When the samurai Toritaka Nobu took his leave of the Crab Clan to join an esoteric order within the Brotherhood of Shinsei most assumed that would be the last they heard of the stalwart warrior who had faced the evil of the Shadowlands his whole life. He had never once ventured beyond the holdings of his Clan.
Taking the unusual name of Terrell he disappeared from records for close to a decade before resurfacing during a peasant rebellion in the shadow of the Fallen Mountains. Guided by an oath to maintain the Celestial Order he gathered a small force of ronin to smash the rebellion and personally executed it’s leaders.
His reputation was earned not for this action but while meeting with the samurai in charge of the village from which the rebellion had spread. Declaring she had failed in her duty as much as the peasants Terrell offered her the chance to commit seppuku. After she declined he slit her throat during the dinner which had been organised in his honour. Three more members of her house fell to his great blade during his escape into the wilderness. In the time since Terrell has stalked the Fallen Mountains, enforcing an extreme view of the Celestial Order with blood and steel.
General: The Governor, growing tired of Terrell’s lone crusade, dispatches a party to apprehend and return him to the city for justice. They find him deep within the mountains, at a village long wiped from the maps. With him are a sizeable group of monks who seek to learn of his radical philosophy so that they might spread it throughout the Empire.
Order & Chaos: A warband, let by Terrell, overruns the Temple Shrine of the Lost and takes hostages. The monk releases a proclamation that those who maintain the temple have forsaken their duties by concealing a violation of the Celestial Order and that he aims to restore balance, even though doing so will unleash a great evil.
While the Oriole Clan is renowned throughout the Emerald Empire for their blacksmiths few realise their talents extend beyond the forge. Tsi Shiori is one such individual who eschews the stereotypes of the Clan and has become widely respected for her dreamlike watercolours and haunting poetry.
Shiori arrived in Bei seeking escape and solitude following the death of her betrothed Doji Okimoto and over the years she has become accepted as the head of the village. Her daughter Momoe, now approaching the traditional coming of age ceremony, is quiet but adventurous and dreams of life outside the Pass.
As the spokesperson for the village Shiori is responsible for welcoming guests and maintaining Bei’s neutral position. Many samurai make the mistake of underestimating Shiori’s quiet nature and soft words, only to find themselves quicjly ostracised by the rest ofthe village. Those that truly offend her find themselves the subject of her poetry, whose subtle admonishments carry great weight in Rokugani society. Persistent rumours say the Scorpion governor Shirayama Toshi takes great pleasure in ensuring her work is distributed amongst his court. Regardless of the truth Shiori’s words have a habit of discretely finding their way into the upper echelons of the nearby city.
A Lion noble in the White Mountain City has made the mistake of openly disparaging the skills of the Oriole Clan blacksmiths. With the honour of her Clan challenged Shiori must travel to the city to face them in court, backed by delegates from the Crane. She will seek justice. Others, however, seek only to reignite old guess.
Tsi Momoe, the young daughter of Shiori and Okimoto, has absconded from the town with her father’s daisho days before a Crane delegation led by her Grandfather is due to arrive. In an effort to save face her mother has secretly reached out to the party to search the surrounding area, believing that Momoe is likely hiding out in one of the many abandoned peasant huts that dot the mountains.
A spirit claiming to be the deceased Doji Okimoto has been spotted roaming the village, demanding it’s family join it in eternal exile. Doubting the truth of the spirits words Shiori barricades herself and her daughter into the nearest shrine after sending one of her servants to seek assistance. As the spirit grows impatient it begins to claim the life of peasants unfortunate enough to cross it’s path.
Torg holds a special place in my heart, it was the first proper tabletop game I ever played and also the first system I even ran a campaign in. As much as I love the game the system underlying it has a tendency to get under my skin, especially the use of multiple sub-systems which were intended to give each Cosm a unique feel. The game is a product of it’s time (which was the early 90’s) so it’s with interest that I’ve been keeping track of any attempt to update and re-release it.
Torg Eternity is the long awaited new edition of the game and Ulisses Spiele who currently own the licence have recently put out the first preview for the new game. At the moment the details are limited, mostly focused on what the principles for design and what core elements they are maintaining. The design principles are:
- The rules must be easily identifiable as being Torg
- The resolution of actions must be fast and easy
- Reduce the number of sub-systems while keeping the Torg flavor.
- Changes must provide benefits. No changes for the sake of change.
All in all the preview is a solid start and it looks like a lot of the bits I really like about the system are staying put. Central to those are the core roll mechanic, the drama deck and possibilities, without which the game just wouldn’t be Torg.
The reduction in sub-systems is something that the game definitely needs. There were just far too many in the old game, especially given each of the many Cosms had it’s own unique aspects. Magic in particular was overwhelmed with systems, there were in the end close to 7-8 distinct magic systems each with it’s own quirks so anything that reduces the constant need to look up rules is a massive bonus as far as I’m concerned.
The other big change in this first preview is the removal of separate action and effect totals, which tended to complicate matters. The new system replaces this with a bonus die system – beat the target by 5 and you get +d6 to your result (such as to damage), beat it by 10 and get +2d6. Simple, quick and hopefully effective.
That’s all from this preview, it looks like the Kickstarter for the game will be sometime early next year so plenty of time for more updates.
With Project Cassandra edging ever closer to completion I’ve been given some thoughts as to what I want to work on. The length of the list was rather surprising, I didn’t realise I had accumulated notes for so many ideas already.
Niska’s Race – A Firefly Adventure. Having run this at multiple conventions it’s about time that I wrote this up and put it online for others. I’ve got a partial draft of the adventure, what it really needs is some focus on the structuring and what information needs to be presented for others to run it.
Demon Hunters Adventures – Again adventures I’ve run in the past that I’d like to get out for others and again I’ve already got a partial draft to work from. For these I’d love to be able to get them released on drivethruRPG as some sort of semi-official / recognised adventure for the system. First step though is writing then I can worry about layout / publishing.
Neon Blades, cyberpunk reality TV – Aim is a lightweight system with a focus on the idea of looking good over all else, hence the idea of some sort of reality TV show focused on a team of operatives. I’ve got the initial outlines of a system but it’s lacking any details, so in keeping with the theme of style over substance for now.
The Fallen Mountains – I’d still like to flesh out my Legend of the Five Rings setting to the point of it being a resource for a future game. Likely to be a slow ongoing process as I detail characters, events and locations.
The Delve, Leverage / Cortex+ hack – The idea for this actually came from a series of images I got through JEShields stock art patreon. The idea is of a group of fantasy dwarves trying to break into a wizards vault. Thinking more along the lines of D&D style fantasy than Tolkien with magic being relatively common. At the moment just an idea, first step will be to go over the original game again and see how much can just be used as is.
Cortex+ hack based around the adventures of soft toys – Another vague idea for the moment, could probably be achieved with just some custom distinctions and renaming of a few elements. Originally inspired by a DoubleClicks song called Lullaby for Mr Bear.
Powers, PbtA followup to Project Cassandra. Again a vague idea for a thematic follow-up to Project Cassandra using a hack of the Apocalypse system dealing more with the consequences of gaining powers in a world dominated by global conspiracies. Will hopefully incorporate some ideas from an old Cortex game where powers regularly went out of control with devastating and tragic consequences.
I posted a quick collection of thoughts regarding Dragomeet 2016 over on my G+ page but I wanted to give the Project Cassandra feedback a post to itself.
The setup for the game was the same basic questions that I used during the Stratigicon playtest, that Apollo 11 had discovered something and President Nixon was due to be assasinated prior to announcing the discovery. The discovery this time, shapeshifting aliens on the moon who had already infiltrated the USSR and were now trying to take over the US government. The assasin was non other than the vice President who had already been replaced. Thrown into the mix was a Soviet Null, immune to the powers of the party (but not, as it would turn out, regular bullets).
The adventure went by fast. Too fast, as the players blew through every challenge with ease thanks to a combination of difficulties that were too low, great teamwork and some amazingly inventive use of Powers.
The primary feedback was pretty unambiguous, actions weren’t challenging enough, which resulted in the group not failing for the first two thirds of the game. This had a knock on effect in that it prevented other mechanics from coming into play, namely conditions and spending premonitions on re-rolls. It was only towards the end of the game that I started raising the difficulty that we started using all of the mechanics but by then it was too late to have a major impact.
The second negative was with the skills themselves and compounded my GM error with the difficulties. Essentially the players found that they either had too high a skill level for a given task or were lacking the skills entirely (and therefore didn’t attempt actions). This is something that has come up in playtests before and I had hoped that the current skill list addressed it. Unfortunately this does not appear to be the case.
It’s a blow to get this close to having the game finished before running into a major issue but on the other hand I’m glad it went badly. It’s the first major catastrophe I’ve had but it also feels like it is workable rather than an impassable issue.
Beyond this the feedback was quite positive. The players enjoyed the scenario and being able to influence it through the questions plus liked the fact that the powers weren’t mechanically constrained to prevent them being overpowered. As these are all aspects I’d put thought into I’m glad that the players picked up on my design aims. Following the game I’m also convinced that the single scenario design (of saving the President) was the right approach. Once the game is finished I may add a bonus sheet on running additional highly defined bonus scenarios (I already have ideas for one based around the Berlin Airlift).
I’ve been pondering how to change the skills since Dragonmeet but before I dive too deeply into it I thought it important to look again at the probability tables, the results of which are plotted below. The x-axis plots the number of successes and the y-axis the percentage chance of rolling at least that many successes for a given skill level.
Looking at those numbers it’s clear how off my perception of the difficulties was. With a skill level of 3, which the players were regularly achieving, there is still a 66% chance of rolling 3 or more successes. In my head 3 successes should have been difficult and definitely not in their favour so often. Those odds rises to a staggering 90% at a skill level of 4 and drops to 32% for a character with a moderate skill level of 2.
It’s clear therefore that the first thing I need to do is adjust my idea of difficulty levels and then add explicit descriptions to the game. My current working template is:
1 – Trivial – Only worth rolling if the individual is unskilled
2 – Normal
3 – Challenging (with intention of this being a typical roll for the game)
4 – Hard
5 – Heroic
6 – Impossible
The second approach is a limit on the maximum skill level of a character. The players at Dragonmeet suggested setting it at 3, which I’m thinking of implementing. At this level a skilled individual will pass a Challenging roll most of the time but still fail at a noticeable rate.
The biggest change, which I’m still working on, are the skills themselves. Under the current design players add up related specialities to get their skill level and tend to either end up with a high level or none at all. If I keep the current system the specialities need completely rewritten to provide a wider breadth skills with only a small number that overlap enough to give a high skill level.
The alternative is simply list a set it skills with a rank by each of them. That has the advantage of simplicity and also makes it easier to deal with edge cases as I can give each skill group a rank for when no specialities apply. For example using brute strength might just fall under the general umbrella of the Physical skill set at rank of 2 for the strongest and 0 for the weakest. The downsides of this approach are flavour and rigidity so more thought will have to go into it before I settle on one over the other. I may also split the skill groups further by adding Social to the existing mix of Mental, Physical and Specialist.
All in all I’ve got a lot to think about and a valuable learning experience for future projects.