Taking a Look at the Numbers of Torg Eternity

Going through the mainbook, I’ve been trying to keep an eye out for new alterations to the rules, just to keep myself honest.  I’ve gone through different rules iterations in other games (Star Wars D6, D&D / Pathfinder, Deadlands, Call of Cthulhu), and if I’m not careful about paying attention, I tend to default to elements of the old ruleset.

Of course, there is no better way to learn the rules than to make characters and play.  And naturally, this is where the first rules changes start to hit.

The Attributes for Torg Eternity have been slimmed down notably, which speeds up Character Generation notably.  Instead of seven Attributes, it’s dropped to five, and the available pool of points has dropped with it.*  On a practical level, this means that the characters are going to work from an established average, rather than having to guess at which stats to boost and which to dump.

In terms of systems and raw numbers, the Bonus Chart has remained largely the same, with a little bit of relief on the low end (a roll of 2 nets a -8, rather than a -10).  But for whatever reason, the Difficulty Scale has shifted around a lot.  Where something that was an Easy task used to be a threshold of 5 to clear, it now demands an 8 instead.

This may not seem like much, in the scheme of things, but Torg’s system is built on top of a surprising amount of math.  The Value Chart, which an adept GM can use to calculate nearmost everything, is a logarithmic scale.  Without going into full explanation, a difference of five points means that the higher number is a full ten times the lower.  As such, this change in difficulty is significant.

Without claiming a full grasp on the rule changes, this particular minutia seems to be the result of changing how Possibilities work for characters.  For one thing, Possibilities are no longer tied to Experience Points, meaning that there’s much less risk in using them at a whim, and they are significantly easier to come by.  For another, they have a higher built-in utility.

In the rules, both old and new, there are some fairly obvious kludges and rules braces to compensate for the random die rolls.  Among these is the “Minimum Bonus of 1” rule that applied to active defense.  Normally, your defense against being hit in combat is a static number that the opponent had to hit.  In desperate times, you could devote your action to an active defense, which meant that you rolled for a bonus to augment this number.  The problem is, there is a static 50% chance that you’ll actually roll a penalty and make things worse.

This is where the “Minimum Bonus of 1” rule comes in, ensuring that, at a minimum, you’ll have a defense that’s slightly higher.  This same philosophy underpins the use of Possibilities in the new edition, where an added roll from spending a Possibility will guarantee you a minimum of a 10, even if the roll was lower.

This is pretty huge.  Between this and the looser flow of Possibilities, Torg has become a much more high action game than it had been.  And it was pretty high action already.

Added to this is the Favored Skill rule.  There are a number of Perks in the mainbook (with more to be added with the upcoming realm books, I’m sure) that upgrade certain skills to be Favored.  What this means is that characters have an option to re-roll a bad result and take the second instead.  Most of these are defensive in the mainbook, but it’s still a fantastic upgrade, given the way dice tend to fall.

Looking at all of this from a top-down perspective, it’s pretty evident that the new design is trying to patch over a lot of the old randomness of the original system.  It has become a lot easier to succeed in a given action, just from the way that Possibilities are handled now.  A great deal of this defaults to the design sensibilities of Shane Hensley, who has been a constant proponent of easily obtained bonus dice.  Deadlands had the poker chips that came and went freely within a session, and this system was refined in his Savage Worlds system with bennies.  This system is just a continuation of what was used there, with the necessary disconnection from experience points.**

The change in Possibility management seems to have also eliminated some of the more interesting cards from the Drama Deck – things like Suspicion, Personal Stake, Mistaken Identity and True Identity.  These were Subplot Cards, plot altering monkey wrenches that players could drop on themselves or each other to complicate the main plot.  These were wildly unpredictable cards to use, because it meant that the GM either had made plans to be able to integrate them beforehand (unlikely, since a given one was rarely going to show up) or had to come up with a suitable solution on the fly.

The headaches of these cards were offset by the amazing possibilities that they offered.  Because they rewarded the player affected with extra Possibilities, players would try to use them immediately.  Personal Stake and True Identity were fairly harmless ones that mainly just deepened aspects of the main plot (“So, yeah…  It turns out that my character has already been in Mumbai, and one of his friends is involved in what’s going on.”), but Suspicion and Mistaken Identity were twists that made things much harder.  In one of the games I ran, this started a chain of events where one character was mistaken for an international weapons dealer, and this eventually grew to overtake the main plot.

Being that the Possibility flow has been seriously altered, it’s likely that these cards were eliminated accordingly, since an extra Possibility per act is no longer quite so necessary.  Which is a pity, since the inclusion of these cards had some hilarious implications.  It’s not to say that all of these cards were taken out, however.  The big three – Romance, Nemesis and Martyr – were kept in, but they’re also the easiest to manage.

Similarly, it looks like they pulled out the Monologue and Escape cards.  As things go, these were fairly minor, but they added some fun dynamic aspects to the game.  Escape was a “Get Out of Jail Free” card that players hung onto, just in case things went wrong for them.  And Monologue was … weird.

Monologue read “All hostile actions cease while you make a dramatic speech.”  The idea was that, if you had a player capable of pulling off a properly distracting in-character speech, the other characters could look for a solution to some situation.  Most of the time, this meant that the other players would move themselves into a better position or ready an escape plan of some sort.  It was an odd little card, but the effect that it had on the game was always entertaining.

In some ways, I feel like it could make a reappearance somewhere down the line, maybe as a Perk for Nile and Core Earth.  If not, maybe that’s how I’ll reintegrate it.

*The alteration to the Attribute spread between editions is one that’s going to be fun to suss out.  Originally, there were seven Attributes and 66 points to spread; an average of nine points per Attribute with three bonus points to spruce things up.  This time around, it’s gone to five Attributes and 40 points to spread.  Already, we’re looking at a flat base of eight points per, instead of nine plus.

I’m guessing that the game designers are banking on regular and constant improvement of Attributes this time around.  It’s notably cheaper (2x vs. 10x for experience point cost), so there’s that, but the early sessions may end up to be murder.

**This has been a constant sort of problem in games that grew out of the various design philosophies of West End Games.  If you tie your re-roll mechanic to experience, there will always be a hesitation in using the re-rolls.  On one hand, it makes sense that you’re trading immediate benefit against long term gains, but this comes at the price of chilling the action part of the game down to specific instances.

This is a perfectly valid approach to game design, but it can also blow back on the GM if a character is competent of lucky enough to avoid needing regular re-rolls.  Hording chips or Possibilities like this can mean that one character advances way more quickly than anyone else.  And again, this can be justified in some games, but current thought tends to keep everything a tad more egalitarian.

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Posted on July 19, 2017, in Current Games, Gaming Philosophy, Kickstarter, Older Games, Review, Systems Discussion and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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