Torchbearer RPG

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A dungeon crawl RPG from the creators of the Mouse Guard RPG
Updated: 2 days 20 min ago

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.


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?


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.


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


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.


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 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.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Introducing The Grind

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 15:23

Do you need even more Torchbearer in your life? The cool cats at Mordite Press, makers of ‘Wicked dope Torchbearer Sagas content’ are at it again.

Today, as part of Kickstarter’s RPG Zine Quest, they launched The Grind, a Torchbearer zine packed with stories, one-page adventures, adventure ideas, monsters, items, town locations, NPCs, and more.

Check it out!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Of Family and Spirits (Part II)

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 14:00
A part of The Viking’s Bride frieze by Walter Crane, 1883

A few weeks back we explored using the Ættir in Torchbearer games set in the Middarmark. In particular, we took a look at Ran Deepmind, ættir of the Ageiring clan led by Jarl Stigand.

Ran, though much diminished by the near obliteration of the Ageirings in the Battle of Sølvfjord nine years ago, seeks to guide her descendents back to greatness. But the Ageirings have many enemies standing in the way of the young jarl’s path back to power. Perhaps the most immediately dangerous are the Tualings, a clan of Græling outlaws with a score to settle.

The Tualings

The fractious and temperamental Tualing clan have inhabited the uplands of Sudstrond for centuries, with a reputation as troublemakers. Tualing legend holds that long before the Bjornings blighted the shores of the Middarmark, when Græling kings and queens ruled across the land, Tua the Unruly was outlawed and cast out of her clan to prevent a blood feud after she slew her husband’s uncle. She and her closest kin made their way north to the lands west of the Gull Pass, where they established a steading, Tuasgard.

Over the centuries, Tua’s clan expanded to encompass four more steadings, making them one of the most influential local powers. The Ageirings say that many years ago, Stigand’s ancestor, Val the Bold, purchased the Tualing steading of Bikkasgard to establish the fort of Valborg at the mouth of the Gull Pass. The Tualings, on the other hand, maintain they were cheated, forced to give up the steading at spearpoint by Jarl Val’s huskarls. Whatever the truth, the Tualings have regarded the Ageirings with suspicion and hate for long years.

Following the Battle of Sølvfjord, a handful of hot-headed Tualing youths killed Valborg’s steward and occupied the fort, until Stigand’s huskarls returned with the jarl some years later, slaying some and driving out the rest. Furious, the jarl declared the clan outlaw. The Tualings’ neighbors, sensing an opportunity to seize valuable fields and pastures at the expense of their querulous Græling cousins, burned the Tualing steading of Larasstad, slaying most of the people and claiming their lands. It is now a haunted place.

The Tualings retreated to their remaining steadings and declared a blood feud against the Ageirings and their supporters, which they have waged ceaselessly and ruthlessly in the decade since.

It should be noted that as Grælings, the Tualings all have Feuding nature. Having formally declared a blood feud against the Ageirings, they have become terrible foes, as any actions taken in furtherance of the feud falls within their nature.

Tua is a canny spirit, but prone to eruptions of temper whenever she believes that she or her descendents have been slighted. She bestows her favor on descendents who are proud, devious and unstinting in support of their kin. She is determined to destroy the Ageirings.

Tua the Unruly, Ættir of the Tualings The Tualing Regalia

The Tualing clan regalia includes Tua’s beaten bronze brooches strung with glass beads, a set of pitted iron shears, Tua’s loom, a fine steel battle axe, and an ancient ard plough.

Most of the regalia is generally kept at Tua’s shrine at Tuasgard, but the ard is brought to the other Tualing steadings of Finnaby and Abbranvad for the plough rites.

Player characters can be born into the Tualings or join the clan through marriage. Any member of the Tualing clan may use a piece of regalia in a ritual (Ritualist, Ob 3) to connect with Tua. When so connected, Tua can speak through that character’s mouth in furtherance of her belief or instinct. Likewise, she can provide help to characters that have performed the ritual, so long as they remain in contact with the regalia. She can only help within the context of her nature descriptors and if her belief or instinct apply.

With her nature reduced to 4 due to the burning of Larasstad, Tua is somewhat weakened, but her clan retains three steadings and remains numerous. Like Tua, her descendents tend to be devious but tempestuous, prone to act impulsively and aggressively if angered. They are tight-knit and will stand against anyone and everyone in support of each other.

Like Ran, Tua has an agenda. She wants Stigand slain, Ran’s shrine burned and her regalia destroyed. She wants to reclaim Valborg for her clan. And then she wants to make the Græling clans that burned Larasstad pay. But vengeance upon the Ageirings comes first.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part VI)

Thu, 01/24/2019 - 14:00
Robber’s Bridge Concept Map (v3) by D. Koch

Hello friends!

Our adventure is really starting to come together. If you’re new to this series, we’re collaboratively developing a short Torchbearer adventure.

If you need to catch up:

Last time I asked for your input on various features of the map and you provided some great suggestions. Let’s nail down the details.

The Dragonslayer’s Shrine

Everyone seemed to like the idea that Ofnir the Black Wyrm, a legendary dragon of the Middarmark, destroyed the southern tollgate about 300 years ago. I really dig that idea myself, and I think I want to take it a step further: I think the Bjornings erected a shrine to Bjorngrim the Dragonslayer1See Bjorngrim the Dragonslayer, Middarmark, page 36 on the spot sometime after his death. The shrine could be largely forgotten and neglected now, though some members of his cult pass by it on occasion and leave offerings. His cult is tiny and not very well respected, since it largely consists of adventurers and other undesirables. Bjorngrim is only revered by Bjornings, though dwarves remember him and tend to respect members of his cult.

The shrine and the cult could be an opportunity for an interesting twist. What do you think? Ideas? What eerie development would make your skin crawl?

It’s also possible that the Bjorning clerics and paladins of Jernkloster2See Jernkloster, Middarmark, page 26 have a connection to the shrine — their primary purpose is to contain the monsters of the Ironwold3See The Ironwold, Middarmark, page 18, which would make the tragic Immortal of monster-slaying and lost causes appealing to them. The raider cleric could well be one of their number. Do you like that idea? If so, how might we use it? Or should we keep the Cult of the Dragonslayer as something completely separate from the raiders?

Visually, parts of the ruined tower and surrounding stone are scored and blackened by the attack, some of it has even run like butter allowed to soften too long by the hearth.

Perhaps the shrine contains some relics from the long-ago battle: some dragon scales, a few slivers of the weapon that shattered in Bjorngrim’s hand as he drove away the wyrm? Perhaps that event is what precipitated Bjorngrim’s adventure to seek the Forge at the Heart of the World and treat with the dwarves to craft a weapon that would allow him to face Ofnir the Great for once and all4See Teineigin, Middarmark, page 83? Maybe a sliver of the weapon could act like a relic, providing a gear bonus to an invocation like Evocation of the Lords of Battle (assuming a PC is willing to plunder the shrine for it)? What do you think? What weapon shattered in Bjorngrim’s hand? What other details of the event might the players discover?

The Secret Passage

One of the things we’ve been going back and forth about is how the secret entrance to the Nykr’s prison might work. You provided some good suggestions around hidden hand-/footholds on the outside of the middle tower that lead to a trapdoor, but two suggestions really struck my fancy: A magic rune hidden behind a brick in the fireplace that teleports the party, and a mouse hole in the tower foundation that is actually a keyhole to unlock a hidden door.

Those gave me a fairy tale vibe, which I really like to incorporate as a spice when things are set in the Middarmark. What do you think about a mouse hole somewhere in the tower that, should a character kneel before it and peer in, transforms a character into a mouse? The mouse could then scurry down a tiny tunnel hidden in the tower wall to the prison? Do you like that idea or hate it? Would you elaborate on it? Do you prefer something more mundane?

The River Crossing and the Water Spirit

How do the raiders cross the river, given the broken bridge? It seems like we’re leaning toward the idea that they use a boat. I’m on board (sorry) but that makes me think about the nykr5See Nykr, Middarmark, page 88 and why it’s trapped.

The nykr is a water spirit that appears in lots of Germanic folktales and fairy tales under a variety of names: neck, nixie, nocken and lots of others besides (in Beowulf they are referred to as ‘nicor’). The Rhinemaidens from Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen are nixen, a type of female nykr from German myth.

Nykr are known to delight in luring people to their deaths by drowning, though some among them are not malevolent, taking their joy in enchanting any and all with sweet music. Some would agree to go to live with a woman that fell in love with them, but they would usually pine for their watery homes.

There’s an old Swedish story about a poor fisherman who had a beautiful, young daughter. One day he met a nykr who promised him bountiful catches if the daughter was given to the nykr as a bride on her 18th birthday. The fisherman agreed, but when the girl turned 18 and the nykr brought her to his house below the waters, she stabbed herself in the heart rather than give herself to him. The story says that’s why some water lilies are blood red.

There are other stories that say that if properly approached, and if the right sort of offering is sacrificed (drops of blood, a black animal, liquor, tobacco, etc.), a nykr will teach a supplicant how to play enchanting music. Perhaps it could teach a magician or ranger the Celestial Music spell?

Why is the nykr trapped below the bridge? Some of you have suggested that the spirit isn’t entirely trapped. What if the ancient builders of the bridge wanted it to lure people attempting to cross the river to their deaths? What if they intended for the bridge itself to be the only safe way of crossing?

That, of course, would make it impossible for the raiders to cross the river using a boat, unless there’s some sort of trick to it? Maybe they have some sort of item that wards them against malicious spirits? Or they have the nykr’s lyre, and playing it calms the spirit and allows them to cross without succumbing to its siren song? Would that mean that the raiders actually are aware of the nykr and have come to an arrangement, or would there be another explanation for the lyre? Maybe they just stuff wax in their ears? Something else? What do you think?

One of you suggested that the river is haunted by the spirits of those lured to their deaths by the nykr. Should we incorporate that and if so how?

Also, do you think the spirit was always malevolent? Does it like luring people to their deaths? Or was it once a friendly spirit that has been driven mad by centuries of imprisonment? How was it imprisoned? What keeps it trapped? What might the PCs do to free it, should they be so inclined? If the PCs do it free it, how do things change? Does the river become more dangerous? Or, if the spirit was originally friendly, does the river become less dangerous? If the latter, would that make it easier for the Gotts to cross the river and attack Vargstrond?

Don’t be shy! Jump in with your ideas, even if it’s only to answer a single question. Every little bit helps!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part V)

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 14:00
Robber’s Bridge Concept Map (v3) by D. Koch

Hello friends!

If you’re new to this series, we’re collaboratively developing a short Torchbearer adventure.

If you need to catch up:

Last week we took a look at a concept map from Mordite Press developer D. Koch. Above Koch has provided an updated map adjusted for many of the things we discussed. You’ll note that the break in the bridge has been enlarged and the Middle Tower now has a portcullis on either side with murder holes that could be used against attackers trying to pass through. There’s also a stairway on the southern side of the Middle Tower that grants access to the upper levels of the tower.

There are still a few issues that I need your help to address, but first I want to circle back to some of the questions raised in Part III. The suggestions are below. What do you think about them? Which ones do you like or not like? Do they suggest any additional ideas to you?

How have the inhabitants altered the location to serve their needs?

A shrine to the Lords of Valor and Terror. The Bjorning cleric and wizard have affixed an idol of their Lords to the fireplace mantel of the top-most room in the tower. They have built up this elaborate ceremonial chamber. It would be where the buckle1See Part III for more on the buckle. is kept hidden (separate from the other loot). The irony would be this idol is very valuable and could serve to turn the tables or provide an additional bargaining chip for cut-throat hobo parties.

What traps or terrain features make navigating the adventure location difficult?

Here are the ideas you suggested:

  1. Boiling oil tripwire trap above the stairs and main entrance.
  2. A magical rune ward on the treasure vault.
  3. A covered-up Pit trap. Thin stone, like shale, cover up a pit that falls into the river or into the lower levels.
  4. Not a “trap” per se, but I had an idea for a possible twist for when the adventurers try and access the secret passage. The idea of the captive nykr immediately made me wonder what’s moved into the river since the nykr has gone missing: After years of the nykr’s absence, those souls that it lured to watery graves with its enchanting melodies have grown restless and long for the nykr’s song to soothe them back to slumber. They are cursed to not be able to leave their river tomb, but will grab at anyone they find within the water, moaning horrifying atonal dirges to try and get their victim to restart the song.
Additional Thoughts
  1. What if the nykr is not trapped? What if, through its shapeshifting powers, it is actually running the show with the Bjornings. The nykr enchanted and entranced the raiders with its music and they are doing its bidding.
  2. Or another idea, and perhaps better yet, maybe the raiders know about it but have not contacted it yet. They are digging it out and trying to get to it (this could explain why they are distracted when the party enters). The have heard its haunting music and want a favor for freeing it. The Bjorning raider cleric believes that if they can offer a sacrifice to it, they can learn its power and its songs — which might give them more motivation to stick around the tower.
Why is the tollgate in ruins?

Now on to some questions from last week’s post. Here’s what you suggested:

  1. Can we connect it to the Bjornings and the nykr somehow? There could be clues that the tower fell recently (the raiders are still clearing away the debris, townsfolk along the road talking about the tower falling). All of this could have happened within the last few months, but it had something to do with the Bjornings and the Nykr. Perhaps there was a group of Bjornings that came out here first, but they mysteriously disappeared. This second group of raiders is continuing the mission against the Gott and also trying to discover what happened to the other group (thinking them killed by the Gotts). This would play off the theme of “power.”
  2. On the other hand, I do like the idea of the Black Wyrm. I can imagine it swooping down and pushing on the tower with its hind legs. This would connect the theme of history repeating itself (the conquerors become the conquered).
What is the state of the tollgate now?

The Bjornings have cleared away enough of the debris to salvage the lower gatehouse of the southern hightower. They have a makeshift roof of tied-together blankets that keeps the snow off of the supplies inside the room. They use it for extra storage and non-essential items.

How do the Bjorning raiders cross to the north bank?

The Bjornings have created a crude rope bridge to cross the gap caused by the ruined bridge that serves as a secondary defense mechanism of sorts. A detail known to the Bjornings, the bridge can hold no more than two men at a time, or little more than one man with a full pack. To help with the burden of more successful raids, the bandits have installed a net on a secondary rope line above the bridge, which can be pulled to either side of the bridge with pulleys hooked to the wooden pillars the rope is bolted to. The line is able to hold significantly more weight than the bridge itself.

The bridge is firmly staked on the northern side of the gap, but on the opposite end is only knotted to a wooden beam at two points to allow for quick collapse in case of emergencies. Easily missed is a smaller, thinner cord attached to the last board on the southern side of the bridge that serves as a means to pull the bridge back up after it has been disconnected rather than having to rebuild the bridge from scratch. This has lead to many a Bjorning to return from a raid on the northern bank only to find themselves offering trinkets or an extra turn fetching firewood to a watchman who has disconnected the bridge on the other side.

The Secret Bit

One thing we haven’t figured out yet is the hidden entrance in the Middle Tower that leads to the lower part of the tower and the underwater passage to the nykr’s prison (area 9). Where is it? What does it look like? How is it hidden? How does it work?

Provide feedback

So what do you think? What works for you? What doesn’t? Give me your suggestions and critiques. New ideas are welcome too! In the next Robber’s Bridge installment we’re going to nail these details down and start thinking about what the various players want.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part IV)

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 14:00
Robber’s Bridge Concept Map by D. Koch

Check out this amazing concept map from Mordite Press developer D. Koch! This is really starting to come together!

If you’re new to this series, we’re collaboratively developing a short Torchbearer adventure.

If you need to catch up:

In our last installment, we nailed down some details about our adventure location, what treasures might draw the PCs to the location, why that treasure hasn’t been plundered yet and who currently inhabits the adventure location. Check Part III for the details.

I also asked you to supply your thoughts on how the current inhabitants have altered the location and what traps or terrain features could give the PCs trouble. There were only a few responses, but they were great. We’re going to go over them next week. If you have additional ideas, there’s still time, so don’t hesitate to share your thoughts below.

The Scale of the Map

Before we get to that, though, I want to consider the map for a bit. Looking at the image of the bridge itself, a few things leap out to me.

First, I think I want the break in the bridge between the Gate House and the Middle Tower to be a bit larger — enough to make it clear that the break makes the bridge useless. It may be that we just need to give the reader a sense of scale. If that’s the case, we don’t need to change the image at all, we just need to add a scale to the key. What do you think?

Second, I’m thinking about the ruined Toll Gate in the south. D. Koch elected to make that tower ruins so we could focus on just one tower and keep the adventure area smaller. I’m 100 percent on board with the intent, but there are some kinks, setting history-wise, that we need to work out.

A Little Middarmark History

Just to get you oriented: Vanskrdal (now known as the Gottmark following the Gott conquest) is to the north2See Vanskrdal, Middarmark, page 23. It owes allegiance to Otkell, warchief of the Gotts3See Otkell, Warchief of the Gott Host, Middarmark, page 30. The Bjorning jarldom of Vargstrond4See Vargstrond, Middarmark, page 23 is to the south of the bridge. It is ruled by Jarl Una the Cat5See Una the Cat, Jarl of Vargstrond, Middarmark, page 23, who owes allegiance to the Bjorning High Queen Astrid6See Astrid Yngesdottir, High Queen of the Middarmark, Middarmark, page 13.

Otkell and the Bjornings are technically at war, but for the past 20 years or so it has been a quiet affair — mostly skirmishes and raids, not the clash of armies. This, by the way, is why the Bjorning raiders have occupied the tower at our adventure location. They’re harassing the Gotts and causing trouble.

Also, we should figure out how the Bjorning raiders are crossing to the northern side to conduct their raids. Do they have a boat or raft nearby? Have they created some sort of structure that allows them to cross the gap, but which could be easily destroyed? What do you think? How do the raiders navigate this problem?

Why Is the Southern Tollgate in Ruins?

Back to the southern Tollgate. So here’s the thing: The bridge was broken by dwarven mercenaries 20 years ago during the initial Gott invasion. They did it to prevent the Gott cavalry from flooding across the bridge into Vargstrond and continuing the invasion. It was one of the major factors in halting immediate hostilities.

It makes sense to me that the Gatehouse at the northern end of the bridge was ruined in the assault. However! The fighting wouldn’t have reached the Tollgate at the southern end of the bridge. That means the Tollgate couldn’t have been destroyed in that war.

That doesn’t mean the Tollgate can’t be in ruins! We’ve already established that the Bjornings don’t have the engineering knowledge required to repair a structure like this. So, the question becomes: What happened in the past that led to the destruction of the Tollgate? Why didn’t it affect the Middle Tower?

We can use this to establish something new in the setting that the players can discover while adventuring here. Maybe it was destroyed by Ofnir the Black Wyrm7See Ofnir’s Lair, Middarmark, page 32; one of the depredations that led Bjornar the Grim to confront the dragon8See The Death of Bjornar the Grim, Middarmark, page 7? Maybe another monster entirely? Or maybe it was the result of some conflict between the Sakki and the Grælings? Or between the Sakki and the Skyrnir? A natural disaster? What do you think it was and what cool thing might the players discover or learn here? What evidence and effects of the event would someone see? It could lead to another adventure entirely.

Also, did the Bjornings erect some sort of wooden structure there in its place? Is it still there? Has it rotted away? What does that mean for reaching the Middle Tower from the southern end of the bridge?

The Secret Bit

Finally, somewhere in the Middle Tower we need some sort of secret or hidden entrance that grants access to the lower part of the tower and the underwater passage to the Nykr’s prison. What does that look like? How is it hidden? How does it work?

Do you have any other thoughts on the map? Any changes or additions you would make? For instance, I think at the bridge level the tower needs a passageway with a portcullis on either side and a ceiling covered in murder holes. I think that also means we need a stairway on the outside of the southern side of the Middle Tower that provides access from the bridge to the first floor of the tower. Comment below!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part III)

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 14:00

Pont Valentré

Thanks to everyone who chimed in with their thoughts on the submissions for the Robber’s Bridge adventure. Everyone contributed some great stuff! I would encourage everyone to recycle some of those ideas for your own adventures.

I’ve taken everyone’s feedback, incorporated some of my own editorial discretion, and brought it all together. There’s still time to change things, of course, so please share any feedback or ideas inspired by the content below. Let’s take the next steps in pulling this adventure together!

If you need to catch up:

Who Inhabited the adventure location originally? Who made it? Where was it? What happened to it?

The Jotnar Bridge is a marvel of a lost age, made by a forgotten people with knowledge of engineering far in excess of any humans in the north today. Some scholars who consider themselves experts in such things say it was created by the Ylfarings9See The First People, Middarmark, page 6. Others say it was the work of bergrisar10Mountain giants; see Of Trolls and Men, Middarmark, page 84 hailing from the Nidfjoll Mountains11See The Nidfjoll, Middarmark, page 19 to the west. The stony bones of a giant lay half in the icy waters of the Vimur River and half on the northern bank, the crown of its skull forming an island in the river beneath the bridge.

The graceful stone bridge once spanned the Vimur River, connecting the land of Vanskrdal with Vargstrond12See Vanskrdal and Vargstrond, Middarmark, page 23 and enabling trade between the two jarldoms. That ended 19 years ago, when Jarl Grima of Vargstrond, great uncle of the present jarl, Una the Cat13See Una the Cat, Jarl of Vargstrond, Middarmark, page 23, paid a band of mercenary dwarven sappers to slight the central span rather than allow the Gott Host to spill into Vargstrond. Survivors of the conquest of Vanskrdal still speak bitterly of the bridge’s destruction, which trapped many of the newly conquered people on the northern side of the river where they were forced into serfdom by the conquering Gotts.

What do the characters want to recover at the adventure location? Why would the PCs go there?

Bandits have occupied the northern tower of the slighted bridge and have been raiding the Gottmark (formerly Vanskrdal). They recently attacked the nearby Gott village of Saxatoft while its lord was away. They plundered and burned the manor and stole a precious gold buckle that is part of the Saxaling Clan’s regalia. The theft has damaged the Saxaling ættir, and the clan is desperate to get the artifact back.

A Viking Age buckle discovered in Ågård, Denmark

The bandits are using a chamber in the northern bridge tower as a vault to store their ill-gotten treasure.

Why has the adventure location not been plundered already?

Anything of value was taken when the bridge was slighted, or by looters who came along later. But the bandits have recently been filling the vault with their stolen treasure. The original builders created a hidden chamber below the waterline that serves as a prison for a murderous water spirit but holds a fortune in semi-precious stone.

Who or what inhabits the adventure location now?

Ostensibly the current occupants are Bjorning raiders. In fact, they are ‘gestir,’ agents sent by Jarl Una the Cat to harry her enemies north of the river and provide information about the Gotts’ preparation for war. The gestir consist of a handful of Bjorning warriors, a cleric from Jernkloster and possibly even a Bjorning magician.

Unknown to all, there is a secret passage beneath the waterline of the tower that leads to a hidden chamber within the giant’s skull. The bridge’s original builders trapped a nykr14A shape shifting water spirit within. The spirit once lured those who sought to cross the river to their deaths by drowning. The magic of the giant skull chamber has turned the spirit to stone in the form of an exquisite, life-sized lapis lazuli stallion. Anyone that enters the chamber will slowly begin to calcify into lapis lazuli themselves. Removing the stallion from its pedestal will break the enchantment upon the spirit.

It’s possible that the nykr can employ some of its enchanting music, even trapped in stone as it is.

Next Steps

Feel free to suggest changes or build upon what I’ve described above. But it’s also time to move forward. If anyone wants to take a stab at sketching a map of the northern tower, be my guest!

In the meantime, I have a couple of new questions for you.

How have the inhabitants altered the location to serve their needs?

Have the bandits made any changes? Have they dug new tunnels or installed hidden doors? Have they implemented any new defenses or a way of escaping to the southern side of the river if they are assaulted in force?

What traps or terrain features make navigating the adventure location difficult?

I’ve suggested a secret passage below the waterline that leads to a secret chamber in the giant skull. Is that passage flooded? Is there some other challenge to that passage? Have the bandits installed traps? Is there some trick to approaching the tower?

Please jump in with your thoughts. Start thinking about other problems and obstacles this adventure might present.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Of Family and Spirits

Thu, 12/27/2018 - 14:00
A part of The Viking’s Bride frieze by Walter Crane, 1883

Hello friends! Happy holidays!

It was probably ambitious on my part to try to do an interactive project over the holidays. Since I haven’t heard from anyone regarding the Robber’s Bridge submissions I posted last week, I’m going to hold off one more week before moving forward with work on the adventure.

If you’re interested in the project, click on the link above and tell me which options you like and which you don’t! Feel free to riff on the ones you like! If you want to see more interactive projects like this in the future, please contribute. Otherwise I’ll assume the interest isn’t there.

Spiritual Matters

In the meantime, let’s delve a little bit into the Ættir, a type of spirit described in the Of Trolls and Men chapter in Middarmark1Page 91. An ættir is a clan’s ancestral spirit. For all intents and purposes, it is the clan. As it fares, so does the clan, and as the clan fares, so does its ættir. Think of the ættir as a minor deity with her family serving as her worshippers. She serves as the conduit between the living members of the clan and the deceased ancestors.

Great! What does that mean and how can you use it in play? Let’s take a look at one clan’s ættir to get a better grasp of it.

Those of you familiar with the Middarmark know that the power of the Jarls of Sudstrond was smashed by Scefings in the disastrous Battle of Sølvfjord nine years ago2See Sudstrond, Middarmark, page 22.

The jarl’s 10-year-old son Stigand, left in his family’s hall with a handful of loyal retainers during the battle, was one of the clan’s only survivor’s that terrible day. At 19, Jarl Stigand has established himself at Valborg, a castle at the western mouth of the Gull Pass3See Stigand, Jarl of Sudstrond, Middarmark, page 22.

Stigand is the last scion of the once-powerful Ageiring clan, founded by Ageir the Raven, companion to Sigrun Shieldbreaker and first Jarl of Sudstrond.

Ageir may have won the jarldom for deeds of valor at Sigrun’s side, but it was his wife, Ran Deepmind, who shouldered the burden of administering the vast holding and its wealth. She, too, was responsible for maneuvering to keep the conquered Græling peoples of Sudstrond in check, forging alliances with some powerful clans while carefully setting the rest against each other.

In life, her leadership made the Ageirings one of the wealthiest and most powerful clans in the Middarmark. In death, she apotheosized as the ættir of the Ageirings. In the two-and-a-half centuries since, she has continued to protect and guide her descendants as the clan’s ancestral mother.

Ran is much diminished since the disastrous Battle of Sølvfjord 10 years ago: The entire clan, save only Stigand and his great aunt, Solveig, were lost. Most of the clan’s regalia sank or burned with the Ageiring fleet, and Ran’s shrine was despoiled when Ravnhallen, the Ageiring seat in Stortmarke, was overrun and given to the flames.

Half mad with grief and rage, she plots to guide her clan back to greatness.

Ran Deepmind, Ættir of the Ageirings The Ageiring Regalia

Once the Ageiring clan regalia was expansive: Ageir’s bow and cloak of raven feathers, the Raven Banner, a corselet of bright mail gifted by Sigrun herself, and more. Most of it was seized by the Scefings or was lost to the deeps of the Sølvfjord. Only a few pieces remain, a pewter-sheathed drinking horn, a fine bone comb and Ran’s samite shawl. They adorn Ran’s shrine in Valborg and are the clan’s last surviving connection to its ancestral spirit.

Any member of the Ageiring clan—whether by birth, marriage or adoption—may use a piece of regalia in a ritual (Ritualist, Ob 3) to connect with Ran. When so connected, Ran can speak through that character’s mouth in furtherance of her belief or instinct. Likewise, she can provide help to characters that have performed the ritual, so long as they remain in contact with the regalia. She can only help within the context of her nature descriptors and if her belief or instinct apply.

This, by the way, is one of the reasons family is so important in the Middarmark. Having a family means having an ættir, and having an ættir means having Otherworldly protection and guidance. Without family, you are at the mercy of any malicious spirit that chances upon you.

With her nature reduced to 3, Ran isn’t that powerful currently, but she’s canny and driven. You can bring her into play with Stigand’s aunt Solveig acting as her priestess. If the players want to take up Stigand’s cause, their characters must prove themselves to her. Their characters might swear to serve Stigand and join the clan that way. A character might marry Stigand or convince him to adopt them. If the characters join the clan, Ran becomes their ættir. One of them might even be entrusted with a piece of clan regalia.

Of course, Ran has an agenda. She plans to make the Ageirings the most powerful clan in the Middarmark. But first the clan needs to grow in numbers, wealth and influence, and she will see the characters as useful tools to that end. Ran’s first order of business is to move against the Tualing clan and its ættir, Tua the Unruly. We might explore the Tualings and their ættir in a future post.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part II)

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 14:00

Pont Valentré

OK gang, the results from last week’s poll are in. Thank you to everyone who contributed! The entries are below. Check them out and let me know in the comments which ones inspire you. Feel free to riff on them. Next week I’ll use your input to finalize these answers and then we’ll move on to the next steps.

There are just a couple of boundaries that I want to place.

First, I want to keep the Ylfarings1See The First People, Middarmark, page 6 mysterious. They could have built the bridge and left it to be discovered by later humans. It could have been destroyed (by giants or otherwise) in a later age. I just don’t want to set anything down about their history. I’ll leave that for you in their games.

Second, when considering who currently inhabits this location, keep in mind that I want this to be a small dungeon. Think Skogenby or even smaller. Maybe it could even be expandable by treating each of the towers independently to create three linked adventures. For now, let’s keep this focused.

Who inhabited the adventure location originally? Who made it? Where was it? What happened to it?
  1. Originally created by the Ylfarings during a period of tension between them and a nearby Dwarven settlement. The Ylfarings antagonized a pair of giant brothers who took vengeance by wrecking the bridge. They smashed one span entirely and left several architectural weak points in what still stands. One brother’s skeleton is still visible in the water and on the shore nearby. The other brother might still be in the area.

  2. The Halflings built the bridge using the solid rock from their tunnels after a defensive “inundation” from a water lagoon. During the ancient times, the principal and route to the Halfling’s settlement was along a narrow corridor of land called “the causeway”.
    Being surrounded by water on both sides and fortified, the bridge was easily defensive in times of attack…Until the gnolls came over them.

  3. If it has fallen into disrepair and no one has needed such a helpful structure then it connected to groups trade that no longer exists maybe, So a generation from a bygone age

  4. During the time of the Lost Ages, the Ylfaring people created the bridge. They built a monument to a Young Lord, who’s name has been forgotten by the skalds. The Saaki found this bridge when they first arrived to the Middarmark and came south from the Endless Ice.
    The Saaki used it as a strategic position for countless generations until the Græling arrived and drove them from the land. Over time, this area and the ruins of the bridge have been forgotten. This particular crossing doesn’t get much use because there are better and safer routes along the Sølvveien proper.

  5. A charismatic veteran lord and their retinue of dwarven laborers, court wizard and vassals. It was custom made by a dwarven clan under the orders of the local lord. Growing rich and powerful after years of taxation the local count maneuvered the court to have the lord trialed and executed. Without a powerful leader the castle was overrun by the hordes of the wild.

  6. Human priests built a bridge for trade, they decided to charge a crossing tax, the greed it generated birthed a troll who burrowed in the structure eating travelers and inhabitants alike. They payed it gold even fed it orphans but finally destroyed the troll by tearing down part of the bridge entombing it and its treasure. Now locals believe it has returned…

  7. Its megalithic foundation was built by giants who used bones of a god they tricked. The tower bridge was built by a noble twins who ruled opposite sides of the bridge. Each side of the bridge is built with different stone, the south is said to be built with broken stone tablets of the giants tombs and the north was built with the remnants of the dead gods ruined temple. On one side the folk worshiped giants on the other side folk worshiped the dead god. The bridge was the only neutral place where they traded. Trade was good and the gold and silver was kept in the tower. but it only lasted a month before the two sides had a war that destroyed parts of the bridge plunging the tower and its treasure into the river and cutting off both sides from each other.
  8. Long ago, a greed-mad dwarf lord had the Six Sovereign Bridge built. It was called that because the lord decreed the crippling tax of one gold sovereign for each span of the bridge on each cart passing over them. The dwarf lord also had his engineers dredge the fords of the High river regularly.
  9. Lancer’s Lake, fed by the High river, became a hive of competing corsairs and escorting mercenaries as merchants sought ways around the toll. Eventually, the price of goods became so inflated that the Graeling lords (who still ruled Gottmark at the time), were forced to come together to denounce the Lord of the Bridge. They demanded the toll be lowered, or the fords left to silt up in the coming spring’s floods. Their emissary was sent back headless. This lead to a short but bloody war, and the destruction of the bridge. The greed-mad dwarf lord was flung, along with his ox-drawn golden “war chariot,” into the river. The High River has been colloquially known as the “Can’t-Breath-Gold” ever since.
What do the characters want to recover at the adventure location? Why would the PCs go there?
  1. The surviving Ylfarings tried to repair the bridge using the dead giant’s teeth as magical anchors in the weakest spots. It worked, but the Ylfarings abandoned the bridge a short time later. PCs have learned that the magic in the giant’s teeth can impart strength in buildings or walls that use them. They’re going to pry the teeth out of the surviving structure to sell them (hopefully without getting trapped in a collapse or two as they do).
  2. The thieves tax or plunder from those “crossing” the bridge and maybe the builders put the wealthy’s tomb into a place of power such as the foundation of the bridge but i think that should be minor
  3. Scefing bandits have raided a nearby village and stolen a precious necklace from a Græling Godi. Perhaps this necklace is connected to his clan’s ættir, and they need it back desperately.
    But, then, the party discovers there are deep secrets and curses to this location. From behind a stacks of barrels, the party finds a stairwell to the depths…
  4. There have always been stories of the hidden horde of the Greed-mad King. A recent drought has dropped the “Can’t-Breath-Gold” river to a trickle, and there is a report of a band of dwarves camped on remains of the bridge at night. They are digging in shifts at the base of one of the footings of the bridge.
  5. The hidden treasury, buried somewhere under the dungeon.
  6. Save lost children, find the trolls hidden treasure- restore the bridge
  7. Reclaim cursed treasure from the fallen tower/ drive out the river goblins/ find the broken stone tablets of the giants to read their secrets/ reclaim the bricks of the dead gods ruined temple to resurrect him
Why has the adventure location not be plundered already?
  1. Ignorance. The PCs have lost/secret knowledge that most don’t.
  2. New group to the area and as for the tomb need of knowledge of stone work and some labourers
  3. The Græling plundered it long ago. The bandits have been filling it back up with loot, unaware of the monsters below.
  4. The vaults of the towers have long ago been looted, the fortifications broken, the walls caved in, disassembled, or bored through by treasure-seekers. But the High River has always been just that – high.
  5. The lower levels are locked, an old armory and the wizard’s laboratory were overlooked by the horde. The clashing between civilization and wilderness made the old castle the failed project of a myriad of lords, always overtaken by beasts.
  6. Fear and superstition
  7. So many died on each side, many thinking the giants and the god cursed the bridge and river. Folk on both sides independently sometimes bring sacrifices to make sure they remain at peace and leave the place as it is.
Who or what inhabits the adventure location now?
  1. Bandits, or some other humanoid menace, who are slowly turning to stone due to the magic in the giant’s teeth. There’s a middle period in the transformation when their skin turns thick, but still flexible enough for movement. They also get stronger. Maybe their Might goes up or they get other stone-related powers. The PCs might also begin to suffer these effects if they hold onto the teeth for too long, requiring someone to lift the curse later.
  2. I like the idea that the bridge isn’t in use so much so now people traffic the river to move goods now that a new powers are in place, a faction of coastal people noticed their profits are diminished by those coming from inland to trade on the coast so a group is now using the bridge as a toll for people passing below it rather than crossing over.
  3. Scefing raiders on Level 1 above ground. In the depths: Brunnmigi, goblins, skeletons and undead.
  4. The treasure-seeking dwarves inhabit the remains of one of the towers, a draughty place, but with a good view of the surrounds. The leader of the expedition is a descendent of the Greed-mad King. Is the secret knowledge handed down from generation to generation accurate? Is the key he bears real? Will his companions turn on him?
    The far tower has collapsed into the river bed and is filled with a dwindling well of foetid water; home to a nixie and her clutch of eggs – could she know something about the vault? Are the dwarves digging under the wrong footing? The nixie is desperate for help, but dangerous and protective of her eggs.
    The middle tower stands free in the centre of the river bed, the arches broken away. It lists crazily, canted towards the nixie’s nest. A malevolent spirit lives inside, hiding during the day, but flying out at night hunting for blood or dreams or love. It would be a hell of a climb, but maybe the thing has something of value? It plagues the dwarves as they sleep.
  5. An orcish bandit clan has set as their headquarters for raiding. They charge a toll and are planning on rebuilding the bridge.
    Two griffons have nested atop one of the towers. The orcs ward them off by feeding then their victims.
    A chimera, the old guardian of the castle created by the court wizard’s still roams the dungeons below
  6. A Troll is entombed within but a goblin hoard who believe its just an old tale are posing as the troll using the ruined bridge as a base to raid nearby villagers.
  7. Both sides of the river is occupied by ancestors of the humans. But a band of river goblins who worship mud spirits have camped out in the bridge to take the gold but haven’t mapped out out how to get at it. They have been doing small raids on both sides to survive.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 14:00
Pont Valentré

Let’s make an adventure together. We’re going to take this bit by bit and I hope it will be an interactive process.

We’ll start with the process from the Adventure Design chapter in Torchbearer. I’ll provide my answers, but I’m looking to you to jump in with your own ideas. Nothing is set in stone yet. I’m giving this adventure the working title Robber’s Bridge. We’ll consider final titles later in the process.

Feel free to add your suggestions in this handy form. I’ll choose the best ones (or maybe even do a poll) to build out our adventure.

Imagine an adventure location

The first step is to imagine an adventure location. The image above is the Pont Valentré1There’s an amusing legend about the construction of the bridge in the Wikipedia entry. Check it out! It may inspire some of your suggestions for the adventure., a six-span fortified stone arch bridge across the Lot River to the west of Cahors, France. The bridge has three square towers (one at each end and one in the middle).

Let’s use this as inspiration. Our adventure location will be a ruined bridge castle. It’s fallen into disrepair and is no longer used for its intended purpose. Perhaps one or more spans have collapsed and no one today has the knowledge and/or the will to repair it? Our location doesn’t have to look exactly like this, though it could. We’re just using the image as a jumping-off point. Let your imagination lead the way.

What was the original purpose of the location?

The bridge was built to fortify the river crossing and enable the collection of tolls. While built with an eye to military purposes, toll collection was the primary purpose. The bridge is just wide enough for two wagons to pass abreast with a little room to spare. The fortified towers ensured that only those who paid the toll could enter the bridge, while the central tower allowed the defenders to close off each side of the bridge independently and rain missile fire down on attackers.

Who inhabited the adventure location originally?

I want to set this adventure in the Middarmark, in which stone fortifications of this sort are very rare. Dwarves could make something like this, of course. The Grælings were once quite close to the dwarves and may have been taught the secrets behind such engineering, though they would have been lost long ago. And we know the legendary Jarl Mærg the Mighty of Lost Mærgdal was enamored of stone fortifications. Or maybe it was a place of ancient, advanced humans like the Ylfarings? Perhaps the elves? Or giants?

My initial inclination is that it was a place of humans from a time when their knowledge was greater, but what do you think? Who made this place? Where was it? What happened to it?

What do the characters want to recover at the adventure location?

What would make the players interested in exploring this forlorn place? My first thought is that a bandit-lord has made the bridge his or her base and is using it to collect and protect treasure and other ill-gotten goods. Perhaps they’ve taken prisoners? Or some other precious object? Maybe a spell book or important relic?

But you tell me what you think is there. Why would the PCs go there?

Why has the adventure location not been plundered already?

If the bandits are using the broken bridge as a base, then whatever ancient treasures that were there have been plundered. But there’s lots of new treasure there due to the bandits’ activities. No one has plundered the plunderers. Yet. Or maybe there’s a secret treasury or vault in the structure that no one has discovered yet? If so, what has kept it hidden?

Who or what inhabits the adventure location now?

My first thought is that human and goblin bandits are using it as their lair these days. Perhaps pirates from the Brotherhood of Plunder, though they tend to confine their activities to Jeilirdal. Maybe a similar group? Something else entirely? I’m imagining this as a low-level adventure, but maybe you want more potent adversaries?

Let’s stop there. Once I’ve gathered your input on the above questions we can start to think about how the new inhabitants have altered the ruin and the types of traps and terrain the PCs might encounter.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs