Update and Play Journal

Torch Heart was meant as a reskin of my game Heartbearers, but it grew into very much its own beast. The switch from multiplayer to solo forced a lot of those changes, and the updates to balance the mechanics don't refer back to Heartbearers—instead, I changed them in the direction that best suited Torch Heart. So now Torch Heart is its own deal, though it remains mechanically familiar to Heartbearers.

After submitting it to a jam, I played through it to test for hiccups. Overall, it was way too easy. I wasn't getting any Heartache, which is key in the Destination phase, and favors were way too powerful. This updated version expands on setting Goals and Challenges and streamlines Head point actions with just two instead of four. I cut the two actions that moved/managed cards in the deck; they felt unnecessary. Calling on a Favor was nerfed to start with only granting 1 Heart point regardless of card used; Advancements scale favors up to +2, +[1/2 value of card], to +[value of card].

Speaking of Advancements, they've been overhauled and split up into categories: now the four suit-based Favor Advancements are each three stages, Challenge enhancements are only lightly tweaked if at all, and a new Story Advancement was added for some neat card divination (helps with guiding plot) and sweet gear. A few more examples of play were added, and that's where we're at. This update goes from about 2300 words to 3200 words.

Play Journal

This is the in character journal of my playtest. I might include meta notes in the future, like what cards were drawn and what literal actions were taken, though much of verbiage from the rules are used in the text.

I am a Torch Heart. A literal fire burns in my chest. I hear a distant song in the air, not quite intelligible. It calls to me with a familiar melody—longing, pleading. I leave my home here in the woods to find its source.


At the edge of the forest is a quiet village. The people there hold their folklore close and speak often of their ancient prophecies. This is the first place I arrive. I hear the song still far off, but lose its direction in the murmur of the villagers’ whispers. I will stay here for now.

  • I hope to gain supplies for my journey ahead. I expect it to be a long one.
  • I hope to give these villagers reason to trust me. I will prove my worth with my hands and heart.
  • I hope to end their fear that my arrival foretells doom. I know not how to argue with prophecy.

Access to the market was barred to me because I don’t carry the currency of this village. I let the torchlight in my chest puff out and cause my hands to glow, demonstrating that I have other gifts to offer. I let my magic be visible, so that they recognize my strength but also my goodwill. I am successful in my presentation, yet I still hear the concern—perhaps I am the one of which one old prophecy speaks. Despite my goodwill, my presence may be an ill omen.

I give almost all that I have, small souvenirs of my home in the woods, in exchange for supplies for the road. I provide labor and companionship to earn the rest of what I need. I reflect on the strength I believe that I have as I observe how kindness is more highly valued—I commit to sharing a more passionate strength than that of labor alone. I notice my heart glow brighter at this revelation, and it does not dim after. Some nights in, I celebrate with the villagers and join in their feast and merriment. A festival is held, and I marvel at the joy and community in their traditions. The nagging fear of the prophecy lingers, so I insist to see the original text that they reference. They refuse, though their kindness does not soften the pain in my heart.

A village elder takes me on the night the rain comes down, allowing me to share their home and hospitality. I light their hearth with my own torchlight so that it may burn bright and warm the whole night through without need of firewood. I have brought in all my supplies and ready them for my imminent departure. As I go about my task, the elder places a gentle hand on mine and tells me of the prophecy. There is no original text to read, but the oral tradition is steadfast. The words are foreign to me, but I understand that the traveling fire of the sun’s light may not remain longer than the moon’s cycle and a night, that to be kept too long would extinguish the flame, and the consequential darkness would haunt the village to blame. After the elder is asleep, I reflect on the burden of my journey. I strengthen my mind and kindle in my heart a burning endurance. I’m nearly ready.

The elder’s young son has pledged to travel with me. I call upon the blessing of the elder to help me watch over him, and he grants it warmly. I plot my course with care, well-stocked for the path ahead though I know not where it will take me. The villagers are appeased that their prophecy concerning me will not spell any trouble so long as I’m on my way before next nightfall. I was rough hewn when I came down from my forest to this quiet village, but these folks have helped my recognize a charming grace I had not known in myself.

At last, I leave the village and its ancient prophecies, though their magic has instilled in me a powerful fear of those vast forces at work that would eclipse the light of my torch heart and the strength of my hand. The elder’s son travels close beside me, enchanted by the new adventure. My torchlight burns far more brightly than it did before, providing warmth and safety for us both as we travel into unknown lands. I hear the song more clearly now, and we follow the wind that carries it.


The elder’s son and I travelled roads that twisted right off our maps into lands unknown. Ash falls like snow onto neat rows of flowers. The caretakers that tend these fields have dusty eyes and charred caverns in their chests. We’ve found the secret gardens of soot-filled hearts.

  • I hope to gain knowledge of this strange region. They tend such beauty in desolation.
  • I hope to give my brightness to this ashen place. I believe I can help others with my magic.
  • I hope to end my companion’s concerns of being away from his home. I see how his heart aches.

The gardeners were not guarded in their answers to my many questions, though they spoke simply, matter-of-factly. Their gentle voices told me of the fertile soil, their careful routines, and their trust in nature. I opened my own heart to them and helped bathe the gardens in light. As darkness fell, my companion and I retired to the small lodging afforded to us at no cost. There was but one bed which we shared along with only a few words of our day before falling fast asleep. 

As I held a sooty flower bud in my hand, coaxing it to open with my torchlight, a gardener placed her hand silently on mine and shook her head. She says this is not the magic their gardens needed, but I didn’t yet understand. I dimmed my light and followed her to a far wall of their small town: a monumental barrier, scarred with scorch marks. It shook me. I told my companion, but he was still humming from a day spent in communion and reverie, and I didn’t want to trouble him. Sleep came slow and melancholic, but I heard my companion breathe in his own slumber the first sounds of a pleasant dreams since we left his village.

When I awake in the morning, my companion is already gone to help in the duties of the new day. I reflect inwards. I endure, but do I thrive? I am strong, but do I know when to yield? I am cunning, but what do I do with what my eyes capture? I had set out to help these people with my magic, but I did not account for their own magic. I was learning, but I was not listening. My torchlight burns brighter, and I leave our small room. I sit with the gardeners and watch them work. I do not attempt to tend the gardens, but I assist them, support them, when I can, and I stay out of their way when I cannot. A second gardener takes me to their wall, and I see for the first time the scorched out hollows in their soot-filled chests. I had been averting my eyes, subconsciously, but I see now these ashy nooks are where their seedlings start. I had thought only of them as burnt out torch hearts, spent of their magic, but they were in fact fuller than I was, even with my brighter flame. My companion has understood this from the beginning, seeing them instead for the nurturing caretakers that they are.

On my final day in the secret gardens of the soot-filled hearts, my companion kisses my face and I leave him to stay and learn from the gardeners. He’s happy, and the song has called me again.


I hear the bellowing song of a calliope first, and then I catch the luring scent of burnt sugar, hear the chattering of laughs and screams, and, at last, see the banners of a traveling circus. Beautifully painted, if faded, train cars form the perimeter. They appear to have moved through strange mechanical means from the tracks not far from here—only the first of what I would find to be many clockwork mysteries of the circus.

  • I hope to gain a souvenir as uniquely mysterious as this circus.
  • I hope to give time and scant resources to this circus for entertainment.
  • I hope to end my loneliness in the absence of my companion.

Seeing countless couples and families and groups of friends playing and laughing together drives a sting into my heart, but I strive to recognize their joy as independent of my loneliness. I press on, deeper into the circus. They use a strange coin here as currency—one I’ve never encountered. I speak softly to my torch heart and urge the flame to flicker in the direction of a lender or money changer, as surely there must be one present.

I see plenty of trinkets for sale but none that capture the spirit of this unusual place. I lay eyes on clockwork machine being operated by a woman of exceptional stature. Other visitors hand her something, she places it into the machine and turns the crank, causing the gears to spin and whir. At last, the machine deposits a small handful of those strange coins into cup next to it on its pedestal. The visitors smile and thank the money changer and leave to enjoy themselves. When the line brings me to her and her machine, she smiles and holds out her hand.

The money changer asks for my torch heart, offering an exceptional amount (she promises) of coins in return. I refuse and instead fish in my pockets for my compass and a harmonica I procured for my journey at the first little village. She placed my items into the machine, turned the crank, and a dozen or so coins are produced. She tells me the greatest treasures and excitements hide even deeper in the festival grounds. I smile, thinking about how my companion might enjoy this tale whenever I might next spend time with him.

I find a music box that plays the melody of that song that I’ve been hearing. When I ask the merchant, he laughs and says the tune is different for each person who hears it. For him, it’s an old anthem from his homeland. I purchase box. I attempt a few of the carnival games for the escape that I hoped for and then decide to gift my remaining coins to a small child eager to ride the ferris wheel. The ride operator notes my generosity and offers me a free ride, so I accept.

At the height of the ferris wheel, I hear the song again, drifting on a cold wind that cuts through the warm, sugary air of the circus. I see the night sky but know not how much time has passed within the traveling circus of clockwork mysteries. When the ride descends, I find my way out and onward.


The circus fades into the distance, the night grows darker, and the song becomes more distinct. I turn the key on the music box, and its pleasant chimes fall in tune with the song I hear. Clouds darken the sky. There’s no civilization around. My torch heart is the only light as far as I can see. I will it bigger, and spectral shadows are cast around me. Here in this field, in the darkest night, surrounded by shadows of myself, the song no long has direction. The music box stops.

  • I hope to grow within myself an understanding of where I am and where I’m going. I feel as though I’ve been lost since before I ever left my home.
  • I hope to give from myself love and compassion. I have been giving all that I possess when it was not needed but was reluctant to share myself.
  • I hope to end in myself this sense of doubt that drives me to fuel my torch heart brighter. 

A shadow raises from the ground, blazing with rage and ferocity. I see in him a passion and a vigor that I often lack. I embrace him, taking in his rage and channeling it in passion for action. I wheel around, casting the light of my torch heart across the field. Three more shadows dance around me.

Two shadows arise, one hollow and apathetic, the other green-eyed and greedy. The clutching hands of avarice reach for me, to take and take from me, while the callous king looks on, unmoved. I step forward and embrace the greedy king, taking into my torch heart his power and channeling the desire instead towards one of goodwill. I take only what I need of his longing and give the rest to the apathetic king. I embrace him, giving him ambition and receiving a cool-headed compassion, and understanding of emotion, subtle though it may be, without wearing it upon my own sleeve.

The final shadow lifts from the ground, at once both trembling in fear and terribly frightening. I feel in myself that same reflection of consuming fear. My torch heart sputters with smoke, and I take from it the fear I’ve grown within it. The king of fear takes the smokes billowing from my heart and grows stronger. I search in that hole where fear was and instead find courage: a distinct knowledge of the risk and danger and a willingness still to responsibility. I embrace the fearful king, appreciate everything he would have me cower before, and channel into courage. My heart blazes, full of compassion, courage, generosity, and vigor. I breathe in, letting it grow and let the field like sun. I breathe out, taking the fire within myself. I rest.

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