Monthly Archives: April 2018

Torg Eternity – Dinosaurs and Rust

In terms of release schedule, Torg Eternity is following the same progression as the original Torg game.  The Delphi Council Box did its best to replicate the boxed set edition of the initial release by giving enough of an overview of the setting to be able to play, offering the players a couple adventures to get a flavor of the world and previewing the worlds yet to be released.  From there, they built the Living Land Sourcebook, which was the setting for North America, before moving on to the excitement of pulp reality, high fantasy and cyberpunk.

If you break down the previous sentence semantically, you see the problem with all of this.  For a lot of the original players of Torg, the Living Land wasn’t very exciting.  It was a savage reality, echoing bits of Tarzan and Land of the Lost, as well as a number of pulp sources.  But compared to the thrilling adventures of fighting the minions of Pharaoh Mobius in two-fisted action, the sleek chrome-tinged dystopia of an oppressive theocracy, or the juxtaposition of epic fantasy battles between light and darkness in the ancient capitals of Northern Europe…  it just fell a little flat.

Compared to the other settings laid out in the broader campaign setting, there wasn’t as much hook for the adventures set in the United States, which was unfortunate, given that the main audience (English speaking gamers, playing an American game) was generally predisposed to that setting by default.  Characters in the Living Land could expect to watch their favorite toys break down, their magic to stop working, and have to deal with furiously savage opponents that could withstand hilarious levels of damage.  It was a rough setting, with a lot of potential to kill both players and fun.  The only setting to really compare was Orrorsh, the realm of Victorian Horror, where it was next to impossible to actually defeat their opponents on any permanent basis.*  Orrorsh maintained a reputation of being a bit of a meatgrinder for player characters, and the complexity that was baked into it was pretty discouraging for GM’s as well.

The Living Land wasn’t particularly complex.  It just didn’t seem particularly fun.  It didn’t help that many of the plots revolved around dealing with resistance communities, weird intrigues against the Delphi Council, and discussions of whether or not having ordinary people interacting with the Living Land was detrimental or not.**  There were only so many times a group of Storm Knights could “run supplies to a far flung resistance community” before they found something else that was more interesting.

As the greater campaign metaplot unwound, the Living Land became more and more of a joke amongst the players and game devs, to the point that Baruk Kaah was the bitter punchline of the final Infiniverse update sourcebook.  There were Edeinos Happy Meals at McDonald’s, action figures of the friendly cartoon characters in-universe, and images of assimilated Edeinos being drafted onto professional baseball teams.  The threats of the Living Land weren’t specifically threatening – dinosaurs, lizardmen, losing access to your toys – they were more annoying than anything else.  The movie for Jurassic Park, easily the best representation of having massive and dangerous reptiles stomping around, came out in 1993, when the line had already mostly died out.

Partway into the game line, the game devs tried to skew the setting more towards the Edgar Rice Burroughs end of the source material, creating the Land Below, a more pulp-oriented flavor of the setting that quietly stole everything it possibly could from Savage Pellucidar.  According to the lore of the setting, it was created through some weird interaction between Rec Pakken and the Kefertiri Idol (respectively, the Darkness Devices of the Living Land and the Nile Empire) and given a vague hand wave accordingly.  Eventually, the Land Below proved to be a more popular setting for the game anyway that it burst through the surface, replaced large portions of the Living Land and no one looked back.

This time around, there are a few factors that help sell the idea.***  The basics of the setting remain constant, but rather than letting GM’s slack off and breeze the characters through what they consider a dull setting, there are some interesting incentives to try to keep the setting from being a miserable, unendurable slog.

For one thing, the schism between the High Lord Baruk Kaah and his various tribes are a lot more clearly defined.  In the original setting, there were dissidents in the ranks, but they were used on more of a case by case basis than anything else.  Shane Hensley’s Temple of Rec Stalek ratcheted the internecine warfare by introducing a protestant death cult into the ranks, but that was well into the metaplot when that happened.  This time around, there are some five distinct clans, only one of which is fanatically loyal to their High Lord.  Two are noted as being more potentially sympathetic, one is the previously noted death cult, and one is portrayed as shadowy and questionable.  (It’s also worth mentioning that Lanala, the goddess that underpins much of the setting lore, seems to be displeased with Kaah’s efforts, to the point that the new sourcebook for the Living Land allows human characters to be “touched by Lanala” and pick up otherwise unavailable Perks for their use.)

And then there’s the new attempt to reconcile the Land Below.  As noted above, this was an element that was introduced as the line progressed that tried to pivot the setting into the pulp action of its roots.  Rather than delay the introduction of a popular setting, the land of Merretika has been integrated immediately with the big campaign module of The God Box****, which details a big, realm-crossing adventure to slow down Baruk Kaah’s ascendancy.  While not apparently meriting its own sourcebook (for now), Ulisses Spiel has included the original Land Below Sourcebook in its PDF bundles with the original Torg Eternity Kickstarter.  (And for what it’s worth, they used art from the original book as placeholder art in the backer-only release of God Box.  Which tells me that they’re not assuming that much has changed in Merretika from 25 years ago.)

In order to integrate the Land Below more directly, the new setting brings in Lost Worlds as a necessary component of the Living Land.  These manifest as semi-random, often impermanent glitches in the realm’s reality that can reference lost cosms or cultures ravaged by Baruk Kaah in his prior conquests.  A couple of the modules have talked of the artifacts of the Ustanah (an insectoid race that has been part of Kaah’s original cosm since the first edition) showing up as a sort of Lost World in the setting, and there are suggestions of new, weirder ones in the new sourcebook.  Some draw from elements of Core Earth history, oddly, while others reference bizarre remnants of dead races.

Not only do these Lost Worlds offer a sometimes needed edge of surreality, they also allow the Storm Knights a respite from the harsher aspects of the Living Land.  Often, the odd little subrealms offer little more than a safe place to rest and recuperate, but that’s still a pretty helpful aspect.  Other times, they contain little bits of tech that can still operate in the Living Land axioms.  (Speaking of hand waves – the tech found here is gifted to the players as being “weird science,” which hearkens back to the Nile Empire origins of the original Land Below.  As such, the artifacts found within the Lost Worlds can safely be used in the greater Realm of the Living Land without the same fear of disconnection.)

Also, depending on the set-up, the Lost Worlds can also serve as an adventure hook of their own, which is a nice break from the “resistance communities” grind that the first edition tended to revisit.

*To shine a little light on this, every major opponent in Orrorsh had a True Death entry on their stat block.  If you hadn’t spent enough time researching or experimenting, that meant that any sort of defeat that you dealt an opponent in Orrorsh was pointless and they would come back in a future adventure.  There is nothing like having to deal with a centuried vampire elder that’s pissed off because you kept him from enslaving a small Malaysian village for a ritual sacrifice.  And he’s doubly pissed off because you defeated him last week already, and this is the third time this quarter that he’s had to deal with your meddling.

**Two related things to talk about with this.

First off, it bears noting that there was a heavy element of how to ethically deal with the problem of unintentional quisling activity.  The idea was that, if an ordinary person was transformed to the invading reality, they were suddenly helping to anchor that reality to Core Earth.  This was a heavy element of the Orrorshan Invasion, to the point that the Victorian soldiers that showed up in Malaysia to help fight the Gaunt Man were simply another, more ironic form of an invading force.  (Thankfully, this doesn’t seem to be baked into the setting this time around.)

Applied to the North American Invasion, this meant that normal, everyday people that were caught in the Realm were going to eventually transform, which meant that they were part of the problem.  And this meant that the Delphi Council (which was more of a shadowy conspiracy agency for the 1990’s mindset) would dispatch their “Spartans” to quietly wipe out entire towns of people, rather than have them fall to the enemy.  This was, naturally, abhorrent to any real group of Storm Knights, so some of the plots ended up dealing with how to fight the remains of the US Government alongside the problem of massive dinosaurs and lizardmen fanatics.  It added to the “no win situation” that was already in place for most of the Living Land adventures.

On the other hand, if you were in the Nile Empire, you could just punch Nazis and not have to worry about moral implications.

***I would like to offer that I’ve always loved the setting.  The sourcebook was the weakest of the line, in terms of how the content was organized, but that was because they only managed to refine the template for the realm books as they went along.  It was dense with material and setting details.  It just lacked solid hooks for flavoring the setting and keeping everyone engaged the same way that the other realms did.

For my part, I always interpreted the realm it as a horror setting.  One of the campaigns I ran, the characters were trapped in New York when the maelstrom bridges came down.  They were cut off from the all of the logistical resources they had come to rely upon (they were FBI agents, so this was pretty hard for them to adjust to, honestly), and they had to make their way out of a suddenly hostile city with none of their modern conveniences.  They learned quickly to respect the savagery of the setting when they could only fight back with the most primitive of means.  One of the key elements of horror is a dread of the unknown, and it’s very easy to ratchet up the tension in a Living Land game, since most of the comforts of modern life have been stripped away.

****I would like to talk for a brief moment to point out how painfully dull some of the Torg nomenclature ends up being.  Between the God Box and Darkness Devices, I feel like there could have been some deeper discussion of coming up with more interesting terms for these elements.  While not immediately obvious, terms like jakatt and gotak at least were some interesting terminology for the realms.  Referring to an ancient, eldritch intelligences that set the agendas of a godlike High Lord (also, this is not a great example of nomenclature in itself) as a Darkness Device is doing a disservice to the alien horror that these things embody.  Especially when you immediately veer off and refer to the modules that lock the invading reality in place as Stelae.  Or the all powerful synthesis of the merged device and its conquering High Lord as Torg.

A Darkness Device is so … mundane in comparison.

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Torg Eternity – Living Land Kickstarter

It’s no secret that I’m an old school, die hard, original fanboy of Torg.  For a while, I managed to curate two complete sets* of the original run of the game, including the weird, solitary Revised and Expanded Rules by “Kansas” Jim.

Naturally, when Ulisses Spiel started in on the Kickstarters for Torg Eternity, there was zero hesitation on buying in.  I’ve gotten very fond of Euro-RPG’s as time goes on, so I had complete trust in their ability to bring a competent, solid project to completion.  Perhaps moreso than domestic, depending.  (Yeah, this is an Onyx Path dig; you’ll see why in just a moment.)

I pledged for the Delphi Council Cargo Box with the original Kickstarter, which ended up being gloriously expensive at the $200 asking price.  That said, the stretch goals boosted it up to being an actual value when all was said and done.  They pulled in over $350K, which loaded the box with all manner of extra bits, little of which I can complain about.  When the Kickstarter fulfilled in February, they started putting everything together for the first of the cosm books, the Living Land Sourcebook.

I’m not going to soft pedal this:  Ulisses Spiel is out to make money on this.  Each of the Kickstarters is likely to demand a similarly high buy-in for their products.  The Living Land Survival Box is priced out at $180 for a similar boxed set with similar levels of extra bits.  But they deliver with their books, their cards, their chips and so on.  And for the slightly more discerning buyer, there are more economical measures to be taken.

But consider:  With the first Kickstarter, I ended up with three hardcover books, a GM screen, a soundtrack CD, dice, chips, cards, maps and an assortment of useful extras.  Totaling out the retail on the books alone puts me over $100 without breathing hard.**  This Kickstarter is promising to do the same – three books, an assortment of dice, chips and cards – so really, it isn’t a shock to see the price hold similar.  And considering that the campaign for this sourcebook went surprisingly high – over $200K for a single part, rather than the whole game, and it’s the part that was arguably the least liked of the original run – there’s a lot of value ended up being added in.

So, while it is turning into a rather expensive corner of my Library, I can’t argue with the return I’m getting on my investment.  Not only are they delivering quantity with these campaigns, the production values are seriously top notch.  Glossy books with solid art, deft rules with adequate crunch, and an attention to detail that comes with having a staff of guys that know what they want in their old school throwback game.

But here’s the thing that throws it all over the top, in terms of customer satisfaction and making sure that your base comes back for the next round of funding.  Also, this is where I sink my teeth into Onyx Path for being absolutely worthless on the same footing.

For those that aren’t aware, Onyx Path is the flawed regeneration of White Wolf, trying its damnedest to carry on the tradition of 90’s gaming nostalgia and design in the aftermath of a questionable IP sale to a disinterested Icelandic computer game company.  (And since, that same IP has transferred out to some new company whose plans are … murky, at best.  Time will tell.)  Onyx Path has managed dozens of Kickstarters to flog new merch based on the games that dominated a good portion of the pre-D&D Third Edition era, all of which have run way past their prescribed date of delivery.  It is now to the point that any new Kickstarter will launch with the understanding that it will be a minimum of a year and a half between funding and fulfillment, regardless of what they’re talking about.  And most of the time, they claim that the text is wholly in hand, ready for art and layout and similar.****

They lie.

Not only do the backers end up having to wait until shortly before the books are sent off to print (a point usually after the first year mark), there’s a lot of obvious proofing and editing errors that Onyx Path relies on their audience to correct.  And this is after having told people that the actual writing is done at the launch of the Kickstarter.

Now, let’s compare.

The Kickstarter for the Living Land Sourcebook for Torg Eternity funded on April 24th, 2018.  (Last Tuesday, from when this post was written.)  The book is slated for delivery in July of 2018.  The core rules Kickstarter ran through the month of June in 2017.  It was supposed to be delivered in October.  Logistics and sich ran over, meaning that it didn’t get delivered until February.  Whether or not I get my physical product by July remains to be seen.  But I’m okay with that.

I received my PDF copy of the Living Land Sourcebook on April 25th.  Or if we want to be annoyingly precise, about fourteen hours later.

Granted, there are a number of placeholders for art to be added later, and it has some scattered typographic errors that need to be ironed out, but it is a complete and playable product.  And I’m already using these rules in my home game.  And with it, I also have the two other hardcover books in PDF, ready to run.  It bears noting that these books were stretch goals that had to be unlocked, but they were already through layout and basic proofing, ready for publication.

I’m sure that there are other game companies that have their act together to the same extent that Ulisses Spiel does.  But personally, my experiences have caused me to be a little bit jaded when it comes to RPG companies and the promises that they make when it comes to Kickstarter campaigns.  (It’s worth noting, again, that the very first thing that I pledged for – nay, that I created a Kickstarter account for – failed to deliver.  I’m still bitter about that one, if we’re being honest.)

So, to sum up…  Yeah, I’m going to end up giving this game company a serious amount of money before I’m through.  But to their credit, they’re making sure that I’m going to be happy about doing so.

*Sadly, budget constraints and opportunity forced me to have to liquidate the extra set.  Much as I have done in the past.  I want to say that I’ve acquired “essential” collections of Torg about four separate times, all of which have ended up in the hands of my various friends.  It’s never bad to get people into a semi-obscure game, only to be able to later help them build collections.

**Seriously, though.  OSR and Indy games aside, when was the last time anyone escaped a game store with a game’s corebook under $30?  This is not a hobby for anyone with any sort of economic sense.  Especially when there are limited edition rulebooks to acquire.

***I figure, without too much hyperbole, that this game alone is going to top out around $2,000 for a complete run of the basic game.  There are seven cosms, which will necessitate close to $200 per Kickstarter, plus the base set, and I would be surprised if there wasn’t a hidden cosm that’s waiting in the wings to monkeywrench expectation.  This role was filled by Tharkold and Space Gods in the original run.

****Personally, Exalted 3e was the worst of this whole lot.  From launch to delivery was almost four whole years, of which there was a mysterious time period where the game seemed to be going through a manual proofread and indexing at the hands of a single person without the aid of a computer.  It was maddening and strange.  And the end product was an inversion of the original design goals of streamlining and correcting rules bloat, with the delivered product being a new standard by which rules bloat could be judged.