Torchbearer RPG

Subscribe to Torchbearer RPG feed
A dungeon crawl RPG from the creators of the Mouse Guard RPG
Updated: 1 week 2 days ago

The Saxalings

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 14:30
Atilla and his Hordes Overrun Italy and the Arts (detail), between 1843 and 1847, Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix

(xposted with Bridge of the Damned update)

Hello friends!

In a past series of posts, we looked at two Middarmark clans, the Ageirings and the Tualings, along with their ættir.

I’ve been working on The Bridge of the Damned adventure and figured I would give the clans involved in that adventure a similar treatment. This week we’re taking a look at the Saxalings, whom we previously learned a little about in Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part VIII) and Life in a Ruined Village.

The Saxalings

The Saxalings are a Gott clan in the Gottmark. They owe fealty to Tancred the Fair, greve of the Southern March. During the conquest of the Gottmark 20 years ago, Hincmar was chieftain of the Saxalings. He and his warriors seized lands along the northern bank of the Vimur River that belonged to the Bjorning clan known as the Runungs.

Among those lands was Kviholl, the hall of Grima, chieftain of the Runungs. Grima and his household were caught unaware by the rapidity of the Saxaling advance through their lands. Not only were Grima and many of his huskarls slain when the Saxalings burned Kviholl, the Saxalings also captured the shrine to Runa the Battle-wise, ættir (ancestral spirit) of the Runungs. As a result, several pieces of the Runung clan regalia fell into Saxaling hands. Some were destroyed, but one, a buckle of finely beaten gold in the shape of a falcon, caught Hincmar’s eye. He incorporated it into his own clan’s regalia.

Today, Ishildis, daughter of Hincmar, is chieftain of the Saxalings. She rules from her hall at Skyholl, erected in the very spot where Kviholl once stood. Ishildis is guided by Saxa Horsekiller, ættir of the Saxaling clan.

Saxa Horsekiller Nature 5*Might 5Binding and Cursing, Protecting, ProphesyingBelief: Blood must be paid for any and all slights against me and mine.Instinct: Protect my bloodline.Type: Spirit

Special Rules: The ættir is the embodiment of her bloodline and can speak to those who share her blood in dreams. She lives in the clan’s regalia—a banner, piece of jewelry, weapon, article of clothing or relic of some sort—and can communicate with the bearer directly.

Hit Points Banish
9 WeaponConflictADFMBound to ClanBanish
Capture — +2D — — Fed with Regular
Sacrifice Banish
Capture — — — +2DMatriarchalConvince — +2D — — Prophetic VisionsBattle
Convince+1D — — +1s

Note: Before the Bjorning raid, Saxa was Nature 6. Her current Nature 5 reflects the loss of the Falcon Buckle. Should the buckle be returned and rededicated, her Nature will be restored to 6.

Saxa Horsekiller Description

Saxa is a warlike spirit, eager for conquest and increase in her descendants’ power and prestige, while merciless against foes of her house. In the Otherworld she generally appears astride a great white stallion, clad in gleaming mail and helmet with a lance in hand.

She has grown restless over the past two decades. The curse of the Vimur River has prevented her clan from expanding south and “friendly” clans box the Saxalings in to the north. She has begun agitating for her clan to feud with those neighbors in the hopes of seizing their lands. While enraged by the impudence of the raiders that stole her Falcon Buckle, part of her exults: If they could cross the cursed river to mount an attack, her people can do the same.

Contrary to her deed-name, she was known in life to care deeply for horses, lavishing her steeds with love and affection. She earned the name by riding one of her beloved horses to death to warn her family of a surprise attack by a supposedly allied clan during one of the frequent brushfire wars that consume the old country of Gottland.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Whatever Is Not Nailed Down…

Thu, 10/03/2019 - 15:00
Tiziri by Jordan Worley

Hello friends!

Luke and I have been considering the Thief playtest class we put up years ago now. We’ve made some modifications to the level benefits based on our own playtests. Take a look and let us know what you think!

Human Thief

Born on the streets, thieves were brought into a tough life. Their cradle was the gutter, their bread was the cruelty of strangers and their guardians were brutal guildmasters. Forced to survive amidst the uncaring in the cities and towns, some urchins deem the adventurer’s life to have better odds and at least a small hope of escape from destitution and a life ended on the gallows. They bring cunning, bravado and hard-won skills valuable in any group of scoundrels.

StockHuman ClassThiefAbilitiesDistribute 8 points between Will and Health; neither may be lower than 2 or higher than 6.SkillsCriminal 3, Manipulator 3, Scout 3, Sapper 2, Fighter 2; Plus choice of Criminal +1, Haggler 3, Pathfinder 3, Peasant 3 or Survivalist 3.TraitDevil May CareWeaponsBow, crossbow, dagger, hand axe, swordArmorLeather Devil May Care

Thieves are rakes and libertines. Their swagger and ability to spit in the eye of danger helps them win admirers and keep a steady hand when others would shake in their boots. It can also lead them to take foolish risks to protect their reputations.

Thief Level Benefits Level 1

Thief: You may wear leather armor and cannot use a helmet or shield. You can wield bows, crossbows, daggers, hand axes and swords.

Level 2

Concealed Pocket: The thief has an additional torso inventory slot that can only be used to conceal a small Pack 1 item or small weapon (like a dagger or sling). If someone tries to search the thief, the thief may roll Criminal vs. the attempt to keep the item hidden.

Improvisational: A bit of wire, a sliver of metal, a shard of bone — a thief always has tools available for tests regarding traps, escaping, picking locks and the like. If you already have tools, you may spend a check to improvise supplies (+1D) for the test.

Level 3

Surprise Attack: Add +1s to any Feint action (in addition to any weapon or Might bonuses) when leading or helping with a Feint action in tight, dimly lit or claustrophobic fighting conditions.

Pickpocket: A thief always has a ready source of cash in town — from certain involuntary donations to the purse. Resources is minimum 1 rather than 0. If Resources is 0 in town, advance it to 1 immediately. If Resources is 1 or higher, the thief may make a free Criminal test in town to alleviate one of the residents of some of their extra cash. Success generates 1D of cash. The cost of failure is up to the GM.

Level 4

Good Ear: By listening at a portal, entryway, door or gate, a thief can gain useful information. Make a Scout test with +1D vs. those on the other side to listen. This test does not cost a turn. Success indicates number and type of opponents or odd and distinctive sounds ahead. May be used once per adventure phase.

Fence: When selling loot in the market or stolen goods to the Thieves Guild, test Haggler versus your vendor. This test does not increase your lifestyle. If successful, increase the sale value by +1D of cash. You can conduct these transactions even if the market in town is closed (but not if there’s no market in town at all).

Level 5

Steady Hands: +1D to tests when setting or disarming traps. Once per adventure phase you may check for traps without taking a turn. You may only be helped by other thieves or characters with appropriate Nature descriptors.

Friends in Low Places: +1D to Circles for finding thieves, beggars, criminals and adventurers. In addition, if ever accosted in town by a thief or legbreaker, you may make a Circles test at +1 Ob to determine if you know them and are on good terms. This test does not increase lifestyle.

Level 6

Thief’s Apprentice: You gain an apprentice. The apprentice helps you with your default class skills (Criminal, Manipulator, Scout, Sapper, Fighter). Add +1D to your roll when your apprentice is helping. To help in a conflict, you must assign the apprentice a point of disposition. The apprentice has three available inventory slots and requires a portion of food and water in camp.

Symbological Dilettante: You’ve seen all manner of weird inscriptions. +2D to the Scholar skill to decipher runes, symbols and strange languages. A thief who has learned the Arcanist skill may use it to case from spell scrolls. Increase the obstacle to cast by 1.

Level 7

Leverage: You have dirt on a lot of people. Increase Precedence by one. [Consider this a teaser for something else we’re working on!]

Expert: Increase your rank cap for Criminal, Sapper or Health (choose one) from 6 to 7. You may advance from rank 6 to rank 7 with seven successful and six failed tests.

Level 8

A Life in the Shadows: Suffer no penalty for dim light and only -1s in darkness. You can act in darkness normally (without conflict restrictions) provided you can smell and touch. You still can’t read or use a map in darkness.

Protection: Make a Manipulator test to put a town institution under your “protection.” If successful, the institution will make regular payments (+1D cash when you enter town) or provide services (free of lifestyle cost).

Protection Racket Factors Size of Town+InstitutionBusy Crossroads (1)Popular Establishment like a tavern
or accommodation (1)Bustling Metropolis (2)Weak Guild (1)Religious Bastion (3)Propitiate Temple (2)Remote Village (3)Strong Guild (2)Steading (4)Patron Temple (3)Wizard’s Tower (4)Ruling House (3) Level 9

Heroic Ability: Choose Criminal, Manipulator or Sapper. The chosen skill becomes “heroic.” When rolling this skill 3-6 indicates a success (rather than the standard 4-6).

Transformed: Change one Nature descriptor to climbing, hiding or stealing. You may use the level benefit to replace a lost Nature descriptor.

Level 10

Luck of the Devil: When acting alone or at the forefront of the test for a thief class skill (i.e. you’re the one rolling the dice), you may choose a twist or condition for a failed test. In a group test, you choose which character is hit with the worst condition. Make the choice for twist or condition before the GM describes what the twist would be.

Spider: Once per town phase, you may do one of the following:

  • Assign an institution you control or that is under your protection to the town watch for the duration of your stay.
  • Appoint a friend or enemy to an office in a town institution.
  • Modify a town law with a new restriction (must/must not) or penalty that remains on the town’s ledgers going forward.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone! Take This. (Part II)

Thu, 09/12/2019 - 13:00
Loot by Rebekah Bennington

Hello friends!

Here is some more gear that might help your adventurers survive the dangerous world of Torchbearer

You’ll find more new items in the previous post in this series:

Availability indicates the type of settlement in which a piece of gear can be purchased. It’s a hierarchy from greatest availability to most-restricted availability:

  • All Settlements
  • Remote Village
  • Busy Crossroads
  • Bustling Metropolis

For instance, if something is available in a Remote Village, it can also be found in a Busy Crossroads or Bustling Metropolis. 

ItemCostInventoryAvailabilityArmorBuff CoatOb 3Worn/torso 1Bustling MetropolisCoat of PlatesOb 3Worn/Torso 1Bustling MetropolisClothingScarfOb 2Worn/neckAll SettlementsWool SweaterOb 2Worn/torso 1All SettlementsContainerFrame PackOb 2Worn/torso 3Busy CrossroadsPurseOb 1Worn/torso 1
or Belt 1Busy CrossroadsEquipmentChalkOb 1Pack 1Busy CrossroadsSquare-Backed
HatchetOb 2Pack 1 or
Hand/carried 1Busy CrossroadsFoodPickled HerringOb 3Pack 2All SettlementsSack of FlourOb 2Pack 6 or
Hand/carried 2All Settlements Descriptions Buff Coat

A heavy leather coat and skirt made from hide. Acts as leather armor but can be used twice per conflict rather than once.


Used to mark areas. Counts as supplies for Cartographer, Dungeoneer, Pathfinder or Scout when appropriate. Three uses.

Coat of Plates

Overlapping metal plates riveted inside a leather garment. Acts as leather armor but deflects spears, arrows and bolts.

Frame Pack

A sturdy wooden frame with straps to which one can lash items. Frame packs can hold up to 8 slots. Counts as a factor in Fighter and Dungeoneer tests.

Pickled Herring

A small cask of herring in brine. 1d6+1 preserved rations.


A leather or cloth bag that can hold two slots of coins or gems only.

Sack of Flour

A large sack of flour. Supplies for 3d6 Cook tests.


+1D to resist or recover from the effects of cold and draft.

Square-Backed Hatchet

+1D to Laborer tests for clearing brush, chopping wood and pounding nails.

Wool Sweater

+1D for resisting the effects of cold and wet.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bring on the Magic! (Part IV)

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 13:00
The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse, 1886

Hello friends!

I’ve got a couple more magic items for you this week. In D&D terms, the Pair Dadeni, in particular, is closer to an artifact than a magic item. Both are very powerful and adventures or even whole campaigns can hinge on them.

You can find items from past entries here:

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

Myr’s Magnificent Manor

This exquisite puzzle box is crafted of linden and rosewood with inlays of walrus tusk and pewter. The priceless treasure was once the crowning achievement of the Enchanter Myr of Svanland. Slats, cunningly hidden hinges and pivots allow one to manipulate the box in a multitude of ways. If one can discern its secrets, it can unfold into a comfortable manor house complete with a hearth, a hall with trestle table and benches, a private chamber that can comfortably sleep three people, a study and storage.
Effect: Unfolding the puzzle box into a manor requires an Ob 3 Lore Master test, though it will refold itself without a test upon command. In Camp, the manor provides shelter from the elements, tools for Cook, +1D to recovery from Exhausted for those who sleep in the bed, space to keep one magician’s library and space to store 12 slots worth of inventory. There is room for others to sleep in the hall, but they do not get a bonus to recovery. The puzzle box will lose its  magic if damaged.
Inventory: Pack 2
Type: Magical container

Pair Dadeni

The legendary Pair Dadeni of Valland—the Cauldron of Rebirth—is much sought by adventurers and warlords. The legends say that any dead creature, be it human or beast, placed within the black cauldron returns to life. Crafted by giants, the vast iron cauldron is said to be as big as a lake, and perhaps it could masquerade as one if buried in the earth.
Effect: Anything dead placed within the cauldron returns to life on the following dawn. The resurrected being permanently loses one nature descriptor of the GM’s choice and erases the Dead condition. If a living being is forcibly placed in the cauldron, it arises as Deathless, slave to the will of the one who sacrificed it. If a living being willingly climbs into the cauldron, it will shatter. Its magic will be destroyed forever and those given new life by it, whether living or Deathless, will die.
Inventory: Special. The cauldron is so vast, only a team of giants could hope to move it.
Type: Magical container

Deathless Nature 4Might 5Guarding, Pursuing, SlayingInstinct: Obey the master.Type: Undead

Special Rules: Cauldron Born. Animated and enslaved by the magic of the cauldron, the Deathless are mute, undead horrors. They cannot speak and cannot be reasoned with. Nor will they flee (save from those invoking the Fury of the Lords of Life and Death). They never tire and they never stop when following their master’s orders. However, they will not act on their own accord. Without orders they are quiescent.

Hit Points Flee

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating. Note: Deathless will never engage in Convince or Drive Off conflicts. They cannot Riddle but they can be Tricked.

Armor: Whatever armor the Deathless wore in life. Chain, shield and helmet are common.

Capture — +2D — — Tireless
Pursue — — — +1s Deathless Description

A mockery of human form, the Deathless are mute, tireless, undying slaves to the will of the one that created them. Their mouths are sewn shut and their eyes burn like fiery coals.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Start Your Digging

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 13:00
Caving by Michael Prescott

Hello friends!

Recently, Luke and I have been discussing the Dungeoneer skill. The skill is great, but our feeling is that we’ve overburdened it. Right now it governs both climbing and trap disarming—two things adventurers are likely to get up to a lot in dungeons.

At the same time, there’s one thing that gets short-shrift in Torchbearer’s skills: digging. It’s covered by the Laborer skill, but there’s not much in the way of diversity of obstacles. Our players are probably unusual in that they absolutely adore digging—a hold-over from our Burning THAC0 days when we had a Burning Wheel dungeon delving campaign. In those days, there was nothing that could earn you MVP faster than coming up with a clever way to use the Ditch Digging skill (in our early, impoverished days we once scraped together enough cash to cover a lifestyle maintenance test by retrenching latrines…). The dwarf, with his magical Excavation skill, was like unto a god.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that we’re toying with adding a new skill to Torchbearer: Sapper.


Life underground has its own rules. Sapper are experts in the unpredictable dynamics of digging and defending in the darkness below.

Sappers dig tunnels, collapse them and set traps for the unwary.
Beginner’s Luck: Will
Help: Alchemist, Laborer
Supplies: Sulphur, lumber, grease

Tunneling Factors Tunnel Type+Length+MaterialCrawlway (1)Short (1)Earth (0)Shaft (2)Long (2)Clay (1)Tunnel (3)
Stone (2)

Sand (3) Tunnel Traps Factors Setting Trap TypeDisarming TrapsPit (1) + Material factorsTripwire and open pit (1)Tripwire alarm (2)False floor (2)Deadfall (3)Pressure plate (3)Spear or crossbow mechanism (4)Complex and multipart mechanisms (4)Gas and smoke mechanisms (5)Explosives (5)Explosives (6)Sigils or runes (6)

What do you think? I know there’s been a fair bit of conversation about disarming traps on the forums and the Mordite Press blog, but do your players ever set traps? Do they tunnel? Let’s talk about it!

Start your digging.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Don’t Bug Out

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 13:00
Bridge to Nowhere by Todd James

Hello friends!

You know what you can never have enough of as a Torchbearer GM? Monsters. I’ve been experimenting with some fun new critters inspired by the arthropods all around us, and Luke has been experimenting with a new stat block. I can’t replicate it exactly in WordPress, but this is a close approximation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on both!

Fire Beetle Nature 3Might 2Burrowing, Feeding, ScuttlingInstinct: Scavenge for food.Type: Beast

Special Rules: Fire Gland. Each gland gives off light equivalent to a candle. If skillfully removed (Hunter, Ob 3), the glands (hand/carried 1 or pack 1) will continue to provide illumination for some time (at the beginning of each new adventure phase, roll 1d6; on a result of 1 or 2, the luminescence fades). If the glands are ruptured, the chemical inside will burn flesh, wood and cloth.

Hit Points Kill
7Drive Off

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating.

Armor: Carapace (protects on a roll of 3-6; arrows, spears and bolts ignore this armor).

WeaponConflictADFMBurning MandiblesKill
Drive Off+1s — — — BurrowingFlee/Pursue+1D — — +2D Fire Beetle Description

These red and black beetles are between 2 feet and 3 feet long. Each has three glowing glands—two above their eyes and one near the back of their abdomen. They can burrow and are found deep underground. Their mandibles are coated with a natural chemical that causes burning pain.

Formian Guardian Nature 4Might 4Burrowing, Hunting, Spitting AcidInstinct: Lurk in a burrow and wait for preyType: Beast

Special Rules: Ambush Attacker. Formians like to burrow into the earth and lurk just below the surface, waiting for prey to walk upon their hunting grounds. When they sense the vibrations of footsteps, they strike from below! If characters fail to detect the presence of an Formian, the first one to walk into the ambush must roll Health vs. the Formian’s Nature. Suggested failure result: Twist. The character is buried in the earth by the Formian’s eruption and trapped until rescued or eaten.

Hit Points Flee/
7Drive Off

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating.

Armor: Chitin. Absorbs one point of damage from an opponent’s attack or feint. Once successes are counted and before damage is applied, reduce damage by one. After use, roll d6: on a 1-3, the chitin is damaged and doesn’t provide further benefit. On a 4-6, the chitin is still usable. Maces and warhammers negate chitin’s effect, but the Formian must still check for damage when hit by them.

WeaponConflictADFMCorrosive AcidKill
Drive Off — — +1D — Crushing MandiblesKill
Drive Off+1D — — — Grasping LegsKill
Drive Off — — — +1sTremorsenseFlee
Pursue+1D+1D — — Formian Guardian Description

A massive six-legged arthropod the size of a pony, with a voracious taste for flesh. They are blind but are extremely sensitive to any sort of vibration. Formians burrow into earth and lurk below the surface, waiting for vibrations to indicate prey is above. Formians are capable of spitting a corrosive acid that turns their prey into a viscous jelly ready for consumption.

While Formians are usually solitary predators, some shell-shocked adventurers tell tales of venturing into the Below and discovering nesting caverns swarming with the horrifying insects.

Giant Centipede Nature 4Might 3Creepy-Crawling, Hunting, ScavengingInstinct: Paralyze them and devour later.Type: Beast

Special Rules: Paralyzing Venom. The giant centipede’s paralyzing venom incapacitates victims. Anyone knocked out of a conflict with a giant centipede can only be brought back into a conflict if the Breath of the Burning Lord invocation is used upon the character. The Defend action cannot replenish the disposition of paralyzed attackers who have not been treated by the invocation.

Hit Points Flee/
8Drive Off

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating.

Armor: Rubbery hide. If targeted by a successful or tied Attack or Feint in a fight, roll a d6. On a 4+, the rubbery hide absorbs one point of damage. On a 1-3, the rubbery hide fails to protect you. You can only make this roll once per fight. Spears, bolts and arrows ignore this armor.

WeaponConflictADFMParalyzing VenomFlee/
Drive Off+1D — +1s — Scuttling LegsFlee/
Drive Off — — — +2D Giant Centipede Description

A three- to -six feet long predatory segmented arthropod with many legs. Some grow even bigger. They have a set of savage, pincer-like legs just behind the head that they use to inject their prey with a paralytic venom. They are often found creepy-crawling and feeding among the corpses of recent battles and massacres, especially in dungeons.

Giant Wasp Nature 2Might 2Buzzing, Nesting, StingingInstinct: Sting! Kill! Rawwr!Type: Beast

Special: Painful Sting. A wasp’s sting automatically impedes its victim (-1D to opponent’s next action following a successful Attack or Feint).
Vulnerable to Fire. Wasps suffer an extra point of disposition loss against fire (torches, balefire, etc.).

Hit Points Flee/
5Drive Off

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating.

WeaponConflictADFMBuzzing WingsFlee/
+1s — — +1D
+1s Buzzing WingsDrive Off
Kill — — — +1D
+1sStingerKill+1D — +1s — Giant Wasp Description

These aggressive insects are as large as a human’s head and armed with a deadly stinger. They live in elaborate hives made of paper-like material (good for starting fires or making incendiaries).

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Have You Heard the One About…

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 13:00
You All Meet at an Inn… by Rebekah Bennington

Hello friends!

The Rumor Events Table in the Town chapter is perfectly fine, but if you’ve been running Torchbearer for a while, you might be a bit bored with it. Fortunately for you, Luke has worked up a brand new table to add a little spice to your trip to the tavern. It’s actually a combination of rumors and events.

Check it out, use it in your game and let us know how it goes!


Travelers meet at the tavern for a drink, a meal and to share news. You can slake your thirst here, hire help and listen to the rumor mill.


✤ Drinking at the tavern satisfies your hunger and thirst. You may also make recovery tests (as per the normal rules) for angry and afraid, if you order more drinks.
Drinking Lifestyle Cost: +1 per drink
✤ Each drink you buy at the tavern earns you a rumor. Roll on the Tavern Rumors table.

Tavern Rumors and Events

After you buy a drink at the tavern, roll 3d6 for a rumor!

3 The strange elder. A kindly old woman approaches your table and…(GM chooses one)

  • Drapes an elven amulet around your neck.
  • Drapes a cursed amulet around your neck.
  • Gives you a basket of baked goods.
  • Implores you to avenge her son’s death.

4 A cloaked figure sits huddled in the corner, coughing blood. Beckoning you closer, you see something valuable clutched in his moribund hand.

5 Enemy expedition. Your enemy, well-equipped but secretive, enters the tavern with a motley group.

6 Rival crew. You meet unlikely and unreliable would-be adventurers looking to add to their crew. Will you join forces?

7 Sudden appearance. Your friend, bedraggled and disheveled from the road, bursts into the tavern with an incredible tale to tell…

8 Beware. As you leave, the hosteler warns you to look out for…

  • 1-2 Bandits, raiders from a nearby hostile holding
  • 3 Goblins, orcs or gnolls raiding near the settlement
  • 4 A troll who lurks under a bridge
  • 5 Ghosts who haunt the road
  • 6 A giant who straddles the river

9 The traveler. You meet an injured/terrified traveler arriving with a tale of…

  1. Abduction
  2. Robbery
  3. A terrifying detour
  4. A bizarre place
  5. A miraculous happening
  6. A frightening monster

10 An omen of things to come…

  1. An unkindness of ravens mocks you from the trees outside
  2. The moon is red/the sky is red.
  3. As you leave the tavern, the road is utterly silent—no bird, no insect, no animal makes a sound
  4. Thunder rolls and lightning crashes in the distance
  5. A stone carved with strange runes sits concealed in the brush just outside the tavern
  6. The wind seems to howl your name

11 Watch rumors. An old man who was on watch last night tells you that ghouls were seen digging in the grave pits last night. Roll for who was actually digging in the grave pits:

  1. Ghouls
  2. Grave robbers
  3. A desperate necromancer
  4. Foolish children
  5. A group of deranged wastrels
  6. A barrow wight

12 Job offer. You meet people (farmers, guildsmen, priests, nobility) looking for short-term muscle to:

  • Bolster a holding
  • Drive off some troublesome monsters (kobolds, bridge troll, restless dead)
  • Investigate a mysterious happening
  • Recover something from a recently overrun holding (a hostage, valuables, a keepsake, lore)
  • Safeguard travelers. Roll d6: 1 pilgrims, 2 merchants, 3 nobles, 4 priests, 5 regular folk, 6 a messenger
  • Settle a score
  • Re-establish contact with someplace lost

13 Dismaying news. You hear a rumor that strangely fits the details of your parents, their livelihood and an entirely credible calamity which has befallen them.

14 Messenger. As you depart the tavern, a messenger chases you down and delivers a sealed message from your mentor.

15 Bon chance. Your hosteler says she will foot your next bill if you would perchance help her with delivering a small package to her friend in a nearby town. If successful, you can stay at these accommodations for free for your next stay in this town.

16 Challenge. A drunk warrior holds the door and challenges all comers. If you dance with him, test your Fighter vs. the warrior’s Might 3, Fighter 6 and Level 3 Duelist trait or sit down.

17 Drunk priest. A drunken temple priest babbles about propitiatory rites to the Jotunn to be held beneath the temple this very night. She says they will sacrifice (roll d6):

  1. An orphan
  2. A captive
  3. A terrible beast
  4. A book of knowledge
  5. A spell book
  6. A powerful item

18 Spurned lover. The irate paramour of one of the leaders of this place is in the tavern spinning tales. Roll d6. They talk about:

  1. Their lover’s tainted nature
  2. An incoming shipment
  3. A strange visitor
  4. Their charlatan behavior
  5. A terrifying ritual
  6. The dark secret of their lover’s spouse

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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