Thus far, we have looked at the implications of stelae boundaries around the time of the Year One update, according to what the module gave us for goals. Following that, we had a discussion of what amounted to being roughly two-thirds of the module, with the main encounters that dealt with uprooting a Living Land stela and defending a critical Core Earth hard point from Baruk Kaah’s forces.
Which leaves us with what most GM’s would probably consider the most important of the main objectives – the weird one.
On the surface, this doesn’t present itself as being a fundamentally interesting module. There is a matter of missing scouts, the undefended stela, and the dinosaur attack in the midst of everything. Based on the Day One Adventure modules and the Delphi Council modules that came as additional goals for the Kickstarters, most of the adventures were pretty much by the numbers. They showcased the individual Realms pretty well, since they were trying to work as introductions for the GM and players, none of whom were required to be familiar with a game that’s about 30 years old by this point. (And has been out of print for close to 25 years.)
The thing is, while all of these modules are good at showing what players could expect from an adventure in Tharkold or the Nile Empire, they didn’t actually do justice to what should be expected in the context of a proper Torg module.
So, what’s the difference, you might reasonably ask?
Simple. A Torg module is at its best when it gets seriously weird. All of the adventures that have come before this have been very Cosm-specific. (And no, I can’t speak to the variance of the modules on the Infiniverse Exchange, as I haven’t availed myself of any of the fan-made materials.) The extant modules, with the vague exception of the God Box by Shane Hensley, have done an excellent job of dealing with single Cosm forays. It’s when things start to overlap that Torg really shines.
In the Relics of Power trilogy, the characters were initially sent after an assassin sent by the Cyberpapacy to eliminate Nile Empire agents in Atlanta. Then, ninjas. And it only gets more complicated from there. You see, by rights, all of the High Lords are working against each other in the course of the war, each trying to jockey for power or position to the point that any given objective has a complex conspiracy woven into it. In my own home game back in the day, Nippon Tech agents were routinely sparring with Tharkoldu for things like Eternity Shards, even as other groups vied for control.
And that’s what makes the Burden of Glory such fun. But then, it sort of has to hearken back to the old ways, given that the guys they were running for happened to be hardcore fans of how things used to be done. Anything less would have been disappointing.
Anyway, back to the module itself. As noted, we have yet to deal with the final option for the module’s objectives – the mysterious golden temple that appeared nearby, which is somehow connected with the prehistoric “Mound Builders” of the area.* The characters learned of this when they rescued Daybasker, the slacker edeinos, along with the attack on Lincoln University. It’s heavily implied that the characters will seize upon this as a main objective, since it’s too bizarre to pass up otherwise.
It’s worth noting that the rest of the module tends to funnel the characters toward this idea as well. There is a sidebar early on that offers suggestions for the different Cosm cards that could be played as part of the action. Both the Dino Attack card and the Lost Treasure card specifically refer to the temple, with any sort of further investigation of what they find moving them to the front steps of the mound.
Upon arriving at the golden temple, the characters are filled with a sense of unease, and the GM reinforces this with a sense of unease for the players – the Living Land Cosm Cards are discarded and replaced with Orrorshan Cosm Cards. (If it wasn’t bad enough that the entire Cosm of the Space Gods was destroyed by the Gaunt Man, the module adds insult to injury by dropping a Nightmare Tree on top of everything, making this an Orrorshan hard point. Yay.)
At the entrance to the temple, they find the mummified remains of one of the scouts that had ventured out several days before from Lincoln University. (The mummification, of course, is due to the overlay of Orrorsh; otherwise, the body would already be reduced to bones by Living Land world laws.) Further in, they find the rest of the expedition, all of whom have been felled by mysterious weapons.
The interior is a weird amalgamation of high tech superscience and Incan iconography, with equal parts circuitry and pictographs built into the stone of the walls. The images tell the story of how the Akashans traveled between worlds, trying to shore up defenses against the High Lords, with the inevitable betrayal at the hands of the Elves of Aysle. At one point, it is revealed that this “temple” is actually an interdimensional lifeboat from the Star Sphere, with extremely minor remnants of their tech. Along the way, there are a couple of combat encounters, but these are more like Easter Eggs for the dedicated Torg lore enthusiasts than anything else.
The final chamber at the top of the pyramid has the important bit of lore as everything starts to crumble. It seems that right before the Gaunt Man destroyed Akasha, they had dispatched as many of these lifeboats as they could, but they were almost all destroyed. The only ones to survive, according to the star map in the control chamber, were the one that the players found, and another somewhere to the far south.**
The encounter concludes with the Wonder imploding and the Nightmare Tree that has been propping it up falling apart. The characters can scramble to pick up a couple of neat toys from the lifeboat before it collapses completely, but otherwise, the main thing that they leave the temple with is more questions.***
*Now, this is an interesting bit. According to the module, there isn’t actually a mound at the site of the newly arrived golden temple, but it’s in the shape of one. And when it is destroyed in the final confrontation, it essentially becomes one. This leaves us without a defined location for the temple itself, other than being “an hour away” and somewhere within the vaguely defined stelae boundaries.
What’s strange is that most of the mounds that people are familiar with are nowhere near the confines of the module, with the Cahokia Mounds (the ones most people could name off the top of their head) being up near St. Louis. There’s another one, deep in the Mark Twain National Forest, where it’s noted that previous fighting took place. But as we are to learn, it’s clearly not that one either.
And none of this is to touch on the idea that one of the NPC’s detailed in the beginning of the module is actually obsessed with the mounds in the area, ranting on about the dire significance of these constructs and their connection to South America. (Of course, he’s absolutely correct in his hypotheses, but there’s a good chance that he dies before he can be questioned by the Storm Knights.)
**It seems to me that the big reveal at the end of the module is pointing toward a broken remnant of Space Gods showing up somewhere in Peru. This is left with a mysterious and unresolved plot thread that will either be hinted at in future special modules or in the Year Two products coming sometime in the next three years.
***Personally, I think I’m going to add in some biotech toys for the characters to pick up as they explore. There are more than enough things to bring over from the Space Gods book from back in the day, and it would be sort of fun to give them bizarre things to try to figure out. I mean, most of the encounter is built on a helmet with tentacles, so it’s not like they’re shying away from this idea anyway.
Now that I have the intricacies of Stelae-Bounded Zones of Reality out of the way, we can talk about other things in the module, Burden of Glory.
As I said before, the characters start out in Living Land occupied Missouri, where it is implied that they are going to be sent out after a group of missing soldiers who had been scouting for a Lost World within the bounds of the Living Land.* Once the opening scene has been established, a strangely anachronistic gyrocopter approaches, and its pilot, one of the high-ranking Delphi Council members, lands to give them a new mission.** The square-jawed Nile Empire expat, Rex Steele, tells them that there is a new stela nearby that is otherwise undefended, and with the local Glory result, it’s safe to uproot the boundary. This is the main plot hook of the module, but as we’ll see, it seems strangely optional.
From there, the characters are free to requisition equipment from one of the NPC’s that is detailed as being part of the Lincoln University hard point. These NPC’s are noted as being an integral part of the adventure, insofar as they serve as personal stakes for the characters to either save or mourn later. Early on, the module forces the group to have to prioritize what goals to pursue, and I have the feeling that the University is going to end up being the weakest of the choices, overall.
Heading north, the first real encounter offers a new plot hook in the form of a diversion from the original mission, as revealed by a curiously lazy and inept edeinos that has to be rescued from a spontaneous tar pit. He tells of an imminent attack on the hard point at the University (where the characters just came from) and the appearance of a strange sort of temple (a byproduct of the Law of Wonders) that was apparently investigated by the missing scouts.
According to the text of the module, the characters are going to have to choose which of the three objectives they can manage to take on. There is the innate assumption that one of the objectives is going to have to be lost. Since the module made a point of trying to establish the NPC’s at the University, logically, it’s going to be fairly high priority.
Working down the list, the removal of the Living Land stela – what is ostensibly the main mission – is the most straightforward. It’s a Dramatic Skill Resolution, with all manner of distractions being thrown at the player characters in the form of a whole raft of gospog and a single Ravagon. Once the stela has been disconnected and pulled free, the zone immediately flips, and the fight is largely over.****
There is one aspect to the fight which I find particularly weird. It states that, unless the GM is wanting to prolong the fight, the gospog essentially vanish in the Core Earth axiom wash. This seems like it goes against the established rules for gospog, which have them straddling the line on their native Reality. They’re formed of seeds from the Invading Cosm (Living Land, in this case) and the native dead, which allows them to be sent into zones where they might otherwise cause contradiction without fear of ever becoming disconnected. By rights, this would mean that the axiom wash would not trouble them.
Again, this is a case of “what best serves the story,” but it’s still weird. There are two possible scenarios that would explain this effect, but neither one is explicated in the text of the module. One idea posits that these gospog aren’t actually Core Earth native, but the leftover Ukhaan gospog that get dimthreaded in. This would explain why they were essentially dissolved with the axiom wash. The other possibility is that the act of pulling a stela free is violent enough that it would affect the gospog the same way that a hard transformation would effect an Ord without benefit of a Glory result. This is the more likely explanation, but none of this is actually codified.
Skipping ahead, the third objective that the characters can attempt is the Siege of Lincoln University. As outlined by Daybasker, the edeinos that the characters rescued in the first act of the module, the local tribe of Redjaws has taken it upon themselves to attack the campus and attempt to destroy the hard point that it houses.
There is almost nothing to this encounter, other than outright tactical combat. The Core Earth forces are scattered about the University grounds, fighting separate groups of feral lizardmen, and the characters are tasked with confronting the main leader atop his own personal Tyrannosaurus Rex mount, whose presence alone pushes this into a Dramatic encounter. There are some machine gun emplacements in the form of a couple of M240 nests, but beyond a couple of choices in where to engage their foes, it’s all combat.
That said, the leader of the edeinos looks like he’d be a fun adversary. Being that he’s a Possibility-rated character, he can soak wounds for himself and his mount, which can ramp up the difficulty of the fight even further.
The one factor that is noted is whether or not the characters had gotten around to getting the stela uprooted before they came back to the campus, as it eliminates about half of the edeinos forces and drops the health of the T-Rex by about 25% overall. There is also the potentiality of reinforcements arriving as a result of the edeinos that the characters had encountered in the first act. This is offered as a sort of deus ex machina, should the fight run too long for the anticipated session, but I feel like this should have been more of a story-driven outcome that would have rewarded the characters for taking the time to rescue a potential ally.
With all of this in mind, all that remains of the module is to talk about the mysterious temple that served as the third objective for the adventure. And we’ll get into that next time, with the final discussion of the Burden of Glory.
*It’s never outright stated how long the area has been overrun by the Living Land Realm, but I have to think that it’s been a couple of weeks, given the spread of the Glory and the implied fighting that’s been going on. That said, it’s weird that Baruk Kaah hasn’t tried to set up a back-up stela yet. The adventure is on a clock, to the point that only two of the three stated goals of the adventure can be optimally achieved in the course of a session, and one of the eventualities has this backup being put in place, seemingly as a direct consequence of the players’ inaction. I can grok the implied tension of having to make hard choices for the sake of story, but the timing of the adventure is a little wonky if you look too closely at it.
**It’s worth noting that Rex Steele appears to be one of the characters created as a result of the Kickstarter. There were a number of pledges open to people who wanted to spend $1,000 on the opportunity to play in this same Gen Con exclusive module and create one of the personalities attached to the canon Delphi Council. If we wanted to get picky, the fact that Steele is giving the briefing here, rather than participating in the module means that we’re not exactly in the same reality of the Infiniverse, but that’s splitting hairs.
***In theory, all three goals are possible to overcome, but it’s heavily implied that they’re not going to be able to manage to accomplish more than two. And well, the module was a convention special, so there is the actual clock of the session slot holding things back. If they screw around too much, there are notes on what happens when time runs out.
For my purposes, I’m assuming that I’d allow greater success, so long as the characters weren’t screwing around or notably misguided in their efforts. Hells, depending on how things went, I could even see splitting the party, with one or two characters heading back to the University to help mount a defense. Naturally, this isn’t something that would have worked in the context of a convention module.
****Personally, I’m delighted to see a Ravagon show up. These nasty winged reptiles are one of the worst threats that a High Lord can marshal in the early parts of the Possibility Wars. They’re the scrappy survivors of a Cosm that the Gaunt Man ravaged, with weird resilience when it comes to dealing with Possibility Energy. In the original edition, they were nearly impossible to beat in a Reality Storm, but the new rules have nerfed them somewhat, given that it takes a lot more work to invoke the Everlaws these days.
Oh, and there’s a Gospog of the Fourth Planting also, but he’s not as interesting, really.
In the previous post, I talked about the Delphi Council session at Gen Con 2017, where the possible remnants of Akasha were teased. The information I was working with was derived from a discussion of the module on the official forums, so I was, as the historians would put it, working with secondary or tertiary source for my information.
Today, Ulisses Spiele NA, in anticipation of Gen Con 2018 kicking off next week, released the text of the module for the general public. I have to say, at no point has the staff of Torg Eternity made a misstep in how they have handled the game line. Making all of this public, easily accessible, and open to discussion has been a great boon to the line, so far as I’m concerned.
Insofar as the module is concerned, I did get one thing generally wrong. This would have been corrected, had I listened to the three hours worth of someone else’s game, so there you have it. (I have the same tendency to view sports the same way. I’m not actually there, so I don’t have as much interest in hearing other people having fun. It’s just how I’m wired, I’m afraid.)
When I had read through the highlights of the session, it had referred to the encounter with the Akashan tech as being a “lifeboat.” My assumption had been that it would have been more of a starship, but in keeping with the generalized weirdness of the Cosm, the lifeboat was more along the lines of a golden temple. It’s a neat sort of misdirection, and I can wholly appreciate that.
Otherwise, what about the module?
The characters are dropped into Jefferson City, MO, which lies about halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis. According to the text of the module, part of Missouri has been overrun by the Living Land, and Lincoln University (where the characters are briefed) is one of the few remaining hard points in the state. (How much of this is objectively true is up for debate; I’ll get into that momentarily.)
But here’s the thing: According to the three month and one year maps that have already been released, the stelae boundaries are nowhere near Missouri. The Year One updated map has the main advances coming in the South, advancing from the Atlanta Maelstrom Bridge toward Oklahoma and Texas.*
There is also mention of the Tragedy of Nashville, wherein a group of rogue stormers was responsible for ripping up a stela and vaporizing untold sections of the population in the process. (More on this in a moment.) Much like the conquest of Missouri, the map of Year One shows that Nashville was otherwise safe.
So, what do we do about the assumed territory losses that the module casually informs us of in the opening text? Well, basic geometry allows us to fill in the implied territory with stelae boundaries to cover the missing parts. According to the module, the stela that was destroyed near Nashville covered three zones, which would have been the areas extending from roughly Lousiville, KY in the north to around Memphis, TN to the west, and connecting to the Pure Zone around Atlanta. By the nature of stelae boundaries, it places Nashville at the very edge of the Living Land.**
Since the module deals with a mission to uproot a stela in Central Missouri, that gives us some clues toward how the spread of the Living Land has progressed. (And since it tells us that uprooting this stela will only revert one zone, it gives us some further idea of the general direction and strategy.)***
The module places the targeted stela in the Ashland Wilderness Research Area, just north of Jefferson City. Using extant stelae boundaries, that would connect with the stelae in Fort Smith, AK and Clarksdale, MS, thereby covering most of the remainder of Arkansas and the central portion of Southern Missouri. The module speaks of battles in the Mark Twain National Forest, so that jibes with what we otherwise know.
Looking over the maps for Year One, this roughly tells us that the Nashville Stela and this one are the only unaccounted for stelae, which means that, canonically, these zones are not official. Of course, the stela that’s the focus of the adventure is still left to the whims of the Infiniverse voting, but still.
So, what about the Tragedy of Nashville, which the module talks about? Why did untold millions of people die?
This dives into the metaphysics of the setting. According to game lore, the conversion of a normal, ordinary person (an “Ord,” in the lexicon) to a new reality uses up their store of Possibility Energy, which takes time to restore. If they subsequently are transformed again (by a stela being removed, for sake of example), without restoring this Possibility Energy, they generally vanish as a sort of self-correcting paradox. Mechanically, the only way to definitively restore Possibility Energy to Ords in the game is to do something truly noteworthy in the fight against the Invaders and spread the tale. This is accomplished by spending a Glory Card in the midst of the game and having the story spread in the local area. It’s all but outright stated that this happened before the start of the module.
Otherwise, we have what happened in Nashville. No Glory, and countless people were lost in the aftermath. It isn’t as dramatic as the old edition, where people would be consumed in fiery agony, but it’s a bit more contemporary with their potentiality wafting away as though they had never been.
But what about the actual course of the adventure? Well, there’s a lot of interesting stuff to cover, and rather than prolong this particular post any further, I’ll get into the meat of the module in the next entry. Suffice to say that there are some weird elements that I’m not entirely certain of their inclusion, so I’d like to devote a bit more time to that end with the next entry.
*And yeah, there are the expansions in the Caribbean and the Pacific Northwest, but for now, the only real info I have to play with is the general state of the Midwest. And if things are going as badly as they seem to, I shudder to think what’s going on with those other areas. I mean, it was bad enough that the Caribbean Invasion jumped from being half of Florida to taking over the entirety of Cuba. If it’s actually worse than this…
**If the Living Land had extended to the Northwest, toward the areas referenced in the module, the destruction of the Nashville Stela would have flipped more than three zones when it went. There was an adventure in the original Torg that dealt with similar stelae boundaries in the Cyberpapacy. In Operation: Central Fire, the storm knights were going to attempt removing the stela in the center of France that was critical to five distinct zones, which would have pretty well crippled the Invasion. Since this stela was only on the intersection of three zones, that means that the Invasion didn’t continue far enough to connect with any other zones.
***I had originally tried to make sense of other parts of the module, with what appeared to be the implied destruction of the St. Louis Arch. Being that the module only deals with flipping one zone back to Core Earth, the stela that’s being targeted doesn’t connect with any other zones, else there would be deeper ramifications. Which means that the note of Lincoln University being “one of the last remaining hardpoints in Missouri” is just sort of weird. By simple geometry, none of the rest of the state is at risk, let alone St. Louis.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t spend a lot of time in official forums. I used to be the sort to frequent the message boards and Usenet groups for information and discussion, but more and more, these hangouts have turned into weirdly exclusive zones for the more hardcore GM’s and players.* I don’t really have the time or interest these days, so the most I do is browse for opinions on specific topics.
Say, for immediate example, I want to get a read on a fine rules point for Pathfinder or an element in one of the Adventure Paths. Fire up Google, parse as narrow a search term as I can for the question that’s been brought up, and dig through a half dozen sources on the particular boards. When I have what I need, I close it up and go away. Part of this is my general indifference to forum cliques these days, and part of it is due to a couple of miserable experiences, which are best left alone.
The official Torg Eternity forums yielded up two interesting notes – one of which is little more than a passing hand-wave, and one of which has broader implications.
The first note concerns gospog, which are the in-game version of basic, shambling mook zombies for low-level adventurers to deal with. According to game lore, they’re a weird sort of biotech created by the Gaunt Man and spread amongst the invading High Lords. The idea is that they are the war dead of the Invasion, planted with eldritch seeds that rise as zombies. What makes gospog a staple for the war effort is that they’re considered “Mixed” axiom, so they can be used in Pure and Dominant Core Earth zones without fear of having them fall apart.
Each subsequent planting of gospog becomes incrementally more powerful, which is why they continue to be a threat to Storm Knights as the game progresses. There is one problem, however, with the way that Torg Eternity has been built out. By allowing some games to start with the Invasion, the week required to grow the First Planting Gospog is no longer available.
And yet, the early adventures and fiction include them.
The quick explanation is that they’re remnants of previous invasions brought over the Maelstrom Bridges. In the Day One Adventure book, it specifically notes that the fields outside the village are tended by Gaean gospog. And it’s implied that the weird temple walls in the Aysle adventure are some kind of pre-fab gospog building materials that were assembled on-site.
For me, this is an interesting sort of missed opportunity. These gospog are pretty much expendable, even moreso than the usual sort. Since they’re not dual-Cosm gospog, they will pretty much fall apart when sent into Core Earth. Where regular gospog are able to weather Axiom changes, these would disintegrate on a regular basis, which would allow for some interesting situations for the GM to foreshadow.
Consider: The characters are in a Day One scenario where they are called in to try to fight off the leading edge of the Invasion. Edeinos ride in, leading a horde of Ukhaan gospog. The characters mount a defense, and as they do so, they note that some of the army of the undead fall apart fairly easily. They form an impression of how to deal with the threat of gospog.
Then, a week passes, which allows the native First Planting Gospog to rise, and the same characters are faced with a new horde of vine-choked undead. Only to find that the rate of attrition isn’t nearly as great. The first point of many where the rules start to change for the player characters.
And on the note of changing things as they go along…
I’ve already talked at length about the implications of what happened to Akasha, the Realm of the Space Gods from the original Torg line. The Elves of Aysle betrayed them to the Gaunt Man, who annihilated the Cosm and stole bits of their biotech to add to his already impressive arsenal.**
And from the line in the core book, it was implied that this footnote was going to be the last we’d see of the interstellar empire of the Star Sphere.
Then came the details of the Gen Con Delphi Council session. This particular session was run for the high level Kickstarter backers, people who had dropped $1,000US for the sake of putting their characters into the game lore and hanging out with the game designers at Gen Con. The plot of the adventure concerned dealing with ripping up a Living Land stela, which was also the plot of the Day One Orrorsh adventure.***
In the course of the adventure, the characters encountered what amounted to being a crashed starship in the midst of the Living Land. (I’m going to assume that, despite the potentiality, this wasn’t a Lost World.) The starship was fleeing from the destruction of Akasha at the hands of the Gaunt Man, and searching through the dying tech, the group noted that there was at least one other surviving ship.
This fired a lot of circuits for me. Rebuilding Space Gods as Torg’s version of Battlestar Galactica changed a lot of my interest for the Cosm. Originally, the Akashans were little more than weird and hippy, the squirrelly saviors that could bring about the peaceful end of the war, if only they weren’t distracted by their own problems.
I’ll be honest, other than the Psionics rules, I didn’t really do much with Space Gods in the original run. But the war-torn survivors of a desperate, lost war? Yeah, I can use that. Especially if there is any sort of work put into detailing the expansive dead cosm that they’re trying their best to escape from. A post-apocalyptic interstellar empire would be a fascinating place to adventure in.
*Not that they weren’t weird and exclusive back in the day. It’s just that I was part of the “in-group” at the time. Or as Abe Simpson put it: “I used to be with ‘it’, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’ anymore and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary. It’ll happen to you!”
**I fully expect new bits of this to show up in the lore as time goes on. Already, we have seen the world-saving Reality Trees re-branded as Nightmare Trees, which allow Orrorsh to casually invade pretty much anywhere. And I have the idea that the Dimthread Trees that show up in the God Box adventure are similarly adapted, being that they’re mostly indistinguishable from Nightmare Trees.
What I see happening is having new forms of gospog show up with grafted biotech that was pulled from Akashan sources. First or Second Planting Gospog with a bhelablade or tentacle sword would be a nightmare, as would one implanted with the ability to fire Telesh. Upgrading gospog would be a fascinating rules enhancement.
***I feel like these adventures that deal with stelae are interesting but ultimately futile. In the original game, uprooting stelae was a much more important, much more difficult venture. In the fiction, it was the reason that Core Earth was able to repel the original Tharkold Invasion. Setting two events like this in the first year, without serious setbacks to the Possibility Wars themselves, seems like we’re making the whole process into a sort of meaningless gesture that ultimately won’t matter.
My previous post talked about the relative experience levels in Torg Eternity, which the designers chose to delineate using “clearance levels” within the Delphi Council. It’s in keeping with the flavor of the setting, as well as giving some indication of what sort of adventure awaits the characters in a given module.
This is a standard, if fading practice from the earliest days of D&D. Thinking on it now, it seems like the more narrative games of the 1990’s era did away with the idea of leveled modules in favor of subtle scaling, as necessary. These days, even in more numerically crunchy systems like FFG’s Star Wars line, about the only real nod to leveled encounters comes in the Force & Destiny line, where there’s a sharp divide between Beginning and Knight level play. (Mainly, do the characters have lightsabers and extensive Force power to call upon?) Otherwise, a lot of the encounters in modern games can be run according to the general assumed challenge level or the specific skills required to overcome the kinds of opposition mustered.*
As a core mechanic within role-playing games, the idea of experience points forms a bit of a contentious argument about the rapid advancement of characters within the setting of the game itself. Skill improvement comes with the advancement, and depending on the system, it can seem like the protagonists can go from incompetent to murderous in a matter of weeks – a rate of progress that has no real world analogue. But this is where the satisfaction of the players and the requirements of the game itself tend to overrule any cries against the intended realism of a given scheme of advancement.
That aside, Torg Eternity has a fascinating way of dealing with experience points, which may just be unique unto itself.
It’s a common aspect of RPG’s and specific groups to introduce new characters (or even players, for that matter) in the middle of an ongoing story. Given that continuous games could theoretically be played indefinitely, a rotation of characters is an accepted part of the system. And depending on the whims of the group, newly introduced characters may be added without the same benefit of level. There is no shortage of horror stories that involve fresh-faced players joining an established group, only to find themselves with grievously underpowered characters who cannot stand beside the veterans.
For that matter, it’s also well established that a player who misses a session of a given game are similarly going to miss out on the experience that goes with that session. None of this is uncommon, and depending on the system, the experience is specifically tied to the challenges that the characters overcame in the course of play. Dungeons & Dragons has entire spreadsheets devoted to this idea, with the relative challenge of an encounter being factored against the characters confronting it.
None of this applies in Torg Eternity.
It’s outright stated in the core rules that it doesn’t specifically matter what sort of ideas the characters had to overcome a challenge, as long as they pushed the story forward when they overcame it. Experience points are particularly flat in this edition, with a non-variable reward coming at the conclusion of each act of the story. It’s implied that a single act is approximately enough for a one night session, which flattens it even more. An act will have multiple scenes, but given the published adventures that have already been released with the Kickstarters, it’s still expected to fit within a session.
So, with at in mind, the Clearance Level of a character within Torg Eternity is essentially a shorthand for how many adventures they have been part of.
It’s also noted that any new character brought in, whether to replace a character that has died in the course of the campaign or with a new player joining the game, will be created at the same level as the extant characters. This is a very specific codification of how to handle the situation, which I haven’t really found elsewhere. And with it, the game notes that even if the player has been absent, the character is expected to remain at consistent experience levels with everyone else.
So, to distill this to the core ideas, character level is literally set by the progress of the game itself, not by any specific action by the players. In its way, the game itself sets the experience level of the characters playing it, not the other way around. Personally, I’ve played with iterations of this idea myself in different games, but having it be part of the game’s very foundation seems like a bold departure from decades of established gaming tradition. Part of me wonders if I should see this as a better way of doing things or if the differentiated awards of old are still preferable.**
I guess the main thing that I’m struggling with in considering all of this is whether or not it’s a change I’m comfortable with. I remember all too well the XP systems of old, and in a lot of cases, I tended to circumvent or hand-wave them as I saw fit. Part of me wants to knee-jerk at the idea of flattening the experience system down to such an extent, but I feel like I tend to institute systems like this in my games already. All that’s really changed in any of this is my ability to regulate experience points on my own terms.
In some ways, all this system does is remove a certain sort of tyranny from the hands of the GM. There is no mechanism to restrict the abilities of a new character, which makes a lot of sense, especially in the context of the baseline conflict that Torg Eternity is built around. This iteration of the Possibility Wars is geared to be far grittier and deadlier than the original. Intentionally handicapping characters is a poor idea.
Now it remains to see if I try applying any of this philosophy to other games.
*Of course, none of this applies to any derivation of Dungeons & Dragons. Encounter levels require careful knowledge of the maths involved, to the point that even published material gets called into question as to the actual fairness of monster design and ability. Best I can tell, only GURPS players have to deal with more calculation.
**One system that I still look back upon fondly is the old White Wolf mode that I used to such great extent in Werewolf. Roughly, it went as such: One point, automatic. You got one XP just for warming the chair. One point, what did the character learn? This one has the player connecting XP with some aspect of character growth, which I rather like, even if my players half-assed it at points. One point, role-playing. Pretty standard, but worth noting. One point, concept. Did your character act according to the overarching theme that they were built with? Ofttimes, this went hand in hand with the RP award. One point, heroism. Did your character go above and beyond in defending his pack?
Basically, a single session of Werewolf would net a PC between one and five XP, based on how they were being played. About the only point that was variable was the award for heroism, which may or may not have come up in the particular session.
I see this system being echoed in games like Blades in the Dark, which operates on a very similar basis for what the characters did in a given caper, with the same kind of general self-reporting that I used in my Werewolf games. And even though there is variance, there isn’t a whole lot. Most of the time, my players in Werewolf would end up getting about the same XP reward, meaning that the only difference between this and Torg is the illusion of free will. Which is a little bit meta, really.
I made mention of the Beta Clearance Guide for Torg Eternity in my previous post, and it merits a little more examination, given the content that it makes use of. Released in two parts – the Beta Clearance Player and GM Primers – this guide works as something of a stop-gap measure for anyone playing Torg Eternity in these early stages, covering the higher experience levels that will result from regular play.
It’s fairly obvious that this game is going to take place in discrete phases, and we’re only about a quarter of the way through Phase One. The Core Book and the individual Realm Sourcebooks – Living Land, Nile Empire, Aysle, Cyberpapacy, Tharkold, Pan-Pacifica and Orrorsh – are going to cover the state of Core Earth from the beginning of the Invasion until about Year One. Viewed from the standpoint of the finished game, this allows the GM to be able to pick and choose from material to build their campaign.
The problem is, we’re not going to have these sourcebooks out with any haste, given the rate of Kickstarter fulfillment.* At best, we can hope for two to three sourcebooks per year, which means that an optimistic and slightly unrealistic estimation for the basic line to be finished is sometime in mid to late 2020. There aren’t a lot of GM’s that are going to wait three years to get their campaigns rolling.
And that’s the gap that the Beta Clearance Guide is trying to bridge.
The title of the book (yeah, they released two books, I realize, but they’re 11 and 13 pages per, so I’m comfortable considering them as one volume) refers to the specific clearance level of agents with the Delphi Council. The game assumes that the characters are going to be affiliated with the Council, and even if they’re not, we’re going to use the specific terminology anyway. Since Torg has always been a skill-based game, these clearance levels are a shorthand for the relative experience levels of the player characters. Alpha Clearance simply assumes that the characters have undergone a Moment of Crisis and are able to manipulate Reality, which makes them starting level. Beta Clearance are the characters with a minimum of adventuring experience, roughly equivalent to three regular adventures or a dozen one-shots.
Originally, this was all that was put forth, which was interesting in that gaining Beta Clearance would take roughly two to three months of regular play. The Guide opens this up with three additional operational levels – Gamma, Delta and Omega. Gamma jumps up the scale to 200 Experience, Delta holds at 500 Experience, and Omega requires that the characters have a fascinatingly high 1,000 Experience.**
Being that the book is specifically for Beta Clearance characters, there isn’t much that is detailed beyond that level. There is only one Perk in the Player’s section that is listed as being Gamma Level, and really, it’s a Beta Level Perk, so long as you take a fairly obvious prereq. It’s only Gamma if you want to do things the hard way.
So, to digress for a moment…
Cosm Adaptation, the Perk in question, answers a question that’s been floating around on the forums ever since the PDF for the core rules got released. In the original edition of Torg, it was an accepted part of experienced characters that they would start picking up random shit from the various Cosms as they went along. Your Core Earth college professor would take some time, read a couple of books on Aysle sorcery, and he’d be able to chuck some Altered Fireballs when he ran out of bullets. Teach Nile Mathematics to a Cyberpriest, and he was good to go. Edeinos ninja, Core Earth truck drivers taking up pain weapons against Orrorshan vampires, Kadandran exiles wielding hrockt spears; the weirder it was, the better.
The new system in Torg Eternity is modeled a lot more closely on D&D 3.5 / Pathfinder Feats, where certain requirements are in place before a character can buy Perks (which cover things like Sorcery, Miracles, Psionics, and weirder things). One of the main things that serves as a delineation on which Perks can be bought is what Cosm the characters are actually from, to the point that, should a character ever be Transformed to a new Reality, they’re obliged to trade in whatever Perks they from the old Reality.
By taking this Perk, the character is able to pick a specific category – to pull something out of the air, let’s say the Electric Samurai tree from Pan-Pacifica – and from that point, they are able to take Perks from that category as though they otherwise met the basic Cosm requirement. It doesn’t obviate the more specific requirements (such as having to actually be a Dwarf for the so-named Dwarf Perks, like Dragon Warrior), but it does open up some fascinating possibilities, like the Edeinos Paladin from the original Aysle book.
While we’re on the subject, it’s worth noting that the racial requirements may not be as hard and fast as they’re initially presented. In the Living Land Sourcebook, there’s a new Perk, Chosen of Lanala, that allows the character to take any Perk that has “Edeinos” as a requirement. I have the feeling that this is the sort of Perk that can only be taken with explicit GM approval, since something of this sort serves as the climactic moment in the “God Box” adventure.
The rest of the Player section covers some interesting rules on what the characters can use the Delphi Council for, in terms of equipment and support, as well as details on the various sections of the organization they’re widely assumed to be working for. The GM section, aside from the Year One overview, has rules for adapting adventures for higher level play (Beta, mainly) as well as on-the-fly numbers if a GM has to wing an encounter out of thin air. A quick glance tells me that these tables are a kinder, friendlier version of the old Value Chart of the original game, where you could estimate the relative armor value of a battleship, as needed.
All in all, this is a nice update, but I have the feeling that everything contained herein is going to end up recycled into a much more comprehensive Year One update, sometime in the next several years.
*And make no mistake, I’m not ragging on Ulisses Spiel about this. They’re doing very well for the business model, but the simple logistics of running a Kickstarter, doing the necessary paperwork in the aftermath, and dealing with international printing and shipping tends to prolong the process. The Living Land Sourcebook, which is at the printer at the point I’m writing this, ran into specific snags with artwork (as I am given to understand it), and that meant there’s going to be a delay with the Kickstarter for the Nile Empire book. They have otherwise been exemplary in their fulfillment.
**If we assume that a single act of an adventure (or a one-shot, depending) requires one night, Omega Level Clearance translates out to a campaign that ran weekly for a full four years. Without fail, every single week. (And it might be noted that Delta Level Clearance is half that, at a two year threshold.)
The fun thing about this level is that it doesn’t detail what sort of Perks are available to this level of character (they barely sketch out Gamma, beyond the one Perk I’ll be talking about) beyond a singular notation that hints at the origins of Quin Sebastian’s unique view on the Possibility Wars.
For good or for ill, I’m fascinated by the timekeeping in Torg Eternity. This is a game predicated, in both the original game and the current edition, on being carefully modern day and contemporary. Until such point as the Maelstrom Bridges fell, the world went on as normal, and our perception of the war hinges on how it disrupted our familiar history.
The timeline of the game essentially starts at the three month post-Invasion mark, with a little bit of flex with the Day One Adventures. These adventures serve as an intro to the setting with what amounts to be expendable characters, but the players can theoretically hold onto them for campaign play. The Deus Ex Machina of Quin Sebastian showing up at the conclusion of each adventure allows the characters to be transplanted into a central narrative point, where they can join up with any other character as needed.
Each Realm sourcebook continues from the three month mark, extending things out to the point of a Year One milestone. The Living Land sourcebook (the first of at least seven) does this in depth, and the Kickstarter funded enough that a general guide, the Beta Clearance GM Primer, worked on an overview of the rest of the realms.
Long story shot? Core Earth is boned.
Each of the Realms has expanded significantly, with the Living Land covering a good third of the United States and managing a complete stranglehold over the Caribbean. On a practical basis, this shuts down nearly all shipping to any port on the East Coast or Gulf Coast, leaving only the ports in San Diego and Los Angeles open for general trade. Given that Houston is the temporary capital of the US, this creates a host of logistical problems. If the Living Land were to commit to taking Los Angeles and San Diego, the US would be little more than an isolated island, without a lot of options on how to deploy anywhere. The “planes can fly over the axioms” aspect of things helps, but an awful lot of our basic infrastructure requires boats.
What’s even more fun is the notation on the state of the Cyberpapacy. In the original war, Malraux made some progress outside of Europe by dropping a Maelstrom Bridge into Quebec, with the idea of using French refugees as a way to establish a bridgehead. This time around, the false papacy takes a stronger role, and the Cyberpapacy makes a point of invading a country with close to a 65% base of Catholics.
So, remember when I had predicted that Brazil was huge, powerful and ripe for the taking as a target of Invasion? Yeah. Turns out that I was right, but I had picked the wrong Realm as having their eyes on it. The guide notes that there were some forays made by Baruk Kaah, only to have Malraux swoop in and start establishing stelae. Naturally, this leads to the inevitable schisms between High Lords, being as Kaah was trying to get the whole “dinosaurs in the rainforest” thing going.*
This has the effect of removing the influence of Brazil from being able to affect the course of the war in any significant way for Core Earth. The rest of South America is still in play, of course, but they’ll be feeling the pressure on two fronts, as the Living Land advances along Central America and the Cyberpapacy pushes in from the coasts. I have the feeling that this is going to cause them to focus locally, rather than committing forces to the international effort.
Canada is still in play, which is essential, but they’ve lost the main port of Vancouver, which limits things notably.** They’re also looking to be one of the only remaining oil producing nations, which I find fascinating. It doesn’t seem like it would take a lot of work for Baruk Kaah to expand out from Yellowknife to drop stelae around Fort Mac in Northern Alberta, which would cripple that, but I feel like I’m overthinking the real world aspects of a high action game.
The Pan-Pacifica Invasion has largely crippled East Asia, subsuming all of China’s ports as well as most everything west to Orrorsh’s realm in India.*** On the other hand, the map of the different realms has left one fascinating corridor open – the Silk Road. In the real world, China has made overtures toward building a huge bit of infrastructure that would overlay the historic route with modern roads and railways. (Google “John Oliver China” for his discussion of Xi Jingping and the “Belt and Roads Initiative.” The relevant part starts at about seven minutes in.) This keeps China available as a global power, but only barely, since it’s essentially bordered by three separate Invaders.
From my original thoughts, this only really leaves Australia as a possible stronghold. All Risk jokes aside, this shifts the war in weird ways. The update makes note that there is a Delphi Council HQ in Sydney (possibly this is the Delphi Council central, but it’s a single line in a PDF, so do with that what you will) where Eternity Shards are being housed. There has been some threat from Pan-Pacifica, but right now their realm has only reached as far as Jakarta (original site of the Orrorshan Invasion in the original edition), so there’s still some breathing room.
So, let’s talk about Australia.
It’s almost hilariously underpopulated, compared to other nations. Land mass wise, it’s about 75% of the size of the United States or China, with around 25 million people, mostly concentrated on the south and west coastlines. (By way of comparison, the US has around fourteen times as many people… and China has fifty-six times as many.) Militarily, it ranks above Canada, but below Italy, Turkey and Israel, the only other ranking non-Invaded countries.
I feel like we’re going to see the game build something of an ANZAC military force under the auspices of the Delphi Council, with this as a main international force. (It bears noting that ANZAC regiments were deployed to East Timor in 2006, so this isn’t just a bizarre holdover from World War I.)
*I have the feeling that this is going to be the long game for an actual conclusion of the Possibility Wars. The main book notes that Torg Eternity is going to be a much harder slog than the original war, with much less chance of success in repelling the Invaders. There’s no indication that we’re going to get the “Gaunt Man Vapor Lock” that stalled the war in the first place, so I have the suspicion that in-fighting amongst the High Lords will be the only way that the war might grind to a standstill.****
**On some level, I feel like the shutdown of all Pacific trade is going to end up pissing off Pan-Pacifica in the long run. The original game had Kanawa making in-roads in all of the Invaded Realms by catering to the local Tech Axioms. This becomes a lot harder when they can’t get ships to the necessary ports. I guess that a case could be made that they could simply fly everything in, but that’s decreasing their share by several orders of magnitude.
***Oddly, there seems to be a sort of neutral zone between Orrorsh and Pan-Pacifica, in the form of a smallish Realm of the Cyberpapacy. I’m not really sure why this has shown up here, since it seems to be in China itself, rather than Vietnam, where the whole “former French colony” could be claimed. There aren’t any details in the update to make sense of this, so I have to figure that it’s only going to be dealt with in the Cyberpapacy book… sometime in 2019, at the very earliest.
****For those that are unfamiliar with the basics of the original, the novel trilogy had a US Senator sacrificing himself to hit the Gaunt Man with an Eternity Shard. Essentially, a powerful artifact of Core Earth, the Heart of Coyote, reacted with the weird Possibility void that was the Gaunt Man and locked him in a Reality Storm for a matter of years. It makes more sense in context, but it was a case of the original game designers realizing that they had to take the Gaunt Man off the board in order to keep the game line going.
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.
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.****
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.
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.