Sunday, August 16, 2015
Weekend R&R: Torchbearer RPG
What caught my attention though was this full-sized hardcover that was proudly displayed. It screamed of old-school FRPG aesthetics and flipping through the book instantly reminded me of some of the older 1st Edition AD&D tomes and other FRPG books of the day. This was the Torchbearer RPG book and looking at its pages made it evident that this work was a love-letter to those games of old both in look and spirit.
There is an emphasis on resource management in this game. Notably, the importance of inventory, time, and light and how these are managed will make or break the party of poor souls during their planned expedition.
Tracking inventory and knowing what you can and can't carry is key to the game. You can only take in what you can carry and the same goes for what you take out. If you are loaded up with gear and you want to take out an artifact, you may need to leave something behind. Worse yet, you may even juggle the necessity of equipment and the amount of food you are taking with you! Tracking is made easy in the game... much like some computer RPGs, it's based on slots.
As far as time goes... everything you do counts against you. As time goes on, you may get hungry, or, if particularly unlucky other conditions suffered may worsen as time progresses. The passage of time was very important in the earlier days of dungeon exploration and adventuring. It is something a lot of modern games tend to gloss over nowadays. However, in the earliest versions of the world's most popular roleplaying game, this was of paramount importance.
However, it is the importance of light that makes the game interesting. A lack of lighting will most definitely play into the challenge of trying to successfully accomplish a variety of tasks. The thing is, light is also a resource and it can, and will eventually, go out.
Naturally, these things and their relative importance can be stressed and put into practice in any RPG so, these alone wouldn't be enough to 'sell' the game. But the relative detail vs ease of play is a strong reason to at least take a look at the game. For those familiar with both Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard, this falls somewhere in between. It isn't near as complicated as Burning Wheel but has more than Mouse Guard. The creators' themselves consider Torchbearer to be something like an 'advanced Mouse Guard'.
A big turn-off for the game for many is that, while simple enough in principal, it plays vastly differently from a typical game. This become readily apparent when it comes to combat (referred to in Torchbearer as conflict. The biggest difference is that the party determines at the start of the conflict, their 'disposition'. This is effectively a hitpoint pool which is divided up among the party. The GM does the thing for his side. The player's side of the conflict is managed by the 'Conflict Captain' who, effectively manages the party for that conflict. Each side gets three actions and each action can either be Attack, Defend, Feint, or Maneuver. The GM selects his in secret and the Conflict Captain, after consulting with his team determines their three actions and who will take them. Each action (or phase) compares one side with the other in what could best be described as something like 'rock, paper, scissor'. Depending on the action, rolls and/or opposed rolls are called for and disposition may be lost. When either side reaches zero disposition, they lose. What happens when the lose will depend on the original intent. Was it to drive them away? Capture them? Kill them? etc...
It *is* simple but it's also a bit granular and not what most gamers will be used to when they come to this game. It's probably something that will appeal to some and turn off others. What it does do is challenge they way we play and Torchbearer is well positioned to shake off a sort of complacency of how we approach our RPGs.
As for the rest of the system, there is much elegance to it. It is a dice pool system with skills and traits, and abilities (stats) and some expertise (called 'wises'). The numbers determine the dice you roll and aspects of the character and given situation will add or subtract from that pool. One person who is well-versed in the mechanics can easily guide a group of new players through the game and can easily teach them to play while running through a scenario. While easy to learn (and easier if you are taught it), it will take some time before the players really get the hang of it (or master it, if you will). The game itself will force the players to work together as a team and talk to each other instead of taking a 'everyone for themselves' mentality to playing. It certainly will cause people to change how they play and react compared to other games.
Torchbearer is *not* designed to be a sweeping saga across some fantasy realm filled with political intrigue or murderous plots. It's for dungeon crawling and the importance of tracking movement, time, provisions, and the state of the party is paramount. You start off in an inn, you organize expeditions and leave from the town to the dungeon, and try your best to earn a living without getting yourself killed while working for your big score.
If this still interests you, the PDF is available over at RPG Now over HERE for just $15. Physical copies of the book are still available, and you should be able to find or order it at most reputable game stores. Noble Knight has it new for $29.95.