One of the biggest challenges Torchbearer GMs face is creating dungeons or choosing published dungeons (especially if they weren’t specifically written with Torchbearer in mind).
I highly recommend crafting your own dungeons if you have the time. It’s fun! The Adventure Design chapter can help make it a snap, too! But you don’t need to shy away from published adventures, even from other games. They’ll make your life easier.
Whether you choose to make your own or use a prepackaged adventure, you’ll get the best results if you play to Torchbearer’s strengths.
Small Adventures Are Better
Under the House of the Three Squires1The adventure included in the Torchbearer core book is sprawling as Torchbearer adventures go. It will take a group 4-6 sessions or more to complete. The Dread Crypt of Skogenby, on the other hand, can play in a single session if your group is really focused, but will probably take them 2-4 sessions.
In my experience, groups typically get through three to four areas per session of play. Especially for the early sessions of a campaign, you want short, snappy adventures that allow the players to face some trouble, (hopefully) find some treasure, and return to town to spend their ill-gotten gains. Save the slogs for later adventures when the players are dug in and committed.
Something on par with Skogenby, or even smaller, is recommended. If you’re writing your own adventure, three or four areas is sufficient for a session’s worth of adventure.
Incorporate the Environment
A fair number of fantasy adventures just come down to fighting monsters. Desperate fights with monsters are fun, but Torchbearer really shines when there are environmental challenges to face as well. Getting from one floor to another when the stairs have collapsed, or swimming through a water-filled passage while figuring out how to manage your light and keep your spellbook dry, is incredibly fun in Torchbearer. Look for adventures that allow you to incorporate such challenges, or make sure to build them in if you’re writing your own.
In Skogenby, the tight squeeze (area 2), secret door (area 6) and rockfall (area 9) are all examples of environmental challenges. I like the tight squeeze in particular because it’s not a challenge when entering the dungeon—at that point you have all the time in the world. It’s only when you need to exit the dungeon in a hurry that the tight squeeze becomes a serious problem for the PCs. I like it because the problem presents itself innocuously to the PCs, but perceptive and savvy players can recognize the danger and take steps to mitigate it.
Use Monsters with Care
The Torchbearer versions of some monsters commonly found in other fantasy roleplaying games can be considerably more dangerous than they are in their native systems. When you’re running an adventure written for another game, consider the numbers. Even relatively weak monsters can devastate a group of Torchbearer characters if they outnumber them significantly.
Add a monster’s Nature to any helping dice at its disposal to get a feel for how many dice you’ll throw against the players in a conflict. And keep in mind that Might can also tip the scales. Monsters with Might 5+ are especially dangerous because PCs can’t kill them without access to level benefits or magic that boosts their own Might.
Consider that Skogenby has lots of monsters, but it doesn’t have them in every room. That leaves space for careful PCs to choose the best plan and approach before taking the monsters on. Even more important, the big bad is walled off from the PCs to start (though it has ways to make itself known), which allows them time to explore and build up resources before tackling the most difficult part of the dungeon.
Keep an Eye on the Future
Consider whether the adventure presents an immediate, delayed or dormant threat to surrounding communities. Think about how the situation might evolve if the players ignore the adventure or attempt it but can’t resolve things.
As I mentioned in previous post, Skogenby presents an immediate threat. If the players don’t successfully deal with Haathor-Vash right away, the threat will grow. The undead will overrun the village, causing the survivors to flee to surrounding villages for refuge. Soon the dead will present a threat to those villages as well.
Use Enemies, Friends, Mentors and Parents
In character creation, your players took the time to detail their relationships. You might not use them in your first adventure, but think about how they might be involved with or affected by the dungeons and hazardous locations you place. Not every adventure should involve a relationship but incorporating them judiciously will make your games pop.
Turning again to Skogenby, the village presents an opportunity to incorporate such relationships. Perhaps the PCs have family connections in Skogenby, or a mentor has disappeared into the dungeon itself. Maybe an enemy has gone in seeking treasure, or made common cause with Haathor-Vash!
Consider with the Eye of a Torchbearer Adventurer
One of my favorite non-Torchbearer adventures to run in Torchbearer is an old White Dwarf magazine D&D adventure called The Beacon at Enon Tor2This link leads to a version of the adventure converted for Castles & Crusades. Consistently, one of my favorite moments when running this adventure is when the players stumble upon the tower’s storeroom, which is filled with barrels of oil, dozens of torches, bins of nails, axes, saws, timber, sacks, sailcloth and more. The adventure notes that none of it is especially valuable, but to Torchbearer adventurers, this room is a treasure trove!
Every time players find this room, I know that they’re going to find something creative and surprising to do with all that stuff. Don’t be afraid to give the PCs lots of gear and supplies. They’ll have to figure out how to carry it, and in the meantime their creativity will kick into high gear.
In Skogenby, the chamber of ablutions (area 4), chamber of vigils (area 5) and the altar of ascension (area 6) all contain materials that can be used by creative players. What would you do with the spears from the sarcophagus trap, or the sand in the urns? What about the sleeping dust from the trap in the secret door?
Place Treasure and Other Loot
Treasure is an essential element of Torchbearer adventures. Torchbearer characters need the opportunity to gain treasure so they can go to town, heal up and resupply before heading out to adventure some more. If they aren’t getting treasure, Torchbearer goes from being a difficult game to a punishing one.
Just as you shouldn’t worry about giving players access to too much gear, don’t be too worried about giving the players access to too much treasure. The characters will have to figure out how to carry it and town will drain treasure fast! You don’t need to make it easy to get the treasure, but you don’t need to be shy with it either.
Published adventures are usually pretty good about placing treasure, but it’s tempting to just rely on Torchbearer’s treasure tables when you’re writing your own. Fight that urge! Don’t get me wrong: The treasure tables are fun and you should use them. But you should make sure to specifically place some treasure—gold, gems, magic items, etc.—and then use the tables to round the planned treasure out.
Skogenby uses treasure to tell its story. The silver arm rings kicked everything off. The silver ewer in the chamber of ablutions is part of Haathor-Vash’s mystery, as are the runes in the altar ascension. And, of course, there’s some loot in Haathor-Vash’s vault. In all, there’s 28D to be found in the Dread Crypt.