On Monday, bitter cold and snowfall closed both both school and work. So I asked the kids what RPG they wanted to play. Rather quickly they all said Torchbearer (they had played before and it apparently had captured their attention).
We sat down and started creating characters. I again encouraged them to avoid the Elf and Wizard, focusing on the more mundane classes.
Torchbearer's character creation is a fantastic blend of base class competencies modified by a handful of questions. Choose where you were born; this gives you a skill and a trait. Choose how you get others to do what you want. Maybe in another post I'll go into more details.
I decided to run Under the House of the Three Squires – the example adventure in the Torchbearer book. Without spoiling the adventure, I'm going to make a conjecture about why they all specifically wanted to play Torchbearer. It is hard!
I'm not referring to the rules, which take some getting used to. But to the style of play that is hard. Very early they got kicked in the face for not asking questions – they charged in assuming that their Fresh condition would save them.
It didn't. I felt bad for not providing enough guidance and asked if they wanted to start over. They were willing to soldier on, but I was soft and encouraged them to start over.
They did, and immediately they began asking questions. And from my answers good ideas started flowing. And kept flowing – it was infectious. They were still making tests, but managed to avoid a few of the more treacherous tests.
As they were interacting, asking questions, gently prodding, I found myself gaining greater clarity of the environment that they were exploring; The a appropriate twists or complications were right in front of me.
And this is hard because it is different from much of what they have typically played. Many of the games that they've played – some of which I've run – have very quickly went to the dice. For example:
GM - Debris is strewn…
Player - I roll to Search. I got an 18.
GM - Um.
In Torcbearer it is likely doing their best to avoid rolling the dice. Not only are the odds not overly in their favor, but every roll depletes one of the parties precious resources – time and the march towards a new condition.
In other words, Torchbearer mechanically encourages “Starting with the Fiction.” Which is likely something that makes complete sense to those that started with the earlier editions of the old school. And has been lost in the translation.