Here is a great description (not mine) from RPG.net of this game that I’d like to try someday:
Torchbearer is a fantasy RPG that’s expressly designed to recreate the feeling that dungeoneering is difficult and dangerous. Not just because there are monsters, but because it’s an environment inherently hostile to human life – it’s pitch black, slippery, and there’s nobody to help you.
The central insight of the game is its really nice, chunky handling of light, time and food. Rather than worry about minutes or hours, each ‘turn’ is any notable action by the players. Rather than worry about the radius of a torch, a torch is good light two people (and dim light for everyone else). Rather than worry about coin weight of items, there’s a slot-based system: you can carry one thing in each hand, three in your satchel, and so on.
The net effect of this is to produce game play that puts dungeoneering logistics up front and center. If you’re climbing down a rope, the party will legitimately start to worry about who is going to hold the torches.
The penalties for suffering darkness, hunger, exhaustion, injury, encumbrance etc. are really serious, so this sort of chatter happens all the time in the game. Who has a free hand? Does someone have room for these rations we found? If we’re attacked and Liam has to defend, we’ll lose the lantern.
When you start to accumulate problems, the clock starts ticking really fast. It’s not a game of half-naked barbarian warriors kicking ass, it’s more like a foray into a hostile space; the matter of ‘clearing the dungeon’ rarely comes up, the real question is how much punishment and risk the party can take on before turning around. If it turns around too late, it’s going to be painful.
Unlike D&D heroes who can wander around just fine at death’s door, a beaten-up Torchbearer party is dirty, limping, angry, barely able to lift their weapons, and jumping at shadows.
It’s not a general-purpose fantasy RPG: the premise of the game is that the adventurers are adventurers precisely because they have no social standing in town – no property, no hopes of a proper career – and so drumming up leads and risking death to scrounge a bit of gold out of the ground is their best hope, for now.
The game is built around a turn sequence that drives players back and forth from town to dungeon, in an extremely focused way. It’s not a game where you waste 45 minutes while the dwarf gets drunk and hides the elf’s shoes in a tree, there’s no time for meandering.
The game is very easy to prepare for – you don’t need big stat blocks of unique monsters to make things interesting, and beginning parties won’t have anything like the durability necessary to survive a large dungeon. You can get by with a sketch and a few notes about the challenges, since most challenge ratings (e.g. for climbing, etc.) come straight out of the rulebook.
Artist: Rebekie Bennington