What To Do With Torchbearer?

Occasionally, I purchase or acquire new role-playing games from the bargain shelves of gaming stores or from friends who are cleaning out their book collection. I take a look at them, read them through, and make a determination of whether I will do one of two things:

1) Shelve it and never look at it again.

2) Waste hours considering the campaign I’d like to run based off the game, even though I do not, in any way shape or form, have the time to run an RPG campaign.

Damn you, clever rule system!

Damn you, clever rule system!

Option #1 is usually the more prudent choice. I am in the midst of running 2 campaigns right now, both of which are temporarily stalled thanks to me being too busy to think about them, so the idea that I might spend any amount of time thinking about an additional game to play is silly and wasteful.

…and yet here I am.

I just acquired the hard copy of Torchbearer the other day, which is a new RPG by the same guy who did The Burning Wheel, which is at once one of the more fascinating and frustrating rule systems I’ve encountered. Torchbearer is essentially a stripped down version of Burning Wheel, using the same basic rule mechanic but tossing out the fourteen tons of character-intensive soul-searching off of which that game operates. It’s a throwback to the old dungeon-centric games of my youth – players portray a basic archetypical character all of whom collectively need to make their living by invading the dark and forbidding places of the earth for treasure. The best thing about it is that it has de-romanticized dungeon crawling – people who spend their time hunting treasure in deadly places are not heroes, they are not the finest examples of humanity, they are not whimsical storybook characters. They are desperate, poor, and probably starving and the only reason they are doing this is because they haven’t the connections, the will, or the wits to live a more respectable life.

I sort of dig that idea. And I do like dungeons.

The problem (and the debate) that occupies my time, though, when considering whether a game is worth running and planning or not is two-fold:

1) How will this game be different from other games I have run?

2) How can I make it into something new and interesting in its own right.

Torchbearer’s basic world/setting is, frankly, not very interesting. Granted, it is expressly intended to be a throwback game, but just because that’s what the authors intended doesn’t mean that’s what I would do with it. I have run so many medieval fantasy world campaigns that the thought of another, even a gritty survival based one (which, it should be noted, I have already done) sounds fairly dull. So, in the interest of completeness, let me list off the similar campaigns I have run in the past couple years or so:

  • The Amazing Race: Talislanta: a campaign where I created two separate adventuring parties who had to go on a cross-continental race to steal a mighty treasure from an unknown land for a fabulous reward. Set in Talislanta, using that game’s system. It was fun.
  • Alandar: A game set in my own world with my own modification of the Roll-and-Keep system which ran for a few years and was quite epic in scope and depth. I’m never doing that again (most likely), so there’s no point in pretending to try.
  • Burning Imperium: A personal mod of the Burning Wheel system to fit the Warhammer 40K universe. Team-oriented play, dark world, etc.
  • Riddle of Steel: Japan: A mod (getting a trend here?) of the Riddle of Steel system adapted to a quasi-historical medieval Japanese setting. Very gritty rules, very character oriented, but mostly political intrigue based.

I will leave out the 3-4 Dungeons and Dragons campaigns I ran as a kid, as well as the umpteen-billion D&D-ish one-shots I’ve played in. I’m probably missing a few things in there, too. Anyway…

Stuff I haven’t done includes Post-apocalyptic settings, anything set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe (which might be fun), as well as anything in a player-generated, collaboratively created world. All three of these seem like decent possibilities. The first would require the most adaptation on my part (though it would a very awesome take on the old dungeon-crawl trope: trawling ancient ruins for stuff to survive the wasteland of far-future Earth), the second is just a setting I love and would be fun to play with (though my enthusiasm may be unique in that regard – not a lot of WHFB fans around here), and the third would require the least work on my part, but would rely on actively engaged players contributing to the creation of the game. At my age, I don’t know a whole lot of people with the kind of free time and attention necessary to do that, as fun as it would be.

Ultimately, at some point, all gamers at my age need to understand something that is, regrettably, true: You’re never going to be 15-24 again. You will never have the kind of free-time you used to have before you had a family and a career and so on. All the crazy campaign Ideas you come up with can only come to fruition if, by some work of sorcery, you can pry the rest of your friends away from their real lives long enough to eat up 6 hours of their lives every week or two in order to imagine yourself somewhere else. So, would I like to run a Post-apocalyptic Torchbearer game? Yeah, I would. Will I?

Christ, man – I haven’t even gotten that Ravenloft campaign back up and running yet. I’ve got novels to finish, stories to sell, papers to grade. I’ve got that Warhammer habit to feed. I’ve got two kids, a dog, and a wife. Get out of dreamworld, Habershaw! Get back to business!

Advertisements

About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on October 4, 2013, in Gaming and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. As far as the post-apocalyptic sci-fi dungeon-crawling campaign setting is concerned… the new one that’s just been released that’s been getting a bunch of traction is Numenera, by Monte Cook. As is written on the site’s overview page:

    Numenera is a science fantasy roleplaying game set in the far distant future. Humanity lives amid the remnants of eight great civilizations that have risen and fallen on Earth. These are the people of the Ninth World. This new world is filled with remnants of all the former worlds: bits of nanotechnology, the dataweb threaded among still-orbiting satellites, bio-engineered creatures, and myriad strange and wondrous devices. These remnants have become known as the numenera.

    Player characters explore this world of mystery and danger to find these leftover artifacts of the past, not to dwell upon the old ways, but to help forge their new destinies, utilizing the so-called “magic” of the past to create a promising future.

    • That isn’t entirely dissimilar to the world I’ve got cooking (something I’ve set a variety of stories in). The Numenera System, from what I can gather from it, sounds okay, but the Torchbearer system is the real draw for me.

      I will probably take a look at it, though. Thanks!

  2. Oh, and I await patiently for the return of Ravenloft… although since Michelle is currently in rehearsals for the play she is directing, the closer to November/December we get before restarting means less babysitters to get. So you don’t have to push it on my account. Get yourself settled. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: