Monthly Archives: October 2017

The New World Order

If you look at the Torg Eternity map, you’ll see that the entirety of the permanent UN Security Council has been wiped out.  Sure, the Russian government still exists, but it has been compromised by Tharkold.  There is still a US government (once it reforms down in Houston), but it still hasn’t been answered whether we’re going to be under martial law like the original edition implied.  France and the United Kingdom are both right out, with nothing left for them, save governments in exile.  Maybe.  And while China still appears to be untouched, owing to Pan-Pacifica’s “invisible” Invasion, they’re going to be dealing with the whole jiangshi lunacy that will keep them from being any sort of world leader.

So, who’s going to actually remain to coordinate the war effort?

There are some fascinating potentialities in the uninvaded regions.  First off, we have Canada remaining mostly untouched.  They’ve got compromised territory up around Yellowknife,* but otherwise, their entire government is unimpeded.  Mexico stands with a similar situation.  Otherwise, South America, in its entirety, is untouched as yet (it had been host to Space Gods or Akasha in the original Torg, but clearly that’s no longer an issue to bother with.  Also, Australia remains open, but I have the feeling this is going to end up being something like the Casablanca of the Possibility Wars.  (Naturally, we still have the real Casablanca open for such a purpose, but we’ll see what the designers will do with that.)  In the original game, Hawaii served that purpose, but I don’t see the same thing happening, given the updated scale of things.

Insofar as what’s left of the European Union, we essentially have Germany (who would be the top economy in the world, once the dust settled) and Italy.  Both of these countries are flanked by Invading forces,** so it’s a crap shoot whether either one would survive very long into the war.  Rounding out the top ten of the world economies, we are left with Brazil and Canada.

Well, what can we see for world militaries?

The largest military in the pre-Invasion world is the United States, in terms of military expenditures.  (China and India can boast higher enlistment numbers, but go figure…)  For better or worse, this would probably hold true post-Invasion.  I mean, already we know that Quinn Sebastian has his own aircraft carrier for Delphi Council operations; clearly there’s still enough military to keep that sort of logistical support going.

Many of the same arguments about militaries remain in place from the discussion of world economies.  Canada and Brazil are pretty strong contenders for having the actual ability to respond to invading threats, being that they’re not precisely on the front lines of the war.  (This is where things start to falter for the Canadians.  Not only are they way too close to the Living Land Invasion, the original timeline of the Possibility Wars had them playing host to a Cyberpapacy Invasion.  Granted, this was the bizarre logic of “They have Catholic French speakers in Quebec, therefore…” but it’s helpful to keep in mind for future developments.)

So, Brazil?

They certainly have the money, the world power and influence, and the military to back up a credible threat on the world stage, in the aftermath of an extradimensional war at the hands of Reality-manipulating High Lords.  And it would be a fascinating inversion of the first game’s timeline, to set the important stuff in a country that most of its audience is only vaguely familiar with.  They’ve already taken serious steps in the idea of making the game world vibrant with existing culture.  (I’ve already learned quite a lot about the historical landmarks of India and Russia, just based on the early modules.)

While it would be tempting to put all my chips on this, I have the feeling that it’s going to play a pretty sizable role in the Invasion.  Y’know, by being Invaded.

Here’s my logic:  We already have precedent with the High Lords using transplanted culture as a foothold for the Invasion, if we take the Quebec Invasion from the original edition timeline.  And Brazil happens to hold the largest foreign population of Japanese in the world, at nearly two million people.  (This is about 1% of the greater population of the country, which seems insignificant, but I’d hazard that it’s enough for the purposes of the High Lords.)  Coupled with the stealth Invasion that Pan-Pacifica is conducting closer to home, it wouldn’t be too hard to see Kanawa setting up a corporate stronghold in Rio.

The only real drawback I could see is in branding.  I have to assume that Ulisses Spiel is pretty well set to keep to their story bible, and by naming the Invading Realm with a purely geographical signifier, it’s going to be anti-thematic to have them expand into a non-Pacific region.  This is a fairly minor quibble, however, and about the only one that I can make to deflect from a full on Pan-Pacifica Invasion.

Otherwise, this might point toward a larger Invasion of South America, whether it falls into the hands of Pan-Pacifica on their own or a concerted effort by the rest of the High Lords to pacify the region.  I like the idea of a Kanawa expanding into the region, but most of their methodology holds to more industrialized, urban settings.

And well, it seems lazy to send the Living Land into the Amazon.

So, this is where we end up:  Right now, we’re looking at Australia, Canada, and Brazil, likely with the support of most of South America.  Mexico is playing host to a little more of an Invasion than Canada, but it’s also a much smaller in terms of the economic and military strength, so it would be a long shot to consider them emerging from this with any sort of wherewithal.

The Year One projections that Ulisses Spiel has given us show that neither Canada nor Mexico have been further encroached.  (In the original timeline, the Invasion in Canada never advanced beyond the original four stelae either.)  Naturally, we don’t know much about the state of affairs in Australia or Brazil (since Ulisses Spiel is offering info in the run-up to the Living Land Kickstarter), but I would be surprised if there is much going on there at present anyway.

*Here’s my nonsensical idea of the moment.  When the original edition of Torg hit, the invasion of this territory was confounding.  What was actually up there that was worth dealing with?  I think the question was covered somewhere in the Infiniverse dispatches, but I’ll be damned if I can remember what happened thereabouts.

Nowadays, there’s an entire reality TV show dedicated to the goings-on around that area, in the form of Ice Road Truckers (in its early seasons, anyway).  Not only is there all sorts of source material to bring the area to life, there’s massive potential in adapting this kind of adventure to the area.  Relief efforts to the tundra outposts, impeded by edeinos and all manner of weird wildlife, as well as environmental hazards and the Law of Wonders.

 

**Canonically, Germany ends up playing host to Tharkold and Nile, according to the Berlin Citybook from original Torg, but we already know that things are going to be all sorts of different this time around.  For my experience, Berlin ended up being a tich too weird to actually use, given the bizarre overlap of realities.

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The Modern World, Broken

Going through the Day One Adventures book for Torg Eternity, one thing keeps coming back to me, over and over.  I realize that it largely did not matter in the first edition, due to the relative Tech Axiom when it was printed (and this is actually addressed at some point in the mainbook, I believe), but these days it becomes an issue.

With the Invasion, Core Earth loses a great deal of what now defines it – ubiquitous, instant global communication.  Back in the early 90’s when the game first appeared, this was a point for science fiction; now it’s taken completely for granted.

I read an article at some point where the author put forth the contention that X-Files was the true, modern procedural.  The characters could investigate a mystery together or separately, but the advent of cell phones allowed them to collaborate on a problem while they were otherwise in wholly disparate locations.  It removed a central conceit of this sort of storytelling, thereby opening up new avenues of narrative creation.

And now comes a low Tech Axiom wash that sets us back to those days, where being able to keep in contact is no longer possible.

Some parts of this are fascinating.  When the Nile Empire invaded Cairo, one of the first things the Invasion would have done was create an entire infrastructure of corner phone booths.  After all, what sort of pulp noir story could be told without a character calling from the fog bound docks at midnight?  This really underscores the careful planning and logistics of the Kefertiri Idol.

It also shifts the balance of the Realms in an interesting way.  Will Core Earth characters be less likely to want to visit places like the Living Land, Nile Empire and Aysle because they will immediately be deprived of their 4G signal?  (This is something that keeps being brought up; cell phones obviously won’t work without active cell towers, and all of the cell towers have been wiped out in the Axiom wash.)  Or will there be a new industry for the Kanawa Corporation, providing satcom phones for Storm Knights?  This seems like it would be a great way to undermine the hell out of the other High Lords.

There’s also interesting potential for Storm Knights to try an end run around the axioms, in the same way that the Nile Empire’s Weird Science hand waves its own low Tech Axiom.  How hard would it be to market Amulets of Distant Communication that were keyed to each other?  The first Aylish Elf to come up with this would be an instant millionaire.  Or how about going all Avatar in the Living Land?  The characters end up bringing along a Jakatt (a priest of Lanala, the goddess of life in the Cosm) that knows the miracle to send and receive distant communication through the very trees of the Living Land.  It wouldn’t have to be the vine USB that we saw in Cameron’s movie, but it could be fairly easily adapted and / or explained away.

But what happens to the original Internet in Core Earth?  A good portion of it runs along specific pathways set down years before, and a great many of these lines on the grid have been severed by the Invasion.  Is it even possible to have a recognizable or even functional telecommunications network in light of where the Realms set down?

What if – and this is a huge stretch, depending on your outlook – some parts of the wider internet were able to survive as their own discreet hardpoints?  In the original novels for Torg, there was a point in Baruk Kaah’s stalled Invasion of California where he was confronted with a massive hardpoint in the form of Silicon Valley.  He threw as many resources as he could muster from Rec Pakken, his Darkness Device, but when the dust settled, he had wasted time and energy* only to find that the hardpoint had roughly ignored him.  Logically some of this mojo could be applied to the trans-Atlantic cables that serves as part of the backbone for the web, just for the sake of preserving some aspect of what we now accept as modern life.  Yes, this requires a whole lot of specific hand-waving, in terms of colocation and redundancy for any of it to work, but I feel like there’s just enough potentiality for it, just to satisfy player questions.

But all of this brings me to a larger question of just exactly what is left of Core Earth, in terms of society.  Instantaneous communication through cell phones and computers is one very important aspect of modern life, but what about civil government and the forces that prop it up?

The short and unsatisfying answer is that an Invasion of this magnitude would cripple most of the world governments to the point that Core Earth would collapse under its own weight.  In any realistic portrayal of the Possibility Wars, the world economy would be a lawless wasteland.  Of the top twenty stock exchanges in the world, only five would remain.  Ideally, the remaining markets could shoulder the burden of the lost ones, but I feel like the Invasion would make things twitchy at best.  Worldwide depression would likely become a factor to add into the woes of the Invasion, making it that much harder for the extant governments to operate in any real position of power.

… which naturally  brings us back to the power of Pan-Pacifica.  They would effectively control three of the most powerful nations, in terms of GDP – China, Japan and South Korea.  Similarly, they would have the Asian Stock Markets under their sway** and be able to influence money on that front.  And in the original Torg, the Kanawa Corporation was the main one selling arms and vehicles to the rest of the world.  Hells, they even had the vehicle and weapon books named accordingly.

*So, this is an interesting facet of trying to write blog posts while the game is still being released.  In a recent post on the Ulisses Spiel website, one of the game devs revealed that Baruk Kaah is done fucking around.  Where the original Invasion had him wasting a lot of time and effort trying to deal with Silicon Valley, he’s learned a couple of things this time around.

Instead of the debacle in the novel trilogy, where he threw Possibility Energy and armies of Edeinos at the problem, only to have it bring his Invasion to a grinding halt, the new way to deal with things is just to toss an earthquake at the problem and walk away.  In this post by Eric Simon, Kaah ran up against the hardpoint of Seattle (Redmond is the home of Microsoft) and rather than be stymied by it, he destroyed everything in his path with a ritual.  The resultant earthquake was powerful enough to destroy Vancouver, BC and Portland, OR (effectively a 150~200 mile radius for the devastation) both, so we’re looking at half the state being in ruins.

I’m going assume that this was a Shane Hensley idea, given his love of destroying the west coast through earthquakes, but I’ll hold off pointing any fingers until I actually see how the details are handled.  (For those wondering what the hell I’m talking about, it’s a reference to the setting of Deadlands, where the entirety of the California coast was destroyed by a massive earthquake.  Google Great Maze and Deadlands for more.)

**It bears noting again that the original Nippon Tech book had rules for corporate finance and market manipulation.  I sorely doubt that this edition will go into that sort of depth, but it’s already in the game’s DNA for Kanawa to be able to control a ridiculous amount of the world economy.

Torg Eternity – Conspiracy Theories

One of the stretch goals for the Torg Eternity Kickstarter was fiction by Ed Stark, one of the original writers for Torg back in the 90’s.  Stark wasn’t precisely on my radar as a writer, but I respect his contributions to the game in the form of Pixaud’s Practical Grimoire and the like.*  All in all, I’m glad that Ulisses Spiel managed to get him back to work with the new material.

The stretch goals for the fiction were in the quarter million range, and being that the KS campaign topped $350K, all three parts of the story (while billed as three short noveletes, the reality was that they were sections of a 30K word story), these were dealt with pretty easily.  And as the game draws closer to release (the last update showed the pallets of product being warehoused in prep for assembly and shipping), the PDF’s for Stark’s story were just released to the backers.

My thoughts?

Well, to be frank, it’s gamer fiction.  Weird typos, questionable narrative choices, and a story that exists to propel specific details forward.  No disrespect to Mr. Stark, but none of this will appeal to anyone outside the extant Torg audience.  It wasn’t bad, but much like the original Storm Knights trilogy, it’s there for the GM’s to get ideas from, and that’s about as much as it can be recommended.

I’ve certainly read far worse gamer fiction.  And worse NYT Bestseller stuff.  (Why the likes of Kevin J. Anderson succeeded is beyond the logic of a rational universe.)

But really, I’m not here to review the Torg fiction, even though it seems like I should.

What I want to talk about is the way the book ended.  And what it might mean for the game line as a whole.

Sometime back, I talked about how things had been changed with the new timeline of Torg Eternity, in comparison to the original game line.  Specifically, I was noting that one of the original mechanisms of the Invasion, the conversion of Jean Malraux from the False Pope to the Cyberpope, was essentially retconned out of existence.  While it hasn’t been officially dealt with in detail, the omission of the key details points to a different narrative being put in place.

In a subsequent column, I touched on the details that came out in the mainbook (and later in one of the Day One modules) about the destruction of Akasha, which made up the Space Gods sourcebook in the original line.  This was a pretty bleak understanding to come to, being that old Torg made the arrival of Akasha exceedingly important, as they would be what amounted to the requisite saviors of Core Earth.

At the end of the last entry, I had briefly mused on the idea that the iconic character of Dr. Hachi Mara-Two still remained unconfirmed in the larger milieu of the Torg Eternity game line, which could mean that her home cosm of Kadandra might still be in play for the role of cosmic savior.

Now keep in mind that Kadandra was only ever referenced in a couple of places within the game line.  In the fiction, it was the backstory for both Mara and Thratchen, with a couple of scenes taking place in the cosm before both characters headed for the Invasion of Core Earth.  Mara’s memories of Kadandra were the basis for Malraux being forcibly brought up to a Tech 26 axiom, thereby forming the Cyberpapacy we know.  And had Thratchen exfiltrated with the rest of the Tharkoldu when they left to join the Core Earth Invasion, he likely would have been slain in the effort.

At no point did anyone in West End Games seem interested in further exploring the ideas of Kadandra in the game line.  (It was never exactly clear why they thought that the old home cosm of Pharaoh Mobius, Terra, deserved its own sourcebook, but that’s another matter entirely.)  At best, there were some ideas batted around on the Torg mailing lists of the early 90’s, but even they didn’t amount to a lot.

With all of this in mind, I had posited the idea that the specific omission of Kadandra from the new game’s backstory might point to some larger metaplot elements.  When I wrote about it last, I was fairly dismissive, since all of this hinged on an otherwise wholly unimportant bit of deep lore being suddenly pivotal.  Even for me, this was grasping at straws, given that nothing related to Kadandra had weight in the original metaplot.

And I was wrong.

The three Stark novelettes (Into the Storm, Sacrifice, & Last Gasp) follow an English Lit grad student while he navigates Washington D.C. in the early stages of the Living Land Invasion.  It all reads like the transcript of someone’s game session, with the different elements checked off as the story progresses.  Here’s a description of disconnection, now we have a Moment of Crisis, and this part details some of the World Laws.  All in all, it isn’t wildly different from any of the Day One modules in structure.  Even down to the way that it wraps up.

Yes, just like the throwaway adventures in that supplement, we have the appearance of the game’s deus ex machina narrator, Quinn Sebastian, to welcome the newly minted Storm Knights into the as-yet unnamed PC organization.**  But then Stark threw in the monkeywrench of describing (but not naming) Sebastian’s female companion.

And yeah…  they brought back Dr. Hachi Mara-Two.

Granted, this does not necessarily mean that any of my posited theories have any basis, but it strongly implies a number of things.  In the context of the new game world, Quinn Sebastian occupies a fascinating meta-narrative slot as the embodiment of the previous edition of the game.  He knows every bit as much as a GM of the old system, from the details of the old Realms to the timeline of the original Invasion.

This also means that he knows all about what uses Kadandran tech could be put to.  And with Mara at his side, that means he could potentially have access to some pretty serious stuff.  Having fought off the Tharkold Invasion of their own world, Kadandrans managed to put together some impressive tech, being able to open dimthreads and detect some of the aspects of differing Realities.

In the mainbook, Sebastian is regarded as sort of doomed prophet, being that he’s canny enough to organize the new Delphi Council to prepare for the Invasion, even as he sees just how things are unfolding differently.  There’s a heavy implication that he’s going to become a target for the Invaders as time goes on, which is only logical.

This new revelation, however, casts some interesting shadows.  Maybe Sebastian isn’t going to be as easily blindsided by the new developments that Gaunt Man has planned out.  While I would be cautious about setting his machinations on the same level as a centuried High Lord, it looks like he has a couple of aces he’s holding back.

*Full disclosure, such as it is?  Yeah, I never wrapped my head around Pixaud’s Practical, back in the day.  It was alarmingly complex, and I say this with full knowledge of how the Universal Chart was supposed to be used.  In comparison to a logarithmic scale that would allow a GM to properly calculate out the difficulty of lifting a Mack truck, this book was really hard to make sense of.

Imagine, if you will, a supplement that accurately depicted the complex and detailed hermetic equations necessary to transform a human to a frog, with all of the requisite steps outlined and detailed.  It was a fantastic system, and I can pretty much guarantee that it languished on the shelves of any given Torg collection once the players had done their shopping for the utility spells.

**This one is vaguely funny, much like the similar issue in the Archer animated series.   Archer had the characters working for ISIS, before that name was co-opted by the Middle Eastern terrorist organization.  And now, Torg Eternity made the mistake of naming the umbrella agency that the players could be part of as Stormfront, which has the rather unfortunate implication of being associated with white supremacists.  I would suggest they pull the Tempest Fugitive name out of the archives and use that, but I’ll leave that to a paid employee to stumble upon.