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.

Review: Firefly RPG GenCon Exclusive

FIREFLYRPGThe Firefly RPG is an upcoming game from Margaret Weis Productions, with the GenCon Exclusive preview released during GenCon 2013. The full game is due to be released in early 2014 and utilises the Cortex Plus Action system.

Before I launch fully into this review I want to make clear the answer to a common question about the Firefly RPG, namely

Haven’t MWP already made this game?

The answer to which is yes, and also no. MWP’s first RPG release was indeed the Serenity RPG which introduced the original Cortex system. So what’s different? Two things things. First the new game is licensed with Fox as opposed to Universal and will therefore focus upon the events of the show rather than the movie.¬† Woo, legal nonsense! The second difference is the system, the original Cortex system was a relatively traditional game, with attributes, skills, wound tracks etc. The new game utilises Cortex Plus, a much more narrative driven game heavily inspired by FATE with both players and GM being able to introduce narrative aspects with intrinsically defined mechanical benefits. The GenCon Exclusive is a preview of the new game, a preview that comes in at over 250 pages and includes the core system, rules for character gen and not one but two introductory adventures.

System

The Cortex Plus Action variant utilised by the Firefly RPG was originally released as part of the Leverage game and it would have been easy for MWP to simply lift the system entirely without tweaking it to suit the new setting. They’ve clearly learned from the original Cortex games however, which were criticised to an extent for being simple reskinning of the original Serenity game. The system in the Preview shifts the Action variant slightly more towards a traditional game style through the inclusion of both attributes and skills but retains the Cortex Plus distinctions mechanic, which work to both help and hinder the PCs. As a Cortex Plus game many of the mechanics revolve around the creation of assets and complications so it’s good to see that the Preview covers these in detail with numerous examples throughout the book and a discussion in the GM section on keeping complications interesting.

One of the most interesting tweaks to the system is the inclusion of the Big Damn Hero mechanic. Essentially this mechanic is designed to get around the issue of characters over succeeding on little actions by letting players bank die to boost rolls when it’s actually time to shine. Given the way in which the show was about running into constant problems then coming through when the pressure was really on it’s an interesting mechanic that certainly helps to maintain the feel of the show. It’s tweaks such as this that emphasise how much work has already gone into the system and the full game promises to go further including full rules for creating your own ships (a basic outline is included in the Preview).

Character creation

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of the Preview was the inclusion of a chapter that details how to create your own characters for use in the game. As a preview of the game I expected to be supplied with character sheets just for the crew (which are included) but with the character creation rules present you could easily run an entire campaign without picking up the core rulebook when it comes out, though I expect the full game will include additional options for use during creation. Finally if creating your own characters wasn’t enough the Preview rounds it out with a collection of character archetypes that can easily be filled out on the fly during play. With a little work these archetypes could easily be used for one shots, short campaigns or convention games where the players want to jump right into the action but also want to customise their character a little.

firefly_class_ship

The Adventures

I’ve yet to run the two adventures so I don’t want to comment on them too much. Like the rest of the material in the Preview they are well written and clearly designed to emulate the flow of episodes from the show, with interesting plots and fairly detailed NPCs. These two adventures form the basis for what MWP are calling the Echoes of War line, a series of independent adventures that all tie back to the Unification War. Given the likely size of the Firefly license, especially in light of MWP losing the Marvel license it will be interesting to see how Echoes of War proceeds with future releases and whether we begin to see an overarching plot emerge from the line.

Layout and art

As you’d hope from a company such as MWP the overall layout and presentation is generally of a high quality. There are, however, a couple of issues. First is the artwork. The majority consists of stills from the show which works extremely well; the rest of the art isn’t as good. The individual sketches included in the adventures are an extremely mixed bag while the artwork for the character archetypes simply isn’t at the level I’d expect from a license of this size. The second issue I have is with the extensive use of blue backgrounds to highlight sidebars and character sheets. Not only does it clash with the pale cream colour used throughout the rest of the book but it makes printing the characters and character archetypes all but impossible unless you’re willing to spend a small fortune on ink.

Wrap-up

As a Preview of the upcoming Firefly RPG the GenCon Exclusive goes above and beyond what I’d expected, presenting pretty much a full system as opposed to what could have easily been a simple quick start guide. If you’re a Browncoat and a gamer then you’ll be happy to know that the legacy of the series appears to be in good hands and personally I’m excited about what is to come from MWP. About my only issue relates to some of the layout and artwork decisions but overall these are minor aspects.

Score: 5/5

Engrenages: First Impressions

novo-ENGRENAGES-logo-300x82This post originally appeared over on Nearly Enough Dice

Engrenages: First Impressions

Sunday afternoon of Conpulsion I got a chance to play in a demo of Engrenages, a game in development by a group of students from Kedge Business School in France. While the game is still in development I wanted to provide my first impressions of the game. Before I do though I’ll first point you to the interview Nearly Enough Dice conducted with two of the developers, which you can find¬†here.

Setting

The setting for Engrenages is an alternative history steampunk world, sometime in the late 19th century. The setting differs from the typical steampunk, however, due to the presence of the Secade, a reptilian race whose civilization controls the majority of the North American continent (and possibly South America as well). The European expansion into the continent has, therefore, been limited to a scattering of settlements along the Eastern seaboard. Chief amongst these is the city of Havengrinn, where the expatiates of the Old World seek political power by day and occult knowledge by night. Combined together the world provides an interesting and different take on the steampunk genre while the inclusion of the Secade encourages a strong pulp feel and suggests adventure and exploration are going to be important components of the final game. The demo scenario was focused around the exploration of a ruined city, located within the no-mans land between Secade and human territory and the discovery of an ancient temple that may help humanity develop their understanding of the Secade culture and civilization. The adventure was fairly interesting, although a few of the scenes felt forced or out of place, in part because they added little to the flow of the story.

System

The central mechanic of Engrenages is a basic die roll + fixed attribute / skill bonus, however, on making a skill roll players must choose whether their action draws upon chaos or order (represented by different coloured dice) and roll accordingly. This choice is designed to impact directly on the narrative, both in terms of the way skills are being performed and the way the result pans out. Depending on the situation the GM may force use of a particular die or alter what is achievable depending on whether an ordered or chaotic approach is utilised. Take, as an example Indiana Jones, a classic pulp hero archetype. During his many adventures he’s likely to use his archaeology skill to decode ancient riddles, saving him from an untimely death from the traps concealed in the temples he is investigating. Such an action would force use of the chaos die, as he’s likely charged in, set the trap off and is trying to stop it before he goes squish. If however he had gone in with a more cautious approach then he could have used his order die, decoding the riddle in advance and avoiding setting the trap off at all.

While it wasn’t included as part of the demo the chaos / order mechanic would also be well suited to incorporate an advantage / complications system similar to that of Fate’s aspects, where the aspect can be utilised to provide both a bonus and a penalty. For Engrenages this would work well where the aspect provides a bonus to a skill when used with one die type and a penalty when using it with the other. Going back to the Indiana Jones example he could easily have an aspect along the lines of “Brilliant explorer” which would provide a bonus when using the chaos die in combination with his archaeology skill. However a more ordered approach, such as combing through library texts, bore our hero to the point that he often misses important details, represented by a penalty when using an order die to make archaeology checks.

Wrap-up

Based on the demo and from talking to the creators of the game Engrenages has done pipped my interest enough to keep an eye out on it. At present it appears to very much be a game that is a work in progress so it will be interesting to see what directions it takes in the long run so expect to hear more about the game as and when information becomes available. In the meantime you can find out more about Engrenages on their blog.