The name’s Davenport. I review games.
So the other day I answer a knock on my office door, and I see an elf, a ninja, a masked mystery man, a werewolf, a cyberpunk, and a lizard man.
Which meant just one thing: Torg was back in town.
Now, I’ll be the first to tell ya: I loved me some Torg and its multi-genre gonzo craziness… but it always had its problems. Don’t you worry, though. I got right on the case.
“So!” I says to the ninja. “You still got a glass jaw?”
“Nope!” he says, givin’ himself a little sock to the jaw. “Solid as a rock. That’s been fixed in Torg Eternity.”
“‘Torg Eternity‘, eh?” I says. “Interesting… So, lizard man, is there anything to do in your home turf besides getting lost in a fog?”
“Oh, yes!” he says. “That’s been fixed, too. Now there are any number of wonders to discover in the Living Land!”
“Huh,” I says. Maybe there was somethin’ to this Torg Eternity.
I couldn’t help but imagine the Possibilities.
The setting for Torg Eternity is “our” Earth… sort of. It’s the Earth of action movies, where Die Hard and Rambo could actually happen. Mix in some psychic powers and cryptids, and you have the right idea.
To this Earth — “Core Earth,” as the game calls it — come seven invading realities, each with its own villainous High Lord and each roughly corresponding to a genre of fiction:
- Aysle (U.K. and Scandinavia): Fantasy
- The Cyberpapacy (France): Cyberpunk in an oppressive religious setting
- The Living Land (North America): Prehistoric
- The Nile Empire (North Africa): Two-fisted pulp adventure (Doc Savage, the Shadow, Indiana Jones)
- Orrorsh (India): Gothic horror
- Pan-Pacifica (Asia): High-tech espionage and martial arts action mixed with Resident Evil
- Tharkold (Russia): Techno-horror and post-apocalypse — an odd mix of Hellraiser, Terminator, and The Road Warrior.
Each reality brings with it its own magical, social, spiritual, and technological axioms that determine what works and what doesn’t; for example, powerful spells function in Aysle, modern technology fails in the Living Land, and miracles are scarce in soulless Tharkold. In addition, each reality includes three world laws that govern how the world operates. In Orrorsh, for example, the Law of Fear makes terror pervasive, and in the Cyberpapacy, the Law of Suspicion makes paranoia a way of life.
But Earth isn’t defenseless. While the majority of the population is helpless before the changes in reality, a small minority known as Storm Knights can maintain their connection to their home reality.
The result is a multi-genre setting that isn’t quite full-on multi-genre, and that’s a good thing. Orrorsh feels like a Victorian-era horror setting, for example. There aren’t hordes of laser-armed cyborgs stomping around slaying vampires and werewolves… but there are a small number of individuals who could pull that off. I’ll get to the reason behind that in just a bit. For now, I’ll just mention that invaded areas are either Mixed, Dominant, or Pure, in order of how strongly one reality holds sway. In a Mixed zone, two realities are in balance; in a Dominant zone, one reality’s axioms are in place; and in a Pure zone, one reality is almost exclusively in power.
Aylse is a decent all-purpose fantasy setting, although the combination of everything from the Renaissance to Vikings — and magical powered armor-wearing Dwarves, of all things — is a bit hard to swallow.
The Cyberpapacy in this edition ramps up the paranoia to new heights. The GodNet, the realm’s cyperspace, is self-aware and infiltrates everything technological that isn’t clandestinely stripped of its presence. Players wishing to use the place as a quick and easy one-stop-shop for high-tech goodies will be disappointed.
The new and improved Living Land is, simply put, amazing. The first edition’s incarnation was easily the most boring reality, with no place interesting to go and an omnipresent fog to keep you from finding one even if there were. The new version incorporates what amounts to micro-realities — chunks of worlds previously conquered by the Living Land — to explore (and, of course, loot). The effect puts me in mind of Land of the Lost.
Being a big fan of all things pulp, I’m definitely the target market for the Nile Empire. Mummies, weird science, gangsters, proto-superheroes… What’s not to love?
I’m glad that this edition’s version of Orrorsh landed in India rather than Indonesia. It just seems like a better fit for some reason. We’re assured that unlike Torg 1.0, reality sourcebooks for Torg Eternity won’t contradict the core rulebook. I hope that’s the case, because the new rules for horrors introduced in the original Orrorsh sourcebook made the place too scary for its own good. Players didn’t want their characters to visit the Living Land for fear of boredom, but they didn’t want their characters to visit Orrorsh for fear of dying.
Pan-Pacifica (formerly known as Nippon Tech)… I’m reserving judgment on this one a bit. The original version was a manifestation of the real-world fears of an ascendant ultratech Japan, which are both outdated and admittedly distasteful… but the new version’s zombie plague (in the form of hopping vampires) seems like it ought to be in Orrorsh or Tharkold. And where are the ninjas??
Speaking of Tharkold, I suppose that it was inevitable that this popular late-arriving realm from the first edition made the initial roster of successful invaders this time around. On the one hand, I’m not convinced that we need a second reality with cybernetics and demons… but on the other, I love that a large swathe of the cosm is an irradiated wasteland, complete with road warriors and mutant abominations.
And speaking of mutant abominations, let’s talk monsters.
Torg Eternity is a bit light on that front, sorry to say, offering only 3-4 entries per cosm. I totally get that space was an issue here, but to me, ready-made adversaries are a big part of what makes a game playable out of the box.
Torg Eternity uses a single d20 for task resolution. The die isn’t read directly, however; instead, the total on the d20 is read against a simple chart that gives the roller a bonus or penalty to add to the relevant attribute and skill in an attempt to beat the target number. (For example, a roll of 9 or 10 results in a -1, a roll of 11 or 12 results in a 0, and a roll of 13 or 14 results in a 1.) Die rolls open end on 10s and 20s, creating the potential for truly cinematic results. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it gets the job done.
Possibilities are Torg’s drama/hero/fate points, spent to roll and add (with a minimum result of 10) on challenges or to soak damage. Torg Eternity is quite a bit stingier with Possibilities than was the original Torg. In the old days, Storm Knights started with 10 Possibilities and could store them up. Now, they get a measly 3 Possibilities and reset back to 3 at the beginning of each act. I think this is a bit of a shame, as this makes players much more hesitant to use Possibilities for fear that they’ll need them to soak damage.
Still, a generous GM who keeps the Possibilities flowing for good roleplaying can mitigate this issue. And there’s another reason for keeping players hungry for Possibilities, which I’ll address regarding Cosm Cards below…
The game uses three kinds of cards: the Drama Deck, Destiny Cards, and Cosm Cards.
The Drama Deck’s main function is initiative, which individual cards assign to either the heroes or the villains for the turn. While this does simplify the initiative process, it also means that no individual character is quicker on the draw than any other. It’s a wash, I suppose. Encounters can be either Standard, which favor the heroes, or Dramatic, which favor the villains.
The Drama Deck cards can also give sides advantages or disadvantages for the round, which effectively simulates the back and forth of combat. These include such things as multiple attacks, re-rolls, penalties, or even contradiction checks (see below). One that has always strained credulity with me is Inspiration, which restores two shock and wakes up all unconscious combatants at once. (When I was playing Shatterzone years ago, which uses a modified version of the original Torg rules, this led us to shoot unconscious villains just to make sure they wouldn’t get back up. What would you have done after this happened twice?)
Players get a hand of four Destiny Cards at the beginning of a game session. Destiny cards offer varying benefits and can be played at any time outside of combat. In combat, they can be added to a pool one at a time at the end of a player’s turn, at which point they can be used.
Now here’s the clever part… The Drama Deck cards list the “approved actions” for the round. If a character succeeds at an approved action, the player can add a card to his hand of Destiny Cards. Why is this clever? Because it encourages players to use skills other than direct combat abilities, such as Intimidation, Maneuver, Taunt, and Trick. The result is combat that feels both more cinematic and less predictable.
Finally, we come to Cosm Cards, which are also rather clever. Players get one of these at the beginning of each act, and they can be played at appropriate times for either benefits or for Possibilities in exchange for negative effects. Why is this clever? Because the benefits and detriments reflect the World Laws of the current Cosm. In effect, this offloads part of the job of getting the “feel” of a Cosm right from the GM to the players.
I’ve already covered initiative, so I’ll move on to combat resolution, which uses the same basic task resolution mechanic with some additional bits. Attackers roll their combat skill against a static target number based on the target’s Dodge, Melee Weapons, or Unarmed Combat skill.
Now, this part is rather important. In original Torg, the same bonus generated in the attack was applied to the damage level of the weapon. This led to the infamous “Glass Ninja” effect: A hard-to-hit character would only be hit by an attack doing devastating damage. In Torg Eternity, the designers fixed this problem by basing bonus damage on degree of success. On a Good success (5-9 points over the difficulty number), the attacker adds 1d6 to the damage. On an Outstanding success (10+ over the difficulty number), the attacker adds 2d6 to the damage. (These dice open-end.) I’ve heard some grumbling about adding extra dice to the system, but in my experience, it’s less distracting than the previous suggested solution of using the difference between the attack total and the defense number.
Toughness reduces damage, and armor adds to toughness. The difference between damage and toughness is read on a simple table to get the damage results in terms of wounds and shock; e.g., a result of 5-9 results in 1 wound and 2 shock. (Torg Eternity does away with the KO condition from the previous edition.) That, by the way, is the amount of damage a Colt .45 will do to an average human on a basic hit. A typical goon goes down after taking a single wound, while a Storm Knight can withstand 3 wounds before dropping, so the damage system contributes to the cinematic feel of the game.
Players get 40 points to divide between five attributes: Charisma, Dexterity, Mind, Spirit, and Strength. (Torg Eternity rolls Perception up into Mind and makes Toughness a function of Strength.) This makes the average score 8, which is supposed to be “high average” but is a point or two lower than in original Torg. This was done in order to allow for the lowering of the standard difficulty number down to 10, but it still leaves PCs looking and feeling less competent, because the attribute maximums haven’t changed. Still, if you want more competent PCs, there’s nothing stopping you from throwing them some more attribute points.
Players get 16 points to spend on skills, which are extremely broad. Boarding on insanely broad. Air Vehicles, for example, covers every form of air travel. The rules suggest that GMs impose a -2 penalty for unfamiliarity if, say, someone who’s only used hot air balloons tries to fly an F-35, but that still strains credulity to the breaking point, even for a cinematic game. Likewise, we quickly realized in our game that Find is basically the all-purpose Perception skill, used for everything from searching for clues to detecting lies. I do get it, though: With a multi-genre game like this one, the alternative would be an overwhelming number of more specific skills.
The game offers three non-human races to play: Edeinos (primitive lizard men from the Living Land), Elves, and Dwarves. Each race has a few unique abilities and variable racial attribute limits, although the latter seem fairly pointless given the relatively low number of attribute points. An Elf sporting superhuman Dexterity would be just this side of crippled in all of her other attributes, for example.
Then we have one of the biggest changes to Torg Eternity: Perks.
Perks cover all special abilities: magic, miracles, pulp superpowers, ki powers, cybernetics, you name it. Characters start with just two Perks, but some Perks have multiple aspects — the Spellcaster Perk grants a starting magician three spells, for example, and the Cyberware Implants Perk gives the character $10,000 to spend on various cyberware.
Perks aren’t just important for the fact that they present a unified system for what used to be wildly different mechanics; they also give players a reason to play Core Earth characters for the first time. In the previous edition, non-Earthers got all the goodies. Now, Core Earth characters get access to their share of special abilities. Some of these are generic action movie-style powers that anyone can have, but others involve the manipulation of reality itself. In fact, some of the latter are things that any Storm Knight could do in the first edition, like sharing Possibilities. Now such powers are the exclusive purview of Core Earth characters, which is only fitting, since Core Earth is supposed to be the inter-dimensional treasure trove of Possibility Energy.
Magic, Miracles, and Psionics
The game includes four magic skills, three psionic skills, and one skill for miracles. Beyond that, the mechanics are essentially the same: A skill roll against the difficulty of the power with the risk of shock on a failure. I appreciate the simplicity, although I do find myself wishing that the three powers had the different feels they had in the original version.
Contradictions and Disconnection
One of the keys to Torg Eternity is the concept of disconnecting from one’s reality.
Characters carry with them the axiom levels of their home realities. They also have to deal with the local axiom levels. If they do something that violates either their own axiom levels or the local axiom levels — thereby causing a contradiction, as the game puts it — they disconnect on a natural roll of 1. An example would be a magician from Aysle using a magic spell in the magic-poor Living Land. If they do something that violates both their own axioms and the local axioms, they disconnect on a natural roll of 1-4. An example would be if the aforementioned Aylish mage were using a laser pistol in the primitive Living Land.
Disconnected characters can no longer create contradictions, which is bad. They also can’t spend Possibilities, including to soak damage, which is worse. Fortunately, Storm Knights can use the Reality skill to reconnect to their home realities. How difficult that is depends upon whether they’re in a Mixed, Dominant, or Pure zone.
Note that Ords — ordinary humans without the Reality skill — can’t reconnect once they’ve disconnected and can’t even create a contradiction in a Pure zone in the first place. In this way, the game is able to offer both multi-genre and (to some degree) pure genre action in the same setting.
I’d say the art in this full-color hardcover is good to very good. Perhaps more importantly, it’s extremely consistent throughout, giving the book a unified feel. The layout is extremely clean. The writing clear and engaging, with many useful sidebars.
And praise God, the book has an extensive index.
Torg Eternity unifies and streamlines a system that had grown out of control in an effort to cover a wildly diverse multi-genre setting — no mean feat. Along the way, it fixes some annoying system quirks and manages to make some of the formerly least appealing parts of the setting great fun. It’s not a perfect adaptation, as some of the changes dial back a bit of the over-the-top feel of the original, and it only manages to give a taste of the vast setting, but it’s still great gonzo fun. That being the case, I can heartily recommend the game both to fans of the original and to newcomers.