Artist and game designer Keith Senkowski, a long-time friend of BWHQ, is starting a quarterly Torchbearer zine! The first issue promises art, fiction, and a ton of Torchbearer content, including a new class, new stock, new magic system, new skills and a new monster.
Luke & I have been hard at work behind the scenes. Here’s a demonstration of a Torchbearer drive-off conflict featuring dwarven outcast, Beren, facing two tomb guardians in the Dread Crypt of Skogenby as featured in Torchbearer 2nd Edition.
I know it’s been a while since my last update. Everyone at BWHQ has been in a frenzy working on Torchbearer 2nd Edition and getting Bridge of the Damned ready for press. We’re still going at it hammer and tongs, but the writing is done. It’s all editing and proofing now.
That means I’ve got a bit more bandwidth to work on some new content. I can’t commit to weekly updates here just yet, but I do hope to post more regularly.
Today I want to take a closer look at dwarves, or dvergar, from Middarmark–specifically their Avenging Grudges nature descriptor.
Never Forgive, Never Forget
Dwarves live a long time, often in close quarters, and they are a vengeful folk. Grievances, petty and otherwise, arise frequently. Rather than allow such resentments to fester and spread to consume whole clans and holds, the dvergar have adopted a system of formalized grudges that require the aggrieved to air their complaints publicly and vow before their ancestors and the longbeards and matriarchs of their clan to set things right.
If the ancestors, longbeards and matriarchs accept the grudge, they enter it formerly into the clan’s chronicles. Thereafter, the dwarf’s actions taken in pursuit of the vow are considered legal among one’s kin. They are honor-bound to support the dwarf against dvergar of other clans should that clan seek vengeance for actions taken by the dwarf in pursuit of avenging the grudge. Vendettas pursued without formally declaring a grudge offer no such protection and bring shame to one’s kin.
Among the dvergar, grudges are formal affairs, sacred vows to right a personal wrong or settle a personal grievance. Traditionally such a vow is made before the longbeards and matriarchs of one’s clan that it may be recorded in the chronicles, though outcasts do as they must: Grudges that are not declared before and accepted by the longbeards and matriarchs are often held suspect. Typically outcasts resort to announcing their grudges to other dwarves (preferably) or a large gathering of people (a full tavern will do in a pinch) in the hope that the grudge and their deeds in pursuit of avenging it will be acknowledged by their erstwhile clan and recorded in the chronicles despite the outcast’s lowly status.
Holding aloft a vessel of nog or other strong drink, dvergar initiate the declaration of a grudge with a recitation of one’s lineage, great deeds and past grudges successfully avenged. The dwarf then lists the grievances committed by the subject of the grudge—the longer and more exact the list of grievances, no matter how petty, the more seemly the grudge is considered by other dwarves. The declaration ends with a vow stating what the dwarf will do to avenge the grudge. Typically the vow involves killing, humiliating or ruining the target of the grudge, though forcing an apology and impressive remuneration would be considered acceptable.
Once formally announced and accepted, a dwarf is expected to pursue vengeance above all things. The dwarf’s actions in pursuit of avenging the grudge are considered legal among the dvergar. The dwarf may not declare another grudge until the grudge in question has been avenged. Likewise, if the dwarf abandons or forgives the grudge without completing the oath, they are deemed oathbreakers and cast out of their clan.
An outcast’s grudge is not considered legal in the same way unless entered into the chronicles. Nor can they be outcast again if they abandon a grudge, though doing so would still be cause for great shame.
It should be noted that the longbeards and matriarchs will never accept a grudge declared against a member of one’s own clan. Such things are not done (except in the sagas, where such dishonorable things occur frequently and bring tragedy to all concerned). Any dwarf that does so brings shame upon themselves and their kin.
To declare a grudge, test Oratory (or Avenging Grudges nature) using the following factors:
Circumstances of declaration
Before dwarves at your Ancestral Vault (1)
A formal gathering of your clan (2)
A gathering of dwarves (3)
A gathering of people (4)
To kill (1)
To ruin (reputation or financially) (2)
To humiliate (3)
To force an apology and remuneration (4)
If successful, regardless of whether the grudge has been formally accepted or not, replace your current goal with your vow. Until the grudge is avenged (and as long as you don’t change your goal), all tests made in pursuit of your vow are considered to be within your character’s nature. If you avenge your grudge and live to tell the tale, gain +1D or +2D to Circles in the place where you made the vow based on the enormity of the task.
Suggestions for Failure
Failure to avenge a grudge should be commensurate with the magnitude of the grudge and location in which the grudge was declared. Failing to avenge a grudge declared and accepted formally before your ancestors at your Ancestral Vault will result in being outcast and shunned. Failing to avenge a grudge drunkenly declared before a bunch of humans will get you ridiculed. The game master should choose a failure result appropriate to the situation or invent one that fits better.
You have made a new enemy who insults you until you leave. No further effects.
You are laughed out of this location and may not return during this town phase. No further effects.
Suffer a factor in all tests in the town where you declared the grudge until you perform the deed you pledged to perform (pursuit of the goal is no longer considered to be within your character’s nature).
Your shame prevents you from declaring another grudge until you perform the deed you pledged to perform (pursuit of the goal is no longer considered to be within your character’s nature). Your shame is clear to any dwarf who looks upon you and you are not welcome in any dwarven hall.
We’re splashing out on this like never before. The new edition is based on 7 years of playtesting and feedback on the first edition. We started off with the intention of making a few tweaks like fixing the bow and wound up revising the entire game.
Don’t worry! It hasn’t changed so much that your existing supplements will be useless, but we’ve clarified, revised, refined and expanded the rules. If you back at a tier that includes the Lore Master’s Manual, you’ll get tons of new material, some of which I know many of you have been clamoring for. It includes:
New class: the thief, go from a knife-wielding cutthroat to the shadowy power that rules this town
New class: the shaman, fueled by the Immortals of Beasts, channeling their wild power
New stock: the Troll Changeling; they’re part troll, part human and all trouble
New conflicts: Banish, Abjure, Bind and Battle
New settlements like Borderland Fortress, Shire and Walled Town
Lots and lots of gear in a comprehensive list
Rules for making base camps—good for tackling those megadungeons.
Economic rules so you can crash the economy of your town
Simple guidance on town adventures
More spells and invocations
Wild new rules for spiritual quests
Join us in this adventure and you’ll score some fabulous loot!
The Middarmark Gazetteer has all sorts of information about the organization of society. In my view, one of the more fascinating things happening in the Middarmark involves the monarchs and other individuals with political power attempting to displace the existing order with a feudal one. That’s all well and good, you might be thinking, but what does that matter to my Torchbearer games?
The answer is that adventurers who choose to cozy up to power actually play a pivotal role in helping to enforce the new order. Conflict and strife create opportunities after all.
For the past few years, and especially recently, there’s been a lot of discussion in online circles about colonialism, racism and D&D. Last year there was a 100+ page thread on RPGnet about decolonizing D&D. Lately, I’ve also been stumbling across apologia that attempts to disavow the existence of these things in D&D. Given Torchbearer’s debt to D&D, this is a topic Luke and I take very seriously.
I want to be very clear that I agree that D&D is embedded with colonialist and racist assumptions. I want to be equally clear that I’m not claiming Dave and Gary were racist or that D&D is some crypto-white-supremacist work. What I am saying is that unconscious support for colonialism and racism is systemic to American culture and so it is part of D&D whether Dave and Gary intended it to be or not.
It’s a part of Torchbearer too.
When I say ‘colonialism,’ here’s what I mean: Controlling a land, occupying it with settlers and exploiting it economically.
This is the heart of the American story–going west and taming the savage frontier. Except that “savage frontier” was not empty. It was full of indigenous civilizations. The original American colonies grew on settlements and farms that had been tended by indigenous people for generations.
In D&D (and Torchbearer) players assemble their adventurers and send them out into the unknown (to them at least). There, they fight monsters and seize treasure to bring back to civilization.
You don’t really need to even squint to see that these stories are cut from the same cloth.
But orcs and gnolls and drow are evil, right? That’s the difference, right? They have to be killed or driven off to protect civilization from their evil and rapaciousness. That’s a good thing! I understand that argument, especially in a game that explicitly tags peoples with a good or evil alignment. I’d give that point more credence if the same justifications hadn’t been used for genocide, enslavement and forced migration of indigenous peoples all around the globe.
Fellow game designer James Mendez Hodes has written on these topics at length. I highly recommend you check out this and this to start if you want to delve deeper. James also cites this piece, by Paul Sturtevant, which closely examines the concept of ‘race’ in D&D.
Look, the point is that D&D is problematic. Torchbearer is too, for many of the same reasons. There is a hateful narrative embedded in these games. Does that mean I think you shouldn’t play D&D (or Torchbearer)? No! Do I think it’s bad if you enjoy them? No! I do, however, hope that you’ll think about the narratives that you’re creating with your games and characters and try to minimize or rehabilitate the harmful aspects.
In Mendez’s second article linked to above, he provides some excellent ideas for reclaiming and rehabilitating the stories of orcs, which I think provides a good starting point. How would you decolonize your Torchbearer games?