Torg Eternity – First Session

This Sunday, I ran the inaugural session of my new Torg Eternity campaign.  I had gotten the first PDF’s earlier in the week, and it was no secret that a game would soon follow.  I had made enough headway that I could fake my way through Character Generation, and the rules were familiar enough that I could manage a session without much trouble.

This is not to say that there weren’t some issues to resolve and prep work to be done.  By way of example, the first thing I had to do was build a usable Character Sheet.

Torg Eternity is a gorgeous game.  It’s a full color, sharply laid out, modern production of what had traditionally been a black and white product line.  The illustrations are rich and evocative, and the information is easy to reference and use, even from a PDF.  (One that doesn’t have bookmarks, however; I assume this will be remedied once we have the game closer to full release.)

The problem is, the character sheets that are included in the main book are awful.

The sheets mimic the design archetypes of the full-color main book itself, which has the unfortunate effect of looking like absolute trash when printed out.  (Oddly, I just realized that the character sheet I was using as a reference wasn’t actually included with the main book.  It was part of the Free RPG Day PDF, which I had gotten the week earlier.  I’m not sure what regular GM’s are supposed to do if they want their own sheet.  Or an example of it, even, since there is literally nothing to reference in the main book.)

The original character sheets were really functional.  As in, they looked like some sort of official incident report, rather than a character record.  It worked, but there was no art to it.  I guess they were trying to make up for that this time around.  My solution to the new character sheets was to fuse the two design ideals, ending up with a very functional throwback to the original edition, with just the slightest amount of upgrade to the layout.

That was the practical, pragmatic side of building the new campaign.  The next part of the game, the actual character hook, I left up to my players.  Since I prefer to introduce people to Torg in an incremental way,* my games invariably start in the run-up to the Possibility Wars.  In the past, I’ve run the characters as FBI Agents investigating the weirdness that accompanies the Invaders’ scouts, and I’ve run a Miami SWAT Team that sees things that begin to escalate towards the outbreak of combat.

It’s probably fairly obvious what these two campaign seeds have in common.  Torg is, at its most basic, a game about characters with big guns, so it only made sense to let them start out with guns immediately.  (And yeah, Pathfinder is, at its heart, a game of swords and magic.  It’s an easy generalization.)

With this in mind, one of my veteran players decided to keep to the formula and set the characters as part of a modern day PMC.  In the past, a staple part of the White Wolf games I’ve been in or GM’ed has been the institution of Tannhauser Solutions, a bigger and nastier version of Blackwater, headed by an amalgam of Erik Prince and Joseph Kony.  (If you’re in a world that actually includes supernatural creatures like vampires and werewolves, a genocidal mercenary company makes perfect sense.)

We went through basic Character Generation, including the Personal Checklist that I built a while back.  Since these characters were set in the real world, I tend to require actual biographical details that would be otherwise ignored – parents, siblings, best memories; things like that.

For Player Characters, we ended up with Vinny (borrowed from Disney’s Atlantis), Callum (stolen outright from the character in Far Cry 3), and Zach (your basic frat guy gone military).  Respectively, the demolitionist, the driver, and the sniper.  They also have an NPC medic / investigator that one of the players suggested, a sociopath by the name of Ryan.  I don’t expect him to live very long, if it comes to it.  Either that, or he is going to go straight dark side when the Invasion starts.  Either one works.

For simplicity, I dropped them in Miami.  It’s an easy setting that everyone has some understanding of, even if I have never personally been there.  (I have watched every episode of Burn Notice and Dexter, so there’s that.)  I had previously run the SWAT game out of Miami, on the same auspices.

The set-up was simple:  They’re in town for semi-official business (testify as character witnesses for a fellow Tannhauser employee), with no particular agenda.  It’s the weekend, they’re cut loose, and go from there.  Naturally, they end up at a beachfront nightclub with overpriced drinks and a fairly crappy Jimmy Buffett cover band called The Fla-Mangos.  (That was a player contribution, immediately worth a Possibility.)

While drinking, one of the characters sees an altercation between an apparent couple on the beach.  Things escalate, the woman gets drugged by what appears to be a bodyguard, and the group tries to subtly leave the area with her.  The characters intervene, but their military training severely outclasses the goons’ bodyguard training, and they rescue the girl.  The bad guys vanish into the night.

This is where the limitations of running from a single book start to show.  There aren’t all too many stat blocks included in the new mainbook, so everything defaults to some basic variant of the examples in the book.  Core Earth has Police Officer, Soldier and Soldier (Officer).  Each cosm has three or four stat blocks, so the available foes are pretty thin on the ground without a chunk of prep work.

Luckily, what I have in mind can generally default to these archetypes without any real work.  Bodyguards, militia types and mercenaries are pretty similar to what we already have to work with.

It turns out that the woman they rescued, Natalie Markham, is in town representing some weapons manufacturer who is trying to get some prototype testing done through the local doomsday prepper faction.  She has no idea who tried to abduct her previously, but she enlists the PC’s to escort her to a meeting south of the city.

Naturally, the meeting is interrupted by an outside force (Pan-Pacifica agents), and they have to flee amidst a running gun battle.

This is where I ran into limitation number two.  Since the game is still running up to an actual release, I’m doing all of this without a GM screen.  Over the intervening week, I’ll try to knock together a set of reference tables derived from the mainbook, but while I was actually running the game, I found myself flipping PDF pages to check the relevant rules.  Torg eternity has done away with many of the charts of the original game, but there are still enough that I’m going to need a physical aid before I run again.

Similarly, I’ve been relying on the old Drama Deck for card play, since the basics are still in place.  (Although it seems that some of my favorite cards – the Subplot Cards – have either been altered or replaced entirely.)  I would bemoan the lack of Cosm Cards, but since we’re still in pre-Invasion Core Earth, it doesn’t really matter so much.

It also bears noting that, since these characters are not yet Possibility rated, I’ve altered the dice mechanics.  Currently, they’re rolling 2d10 for task resolution, as though we were running Masterbook instead.  It’s a steeper difficulty curve, but since they still have Possibilities to throw (Core Earth, after all), it balances out somewhat.

The way I figure it, they’ll have the rest of summer to wander around and get familiar with the system before I spring the Invasion upon them.  By the time that the maelstrom bridges fall, they might actually be ready for them.

*For me, trying to introduce players to a new game is best handled slowly.  Start with the basics of the system and the world, and let them build those elements out as they go.  This was absolutely vital with 2nd Edition Exalted, since that game had a myriad of picky little sub-systems integrated into it, and the world was wildly complex.

There are a lot of games that require very little introduction.  Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, Song of Ice and Fire; if it’s a licensed property to start with, people know the basics of the world they’re in when they sit down.  Legend of the Five Rings, 7th Sea, Deadlands, most of White Wolf, Pathfinder / D&D; all of these are quick intros or fix to whatever the GM has planned specifically.  If a game can be summed up with a single adjective (“We’re playing a Samurai Game.”), it’s a lot easier to get things rolling.

And then you have stuff like Torg, Shadowrun, and Exalted.  Any game that requires 20 pages of homework before you start your first session needs to be handled carefully.  No player wants to do that kind of work, just to play.

Instead, we have half a dozen sessions to make things fall into place.

 

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Posted on July 18, 2017, in Current Games, Gaming Philosophy, Kickstarter, Older Games, Session Deconstruction, Systems Discussion and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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