Torchbearer: Urbanity v0.1

Image by Theo Prins

I’ve been slapping together rules for Urban Adventuring in Torchbearer.

If you don’t know much about Torchbearer, it’s a game about going into dungeons and bringing stuff back to civilization – a very classic style of play.

But what I want to see is what happens when you’re in civilization. The knives in the dark, the politicking, the tavern brawls. That’s what I’m going for here.

These rules are listed as version 0.1 – a very early draft but I want to put it out in the world. This will get worked on and improved through playtesting. Comments are absolutely welcome!

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Sagas of the Icelanders: S2-3

This recap covers two sessions of Sagas that span the same arc in time. When the next session begins, we will time skip mid-way through.

S2: Background

It’d been a few years since we’ve seen the characters. Thrain (the father) has gone off to raid, abandoning Hildigunn (his daughter). She became a bit of a pariah, blaming her father for her mother’s death and basically rebelling. We first see her in the shack she calls her home, kicking a local fisherman out of her bed and tossing his pants at him.

Thord the Younger still works his family farm, though he’s nearly a man and should be coming into land of his own.

Gunnar is now gothi over all three clans, respected and welcomed. We open on him, heading to the Thorgeirsson land, when he comes upon a fire.

The Fire

On a trip to visit the Thorgeirsson clan, Gunnar came upon a barn fire – a barn filled with all the Thorgeirsson’s goats! Gunnar sprung into action and was given a choice: back out now and still look honorable, or save the goats but Endure Grave Harm. He chose to risk it, and one of the cross beams collapsed, pinning him beneath it, burning him horribly and filling his lungs with smoke. Young Thord rushed in to save him, but a failure on Endure Grave Harm says “it’s fatal, the GM will tell you when” – he wouldn’t make it until morning.

The Rescue

Great Uncle Thord handed Young Thord his horse and told him to ride swiftly to Grimma, seithkona of the Hamundarsons. Grimma, now played by Thrain’s player while Thrain is off raiding, was home and meeting with Hildigunn.

Thord and Hildi were once best friends, but in the years since her mother’s death and her father’s abandonment, she has taken on the company of men, and the two have not spoken. They stood in silence for a moment until Thord remembered his task and called out to Grimma to get her things.

While waiting, Thord picked up the old witch’s knuckle bones and cast them on the stump [Rough World lets the Child make any other playbook move to lessened effect] and was met with a vision – he knew how to save Gunnar and it wasn’t Grimma at all, it was Lyting, Thrain’s sister.

Grimma and Thord set out on horseback, but Hildi knew the secret back ways, and almost made it to the Thorgeirsson steading at the same time.

Saving Gunnar

Grimma quickly got to work, but Young Thord went off to find Lyting. As a proper Icelandic woman, she was cooking and tending to her house. She hushed Thord and begged him not to speak of such un-womanly witch things, with an eye on her husband. Clearly Thord had some convincing to do, but he won out and got Lyting to come with him.

There was a tense moment between Lyting and Grimma, both of them doing what they could. Gunnar, however, was met with visions of two women – dark Grimma or light Lyting – both offering salvation. The Fates were offering him a choice. Thord’s vision told us Lyting would be his savior, but Gunnar decided to choose his family.

Interlude: Hildi and Thord

Waiting for news of Gunnar were both Hildigunn and Thord the Elder. Hildi suspects he is her real father, and moves to confront him. Their conversation is deep and personal.

“What do you want from me? What will it take to recognize me?”

“I want you to stop being like this and act a proper woman. Make me proud, not ashamed.”

Awakenings

The Fates spent their bond with Gunnar to Look Into His Heart and ask what it would take for Gunnar to kill Thord the Elder. Gunnar wryly said he was planning on it anyway, for he blames Thord for all the misery that came to his daughter and granddaughter. The Fates smiled and gave him three days of extra life.

Gunnar awoke with a cough, coherent, and thanked Grimma and Lyting for their help. Thord had already left.

S3: The Following Day

Gunnar was on a clock, but his player was out for the day, so we left him bed ridden in his own long house, while other things happened.

Young Thord took his typical run down to Osk’s Trading Post to deliver tubers for sale. The first thing he saw when he got there were three longships coming ashore. Raiders, taking a break from raiding.

“I have fought beside one know as Thrain Sigfusson, and he has given me, Vandred the Godless, use of his land while we rest. Does anyone know where I can find his land? You, boy, how about you?”

Leading the Raiders

Thord brings the raiders to Thrain’s long house and they quickly make themselves at home, scattering across the land. They pass by Hildi, who Vandred takes a liking to.

Thord looks on as Hildi goes inside the house with Vandred, and is approached by Hogni (Gunnar’s son who is in charge of the Sigfusson land while Thrain is away). He says that something needs to be done about the raiders with a cruel glint in his eye, and offers to give a portion of the Sigfusson land to Thord if he helps.

Grimma and Grim

Grim, brother to Hogni, arrives at Grimma’s to get help with a wound. He feels ashamed that he was beaten by some of the raiders he had found hunting in the woods.

Grimma tries to Goad a Man to Action to enlist Hjort, the warrior brother of both Grimma and Gunnar. But instead of goading, he puffed up. “I don’t need help, I can deal with this!” and he demanded Rowan, her personal thrall, attend him (as is his right). Grimma decided to follow along.

But Grim was eventually redirected, instead finding and speaking to Hogni. Hogni and his brother shared a look and asked Grimma to find the raiders in the woods and invite them to dinner in There’s longhouse.

Family Dinner

During dinner, Thord confronts his father about getting land of his own. His father refuses, which steels Thord for what he has to do. He takes steals father’s sword from the wall and heads off into the dusk. Helga, his shieldmaiden mother, notices though.

The Raiders’ Dinner

A feast and festivities begin, with Hogni helping feed them. Hildi fucks Vandred, Lying With a Man to Conceive a Child, but Grimma uses some of her witchery from afar (spending magic Bonds) to ruin the roll and….

Thord the Elder shows up, grabbing her arm while she’s barely covered. How dare she act like this! She knew how he wanted her to act! This shames him and makes him feel…. Vandred gets to his feet, fully naked, muscled, scared, and still partially erect. The two men square off.

Hildi had some hold from Enticing a Man, spending it (as we ruled could be done with NPCs) to have him act in her honor. This is where the fight breaks out. Drunk men cheering and watching as Thord and Vandred fight and wrestle. The loud thudding noises at the front and back of the longhouse go unnoticed.

Outside the Festivities

Gunnar’s sons have a plan – bar both doors and Thord will toss in some torches, burn the whole place down. The brothers bar the doors and the camera turns to Thord. He can see Hildi inside, and his great uncle Thord, and Grimma, and Rowan. But he wants the land. Torches begin flying.

Back Inside

Hildi or Grimma notice first, and it takes a bit to get everyone’s attention. By now, flames are high. They rush to the doors to try to rip them open, but find them barred. Hildi uses the last Entice A Man hold to have Vandred rush the doors.

Back Outside

The doors crack and splinter in front of Thord. He draws his father’s sword, and rushes in, going Berserk (Rough World again, using the Huskarl move). The roll isn’t clean, but Hildi spends two bonds with Thord, shouting to him to help.

Thord alone pushes all the men back, grabs Hildi, and pulls her free of the building before barring the doors again. But at the last moment, Vandred tucks and rolls through the door. Thord pushes Hildi behind him and rushes in. A clean stab and naked, unarmed Vandred bleeds out while his men all burn to death behind him.

As Thord turns to leave, he sees his mother standing a ways off, spear in hand. She nods at him and walks away.

The Aftermath

In the morning, Grimma’s corpse is found somewhat intact (failed Endure Grave Harm), covered by the charred body of Rowan who tried to save her as his last act. Thord the Elder also died in the fire.

Hogni indicated to Thord the land he was promised, not realizing it included Gunnar’s holy godwood.

Questions

  • What will happen when Thrain returns from raiding?
  • What does Hildi think of Thord’s performance?
  • Will Thord defend his new land if Gunnar wakes?
  • What happens to Gunnar when the Fates’ task is complete but not by his hand?

The CHILLS Technique

A while back, I wrote this on G+ in response to +Jason Tocci, +Rob Donoghue, and +Adam Schwaninger making a little mnemonic for how to dole out consequences when GMing. There’s definitely overlap with PbtA games, but how you use GM moves is really down to personal style.

And I believe the consequences of an action should give you CHILLS:

Collateral: There is some additional harm as a result of your action – maybe some scenery is broken, maybe someone gets hurt, or maybe someone unexpected takes notice of you.

Harm: The most direct and simplest of consequences – what you did causes mechanical harm to a character. This includes allies or hirelings, slightly overlapping with “Collateral”, but the emphasis is on the mechanical bits if possible.

Interference: Something or someone gets in the way of your success or failure – perhaps a new threat emerges or the situation changes or even just a simple distraction occurs. It could even be an unexpected ally, doing you a favor which you now need to repay.

Loss: You lose something or someone important in some way – you drop a sword, your child is kidnapped, or your grenade falls down a crevasse. Again there is some overlap with “Collateral” here, but the focus is on being fully deprived of something and needing to solve that issue.

Lesser Outcome: This one is pretty plain – you set out to achieve something and you don’t quite make it. You take down three thugs with kung fu instead of all six, the car starts but the tank is nearly empty, you find a gun but no ammo, etc. This is the classic “yes, but…” result.

Shitty Choice: This is my personal favorite – the consequence of your action is that you must choose between two undesirable things. You can shoot the guy and he drops the antidote, or he gets away; you can save the life of one of two bystanders; you can disarm the bomb and lose your hands, or let it blow up your headquarters.

Foreshadowing Encounters

Art by Tryingtofly

Anne at DIY & Dragons wrote a post about her way of managing encounter tables by foreshadowing “signs”, and John B linked to his older post about similar. This got me thinking about how I’d do it.

I’d read John’s post in the past, and while I liked it, it always felt like 4 out of 6 of the results are just variations on “signs”, as Anne put it. I very much enjoy how her procedure presents signs over and over until you encounter the thing being foreshadowed.

So how would I do it? Almost the same way, just a little differently. I’m gonna use a d6 table to present this, but you can use other die sizes (d10 is probably the highest I’d ever go).

Lets look at an example entry in an encounter table for night-time encounters in the shady entertainment district.

[ 1 ] Mugger
1-3) Feels like you're being followed.
  4-6) Encounter the mugger, knife brandished.

Assume our table has 5 more entries exactly like this – each entry has a further amount of rollable results, ideally with the same size as your table. The way it works is pretty simple: you always roll d6 for an encounter. The first time you roll an entry, the players are presented with the first entry in the subtable. From now on, when you roll for encounters, you only roll on this subtable until you encounter this mugger. Then the whole thing repeats on the main table after the encounter.

What I like about this is that it reads well – a table within a table makes intuitive sense, I think. The only real rules are around a) which entry is hit the first time it’s rolled, and b) how the dice sticks to the subtable.

And for completeness, lets finish off this area and illustrate some nuances of using this system:

[ 1 ] Mugger
  1-3) Feels like you're being followed.
  4-6) Encounter the mugger, knife brandished!
[ 2 ] Rogenok the Goblin
  1-2) Snarls and footsteps from a dark spot.
  3-4) Dead rats, large bite marks.
  5-6) Encounter Rogenok who is quite hungry!
[ 3 ] Zhalee the Promoter
  1-3) Sounds of merriment and laughter.
  4-5) Well lit establishment, people pour in and out
  6) Encounter the annoying gambling promoter!
[ 4 ] Greystreet Gang, Drunk
  1) Loud hooting a hollering down the street.
  2-4) A loud crash and laughter from a small group.
  5-6) Encounter with the gang, looking for a fight!
[ 5 ] Living Trashheap
  1-2) Horrific stench from an alley.
3-4) Clatter of bottles; trail of garbage water.
  5-6) Encounter with intelligent trash, scared and confused!
[ 6 ] Brown Bear
  1) Molted bits of brown fur.
  2-4) Claw marks all over everything.
  5-6) Holy shit why is there a bear in the city?!

A list like this provides useful results when rolled and pushes the players towards individual encounters while giving the ability to foreshadow what’s coming. It also provides hints for what to present when the players bite on some hook and head towards it. And you get some color for the area as a whole from the table too.

Sagas of the Icelanders – Session 1

Our usual Thursday game got shifted by one day due to Thanksgiving. We normally play 2 hour sessions, but because it was a holiday weekend, we extended this one to about 3.5 hours.

To recap Session 0, we have four characters in play: Gunnar the Gothi of the Hamundarson clan; Thrain, land holder of the Sigfusson clan and married to one of Gunnar’s daughters; Hildigunn, Thrain’s daughter; and Thord, youngest member of the Thorgeirsson clan and best friend of Hildigunn. The spark that set off this arc was Svanhildur, daughter to Gunnar, wife to Thrain, mother to Hildigunn, being found stabbed near the body of a Thorgeirsson thrall.

Scene 1: The Sea in Spring

We open just after Thrain and Gunnar had returned from threatening the Thorgeirssons. Hildigunn and Thord had set out to speak with Hildi’s great aunt, the old witch in the sea caves. They didn’t make it – the slick sea spray sent Hildigunn toppling over and when Thord tried to save her, he fell in as well. The ocean in Iceland is unforgiving – both children will Suffer Grave Harm as a result, but first….

Scene 2: A Man’s Work is Never Done

Thrain, still reeling from the death of his wife, still had duties. He took his cart of barley down to the local trading post, run by a man named Osk. He arrives to a crowd clustered at the shoreline and pushes through to find the children. Now we roll for Grave Harm – Hildi comes out of it okay, but is changed by the experience (she takes a scar); but Thord took it hard, and needed help (meaning: a player needed to intervene) or he wouldn’t come out of it alive.

Scene 3: Nor is Woman’s Work

Up on the cliffs, Gunnar approaches the witch’s cave, but for a different purpose. His sister may live out here, apart from others, but she knows things. He comes to ask questions about what happened to his daughter. At first, he’s distracted – a strip of cloth matching his granddaughter’s dress – and tries to climb down the cliffs a bit. He slips, but is rescued at the last second, mirroring Thord’s failed attempt. Rowan, the young male thrall kept by his sister, pulls him up – were he not alone, this could be shameful.

Eventually Gunnar sits down for tea with Grimma, the seithkona at the caves. She speaks plainly, almost blasphemously about how the things they do, the signs the read (for gothi and seithkona are two sides of a coin), are mostly bullshit and guess work. But she knows much about Svanhildur and expected trouble.

When pressed, Grimma hints quite strongly that Svanhildur had been unfaithful to her husband in the past, and had thrice come to her for herbs to rid herself of a child. Gunnar wants nothing to do with this, and declares her no longer a part of their clan before storming off.

Scene 4: The Frozen Child

Back at Osk’s encampment, Thord still needs help, and Thrain is the only one capable. He eventually decides to get his way by shaming Osk (Throw an Insult) into providing a warm bed for the kid.

Meanwhile, Hildigunn gathers some local children to pilfer wares, hoping to find a worth gift for Thord. But she’s caught in the act – her uncles had come to sell their wool, and caught some kids. They offer to bring her back home, unaware her father was here. She chooses to stick with Thrain.

Scene 5: The Pyre

Fast forward a few days (5-12 days is customary viewing for a body in Iceland), and the pyre is ready in Gunnar’s small holy copse of wood he uses for rituals. There is little preamble, but amidst the flames, Thrain calls to the assembled crowd that he wishes for another to step forward and take on the things he will not be able to teach his daughter. A surrogate mother, of sorts.

Helga of the Thorgeirssons, Thord’s mother who came with him, offers. But Thrain declines – she is not a proper woman! She knows the sword, not the oven! Helga in turn insults Thrain the landowner for never having gone a-viking call his Honor In Question. But Thrain rebukes it and Helga gives in – she will teach Hildi the womanly ways.

Hildi, meanwhile, is aghast that her life is so easily traded.

Scene 6: The Feast

After the funeral, as is customary, a feast is held in Thrain’s longhouse. There is merrymaking and drinking.

Hildigunn, too young to drink at 11, steals a glass of funeral ale and is caught and chastised by Helga. She Tempts Fate, guilt tripping her now-guardian and telling her she will not be controlled. Helga is shocked, but takes the rebuke.

Gunnar spots a newcomer, concealed behind a hood. He approached, confronting Thord the Elder of the Thorgeirssons – eldest of the tribe Gunnar has long feuded with. The man who owned Berta. The one suspected of killing Svanhildur.

Curious, Gunnar asks why he would come to his daughter’s funeral. Thord avoids the question, mentioning offhandedly that he and Svanhildur used to talk “long into the night”. Gunnar wises up and quickly hurries Thord out the door, Tempting Fate to keep him away from Thrain’s eyes.

The night winds down, the fires burn low. And Hildigunn, drunk and empowered by telling Helga off, confronts her father loudly. She blames him for everything and hates him for trying to replace mother. Once again in the span of a day, a woman has called Thrain’s Honor In Question.

The slap resounds through the hall, and silence falls. Hildigunn is put in her place, and the curtain falls…

… and Winter Comes

While tension remains, we chose to elide time here because the immediate issues seemed wrapped up. Session 2 will occur about 3 years later, with Hildigunn grown, and Thrain’s player taking on the role of Grimma the witch.

Gathox Gangs in Torchbearer

Art from Karl Stjernberg

I really like the way gangs are setup in Gathox Vertical Slum, so I decided to make some rules for Torchbearer.

Guilds and Gangs

A Gang refers to any group of folk working together. If the characters wish to, they may be considered a gang.

Reputation

Reputation is new Special Ability used within the City. It begins at 0, and during Downtime after a successful adventure or job, you may try to spread word of your exploits for +1 Lifestyle. If you do, make a Reputation test against [???].

Reputation may be used as a Social Grace when using your reputation to intimidate or attract others to your cause.

Territory

If a gang wishes to gain territory, members will need to voluntarily tax their Reputation to create a pool to test against the Cost. As this roll isn’t based on any particular character, you may not tap Nature, use Help or Wises, or spend Fate or Persona.

Failure means there was a counter offer on the territory and you must accept additional Reputation tax equal to the margin of failure to successfully gain the territory.

Tier

A Gang’s Tier begins at 0 and increases by 1 each time the total Ob of Territory reaches a multiple of 10. When the members of the Gang act independently against other Gangs, make opposed Tier Tests.

As a Twist, the GM may have another gang attempt to claim some of your Territory by force. If they do so, you may use an opposed Tier Tests if the characters do not get directly involved. If Territory is lost, it may result in loss of Tier.

Still To Do

This needs heavy playtesting to ensure gaining and spending Reputation are balanced. I doubt this will work well, and will need some tweaking.

I also need to figure out how to test Reputation for improving the skill. I’ll probably just need some factors and some logical way to test a 0 Rep.

I also want to flesh out Gang War conflicts, because I think that would be cool.

Indie Tabletop

Art by Ljubov Ponomareva

There’s a kerfuffle going on in one of the niche gaming communities online. People are being crappy toward minority groups, and when told to be nice, they fight vehemently for their right to be shitheels. The demagogues of this community are cyberbullies, proponents of transphobic figureheads, and alt-right reactionaries. A lot of people are just done with the scene. And that’s okay. I’ve never identified as a member of that scene despite liking some of their games and a lot of their content.

I am an indie gamer. I support independent creators, small press games, and people who put content and commentary on the web because they enjoy gaming or have a passion for it.

So what does it mean to be an indie gamer? Below are five games that run the gamut, including some good ones from that toxic gaming community, that cover things I find enjoyable in independent gaming (note: some of these are affiliate links):

  1. Sagas of the Icelanders is probably the most focused and interesting of the Powered by the Apocalypse games. It focuses on settlers in 900AD Iceland and their gender roles. The way males and females have different actions available to them and the focus on mundane life (fixing a wagon, patching a roof, etc) makes this game amazing.
  2. Into the Odd is a modern distillation of some of the oldest adventure games, but it focuses on growth of characters on-screen and does very interesting things with fatigue, harm, and combat. What I like about this game is how it creates tension with the rules and how it focuses on using the game world to grow as a character.
  3. Trollbabe is a game that came out of an old gaming forum focused on small press publishing. In it you play a half-troll, half-human female warrior, torn between both worlds. The most important feature of this game is how it flips conflicts on their head – you say what happen when you fail a conflict, and the GM does when you succeed. Players also get to decide when they build relationships with NPCs, but if those relations are brought into a conflict, their fate is up to the GM.
  4. Remember Tomorrow is a cyberpunk game without a GM where players take on the roles of small scale characters or large scale corporations, vying for some sort of ultimate goal. The game is based on the characters needing some number of successes to achieve their goal, and other characters or corporations getting in their way. It has a wonderful ebb and flow due to the fact that no one owns any specific character or corporation – anyone can play anything on the table.
  5. Whitehack, like Into the Odd, is a modern variation of the oldest adventure game. What I like about Whitehack, though, is how it breaks the mold, with regard to character classes and growth. While current versions of that adventure game offer up a variety of classes with specific rules in place, Whitehack gives you three and lets you differentiate them on your own based on what you do. It’s very freeform and allows for more creative expression than is typical in these games.

These are not my favorite games, but they’re up there – these are just games I think everyone should try to play to see what is out there in the world of indie tabletop games. Currently, my top game is Torchbearer – a Burning Wheel based system that emulates dungeon crawling like that original adventure game.

 

As to that crappy gaming scene – steer clear. Stay away from scenes that prop up some people as “thought leaders”. Stay away from scenes predicated on excluding others and keeping people out. Make your own scene by creating, sharing, and reciprocating.