And now for the New Book…
So, two weeks of commentary on the Torg Eternity mainbook, and I had roughly covered everything that immediately came to mind in my first read-through. I had more or less accepted that my continuing blog posts were probably going to concern themselves with how the individual sessions of my home game progressed.
Naturally, this is the point when Ulisses Spiel decides to release the next book in the line for me to work my way through. I’d fall back on paranoid musings about who actually takes the time to read this blog, but really … I know better. This was convenient timing, rather than actual correlation.
And what, you might ask, is the new book of which you speak?
When they launched, the first set of stretch goals dealt with a module set, bound as a 144-page supplement book. This covered the first $30K of pledges, which was blown past in a matter of hours on the campaign’s first day. This was the supplement they already had in the pipe by the time the Kickstarter went live, I would guarantee.
The idea is that these adventures serve as an intro to the game, and they allow for all of the necessary fuck-ups that come with testing out a new system and worldset. (One of my longtime friends and players opined that the first character in any given game was pretty much doomed. Once you figured out what stats, mindset and general build was going to survive in a game, you would be better off scrapping the first effort and going with a new character altogether. He’s not entirely wrong.) There is no expectation that any of the characters in these scenarios will survive, and one in particular confirms this with the statement that, unless the players are particularly smart, only one character is scripted to actually make it out.
Added to this is the tacit understanding that each of the modules will be introducing new elements to the game. The first and longest of the adventures (which also has the most direct advice for the GM) is the Living Land Invasion.* In it, the characters start as Ords, the in-universe term for non-Storm Knights, whose experiences put them in Moments of Crisis as the adventure unfolds.
Unsurprisingly, the official rules for Ords differ from my own, completely cutting the characters off from being able to use Possibilities.** Even if they are dealt cards that would allow them to throw Possibilities (Drama, Hero, etc.), they have to sit on these functionally dead cards until they ascend. They can still roll the standard D20 for the task resolution, and unlike the original edition, they can re-roll on both 10’s and 20’s regardless. (In the old rules, Ords did not re-roll 20’s at all. It was pretty significant.) And because it’s a heroic game, the rules for Moments of Crisis are pretty loose and easy to achieve. I can get behind this.
I’ll delve into the specifics of each discrete adventure in future posts, so let’s focus on the overall basis of this book. How well does it work, how easily can the adventures be put to use elsewhere, and does it accomplish what it set out to do?
Naturally, I will answer these questions in reverse order.
First off, let’s talk about what this collection of adventures is trying to do. At its heart, this book is pretty straightforward in its goals. The universe of Torg Eternity is a pretty complex one. Every cosm has its own intricate history (some to the point of needing multiple books to make it all shake out), and trying to get new players into a world that can change up its rules like a game of Calvinball can be daunting. As I have said before, my personal take on the game is to start somewhere around six months before the game is traditionally supposed to take place, just to bring everyone up to speed slowly.
The Day One Adventures book is doing just that. But it’s also taking on this narrative weight with the understanding that these characters are not actually meant to live through their travails. Sure, you can keep playing Officer Reyes or Professor Moore once their scripted adventures are done with, but it’s not something that is required in the slightest. Much like an intro Call of Cthulhu scenario, this book is meant to give a sense of how things in the world work, so you won’t make the same mistakes later on. So, on that basis, this book serves its defined purpose admirably. It allows the GM and the players a method to learn how everything works, with the safety net of impermanent characters to hedge against complete failure.
The next question is, how easily can the information be adapted to extant campaigns or different characters?
Things don’t appear to fare quite so well on this count. The groups of characters in the scenarios are designed for that adventure, and trying to change some of the details looks to be something of a headache. It’s going to require a chunk of work to adapt other types of characters into an adventure built around Russian Army soldiers (which is what the Tharkold scenario hinges on), and the first act of the Living Land adventure has the characters removed from much of the danger that the Invasion of New York offers. (In fact, they actually watch much of it unfold from the relative safety of a tour boat.) I’m sure that I could make it work for my current crew of PMC mercenaries, but it would require some structural details being shifted around.
And finally, how well does any of this work?
At the risk of answering prematurely (since I haven’t read through all of the scenarios past a quick skim), I’m going to assume that it does just fine.
Intro adventures are nothing new. They’ve existed all the way through the timeline of RPG’s, and more often than note, they’ve taken up precious real estate within the core book of the game in question.*** Ulisses Spiel makes the wise choice of separating this book from the core rules (hells, let’s talk about the grand novelty of making it a boxed set, in the style of the old games), and using it as an opportunity to teach the rules as they go along. It relieves the GM from having to structure an entire session as an information dump, and accordingly everyone can learn as they go along. (See, while all of this is just second nature to me, I well remember how much of a slog it was to learn the rules for the original game, along with the picky details of the way cosms and such worked. I will not assume that any of it will come easily to new players or GM’s.)
*Now, here’s the thing… I’m not going to nitpick or second-guess the writers on any of their decisions (yet; there’s always the future), but given the criticisms of the original game’s obvious American-centric module output, it seems odd that they’re going back to the same well on the first set of modules. Yes, this is a game that’s mainly marketed to Americans (one of these days, I’ll talk about the relative scales of translated games in their home countries vs. how they sell in the States; assuming I haven’t covered this in the distant past), but it is an international game in both parent company and general setting. I’ll assume that the future modules will compensate for this when they hit, but at present, we have 30 pages devoted to America, with the other countries only managing around 15~20 for their sections.
**As a meta-commentary on the West End Games’ products of the 90’s, there was never any discussion of why the other game lines used what amounted to being Possibilities in their mechanics. Torg made a point of delineating the purpose of their re-roll system in the underlying philosophy of the game world. Masterbook never really bothered to try to make sense of why player characters could get this boost, other than the generally unfair nature of the dice. Which, in all truth, is enough of a reason.
***In all truth, I have always hated that intro adventures are included in RPG books. I would rather have such things come with screens (if only to justify the expense of the damned screen in the first place), rather than take up space that would be better served as supplemental material. More often than not, these intro scenarios are a waste of the paper they’re printed on, since the best outcome would be a single session of whatever scenario got pasted in. And there are a good number of these that never get run at all, which is that much more infuriating.
A lot of this stems from the intro scenario in 1st Edition Shadowrun. The setup has the characters coming back from an actual mission and having a firefight in what amounts to being a convenience store. So, rather than giving me the information I wanted to have about how best to structure an actual adventure, I’m left with advice on how to have the bags of chips and displays of soda pop explode merrily around the characters. I guess it says something that, all these years later, this is my go-to example of bad design.
On the other hand, I love the adventures in Call of Cthulhu main books. But then, again go figure… I’ve run these sessions dozens of times, and since no character ever survives the final resting place of Walter Corbett.
Posted on July 29, 2017, in Current Games, Gaming Philosophy, Kickstarter, Older Games, Review, Systems Discussion and tagged Torg, Torg Eternity, Ulisses Spiel, West End Games. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.