On Eternity Shards
One of the most persistent bits of Torg iconography is the Eternity Shard. These minor artifacts serve as maguffins for the High Lords and sources of ready power for the player characters – magic items in a setting that otherwise didn’t encourage them. According to lore, when Torg was being teased at Gen Con in 1989, the West End Games staff handed out small chunks of red and blue swirled plastic and told people to come back in a year to learn what it was.
Over the following year, they ran ads in Dragon Magazine and other trade publications, talking about the storm that was coming. It wasn’t until almost the next Gen Con that Torg was actually given a name (depending on whom you believe, they were trying to come up with a name the entire time; hence the lack of branding in those teaser ads), and it was revealed that the chunks of plastic were, in fact, Eternity Shards. When the boxed sets were released, the D20 included was the same swirled red and blue.
Within the world of the game, these are items of legend and significance. The blue and red are the colors of Possibility and creation (Reality Storms are often depicted with red and blue lightning), and these artifacts are imbued by Apeiros, the force of creation, with the ability to alter destinies. Excalibur, for example, is one such Eternity Shard, having been forged in legend to eventually become such an item. (In current lore, such an item can start out as mundane and grow in stature. The red and blue coloration is integrated to the item somewhere along the way, once it has attained proper power and lore.)
In the original edition, GM’s were encouraged to create their own Eternity Shards for their campaigns, as the only example offered in the corebook was the Heart of Coyote, a fairly minor Shard that canon had already disposed of by the time the game’s timeline started. (In the novels, the Iconics found the Shard in their journeys and immediately used it to lock the Gaunt Man in a Reality Storm. I can’t argue with its use, but it made using the damned thing problematic from a storyline perspective.)
It didn’t help that there were very few examples offered in the game line going forward; what few Eternity Shards showed up usually were the object of an adventure or given a very narrow utility. The namesake of the Possibility Chalice adventure module was little more than a maguffin for the module trilogy, and its main use wasn’t readily apparent for several years.
Torg Eternity has gone a step farther by offering a variety of Eternity Shard examples – one each from the different realms. Hopefully, this will continue as a trend, if only to offer some ready-made options for GM’s to pick up and toss into a scenario.
As to the ones in the book…
Let’s start off with the obvious one. They’ve gone ahead and reprinted the original Heart of Coyote, for better or worse. It’s pretty basic, in that it carried Core Earth reality with it and can only be tapped for Spirit-related rolls. Nothing flashy and certainly nothing to write home about.
For the Living Land, they bring the Usaanta, a flower that … isn’t. My first read of this one was pretty cursory, since I didn’t think much of the whole “plants as Eternity Shards” bit from the original game. There were the red and blue flowers that allowed characters to be reincarnated (as happened with Tolwyn) and ones that expanded consciousness and revived wounded characters. There was flavor to them, sure, but something about the idea of a flower ranking at the same level as Excalibur seemed weird. (Mind you, in the context of the original Living Land, where non-living things corroded and decayed, it only made sense to have plant-based Eternity Shards, but still…)
The Usaanta is pretty basic in its power and restriction: Gain extra Wound levels, use the Possibilities contained within for non-violent actions. Sure.
Aysle gives us a very straightforward version of the Holy Grail. It heals afflictions, and that’s all. Nothing exciting, but it serves a basic purpose, much like the other two.
According to the scant resources I’ve been able to find, the Eternity Shard from the Nile Empire is also a repeat, but without heavy research, I don’t know which book it appeared in originally. The Crown of Natramititi is a pulp hero’s greatest fantasy, as it allows a character to evade death as a basic function. Much like the shards from Aysle and the Living Land, its power is completely defensive, so there’s that.
The Cyberpapacy gifts us with the Penance Configuration, which sounds like it should be some derivative of a Hellraiser cube, but isn’t. It mimics the “carry your reality with you” power of the Heart of Coyote, and it can only assist Mind-related rolls. Nothing terribly new or exciting there.
The last three examples are actually pretty fun, for entirely different reasons.
The shard from Orrorsh is pretty much just a copy of the Necronomicon. It boosts Magic for the wielder, and tapping its Possibilities becomes easier if they’ve performed a blood sacrifice beforehand. Nothing particularly complex about any of it, but the flavor of the shard is spot on.
The shard from Pan-Pacifica (seriously, it’s going to take a while before I stop wanting to automatically type “Nippon Tech” for this cosm) is a pair of twin, engraved katanas – one red and one blue. This one in particularly fun, because it refers to specific lore and story tropes. Their powers are pretty straightforward, in that they offer greater resilience in battle and their Possibilities can only be used in combat.
And then there’s the one from Tharkold… This one caught me off-guard because it was just weird enough to fascinate me. Having spent a fair chunk of time around custom trucks and the like, it seems particularly weird to have an Eternity Shard that is used as a gearshift knob. Which, in all seriousness, is what it is.
The knob enhances vehicle use, which only makes sense, and its flavor gives the whole thing a From a Buick 8 vibe, which fits nicely with Tharkold.
In going through the new Eternity Shards, it took a little while for it to sink in, but the new rules seem to have done away with the Group Powers aspect. Group Powers were something unique to Eternity Shards, and they offered the idea that the entire group of player characters could access one singularly powerful aspect of the shard. The Group Powers were useful (this is what could reincarnate otherwise slain characters), but as a whole, they were sort of dull. One power allowed characters to create hardpoints for reality, and another allowed temporary teleportation gates, while a third could seek out hidden stelae of the Invasion. There was one that allowed transdimensional messages to be sent, and another that allowed better collaboration on tasks.
All of these are useful, but they’re more of a meta-system level of play. Gating characters between locations is useful, but from a narrative standpoint, it doesn’t change very much for the characters. Keeping characters alive or having them reincarnate also falls more into the territory of GM fiat, which isn’t particularly thrilling. (And yeah, I realize that putting such power in the hands of the characters is likely the purpose of the Group Power thing, but it’s still not very exciting.)
All in all, I really like the new Eternity Shard offerings, but I hope that more will follow in the individual Realm books. In my own games, I almost never used Eternity Shards, as they were generally more work than I wanted to put in, just to make sure that they didn’t unbalance the game in any way.