Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: Torchbearer Player's Deck

While it's true you can play most roleplaying games with nothing but some pencils, paper, and dice, most benefit from a few play aids. Maps, miniatures, other things beginning with M, these enhancements are often optional and vary based on the needs of the group. Occasionally, one of these improve the experience of the game so much it's hard to imagine playing without them. The Torchbearer Player's Deck is one such aid.

Let's look at the physical product first. For $12 you get 42 cards in a sturdy little cardboard box, one for each weapon, piece of armor, type of light source, condition, and three copies of each conflict action. Additionally, there are two dividers to separate the cards out. Each one has a rumor/story on one side and a mini-dungeon map on the other, courtesy of Tony Dowler at Year of the Dungeon.

The cards are similar in quality to a Magic: The Gathering card. The art is comparable to what you find in the Torchbearer rulebook. My only real complaint about the presentation is that it's not possible to fit all of the cards in the box if you decide to sleeve them. Not a deal-breaker, but given the price I think they could have been packaged in a bigger box.

The reason these are so vital to the game is how they streamline play. Torchbearer has so many moving parts that juggling all of the rules is going to challenge even the most seasoned of GMs. These cards help ease the burden of taking notes by keeping the rules for light and conditions right in front of you. A particularly nice touch is the numbered borders on the light cards. To track how many turns your torch, lantern, or candle have left, simply rotate the card.

Their real value becomes apparent during conflicts, which are the hardest rules to teach new players in my opinion. Each action card explains how it fits into the rock-paper-scissors mechanics, allowing players to better understand rules interactions. The weapon cards break out the bonuses and penalties, as well as any special rules they might have. The armor cards are the same. Should it ever break, players can flip it over to the "broken" side to track what they'll need to repair later. Easy and intuitive.

I honestly can't recommend these enough. If you've been playing Torchbearer without these (which is likely seeing as they've been available for less than a few days now), pick up a deck and see how it affects play. If you haven't played Torchbearer before, make sure to grab a deck with the core rulebook. You won't regret it.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Does Gold Matter?

This is something I've talked about in passing in other posts, but I wanted a more focused discussion on the topic: does gold matter? For the purposes of this discussion, gold means whatever system of currency exists within the game. I don't think there's an easy answer other than, "it depends."

Some games make it vital by linking it character growth (see: gold as XP in OD&D) or the very well-being of your character (see: recovering from conditions in Torchbearer). In those kinds of situations, each piece of treasure matters, especially gold. Of course, outside of those games, it's been my experience that once the players go adventuring they never need to worry about wealth. In fact, they often struggle to find a use for it. And yet they'll still argue about how to best split the treasure.

This, I think, is more of a genre-problem. Fantasy RPGs often encourage players to earn their gear through adventure rather than allowing players to stock up on magic items in town. It's easy to understand why. It encourages players to take risks. It makes them care a whole lot more about each unique item they own. But it also has the drawback of making gold rather worthless.

Let's look at a different game in a different genre: Shadowrun. The game's architecture is almost identical to traditional fantasy RPGs and yet it has an entirely different economy. While it's true that the best gear will be still be earned through completing missions, player's can always spend their Nuyen to upgrade their runner's kit in the meantime.

Still not any closer to answering the question, I'm going to propose a new one: what if, rather than tracking gold at all, you just assume all of the characters have what they need? If the best gear is earned through adventuring, go adventuring! If the players are trying to purchase something bigger, like land or a ship, why not just set narrative conditions that make sense? You'll have enough cash for X after Y number of missions. Of course, this suggestion may be too hand-waive-y for some people. If that's the case, I would point to any number of games that treat wealth as a skill.

Unless you're playing a game where it matters (OD&D, Torchbearer, Shadowrun), will this really have any effect? I'm not sure you'll notice a difference, except it will cut out the useless bickering about how to split seven copper three ways.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kickstarter: City State of the Invincible Overlord

City State of the Invincible Overlord, the first and one of the largest fantasy RPG city settings in gaming history, written by Judges Guild founders Bob Bledsaw and Bill Owen, defines sand-box roleplaying by giving information for over 350 shops, taverns, inns, palaces, barracks, temples, and the NPCs who inhabit them! City State of the Invincible Overlord was first released at Gen Con IX in 1976, along with Wilderlands Campaign Map I: The City State. The City State was written for the Judges Guild's Wilderlands of High Fantasy Campaign Setting but can be easily adapted and dropped into any setting.

Fund it here!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Torchbearer Aid: Rumor Cards

Design by Casey Steven Ross
One of the things players new to the Burning Wheel system often struggle with is articulating Beliefs, Instincts, and Goals. While there is plenty of good advice out there, I wanted to suggest one that facilitates the first session of play with new players: rumor cards.

I got the idea after converting some DCC RPG modules. Like the old AD&D modules they are written in the spirit of, they often have tables of rumors for players to discover. Since Torchbearer begins en media res, I have found it useful to give each player a rumor card on which to base their initial belief or goal upon. You could absolutely just roll dice and read off a table, but I think it's worth the extra effort since you're players are already going to mentally juggling so much.

The other benefit is that for later adventures, mixing these "decks" of cards could point to a number of adventures when players are in town fishing for rumors.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Quick n' Dirty D20 to Torchbearer Conversion Notes

  • For modern D20, each 5 points of a DC = +1 Ob
  • For monsters, count each five points of attack bonus to determine their weapons, each 5 adds +1D
  • You can convert +15 as +1s, and each subsequent interval of 15 another +1s
  • For AD&D, subtract the chance from 6 (ie 1 in 6 becomes Ob 5)
  • Certain things, like traversing water features, are harder in Torchbeareruse factors for these tests
  • 1000 or less cp = +1D of Copper Coins
  • 100 or less sp = +1D of Silver Coins
  • 10 or less gp = +1D of Gold Coins
  • 10 pp (if you use it) = +2D of Gold Coins

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Simple Thing: Write Down Page Numbers

The two most common reactions I've seen to having to reference the rules during play are to just make something up or to print out a section of the rulebook for oft-cited rules. I'm not particularly a fan of either. While the first may sharpen your improvisational skills, you don't learn anything. The second is honestly just a waste of paper.

Something simple I have learned very late in my time gaming is to write page numbers down. Spells, skills, abilities, seldom-used resolution mechanics. Any time you have to reference a rule, note it on your character sheet. I prefer this to the printout for two reasons. 

The first is that it allows you to create a list of bookmarks based upon actual play in real-time. If your information is not on the printout, you still have to break out the rulebook anyway.

The second reason is that it allows the group to help. If you're engaged in a dramatic moment, the last thing you want to do is thumb through the rulebook. One of the other players can easily flip to the appropriate section with a page number. Or, in situations where the rules are called into question (our memory is never as good as we remember it to be), the entire group can look along and provide insight as a ruling is reached. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Animal Companions for Torchbearer

Finding and Capturing Animal Companions

One does not survive the wildlands or the deep and dark places of the world without learning the ways of beasts and animals. However, it is entirely another thing to gain their friendship. Still, miles beyond the walls of civilization it is not uncommon to find those who travel with animal companions. These unusual unions are formed in one of three ways: Wilderness Traps, Capture Conflicts, or stumbling (foolishly) into their breeding grounds.

Wilderness Traps

Characters can use the factors for Wilderness Traps under the Hunter skill to capture potential animal companions. Animals caught this way are found Hungry and Thirsty, Afraid, Angry, and Exhausted.

Conflict: Capture Animal Companion

Use the standard rules for Capture conflicts with the follow changes

  • Replace the Fighter skill with Animal Husbandry (see below)
  • The person attempting to capture the animal must be the conflict captain
  • Only the conflict captain can script Attack and Feint actions
  • Humanoids cannot be captured as animal companions
  • Spells and items which increase your Order of Might will allow you to capture animals and monsters beyond your normal control

Hush, Little Baby

It is a fool who enters the breeding ground of an animal willingly, but only those with a death wish try to make off with one of the young. Should a character ever attempt to remove the young from their nest, they must succeed at an Animal Husbandry test with an Ob equal to its Nature plus Order of Might in order to stop it crying for its mother.

Twist: The mother returns in a fit of Rage. Go to Kill conflict.

Animal Husbandry

Those with Animal Husbandry can train, command, and placate animals. Before a captured animal can be trained or commanded, the character must first form a bond with it.

Characters can use rations or food as supplies for Animal Husbandry tests.

Suggested Help: Hunter
Beginner's Luck for Animal Husbandry: Will

Factors for Forming a Bond

Use the animal's Order of Might as the base obstacle, plus the below:

Method of Capture: Hush Little Baby, Wilderness Traps, Capture Conflict

Types of Bonds

The kind of bond you form with your animal affects how easily it is trained as well as how willing it is to listen to your commands. If you meet the obstacle, the bond between you and your animal companion is Ambivalent. If you exceed or fail the obstacle by 1, your bond is Trustful or Resentful. Finally, if you fail by 2 or more, that bond is Loyal or Hostile. These penalties and bonuses apply to all attempts to train or command your animal companion.

Hostile: -1s
Resentful: -1D
Ambivalent: -
Trustful: +1D
Loyal: +1s

Characters may attempt to change the bond with their animal companion once once per Winter phase at +1 Lifestyle cost. The obstacle for this test is equal to the animal companion's Order of Might. Use any bonuses or penalties the existing bond may provide.

Factors for Training Your Animal Companion

The base obstacle for training your animal companion is its Nature, plus any of applicable factors below

New Tricks: Begin Learning New Skill, Make One Skill a Specialty, Wear Armor, Mold Instinct, Mold Nature

Location: Camp, Town, Right Here in the Middle of Danger

Order of Might: If your animal companion's Order of Might score is higher than yours, add the difference to all training obstacles.

Factors for Commanding Your Animal Companion

Action: A simple one-word command, enter a conflict for the first time, an action with multiple steps

Nature: Inside of Nature, Outside of Nature

Location: immediate Area, a nearby location, somewhere far away

Order of Might: If your animal companion's Order of Might score is higher than yours, add the difference to all commanding obstacles.

Animal Companions in Play

Treat animal companions as monsters for the purposes of creating a statblock. Add a space for the kind of bond the companion and its master share.

Skills: Animal companions do not learn skills the way adventurers do. Instead, they develop natural features into tools and weapons to aid their master. To begin learning a skill, the animal must first receive training from its master. It's training is complete once the animal advances its nature to the next rank. Mark the name of skill on its stat block with a +1D bonus. The GM decides which conflicts/actions it applies to. An animal may only learn one skill at a time.

Newborn and infant animals begin play with no skills. All rolls are made using nature.

Specialization: The animal's master may work to elevate one skill to that of a specialty. After receiving advanced training from its master and the animal advances its Nature one rank, it may change the +1D bonus to a +1s. No other skills may be learned during this time. Once an animal is taught a specialization, it cannot be changed.

Animals in Conflicts: An animal companion follows the same rules for conflicts that adventurers do.

Conditions: Animals follow the same rules for earning and suffering the effects of conditions, with the following changes:

While Angry, an animal companion may not benefit from its skills with the exception of a specialization.

Recovery: An animal companion gets one free recovery test during the camp or town phase. Further attempts at recovery can be made using Animal Husbandry plus any bonues or penalties for bonds if its master spends a check. For Injured or Sick, the animal must receive treatment from someone with the Healer skill or use its one free check.

Nature and Instincts: These are set by the GM. Characters may attempt to mold these through training to suit their needs.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Everybody Has One: Kickstarter Horror Stories

I interrupt my series of posts on things for your Torchbearer game to talk about Kickstarter, particularly, the projects that don't pan out. Unlike some, my investment was minimal and there is a happy ending.

A few years ago, hot on the heels of DCC RPGs release, Brave Halfling Games launched their "Appendix N Adventures" campaign. Basically, players would get a bunch of modules for a pretty low investment ($20 was the sweet spot, enough to get print and PDF copies of everything that got produced).

Two years later and I have yet to receive a single print copy of my module (PDFs have been released). Now, anyone on the inside knows John, the man behind Brave Halfling, has had an incredibly rough time since then. Couple that with his Kickstarter being more successful than I think he ever could have imagined, and I'm sympathetic to his situation. The only real thing I can fault him for is releasing print modules to stores before any of his backers received them. Aside from that, I think he did the best he could given the hand he was dealt.

That being said, I've also backed two other Kickstarters, both of them last year. Both delivered within months and both were leagues more complicated (one a full hardcover RPG, another highly detailed dungeon tiles). This is not so much a criticism as an observation.

Now for the happy ending. I had pretty much given up on this Kickstarter until I saw that Joseph Goodman, the person behind DCC RPG, was offering refunds. I reached out to Joe because I wanted some resolution. Rather than a refund, I traded my investment in the Kickstarter for a few DCC modules, which is what I wanted all along. I just want to take this time to wish John well and to thank Joseph Goodman for being an excellent human being.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

New Magician/Elf Spell: Fireball

Third Circle Magician/Elf Spell

The caster hurls a ball of fire at its target causing a massive explosion.

Supplies for Fireball: a ball of wax
Lore Master Ob to Learn: 7
Scholar Ob to scribe scroll: 7
Scholar Ob to scribe into spell book: 7

Fireball Casting

If casting during a conflict, no test to cast is necessary. Declare this spell as your weapon at the start of a round during a conflict. See effects.

If casting outside of a conflict, use the factors below.

Fireball Factors

Apply Condition: Injured, Dead.

Area of Effect: everybody, everybody but myself, everybody but me and my allies.

Environmental Effects: easily flammable objects catch fire (grass, paper, clothing), a fire hot enough to forge steel is started, shatter solid, flammable objects (wooden doors, trees, houses)

Fireball Effects

On the round Fireball is cast, use the Arcanist skill in place of the Attack action skill during a kill, capture, or drive-off conflict.

On a successful test, the number of successes are subtracted from each opposing member's hit points. For example, if you roll 2 successes against three goblins, each would lose 2 hit points for a total of 6 lost from their overall disposition.

Too Close to the Sun: In close quarters the caster catches everyone in the blast, both friend and foe. For every two successes rolled (round up), each member of the caster's team including the caster loses one hit point.

After using Fireball, the caster is considered disarmed until they declare a new weapon.

Monday, March 10, 2014

100 Magic Twists for Torchbearer

  • The caster is teleported to another area on this plane
  • The party is teleported to another area on this plane
  • The caster summons monsters native to this area
  • The spell becomes permanent
  • A powerful storm is summoned
  • Undead rise from the ground and swarm the area
  • The caster is polymorphed into an animal form
  • One item in the caster's pack disappears
  • Night turns to day
  • Day turns to night
  • All food the party is carrying spoils
  • The season changes overnight
  • A portal opens to another plane
  • The party is teleported to another plane
  • Earthquake!
  • All water the party is carrying becomes salt water
  • All metal objects the party is carrying become rusted and worthless
  • Plants and trees sprout and bear magical fruit
  • A hole in the ground opens, revealing a staircase
  • Everyone in the party ages 1 year
  • The caster's appearance permanently changes within their stock's normal range of features
  • The caster becomes the opposite gender permanently
  • A perfect clone of the caster appears that may act separately and independently--both now roll half the number of dice rounded down on all tests
  • Each character's enemy is immediately summoned to the area
  • The caster's doppleganger from a mirrored plane is summoned to the area--can you tell them apart?
  • One feature of the caster permanently mutates into something animal, alien, or monster
  • The caster feints and enters the mind of a nearby creature
  • One item within the caster's pack becomes sentient and can communicate telepathically
  • Someone close to the caster dies (not a player character)
  • Plants in the area wilt and die
  • A useful item appears in the characters pack (they may or may not notice their pack get heavier)
  • One item within the party becomes giant in size, impossible to lift or move by any ordinary means
  • All liquids the characters carry turn to sand
  • The failed spell disappears from the caster's spellbook
  • The spell fizzles with a bang, attracting the attention of anyone and anything nearby
  • Misfire! A fantastic bolt of energy injures one or more party members
  • The contents of the caster's backpack or sack are replaced with a nest of insects or snakes
  • The caster falls into a deep, magical slumber
  • The caster summons a magical storm (rain of blood, rain of fire, rain of toads)
  • The ground becomes quicksand
  • The caster attracts the attention of a ghost who haunts this area
  • Time speeds up--conditions are earned every 2 turns, light sources last half as long rounded down
  • The caster becomes mute
  • The caster becomes deaf
  • The caster becomes blind
  • All food and water within the party becomes poisoned
  • A third eye appears on the caster's forehead--who sees what you see?
  • All of the character's liquids gain magical properties
  • The character feels a pain in their arm, upon inspection someone of something has carved a message into their skin
  • All of the character's weapons become animated and engage the party in a conflict
  • a major illusion leads the party astray
  • A sinkhole opens
  • A tree sprouts and grows higher and higher until it reaches the clouds
  • One of more party members catch fire
  • One or more party members becomes frozen in a block of ice
  • Zero gravity--the party begins levitating, floating higher and higher
  • One of the jewels in the party becomes a soul gem, trapping the character's inside
  • The party becomes invisible
  • An item becomes permanently cursed
  • An Angel falls to earth just moments away from completing its holy mission
  • Delayed Transmission--the spell goes off but at the most inconvenient time
  • The spell fails but is not wiped from the caster's mind
  • The caster summons an invisible wall around the party
  • The spell is reversed
  • The party is surrounded by a wall of fire
  • The caster becomes possessed

To determine the number of people affected or the number of turns an effect lasts, use the spell circle level (ie a first circle spell affects one person for one turn).

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Wild Magic in Torchbearer

Some areas of the world are more closely attuned to the outer planes. Some areas of the world are under the dominion of unknown and unseen forces. Some areas of the world are enchanted by the demonic and the divine. These are the reasons people use to explain the parts of the world where the natural laws bend and break inexplicably, where those who are foolish enough to call to the arcane forces for aid lose control of it. These areas are under the influence of what is known as Wild Magic.

In an area affected by Wild Magic, count factors according to the below for all Magician and Elf spellcasting attemts.

Factors: First Circle Spell, Second Circle Spell, Third Circle Spell, Fourth Circle Spell, Fifth Circle Spell.

Effects: A failed casting always results in a Twist instead of a condition.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

New (Old) Spell: Scorching Ray

Second Circle Magician/Elf Spell

A ray of magical fire burst from your fingers towards your target. 

Supplies: a red feather.
Lore Master Ob to Learn: 4
Scholar Ob to Scribe Scroll: 4
Scholar Ob to scribe into traveling spell book: 4

Effects: Replace the Fighter skill with Arcanist per Eldritch Darts. The caster may choose how to distribute hits to the enemies involved in the conflict.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Magic Item Monday: Torchbearer Edition

Heartseeker Bow

This ornate bow carved from the darkwood groves of the drow citadels always aims true.

As a normal bow, with the following effect. On a successful Attack test in a kill, capture, or drive-off conflict the loser must make a Health (or Nature, in the case of Monsters) test at the Ob equal to the margin of success or be knocked out of the conflict. This only affects living creatures. Each creature may only be affected by this ability once per conflict.


Wielded by the Chaos Lord Molan, this three-headed flail is adorned with numerous spikes. 

Effect: Once per adventure phase during a kill, capture, or drive off conflict, a player may invoke the power of the flail to wreathe it in flames. Doing so allows the wielder to switch their script to Feint after both teams have revealed their actions. Afterwards, the weapon receives a +1D advantage to Attack, Defend, and Maneuver actions but a -1D to Feint for the duration of the conflict.

Band of Fire

This gold ring is set with three rubies that glow like the coals of a fire. 

Effect: Each of the three rubies stores a single spell, allow both Magician/Elf and the non-gifted to call on its powers. The bearer may cast each of the following spells once per adventure phase.
Those who attempt to harness the ring's power without the any formal Arcanist training are literally playing with fire. Use the Beginner's Luck rules for factoring the obstacles. For the purposes of these tests, Eldritch Darts is Ob 1 and Scorching Ray Ob 2.

Suggested Twist: One of the three rubies shatters, releasing the spell that was attempted to be cast. Alternatively, use the Magic Twists from the Wandering Monster Section (The room fills with sulfurous smoke, you start a fire that can't be put out).