Cover Images and Irrelevancy
Since we’re on the topic of setting lore, let’s take a look at one of the most important bits of the established content, why it mattered at the time of the original game, and what Torg Eternity is doing with it now.
The cover of the original Torg boxed set and main book (and the first novel, for that matter) featured a pretty striking image: A Catholic priest holding up a glowing cross and an eternity shard, back to back with a woman in a tiger-striped leotard with a white fright wig and raccoon make-up. Her left arm and right leg are cybernetic replacements, and she’s holding a modern / slightly futuristic sub-machine gun and has what looks to be a vintage revolver strapped to her thigh. They’re standing next to a ruined castle wall in a weird rainbow miasma, with the half-occluded head of the Gaunt Man hovering in the background. The wall may or may not be bleeding.
As things go, it’s a pretty good representation of the game line in a single image. Tech and miracles, people from different realms working together, and the omnipresent sense of lurking evil glowering over the entire tableau. The girl is a little bit too 80’s rock video to be taken seriously now, even as a Jem and the Holograms throwback, but this came out in May of 1990. You could still hear Whitesnake in the background if you paid attention.
The image is an interesting one, from a critical standpoint, partly for the representation I’ve already gone over, and partly for the fact that it is the center image of a triptych. (In fact, the entire image has been reproduced in the new Torg Eternity book, as part of the foreword by Greg Gorden.) These images served as the covers of the tie-in novel trilogy that I’ve already touched on briefly.
The first image has a guy in a business suit with a Mac 10, backed up by a girl in full plate with sword and shield. Over them is some sinister green reptile. The last image is a werewolf and an Australian Aborigine being menaced by a skeletal figure with antlers. Of the three, the center image is the strongest, which is likely why it ended up being on the mainbook. It also featured the Gaunt Man, who is pretty much the final villain and source of the whole line’s title. The others had (if I remember correctly) the Carredon and the Wild Hunt, neither of which carry nearly the same weight as a High Lord.
So, since we know that the werewolf is the previously discussed Kurst, these characters are clearly the iconics that were introduced in the fiction. The snazzy dresser with the Mac 10 is Andrew Jackson “Ace” Decker, the baseball player turned Congressman. With him is the newly reincarnated Tolwyn of House Tancred, a warrior of Lady Ardinay who was sent to Core Earth when she was slain in battle.* And next to Kurst is Djil, who (as I recall) had premonitions of the invasion and joined the heroes accordingly.
The Catholic priest is Christopher Bryce, and the cyberwarrior / fitness instructor is none other than Dr. Hachi Mara-Two.** But why is any of this relevant to the backstory of the game? These characters never show up again in the course of the actual game, so how important can they actually be?
Leaving aside the whole “Kurst is a brain damaged High Lord” bit and the “lock the Gaunt Man in a bubble” aspect (which I will definitely have to talk about at some point), there is a fair chunk of necessary backstory here, without which the game takes on a completely different aspect.
You see, Mara comes from a cosm called Kadandra. It never shows up in any of the official sourcebooks, and in the text of the novel, it’s only really discussed enough to introduce Mara, establish her motivations, and send her off to Earth. What’s significant about Kadandra is that, as a target for Reality Raiders, it actually fought off an invasion. Not only that, it was the dimension that Tharkold was retreating from when they were called on to invade Core Earth. It could be argued that, given the recent defeat of the Tharkoldu in Kadandra, it set up the disastrous failed invasion that followed in Russia.
It also bears noting that Kadandran tech was advanced enough to be able to mimic some powers of the Darkness Devices. Specifically, that’s the mechanism that allowed Mara to get to Core Earth in the first place. Where Tolwyn had to die and be reincarnated, all she had to do was dial up a dimthread and transport herself to the new battleground.
This is already enough of a backstory to make the exclusion of Kadandra from the main sourcebooks a little weird. I mean, they put together a full sourcebook devoted to Terra, the home cosm of Pharaoh Mobius (something that none of the other High Lords ever merited), but the guide for a singularly useful dimension that could have greatly helped the efforts of Core Earth? Never mentioned again.***
But then there’s the weird bit in the novel where Mara ambushes Jean Malraux and slaps a modified USB device to his neck.
In the original lore, the Cyberpapacy wasn’t “cyber” in the slightest. It was a fairly solid, historically-based Spanish Inquisition-styled oppressive theocracy. Malraux, as the High Lord, was the False Pope, and he presided over a church devoted to purging heresies from the realm. Heresies, of course, that were impossible to avoid and dictated solely by him. And before the Invasion, his prophets showed up on Core Earth to preach the end times. When the Invasion hit, the low tech of the Middle Ages caused a massive tech collapse throughout France, and this was to aid the invasion accordingly.
And that’s about the time that Mara uploaded her memories to the False Pope. Over the course of the novels up to that point, MAra’s spare time had been devoted to creating a memory file, uploading everything she wanted to remember about Kadandra to this device. When she encountered Jean Malraux, she hit him with it (I’m sure it made sense in the context of the novel), and in an instant, he was infused with the experiences of her home dimension. For whatever reason, all of this was integrated his Darkness Device, Ebenuscrux, and the new Kadandra-based Axioms were consequently uploaded to the Invasion. Therefore, Cyberpapacy.
So, to recap, this is a character that directly influenced the baseline lore of one realm, has access to tech and history that would potentially allow Core Earth to win outright, and was important enough to merit a place on the cover of the boxed set / main book.
Which brings us to the all important question: What is Ulisses Spiel likely to do with Mara in the new setting?
Answer: Probably nothing.
There’s zero mention of what Tharkold was doing before they joined the Invasion of Core Earth, but it’s not seeming like they’re coming to the party with diminished resources or accumulated angst. Also of significance, there’s no mention of Thratchen, a different character who carries a similar amount of inherent weight (but unlike Mara, he shows up in the sourcebooks and modules regularly), which suggests that the Invasion of Kadandra never happened this time around.
Without having the Cyberpapacy book in hand, I feel safe in predicting that Malraux is going to have an altered origin to explain the “cyber” part of his realm. I could argue for a later introduction of Kadandra based on other ideas, but at best it’s a long shot.
Which is sort of sad, because I’m going to miss the 80’s styled cyberwarrior / fitness instructor cover of the old days. Alas.
*I would like to note that this was a vividly weird sequence, as far as things go. In the context of game mechanics, Tolwyn was killed, but her spirit was sent elsewhere by activating the Send power of an Eternity Shard. Essentially, this was a power that could reincarnate a dead character at some later point in the game. (There was a lot of loose interpretation to the power, so when or where the character showed back up was largely due to GM fiat.) When Tolwyn showed back up, she arrived in New York around the time of the invasion, taking possession of a girl who had just been pronounced dead and given Last Rights. When she awoke, all previous memory was replaced by Tolwyn’s memories and her eyes changed color.
Oh, and did I mention that the Eternity Shard that was used to Send Tolwyn was a field of flowers? It was sort of like Flanders Fields, but the blossoms were (thematically) blue and red.
**Starting at the left, the character templates in the World Book are: National Hero, Paladin, Obsessed Prodigy, Doubting Cleric, Human Tribal Shaman, and Werewolf. In case this was important to someone.
***There was, for what it may be worth, a fair amount of fan speculation on the early forums about how to portray Kadandra. The most clearly realized version ended up being a high action, anime-based realm. This accounted for the ridiculous level of tech and tied in with a number of the shows being brought over from Japan at the time.
There may also have been giant mecha.
****I’m not going to argue. Dr. Hachi Mara-Two runs the ragged edge of an archetypal Mary Sue character. Be’s gorgeous, exotic, intelligent (can’t forget the Doctor part of her description), and young. (I believe that, canonically, she’s something like 17 years old.) She pretty much decked a High Lord (we’ll get back to Ace Decker in the next post), and if it wasn’t for her, Jean Malraux may have ended up being the least interesting villain in the setting for most GM’s.