Actual Play – Stone Dragon Mountain SAT-02 (6/28/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Mark Levad, Fred Lott, Soren Ludwig, Peter Adkison, and Wilhelm Fitzpatrick
System: Torchbearer
Adventure: Stone Dragon Mountain

Woot, my first chance to play-test Stone Dragon Mountain. I had been working my ass off to get it play-test ready and I’m really glad I did. The game ran very smoothly and was deliciously perilous for the characters and (from what I could tell) delightful for the players.

Who bears the Torch

We started with character creation. Which although it ate up too much time (see thoughts below) was a ton of fun. Here were our heroes.

Recordin the human warrior (Mark) grew up in a wizards tower, but got kicked out when thought to be trusted companion Boggin framed him for stealing form the wizard. Now he walks these lonely roads a loaner, tough and cool.

Sparky Bigglemeister the halfling burgler (Peter) would have been head cook for the mayor of a bustling metropolis, if not for Gordo Ryebread who soured his stew! He was now adventuring with a new found hunger for gold and a thirst for luxury.

Feylimige the Wanderer (Soren), an elven ranger. She had left the Elflands because she was different. Curious about different things and could not conform. She played to return one day and give the elves what for by proving that the traditional way isn’t the only way.

Jaesik the Loud (Wilhelm), a human cleric.  Jaesik was actually a good person. He helped the weak and stood against the darkness. He wore a medallion of Sigrun the Defender, lady of Battles that his mother had worn before she died. He was also very loud about his beliefs! Benedictus the high priest sent him on this holy mission to help the Sharwa people after he dragged the mayor’s daughter back to the temple to be purged of sin! Not at all to get Jaesik out of his hair and finally get some peace and quiet in the temple, no, not at all.

Agar Dirtsmith the human magician (Fred) from the small village Bayrit where his magics were not understood. He wanted to move up in life, I mean, how do you get any lower than being a dirt smith!

Depicting the World

Here are notes that I’ve written to myself when trying to describe the feel of Torchbearer in play. I don’t read them down the line, but whenever I come to a moment where I feel like the style of play or setting needs to be articulated, I’ll pull one of these out:

  •  Torchbearer is a game of exploration and survival, neither of which is easy.
  • It’s less like Lord of the Rings, and more like surviving Vietnam.
  • There are treasures to be found but they are going to be pried from the frozen grip of the mountain.
  • Your characters are desperate people with no respectable or promising opportunities.
  • Your characters aren’t heroes, but they can become heroes.
  • Like characters in Fiasco, your adventurers have powerful ambition and poor judgment.
  • They are foolishly optimistic opportunists.

As we start I’m also asking questions to develop the world. Here’s some of them:

  • What led you to this life?
  • What as the last thing you ate that didn’t make you sick?
  • What have you let down?
  • What was the job that was going to get you off the street? How did it fall apart?
  • Does anyone at home depend on you? How have you failed them?
  • Who in your new group besides you shows he most promise?
  • What about this adventure gives you hope?
  • Who is your leader?
  • Really, who is the leader?
  • To the leader: What heroes story inspires you?

These are pretty standard fare questions, but asking them reminds me to make the game not just about adventurers, but to make it about these adventurers. Hearing their answers also helps me be a a fan of their characters.

 Notable Moments

By far, the highlight of the game was when the adventurers had to scale a bald mountain face to cross over a stretch of missing walkway that loomed over an impossible fall below. Everything working up to the climb was so tense and when Peter’s Halfling Sparky finally made it over to raise the bridge, the whole table cheered in triumph! Peter has done some mountain climbing and said that the depiction of the challenges felt very real. Huzzah!

 Pictures from the game

Thoughts on the Game

When you’re play-testing a game, never do character creation in a con slot. It eats up way to much time. We spent 90 minutes on it when we could have spend 15-20 going over pre-generated characters and started playing. I wanted to see if characters made by players planning for a mountain climb would make a difference. Nope, or not enough to be measurable.

Mountain climbing in the snow is amazing dungeon delving. So much my fave.

Playing a game that doesn’t require torches every turn all the time actually makes it more interesting when people have to light them. The sun going down was a favorite twist of mine because it changed the status quo a lot!

Feedback. I’ve asked all my players to give feedback on the adventure. Thanks so far to Soren Ludwig, Mark Levad, Wilhelm Fitzpatrick, and Fred Lott for their responses. To everyone else, if you’re interested, here is the link to the survey.

Feedback response so far (over all three sessions played). My take away was that I should be more obvious about the various people’s and their motivations (a constant reminder to myself to just in general be more obvious). Also, rewards weren’t clear enough, there should always be something enticing them to delve a little deeper.

Torchbearer [How familiar are you with the following?]

Mouse Gaurd [How familiar are you with the following?]

Buning Wheel [How familiar are you with the following?]

How well were you able to understand what was going on in the adventure?

Challenging the players [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Rewarding the characters [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Delivering a compelling situation [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Keeping your interest [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Depicting a harsh world [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Depicting a fantastical world [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

What was your favorite memory of the session(s)?

  • When Morgan’s character actually successfully used magic to float up to the top of the ice block.
  • Crossing the Walkway
  • The dangerous lowering of the bridge
  • Diamond Tooth’s demise
  • The whole bit at the bridge. 
  • Snot. You should emphasize snot.
  • Balls out fighting the mikra and failing miserably, allowing for only one survivor who was surely going to die soon.

Any other comments about Stone Dragon Mountain?

  • Very fun game. Lots of laughs and holy crap, that is impossibles!
  • It seems like the set up is simple, which is cool, but I wanted a touch more complexity. We had the Sharwa, on one side, and the Mikra on the other. The Mikra seemed to be savage, beasty killers. That set up seemed too straight forward. I long for a third faction to make things really jacked up and complicated.Did someone back in town want us to do something specific, maybe? Is there are third group to add to the ecology of the mountain? When I think of keep on the Borderland, we have Bandits, plus the people in the Keep, plus a variety of Tribes in the Caves of Chaos, without even messing with the greater outside world. The more groups we have, the more our decisions affect those around us. To me, this is the thing I look for as a player. I came to a place and I may have fucked it up pretty badly, but I made an indelible mark.
  • Also, after we get to the maw of the cave, and find that the teeth aren’t gems, it seems like we need a new promise of treasure. The Mikra have worthless stone idols and crude axes. Why would we go in the cave?
  • What was up with that guy who was wounded at the beginning? He was really weird.
  • I love the “loot” available from the Sharwa and the bodies at Taleil’s. It felt really organic and natural and not like crap from a random treasure table.
  • The demon thing with the sheep was confusing, tone-wise. Did we just forget to ask about that guy.
  • Just kind of a reminder of our conversation, for a convention setting, it would be best to have pregens and the players just pick their inventory and answer the pregame questions. Other than that, the part I played was fun.
  • It was too bad we didn’t get to more of a part where other people further back in the line on the trail could do stuff.
  • I wasn’t clear on the player’s motivations in the set up except “get some kind of treasure.” I might have been distracted or walked briefly away from the table.
  • I wonder about the value, just like in computer rpgs, of having content in branches that half the players won’t see. Aftertward, I wanted to see what we’d missed since it sounded like it contained some of the best content. I suppose with another session we could have ventured to the path we didn’t see.
  • Nothing beyond what was already said at the table.
  • I rated kind of low on rewards and fantasy just because I don’t think we quite got to that part.