I’ve only played Dungeons and Dragons 4e (and that only for 4-5 sessions). Never played any other “official” version of D&D. Partly because I’m obsessed with weird, indie RPGs, but also because I can’t afford to drop $180 on three RPG books. (But I will spend $180 on like…seven indie darlings).
After my review on Vagabonds of Dyfed, I assumed Ben Dutter was done trying blend disparate things together.
I was wrong.
Five Torches Deep is his latest concoction: a blend of OSR sensibilities with streamlined D&D 5th Edition mechanics. Not only is Five Torches Deep compatible with both rulesets, but it brings some innovations in its own right.
The 5th edition of D&D has been touted as “back to basics”. While it’s been simplified to evoke those older gaming experiences, it still doesn’t really go all the way. Character creation takes hours, the rulebooks are huge, and while closer to old-school gaming than 3rd or 4th edition, I never felt the urge to buy it for myself.
HOWEVER I do see a lot of cool 5e content being created. The Uncaged Anthologies especially gets a shout-out for being a beautiful book with a brilliant premise. The upcoming Tomb of Black Sand also looks like a top-notch 5e adventure.
But I don’t own 5th edition! Sure, I could spend the time necessary to convert it to my rule system of choice, but that’s just more work. And there will probably still be elements that don’t convert directly to whatever weirdness I’m using at the time (probably Troika).
That’s where Five Torches Deep comes in. “5e skeleton, OSR meat” is how the game is advertised, and boy howdy is that true!
I used FTD to play the 5e version of Winter’s Daughter with great success. No fiddling necessary. Five Torches Deep is a great way for me to enjoy those 5e adventures with a more streamlined set of rules.
Saying that Five Torches Deep is “5e lite” kind of tells you everything you need to know about the rule system and your interest in it. So instead of covering all the fiddly bits, let me just mention the NEW stuff it brings to the table.
Fresh Layout. the book is landscape, which makes it really wide and (mostly) lie flat at the table. But the true benefit is the stellar layout. The entire book is laid out like a reference manual, and easy to navigate during play. Concepts don’t spill out over other pages, tables are clear and clean, rules are grouped close together, etc.
Not much page-hunting or flipping required. I’ve said it 1000 times, but strong layout and presentation is extremely important and makes this book a joy to use.
Simple, Strong Classes. Character creation has been vastly simplified, but still offers some strong themes and fun abilities.
- Warrior has three archetypes: Barbarian, Fighter, and Ranger; each with several powerful bonuses/feats to choose from.
- Thief: Assasin, Bard, Rogue
- Zealot: Cleric, Druid, Paladin
- Mage: Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
Every few levels you get to make a few choices and pick features from an archetype. I prefer to jump right into the game, so seeing this robust chargen delighted me.
Supply. A new resource in FTD, it is a unique way to handle inventory bloat. Supply represented a bunch of stuff in your bag, and you can exchange supply for various items (torches, healing potions, ammo, etc). You can’t make NEW items with Supply, but you can replenesh stuff you ran out of.
In practice it’s a little bit confusing for new players, but streamlines a ton of inventory management nonsense. It also has the added benefit of making INT useful to all classes. Speaking of which…
Improved Stats. Every single stat has been tweaked to make it useful and important. There are no dump stats in FTD, which was one of my favorite features in Knave. Glad to see it replicated here.
- STR: melee attacks and carry capacity
- DEX: ranged attacks, initiative, and AC
- CON: HP and how many hours you can stay awake/travel/fight
- INT: some spells, and how much Supply you can carry.
- WIS: some spells, and perception, morale
- CHA: hirelings, number of magic items, social interaction
I was kind of hoping FTD would revolutionize hirelings for me, but alas. I think I’m just bad at hirelings in EVERY system. Oh well.
Monster Generator. Lots of tables and advice for making new monsters, converting OSR/5e monsters, etc. All solid stuff. Love it!
Phone Layout. A nice little add-on, I hope to see more games thinking about adapting their games for smaller screens.
A Great Toolset
This one is definitely going in my GM toolbox. You can tel this thing has been playtested to hell and back; it’s that slick and smooth.
Five Torches Deep is my excuse to buy a bunch of cool 5e adventures and give them a shot. It’s also a good choice for when I want something a little crunchier than Knave for my OSR sessions.
Here’s a flip-through of the entire book in case you’re still not convinced: