Light, mildly 5e compatible, and old school - Five Torches Deep may be a great gateway game into the wolrd of the Old School Renaissance.
Purchase: Drivethru PDF $10 - Softcover $22
Roll20: Simple Character Sheet
FoundryVTT: No Support
My Familiarity: Read but not played
What this game is ‘about’
Reviewer’s note: Games need to know what they are about. The market is crowded and few games have the luxury of being middle of the road. What is the appeal of a game to the players, including the game master?
Thankfully, Five Torches Deep (FTD) knows what it is, calling out its purpose in the world of tabletop games explicitly to the reader in the first page.
First page, first paragraph of Five Torches Deep
FTD is about dungeon crawling and making both the nostalgia and vintage playstyle of OSR accessible to players of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. FTD seeks to be succinct but complete; presenting an elegant package and prioritizing streamlined presentation and play letting players bring their own ambiance and attitude to the experience.
Weighing in at less than 50 pages and having a PDF price of only $10, FTD positions itself as a gateway game for player tables looking to overcome the typical resistance to trying a new game like cost and unfamiliarity.
Categorizing this game
This game combines elements of old and new school. OSR Style of play maxims like “Danger is Real,” “Cunning over Crunch,” and resource management are called out on page 1, but in many cases they are supported by elegant and modern game design rather than randomized or simulationist mechanics that could become clumsy at the table. FTD sticks to 5e innovations like ability saving throws and advantage disadvantage. Bite-sized but functional rules exist for things like overland travel, durability, repair, and Rolling to Return. However, the true stand-out and perhaps most stealable game design element is the game’s encumbrance rules.
The game had some nice artwork, including two-page spreads. Sadly my print-on-demand copy had faded colors
Load and Supply
Players can carry their STR score of load. One unit of load is around 5 lbs or an item the size of a human head. Heavy armor is 5 load. Light armor is 2 load. Weapons are 1 load per hand required to wield. Just about everything else is managed as a 1 load stack. Speed penalties and disadvantages to all rolls are incurred for carrying over your STR in load.
Players can carry an abstract resource called supply (SUP) of quantity up to their INT score, representing how well they planned and brought spares. When an item is consumed a player can spend that item’s SUP value to restock it. 5 supply weights 1 load (rounded to the nearest 5 per load)
This elegant system allows a mechanic for smarter characters to anticipate the needs of an adventure while stronger characters can just carry actual items. It also allows players to get to the dungeon faster and spend less time preparing in town without robbing the players of the survival aspect of dungeoneering. I think I like it more than the slot-based systems that are becoming more common in lightweight TTRPGs.
While a handful of companion supplements were released following the 2019 Kickstarter, Five Torches Deep isn’t the game to play for abundant product support. Roll20 has a basic character sheet but there is no Foundry VTT support. The most recent official companion book, Highfane Peaks, was released in 2021.
Roll20 has a simple character sheet for the game with weapon rolls
Read, Play, or Skip?
If you are a 5e game master and looking to find a game similar enough to 5e to not be vetoed but also have enough OSR upfront to experience a different kind of play, this game may be for you.
If you are curious about excellent game design which supports a style of play, this is a good read. Those looking to weld together their own 5e-light hack could easily start with FTD as a foundation and framework.
For myself, I think FTD was too generic in setting to make it into my play queue. I’m glad I read it, but I am more likely to dive into a different OSR variant with my friends. However, that ecumberance system is getting lifted and taken with me. Yoink.