Saturday, 8 February 2014

Torchbearer - Into the Crypt

Saturday, February 08, 2014

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Yesterday I ran my first game of Torchbearer with a new constellation of players. You might remember my session report from last year, when I got to be one of the players for the better half of Under the House of Three Squires. Unfortunately it ended up being a one-off so I thought I'd take a shot at running it with a bunch of old friends.

If you've been reading my blog for any substantial amount of time you know I've lamented the demise of our roleplaying group after we wrapped up the Gathering Storm campaign for WFRP3 (here's the first session report, for interested readers) back in 2011. Since then I've tried sporadically to get something started, but nothing really took off and Anders, who have always been a dependable roleplayer, started feeling less interested in the hobby. So although we tried a few different systems the only game we played more than once was Dungeon World, as I was waiting for the Torchbearer kickstarter to deliver. Hehe!

However, I have decided to give it another go but this time with a new approach. Instead of playing once every fortnight, which is how we made it through The Gathering Storm, I wanted to try and utilize evenings after work and play three or four times in close succession. This would keep the momentum going and we'd be able to play through a fair bit of the game before deciding if it was a good fit or not (as opposed to just deciding after one session).

So I talked to some old regulars that has been roleplayers for a long time but haven't really played together in this constellation before. Everyone was up for it and after discussing the different games I was eager to run (Torchbearer, The One Ring, Mouse Guard and Star Wars) we decided on Star Wars. However, I later withdrew that option as I had barely had time to even look at the 400+ page tome that is the core book! So while stalling for time in regards to Star Wars I suggested Torchbearer as I know the system fairly well and it's reasonably light on prep (not as light as MG, but lighter than TOR). Jimmy was eager to try it, while Jacob thought it sounded like "a dungeon crawler board game without a board" and Nicke and Claes were neutral. So... interesting!

Prepping for Torchbearer.
I quickly read through The Dread Crypt of Skogenby, got my poker chips, D6s and Mouse Guard conflict cards and headed over to Jacobs house this past Sunday to make characters and play our first session of Torchbearer. After a quick explanation of the basic rules (dice pool and skills basically) we went straight to character creation where I felt I could explain rules organically as we moved along. The characters we ended up with are:

Preben the Human Warrior (Jimmy)
Belief: Survival of the strong.
Instinct: Look for enemies when setting camp.

Fiord the Elf Ranger (Nicke)
Belief: Shit is always right around the corner.
Instinct: Always scribe scrolls when camping.

Tyron the Halfing Burglar (Jacob)
Belief: When everyone disagrees, I'm probably right.
Instinct: Don't trust Preben when thinking is involved (Preben has a Will of 1!).

Rurik Red the Dwarf Adventurer (Claes)
Belief: Live every day with no regret or remorse.
Instinct: Always repair stuff in camp.

As you can see we're not quite there yet when it comes to beliefs but as the players become more familiar with the system I think this will change. It would have been cool to keep track exactly of what they did each turn, but of course I didn't think of that so here it is in a semi-coherant ramble:

Spoilers for The Dread Crypt of Skogenby below!

I explained to them that Preben had had some bad news from his hometown of Skogenby and that they needed help with something. With promises of rewards he managed to get the rest of the murder-hobos on board and they set out on a journey to the west. They passed The Three Squires on their way there and Rurik mentioned that he'd like to try a swig of their famous beer some day...

They arrived in Skogenby and talked to the village elders about the dire situation in the village and the disappearance of Jora and the subsequent killings of several people. They were given the silver bracelets as the elders begged them to restore them to the tomb to appease the spirits. After Tyron had made some assurances that they would actually get paid for helping out they set out toward the burial mound.

As the clouds foretold rain Fiord, the elf ranger, studied the mud outside the small hole leading into the mound and realized that someone or something had been using it several times fairly recently. He also tried to read what was written on the rune stone but a freak lightning bold split the it in two before he could decipher it! Realizing that something was coming out of the tomb made the group discuss the possibility of rigging a trap and simply wait it out. But as the discussion grew long the impulsive dwarf suddenly swore to himself and started crawling through the hole, into the tomb.

He lit a candle once inside and called for the others that it seemed safe enough where he was. Having perhaps already tipped their hand the others decided to follow, using a torch for some more light. As they moved ahead something moved ahead and when Tyron through a torch forward to see what was making the noise they saw four skeletal warriors moving towards them!

One too many, but you get my point. :)
With a shout Rurik launched himself at them but was quickly overwhelmed and beaten down. Some quick bow work from Fiord and Preben covering him allowed them to get Rurik back on his feet. They fought a bit more defensively after that and the four undead were soon put down without much trouble.

The group explored a nearby room that had a font filled with water in it, a number of statues and a brazier. After some time trying to figure out the purpose of the room an eerie breeze came out of nowhere and extinguished the candle and torches! Suddenly unnatural lights appeared in the middle of the room and as they danced around Preben and Rurik started to move towards them. Just as they were about to dunk their heads into the font Tyron, using hidden depths, managed to restrain Preben. Rurik wasn't as lucky and swallowed quite a bit of water before snapping out of it. Fiord quickly lit another torch and the unnatural lights disappeared. Making matters worse, a blue glowing symbol suddenly appears on Rurik's forehead as he tries to use the brazier. Probably not a good sign.

Moving back into the first corridor they decide to move ahead a little and explore a second room. Its walls are covered in rotting tapestries and the elf again tried to make sense of the purpose of the room. While he didn't study the statues lining the walls he did figure out that this was a room for attempted transcendance... whatever that meant.

Moving ahead the group entered a long room lined with bones as well as pots, bottles and canisters of all kinds of shapes and sizes. After a cursory look at the bottles and realizing that what had once been in them was long perished, Preben and Tyron moved ahead and spotted a sarcophagus further ahead. The regal looking woman sculpted intrigued them and Preben was just about to push the heavy lid off when Tyron stopped him and pointed at one of the corners - a pressure plate trigger! Moving back and inspecting the rest of the room he realized that something was likely to come out of the holes in the ceiling. The halfling had a Good Idea though and he managed to pull the lid off the sarcophagus with the rope, easily avoiding the spears that sprang out of the holes. To everyone's disappointment it was empty.

This is kind of how I imagined it.
As the room didn't lead on anywhere the adventurers found themselves rather perplexed for a bit. It wasn't until Fiord noticed how his torch flickered that they realized that there must be a secret door somewhere. Fiord used his torch to look for it and just as it looked like he had found the source a dark, amorphous blob dropped down from the ceiling above him, covering him almost completely! Rurik rushed forward only to realized that his axe wasn't much use against the slimy creature. Preben tried to hold it at bay with his shield as Tyron pulled Fiord free of the bubbling mass. With their weapons useless against the slime the adventurers found themselves being pushed out of the room and soon a tactical retreat turned into a rout as they ran for the exit!

They made it outside, but Preben had a nasty burn from the creature and the others were exhausted! Deciding that they needed some proper rest Tyron looked around for a good campsite and found one in a natural shelter. They spent some time resting up, fixing gear and writing scrolls. Fiord even managed to use his elfish healing skills to alleviate Prebens burn. He also compiles the scatter of notes he had kept with him into a proper map.

As morning breaks there are more talks of trapping the entrance, but in the end the group decide to make their way back in and simply avoiding the room with the font as it looked like the giant amoeba made its way into the murky water there. Fiord's map makes it easy to trace their way back to the room with the sarcophagus and this time the elf manages to find the secret door.

Peering ahead they saw a corridor and some great oak doors to the left. Preben immediately moved ahead and opened the doors, revealing a chilling sight! On a large stone throne the remnants of some once great warrior sat, and in the skeleton's lap was Jora - the little girl. Only her eyes glowed with an unearthly sheen and she started angrily at the intruders. The heroes(?) stand stunned for a moment and before they can get their wits about them the girl spoke in a throaty rasp, claiming to be Haathor-Vash a once great hero. Cowed by the sight the adventurers played along nicely and simply tried to ascertain what the angry spirit wanted of them.

As Haathor-Vash stated that she wanted all her stolen belongings returned to her Preben was just about to hand over the armbands they had taken but Tyron was there before he had a chance to! The halfling instead suggested a bargain: release the girl and the adventurers would give the armbands back and re-seal the tomb. After some back and forth this was agreed upon and as Preben placed the armbands near the throne the girl suddenly collapsed as the blue glow went from her eyes!

They helped the unconscious Jora out of the crypt while throwing wistful glances at the armbands and some other bits of treasure they had left behind. Returning to Skogenby they were welcomed as heroes as the villagers realized Jora was still alive. For their trouble they received some coin and a trinket.

We decided to call the Adventure Phase here and had a quick Town phase. This being their first Torchbearer outing I allowed them +1D for their lifestyle cost as the villagers extended some extra courtesy to the "heroes". After some looking through equipment tables and pondering dice amounts Preben ended up with a new spear and Fiord a large sack. They also got rid of a couple of conditions.

End of spoilers!

We had a great time with the game, even if (as always) rpg veterans found it hard to adapt to the system. While they started to get into it after about half way through the way roleplaying games "should work" are so deeply ingrained that it's a difficult transition. If I introduce BWHQ again to some other players in the future I might present it as a board game first to see if that would be easier for them to parse, and then have them actually understand that it's simply a different kind of roleplaying game. Of course, introducing it to players who have never roleplayed wouldn't be a problem at all!

Anyway, they made it through the crypt alive, even though I went a bit easy on them at the end there. This was mainly because they had obviously not grasped the conflict system and were handing out cards more or less at random. I decided to simply play through the adventure and then talk about conflicts next time instead (which of course turned into my last post).

Although I keep harping on about how tough it can be for rpg veterans to go out of their comfort zone, I got a bunch of positive reactions as well, of course! That failing was really never a fail in the traditional sense of the word, that time actually mattered and that rolling always had some kind of consequence. There is a lot to like in Torchbearer!

Next our adventurers decide it's time to head back to the city, by way of that famous inn The Three Squires...

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