Have you ever had something happen to you, and afterward you thought, “Wow, what were the odds of that happening?”
I’ve recently had such an experience, and oddly enough, it ties-in almost too well to the endless possibilities that are at the core of the Torg Eternity role-playing game (RPG) game system.
As many of you no doubt know, I’m a big fan of miniature games launched on Kickstarter. I’m a supporter of closing in on ten such Kickstarters, so I’m always trolling through their pages, looking for updates, reading comments and just plain drooling over the pretty pictures of toy soldiers yet to come. While doing this very thing about a month ago, I noticed on one of my Kickstarters — Reapers Bones 3 to be exact — that they had announced on their newest update that one of their partners would be running a demo game for a soon-to-be-coming Kickstarter — Conan Age of Monsters. It’s a weird coincidence, but the demo just happened to be local to me, at a game store that turns out to be very close to my home and that, oddly enough, I’d never heard of (for those of you interested in a more in-depth telling of this tale, please see my recent CROM article here). But it gets weirder. It turns out that one of the guys involved in the project in an old buddy of mine from 17+ years ago, Ross Watson, back when I too used to work in the RPG industry, as a freelancer. It’s all the more amazing when you consider that neither of us are from here, and that the last time we spoke, we lived on opposite coasts.
Pretty sure this depicts Thoth-Amon working some sorta mystical mojo on my personal Destiny.
As I was interested in the game anyway, being a Conan super fan, I grabbed my son and headed out. In the end, it turned out to be a great afternoon. I played a great game, got to play with and drool over a ton of fantastic miniatures and terrain (Thoth-Amon and his pet snake are soooo good), renewed a great friendship and was introduced to a bunch of great gaming guys, some of whom I knew by reputation, but whom I’d never had the pleasure of meeting up to then. And even better, my son really loved Conan Age of Monsters. At thirteen, he’s at that magic age I was when I first started to get into cool board games, fantastic war games and RPGs, so I’m super excited to get him away from video games and into the kind of stuff I really love. In many ways, that afternoon was a whirlwind for me, meeting new people, playing a fun Conan game and seeing a friend I hadn’t really talked with in at least 15 years. Best of all, my buddy Ross and these guys live locally as well, and they invited me to get some gaming in with them. It was a total win for me.
And here’s where it gets interesting for you, gaming fans. After inviting Ross into my new D&D campaign (told you, I’m setting the hook for my son), these gaming guys invited me to the Ulisses Spiele studio to play some games, the last of which was a playtest for their upcoming Kickstarter – Torg Eternity. As it turns out, I’d never played Torg, though I was vaguely aware of it. Torg is a sort of cult classic among RPGs, and I remember seeing advertisements for it in magazines, online and at gaming conventions back in the day. Apparently Ulisses Spiele have acquired the rights to Torg and were just about to relaunch it using kickstarter in a big way. The guys at Ulisses Spiele asked if I wanted to try it out. I jumped at the chance.
A Game of Endless Possibilities
So what exactly is Torg Eternity? That’s pretty much what I asked them straight-away. Well, imagine an RPG set in the modern world as we know it (the Near Now), except that in the recent past other realities have begun to intrude upon our reality. Large swathes of the Earth have essentially been transformed into different realities (or Cosms as they are called in the game) — the gothic horror realm of Orrorsh, the futuristic cyber-world of the Cyberpapacy, the brooding and faith-infused lands of the Living Land and still more bizarre and alien realities besides. Where such realms intrude upon the Earth, they not only transform the landscape, but everything else as well. The people, the lifeforms, even the very laws of nature and the cosmos are altered, and these new realities bring with them their own dangers, be they fantastic and bizarre creatures or the existence of arcane technologies and even magic. What’s more, these Cosm intrusions are no mere cosmic coincidence, but the premeditated and sinister invasion of our world by the Reality Raiders and their masters the High Lords. Fortunately for the Earth, there are those with the power to resist the trans-mutative powers of the various Cosms and that are willing to stand up against this invasion of the Earth. Such heroes are known as Storm Knights, and many hail not only from the Core Earth, but from the very Cosms which have intruded upon the world as well. Torg Eternity allows the players to take on the roles of these Storm Knights and experience their adventures as they fight the good fight against the weird forces bent on reshaping the very reality of our world.
By Set, what in the world can that be?!? Works every time…
At least, this is roughly what the guys told me. Hey, sounded pretty awesome to me. Truth be told, it did sound a little confusing, and I didn’t know the game mechanics, but Darell assured me they’d teach me as we played and all would be fine. Fortunately, before throwing myself almost exclusively into Warhammer 40,000 (40k) and other similar miniature games fifteen years ago, I spent my younger years immersed in RPGs (especially Dungeons & Dragons(D&D)), so I was confident that my role-playing skills (no matter how rusty) could carry me through any trial by fire placed before me. Hey, I am the guy who pretty much role-plays all his 40K armies after all.
See? That’s me in the background looking for my table at that last tourney when running my Nurgle plague zombie list.
Throughout the majority of my RPG career, I’ve been the game master (GM), and we’ve mostly played D&D. Not that I mind, I love being the GM, and I really enjoy a good fantasy setting. But sometimes its great to just be a player, and if I get such a chance, I prefer to play something different. Fortunately, I was in for a treat. Aside from the weird setting, Torg Eternity is a different kind of RPG system as well. Though characters are created using races and classes as I roughly understand them, its the game play that is really different. To begin with, performing a task, anything from trying to decipher arcane runes to shooting a pistol, uses a simple roll of a D20 and then compare the result to the Bonus Chart. But the roll has the possibility to explode, allowing the player to roll again and add to the total on a natural roll of either a 10 or 20. The possible explosions continue infinitely — you keep rolling natural 10s and/or 20s, you keep rolling and adding to the total. This allows the player the possibility to reaching truly staggering totals, thus allowing for the possibility of achieving extremely difficult, even mind-boggling, tasks or results. Add to this the fact that all characters have access to Possibilities (a resource that can be used to roll extra dice to be applied to a total or even absorb damage) to bend reality to their Storm Knight’s will and that can be earned through achieving tasks, excellence in role-playing or playing Cosm cards, and you see that players have a variety of ways to control their own fates. I warmed to this part of the system right away, as it reminded me of the original Deadlands mechanics which I always loved so much.
In addition to this exploding d20 mechanic and the Possibilities the players can use to manipulate it, I found the game’s use of various cards to help reinforce the strange realities Storm Knight quest through and which shape the very events of the game to be fascinating. Firstly, a scene’s initiative is determined via a draw of the Drama deck each round. Drama cards also feature a Conflict Line, which may provide various benefits or hindrances to either combatants as a battle proceeds. Each player also begins a scene and/or adventure with a hand of Destiny cards. These are used to allow the player’s Storm Knight to perform amazing feats or even add new elements to the game. And lastly, there are Cosm cards, which help reinforce the World Laws of any new Cosm the Storm Knights enter and may even allow additional Possibilities or other benefits, though this always comes with a price (which I later learned the hard way).
The hard way.
All in all, these game elements blend together to provide a swirl of weird resources to the players, which only further evokes a sense of strangeness and wonder to a game meant to simulate a world in which the player characters are adrift in a world filled with shifting Possibilities and realities.
Umm … the easy way?
Storm Knights in the Living Land — Spoilers Ahead!
So with all that out of the way, there we were, sitting down to playtest one of the Torg adventures that the guys from Ulisses Spiele will be running for fans at this year’s upcoming Gen Con. In fact, if you intend to play in one of these sessions at Gen Con this year, be warned — there may be some SPOILERS ahead. Of course, we didn’t do everything in the adventure, and as a newbie some of my details may be a bit on the vague side, but you have been WARNED. Darrell Hayhurst as the creator of the scenario was set to be our game master. The players were as follows: Ross Watson, who selected a cybernetic priest of some sort from the Cyberpapacy, Michelle Hensley, who selected a monster hunter from Orrorsh, Shane Hensley, who generated a pyromaniac elf wizard from Aysle, and myself, who selected a human relic raider named Kanta from Core Earth (India to be exact). With the exception of Shane (who generated his own character using the character creation rules before we started), all of use selected our characters from among the sixteen Archetypes. It is my understanding that these Archetypes will be available as PDFs for everyone with the Kickstarter, and if you buy the GM’s screen you get all sixteen full-color cardstock versions as well.
Our adventure began with our Storm Knights being brought together in North American, I wanna say in Missouri or Kentucky, just inside a region of encroaching Living Land. We were based in a local university that up to this point had resisted the Living Land’s influence, but recent signs pointed to this resistance being short-lived. We were tasked with journeying to a recently discovered Stelae (an arcane relic that serves to spread the influence of a Cosm and root the invading realm’s reality over the real world) and destroying it before its power could spread and ultimately overwhelm the university and its tenuous ties to Core Earth. Of course, the local region of the Living Land was infested with a hostile tribe of savage lizard people that would no doubt protest our defilement of their sacred totem.
They had no idea what was about to hit ’em. Of course, neither did I…
As a newcomer to the game, much of our adventures were a blur to me, filled with steamy jungles infested with lizard people, the weird cackling of Shane’s elf as he yet again tried to set something on fire and the bombastic biblical quotations of Ross’ cyber-priest as he performed various miracles. But despite this, two scenes do stand out in my mind. The first is when my relic hunter led our party into an ominous, crumbling ruined temple to learn the fate of a lost scouting patrol from our base and hopefully discover one of the arcane relics that such places sometimes harbor (and which was my character’s true personal goal). My companions reluctantly followed me in, even after the Cosm shifted to the dreaded Orrorsh as we slipped through the archway. I paid no heed. We never learned the fate of those missing scouts, but with the help of a strange headdress my character found inside and then donned, we ascended the four levels of the temple and ultimately found the relic I was looking for. Of course, we had to overcome an ambush by some sorta giant, undead mummy beetles first. That battle started poorly, with three of the four of us being grappled and pinned from the get go, and proceeded to worse as I played a Cosm card that suddenly turned out all the lights. I thought I was doing us a favor as we all immediately gained a Possibility, but my more experienced companions’ groans of dismay almost caused my confidence to waver. How was I supposed to know that monsters grew more powerful in total darkness in this horrific realm? Fortunately, my companions need not have worried, for I knew that I had a Destiny card that would allow my character to act again that round after they had all acted, and using the infrared goggles she had requisitioned before we left the base and that she was now wearing, I snatched up my torch and relit it. We turned the tide after that and triumphed.
This is how I envisioned the round after I relit the torch, except, you know, without this mask guy or the blimp.
The second scene that stood out in my mind that night was the grand finale — our assault on the Stelae. With a little luck, we determined that the location was guarded by a large horde of strange, plant-like zombie things. These came is various sizes, with four truly monstrous versions the size of trees and at least a dozen smaller, man-sized monstrosities. We devised a plan to split up, draw the monsters to three of us while Shane’s pyro elf lurked on the opposite side and waited to an opportunity to sneak up to the Stelae and use his oh-so-ready fireballs to destroy the infernal thing. With the help of Ross’ miracles, everything went pretty much according to plan, except Shane’s attempt to cast any magic for the first three turns while he waited for his opportunity. Apparently, unless he was actually setting something on fire, his elf just didn’t really have the heart for it. Nevertheless, we shouldered on. I accounted for 6-8 of the lesser plant zombies with pistol and grenade, Michelle killed 2-3 of the tree-sized monsters with her weird gizmo rifle and, despite being savaged by the horrors, Ross eventually got his mojo working and smote down the rest with the laser built into his cybernetic arm. And, after his three rounds of failed spell attempts, Shane’s elf jumped up, sprinted to the Stelae and blasted it to oblivion with his fiery magic. We capped the scene with the complete annihilation of the last monsters by Michelle’s monster hunter, who on the last attack rolled two 20s in a row for a total in the 40s or 50s somewhere and smote them with her arcane rifle. Ross topped it off by playing a Destiny card that used this insane roll to grant us all healing and bonus Destiny cards.
We never saw this guy, but he’s so awesome, I had to squeeze him in here somewhere.
Victory never tasted so sweet. Honestly, I had a great time and we really enjoyed the role-playing experience (I did at least!). Oddly enough, though we were in grave danger a number of times, I never doubted we’d prevail. I had a sense of destiny and felt like I could not fail, no matter the task. Of course I did fail several things over the course of the game, but not when it really mattered as it turns out. I’m not sure what it is about games that feature exploding mechanics, but when I play them, I always feel I’m surrounded with this aura of invincibility. Add the Possibilities, Destiny cards and Cosm cards, and I felt nothing could stop us. And nothing did.
I liked it.
It’s funny how life works. I mean, what ARE the odds of the events that brought me to this gaming table and these new friends. Talk about threading the needle of destiny. So what about you? You open to the Possibilities? You open to Torg Eternity?