First Thoughts: Torg Eternity Preview 1

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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:

  1. The rules must be easily identifiable as being Torg
  2. The resolution of actions must be fast and easy
  3. Reduce the number of sub-systems while keeping the Torg flavor.
  4. 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.

Future Projects

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.

State of the Conspiracy: Major Feedback from Dragonmeet

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.

What happened

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.

Feedback

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).

Going forward

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.

2016-12-06

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.

State of the Conspiracy: Dragonmeet

Just a quick update to share the above, a near final version of the game ready for Dragonmeet tomorrow. It still needs a final round of proofing but otherwise it’s done. Finished. Next up: Getting the file ready for submission to DrivethruRPG and a bit of promotion.

Project Cassandra: Reorganisation and example of play

​November is fast approaching and along with it my target deadline of finishing Project Cassandra by the time if the US presidential elections. That’s not likely to happen now, mostly as I want to reorder a couple of sections and expand on some others. On the plus side I think I now have all the artwork that I want to use so the new aim is for the start of December, just in time for Dragonmeet in London.

One of the sections that I’ve decided to add is a small example of play, the first draft of which is included below. I’ve tried to highlight the basics without going too long or too detailed though it still needs a bit of work.

The following gives an example of play. Dahlia Sarsin (played by Kate) and Keith Tanaka (played by Richard) are just leaving a small diner off of the highway, having convinced the Russian defector Sergi that they mean him no harm. Sam, the GM frames the scene.

Sam: You know trouble is brewing the moment you step out of the diner, there’s a man in a gray suit waiting for you by your car. He motions to you, his intent clear: Step this way. What do you do?

Richard: I’m unarmed so I nod and slowly start walking forwards, trying to get a parked car between us. 

[Tanaka, whispering] “I hope you’ve got a plan Sarsin.”

Kate: This is too simple, something’s wrong. I take a proper look around the lot to get a feel for the situation.

Sam: Think that’ll need a roll, with a difficulty of 4.

Kate: Ok, I’m using my Secret Service skill group and have surveillance, security and threat assessment which gives me a skill level of 3. [Rolls] Damn, only 2 successes. I’ll spend a  premonition to reroll it. [Rolls] Not much better, 3 successes and I think I need to save my premonitions for now. Oh, I’ll tag Angry and raise it to 4, I should have seen an ambush like this coming.

Sam: Ok. You spot her at the last moment, lying on the roof of a truck with a rifle. Her first shot whips past your shoulder, next to you Sergi freezes in panic. Tanaka – you’re almost at the car when you hear the gunshot, do you keep walking forward?

Richard: No, I’m going to dive into cover then I want to spend premonitions to make Sergi intangible before he gets himself killed. Sarsin should be able to look after herself for now.

Sam: The car just in front of you will provide cover but you’re having to react pretty quickly to all this… lets make it 3 premonitions to activate your power in time.

Richard: Ok, so as the would be assassin makes her next shot Sergi turns slightly translucent and the bullets whiz through him, shattering the glass of the door to the diner. Screams erupt from inside.

Sam: I like it. In the commotion the two men by your car duck into cover, drawing pistols as they do so. What do you want to do next?

Kate, looking at her knowledges: This is a truck stop right? I know all about weapons, including that the sort of person who drives that 18 wheeler in the corner is going to have a shotgun in the cab. I make a run for it, cover be damned.

The Zanif Pass / Bei Village

a1fc02c9b4df067c2fa132bed80bdf44While there are many paths that crisscross the peaks of the Fallen Mountains only a single route is suitable for larger forces. The Zanif Pass (known as the Ichira Pass by the Unicorn) bisects the mountains almost in half and forms a major trade route for those wishing to avoid travelling the length of the mountain range. Unicorn legends tell that the Kami created the pass centuries ago in order to aid the Clan as they began their great journey while local tales speak of a great battle on the peaks that continues to echo in the thunder and lightning of winter storms.

Control of the pass swings between the Unicorn and the Lion on a regular basis and each maintain sizeable garrisons at the edge of their stable territory. Large scale battles are rare, with neither side being willing to commit the forces required to confidently take and hold the positions of their opposite number. ‘Misunderstandings’ and duels are the norm and during the summer months military encampments will move back and forth along the length of the Pass as inexperienced samurai are given the chance to hone their skills.

Despite the regular skirmishes the village of Bei, resting on one of the plateaus accessible from the pass, has managed to remain neutral over the years. The village is comprised of a half dozen samurai households, associated peasant families and a lone tea house / inn, which often serves as a meeting point during disputes between the Unicorn and the Lion. Bei is popular with members of the Oriole Clan, who maintain a sizeable holding in the village. The current head of that household, Tsi Shiori, has become the reluctant spokesperson for the village despite her desire to lead a quiet life dedicated to the arts.

Plot hooks

1. Akodo Naru, the young daimyo of the 3rd Zanif Garrison has dispatched soldiers to take and hold Bei, claiming they owe taxes to the Lion. Word has reached the Unicorn at the Ichira Garrison and the soldiers there prepare themselves for the chance to ‘liberate’ the village. Trapped between the two opposing forces the party have only a short time to calm the situation before the Pass once again erupts into bloody warfare.

2. It is Bei’s turn to host the region’s annual brewing festival, bringing together representatives from towns and villages across the Fallen Mountains. As a neutral group the party are recruited to serve as judges for the final competition, drawing then into a web of politics as complex as any found at the winter courts. Matters are further complicated when the Scorpion Governor’s favoured nephew enters a batch of beer which has spoiled during his journey to the festival.

Ten Years

For the most of the month, Facebook Memories has been notifying me that September 2016 marks 10 years since I moved to Glasgow. Which also means that it’s been almost 10 years since I made a decision that would, in many ways, come to define me outside of my professional life. I became a tabletop gamer. Sure, before that point I’d been a gamer, hell I’d even done a fair share of RP, online and at the Nexus LARP (Madbay forever!). But until I joined GUGS I had never sat down and actually rolled the dice. Since then…

I’ve fought invading Cosms and witnessed the power of bacoffee,
Flown the width of the ‘verse for a quick profit,
Battled Demons with coffee and a smile.

I’ve walked the path of bushido,
Raced the wastes of the apocalypse,
Been inconsequential yet saved the planet,
And fought the Great Enemy in the name of the God-Emperor.

I’ve been President of GUGS,
Run games at the Nationals.
I’ve played with people from around the globe,
And flown across it to game with them in person.

I’ve guested on podcasts,
Published a game (TowerFall: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/183370/Tower-Fall-Micro-RPG),
Am nearing completion of a second (Project Cassandra: https://lunarshadowrpg.wordpress.com/games/project-cassandra/),

And I’ve come to loathe D&D.

Not too bad for 10 years, especially considering all the things I’ve probably forgotten to mention, I can only hope the next 10 are as eventful.