My good friend, Sean Nittner, offered to run a little test-run of Thor Olavsrud and Luke Crane’s new game, Torchbearer. I created Deleran Ap Denemir, an Elven Ranger from the remote village of Nulb, and he joined up with a couple of gents from Hommlet and Verbobonc and headed out to an old abandoned moathouse, hoping for maybe a little treasure, maybe a little fame.
I’m not going to bore you with a full account of what happened. Also, this isn’t really a review of Torchbearer as a game.
What I will tell you is this: Creating a character for Torchbearer is a fuckton of fun. Seriously.
Yeah, there’s a list of questions, kind of like in Mouse Guard, but it seems like, if you’re just jumping into the game, you can pretty much be left to your own devices for most of it, maybe have the GM ask you the required questions for Nature, and be ready to play in ten minutes or so. It felt a lot like playing old-skool D&D, where you roll 3d6 six times, pick a name and a class, and join everyone else in the filth and the muck to scrounge for gold and treasure.
There were a couple of things that came up in play that really highlighted how this game is supposed to be run, I think. Granted, this is pretty much speculation based on trying to estimate changes from the Mouse Guard rules to the hints of what’s to come that are on the Torchbearer character sheet, but I think my suspicions are at least on the right track. Also, from here on out, I’m going to assume a general knowledge of the Mouse Guard RPG. I’ll be happy to answer any questions in the comments though (hint hint).
First, since we were playing through the Temple of Elemental Evil module (that’s T1-T4, if folks are old like me), we tried to start by heading into Hommlet to start asking questions. What we realized, though, is that, since Torchbearer characters start with no checks, we didn’t actually have a way of interacting with the townsfolk. The only way we could actually start an adventure was by assuming that we’d already asked people where a group of dirty murder-hobos like us could find some loot, and then skip straight to being out in front of the moathouse. I dig that. The less time spent looking for the adventure, the more time there is for adventuring.
The second thing that struck me is the brutality of Conditions in Torchbearer. After a brief conflict in which we drove a huge spider out of the moathouse tower, poor Deleran got saddled with the Afraid condition, which prevents a character from offering helping dice or using Beginner’s Luck tests. That’s nuts! You sit and cower in fear while your friends yell at you to give them a hand. I love it.
Lastly, there was the inventory system. Some people might not want to play the “can I carry this loot?” game, but I seriously dug it. The first bit of treasure we found, after the tussle with the spider, was a carved ivory box, which took up one inventory slot. It took us all of three seconds to start asking eachother who had room in their pack for it (I did, fortunately). That gave me a bit of a “woah” moment, though. If nobody had any room, because they were carrying stuff, we would have had a hard choice – what do you leave behind? I imagine that, when the full rules are available, there will be something about the consequences of putting your loot down and trying to come back for it later.
Anyway, playing Torchbearer, even in the hacky way we did, was an absolute blast. MM Olavsrud and Crane had my money at the words, “New game,” but I’m super glad that this one is going to scratch the dungeon-crawl itch that I’ve been having trouble reaching for the last couple of years.