Day One – Tharkold
You might ask, “Is there any rhyme or reason to the order in which you’re reviewing the adventures in the new Day One Adventures book for Torg Eternity?” And the answer that I would offer is, “No, not really.”
I started with a discussion of the Pan-Pacifica module, which was a love letter to horror video games from Japan. Now, I’m moving on to the Tharkold adventure, which offers a chance to revisit my beloved S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games. I’ve been avoiding both Living Land and Aysle, the two longer adventures (they’re three and two acts, respectively, where the rest are one act, one session forays), because they’re going to require closer attention and discussion. I’m also wondering how easy they will be to modify, which will necessarily require a bit more consideration.
There’s also a bit of personal bias. I’m much more of a horror GM than anything else, so I’d rather see what directions the game is going with those themes before I settle into the more normal adventures, such as they are.
In the original game, Tharkold was a nightmare realm, rivaling Orrorsh for the sheet meatgrinder aspects of the setting. With Orrorsh, everything was awful and impossible and frustrating because of the inability of the characters to make much headway against the main foes. You needed to research, connive, compromise your principles, and try to undertake arcane rituals from dusty books in order to properly combat evil, because if you skipped any of these steps, the murdering vampire that you spent six sessions trying to overcome would just return from the dead when you were busy elsewhere.
With Tharkold, all you had to deal with was insanely powerful demons with gnarly bits of evil cyberware that made them impossible to kill. Also, they had weapons that did their damage against your Spirit attribute, which meant that your combat-tuned PC with the best armor and weapons would be killed to death by a pain weapon. It was nasty, brutal and unfair, which made a certain sense as to why it showed up over a year after the game launched. Dealing with Tharkold in the opening days of the war was outright unfair for the player characters.
Naturally, Torg Eternity is keeping them around, just to make the lives of players that much more difficult.
The characters are quick, easy and obvious – the Commander, the Medic, the Heavy, the Scout, the Mechanic, and the Sniper. All of them are Russian military, and in the course of the adventure, the Heavy transforms to Tharkold and gains Dermal Plating. No real surprise there. There is a note that players can swap out the genders of these pre-gens as they see fit; they’re only given call-signs, so feel free.
The characters are the Russian equivalent of Delta Force, tasked with the extraction of a group of scientists in Moscow that are trapped there after the maelstrom bridge dropped on the city. Actually, they’re supposed to retrieve the data the scientists are working on, making the actual rescue a secondary objective. Priorities, people.
Because this is a military-centric mission, there’s a lot more in the way of tactical gear that the characters have access to, and the initial briefing is terse and direct. Where the Pan-Pacifica adventure structured itself along the lines of Asian horror, this is all done as a military operation, which reinforces the stark difference between Realms.
The adventure makes casual mention of Russian landmarks, with the historic Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius and the Worker and Kolkhoz Woman sculpture. I feel like these are sprinkled into the text of the adventure as anchors for those GM’s that are either familiar with the importance of these places or want to add a little verisimilitude to their games. (I mean, I know a fair amount about Russia and the Former Soviet Union, but I would need to do more research into the histories to adequately use them properly. At the bare minimum, I would have to offer play aids and images for the rest of the table.)
The first scene of the module has the characters advancing into Moscow to find the lost research lab. There are no real surprises to the structure of this part, but the adventure notes that, being soldiers already, the characters are going to have to do something a little more heroic to invoke their personal Moments of Crisis. (Some adventures simply require them to get into combat against the Invaders. That’s sort of a given with these characters, so they have to actually do something heroic.)
And where the Pan-Pacifica adventure draws its inspiration from games like the Resident Evil series, there are some pretty evident Doom references. What’s interesting is that the original Torg came out shortly before Doom was made, so the cyberdemons of Tharkold were original creations then. With this edition, they’ve been built to be a lot more like the ones in the computer game. The depiction of Kranod (page 63 of the Torg Eternity mainbook) owes more than a little to the menacing boss monster of the 1993 shooting game, even as he channels a little bit of classic Orcus.* And now, the Tharkoldu are no longer generally human-sized, as they once were. (As I recall; if they were actually as large as they are depicted now, it had never registered on me.) Instead, according to the mainbook, they now stand three (or more) meters tall.
If the illustrations in the Day One book is anything to go by, it’s at least four meters. Just like the one in Doom.
This is another one act adventure, much like the Pan-Pacifica one. The first scene of the adventure concerns the briefing and the trip into Moscow to the lab. The second scene covers the investigation of the lab, with the dire reveal of what is going on (and what the Russian government knew about the coming Invasion). There is a bit of a throwback to the first game, in that it pretty solidly references Hellraiser, which always seemed like one of the influences of the original Tharkold. And then the third scene has the player characters fleeing Moscow as the maelstrom bridge is nuked above them.
There’s a fourth scene, which simply involves fighting a pissed off technodemon, but it doesn’t offer much beyond the climactic battle.
What is fun is that, unlike the Pan-Pacifica adventure, this one has an epilogue where Quinn Sebastian himself shows up to recruit the characters for the Delphi Council. It serves as the hook to the semi-official campaign setting, where otherwise the characters are stuck in a weird fusion of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. AND Twilight 2000. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you. I have every intention of drawing from that well, when the time comes.
*I’m hoping this isn’t such an obscure reference that it requires much explanation, but my years of writing classes tells me not to make assumptions of my audience.
Orcus is the demon prince of the undead, dating back to the original white box edition of Dungeons & Dragons and appearing ever since. In Torg Eternity, he is referenced in the same depiction of Kranod I talked about before, by including a wand very similar to the one that Orcus wields and giving Kranod a similar winged and bloated form.
Posted on July 31, 2017, in Adventure Paths, Current Games, Gaming Philosophy, Kickstarter, Older Games, Review and tagged Torg, Torg Eternity, Ulisses Spiel, West End Games. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.