Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Review: Torchlit Adventures

Gallant Knight Games has, in the last few years, published a good number of excellent games. One of these is Torchlit Adventures which is inspired by early editions of Dungeons and Dragons while still managing to tread new ground. 

I was provided with a PDF copy of the game for review purposes and this post uses affiliate links to allow me to buy more games and artwork.

The product is 72 pages with color covers and black and white interior images. The art is very professional and appealing and the illustrations are of a very high quality.

In the Foreword, Alan Bahr, the game's author explains why he created another OSR game. Basically, he took DnD, dashed it against a rock and stood on the shoulders of giants to create Torchlit Adventures.

The Introduction explains that TA will be the foundation upon which future OSR products will be released from Gallant Knight Games. I wonder if that will include the Kickstarter for Michael Spahn's second edition of The Hero's Journey which I believe starts around January 7th (Mr. Spahn confirmed it will not, though he loves TA).

Chapter 1 goes over TA's basics, and the primary rule is that Narrator has the right to modify the rules as they seem fit. It reinforces that "This is your game. Play it your way.", which is a core principal of the OSR. 
   Skill tests in TA, generally, require rolling X or higher on a D6. The Narrator sets what X is and certain class abilities or situational modifiers can lower the die to a D4 or increase it to a D8, D10, or D12. Most Skill tests default to 4 or better while a Skill test's appropriate Ability modifier is applied to the roll, as well. There is no set Skill list, the Narrator and player will determine if your background or class provide any benefits for a Skill test.
   Advantage and Disadvantage, from DnD 5E, are used for D20 rolls.
   Saving throws are a single type modified by level with certain exceptions called out as as Class abilities, they essentially work like Swords and Wizardry.
   A section calls out that a goal of TA is to be able to fit a Character on a 3" x 5"card.
   Torchlit Adventures' Abilities are different from most OSR games, they are: Might, Learning, Insight, Fortitude, Agility, and Charisma. Generating Ability scores is, to me at least, unique. Essentially, you roll 5D6 and assign each individual roll is assigned a number between 1 and 5. A player  then chooses what Ability gets a 12, what two Abilities get an 11, and the remaining Abilities are assinged all 10s. A player then adds the first D6 to the Ability that is a 12. Next you choose one of the Abilities you set at 11 and subtract the first D6 and add the second D6 to it and continue to subtract the previous D6 roll while adding the current D6 roll, it works like this:
Attribute 1 (12) + D#1 
Attribute 2 (11) – D#1 + D#2 
Attribute 3 (11) – D#2 + D#3 
Attribute 4 (10) – D#3 + D#4 
Attribute 5 (10) – D#4 + D#5 
Attribute 6 (10) – D#5
   Ability modifiers range from -1 to +4, with +0 in the 7-14 range. Charisma has additional uses with your score determining how many Hirelings you can have and what their Loyalty is.   
   Additionally, if your Class' Primary Ability score 15+ you gain a 5% bonus to Experience. Having an Insight and/or Charisma scores are 15+ you gain a 5% bonus to Experience for each. Essentially, you can have up to a 15% bonus to Experience with the appropriate Ability scores.
   Lifeblood are your hit points and is determined by taking a character's Ability score and adding their level.
   Player's are encouraged to determine what their Profession is and mechanically upgrades the dice being rolled. For instance if the Narrator chooses the default difficulty of 4 or better and a character must make an Insight roll, first they will apply an Insight Ability modifier and if a Profession or Class ability applies it will upgrade the D6 to a D8, meaning the character would need a 4 or better on a roll of the D8.
   Character retirement is also covered, currently the existing classes only go to 10th level and while the Narrator is encouraged to created rules for 11th level and beyond, having a character retire is an appropriate situation in TA.

Chapter 2 covers TA's Classes which are Fighter, Thief, and Sage. 
   Damage in TA is class dependent, a rule that I'm pretty darn fond of.
   Fighters are what you expect in an OSR game, but they gain extra attacks per round, up to 4. Additionally, at character creation, a Fighter needs to choose between Marksman, Sword and Board, or Landsnecht which grant a bonus and a penalty as, essentially, fighting styles. Additional class features include increased Loyalty for hirelings, weapon specialization, a bonus to Saves against Death and Poison, and establishing a stronghold.
   Thieves again are very straightforward, Thievery works just like any other Skill, the Narrator sets a difficulty of at least 2+ and a D6 is rolled while adding the appropriate Ability modifier. At later the die is upgraded for Thievery. 
   They may establish guilds, use disguises, know how to use poison and a bonus to Saves vs Traps and Poisons
   Sages are a bit of a hybrid of Magic-User and Cleric. They can't wear armor and are restricted by what weapons they may use. They don't start casting spells until 4th level and they max out at 3rd level spells. When casting a spell, a Sage makes a Learning Skill test with a difficulty of 4 + Spell level, if they fail the roll and suffer 1d6 per Spell level in damage, at later levels their Skill die increases. A Sage must choose between Healing Hands or Martial Historian (this lets them be proficient in any weapon and therefore gain access to any Properties it might have) at 3rd level. Additional class features include Scholar, Sense the Unseen, and a bonus to Saves vs Wands and Staves, Traveller's Trinkets (you can produce a small non-magical item with a Skill test).

Chapter 3 is Equipment with lists of gear, one thing that I find unique is that weapon charts don't assign damage, because your Class determines the damage you do. What weapons do have are Properties to set them apart from each other. Some of the Properties include Armor Piercing (Armor in TA reduces damage and doesn't make you any harder to hit), Brutal, and Defensive.
   In place of Armor Class, a character has Defense which has a base of 10 and is modified by a character's Agility and Insight.
   Weapons degrade in TA with a simple check by rolling a weapon's damage die with degradation occurring on a 1 or 2. Armor, likewise, degrades after a battle it was used in, until repaired it will reduce 1 less damage in the next fight and this is a cumulative affect. Fixing weapons and armor can be done in towns or during Camp Actions, which I will get to later.
   There is a chart for what types of Hirelings cost for an adventure.
   Magic Items in TA aren't just +1 swords, in fact, they aren't crafted. They grow as an adventurer does through their wielders exploits and triumphs. When wielding a weapon, if you roll a 20 and then invest 100 Experience (you can't lose a level to do this) then you get to assign a Property to the weapon and you can continue to do this while wielding it through your campaign with every 1000 Experience you place into the Magic Weapon. There is even a Magic Item History table to roll upon to shape your weapon's backstory. Magic Armor has a similar cost, but it requires you to survive a critical hit.

Chapter 4 are the rules of the game and covers the particulars of Skill tests, Attack rolls, and Saving Throws. 
   Group Initiative is rolled on a D6. Movement is in feet per turn depending on encumbrance. A character or NPC dies at 0 Life Blood. When a natural 20 is rolled your damage dice are maxed out and doubled and you can do an Exploit, something cool that you and the Narrator can agree upon. Meanwhile, a natural 1 is a fumble and you drop your weapon which has 1-2 chance of breaking on a D6 roll. 
   Special Actions include, Reckless Attacks, Cautious Attacks, Feints, and Disarms. Healing and binding wounds (something I hadn't thought of since ADnD 2E), Invisible Opponents, Morale, Loyalty, Negotiation, and the Environment and it's hazards are all covered. 
   One mechanic I want to spotlight is Grim Effort, which allows you to spend Life Blood to gain a 1 for 1 bonus on any D20 roll.

Chapter 5 Spells and Magic are the sole purview of Sages. They are required to find new spells for their Spellbook so that, starting at 4th level, they may then prepare a number of spells based on level that they want for the day. To cast a spell requires a Skill test with failure meaning damage of 1d6 x the spell's level. 
   There are twelve 1st level spells presented, five 2nd level spells presented and five 3rd level spells presented. You can easily convert spells over from other OSR games if you want expand the options for a Sage. The spells presented aren't the offensive juggernauts in most OSR games, there are no magic missiles or fireball. In fact, cause light wounds is the only damage dealing spell I see, but sleep is presented.  
   At first, I was a bit put off by the lack of damage dealing spells, but the spells chosen reinforce that Sages are more than a fireball and allows a Sage to focus on wondrous effects more modern DnD players don't always choose. Sadly, in my experience with DnD 5E, damage per round is king and I'm glad this paints a better picture, to me the Sage is more Gandalf than Elminster, both are powerful but their tools are different.

Chapter 6 Camping is one of the more intriguing rules presented in TA. When resting characters must consider the usual Camp Defenses, as well as, partake in up to two Camp Tasks such as Aid, Cook, Guard, Hunt, Repair, Rest, Scout, Tell as Story or Sing a Song, and Train. These actions help heal Life Blood, fix equipment,  protect the Camp from danger, and gain a bonus to a particular Skill test during the next day. 
   Essentially, the Narrator makes a Save vs the number of characters in the group, but the various Tasks the characters take modify that number. The Narrator is even provided with a Potential Danger chart to roll upon.
   I'm sure all groups deal with camping and dangers, but I really dig how TA presents it and provides the Narrator with clear tools to use against the characters, while simultaneously, laying out how the players might protect themselves against the Narrator's toolkit.

Chapter 7 Journeys gives the Narrator clearly laid out information to understand a hex and how quickly or slowly characters can traverse it. A hex is 8 miles and at a normal pace, a person can travel three hexes per day without undo fatigue. Each hex has a dominant terrain, but is not limited to only that terrain. Rules for Provisions and Terrain are provided for use to cover possible starvation and how each hex will adjust speed by its predominant terrain.
   Character Roles are provided to manage the journey and they are Guide, Lookout, Quartermaster, and Guard. During the journey each Role can attempt to gain benefits from the hex they are passing through.
   I've long wanted to run a hex crawl and in 4 pages, I've got the tools do so.

Chapter 8 involves Lighting and what will cause a light source to dwindle and how different types of Lighting or darkness affect the players and their enemies. Something to keep in mind, only humans  are presented and the assumption is that there is no "darkvision" or "infravision" for players.

Chapter 9 covers Legacy, which gives rules for giving a Hireling Experience to replace a fallen player character. Essentially, Hireling benefit from a very streamlined Experience total that can buy levels to replace one of their employers. 

Chapter 10 features Mass Battles and introduces Army Might, which defaults to 10, and is then modified by various modifiers such as, No Option To Retreat, Fighting on Home Turf, and a Unique Relic. 
   Once Army Might has been calculated for each side, we are introduced to Player Actions which can modify the heart of a Mass Battle, the Command Check. 
   Players Actions can generate a bonus from 1 to 3 which, if successful, provides a cumulative bonus to the Command Check. The higher Command Check wins that round and the difference between them is subtracted from the loser's Army Might. When Army Might reaches 0 a D6 roll of 3+ allows that Army to retreat.
   If a Command Check is a 6, then an Army can recover Army Might due to rallying their troops. 
   It's a very straightforward and quick way to add a bit of epic scope to the player's careers.

Chapter 11 covers Threats to your players which each having Lifeblood, Defense, Environment, Attacks, Qualities, and XP value.
   Qualities are special rules that feature things like flying, cowardice, and regeneration. 12 Threats are featured and include dragons, orcs, and skeletons and it will only take a few minutes to convert a favorite enemy from any other OSR game with the provided rules.
   Hirelings are also provided to quickly and easily flesh them out.

In my opinion, Torchlit Adventures provides a familiar, yet innovative approach to the OSR, it treads familiar territory while walking a different path. At it's core, it's a derivation of Swords and Wizardry, but the author has gone to considerable lengths to produce something unique. I love the Camping, Journey, and Mass Battle rules and any OSR game could benefit from them. Additionally, I am excited to see how Alan Bahr and Gallant Knight Games supports it.

Finally, TA includes a 20 page setting called Carinhollow to help you learn and apply the Journey and Camping rules.

Torchlit Adventures is for you if you enjoy OSR games and want a more grounded approach to magic. I feel that it would work best in the Hyborian Age or Lankhmar and isn't as suited, out of the box, for the Forgotten Realms, which was fully the author's intention.

I heartily recommend Torchlit Adventures and look forward to running it soon.

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