Actual Play – Free town is Free! (4/25/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Josh Curtis
Players: Justin Evans, Sean Nittner, and Greg Bailey
System: Torchbearer
Dungeon: Mines of Angocost

After awakening the dead spirit of Prince Jaha, our heroes were faced with preventing (or fleeing from) the destruction he and his wraiths would cause! TORCHBEARER!

Prologue

I was late to the game (thanks flat tire, great timing) and so the others recapped from our last adventure. Varg was no longer Hungry and Thirsty. 

Beliefs, Goals, and Instincts

Quite a few of these changed from last session. Some belief had been broken, some goals accomplished.

Beren
Belief: There’s nothing for me but blood and  treasure spent and earned. (unchanged)
Goal: Escape this waterlogged shit hole with Karolina.
Instinct: Don’t trust Varg!
Varg
Belief: Only power can save me.
Goal: Get out of this dungeon alive.
Instinct: Always study new lore when I discover it. (unchanged)
Karolina
Belief: I am the bulwark between my friends and harm (unchanged)
Goal: We will save the people of free city from Prince Jaha’s wrath.
Instinct: Always look for escape routes.

Adventure Phase

Turn 23 – Josh describe the scene before us. Inside the courtyard of Free Town, chaos and death surrounded us. The lights of the skulls had gone out, and now only a dim glow came off them. Tunnels ran off into darkness, a creek ran through the middle of the town, but most notably, shadowy wraiths had erupted from the skulls of Prince Jaha’s soldiers. The wraiths, led by their vicious prince sought to kill every dwarf that defied them in life. Jaha from the center of town directed their wrath!

Karolina, turned to Beren and said we’ve got to get these dwarves out of here. They’ll die if they try to fight (this was after just seeing a dwarf swing his sword and having it  apparently pass harmlessly through the wraith).

Beren protested “we’ve got to get out of there. I don’t care about them.”

Karolina refused. She ran to Thurn and told him to rally his people together and get them out of the town. He was clearly torn. He wanted to fight, but his people were all dying.

Varg fled to safety but then realized he was alone, in the dark, with little change of getting out allive. Wise in the ways of magical arts, he grabbed one of  skulls and smashed it against stone. He witnessed, we all witnessed that as he did so the wraith that come from it was destroyed. “If your will is strong, your blades can harm them. Fight them off and destroy the skulls.”

Varg looked to Beren for a companion to flee with, and Beren looked to Karolina because he would not leave with out her. Karolina, hearing this first glimmer of hope, plunged her last torch into the cooking fire to ignite it, held it above her head for all to said and cried out “To me! We will fight for Free Town Together!”

Battle Conflict!

Josh had made a custom conflict for this fight. It was a modified Kill conflict (i.e. very lethal) but the stakes were much bigger, it was for the entire population of Free Town.

  • Attack/Maneuver – Commander, with help from Commander or Fighter
  • Defend – Arcanist or Ritualist
  • Feint – Lore Master or Theologian

Weapons:

  • Eternal Grudge – +1D on Attacks
  • “Free Town is Free!” +1S on Defend
  • Wraith’s weapons were “No Fear” and “Shadow Walk” which we knew the names but not the effects of.

The fight was a daunting one. Mostly because Varg and Karolina were afraid and because we had few of the skills needed at decent levels. Thurn aided us, which was a boon, and hell, we had a decent amount of Artha to blow… which we did!

I took on the role of Conflict captain because Karolina had started the fight, and went for an initially defensive option. We had the great weapon “Free Town is Free” and I was pretty sure that Josh wouldn’t lead with Feints. So we scripted Defend, Defend, Maneuver. It worked out well. Josh scripted Attack, Attack, Maneuver. By putting Varg in 2nd place (and having him blow a ton of Artha) we were able to recover the Artha lost in the first action (Thurn was a poor defender). Maneuver vs. Maneuver is independent, so Karolina, with some help from Beren and Thurn was able to gain position for the beginning of the next exchange. The Wraiths also impeded their side, but that was a net positive exchange.

At the end of the volley, Josh described the Wraiths disappearing and then erupting from the shadows of our few fires. Our line broken we had to move. Karolina led the dwarves over a bridge to stand at the be bank of a creek. “Shadows cannot pass over water” was her belief and it turned out to be true!

Eternal Grudge! – Beren had to start out the next exchange. He would be using beginners luck to roll commander, but opted to tap, nay double tap his nature to make the attack. Helped by Thurn, the position granted and the Eternal Grudge weapon we picked, and only impeded one die by the Wraith’s maneuver, he rolled a huge hefty handful of dice.

The wraiths were also attacking, and so in a brutal exchange, many lives were lost. But amid the chaos and destruction Beren found a particular skull of great significant, atop the bridge was a a skull that had a cooper band hammered into it, the skull of Jaha! He pushed Varg aside (who had been studying it) and smashed it to dust!

Doing so sent a wail through the town, one that most of us would hear in our dreams for weeks, but that Beren himself could not shake. A kind of maddening wail that persisted and sought to drive him insane. Beren was sick, Karolina was exhausted from the life draining force of one wraith that sought to stop her heart, but was destroyed when Jaha was vanquisted. Many, many, almost a quarter of the towns people died… but we saved Free Town!

And then all was dark.

Turn 24 – After Jaha and his wraiths were destroyed every light in the town except the one torch that Karolina held had gone out. It was pitch black in these caves. The dwarves had found a way to bind the souls of the fallen slavers into their sculls and use them to produce light. Now that the souls had been vanquished, so too was the light.

Varg remembered the violet fungus though, that grew not far from the town. He ventured out with a pack of dwarves to show them how to fashion lichen lanterns. Their pestering and inquisitive nature earned his ire though, and by the time he was done, the task made him angry.

We were all hungry and thirsty

Turn 25 – With the new source of light, the dwarves were able to give us that mean the promised! We gathered out meager belongings and bid the dwarves farewell, telling them we would return again soon and rid them of the Lizardmen the still warred with below.  Getting back to the surface though was a challenge. With all the water coming down, the already steep inclines were now perilously slippery.

Karolina with lantern in hand, and her spear spiked through her belt to act as a pole to keep her and the rest connected, forged ahead.  The trip was perriulous though and when she got to the top she slipped and her backpack spilled open. A sack that she didn’t recognize slipped out and was being carried back down the tunnel by a strong current. (Twist)

Turn 26 – Both Varg and Karolina leapt for it, but in the commotion she got knocked into the giant machine, a bean cam crashing down and broke her arm (injured). Beren at the last moment caught the sack, but felt like a heel for allowing his greed to get Karolina hurt (angry). Inside the sack however was a old broken gold crown. Broken, but gold! It turns out the dwarves of Free Town had something more to reward them with after all.

After a few more pained steps, the made their way back up the entry room and out of the Minds of Agnocost… back outside.. and into a river! The entrance had been flooded during their time down there. They carried on though. Loot in their packs (well, Beren’s pack) and promise of a warm meal and bed in their hearts.

Thoughts on this game

When I got to decided if we fled the spectral horrors or stayed to fight, it was about the most Braveheart moment I’ve ever had in a game. I was thinking about the Narrative Control episode we just recorded about Torchbearer and decided that Karolina believed in something, and she was willing to put herself and her friends lives in danger to defend it. It was pretty fucking awesome.

As a GM I pixel-bitch. Playing this game really gave me some perspective on the scale that Torchbearer needs to work on. Yes, it’s a punishing game pinned down by minutia, but I don’t need to make it more so. Josh does a great job of giving out tough challenges but follows with right rewards, even when those rewards are ephemeral (like the shades not being able to cross the water, or destroying their skulls to vanquish them, or the gratitude of Free Town).

This game was great. I don’t really know how practical it would be for us to go back again, but if we do I want to fix that broken elevator to lower us safely, repair some of the mining carts to access other parts of the tunnel, defeat the lizardmen (or convince them to leave or make peace with the Dwarves), and of course, steal that magical scepter from a dragon!