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Thursday, 22 June 2017

Free RPG Day: Torg Eternity Free RPG Day Special

Saturday, June 17th was Free RPG Day—the tenth Free RPG Day and as was to be expected, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August—or even later, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera. Amongst the array each year there will always be one or more hotly anticipated title and one of these was the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Quickstart and Adventure. This was joined by the first release for another old game, Torg Eternity Free RPG Day Special.

Originally published in 1990 by West End Games, Torg was a cinematic multi-genre role-playing game in which the Earth was invaded by several different realities—or ‘cosms’—that mapped themselves onto our reality. Each cosm was essentially a different roleplaying genre, the Living Land being a Lost World-style jungle that covered much of the USA; Aysle, a magical low-tech world a la Dungeons & Dragons covering the United Kingdom; the Cyberpapacy of France combined cyberpunk with theocratic dystopia; Japan became Nippon Tech, an ultracapitalist nightmare society ruled by corporations; the New Nile Empire mixed Ancient Egypt with pulp action in North Africa; and Indonesia became Orrorsh, a  Gothic horror realm of the Victorian age. Each of these cosms had a High Lord who competed to dominate the others in the ‘Possibility Wars’, but as ‘Storm Knights’, the player characters not only remain resistant to the changes mapped by these cosms, but can go from one cosm to another unchanged. This allowed a mix of character types, so a stone age warrior-shaman from the Living Land could fight alongside a mage from Aysle, a hacker-priest from the Cyberpapacy, a martial artist from Nippon Tech, a consulting detective from Orrorsh, and a gadgeteer from the New Nile Empire and stand up against the High Lords in the desperate Possibility Wars. 

Initially well received, Torg gained its hardcore fans, but suffered from various issues as detailed here and it was out of print by 1996 and by 2006, the proposed second edition, Torg 2.0, had also not appeared. German publisher, Ulisses Spiele, best known for the leading German fantasy roleplaying game, The Dark Eye, has owned Torg since 2010, but it is only in 2017 that we are getting to see the second edition, known as Torg Eternity, with this Kickstarter campaign. Torg Eternity Free RPG Day Special is an introduction to the new setting.

Unlike Torg, the setting for Torg Eternity is not of an Earth where the Storm Knights successfully defeated the High Lords, but one where the High Lords were far more successful in their desire to take the Earth and harvest its Possibilities. The ‘Core Earth’ of Torg Eternity is also more action orientated than our own and magic and miracles exist.

Torg Eternity uses similar mechanics to those used by Torg, what became known as Masterbook and would be subsequently used in West End Games’ own Science Fiction roleplaying game, Shatterzone, as well as a number of licensed properties, The World of Indiana Jones, The World of Necroscope, and The World of Tank Girl. In this system, a character’s attribute or attribute plus skill is compared against a Difficulty Number, the standard Difficulty Number being ten. To this is added a number generated on the Bonus Chart included at the bottom of each character sheet, which can range from -8 to +13 or more if a player rolls well. This is rolled on a twenty-sided die. The chart is very slightly slanted towards low or negative numbers, but if a player rolls a ten or a twenty on the die, he can keep rolling the die, adding up the numbers rolled to get a Die Total. The character’s  attribute or attribute plus skill plus the penalty or bonus generated on the Bonus Chart is the character’s Action Total. The Action Total is compared to the Difficulty Number to determine if the character is successful and then the Success Levels achieved. 
So for example, Tom is being chased by edeinos scouts—lizard warriors in the Living Land and having clambered out onto the fire escape decides to leap across the alley to the opposite fire escape. Tom has an attribute rating of seven for his Dexterity and a Maneuver skill rating of +2. This gives him a base Action Total of nine, but since the GM has set the the Difficulty Number at ten, Tom’s player needs to roll on the Bonus Chart. He rolls a twenty! This gives him a starting Die Total of +7, but since he has rolled twenty, he can roll again and add the total. He rolls two, which he adds to the twenty to get a Die Total of twenty-two and checking the Bonus Chart gives a bonus of +8 to add to the current Action Total, which is now seventeen. This is seven Success Levels above the Difficulty Number and gives Tom a Good result. 
The basic rules presented in the Torg Eternity Free RPG Day Special cover actions, including interaction and physical attacks. The combat rules also cover options such as all-out attacks, combined actions, and so on. In addition, every Storm Knight have Possibilities, typically three per act of an adventure and these can be used to roll extra dice for an action and to negate Wounds and Shock suffered. One other aspect of the Torg Eternity that comes into play when a Mishap or one is rolled, is that any equipment being used which is not supported by the local reality loses its connection to its home cosm made possible by the Storm Knight and will not work until the connection can be made again.

The scenario in the Torg Eternity Free RPG Day Special is ‘Invasion’. Designed to be played by up to six players plus the GM, it is set in New York on the very day that the ‘maelstrom bridge’ crashed onto the city and began turning both it and the rest of North America into the Living Land. It sees the Storm Knights—though they do not know it yet—try to get to a place of refuge away from the marauding dinosaurs and lizard warriors. Consisting of six relatively short scenes, it presents a solid showcase for the setting and its mechanics, but it is very action and combat orientated and not one of the scenes any interaction, at least in terms of the rules.

Besides the monsters, the scenario is supported by six sample characters. Including an academic, an executive, an athlete, a paramedic, a crook, and particularly up-to-date, a near celebrity, they represent a good mix of characters and Americans. Both they and the scenario is not quite ready to play though, as the sample characters do not come with their own character sheets and one will be needed to be filled in for each character. 

Physically, Torg Eternity Free RPG Day Special is a slim, sixteen-page booklet. It is done in full colour, but is sparsely illustrated. The writing is pacey and a GM could prepare Invasion and have it ready to run in an hour. The adventure itself should be completed in a session.

Of course, Torg Eternity Free RPG Day Special only covers a tiny fragment of the Torg Eternity setting, but the scenario drops the player characters into this setting and gets them up to speed quickly enough. The other issue is with the Torg Eternity mechanics, which are not quite straightforward and not quite intuitive, though they play reasonably enough.

Given that Torg Eternity encompasses a multiverse, the Torg Eternity Free RPG Day Special really does only provide a taster of the Torg Eternity setting. It is enough of a taster for one session though and that is the point of the Torg Eternity Free RPG Day Special