The guru awaits... 

In today's Mordite Monday we look at the top 5 most commonly asked questions on the Torchbearer Wiki FAQ and some special rules, hacks, and supplements to go along with them. Counting down, here are the top five questions asked on the Torchbearer Wiki FAQ:

#5 Do I have to roll Survivalist to light a torch?

Depends. In most situations, no. If the situation allows, you merely announce that you’re lighting a torch and mark off the torch on your sheet. However, there must be time to allow for the uninterrupted action. If some twist or obstacle would hinder such a mundane action, then, at the GM's discretion, the light could be extinguished leaving the party in darkness.

It’s worth pointing out that real-life torches don’t simply wink out after a fixed period of time. Usually, they start to sputter and dim, leaving ample time to light another torch, candle or lamp with the remaining flame. By the same token, a torch that is snuffed as part of a twist (or a candle snuffed for any reason at all!) couldn’t be used to light the next light source.

This is one that comes up all the time with new players if they are used to a "roll-for-everything" type of game system. In Torchbearer, we only roll dice when there is something risky, nearly impossible, or dramatic that could result in a twist.

In the example of play (see Torchbearer, Conflict Example, page 176), Varg the Mage looks for a ladder to climb up into the ceiling, and the GM gives it to him without a roll to keep things moving. In this instance, finding a ladder is not an impossible feat that is worth testing. In the very next sentence though, the GM moves the group into an encounter with kobolds which is the real heart of what needs to be dealt with.

There might be times when lighting a torch or looking for a ladder really is a test. Maybe the torch goes out from a fall down a pit twist, and the Survivalist is called to rise to the occasion. Or maybe the party falls to the bottom of a junk-strewn, crushing wall trap with the room closing in. The player describes sifting around the garbage to look for a ladder, and the GM calls for a Scout test to find the ladder before being crushed.

If you are interested in makeshift light sources, check out the Rushlights in the New Gear section of Jared Sorensen's Druid class. They can be crafted with Ob 1 Peasant.

 #4 Can anyone help with the Lifestyle test when leaving town?

No. Lifestyle is a test that each character must make alone. Players may leave town whenever they wish, and the test for each character happens separately and without help (see Torchbearer, Town Phase Procedures, page 184).

Town Phase can be tricky because it's something that usually comes up only once in a while, and, when it does, the players can do all sorts of actions or nothing at all.

But, a character can leave at any time, and they do so alone. If your character leaves town, the Town Phase may continue for other characters.

Towns provide great opportunities to create local flavor and add your own special rules. In some of the published adventures, you'll find rules for the availability of markets in small towns. These are small villages that only have markets available during certain seasons, times of the week, or particular days (based upon the particular town and a dice roll to determine the party's luck).

A GM might let the players know that the markets in a particular region only offer limited goods. A tiny village only offers Ob 1 and Ob 2 goods. A poor town might stock up to Ob 3 gear and equipment. Then, any crossroads, big towns, or cities have all the goods available. Thanks to Michael Dunn-O'Connor for this idea!

Recently, an interesting thing happened in one of my games that I turned into a special town rule. The player was under the impression that each character could only go to the market once per Town Phase. Later, I decided to incorporate this with another group as a special town rule called "closing time." Before the group decided to go to this town, I let them know that the market was notorious for "closing early" when outsiders came to town. They still chose to go there because it was closer and did not require a Pathfinder test. I then limited each character to one visit to the market so that they had to strategize who was buying what. It later opened up all sorts of opportunities for the group to make friends and enemies (through Circles twists).

 #3 Can a GM skip to a particular condition as a result of failure?

Yes. Each skill has guidelines for appropriate conditions resulting from failure (see Torchbearer, Conditional Failure Guidelines, page 78). Generally, a GM should try to abide by the guidelines and the order of the conditions. However, as these are suggestions, a GM may determine that, given the situation, a more serious condition is an appropriate cost for a risky action.

What about Injured or Dead? I've seen where new GMs take a Fresh party and skip right to Dead after a failed Fighter test without any prior warning or player agency. It's easy to see where someone coming from a traditional fantasy RPG background might find this perfectly reasonable, but Torchbearer has a stack of Conditions and clear rules on death and killing (see Torchbearer, Killing is My Business, page 74). Instead, Afraid or Injured are the suggested conditions for a failed Fighter test. Once a character in the party gets Injured something interesting and unexpected always seems to happen - it's a great opportunity for storytelling - and GMs should not skip over it. Death is a consequence of the players' choices, and they get a chance to do something about it. It is not something that really happens to a Fresh party because of one bad roll.

The rules mandate that a GM must inform the party when death is on the line, and the other critical part of the equation is that death is always a result of players' actions. The Dead condition comes after the Injured condition. Death is often a release from the misery of the adventuring life - it comes from a Kill Conflict of the party's own making or from cascading twists that beat the party down (see Torchbearer, Heroes in the Wrong World, page 119).

If you are interested in playing around with Conditions, check out Philipp Nussbaum's Darkest Dungeon hack on the Wiki Hack page.

 #2 Can a GM give both a twist and condition for failure?

No. The rules say one or the other. A Condition means they have achieved the objective but at a cost. A twist can either be 'resolved unfavorably' (the bridge collapses) or 'unresolved' (the rope falls down into a nest of griffins; or, you find the road to town but it is occupied by brigands).

However, in a conflict, it is not so clear because a major compromise might entail a whole slew of things. The losing side proposes and comes to terms. I've seen all sorts of crazy offers, and I never cease to be surprised by the terms players come up with sometimes.

The reality is that some GMs break this rule by giving a Condition but describing the success along with a twist. It can sometimes become a blurry line since the GM is mandated by "obstacle-to-obstacle" to keep moving the story toward the next decision or impossible feat to overcome. This is just one of those things that GMs have to accept they will mess up sometimes. If it causes a disruption with your players, be sure to discuss it with your group at the end of the session, learn from that feedback, and file that away for the next time.

Another ambiguity concerns the role of conditions in the trap rules. Many of the traps presented on page 127 describe the consequence of failure as a condition, but, if the roll was to avoid the trap, then it couldn’t be a conditional success.

Having jotted down a list of Wandering Monster twists really helps to keep you out of these jams. Being able to improvise, roll with the punches, and pull one of these out of your hat is a vital GM skill (see Torchbearer, Wandering Monsters, page 129).

 #1 Can my armor prevent excess damage from taking a hit?

No. If the character leading the action is knocked out and the excess damage rolls over on to your character with armor, your character cannot benefit from armor. Armor only helps the person that is the direct target of the attack. Armor only reduces an attacker’s successful or tied Attack or Feint action by -1s (see Armor, page 37). Armor/helmets do not benefit anyone that's subject to excess, or "splash," damage. Excess points of damage are removed directly from the player(s) (see Taking Hits, page 69).

Armor does one thing, for one character, and one thing only. In a lot of game systems, each character has their own armor and they stand on their own two feet. In Torchbearer, conflicts are abstracted - they do not follow a blow-by-blow, roll-and-check armor procedure. Conflicts don't go down the line of checking this person's armor and then the next person's armor.

The whole conflict involves the entire team in a "cinematic" fashion. The whole team is moving toward some goal, but they might be in different parts of the room or not even directly interacting. One can figure that a character's armor or weapon are always being used, but in the fiction of the conflict, a sudden turn of events changes everything.

Until I came across this clarification, I used to play where everyone taking damage gets to use armor. I know Lord Mordeth still allows armor for excess damage because it makes it a lot harder to wipe out many enemies (or players!) in a single roll.

So, plan your actions carefully. You might have a whole party of armored characters, but when you throw the unarmed and unarmored mage up against that troll with a scripted Attack action, you are setting the whole party up to be crushed in one fell swoop.

If you are interested in doing more in your game with different types of armor, check out:


Wanderers, Outcasts & Exiles

  • Leather bracers
  • Skyfall Plate armor
  • Hide armor
  • Aquatic Hide armor


Call in the Specialists

  • Breastplate
  • Wicker Shield


Fearless and Freebooting

  • Elven Plate armor

From special town rules to Secret Nature (see Torchbearer, page 119), one of my favorite things about the game is that there is always something new to learn.

Happy adventuring…

Game on!



Topics: Mordite Mondays, Rules Explainer