Bear Torches, Young Man (Torchbearer West Marches)
The world is a dark place. Summers are short, winters are long and harsh. The wilds are beset with monsters, dark magics and worse. The greatest achievements of the civilised world are long behind us, the legendary deeds of great heroes are dust and the awe-inspiring monuments are all ruins. We huddle behind the palisades of our towns around our fires and tell tall tales of the past and horror stories of the present. We rarely travel far and we never travel alone. Our horizons have shrunk, that we might live to see another sunrise.
Forget all that, though, because the civilised world has given you exactly fuck all. The guilds have all the jobs, the nobility set down all the taxes, the food goes to feed the armies and there’s nothing left for the rest of us. Bugger that. Sitting behind the walls and begging on the streets is for cowards. Why do that when there’s so much waiting out in the wilds for someone with the courage and skill to take it? Certain death? Mortal peril? Oh, right, that.
Eh, go west or die trying. We bear torches here, son.
This is a West Marches style game using the Torchbearer rules. You play brave (and foolhardy) adventurers who have grown tired of trying to eke a living inside of civilisation and have chosen instead to brave the wilds of the west in search of fame, fortune and glory. This is probably a bad idea, but there is most certainly a fortune to be made out there for those who are cunning and skilled enough to survive the experience.
So here’s the pitch: this is a sandbox game where you, the players, have a lot of control. The West Marches style is a bit unusual and you can read more about it in the link in the previous paragraph. The rules are as follows:
1) There is no “plot.” The game is about exploring the wilderness, delving into dungeons, getting treasure and living to tell the tale. There is certainly history to piece together out there and stories to discover out there in the wilds but there is not a grand conspiracy tying the whole thing together. You will not be saving the world, or the kingdom. Destiny and the gods have nothing to do with the west. This story is about you.
2) There is no regular group. Games can take place if myself and at least two other players are available. There is no expectation that every player in the pool will attend every, or even most of, the sessions played. This will contribute to the organic world, where you go out on expeditions and return to town to brag about your spoils and your experiences. You should want to play the game, because if a group goes on an expedition without you – you get nothing!
3) There is no regular schedule of sessions. We’re all busy adults who are probably in a lot of games already. Normally in RPGS, the GM schedules the sessions and you meet every week. Not here. You as the players have the power and the responsibility to make sessions happen. Do you want to go raid the Crypt of Skogenby to crack its treasure vault? Great! Get at least one other person and find a day you can both do and if I’m available you can roll out.
4) Adventure is only west. The town of Backwash is the central hub of the game, but nothing interesting happens there. Back east is the Kingdom of Thudo and civilisation and nothing interesting happens there either. In this game, you go out into the wilderness or nobody cares. The only exception is if your character needs to take time off and return home to recuperate – they may travel back east to their hometown and you will need a new character until they recover.
5) You are the adventure. There are no NPC adventuring parties exploring the wilderness alongside you. The King and his armies don’t want to cross the river. Any tomb out west has probably been there for a hundred years or more. The world out west is sort of reactive, but the main force driving this world is your expeditions. The only way you’re going to miss out on loot is if the players go out to get it and you aren’t there. The only thing I care about is what you are doing.
6) I am not the enemy. A West Marches style game is inherently harsh. Torchbearer itself is even harsher. Your odds of survival are not great. Nevertheless, my role as a GM of a West Marches game is one only of an arbitrator. I build the dungeons and the wilderness, but I make all rolls out in the open and I am not setting up grand conspiracies or pitting NPCs against you. It’s just you, the dice and the wilderness. The west may be harsh, but it is fair.
On the western border of the Kingdom of Thudo lies the great river Westing. The only crossing point is the ancient dwarven bridge at the town of Backwash. Everything beyond it is terra incognita, a vast and untamed wilderness claimed by no nation. The men of Thudo are content to leave the West well alone. Any fool who wants to go out there is on his own and anything he brings back with him is his problem. Backwash, as the name implies, is a backwater hillbilly town slowly rotting on the kingdom’s borders. Fortunately though, it has all the amenities a budding adventurer might want – taverns, flophouses, markets, temples and guild services. It’s easy for someone with funds to procure the supplies needed for expeditions into the wilderness and even easier for someone with ancient gold to find someone willing to take it off their hands. Adventuring is legal, just about, so don’t worry about that.
Maybe once there were maps of the wilderness but no longer. The best you can do is what you hear from the few saps who try to eke a living on the closest reaches – loggers, hunters and homesteaders who live just beyond the kingdom’s borders. Everything beyond that is an unknown. Climate, terrain, denizens or even how far the wilderness goes. Everyone who knew the area is long dead. You’ll have to find that out for yourselves. I’d suggest making maps.
Regions you know about so far: