Torchbearer RPG

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A dungeon crawl RPG from the creators of the Mouse Guard RPG
Updated: 5 days 3 hours ago

Making Friends and Influencing People

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 13:00
Walhall, die Götterwelt der Germanen (ca. 1905) by Emil Doepler

Hello friends!

You’ve decided you want your next Torchbearer character to be all mysterious and edgy, so you’ve  chosen to be a loner, tough and cool. No friends, no parents, no mentor. But you do have an enemy that has it in for you. Oops.

As I mentioned last week, the world of Torchbearer is a cold and lonely place. Trying to navigate it without friends and family who have your back is so much harder. Being a loner might seem romantic, but you may feel differently when you’re dead broke, hurt, sick, and in desperate need of a hot meal and a safe place to sleep. 

If you’re a magician, the lack of a mentor can feel especially punishing. Every character can benefit from access to a teacher to guide them in the right direction from time to time, but magicians, especially, benefit from a mentor who can teach them new spells for their first few levels.

But now you’re stuck. What’s a taciturn, saturnine adventurer to do?

Make Friends

I recommend allowing yourself to be a bit more vulnerable. Make a point of turning that grim existence around and strive to make new friends in every town and settlement. Whether you get one friend or none in character creation, you can get more in play!

Chat up the townsfolk on guard duty when you’re passing through the gates. Go to the tavern and tell tales (if you have The Secret Vault of the Queen of Thieves, we provide more in-depth rules for telling tales in the appendix; there are some nice benefits to be had!). Look for work. 

I’m not saying that you should turn the town phase into a long, tedious affair, but some short, snappy interactions can really enliven the experience. When you meet NPCs, take note of their names. If they share their problems with you, consider what you might be able to do to share or eliminate their burdens. 

You can meet people in the adventure phase too. Helping out folks in a certain wayhouse that’s been overrun by kobolds could win you friends for life. Some of those friends might even be in a position to offer you meals and a nice room for free whenever you pass through.

I like to think of adventurers as similar to the “A-team.” Society at large might have no use for them, or even actively despise them, but the people who they help along the way become part of a network of supporters that could provide aid in the future.

The Digging for Leads rules (page 92) can be a great way to find NPCs that you could later convert into friends.

Find Teachers

Seeking a master was a staple on the Shaw Brothers films that I ate up as part of Kung Fu Theatre on Saturday mornings as a kid. You can go that route! 

Use the Asking Around rules or Doing Research rules (both on page 92) to locate someone who can teach what you want, then travel to their location (perhaps a Wizard’s Tower or Religious Bastion) to seek an audience (Personal Business, page 91). 

They might require payment, a service or a quest before agreeing to take you on. Or, if you want to be more direct, you can try to find a teacher wherever you happen to be: Use the Searching for Someone rules on page 91 (factors are on page 135 — finding a mentor starts around Ob 4).

Make Enemies

Most adventurers are naturals at this already. I suspect you can rely on your native talents here.

For GMs

If players do their part as described above, it’s your obligation, as a GM, to meet them halfway. Put potential friends, mentors and enemies in their path. You don’t have to force anything, but be receptive to the characters establishing relationships in the course of play. Don’t be afraid to tell your players that they can write an NPC into the Allies and Additional Enemies section of their character sheet.

Remember that if a player seeks out a mentor, blocking them is the least interesting choice you can generally make as the result of a failed test. If you’re going to use a twist, make it something truly memorable. For instance, when the magician flubbs a Circles test to find a mentor, go with a twist and give them an enemy! It’s a powerful magician who agrees to teach them (and does!) but they’re slowly preparing the PC to participate in some nefarious ritual. You could get several adventures out of it as the villainous wizard sends the PC and companions out on quests to recover materials or bathe in eldritch energies. Or maybe the potential mentor has been trapped in some spell gone wrong, or is being blackmailed. They need the PC’s help before they can teach the PC.

This applies to all twists, really, not just ones involving NPCs — strive to lean into what the players are going for, then use twists to create a kink in the situation that drives the action forward. A twist that leads to a dead end isn’t a good twist.

Making NPCs Memorable

Whenever I introduce an NPC into any game, one of the most important things I consider is what they want from the PCs. They want you to take their side. They want you to perform a service. They want you to stand up for something. They want you to smash the status quo in some way. For antagonists, this is especially important. If the only desire I can think of is “the PCs’ deaths” I go back to the drawing board. 

All of the truly great villains of literature and cinema want something of the protagonists. It is the moment when Darth Vader leans in to Luke Skywalker, extends his hand, and says, “Join me and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son!” that catapults Vader into the ranks of the all-time great movie villains. He is revealing his desire to Luke and presenting Luke with a choice. It’s the same with Magneto. He doesn’t want to destroy the X-Men; he wants the X-Men to agree with him, to take up his cause as their own. If he has to kill them, he will. But that’s not his first option.

The best choices have some sort of moral weight and up-end the status quo in some way. Whatever choice Luke makes, the conflict between him and his father, between his father and the emperor, cannot remain the same afterwards. Things have changed.

This is a trick you can use with all your NPCs — friendly, antagonistic or indifferent — to make them pop and encourage the players to take an interest in them. The more difficult the choices and the more far-reaching the consequences of making those choices, the more the players will generally love or hate the NPCs that present them.

And look, that’s not to say that you need to come up with deep backgrounds and motivations for every character you introduce into the game. You can keep things simple at first: “I want the PCs to make Rollo pay me. I want the PCs to rescue my boyfriend from the ogre. I want the PCs to stay in my house so I can rob them while they’re sleeping.” Think of it a bit like a PC’s goal. Between sessions, if you’ve taken an interest in the character or the players have taken an interest in the character, develop them further. Give them a deeper goal. Give them a belief. Think about how they can use a PC to disrupt the status quo and get what they want. 

I don’t want to spoil In the Shadow of the Horns, the adventure in Middarmark, but I think it’s an excellent example of these principles in action. If you own it, take a look at the Where to Go From Here section on page 99. It lays out the desires of several NPCs and presents some ideas for how they might want to use the PCs for their own ends.

How do you use NPCs in your games? Do you have any tricks for making them engaging to the players? I want to hear them.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Friends shall gladden each other

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 13:00
Walhall, die Götterwelt der Germanen (ca. 1905) by Emil Doepler

[41] Friends shall gladden each other | with arms and garments,

As each for himself can see;

Gift-givers’ friendships | are longest found,

If fair their fates may be.

[42] To his friend a man | a friend shall prove,

And gifts with gifts requite;

But men shall mocking | with mockery answer,

And fraud with falsehood meet.

Hávamál, from The Poetic Edda, translated by Henry Adams Bellows

Hello friends!

How much do you make use of relationships in your games? Do the PCs frequently call in at home so their parents will do their laundry? Do they lean on their friends for help? Do they seek instruction and guidance from their mentors? Do they seek out their rivals for a loan? Why not?

The world of Torchbearer is a cold and lonely place. Trying to navigate it without friends and family who have your back is so much harder. Being a loner might seem romantic, but you may feel differently when you’re dead broke, hurt, sick, and in desperate need of a hot meal and a safe place to sleep. 

It’s a good idea for adventurers to make friends and influence people. Those friends can make the difference between life and death when you’re truly hard up. But I want to deal with making new friends and gaining new mentors in a later post. For today, let’s just take a closer look at what parents, friends, mentors and even enemies are good for.

Unless you are that unlucky, foolish loner, you have parents, a friend, a mentor or maybe even an enemy, and even loners have enemies. Each can offer some solace in your time of need. (Yes, even your enemy will help; what better way to put you in debt?)

Here are some thoughts that Luke and I have put together regarding what your relationships can do for you. Keep in mind, though, that your relationships may ask things of you as well.


You will find your parents in your hometown unless an event indicates otherwise. Your parents work the same trade you chose as your hometown skill. Your parents, annoyingly, have the same trait you chose as your hometown trait (even if you changed it later). Your parents are busy trying to keep their heads above water. Your parents are privately worried about you.

You do not have to pay for room and board. Instead, you pay a tax of querulous glances, inquiries about the stains on your undergarments and investigations into the recesses of your pack.

  • Your parents home counts as: Roll d6: 1-2: Stables, 3-4: Flophouse, 5: Inn, 6: Hotel. Roll the first time you visit your parents. Note the result. The old place isn’t quite as you remember it.
  • Your parents will provide for you as they are able (according to the accommodations rules).
  • They will also provide reasonable small craft or trade items that could be generated with their skill. Doing so will eat into their livelihood, but no, you take it; you need it.
Town Friend

Your town friend is someone you know from way back. Maybe you grew up together. Maybe you were first loves, but your lives went separate ways. Maybe they caught you stealing but were kind enough to let you go.

You decided in which settlement your town friend lives and what their profession is when you created your character.

  • Your town friend will put you up when you’re in town. Their accommodations: Roll d6: 1-2: Stables, 3-4: Flophouse, 5: Inn, 6: Hotel. Roll the first time you visit your friend. Note the result.
  • Your friends will provide for you as they are able (according to the accommodations rules). You do not have to pay for room and board.
  • Your friend will also loan you 1D of coin if you’re desperate. It’s not charity, it’s friendship. You need it. Here, I’ll just leave it on the table then.
Adventuring Friend

Your friends in the life truly understand you. More than anyone else, they know the choices and sacrifices you’ve made. Meeting your adventuring friend in town is always a welcome event. They can’t provide you with a roof to hide under, but they will share whatever they have with you: food, wine and coin. Nothing is too much.

  • When you meet your friend out in the world and spend time reminiscing, you may make one free test to recover from the angry or afraid conditions (provided the circumstances permit it).
  • If you have your wits about you and don’t need to blow off steam, your friend will instead offer you a rumor (roll on the Rumor Events table).

Your mentor is a powerful figure who inspired you to live the life of danger. Full of knowledge and experience, your mentor will pass on wisdom when possible, but will never step in and solve your problems for you.

Your mentor is the same class as you, but four levels higher. Once you reach 7th level, your mentor will retire from the life, but perhaps still be available to dispense advice.

  • A magician’s or ranger’s mentor will write a new spell into your spell book when you attain levels 2-5.
  • Mentors for adventurers, burglars, clerics, paladins, thieves and warriors will train you in your specialty or a skill of the GM’s choosing whenever you meet in camp or town.
Enemy and Rival

Your enemy is always ready to thwart your plans, foil your schemes and beat you to the punch. What more could an adventurer ask for?

Enemies can appear at the discretion of the GM at any time during an adventure or in town, but they often crop up in town.

  • Your enemy’s class is determined by the GM.
  • Your enemy or rival is your level +1.
  • Enemy accommodations are: Roll d6: 1-2: Flophouse, 3-4: Inn, 5-6: Hotel.
  • Your enemy will offer substantial loans of at least 2D of coin or help on Resources tests.
  • Your enemy will help with Circles tests when in town.
  • Your enemy will befriend your friends.
  • Your enemy will ingratiate themselves to your parents and mentors.
  • Your enemy will poach your hirelings.
  • Your enemy will compete with you to be first to a dig site, to impress a notable personage or win the favor of a settlement.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

It’s a Trap!

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 13:00
Fall by Rebekah Bennington

Hello friends!

I want to apologize for this blog’s recent hiatus. Many of you probably don’t know that my other hobby (apart from making games) is coaching women’s flat track roller derby. 

I coach two teams in the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league: Manhattan Mayhem (a home team) and the Gotham Girls Roller Derby All-Stars (a travel team). Over the past six weeks, Mayhem has played twice (a victory against Queens and a loss to Bronx), and the All-Stars have played five games across two tournaments (victories against New Jax (Jacksonville, Fl.), Arch Rival (St. Louis, Mo.), Victoria (Melbourne, Australia), Crime City (Malmö, Sweden) and Dirty South (Atlanta, Ga.)).

As you can imagine, I’ve been a little distracted! The good news is that both teams are now headed into the post-season. Mayhem will play Bronx again for the local championship in August. The All-Stars still have a few more games ahead, but our success has put us back in the #2 spot ahead of Victoria, and we hope to reclaim the Hydra from Rose City (Portland, Ore.) at the International WFTDA Championships in Montreal this November.

In the meantime, I’ve got a little breathing room to think about games once again — which is good, considering that this time next week I’ll be at Gen Con (Burning Wheel will be at booth 2150; come say hi!). On to Torchbearer!

If You Trap It…

Last week, Luke and I participated in an AMA at the RPGdesign subreddit. Near the end, Lord Mordeth of our friends at Mordite Press asked about traps in Torchbearer (Build a Better Man Trap, page 127).

Is a failed test the only way to get a condition? Is a condition always accompanied by and effective success in the intent of the test?

I’ve really struggled with some of the logic from “Build a Better Man Trap” for years now. It’s hard for me to grasp how intent works with forced tests. For example, the Health Ob 6 test from the spike version of the Chute to Hell, or the Ob 3 Health test from the Dart Trap.

In these cases, I would think that the “intent” of the roll was to avoid gaining a condition. If you fail the Ob 3 Health test vs. the dart trap, you haven’t really succeeded or gained anything, you just got saddled with a condition. This seems to contradict the “failing forward” logic at work elsewhere in the game. I think most people simply gloss over this, and certainly that’s what we do and it does work fine. But the logic has always eluded me.

Lord Mordeth

This exchange helped crystallize for me something that is not explicit in the text. I think the natural tendency is to think of traps as something intended to kill or injure, but Torchbearer requires that you think about them differently.

First, conditions in Torchbearer are generally either the result of the grind or a failed test. And when a condition is given as the result of a failed test the character always (always, always) achieves the objective of the roll. The only way to get injured by a spear trap is to fail the Health test to avoid it but get a condition and successfully avoid it? What? How does that work?!

Second, there are only three ways for the GM to give a character the Dead condition: as a result of a kill conflict, as a result of having the Injured condition and failing a test involving the risk of physical harm or as a result of having the Sick condition and failing a test involving sickness, disease, poison, madness or grief. In the latter two instances, the GM is also required to inform the character’s player that death is on the line prior to the roll.

Given those limitations, how do you make a death trap in Torchbearer? Well, you don’t. Not really.

Here’s the secret: The objective of traps in Torchbearer is not to injure or kill. Those things are a byproduct of a particular trap’s method, but the objective is something else. People install traps to capture you, move you to another location, prevent you from opening something or going somewhere or even to fool you. If they happen to give you a condition instead? Well, that’s life as an adventurer for you.

The objective of the pit trap in Under the House of the Three Squires is to alert the guards to the adventurers’ presence and give the guards an advantage in the subsequent conflict. The objective of the sleeping gas panel in The Dread Crypt of Skogenby is to allow Haathor-Vash’s minions to capture interlopers that get too close. The trap vault in The Secret Vault of the Queen of Thieves is meant to fool adventurers into thinking they’ve actually found the vault, and perhaps trap them or keep them busy digging until Hsivin the Defiler’s cultists can get at them.

You get the idea. Once we have a trap’s proper objective in mind it should be much clearer how we can employ a twist on a failed test. The pit trap brings the guards running. The sleeping gas panel puts the characters to sleep. The trap vault might leave the characters trapped under rocks or standing outside the entrance to the vault which is now blocked off by fallen rocks.

We can also start thinking about conditions. The characters involved in the test get a condition, but they overcome the trap’s objective. When the pit trap goes off, the characters leap to safely but painfully bark their shins on the edge (injured), or they leap off but their hearts start racing (afraid) when they hear the distant guards wonder about the noise but go back to gambling. They inhale just a little of the sleeping gas (exhausted) but don’t get captured. They escape just ahead of the falling rocks but not before they understand the trap vault was just a trick (angry or injured).

So that’s it. When making traps for your Torchbearer games. Think about what the builder was trying to achieve and base your twists and conditions on that objective.

What do you think? Does that help traps make more sense for you?

P.S. Roller derby is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. There are currently 463 Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association member leagues on six continents. If you’re curious, there’s almost certainly a league near you. Do yourself a favor and check it out!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Get a Job!

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 13:00
Loot by Rebekah Bennington

Hello friends!

In the Guild Hall section of the Town chapter Torchbearer we note that adventurers can use the Guild Hall to find work. It’s a great option if adventurers find themselves short of coin while in town, but as written the jobs only pay out a pouch of silver and there isn’t much guidance for GMs about what sorts of jobs the guilds might provide.

A while back, Luke was giving my adventure, The Secret Vault of the Queen of Thieves, a once-over, and got inspired by the two new town locations I include there: The Docks and the Thieves’ Guild. Here’s the result.

By default, these jobs are only available in the dwarven halls, bustling metropolis and busy crossroads because they’re the only settlements with guild halls. You could add these to other settlements with a bit of finessing though: In a religious bastion, perhaps various temples offer work in a fashion similar to guild halls, for instance.

Available Work

You can look to pick up a little work in this town if you have time to kill and a purse to fill. You need to know who to ask though. So finding work requires a Circles test. If you pass the test with extra successes, you’ve got multiple options: You may take your current result or choose the next higher or next lower job. If you meet the obstacle but don’t exceed it, you’re stuck with the result of the roll. If you fail the test, the GM gives you a twist or condition.

Dwarven Halls: Ob 4
Bustling Metropolis: Ob 2
Busy Crossroads: Ob 3

Finding Work Lifestyle Cost: +1 (this covers the Circles test; there are always bribes to be paid)

These jobs are the only ones on offer this town phase. The GM should generate the pay based on the appropriate entry. The employer will state what’s on offer, but payment is only made on completion of the job to the client’s satisfaction.

The task column describes possible tasks that will need to be completed to collect your pay. This could consist of a single test, a conflict, or even a side adventure.

Business is Business

Doing work in town (making tests to complete a job) counts as personal business and increases your lifestyle cost. Therefore you want to complete your work as efficiently as possible.

Available Work Table (2d6) RollJobTaskPay (roll 1d6)*2Speak to rival guild
leadership about
harboring a criminalConvince, Intimidate,
Persuade1: Large sack of copper
2-4: Satchel of silver
5-6: Satchel of gold3Speak to rival guild
leadership about
missing guild
member or clientConvince, Intimidate,
Persuade 1: Small sack of copper
2-4: Small sack of silver
5-6: Small sack of gold 4Speak to rival guild
leadership about
missing shipment
of materialsIntimidate, Search1: Small sack of copper
2-4: Small sack of silver
5-6: Small sack of gold5Speak to rival guild
leadership about
outstanding debtConvince, Intimidate,
Persuade 1: Small sack of copper
2-4: Small sack of silver
5-6: Small sack of gold6Collect bills
from wayward
adventurersIntimidate, Persuade,
Shake down1-3: Small sack of copper
4-5: Pouch of silver
6: Pouch of gold7Stand watch duty
for wealthy guild
memberRoll new
Town Event1-3: Small sack of copper
4-5: Pouch of silver
6: Pouch of gold8Transport an item
from the guild hall
to a hotel in townNavigate, Carry,
Guard1-3: Small sack of copper
4-5: Pouch of silver
6: Pouch of gold9Transport an item
from the guild hall
to the town
governmentCarry, Guard,
Convince1: Small sack of copper
2-4: Small sack of silver
5-6: Small sack of gold10Transport an item to
a home in a nearby
settlementNavigate, Carry,
Guard1: Small sack of copper
2-4: Small sack of silver
5-6: Small sack of gold 11Borrow prized item
from rival guildSteal1: Small sack of copper
2-4: Small sack of silver
5-6: Small sack of gold 12Speak to temple
priests about
inefficacy of
recent sacrificeIntimidate1: Large sack of copper
2-4: Satchel of silver
5-6: Satchel of gold Note (*)
  • Pouch of silver: 1D, pack 1
  • Pouch of gold: 2D, pack 1
  • Small sack of copper: 1D, pack 2
  • Small sack of silver: 2D, pack 2
  • Small sack of gold: 4D, pack 2
  • Large sack of copper: 3D, Pack 6
  • Satchel of silver: 3D, Pack 3
  • Satchel of gold: 6D, Pack 3

What do you think? Let us know if you use any of this stuff. We want to hear about it!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Of Dwarven Swords & Elven Mail

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 13:00
The Rhinegold & the Valkyrie, Arthur Rackham (1910)

Hello friends!

Luke and I have been tossing around some ideas to give dwarven/elven weapons and armor a bit more character. Right now there’s just a little footnote to the Gear table on page 145. We wanted to give them just a bit more love.

These items are not “magic.” That’s why they show up on the Gear table and not the Magic table. At the same time, they are meant to be items of special potence that add depth to your world.

Here’s what we’ve come up with. Please let us know what you think, especially if you use these ideas in a game!

Dwarven or Elven Weapons

Dwarven and elven weapons each have a unique name. They are forged with such craft and care that the wisdom of the ancient maker resonates through the weapon itself. These weapons are each imbued with a specific wise. Typically, a monster-wise like orc-wise, giant-wise or spider-wise. Creative smiths have been know to instill more esoteric knowledge into their blades like moonwise, gold-wise or truth-wise. The creature named in the wise cannot wield the weapon; they drop it with a yelp of pain if they grasp it.

The weapon confers its wise to the wielder while held and the wielder may use the wise as if it were their own. This wise does not count against the character’s maximum of four wises.


This broad-bladed, damascened sword was the work of the dwarven mastersmith Regin and was quenched in the heart’s blood of the dragon, Frænir. Having consumed the dragon’s spirit, it has become Dragon-wise.


This slim, wickedly sharp dagger has a hilt made from polished antler of a pure white hart. The elf bladesinger Hulda is believed to have crafted the dagger in utter darkness. It is Shadow-wise.

Dwarven or Elven Armor

These protective devices are crafted with skill beyond the ken of mortals. If the GM gives the bearer the Dead condition as the result of violence (from a conflict or a twist), the armor will absorb the blow. The armor can only serve this purpose once. It will absorb a death blow even if the armor itself was damaged during a conflict. In addition, the quality of the armor allows the bearer to reroll the armor die once. The bearer must abide by the result of the second roll.

Gullhjalmr Replica of the helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England, from the collection of the British Museum 

Gullhjalmr is a mighty helm of steel and beaten gold that was recovered from the hoard of the dragon Frænir.

The treasure was the work of Ai, one of the ancient dwarf-kings of Nidavellir.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bring on the Magic! (Part III)

Thu, 05/30/2019 - 13:00
The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse, 1886

Hello friends!

Luke and I have some more magic items and potions for you this week.

You can find items from past entries here:

If you use any of these items in your game, please tell us about it. Enjoy!

Items Gatecrasher

A warhammer covered in earth runes inlaid with diamonds.
Effect: Gatecrasher can smash any wooden door, gate or portcullis to flinders with a single strike, releasing a resounding crash that can be heard from a great distance when it does so. Gatecrasher otherwise confers the normal warhammer benefits.
Inventory: Hands/carried 2
Type: Magical weapon

Girdle of Troll Might

A broad leather belt with a buckle of beaten silver in the shape of a charging boar.
Effect: Increase Might by 1 when worn.
Inventory: Replaces Belt
Type: Magical clothing

Jade Ward

A thick bracelet of highly polished green stone engraved with intricate runes.
Effect: Once per kill, drive off or capture conflict, reduce incoming damage from an opponent’s successful or tied Attack or Feint against you by one. If you take a second point of damage in the fight, the ward shatters.
Inventory: Hands/worn 1
Type: Magical jewelry

Potions Dragon’s Breath

Gulping down this pungent distillation will cause the drinker’s innards to churn and boil. The only relief is to let it out, fast. Fire comes scorching up the throat! Charring enemies and wood alike.
Effect: If drunk and equipped as a weapon in a drive off or kill conflict, the Dragon’s Breath potion counts as a +2s Attack, +1D Feint weapon (-1s to Maneuver and Defend). If the Attack or Feint is successful, the action does one point of damage to all nearby opponents helping each other this round. If an opponent is in close combat with an ally, roll a d6. On a 1, the ally is burned and takes one point of damage instead. Armor does not protect against the Dragon’s Breath unless it is magical. If the imbiber is unable to take an action on the round they drink the potion, they suffer one point of damage.
Draughts: 1
Inventory: Pack 1

Effervescent Tonic

A clear liquid suffused with bubbles. Imbibing it causes one to rise into the air, floating skyward. Take care, you are subject to breezes and winds.
Effect: Rise straight up for one turn. Note, there is no mechanism for safe descent.
Draughts: 2
Inventory: Pack 1

Faerie Wine

Never drink what the fae offer you. This tart wine causes you to grow smaller, much smaller.
Effect: You become Might 1, Health 1. But you count as Pack 1 and can fit into tight crawl spaces, akin to a cat. The effect lasts for 1d6 turns.
Draughts: 1
Inventory: Pack 1

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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


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.


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.
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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.


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:

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,
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,
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:

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
(Jotunn)A great black
wolf; a shadow
in darkness; a
giant hand
covering the
moonHunting, wild
beasts, eclipse,
ravening hunger6-7Lady of
(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
(Jotunn)A knife tipped with
a drop of blood, a
hand over the
mouth; a coin
stamped with a
skullPolitics, trade,
corruption10-12Lord of
(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

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

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