A few days before Deadzone came to an end another Kickstarter had its deadline: Torchbearer. It's a new roleplaying game from Thor Olavsrud and Luke Crane and is labeled as "A dungeon crawl roleplaying game and love letter to Basic D&D" - in fact, at first it was called Dungeoneers & Dragonslayers! Which would have been awesome, except they were worried about litigation. Anyway, Luke Crane, as you might know, is the mind behind Burning Wheel, Burning Empires and Mouse Guard. Thor Olavsrud has been a long time collaborator but has this time taken the reins with Luke working more as an editor.
So what is Torchbearer? Well, it's a dungeoncrawler built on the foundations laid out in Mouse Guard and Burning Wheel. It's designed for classic D&D style play but with a more modern system. In regards to the rules it's described as advanced Mouse Guard, but not quite as involved as Burning Wheel. The largest addition is a level of resource management that is not really common in rpgs.
Thor has mentioned that he went spelunking a few years ago and how that experience heavily inflluenced his design choices in Torchbearer. Basically, it was nothing like you see on tv and in movies, or how you usually play it in roleplaying games. Instead it was claustrophobic, dark and your life depended on what you brought with you. Today we have all kinds of electronic gizmos to help us out, but imagine going into a cave 500 years ago, where you literally have to crawl to squeeze through and if you loose your torch it's complete and utter darkness!
One side of the character sheet, with the inventory slots at the top.
So while you will be fighting dungeon denizens and gather treasure a large part of the game seems to be the struggle against the environment and what you bring with you in is vital for your success. Each character has a certain number of slots to put equipment in, kind of like a videogame - there's a head slot, a chest slot, several backpack slots, slots for your hands etc. So everything you carry with you is allocated to these slots and different things take up different amount of slots. A small pouch of gold coins might only take up one slot, but a chest will take up several! Are you prepared to leave some of your equipment behind to be able to bring that treasure with you?
Thinking about it now the Torchbearer seems to have quite a few elements of the Survival Horror genre in it - limited resources, monsters lurking in the darkness and a deadline creeping ever closer (you track how long each torch burn!). Of course the Mouse Guard system is robust enough to adapt to any situation and I think Torchbearer won't be much different. Switching the dungeon for a dark and oppressive forest or an icy mountain during a snow storm would likely be easy, although removing the threat of the environment might perhaps lessen the game.
When I first read about Torchbearer I was intrigued but thought that I would simply go for the PDF as the international shipping was quite... steep. But as I read more about it and noticed the special linen bound hardback that Thor and Luke are producing I just had to go for the dead tree version! Apparently the pair is finishing up the final manuscript as I write this and they are hoping to send it to the printer by the 15th! This is quite a quick turnaround when it comes to a kickstarter project. This also means that us backers should have the PDF in hand somewhere around that time. So more on the Torchbearer when I've actually read it!
What also appeals to me is the opportunity to play through classic D&D modules that I've heard a lot about, but simply avoided because of the D20 system, which I really don't like. Thor himself recommends Keep on the Borderlands, The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, The Village of Hommlet (also available as part of The Temple of Elemental Evil), The Secret of Bone Hill and Horror on the Hill... among others. There are loads over at dndclassics.com!
There are a couple of excellent articles on Forbes about the new game so head on over if you want to read more about it.
Being fired up about Torchbearer I've gone back and started reading Burning Wheel Gold again, this time with some better understanding of the basics of the system, thanks to Mouse Guard, and I'm getting very eager to try it out! I'm just about finished with the Hub and Spokes and as always Luke's design ethos really speaks to me. Something about his way of thinking and writing appeals to me enormously! I don't know what will hit the table first though, Torchbearer or Burning Wheel. Remember, you can download the Hub and Spokes (basically the whole basic game of Burning Wheel!) for free right here!
I also emailed Archaia and asked them about the upcoming re-print of the Mouse Guard RPG Boxed Set (review here) and they told me that although the date keeps slipping they will have it done before Christmas. While I have the box I really want to pick up a few dozen more dice and I wouldn't mind getting the rulebook as a hardback as well.
Speaking of dice, I just ordered 40 regular D6 and some fudge dice from EM4 Miniatueres for use with Burning Wheel and FATE respectively. All that, plus a box of plastic "crystals" was cheaper to order from the EM4 in the UK than it would be getting half as many locally. Weird.
Finally, here's a sketch of the cover for Torchbearer by Peter Mullen. Looks awesome!
EDIT: Alright, so now I've actually managed to play a game and we had a great time! First impressions and session report here.