from adventuring and set up shop out near the hedges. They sell balms, concoctions and admixtures to the needy and the desperate. Hedge wizards and witches will never cast a spell for money. Never. It is prohibited by their guild, from the highest lich to the lowliest apprentice. If they should be caught, they will be run out of town (and forced back into the wretched life of an adventurer) and, worse, shunned by their friends and mentors. Selling alchemical concoctions to needy adventurers is another matter entirely. Consult the Alchemical Agents table. Roll 1d3 to determine how many items are available. The GM may choose specific items.

Alchemical Agents Table (not available in the Market) CostNameEffectInventoryOb 3Elixir of Reluctant but
Instant BraveryRemoves afraid conditionVial: Pack 1Ob 2Calming Scalp BalmRemoves angry conditionVial: Pack 1Ob 3Enhancing Broth Against
EnervationRemoves exhausted
conditionVial: Pack 1Ob 3Incense of the Hair of
the Dogs of the Wild HuntVapor: Impose afraid
condition if inhaled, 1 chargeIncense sticks:
Pack 1Ob 3Hermetically Sealed
Bottle of Hellish VaporVapor: Impose exhausted
condition if inhaled, 1 chargeBottle: Pack 2Ob 4Waxed Jar of Noxious
FumesVapor: Impose sick
condition if inhaled, 1 chargeJar: Pack 2Ob 2Vial of Purifying Heavy
WaterIncendiary: Supplies for
fire building, fire starting,
burning, 3 chargesVial: Pack 1Ob 2Bilous Smoke PotSmoke: Supplies for hiding,
fleeing and battle, 2 chargesJar: Pack 2Ob 3PetardExplosive: +1s Attack
weapon in kill, capture and
drive off conflictsBox: Pack 3Ob 1Fire FlowersFireworks (skill supplies)Bundle: Pack 1Ob 5Fire BelcherIncendiary Device: +1 Might in
kill and drive off conflicts,
-1s Maneuver Pack 8 Alchemical Art!

Alchemy is more of a science than an art. Therefore there is a slight chance that each concoction differs slightly from the desired effect. After purchase, the GM should roll a d6. On a roll of a 1, the alchemical mixture is not as it seems. The GM chooses one of the following effects:

  • Recover tax and increase cap of one ability by one
  • Ignites on contact (burns, Ob 6 Health test)
  • Acts as poison
  • Turns skin blue until cured
  • Unintended euphoria: remove angry, but cannot fight or argue for remainder of phase
  • Turns to acid, pitting, dissolving and ruining gear
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bring on the magic! (Part II)

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 13:00
The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse, 1886

Hello friends!

This week we’re continuing with the theme we started here. It’s time for more magic items!

Chime of Dreams

A set silver chimes and mallet intricately engraved with sigils linked to the Lord of Dreams. When struck, it emits a rich bell tone seemingly too deep and resonant to come from the instrument.
Effect: Those who hear the ring of the chime must make an Ob 3 Will (or Nature) test or fall into a deep, unnatural slumber filled with strange and terrible dreams. Those trapped in this sleep will only awaken if prodded or struck. Otherwise they will slumber forever. The chime can affect a maximum of four creatures of Might 1 or 2, three creatures of Might 3, two creatures of Might 4 or one creature of Might 5. It does not work on beings with the undead descriptor or who are Might 6 or higher.
Charges: 1d3+1
Inventory: Hand/carried 2 or pack 2
Type: Magical equipment

Crystal Egg

A smooth, shimmering crystal the size of a fist that seems to shift colors as one gazes upon it.
Effect: This crystal functions as a matrix that can store known spells, similar to a traveling spell book. A magician may store up to 8 slots of spells in the orb. Adding spells to the orb follows the rules for scribing a known spell into a traveling spell book. When found, the Crystal Egg may already contain spells imprinted by its previous owner. Roll 1d6 and consult the following table:

1d6Result1Empty2One 1st Circle spell31d3 1st Circle spells4One 2nd Circle spell51d3 1st and 2nd Circle spells6One 3rd Circle spell

Inventory: Hand/carried 1 or pack 1
Type: Magical container

Ring of the Frog

A ring of mottled green and brown stone that always appears to be wet.
Effect: The wearer may breathe normally underwater.
Charges: 1d6+3
Inventory: Hand/worn 1
Type: Magical jewelry

Robe of the Thaumaturge

A heavy, exquisitely brocaded robe beaded with pearls.
Effect: The robe acts as armor against combat spells, invocations and other magical effects in kill and drive off conflicts. -1 personal damage from magical effects. After absorbing damage, roll 1d6. On a result of 1-2, one of the robe’s pearls crumbles to dust. When the pearls are all gone, the robe’s magic is destroyed.
Charges (Pearls): 1d6+3
Inventory: Torso/worn 3 or pack 4
Type: Magical clothing

Swan Mantle

A cloak of purest white swan feathers stitched with gold thread.
Effect: The wearer pulls the cloak tightly about them and takes the form of a swan. To transform, make a Will test Ob 3. This test does not take a turn. If successful, your character takes the shape of a swan and assumes its nature descriptors (Preening, Flying, Swimming). You may end the effect at any time by removing the cloak.
Inventory: Torso/worn 1, hand/carried 1 or pack 2
Type: Magical clothing

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Tualingsaga: Castle Valborg

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 13:00

Hello friends! It’s been a few months since we touched on the Ageirings and the Tualings, the warring Bjorning and Græling clans that occupy the uplands of Sudstrond near the Gull Pass in the Middarmark. If you play In the Shadow of the Horns, the adventure included in the Middarmark Gazetteer, Jarl Stigand of Castle Valborg will have a vested interest in control of the hidden Græling armory that is Svana Goldnose’s ultimate objective.

To catch you up on previous entries in this series:

Castle Valborg

This wooden motte-and-bailey keep and village controls the western end of the Gull Pass through the Trollfjells, connecting Jeilirdal with Sudstrond. Stigand, last scion of the Ageiring jarls of Sudstrond, has established his court here—a handful of aging but loyal huskarls and their families. The folk of Stigand’s court are Bjornings, while most of those who work the land are Grælings. The uplands of Sudstrond are festooned with ancient ruins from the days of the Græling-Sakki wars, abandoned steadings and the lairs of many monsters from the Trollfjells.

Town Rules

Skills: Armorer, Carpenter, Weaver
Traits: Loyal, Proud
Alignment: Law
Haggling: Ob 3
Telling Tales: Ob 2

Available Locations

Forge, Home (equivalent to Flophouse), Keep (equivalent to Inn), Market (This market is held once a month. Roll 2d6 when entering town; market is available on roll of 9-12.), Shrine, Stables, Street, Tavern, Workshop

Staying at a home or the keep requires family connections or the Rites of Hospitality. The forge and workshop provide the Use Facilities function of a guild hall, but only for certain skills. Forge: Armorer. Workshop:  Carpenter, Cook, Peasant and Weaver. Using the forge requires the hospitality of the keep, while the workshop requires the hospitality of a home or the keep.

Castle Valborg Laws
  • Cooperation with Scefings is a criminal act. Punishable by execution.
  • Denying Jarl Stigand’s right to rule Sudstrond is a criminal act. Punishable by public humiliation.
  • Murder is a criminal act. Punishable by weregild or outlawry.
Characters of Note Stigand, Jarl of Sudstrond

The Jarl of Sudstrond is a serious young man, driven by the need to win back his ancestral holdings and gain revenge for the slaughter of his family nine years ago at the Battle of Sølvfjord. He was only 10 when a handful of loyal huskarls fled Stortmarke with him in the wake of that disastrous battle. They spent several years in hiding before establishing a new court at Valborg. Stigand’s ultimate ambition is to retake his family seat at Stortmarke, but he is in desperate need of resources to draw and maintain a warband fit for the task. For now, he seeks to establish control of the Gull Pass that he might tax trade flowing along the Sølvveien between Jeilirdal and Sudstrond. The rebellious Tualing clan has other plans: They want nothing less than to destroy Stigand’s clan and reclaim their ancestral lands.  

Solveig, the Raven Witch

The elderly and blind Solveig is Stigand’s great aunt, priestess of the Ageiring ættir and a terrifying witch known for her gift of foresight. Even Gorm, master of Svarttårn, is said to covet her gift of prophecy. The gift has failed her only once: on the day of the Battle of Sølvfjord, the vision of blood and fire did not come to her until the Ageiring fleet had already set sail. Solveig is frequently attended by her raven familiar, Gobbet, and her apprentice, Afrid. While Stigand turns his attention to reclaiming what has been lost, Solveig is consumed with bringing about the end of the Tualings. She knows that the Ageiring clan won’t prosper until the Tualings have been dealt with once and for all.

Frode, the Champion

Frode is Stigand’s champion and the leader of his few huskarls. It was Frode that brought Stigand and Solveig out of Stortmarke when the city fell. He remains the young jarl’s most stalwart supporter. The aging Frode’s sword arm is not as strong as it once was, and he privately worries that Stigand’s ambitions will lead the clan to its ultimate destruction. Frode’s son, Hall, will soon take his place among Stigand’s huskarls, and his daughter, Afrid, serves as Solveig’s apprentice.

Mullen, the Animal Physicker

Mullen, bent and gray, is a thrall. The people of Valborg say he comes from Svanland across the sea. The fey old man is mute, but he is possessed of a rare gift: Animals of all sorts seem to understand his strange whistles, and he, in turn, seems to understand them. It is certain that ill and injured animals, domestic or wild, seek him out and flourish back to health under his care. The people of Valborg say he is beloved of the Lord of Beasts.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone! Take This.

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 13:15
Loot by Rebekah Bennington

Hello friends! Happy Torchbearer Thursday.

It’s been a busy few weeks but I think we’re now back on track. Today, I want to take a look at a some near gear that might help your adventurers survive the dangerous world of Torchbearer. Take a look!

ItemCostInventoryAvailabilityArmorArming JacketOb 3Worn/torso 1Bustling MetropolisReinforced HelmetOb 3Worn/head 1 and Neck 1Bustling MetropolisClothingBootsOb 2Worn/feetBusy CrossroadsThick Leather GlovesOb 2Hands/worn 2 or Pack 1Busy CrossroadsContainerBandolierOb 2Worn/torso 1Busy CrossroadsCaskOb 2Hands/carried 2 or Pack 4Busy CrossroadsEquipmentRefined OilOb 4Pack 1 or Hand/carried 1Bustling MetropolisTallowOb 1Pack 1All SettlementsFoodSack of BeansOb 2Pack 2All SettlementsWheel of CheeseOb 3Pack 3All Settlements Descriptions Arming Jacket

A quilted linen or wool jacket. Worn under chain (+1 torso slot) or under plate (no additional inventory), an arming jacket acts as leather armor once the chain or plate is damaged.

Reinforced Helmet

A stout helmet with an aventail to protect the neck and throat. Can sustain two hits before becoming damaged.

Boots

+1D for travel in rain or rough roads.

Thick Leather Gloves

+1D to resist heat or injury from work or +1D equipment for Laborer. Factor for all fine motor actions like spell casting, shooting, carving, etc.

Bandolier

Holds three slots for pack 1 items (not in bundles: no rations, torches, candles, coins, gems, etc.)

Cask

A cask holds 4 draughts for water, ale or wine.

Refined Oil

Lanterns use refined oil as fuel. Cost and inventory represents two flasks of refined oil. A flask of refined oil will fuel a lantern for four turns.

Tallow

A pound of tallow grease (beef fat) that can be used as supplies for Alchemy, Survival and other tests requiring grease or an accelerant.

Sack of Beans

A sack of dried beans. Provides supplies for 2d6 Cook tests. Cannot be eaten without cooking. Comes in a small sack.

Wheel of Cheese

2D6 Preserved Rations or six uses of supplies for cooking.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Power and the Word

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 13:00
Priestess of Delphi (1891) by John Collier 

Hello friends! Note that I’ll be at PAX East next Thursday, so there likely will be no post next week.

The Fury of the Lords of Life and Death is a potent prayer given to first-level clerics. But perhaps it doesn’t quite fit the concept of your character? Just for you, here are seven alternative prayers for your cleric.

Choose one blessing. Your cleric knows this blessing in place of Fury of the Lords of Life and Death. Your cleric may use this blessing once per phase. Breadth determines who gets the advantage dice. Each blessing has a duration of one turn.

Blessings Dowsing Rune

With a prayer to the Water Witch, the invoker ties a blindfold about the eyes and uses a forked stick to feel the way to water.

Dowsing Rune Effect

Grant advantage to Survivalist tests for locating potable water.

Factors

Advantage (start counting at 2): +1D, +2D, +3D
Breadth (start counting at 1; self is free): Other person, small group

Gift of Hospitality

Spilling a libation of mead to the ancestors and spirits of hearth and home, the invoker lays a blessing upon the hearthfire.

Gift of Hospitality Effect

Grant advantage to Cook tests when cooking for friends, family and guests (who have properly invoked the Rites of Hospitality). Strangers must first be made friends or acknowledged as guests or the blessing automatically fails.

Gift of Hospitality Factors

Advantage (start counting at 1): +1D, +2D, +3D
Breadth (start counting at 1; self is free): Other person
Diners (start counting at 1): Family and friends, guests

Heike’s Cunning Needle

Calling upon the Jotunn Heike, who surreptitiously uses her needle to unweave threads from the Skein of Destiny, the invoker causes locks to spring open and bonds to come undone.

Heike’s Cunning Needle Effect

Grant advantage to Criminal tests for picking locks and slipping bonds.

Heike’s Cunning Needle Factors

Advantage (start counting at 2): +1D, +2D, +3D
Breadth (start counting at 1; self is free): Other person, gang, guild

Inspiring Aura

With a shout, the invoker calls upon the Lady of Valor to steel hearts and minds.

Inspiring Aura Effect

The subjects of this invocation gain advantage to Will tests to resist fear and terror or recover from the Afraid condition.

Inspiring Aura Factors

Advantage (start counting at 2): +1D, +2D, +3D
Breadth (start counting at 1; self is free): Other person, two people, small group, warband

Merciful Balm

With a gesture and word, the invoker begins to glow with the inner light of Hyresti, Lord of Mercy; no spirit of disease or plague can stand before Hyresti’s gentle light.

Merciful Balm Effect

Grant advantage to Healer tests to treat fevers and illness.

Merciful Balm Factors

Advantage (start counting at 2): +1D, +2D, +3D
Breadth (start counting at 1; self is free): Other person, enemy

Poison Tongue

Smearing honey on lips and tongue, the invoker’s words begin to drip with sweet poison.

Poison Tongue Effect

Grant advantage to Manipulator tests when goading someone to betray their family, friends, followers or those to whom they owe loyalty.

Poison Tongue Factors

Advantage (start counting at 2): +1D, +2D, +3D
Breadth (start counting at 1; self is free): Other person

Winter’s Winding Path

Intoning a prayer to the Lady of the Winter Hunt with eyes closed, the invoker allows their skis to take them where they will.

Winter’s Winding Path Effect

Grant advantage to Pathfinder tests when in the wilderness and lost places.

Winter’s Winding Path Factors

Advantage (start counting at 2): +1D, +2D, +3D
Breadth (start counting at 1; self is free): Other person

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Sea Awaits

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 13:00
Sjøtrollet (The Sea Troll) by Theodor Kittelsen, 1887 

Hello friends!

In the Icelandic sagas, draugr are malevolent beings. It was said that you could tell who was likely to become a draugr in death because they died sitting up — in other words, alone as a miser rather than in bed and surrounded by loved ones. Sea-draugr are something else again. Though they share many characteristics of their land-based ‘cousins’, the tales seem to reflect the loss and guilt felt by those left behind when their loved ones were lost at sea and unable to be laid to rest with their ancestors.

In these stories, the sea-draugr often seek to return home and take up their old lives, only to be refused and shunned by their living families. The living are left with feelings of guilt and shame from these encounters, while the dead must return to their frigid, watery graves.

The sea-draugr play an important role the Bridge of the Damned adventure, so here’s a first look. What do you think?

Sea-draugr

These spirits of the drowned long for the warmth and comfort of hearth and home, but it is forever denied them. They lack the sheer malevolence of other draugr, but their terrible loneliness draws people wounded in heart and spirit like a lodestone, where they, too, succumb to the embrace of the waters. Sea-draugr are revenants: rotting, bloated, blue- or black-skinned corpses with flesh picked over by fish and crustaceans.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Begin by Being

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 14:00
Hjalmar’s farewell to Örvar-Oddr after the Battle of Samsø (1866), by Mårten Eskil Winge

Hello friends!

I’m still recovering from the Bridge of the Damned Kickstarter, so we’re going to keep this week’s post short and sweet.

I know some of you have been wondering how to make higher-level starting characters in Torchbearer. This is for you.

This is playtest material. We’ve made lots of characters up to third level and been pretty satisfied with them, but we haven’t tried heroes of even higher level in play. If you use these rules and bring the characters to the table, let me know how they play!

Creating a Higher-Level Character
  1. Create a first-level character
  2. Spend advancement tests (pass or fail) as per the table to the right:
  3. Choose level benefits
    1. Magicians and rangers gain one new spell of the appropriate level per spell slot
  4. Reduce Nature to buy the following effects. Each costs 1 Nature:
    1. Increase an ability or skill by 1
    2. Buy a new Wise
    3. Buy a new Trait
    4. Increase a Trait by 1
    5. Buy a new known spell

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Bridge of the Damned: Under the Bridge

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 14:37

Hello friends! Happy Torchbearer Thursday! This post has been cross-posted with my Bridge of the Damned Kickstarter project. Please back it if you’re interested in seeing the finished project!

The amazingly talented Kurt Komoda sent me some concept sketches of the Bridge of the Damned cover yesterday and I wanted to share them with you.

Working with an illustrator like Kurt is a real treat. He’s able to take my jumbled thoughts and turn them into something breathtaking.

Here’s the art direction I gave him:

The dungeon is a broken, fortified bridge. I’m attaching some references. WRT the concept map, you only really need to pay attention to the sketch of the bridge at the top.

There is a calcified skeleton of a giant lying half covered in the river. In my mind’s eye, you could mistake it for a jumble of rocks in the water until you look at it just right. The giant’s skull forms an island in the river. In the adventure a water spirit, a nykr, was trapped inside the skull as a sort of spirit prison in ancient times. Even though it’s trapped, the nykr’s song lures people to drown themselves in the river.

I’m envisioning some adventurers in a skiff on the water. We can see part of the broken bridge and the giant’s skull. A mist is rolling in and sea-draug, spirits of the drowned are rising from the water to attack the adventurers.

Above you can see how those ideas are coalescing in Kurt’s eye.

I love the energy here, and I especially love the giant’s skull under the bridge! It’s not how it was originally positioned in my initial idea, but I really like this composition and it’s inspiring me to think differently about how to use it in the text of the adventure.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part VIII)

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 17:21
Atilla and his Hordes Overrun Italy and the Arts (detail), between 1843 and 1847, Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix

Hello friends! Today’s Torchbearer Thursday post is a couple days early (we’ll actually probably have another post on Thursday). It has been cross-posted with my Bridge of the Damned Kickstarter project. Please back it if you’re interested in seeing the finished project!

You can catch up on the project here:

In the last update, I shared some details of the Runungs, a Bjorning clan that lives on the southern side of the Bridge of the Damned. In this update, we’ll take a look at the Saxalings, a Gott clan that lives on the northern side of the bridge. As you’ll see, the two clans share a turbulent history. A treasure, precious to both clans, has been stolen by raiders who are using the ruined bridge as a base of operations.

The Saxalings

The Saxalings are a Gott clan that owe fealty to Tancred the Fair, greve of the southern march of the Gottmark (formerly the Bjorning jarldom of Vanskrdal). During the Gott conquest, Saxaling Chieftain Hincmar and his warriors seized most of the Runung clan lands north of the Jotnarsbru, including Kviholl, the personal holding of the Runung chieftains.

The Runung Chieftain Grima and his household were caught unaware by the rapidity of the Saxaling advance through their lands. Grima and many of his huskarls were slain, and much of the Runung regalia fell into Saxaling hands. The Saxalings adopted some of those seized treasures as part of their own clan regalia.

Ishildis, daughter of Hincmar, is now the Saxaling chieftain and rules much of the land along the northern bank of the Vimur River from her hall at Skyholl (formerly Kviholl).

For nearly two decades, the curse of the Bridge of the Damned has prevented passage across the Vimur River. As a result, most skirmishes between the Gotts and the Bjornings have taken place at sea, where the Bjornings hold the advantage. The Saxalings have grown slack in guarding their southern border.

Recently, Bjorning raiders somehow managed to evade the curse and cross the river. They attacked the nearby village of Saxatoft while its lord, Ridder Fulk, was away at Skyholl. The raiders plundered and burned Fulk’s manor and stole a precious gold buckle that once was part of the Runung regalia and now is part of the Saxaling regalia. The theft has damaged Saxa Horse-killer, the Saxaling ættir (ancestral founder and spirit of the clan), and the Saxalings are desperate to get the artifact back.


A Viking age buckle discovered in Ågård, Denmark Saxatoft

This once bucolic holding is currently a battle-scarred mess in the wake of a recent Bjorning raid. The manor has burned along with some of the fields, many of the stock animals have been driven off or slain, and numerous thralls have taken to the hills. The holding must be set to rights before it can be used as a settlement. Most of the people of Saxatoft are Bjorning and Græling thralls owned by several Gott peasant families, all overseen by Gott nobles of Fulk’s family.

Town Rules

Skills: Peasant, Rider, Steward
Traits: Pragmatic, Proud
Alignment: Unaffiliated
Haggling: Ob 3
Telling Tales: Ob 3

Available Locations

Flophouse, Home (equivalent to Flophouse), Inn, Market, Manor (burned), Shrine, Stables, Street, Tavern

Saxatoft Laws
  • Frightening a mare that is with foal is a criminal act. Punishable by whipping and a fine (Ob 2 Resources test).
  • Defamation of the Gott overlords is a criminal act. Punishable by whipping and three days in the stocks.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part VII)

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 14:01
Aerial view of the remains of the Viking ring fortress of Trelleborg, near Slagelse in Denmark, by Thue C. Leibrandt

Hello friends! Today’s Torchbearer Thursday has been cross-posted with my Bridge of the Damned Kickstarter project. Please back it if you’re interested in seeing the finished project!

You can catch up on the project here:

The village of Brugard has grown up in the ruins of an ancient ring fort near the southern end of Jotnarsbru. Most of the people of Brugard are Runungs, a once prosperous Bjorning clan whose wealth and influence has waned considerably since the slighting of the bridge and the loss of Vanskrdal.

Prior to the Gott invasion of Vanskrdal, the Runungs lived in steadings and villages on both sides of the Jotnarsbru, and their chieftains were welcomed in the halls of the jarls of both lands. It was Runung warriors that held the fortifications of the bridge and collected tolls from those who would cross.

That all ended with the arrival of the Gott War Host. Many of the Runungs in Vanskrdal were caught unaware by the rapid conquest, and many others were trapped on the northern bank by the destruction of the bridge. Those that managed the crossing occupied the old ring fort, and were succored by those clan members already living on the southern side of the river.

Much of the Runung clan regalia was lost when the Gotts overran Kviholl, the hall of the Runung Chieftain Grima. The only pieces that were saved include a chariot used to drive idols of the Immortal Lords during ceremonial processions, a silver-chased drinking horn and a mangle board that once belonged to clan ancestor and ættir Runa the Battle-Wise.

Danish mangle board with a galloping horse, two kissing doves, a heart and interlaced initials, with its original rolling pin, circa 1780

Runa has told her descendents that many of their relatives survive as thralls in the north, in most cases tending lands they once called their own in service to their new masters.

Brugard

This part of Vargstrond once bustled with trade. Today it is little traveled and the village of Brugard struggles to sustain itself. Little by little, the young people of Brugard slip south to Bodnyheim or Jernkloster seeking better fortunes.

Town Rules

Skills: Carpenter, Peasant, Weaver
Traits: Hungry, Conservative
Alignment: Unaffiliated
Haggling: Ob 3
Telling Tales: Ob 3

Available Locations

Flophouse, Home (equivalent to Flophouse), Inn, Market, Shrine, Stables, Street, Tavern

Brugard Laws
  • Brawling is a criminal act. Punishable by public humiliation.
  • A tax (1D of cash) must be paid to support the needy and unfortunate when visiting the market.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Bridge of the Damned

Mon, 02/18/2019 - 16:02
Castle Erobring by Kurt Komoda

Hello friends!

We’re excited to introduce the Kickstarter for our latest Torchbearer project: The Bridge of the Damned. Follow the link to back this project and help me bring it to fruition!

The Bridge of the Damned is a new adventure targeted for characters levels 2-3. It’s based on the amazing contributions all of you have made in the Robber’s Bridge series of posts right on this blog:

Castle Erobring by Kurt Komoda

We’re now moving onto the next phase of the project, which involves writing the adventure from our shared ideas, commissioning art and doing the layout. I’ve already commissioned Kurt Komoda (responsible for the Middarmark cover and many other incredible pieces) to illustrate the cover. I have no doubts that it will blow our socks off.

In the meantime, if you have participated in this project by filling out the initial form or adding a comment in any of the posts along the way, and you would like to be credited in the final product, please contact me and let me know how you would like your name to appear. Email me, send me a PM on the Burning Wheel HQ forums, or DM me on twitter. I would love to give you credit, but I won’t without your express permission.

Thanks again for your involvement. I couldn’t do it without you!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

One More Day

Sun, 02/17/2019 - 13:10

Hello friends!

My apologies, but if you’re here for the announcement of the new Torchbearer adventure Kickstarter, we’ve opted to push it back by a day. Sorry if you’ve been waiting with baited breath, but thanks for your interest!

We’ll launch tomorrow instead (Monday, Feb. 18). I’m not sure what time, but we’ll make sure to post here, on the Burning Wheel HQ forums, the Torchbearer RPG Facebook page, the Torchbearer subreddit, and I’ll post it on my Twitter account too.

Talk to you tomorrow!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bring on the magic!

Thu, 02/14/2019 - 14:00
The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse, 1886

Hello friends!

Let’s talk about magic items. If you’re a GM, are you placing them in your adventures? If you’re a player, are your characters finding them in their delves? I hope so!

Magic items are fun to discover and use, and if you treat them as more than contextless powerups they can inject history and weight to your campaign.

First, I should note the way I present magic items in Torchbearer has shifted a bit over the years. In the core book, items had levels and you had to be of the requisite level to use the item. I’ve since tossed that restriction by the wayside because it’s artificial and cumbersome. The magic items in Middarmark don’t have levels. That’s why.

It’s my hope that dropping the level restriction also makes it easier for you to design your own magic items and drop them in your games. To help get you started, here are the various magical effects a magic item can provide. If I’ve missed something, let me know in the comments and we’ll discuss!

Magical effects:

  • Break ties in your favor
  • Confer belief
  • Confer instinct
  • Confer special ability (fly, remain unharmed by fire, walk on water, etc.)
  • Confer spell effect
  • Confer traits
  • Confer wise
  • Increase Might
  • Provide advantage to abilities
  • Provide advantage to skills
  • Treat conditions

You can use these singly, or in combination to create more complex magic items. For instance, you can use the Confer belief, instinct, or trait effects in combination with something else to create a cursed item, or an item with a personality that weighs upon the bearer. In general, Confer belief and Confer instinct should replace the character’s existing belief or instinct, not add to it.

Try to give each item you introduce into the game a bit of lore, even if you’re using one from a book or adventure. What’s its name? Who made it? Why? What little nugget of history can your players discover by studying the item? Even a lowly ring of invisibility might have an epic history behind it.

Back in November, I posted a few new magic items. Here are some more to whet your appetite. What’s their story? How would you use them in your game?

Aegis Bracer

These leather bracers are crafted from a combination of supple leather, rawhide and boiled leather, all intricately burned with arcane sigils of defense. They protect the hands and forearms.
Effect: If you are targeted by a successful Attack or Feint in a capture, drive off or kill conflict, roll a d6. On a 4+, reduce your opponent’s margin of success by -1s. This effect works once per conflict. Attacks or Feints with spears, bolts and arrows are not affected.
Inventory: Hands/worn 1
Type: Magical clothing

Frostreaver

A sword of pale blue metal covered in fine crystalline hoar frost. The sword emits a powerful chill and a faint frosty vapor rises from it when unsheathed in above-freezing temperatures.
Effect: The subject of a successful Attack with Frostreaver is chilled to the bone, suffering -1s to their team’s next action. Frostreaver otherwise confers the normal sword benefits. Frostreaver’s cold is punishing. The wielder must wear thick leather gloves or similar protection to shield the hands or suffer the injured condition at the end of a conflict or turn in which it was used.
Inventory: Hands/carried 1 or belt/weapon 1
Type: Magical weapon

Jade Diadem

A crown of creamy white jade made for an ancient tyrant surrounded by scheming courtiers.
Effect: The wearer is immune to all mind control effects and gaze weapons.The wearer of the Jade Diadem gains the Suspicious trait at level 2. The wearer of the Jade Diadem is deeply suspicious of all who would approach them. It is extremely difficult to trick or lie to them, but they have a hard time trusting even the most altruistic people.
Inventory: Head/worn 1 or pack 1
Type: Magical jewelry

Keep Your Eyes Open

As a final note, as part of the #ZineQuest initiative on Kickstarter I plan to launch a new Torchbearer adventure on Sunday, February 17. It will join The Grind, another Torchbearer zine by our friends at Mordite Press. Check in here for announcements!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sanctum Sanctorum

Tue, 02/12/2019 - 16:00
We come bearing news

Fair friend,
We write to you now to say that we have missed you, and that we are sorry for having abandoned you to the cold, unfriendly climes of the internet. 

But, as penance, we have labored long and in secret to recreate our tiny fallen kingdom. Behold, the new Burning Wheel HQ forums!

  • If you are new to the forums, click Sign Up to create a new account.
  • If you had an account but never posted, your account was lost in the great purge. You’ll have to sign up again.
  • If you are a veteran of the forums, click Log In and click I Forgot My Password. Your password has been purged, but you can create a new one and recover your account.

Once your account is set up, join us in reading and posting about Burning Wheel, Torchbearer, Mouse Guard, Dungeon World, Burning Empires and even FreeMarket. We look forward to your coming home.

Spread the word!

If you’d like to see one of Luke’s weird (obsessive) side projects, check out his new Miseries & Misfortunes campaign live on Kickstarter until February 16th.

I hope you all have been following the #ZineQuest initiative on Kickstarter. It’s been great fun. For example, check out this sweet Torchbearer zine, The Grind, by our friends at Mordite Press.

Not to be outdone, Thor has plans to announce a zine project for a new Torchbearer adventure scenario on February 17. You can follow me on Kickstarter for launch notifications or await the arrival of the goblin we’re sending to your house with a special message.

Until next time!
Extra Rotam Nulla Salus
—Luke, Thor & BWHQ

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Cult of the Dragonslayer

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 14:00
Dragen, Theodor Severin Kittelsen, 1892

Hello friends!

Since we’ve been talking about adding a shrine to the Dragonslayer to our Robber’s Bridge adventure, I thought we might take a deeper look at the cult this week and explore its most closely held secret. Note that the rules for the Mysteries of Lith have not yet been playtested. If you use them in your games, I’d love to hear about it.

Bjorngrim the Dragonslayer

Bjorngrimsmál (The Lay of Bjorngrim), is perhaps the most widely popular section of the Bjorningsaga, replete with tales of adventure and desperate stands against terrible monsters. Bjorngrim and his doughty companions journeyed throughout the Middarmark, from the Skera Strait to the Endless Ice, from the depths of the dvergar kingdom of Nidavellir and the Gates of Helheim to Fjalar’s very peak. Skalds throughout parts of the Middarmark ruled by Bjornings regularly recite portions of the Lay to thrill their audiences.

While Bjorngrim is widely revered by Bjornings and even some Grælings, they seldom make offerings or sacrifice to him directly. Instead, he tends to be worshipped together with his mother, Sigrun Shieldbreaker, Lady of Battles, or among the multitude of the Lords of Valor.

As the patron of monster-hunters, lost causes and heroic last stands, the cult of Bjorngrim the Dragonslayer claims few adherents. Those few tend to be adventurers and other thoroughly disreputable vagrants. Communities in the Middarmark generally despise the cult unless they find themselves beset by a draugr, giant, wyrm or similar foe. While the dwarves do not worship Bjorngrim, many among them respect his memory and his cult.

In human lands, only the temple-complex of Jernkloster boasts a temple to the Dragonslayer. The merchants who brave the Blodveien and depend upon Jernkloster to keep that road clear of monsters are among the few who contribute to the offerings and sacrifices that maintain the shabby temple. Valuables, arms and armor are all prized offerings to Bjorngrim. The heads, teeth, claws, scales or other trophies from defeated monsters are also welcome offerings. Bjorngrim finds sacrifices of wolves, eagles and bears pleasing. The men and women of Jernkloster venerate Bjorngrim highly, but even few of them are dedicated members of his hero cult. Those that are openly affiliated gain a whispered reputation as unstable fanatics. Stories claim that another temple once stood in Nidavellir at the terminus of the Perleveien before the Gates of Helheim. Whether it still stands is anyone’s guess, for no word from the dvergar kingdom has reached the surface in many a year.

Organization

The cult has little in the way of organization or hierarchy. Status within the cult is informal and determined by deed and boast. Members are expected to give aid and succor to fellow members when possible. Those lucky few born with Bjorngrim as their fylgja receive deference from other members and are expected to achieve great things. The cult has no real political power, though many people believe that High King Stein Sigurdsson, founder of Jernkloster, was a member of the cult. If true, it was not an association maintained by his successors.

Shrines

Shrines to Bjorngrim are usually found in the wilderness, at the site of a heroic deed. Some simply consist of a horgr — a heap of stones piled atop each other.

More elaborate shrines feature an image stone that depicts the deed performed at the site.

Picture stone from Tjängvide, Alskog Parish, Gotland, Sweden. Photo by Berig

In many cases, one or more horgr are placed around the image stone.

Given their placement in remote and often dangerous places, the shrines rarely receive regular upkeep. Visitors may find the stones tumbled, the site overrun with weeds, the paint on image stones faded or the site turned into the lair of a monster or beast. In addition to making offerings or sacrifice, cult members who come across such shrines in the wilds are expected to do what they can to maintain the site before moving on.

Many shrines contain relics or other items connected with Bjorngrim that could be used as supplies or gear for prayers. These items might include the hilt of a sword that once shattered in Bjorngrim’s hand, a scale torn from Ofnir’s hide, the still-roving prophetic eye Bjorngrim plucked from the head of Groa the troll seeress and so on.

Joining the Cult

Any member of the Cult of Bjorngrim can initiate new members. Postulants may approach cult members and convince them to initiate the postulant into the mysteries. Devotees of the cult agree that membership requires unusual strength of character (or stubbornness) and will need to be convinced to admit the postulant (generally via a Persuader test or convince conflict). If the cult member is convinced, they will prepare an initiation ritual. Initiation requires the postulant to make a Ritualist Test, Ob 2 (though an Evil GM Factor may be appropriate here).

In Brief
  • Find a cult member to initiate you into the Mysteries. Persuader test or convince conflict.
  • Perform the initiation ceremony. Ritualist test, Ob 2.
The Mystery of Lith

Adventuring bands sometimes seek initiation into Bjorngrim’s cult because of a closely held secret: The Rite of Lith. Closely related to Sigrun’s Hird Rite (used by nobles to form a retinue) and Hlin’s Rite of Ætt (used by kin to form a new clan), the Rite of Lith formally creates a lith, an adventuring band bound to a vættr that serves as the lith’s spirit guide and protector. The Rite of Lith is only known to the cult’s initiates and it is the cult’s most valuable secret. Only veteran members of the cult know the Rite. Those who do know the Rite are especially suspicious of newcomers seeking to join the cult and difficult to convince.

Binding a Vættir

The first step to forming a lith is to seek out a vættr to represent your new family. Animal vættir are the most common: eagles, wolves, bulls and such are popular. Elemental spirits like rock-brothers and the spirits of dead heroes are sometimes called upon as well.

The spirit must be approached and convinced to join the band via a convince conflict or riddle conflict. In exchange, the spirit will demand a price: Regular offerings of milk, honey, mead, wine or valuables are common prices, as is the sacrifice of arms or armor to bogs or fire. Sometimes animal sacrifice is requested. The offerings must be made at each of the four seasonal rites.

By default, the spirit will demand offerings worth the equivalent of its Might in cash dice. Coins, gems, jewelry, silverware and plate, objets d’art and rugs and tapestries are worth their value in cash dice. Other items are worth 1D if it takes an Ob 4 or higher Resources test to acquire them, or worth 2D if it takes an Ob 8 or greater Resources test to acquire them. If an item requires an Ob 3 Resources test or less to acquire, it has no cash value as an offering.

However, the price may be modified by the level of compromise in the convince conflict. If the players convince the spirit to join the lith with no compromise, they may reduce the price to appropriate items with no cash value.

The players convince the wolf spirit Hrothvitnir to be the vættr of their lith. The players won the conflict with no compromise. Hrothvitnir’s Might is 4, so normally the players would have to make a seasonal offering worth 4D of cash to keep Hrothvitnir fed. Since the players won with no compromise, they may instead offer four items that have no cash value: Perhaps two swords taken from vanquished foes, a splintered shield and a jug of wine.

The spirit will not be pleased with useless trash. The items should be appropriate to a warlike and heroic being. An animal sacrifice may also replace 1D worth of value. In this case, the blood from the animal is collected by the officiant and sprinkled on the participants, then the meat is boiled and eaten by the participants.

If the players win the convince conflict with a major compromise, they may reduce the price by 3D (to be replaced with appropriate items with no cash value). If the players win with a compromise, they may reduce the price by 2D (to be replaced with appropriate items with no cash value). If the players win with a minor compromise, they may reduce the price by 1D (to be replaced with appropriate items with no cash value).

If the spirit wins the convince conflict with no compromise, it refuses to join the lith. If the spirit wins with a compromise, the GM may either choose to have the spirit join the lith but raise its price by the level of compromise (1D for major compromise, 2D for compromise, 3D for minor compromise) or have the spirit set the players a quest or task to prove their valor. The difficulty of the task should be commensurate with the level of compromise.

In Brief
  • Find a spirit to be the vættr of your lith.
  • Convince it to join via a convince conflict.
  • By default, vættir will demand the lith make seasonal sacrifices with a value equivalent to their Might in cash dice.
  • The price may be modified according to the level of compromise in the convince conflict.
Sacrifices Must Be Made

The band must agree to make the appropriate offerings and/or sacrifices at each of the seasonal rites to keep the vættr happy. Offerings or sacrifice to the vættr requires a Ritualist test with an obstacle equal to the spirit’s Might.

Failure taxes the spirit’s Nature by 1. Meeting the obstacle keeps the spirit fed and empowered. If the spirit’s Nature is taxed, meeting the obstacle restores 1 point of tax. Margin of success restores additional points of taxed Nature on a one-for-one basis. If the spirit’s Nature is taxed to zero, the spirit is destroyed and the lith dissolves.

In Brief
  • At each of the seasonal blots, the lith must make a sacrifice to its vættr. Making the sacrifice requires a Ritualist test with an obstacle equal to the spirit’s Might.
  • Failure in the Ritualist test taxes the spirit’s Nature by 1. If the spirit’s Nature is taxed to zero, the spirit is destroyed and the lith dissolves.
  • Meeting the Ritualist obstacle restores 1 point of taxed Nature. Additional points may be restored by the margin of success on a one-for-one basis.
The Vættr’s Regalia

The Rite of Lith must be performed at one of Bjorngrim’s shrines. The founding members of the lith must each present an item that will serve as their connection to the vættr and provide a physical home for the spirit. Weapons, armor, jewelry, fine tools, the masthead of a ship, and similar items are frequently used. These items form the lith’s regalia. The loss or destruction of a piece of the lith’s regalia taxes the spirit’s Might by 1 for each item lost or destroyed. Lost items may be recovered. Consecrating a new item to replace one that was destroyed requires an epic quest. Recovering or replacing the item restores the taxed Might.

As each member in turn presents their item, they pronounce the goal of their new adventuring band. The goal might simply be to attain wealth and fame, or it could be to perform some great deed or right some terrible wrong. Whatever the goal, the vættr will take it up as its own and dedicate the lith to that goal until the lith is destroyed or it accomplishes that goal and dissolves. The GM should write an appropriate belief for the vættr.

In Brief
  • Each founding member presents an item that will serve as part of the vættr’s regalia.
  • Loss or destruction of a piece of the vættr’s regalia taxes the vættr’s Might by 1.
  • Lost items may be recovered. Destroyed items can be replaced with an epic quest. Recovering the regalia or replacing it restores the vættr’s taxed Might.
  • While binding the vættr, the new members of the lith state the goal of their band. That goal becomes the vættr’s goal.
The Binding

The leader of the rite must then perform a sacrifice to cement the pact, sprinkling the blood on the members, their items and on the shrine’s horgr. Making the pact requires a Ritualist test, Ob 4. Conditions like Afraid, Injured or Sick are appropriate consequences for failure. Twists should be suitably weird or dire. Look to the Magic Twists and Prayer Twists in Torchbearer for inspiration if you need it.

Each Winter, so long as the lith continues to exist, the vættr increases Nature by 1, to a maximum of Nature 6. When the first member of the lith reaches level 7, the vættr’s Might increases to 5. When the first member of the lith reaches level 10, the vættr’s Might increases to 6.

Any member of the lith may use a piece of the vættr’s regalia in a ritual (Ritualist, Ob 3) to connect with it. When so connected, the vættr can speak to that character in furtherance of its belief, goal or instinct. Likewise, it can provide help to characters that have performed the ritual, so long as they remain in contact with the regalia. It can only help within the context of its nature descriptors and if its belief, goal or instinct applies.

In Brief
  • Binding the vættr requires a sacrifice. Ritualist, Ob 4.
  • Each Winter, the vættr’s Nature increases by 1, to a maximum of Nature 6. When a member of the lith reaches level 7, the vættr’s Might increases to 5. When a member reaches level 10, the vættr’s Might increases to 6.
  • A member of the lith who is touching an item of the vættr’s regalia may connect to the vættr with a Ritualist test, Ob 3. When connected, the vættr can speak to the character or provide help to the character with in the context of its Nature descriptors, so long as its belief, goal or instinct applies.
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