Torchbearer: In which I give thanks to Pete and Aaron

Tonight we played Torchbearer and Viktor, the human warrior and Seamus O’Burren, human thief died under the House of Three Squires. I can’t say how, because I will be running the same module on Thursday but I will say that I learned a whole lot.

And I will say, “Thank you, Aaron and Pete.”

These were my Burning Wheel buddies in Ithaca, the guys who learned that system with me and of the three of us, I think Aaron really mastered it. They were with me while we played games that were playing directly to my strengths, so it was nice to see their punams over Google+ Hang-outs and game again, this time in a game that was very much not to my strengths.

Truth is, I have never liked running dungeon crawls. I always loved sprawling fantasy cities with different factions feuding, city districts ruled by my favorite entries from the monster manual, trying to gain power and getting the players neck deep in a glorious political mess. Designing dungeons never made sense to me and modules never felt right.

Cities, castles, covenants of magi all made sense to me as a GM but dungeons were a mystery and still are. So, I’m turning a strength into a weakness due to the sufferance of my glorious friends. Thank you again, Pete and Aaron.

Tonight, I killed their characters, which is fine but I made some mistakes. I am running the module again on Thursday with some guys face-to-face, here’s what I need to do better.

I need to manager the transitions better, think about what sounds are floating through which doorways and what people are hearing as they go room to room. Thinking of each room as this fixed piece sucks and it was that kind of weak-ass GMing that got Viktor and Seamus killed tonight more than anything else. I need to ask my players what they are doing more, and how they are doing it. I need to ask where they are in the room and how they are standing, who is near the light and who is far away. In order to get that I need to describe and invoke a room worth standing in.

I need to highlight bits of each room that I don’t want to forget. I forgot one of the traps. That is easy enough.

There was a big moment, a few big moments, but one moment where I shifted into dick-dungeon-GM mode. They had captured two REDACTED in the dungeon but they didn’t speak REDACTED, so the REDACTED just barked at them in their language, not knowing what they were saying. There was no way to learn more other than going deeper into the dark with time running out.

I’m learning how to be a cruel GM with a little help from my friends.

Thanks, guys.

The bad news is that Viktor and Seamus are dead and I felt like we all deserved better GMing. The good news is that I get to refine this skill further on Thursday and try again.

EDIT, more thoughts:

GM’s, highlight room details and think about your transitions from room to room.

Players, STOP AND LISTEN, do not just stroll into the next fucking room! Stop and listen…

GM’s, when I let them know the room’s exits and they say where they are going, I need to ask more questions about how they are going, in what order and just more about how they are moving and what specifically they are doing. More personal descriptions about the environment and how it is effecting the character.

The dungeon isn’t personal, isn’t tailor made for the character, so I need to work harder to put them there.

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3 thoughts on “Torchbearer: In which I give thanks to Pete and Aaron

  1. I’m not a big fan of DMing dungeon crawls either. Our last crawl had all of three (maybe four) rooms. But yes, sounds are a big deal. I love the sounds of combat ahead, especially if they’re invested in who might be fighting, and aren’t sure who’s going to win.

  2. Back in the day I had a technique that I used when I created dungeons. It made for really long room descriptions but I essentially described each room 5 times.

    The first was “Approach” where I would detail all the stuff I needed to convey or information that was available to be learned before the got to the room. Sounds, smells, light sources spilling through doorways. By having a labeled bullet list keyed to each room entrance I could scan at a glance for the kind of info your talking about. I also experimented with putting footnotes directly on the map but that was only functional for small maps.

    Then the “quick glance” section was what they’d learn immediately from first impressions…”large vs cramped” “soaring vs low ceilings” and vague indications of inhabitants furniture and features. Pretty much just the stuff that could be absorbed before a trap hit or initiative was called for.

    The “good look” had all the details that quick glance summarized and was available either all at once if there wasn’t any high stress thing going on or piece by piece as players asked or things became relevant. I’d often just draw blind on the map for stuff and then fill them in or place minis as they were revealed.

    Then “quick search” and “thorough search” listed off all the stuff that could be learned respectively.

    It was probably more stuff than actually needed, but it helped keep all that stuff straight.

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