Torchbearer Reborn

I'm not going to try and describe Torchbearer anymore. Not with any kind of a capsule summary, anyway. It's too complicated in my brain for me to put that in words just yet. Instead, I am going to try and write its text.

Setting up Torchbearer

Initial Estimations

Before you do anything mechanical, talk to the people you're going to be gaming with and get an idea of what they are interested in doing. Are they interested in a languid yarn in the style of the Arabian Nights, or maybe a rollicking, proselytising pirate crusade? Is there a particular style of speech you want to use for the game, or any particular etiquette involved? Where will the game take place? If you're playing over the long term, when are you going to do that? Where? How are you planning to handle it when players are absent? How will you handle guests? These are all things to consider, and, more importantly, discuss.

Character & Conflict

Every character in Torchbearer is defined by his essential Conflict. This is the thing that drives that character to be the centre of a story. These Conflicts may be overt or subtle; Disney's Ariel has a Conflict about wanting to join the surface world, while the Beast has a rather more abstract Conflict between love and his jaded, callous demeanour.

When you create a Torchbearer character, you will not assign him a Conflict. Simply give him five Traits. A Trait is something distinctive about that character, something that a story would take note of, like Ariel's beautiful voice or Hercules' strength or the glittering coppery blood that Chvie-Jen Four Winds Sing gained when she slew the night phoenix and drank the burning ichor in his heart. At this point, you would be well-advised to keep your earlier discussions in mind. It may not be appropriate for you to make a melancholy robotic butler for a Greek war epic. You should probably be talking about your character ideas, trading back and forth ideas for Traits, and doing all that kind of stuff while you're doing this. You want to give each Trait a name, and write two notes about it: how it might help you, and how it might hurt you. You don't even need to define all of your Traits, but don't short yourself! For each Trait you leave undefined, mark down a blank spot on your character record that you can put a Trait in later.

Once you have described the character and defined his Traits, each other player will offer you a Conflict you may involve him in. Eventually, you must accept exactly one of these. Before doing this, though, discuss the offers with the players that offer them; maybe you want to combine two ideas you like into a single Conflict instead of discarding some player's input at the cost of your and his enjoyment. Once you've arrived at a Conflict you find interesting, write it down, and record which players' ideas went into it. A Conflict has a number that indicates its persistence in the story, called its Importance. Your initial Conflict has an Importance of 7.

Characters work through their Conflicts through a series of struggles known as Episodes. Each Episode of a foundational Conflict is a miniature Conflict in its own right; those Conflicts may contain Conflicts of their own, if you are so inclined.


The next thing you will need to think about are Torches. Torches are lights that illuminate the world. The Torches in your game are the things that tie the stories of your heroes together; the reason that they are created after the characters are is so that your Torches can reflect and complement them, rather than overshadowing them and determining their properties. You need about one Torch per player, plus two or more "for the pot."

A Torch is, most importantly, a statement about the world, like The Gods Are Cruel or Beauty Is Transient; this statement is reflected in the stories told about the world. It is rare for a Torch to be unambiguously positive; those sorts of things don't really tell us much about the world, because they're not noticeable enough to be interesting and parts of stories, so be wary of Torches like Evil Is Dumb unless you're deliberately trying to reinforce that ideal ham-handedly. A Torch also shouldn't make statements about the way conflicts resolve, so Good Always Wins In The End isn't a very good Torch.

After determining what your Torches are, you should think of a few things in the world that are connected to each one. The Gods Are Cruel might, for instance, be connected to thunder, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, as well as bulls and vultures. Beauty is Transient might be linked to butterflies, flags, mirrors, and song. These things can either be things that embody the principle, or they can be implicitly redefined, as the bull is, by their association with it.

The last thing you need is, for each Torch, something that you can pass around between players that represents that Torch. You can have something as simple as an index card for each Torch, indicating its name and its associations, or you might want to do something a little more elaborate and tie an action figure to a rock for The Gods Are Cruel, recalling Prometheus, and taking a wilting flower to represent Beauty is Transient.

Once you've done all this, distribute Torches between players, as evenly as possible. You should have a few odd Torches; just hand those to people at random, or use a method you prefer.

Conflict Templates

You don't need these for characters' basic, foundational Conflicts, but you want to collect a set for elaborating their Episodes. This serves two purposes: it gives you some set of ideas to riff off of when expanding Conflicts, and it allows you to subtly flavour your stories, in a way similar to the operation of Torches; both elements create repeating motifs.

More on these later.