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Torchbearer

Torchbearer is the new game in the Burning Wheel set of systems. It is currently being Kickstarted and when you pledge you get access to a kind of Quickstart/rules preview that has the character creation rules.

So what better way to give the rules a go than creating a new character?

My favourite characters are rogues and thieves so I was a bit disappointed to see that your race affects your class selection (so RedBox!) and therefore in the base game only halflings can be burglars, so thankfully backers have also received the Human Thief class.

Stock and class

Your Stock (race) and Class gives you some base skills, a Trait, determines what weapons you can use and your base attributes.

The Thief gets to allocate points between Will and Health, which seems to correspond to doing things by force of personality or by physical force. With that in mind I choose to split my points 5 into Will and 3 into Health.

Your class also gives you a healthy dollop of skills that seem a little more focussed than Burning Wheel but broader than Mouse Guard.

Initially I jotted my character choices down on a bit of paper but it became pretty apparent that the right place to create the character was on the character sheet. Torchbearer feels a bit like Freemarket in that all the systems are very intricately linked and the sheet has a role to play in the game.

The sheet is very reminiscent of the shorter Burning Wheel character sheet but it has the character's carrying capacity and spellbook physically drawn onto the sheet which is an interesting approach. The game seems to be placed in an interesting ground between the abstract and the detailed, rather like Burning Wheel with some of the subsystems being mandatory.

Background

You can choose your Home, a thief needs a constant of stream of people who don't know one another that well so I went for the Busy Crossroads. I took the Haggler skill and Quick Witted trait.

You then decide how your character gets other people to go along with what they want, this opens the way to a bit more character. You could convince through threats or lies but I decide that my character is about getting people to see both sides of the situation so I go for Persuader.

Then you get to decide what your Speciality is with each character in a group having a distinct Speciality. That's quite a cool mechanic but in terms of creating a character solo and without an idea of what the skills really do in the game I select Dungeoneer. My thief is all about the crypts.

The you get to pick a Wise, which is pretty much just like Burning Wheel, something that your character knows about. There seems to be a trick missed here as if the GM has a map you can pick a Wise based on what is on the map. Surely the converse should be true, if your character knows about something it should go on the map!

I choose the generic (and possible too broad) Ancient Ruin-wise.

Nature

Nature is interesting, in Mouse Guard it abstracts away all the mouse qualities your character has so that you only need to describe the ways that your character is not like a mouse.

It's not clear from the preview how Nature works each stock has three descriptors and you get to roll Nature for things relating to those descriptors but it is not all clear why you might want to do that.

For Humans their three descriptors are:

  • Boasting
  • Demanding
  • Running

For each descriptor you answer a question about your character which is whether you conform to your nature or act against it.

My thief is not prone to boasting so I get the option to replace my Quickwitted trait with Thoughtful or Loner. I like both of the options but I want a character who survives on their wits so we end up in that game design flaw of making a choice and nothing happens.

I double-checked on this and genuinely this is how its meant to played which seems silly.

The other questions are relatively straight-forward as my character will demand his place amongst others, even the elder races and when faced with danger is more than happy to run to safety so I end up with a Nature of 5.

Circles & Relationships

While generating circles you have a series of questions to answer. The first is whether you have a friend or you are tough and cool. Well I see my thief as rather like Garrett, something of a loner.

The reward for choosing this is the option of replacing Quickwitted with Loner (at least if I had picked it earlier I would be pushing up to Loner 2 now).

Either traits better be amazing in play or this seems to be pushing you towards taking the high defaults.

Next is whether you have parents or you are an orphan. Well the background is very grim with the monsters and the darkness hounding people out of the wilderness so I like the idea that my character is from a fallen stronghold and lost his parents in the retreat. He's had to grow up quick and look after himself when now else would. Being an orphan gives you a keepsake that has a treasure value but also occupies space. I choose a necklace of polished stones and make my first entry in the inventory, hurrah!

Then you say whether your character has a mentor or not. I think yes, at some point he went from being a thief scraping by to someone who was initiated into the life by someone who showed him how to use the same skills to more profitable ends. The mentor is based on your character's speciality so enter Dugard the dungeoneer. Circles also rises by one.

Finally you get to decide if you have an enemy. Of course I want an enemy! Agwen the Elf Ranger is my enemy and my Circles rises by one again for a total of three.

Finishing up

All Torchbearer characters start with Resources 0 which is where a lot of Burning Wheel characters ended up as well.

The Thief starts with a dagger so that goes into one of his carried slots in the Hands part of the inventory.

I'm starting to see how important the inventory is going to be as you need to balance carrying equipment in with carrying treasure out.

I'm going to name the character Eluis. Eluis wears dark woolen clothing that has been badly darned several times.

Instinct and Belief are just as per Burning Wheel. Eluis's Instinct is Never let them find you unarmed and his Belief is The true treasures are buried deepest.

Beliefs seem to work slightly differently in Torchbearer, there's still a reward for following your belief but they don't seem to be a focus for challenging the character in the way that the Belief-Artha wheel worked.

So as a Level 1 Thief Elius gets the title Thief and the ability to use swords, handaxes, daggers, bows and crossbows.

So now its time to pick a bit of gear and find some suitable compatriots at the inn and head off for dungeon delving.

Conclusion

In many ways this is the stripped down fantasy game that always lurked at the heart of Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard so it is exciting to see it realised.

However just like Burning Wheel it is plagued by foggy wording and so character creation dead-ends. It also fails to include some of the collaborative world-building and party bonding of recent games like On Mighty Thews and DungeonWorld.

I'm excited to play but there's a nagging feeling that Torchbearer Gold is inevitable.

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