Category Archives: Older Games

Day One – Aysle

Down to the final two adventures in the Day One Adventures book.  Aysle is the second longest adventure, spanning two full acts.  The longest one, the Living Land module, is going to be my final review for the book, and we’ll see how it fares.  So far none of the adventures really lend themselves to adaptation, which is fine, as that means that they are going to be run as written.  These adventures serve their purpose in being a larger anthology framework to introduce new players to the world and the systems.  Were I a new player or GM, this book would be a godsend.

As it is, I’m still probably going to work these modules into rotation, just as a palate cleanser for my home game.  Killing off PC’s, even if they’re marked for death pre-gens, is a great way to underscore just how bad things can be.

So, let’s take a look at the available pre-gens.  And … hells.

You might remember how annoyed I was when I found out that most of the characters in the Cyberpapacy adventure had converted to that Reality, for no obvious reason?  Seems that I was premature in my irritation on that count.  Where that adventure had four of the six characters converted, Ayle ups the stakes by having only one Core Earth character in the entire lot, and he’s the cranky old veteran with a gun.  Everyone else seems to have gone native.

Of the now-Ayslish characters, we have one guy with chain mail and a mace, one priest, and one spell-caster.  There’s a married couple who happen to be adrenaline junkies, both of which converted, but that’s about where the interesting parts end.  (I think, if I do any modifications to running this, I’ll find a way to get the guy a fire axe.  He’s already running the edge of barbarian lug, which would serve as great counterpoint to his wife, who ended up being the cleric.)

Point of note:  This is the second module to involve a bus driver as a character.  The other one was the Orrorsh adventure, and it seems like an interesting thread to pull on.  Given the worldwide nature of Torg Eternity, it only makes sense that there will need to be some sort of transportation specialist.  Even the original edition had a truck driver as a main option.

And a quick skim of the module tells me that we’re back to using zombies as part of the main antagonist force.  And morlocks, from the look of things.*  Being Aysle, there are also the inevitable corrupted sorcerers that feel like throwbacks to the Elric Saga, which serve as the eventual final enemies of the scenario.

Act one has the characters caught in the axiom wash of the initial Invasion, which occurs without any particular fanfare – at first.  The ground shakes, publicly endowed art comes to life, people need rescuing, etc.  Compared to the Invasion events in the Nile Empire, this module is pretty low key.

And then, the dragon shows up.

I have to give the game designers this much.  They knew what was going to be required to hold the GM’s over until the Aysle book actually lands.  Granted, the dragon is pretty much half-dead (picking a fight with the RAF will have that effect), but it’s enough of a challenge for the PC’s to be a serious problem.  And conveniently, the stats for a healthy dragon are part and parcel to the encounter, so later adventures are accordingly stocked as needed.  There is an odd note with the dragon having a mane of golden hair around its head and a puff at the end of its tail, but I have no idea if this is going to be a continuing notation on Ayslish dragons or a weird thing that slipped past copy-editing.

The rest of the act has the characters venturing into what had originally been Charing Cross Station.  Now that the dragon part of the adventure is out of the way, clearly the next section had to cover the dungeon aspect.  I’m left to debate if this particular idea of adventure design is brilliant, lazy or simply adhering to everyone’s expectations.

The second act introduces us to Ayslish elves and dwarves, in the form of one of the Torg Eternity Iconics, Tworek.  These characters serve as the information dump for this module, detailing a lot of Realm specific information for the Player Characters (and the players themselves) as they work through the module.

Each of the modules has something along this line.  The Living Land and Aysle modules are the most generally heavy-handed on this, given that they are supposed to be the first played.  Even so, the Orrorsh module has a character filling in details about Gospog, while the Pan-Pacifica adventure features a newscast that covers the jiangshi aspect of the Invasion.

Most of the second act deals with the Temple of Corba’al, where the characters need to disrupt a sacrifice to the god of corruption.  It’s a solid enough set-piece, with chains and traps, a snarling necromancer and his minions, and victims to save.

There is an interesting bit of scenery within the temple, where a shrine to the Gaunt Man is set up.  Tworek, the dragon warrior, remarks upon it when they pass the statue, which is clearly out of place in both modern London and the Ayslish Land Between.  The fact that the rank and file of the Cosm are aware of the larger Infiniversal goings-on hints that there is a bit less mystique than in the previous edition.  And the presence of the Gaunt Man in a shrine points to strange things happening with the Possibility Energy of the Invasion of Core Earth.

My uninformed guess would be that the different High Lords (or their Darkness Devices, depending on how you want to frame the question) are being directly taxed on their own income of Possibilities.***  I’m not precisely sure how this is going to play out, in terms of the larger Invasion, but I figure that’s going to be addressed soon enough.

*The concept of the morlock, as given life by H. G. Wells, is an oft-repeated and imitated idea that ranges from Lovecraft’s ghouls (and the derivatives that populate every flavor of Dungeons & Dragons) to cinema’s C.H.U.D.  There doesn’t seem to be much time spent on exploring the idea very far, in terms of how they’re treated in their various forms, but seeing them here, in contrast to the ubiquitous gospogs, fascinates me.  It would have been dead simple to simply shorthand them as ghouls, but instead they’re brought back to their degenerate post-human origins rather than simply carnivorous undead.  I would be surprised if they weren’t in specific reference to Wells.

**In the original game’s lore, there was always the idea that most of the Invaded Cosms were unaware what was going on.  They had no idea that they were under attack by the forces of a multiversal adversary, and often they only woke up to the truth of an Invasion when things had reached a serious crisis point.

By way of example, the Invasion of Victoria took place in the Grand Canyon, in their own version of America.  Over the course of the Invasion (which took decades, as I recall), the Victorians were slowly forced back to England, as the horrors of the Invasion overtook the rest of the world.  The only reason the Victorians made the expedition to Core Earth in the original game was because they were pawns of the Gaunt Man.  Otherwise, they had no real idea what was going on.

***In the original Invasion, it was stated that the Gaunt Man enlisted the help of the other High Lords simply because he couldn’t fully process the sheer amount of energy that was being put off by Core Earth (said to be the Possibility Nexus).  Bringing in the other High Lords was a risky gambit, but it was done with the understanding that, as the oldest and most powerful High Lord, he would most likely be the one able to undertake the process of becoming Torg.  There was never any implication that the other High Lords weren’t going to try their hand at ascending; they were just less likely to succeed in their efforts.  So, to see this sort of control being exerted over them seems odd, if that’s what’s going on.

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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.

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.

Day One – Nile Empire

A couple of things before I launch into this review:  First, the Nile Empire has always been one of my favorite Realms in Torg.  I spent a lot of time there as a GM, and there was always a lot of great action to be had within its borders.  Not only was I a huge fan of things like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Rocketeer, and The Phantom, the weird science and general tech level of the place amused me.

Second, this is one of the reviews I’ve been dreading most.

What sense does this make?  Well, so far I’ve really been enjoying the darker tone and general nihilism of the new Torg Eternity version of the Possibility Wars.  The original game, for better or worse, had a lot of goofy moments in it.  Sure, there was a war going on, and odds were stacked against the characters… but it was also a game of high action and character stunts.  And a lot of this came from being able to wing it with the high pulp sensibilities of the Nile Empire.  Dramatic speeches, electro-guns, overwrought plots to steal shiny maguffins – if the characters needed a break from the dire events taking place in Orrorsh or Tharkold, they could take a bit of a break and try to untangle the plots of the insidious Wu Han.  Comparatively, it seemed like a much less deadly place to run around in, and there were a lot more opportunities to be larger than life heroes.

Mounted against the backdrop of the other Realms, there are essentially two ways that Ulisses Spiel could bring forth the Nile Empire.  Either they could preserve its inherent pulp heroics, which would set it even further apart from the hopelessness of the rest of the current Possibility Wars, or they could alter things so that even Pharaoh Mobius has great and murderous plans for the heroes.

From the look of things, the writers have tried to strike a balance between the two ends of this spectrum; while the adventure does offer some opportunity for daring exploits, it makes fairly clear that the heroes are facing overwhelming odds.  The module offers a couple of fun directions that the characters can go in their rescues and escapes, without making any part of it seem too unbelievable.

Reading through things, I will say that they did some great things with this module, as would befit the pulp milieu that it’s built from.  For one thing, this is the first Invasion I’ve read where the characters are at Ground Zero for the maelstrom bridge dropping.  As in, about half a klick from where it actually touches down.  From where they are standing, they see the troops and vehicles descend the bridge and start carrying out the business of the Invasion.  In the module for Tharkold, everything happened roughly a day after the invasion.  For Orrorsh and the Cyberpapacy, the Invasion took place the previous night, but no one is quite sure what’s going on.  And of course, with the vaguely secret invasion of Pan-Pacifica, everyone’s more concerned with what’s going on in the rest of the world.

Naturally, the characters get a front row seat with the Nile Empire.

The first scene of the adventure deals with the maelstrom bridge falling.  From there, the characters are dropped into a newly created ancient catacomb (go, weird World Laws!) for the second scene that they have to escape in the proper high action way.

This is the point where it seems like poor editing has thrown a monkey wrench into the text of the adventure.  The characters have to make their way through a death trap maze under the pyramids, but if they fall victim to the death traps, they’re magically restored to life when it comes time to return to the surface.  Earlier, there’s a Moment of Crisis opportunity that comes in, where it’s noted that, if the characters fail to save the NPC in question, she’ll simply return later.  And it cites a World Law that doesn’t actually exist as a World Law – the Law of Inevitable Return.  This seems to be the same effect that covers the dead characters surviving the catacombs.

Here’s the thing:  Inevitable Return exists in the game, but it’s a Cosm Card that operates under the Law of Drama.  I feel like this is an issue of having the module written before the text of the rules has been fully nailed down.*  Being that this was sent out after the mainbooks were, it feels really odd that the module book wasn’t finalized after the rules were.  Maybe that’s just me, though.

The final scene is a broadly sketched free-for-all against a variety of foes at one of the Invasion base camps.  There is no defined assumption on how the characters should proceed in their escape, so it can range from a pure Stealth approach to a pitched battle against one of the pulp villains of the Nile Empire.  There’s even the option of stealing a zeppelin and flying off into the night.  (This would be my preference, if I’m being honest.  It even comes with its own hull-mounted plane, the Nile Empire version of the Vought Corsair.  Then all my Crimson Skies books would suddenly come into play.)

The pulp villains are just enough over-the-top to fit into the definition without being too outright goofy.  The closest one to ridiculousness would be Lady Hourglass, who has a weird science monocle and acts like a stereotype of a femme fatale.  She’s a bit out of place in the military camp – she’s really more of a subtle, social character who would be better suited to a nightclub setting – so I think I’ll save her for another scenario entirely.  (Even in the text of the adventure, it notes that she sashays her way around the military camp at a slow roll, taking far longer to respond to anything than her compatriots.)  In comparison, the Hooded Cobra and Brick-Knuckle Branko are solid villains without descending into nonsense.

I’m still not sure that the Nile Empire is going to be capable of inspiring the same sense of danger that the other Realms are doing (I mean, really…  Pan-Pacifica is now running its own version of Biohazard on the populace), but I guess we shall see.  There’s still the dire potential for mood whiplash when moving from Realm to Realm, but I’m hoping that the designers have plans for keeping this place threatening enough to keep up with the other Invaders.  I guess we’ll see.

*For what it’s worth, I did submit this to the errata engine, so hopefully this will change by the time it goes to print.  Yay, modern tech, for allowing on-the-fly proofing like this.  Boo for relying on your customers for the proofreading.

Day One – Cyberpapacy

Right or wrong, I’ve always felt like the Cyberpapacy was the weirdest Realm of the whole game.  Take the fanaticism of the Spanish Inquisition and weld it onto the bleak nihilism of cyberpunk fiction.  It certainly hasn’t been done in regular sci-fi to any great extent, so here we have West End Games inventing a new gestalt whole-cloth.  Granted, I always had someone in my old games that wanted to play someone from Cyberfrance, but I assume that was more of an indicator of “High Tech = Better Guns” or some similar equation.* Combining amazing armor and physical enhancement with the ability to cast gnarly miracles certainly did not hurt things, either.

Scanning through the pre-gen characters, there are a startling number of people who end up converting to the Invading Reality.  Pan-Pacifica had three characters convert, but all of them took on vague anime archetypes.  (Well, except for the spooky psychic girl; she had been waiting her entire life for this Invasion.)  The Tharkold adventure had one character go native, which turned him into a dermal plated Heavy.  I can get behind this.  Orrorsh similarly had one, who became the Slayer archetype.  But I’m not really sure why we have four of the six characters converting this time.

Of the four, one becomes a functional Priest, replete with Faith and Miracles.  Another is converted to a cyberwitch, albeit seemingly without the cyberware.**  The other two of the converted characters are largely unremarkable, insofar as why they specifically can’t be Core Earth.  We’ll have to see if there’s any reason given within the text of the module itself.  I have my doubts.

All right, so … I’m working my way through the first page of the module text, and here’s what has stood out to me:  First off, the crux of the adventure is searching for some of the townsfolk that have gone missing.  This is pretty standard, but the module notes that the new Church Police are busily loading the “undesirables” onto trains.  Well, that gives us a solid hook for at least part of the setting.  (And really, if you can’t portray a Free French Resistance in the face of ruthless, authoritarian occupiers, you need to get caught up on your history.)

Then it talks about the blind, street corner prophets proselytizing about the end of the world that would come in the form of “Dragons, demons, and nightmares […]”  Hells, that just sounds like people in the 80’s, when I would talk about my hobbies.

The actual course of the module is fairly simple.  The characters investigate in the first scene, rescue one of the missing townsfolk in the second and steal a train in the third.  None of it is especially complex or surprising.  The fourth scene of the adventure is the boss fight (much like the way the Tharkold adventure was framed), and the epilogue has the characters recruited by Quinn Sebastian.

I realize that we’re going to get rules for the GodNet when we finally see the book for the Cyberpapacy drop, sometime in the next year, but it seems strange that there is nothing that really references it here.  One of the main hooks for the setting, according to the mainbook, is finding hidden information within the realm of the GodNet to use in the greater Possibility Wars.***  (I’ll be honest.  I was sort of hoping that the reason that so many characters had transformed was that one of the pre-gens would have a way to jack into the net and monkey about there.  This was not to be, however.)

Now the question is, how did this module fare against the rest of the book?

The truth is, it seemed a little … dull.  I can’t say that it was bad, but it felt like it was just sort of a by-the-numbers adventure.  There were no real innate threats that had to be confronted (unlike the others I’ve gone through up to now, there were no zombies to be found), and the opportunities for selfless heroism (rescuing small children, defending the landmarks of Core Earth) were relatively minimal.

The way the adventure was structured, the hooks that set things in motion actually felt like the only reason the characters could be bothered to do anything.  If they weren’t trying to save missing loved ones, would they have even gotten involved?  It doesn’t feel like they would have.  Does that mean that this is a larger problem in the face of the Cyberpapacy itself?

In the lead-up to the game, as well as the book itself, there have been notations that the machinations of Pharaoh Mobius have actually gained him supporters amongst the Core Earth residents of the Middle East.  Similarly, Jean Malraux dropped his bridges after he had sent forward scouts to warn of the other Invasions.  Does this mean that resistance to the Cyberfrance Invasion is actually fairly minimal?  It’s an odd setting to deal with, if that’s actually the case.

There was one element that would only appeal to a hardcore English geek like myself, however, which redeemed part of the adventure for me.  And to make any sense of this (it’s always good when I have to launch into a lengthy sort of preamble), I need to lay some groundwork.

The longest poem ever written in the English language is The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, ancestor of Lady Diana Spenser, the late and lamented Princess Di.  Spenser was a contemporary of Sir Walter Raleigh, and the poem was considered, among other things, to be an allegory in praise of Queen Elizabeth.

An epic poem, The Faerie Queene was a lengthy examination of sin and virtue, with the loyal knights of the story embodying certain aspects of proper Christian morality.  As such, they faced off against adversaries who were embodiments of sin and immorality.  In the first book of the poem, the main hero is the Redcrosse Knight, who embodies the virtue of holiness.  In his travels, he meets and challenges the Saracen knights; Sansfoy (the Faithless), Sanjoy (the Joyless) and Sansloy (the Lawless).  Being Saracens (which normally referred to the Moorish Islamic Knights, but in this context mainly just meant non-Christian), they were represented the antithesis of Christian values, hence their names and outlooks.

In the module, the characters encounter the formerly blind prophet who had preached the end times before the Invasion, and he lends them assistance in the form of weapons and information.  In the vein of The Faerie Queene, he is named Sansnom (the Nameless).

This is one of those points where overthinking and reading too much into the naming of an NPC is probably inadvisable.  The broader mythology of Torg deals with two greater aspects of creation, Apeiros the Creator and The Nameless One.  I feel safe in saying that this ragged priest is not representative of a primal force of destruction.

*Torg, I will maintain, is a game of bigger and bigger guns.  Hence the relative distaste for the Living Land (“Our guns no longer work!”) and the gravitation towards the realms of the Cyberpapacy and Tharkold (“Better living through firepower!”).  I’m not off to a great start in disproving that with my PMC crew.

**In the original game, sometimes merely converting to the reality of the Cyberpapacy was enough to install low-end cyberware.  I haven’t seen evidence of that as yet, but it would make a certain sense.  After all, official illustrations have full on Dragon Armor fading out of existence with disconnection.  (Which, by the way, is technically against the rules; Dragon Armor is a Perk, and depriving a character of a purchased Perk during the course of the game is generally forbidden.  As in, it has to be reinstated within a matter of scenes.  Having it wholly vanish from reality seems pretty final to me.)

***As a sidenote, this is a fascinating carry-over from the original edition.  Even then, it was noted that the GodNet was actually far larger and weirder than even Jean Malraux understood, and there were places hidden in the farther reaches of the matrix that might hold the key to winning the Possibility Wars.  However, like so many other dangling plot threads from the original edition of Torg, this was one of those things that never got further illumination.

Day One – Orrorsh

Throughout the history of Torg as a game, Orrorsh has always been a hard sell.  It is the most dire and unfair of the Realms in the game, and there is nothing untoward about the defeat of a major villain requiring some great sacrifice.  This place is roughly the reason that the Martyr Card exists in the first place.  No one wants to go to a place where they’re just as likely to lose a beloved character as they are to actually succeed.

It didn’t help that the underlying nastiness of the realm was reinforced by somewhat heavy-handed historical commentary.  Part of the success of the Invasion was due to the misguided interference of the Victorian Regiments that came down with the maelstrom bridge, intent on bringing their “civilization” to the savages.  There was a whole “white man’s burden” subplot underlying the Gaunt Man’s Realm, and while it had an ironic literary aspect to it, it made things pretty frustrating.  The Storm Knights were faced with having to deal with a faction of potential allies as being part of the larger problem, and the GM had to deal with trying to integrate Kipling into an adventure game.*

The original setting for Orrorsh was New Guinea and greater Malaysia, which was rather foreign to the average American GM.  This has since been moved to the more logical and thematically correct Indian subcontinent, but that doesn’t make it much more accessible to the core audience.  Outside of the Bollywood genre of films, there aren’t a lot of media properties that offer ingress to the setting.

Take, for example, the first notable location in the Day One adventure for Orrorsh.  The text casually mentions that they’re starting out from Madurai, which happens to be a hardpoint for Core Earth.  Okay, that’s interesting, but why?  A quick Google search turns up the Meenakshi Temple, a massive and colorful Hindu temple that dominates the city’s skyline.  Apparently, it has existed in some form for about 2,500 years, but its present form was only built about 500 years ago.**

As I noted with Tharkold, these adventures invite the GM to do a lot of research, just to bring some depth and texture to the world the characters find themselves in.  While this is a fascinating aspect to the setting, I’m starting to wonder if it’s an overall strength or weakness for the game.  Granted, we’re only working with a single mainbook and the first book of adventures (and PDF’s, at that), but I feel like we’re going to need some seriously in-depth setting books to make any of this work worth a damn.

And while we’re on the subject, this adventure drives home how much easier this would all be if I had my Delphi Council Cargo Box in hand.  One of the first things that happens is the characters pass out of the sheltering effect of the Madurai hardpoint, and they’re immediately subjected to the axioms of Orrorsh.  With the proper material in hand, this would take the form of setting the Axiom Table Tent in front of the players and handing out the relevant Cosm Cards.  I’ve already started lamenting the lack of the Condition Tokens that I’ll be getting in October, and I’ve had to repurpose my Deadlands Poker Chips for Possibilities.  This is what happens when you try playing without all of the necessary components in hand.

The characters for the scenario are pretty fun, really.  They’re all members of a wedding group that’s traveling to the hometown of their friend / co-worker for the ceremony.  We have the sister of the groom, her best friend, the priest (who also happens to be the best friend’s adoptive father, more or less), two of the groom’s closest work friends, and the poor bastard that’s driving them there.  (One of fun aspects of the scenario is that the reason they’re not in the center of all the horror immediately is because the driver’s bus broke down and delayed them.  And he’s really defensive about it.)

Being a horror scenario (as though would be any other kind in Orrorsh), the GM starts out by putting the game on a clock, counting down to the inevitable sunset.  Because we all know things are going to go straight to hell once night falls.  The goal of the first act is to make it to the village where the wedding is going to take place in time to investigate it before the main plot kicks in.  Naturally, there are all the elements of creeping horror – mysteriously abandoned cars, inexplicable anachronisms, and a zombie attack.

Okay, maybe the last one is a bit more overt.

Between this adventure and the one from Tharkold, there’s an element of small children in danger.  The Pan-Pacifica adventure avoids this by setting the events against nightlife in Harajuku, but both of the other ones have small children that need to be rescued from the events of the Invasion.  It’s an easy Moment of Crisis, but I’m hoping that this isn’t going to be a crutch for the game designers to lean on.

In the context of the adventure, the characters have to rescue a young boy from a horde of Gospogs.  Gospogs are an interesting aspect of the game, as they were one of the first creatures detailed in both the original game and the new edition.  At their core, they’re little more than zombies that can get by the inherent contradiction of being zombies.  They’re mainly featured in the Orrorsh module thus far, but the Tharkold adventure had the Thralls (think the Revenant from Doom, although mounted shoulder cannons are not required) and Pan-Pacifica had the Jiangshi, which we’ve been over.

I don’t think it needs to be said that Shane Hensley loves him some zombies.  (Seriously, take a look at the introduction to his Unisystem take on Army of Darkness.  He lays out his adoration for the genre pretty clearly.)  I would be surprised if he hadn’t quietly nudged some of these adventures to include more Gospog or Gospog-variants.

Once the characters reach the village, they are treated to the “survive the night against the hordes of zombies” scenario, with a couple of fun added horrors thrown in.  It’s not too bad of a set-up, but I will offer some incredulity as to the fact that the rural village (which serves as the destination and therefore the killing ground) is less than a dozen houses with a well.  It makes sense in a Victorian setting (which is what Orrorsh is based around), but it seems odd, given modern times.  The module hand-waves it by saying that some of the outbuildings have been overtaken by the jungle, but I think if I were to run this module, it would be tweaked to be slightly larger.

Oddly, the overall scenario feels like it would be more survivable than either of the other two that I’ve read through, despite being Orrorshan.  Maybe I’m giving too much weight to the Realm, but it honestly seems like this is less apt to end in absolute, unavoidable slaughter.  Which, given the way that the Gaunt Man has changed the War this time around, seems out of character.

Then again, who knows?  Maybe this is to lull the players into a sense of complacency before bringing the hammer down.

*Not that Kipling is bad, by any stretch.  But when you’re plumbing your college texts of English Lit for thematic elements, there’s a bit more whiplash when everything is pulled off track by (and suddenly, Ninjas!) the interference of a different Cosm.  Torg works best when you have a blending of elements.  And just like the old game, Orrorsh is the most isolated setting.

**I must say this:  Being American, the idea of having a structure that’s five centuries old is hard to comprehend.  Having a city that’s twenty-five centuries old is just unreal.

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.

Anyway.

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.

Day One – Pan-Pacifica

Let’s start off with a nit-pick and build this entry out from there.

As a Day One adventure, the scenario set in Pan-Pacifica* gives half a dozen available pre-generated characters to choose from, with the understanding that they’re likely to die.  This scenario, in particular, operates on the idea that we’re here to establish some atmosphere and show what kind of story the new Torg Eternity is here to tell.  And when we’re given a Biohazard / Resident Evil-derived adventure to go with, I’m immediately onboard with the potentials.

In the original edition, Nippon Tech was a weird, weird realm.  I mean, sure…  we had the ninjas and 80’s corporate Japan flavor, but if we’re being honest, there weren’t a lot of hooks to make it stand out.  There was a bizarre corporate finance sub-system that would allow the GM to properly simulate the boardroom level activities that would fuel adventure series, which made sense to me at the time, but it was a tremendously odd aspect to build out.**  Otherwise, there were no particular campaign ideas that stand out to me when looking back.

But before I follow too many tangents to their logical conclusion, what was the nitpick?

Well, among the available characters, there is a North Korean emigre who runs a stall in one of the markets near Harajuku.  For some reason, however, he isn’t actually given a proper Korean name.  Sun Hyong is almost a proper Korean name, but it’s really only two syllables, instead of the correct three.  (And yes, Hyong is one syllable.  Much like how Tokyo is two syllables, the same as Seoul.  Whee…)  Sun can function as a surname, but it isn’t one that shows up in the common surnames, so I’m left to assume that this character is simply lacking a family name.  Sun Hyong is his given name, and he’s probably a Kim or Lee.

There’s a further twist in that most emigres from North Korea to Japan take Japanese names, for the sake of fitting in better.  That’s a tweak that’s unlikely to matter to most players or GM’s, so I’m not going to press that point.  And well, there’s also the matter that there are heavy North Korean connections to the Yakuza, which could offer some heavy plot implications.***

The pre-gens for the scenario are a proper mix of Japanese culture / anime tropes, which allows them to be dropped into the hands of American players with little problem.  We have the aging Kung Fu student who’s just looking for a purpose and the thuggish street ganger who is about to re-evaluate his life; there’s the genki corporate receptionist who loves fashion and the disillusioned novelist who’s considering getting a safe corporate job.  And of course, we have the moody psychic teenager.

Sadly, the way the story unfolds, it seems like the whole adventure is written for the sake of the spooky teen girl, since it hits so many anime story conventions that it could be an unaired OVA from around 1991.  If she didn’t end up being the sole survivor that turned up later in most people’s campaigns, I would be shocked.

And while we’re on the subject, the background of the Pan-Pacifica invasion lifts so much from the Biohazard franchise (Resident Evil in the States) that I’m sort of wondering why Capcom isn’t getting froggy about it.  The scenario is wrapped around the outbreak of a new and awful biological agent that kills its victims and subsequently reanimates them as zombies.  Naturally, the zombies are less like George Romero or Sam Raimi and more in the style of the modern video games, where they can further mutate into biological horrors.  (Seriously, though…  pick a video game franchise that deals with zombies, and you can pull inspiration for your game from it.)

These zombies draw inspiration from the “hopping vampires” of Chinese folklore, where rigor mortis has stiffened their limbs and made their motions erratic.  In Pan-Pacifica, the Jiangshi move the way they do because of how their muscles realign, but it’s the same idea.  (Point of note:  While Pan-Pacifica is heavily Japanese in its influence, the actual term, Jiangshi, is the Chinese term.  Properly, they would be localized to Kyonshi, but that’s solely for the otaku purists.)

As far as the adventure is concerned, it unfolds in fairly predictable fashion.  The first scene establishes the setting – elements of Japanese nightlife in the center of Tokyo, people milling about and shopping, then … zombies!  From there, we have a tense scene focusing on trying to escape Harajuku, with a nice example of Dramatic Skill Resolution for the players to work through.  Scene three is the standard calm-before-the-storm set piece at a historical shrine nearby, which culminates in a zombie siege, leading to the final scene – the revelation of what’s really going on.  The characters find the hidden lab where all of the infection originated, fight their way through the building as they’re being pursued by the final boss monster.

And that’s where it ends, with the final cinematic and credits.

I’m not kidding when I say that this adventure plays out exactly like a chapter of the Resident Evil franchise.  There are sinister corporate agendas, lurking enemies and jump scares, and a resolution that has the moody psychic girl carted off for study.  (Here’s your sequel hook, everybody…  play through the F.E.A.R. games and use the character of Ayaka Kuroda as the psychic in a coma.)

Thus far, this is the first scenario that I’ve read in depth, and if it seems like I’m trying to harangue the designers for borrowing too heavily from the obvious source material, that is rather far from the truth.  This is a fantastic adventure, hitting all necessary beats to make it a proper homage to the original material.  For my money, it does exactly what it was supposed to do, and the result is a phenomenal introduction to a now-deadly Realm.

We’ll see if the rest of the book holds up as well.

*I swear, it’s going to take long, long years before I adjust to the loss of Nippon Tech to this new title.  All in all, it’s a much better, more evocative name; but really, I’ve already built all these neural connections to the old version.

**None of this makes any sense without having read the cyberpunk fiction of the time period.  Between Gibson’s Neuromancer and Williams’ Hardwired, there was a thread of corporate espionage to a lot of the near-future books of the time.  R. Tal’s Cyberpunk 2020 and FASA’s Shadowrun both borrowed heavily from these sources, but they never went to the trouble of building out the same sort of financial warfare system to allow actual battles to be fought at this level.  Mostly, it was hand-waved that Arasaka was picking a fight with SovOil over something and it was up to the PC’s to steal some techy bit of story maguffin.  For whatever reason, Torg decided that this was inadequate.

***Fun fact:  While I was living in Japan, I had an adult English student that was likely part of the Yakuza.  Nice lady, owned a chain of Pachinko parlors.  She had wanted to improve her English because she spent so much time in the States, touring casinos in Las Vegas.  The tip-off of her connections was that she complained that a lot of Japanese felt that she looked “too Korean,” a distinction that flew past me at the time.

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.