By Carl “CatLord” Rosa II, 29 June 2018
Disclaimer: All materials for this review were provided by the publisher, Ulisses North America. This action does not hold any sway in the review or the given rating.
TORG Eternity is a new edition of TORG, which stands for “That Other Roleplaying Game”. Originally published by West End Games in 1990, Ulisses North America picked up the rights to the game in 2016. The idea for TORG originally stemmed from a conflict one of the creators had in his personal life, resulting in a founding concept for the game stemming from the idea that we all share the same world, but not always the same realities.
Within the game, the modern world has been invaded by a concerted effort of interdimensional beings collectively called Reality Raiders from seven different realities called “cosms”. Each cosm has a different theme, and set of laws to enforce that reality. The cosms have a limited territory that starts with a “maelstrom bridge”, the gateway to the home cosm, and use structures called “stelae” like a cell phone tower network to spread. Areas within reach of the bridges and stelae are morphed to match the cosm as they slowly take “Core” Earth over.
Enter the players. Generally speaking, the players take on the roll of “Storm Knights”, which are inhabitants of any given reality (most likely Core Earth) that have the ability to shape “Possibility”. By manipulating possibility, they can stave off the changes and even restore Earth to what it was before the Reality Raiders arrived.
- As mentioned above, every cosm has a “theme”. There are even stats for every cosm just so you know what aspects of other realities can function – or even survive – there. These include:
- Aysle in the UK and Sweden, a high fantasy realm worthy of most Tolkien and Gygax fans.
- The Cyberpapacy in Western Europe and Spain, where lives are enriched by limitless technology but lives are strictly monitored and controlled by theocracy and their ‘big brother’ AI called GodNet
- The Nile in Eastern Africa and Western Asia, where a sort of dieselpunk reality leads way to superheroes and villains in pulp dramas reminiscent of The Shadow, The Mummy, or even Indiana Jones.
- Orrorsh, consuming India and some surrounding area, beckons classic horror movies where a culture similar to Victorian English colonials from the other cosm help Core Earth inhabitants defend themselves from monsters similar to the Universal Monsters all the way to new age terrors in the classic settings.
- Pan-Pacific, taking up a sizeable portion of Eastern Asia possesses a corporate run cyberpunk realm, where zombies threaten the populace at large.
- Tharkhold, in Western Russia, is a land where literal demons wield cybernetics powered by their pain to ravage the land. Some of it is irradiated from an attempt the Russians made to nuke the Reality Raiders.
- The Living Land has holds on the North American coasts, providing a land of overgrown plants and animals calling to mind a post-apocalyptic ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth”.
Each Cosm has a High Lord that commands it, as well as some spillover from the last reality they have invaded. It leads to skepticism when the cross-dimensional inhabitants offer at times too insightful help. Anything from outside slowly begins to conform to the reality around them, starting with Ords (ordinary people who cannot change Possibility, therefore almost no ability to resist) and wearing down any Storm Knights in the area, but these are parallel selves as if they were native to that reality. An architect, they posit, might become a mason if left in The Nile for too long. These changes are more abrupt as anyone (or thing) breaks the Laws. Laser rifles and enchanted swords become useless, rusted junk after enough time in the Living Land.
These rules become malleable when two cosms have an overlap, or Storm Knights start to succeed in restoring reality. In places where stelae can reach from more than one cosm, the Laws and Axioms become a la carte, favoring what the individual seeks to call upon.
With all of these world bending axioms, what is working in the players’ favor? The Delphi Council. A mysterious network around the world led by a man named Quinn Sebastian coordinates any willing Storm Knights in global resistance efforts. Actions the players take can be guided to a purposed end, and not just a haphazard series of events run amok. This means that should the players ever move between cosms, there is a plot device to mix and match any appropriate characters. After all, every character has an environment they thrive in and should be called upon for their specialties in that cosm; Nobody is prepared for strictly everything on their own. That said, any party can stay local to one cosm for the entire length of a campaign if they choose to do so. The Reality Raiders have been so successful on Core Earth and previous cosms, and defeating them on their home turf should be quite an undertaking rather than simple level hopping like MegaMan.
The game becomes a lot like visiting a humongous theme park, as different areas have unique features, elements, and themes. The various tickets, tokens, and points are probably only good within one park, even though the whole thing has the same parent. You can spend as long as you like in any one given park, but feel free to try something different. In essence, TORG Eternity is made to be a universal setting supported by a core system. Further supplements will expand on the different cosms, although ultimately you need nothing more than the core book to apply the full thematic spectrum of games. For that matter, you are free to create your own cosms and throw them down onto the map and see what happens.
TORG Eternity allows multiple themes to coexist with minimal railroading.
Actions in Torg rely on a simple roll of 1d20 plus all modifiers. If a ten or a twenty is rolled, they get to roll again and add to their current total. The final total is compared to a chart to come up with the final bonus (or penalty), which is added to the base of the roll and compared to the Difficulty Number (DN) to determine success and possibly margin of success. Many times, the DN is the number that is changed rather than the roll’s result for simplicity. If you roll a one, the attempt fails and you cause a “Mishap”, which can cost the players some recent narrative gains. Sometimes a Mishap can happen on higher numbers, but the total is not an automatic failure.
Easy, right? Good. However, there are still two more factors before the roll is well and truly done.
First, there are two decks required to play TORG Eternity. The first is the Destiny Deck, which is dealt to the players to augment actions. This can be as simple as a flat bonus to a certain kind of roll (such as “+3 to Strength”), all the way up to some very dramatic effects (such as martyring your character to achieve a Critical Point for the party). A player may use one card in their hand on their action, and trade on a mandatory 1:1 basis with other players who are not resolving an action. Along with Destiny Cards, each player receives one Cosm Card for the cosm they are presently within, and must trade for a new one if it no longer matches their current cosm. You can technically play without them, but these cards are almost universally positive. If you prefer to face the already difficult multiverse without these boost, you can but there should probably be some house rules to compensate for the loss. Perhaps a merciful GM could teach players how the game works without them for a session or two with some low level challenges. Otherwise they should be present within the game.
One more consideration affects the turn structure. When trying to resolve major actions, one must refer to the Drama Deck. The Drama Deck comes into play when the players are trying to resolve a Critical Point in the story. The GM defines four steps, A-D, and they must be achieved in order. With that in mind, a Drama card is revealed to signify the start of the round. One round is ten seconds of in-game time when deciding actions which will likely be affected by the Drama Card in question. First and foremost, the Drama Card determines initiative. There are exactly two turns in a round: Hero and Villain. The card determines which side goes first, and the actions for that side may be resolved in any order. Next to that H or V may be a status effect, such as “stymied” or “inspiration”. These represent a turn of events, which vary wildly in whom they favor. Next, to continue showing how events are unpredictable, there may be a skill or two that is ‘approved’ for the round. Success with an approved action lets a player draw a Destiny Card to their hand. Last but certainly not least, the whims of fate are swayed by Drama Cards by informing the players which critical point steps their actions can complete. If your party is trying to finish Step D, but your card only allows for steps A, B, and C then the group must hold on until that fourth step opens up for them.
Due to this setup, combat can be very lethal. While the Drama Deck can sway players’ actions, the jockeying to get the best advantages can cause some very staggering events to take place. Damage always starts with a fixed value, and depending on the margin of success, you may add one or two d6. These d6 add their visible value to the damage total, although a six (or Eternity symbol on their proprietary dice) counts as a five and you get another d6 to roll. So all of that momentum built by the more “dull” rounds followed by a lucky Drama Card could result in massive damage in one attack.
With that in mind, it should be stated that damage boils down to two types, which are shock and wounds. Where running out of shock only knocks you out, taking wounds will give a character action penalties while they are still standing and risk permanent wounds if not death when they finally succumb.
Cosm Cards lay down the law of the land. Literally.
Destiny Cards usually tip the odds in the players’ favor.
Drama Cards serve as initiative and random events in one easy draw
Too fickle? That’s okay. Your character starts the session with three Possibilities. One Possibility may be used to roll another die and add it to your previous one to determine the bonus to compare to the DN, with a minimum guaranteed result of “10” due to their rarity. Storm Knights can bend reality, after all.
Character creation revolves around five Attributes: Charisma, Dexterity, Mind, Spirit, and Strength. It also includes a myriad of skills, a selection of home cosm (including a potential non-human race), and two “perks” – the special things that make your character unique. For more advanced games, your GM could give you more of any of these. It is a point-buy system with these three categories, and despite some archetypes is still technically classless since development is still fairly open. The only limitations are that you cannot naturally have things from outside of your home cosm or Core Earth without talking to your GM.
This game goes out of its way to give players any setting they could want to play, and doesn’t strictly cut out any characters. Creative players and GMs could have alternates of characters for different cosms, compatible characters can move between worlds, especially with future supplements that expand the realities and may convince the group to try them without having to ditch their campaign or world. Not only that, but with the Delphi Council there is ample plot device available to cycle brand new characters in when inspiration or necessity dictates. In the end, have a universal setting, instead of a universal system is the driving goal of the game and it delivers. Much to this reviewer’s relief, the game doesn’t rest on a gimmick and its metahistory.
As a point of interest more than score, the art is consistently well done. There is a theme of darker undertones in seemingly every image – even where it should seem brighter but they are well done compositions overall.
Character creation, other than managing totals, is very straightforward. Only picking two perks for a starting character may be agonizing to narrow down, but it is extremely difficult to rob anyone of their niche within the group. The perks are scaled with power gamers in mind, too. Many perks stack on top of each other and those that can be taken more than once are less advantageous to take after the first level in exchange for opening up stronger abilities for that level.
The rolling mechanic is simple, and while the Drama Cards (or “action stack”) may need a bit of getting used to, it keeps gameplay from becoming a monotonous back and forth of unimaginative rolling. It forces the narrative to stay dynamic, and between Destiny and Possibility, the players have wiggle room against lousy luck.
In regards to one of the game’s greatest strengths being the versatility of what it offers, comes the first downfall. No one party can save the world. Depending on the axioms, some characters are just downright useless outside of their element, making the offset to allowing a variety of play styles amount to knowing your character’s days are numbered in success as well as failure.
Character generation can create some talented individuals, although Chaos reigns supreme. Your GM might advertise their designed campaign one way only to be thwarted by Destiny and Drama pulling in less predictable ways than even the most erratic players. Continuing in the same vein, while Destiny and Drama are a great way to curb power gamers and create a standard deviation of roll results, even brilliant players are forced into unwinnable situations by no fault of their own. Players should not have to be forced into a lifeline by GM Caveat because the game literally has a mind of its own. On a personal note, while the mechanic is innovative, it relies on physical merchandise to be playable. Buy all the PDFs you want, but it will cost you extra to print a decent set from a PDF or to buy a deck from the company outright.
The final negative aspect to be addressed is once again the flip side of one of its greatest strengths. TORG Eternity is advertised as a bleaker continuation of the original TORG story. Reality invaders have a stronger foothold on Core Earth, even the helpful spillover races have their own agendas that conflict with the Storm Knights’ reality, and when within a cosm that respective High Lord is all but invincible. There are preplanned timelines to help cannon plot move along, although reading the cosms leaves an impression that all gains are temporary at best in the face of these experienced invaders. Perhaps the most realistic aspect of the game about fractured realities is how uphill the climb is to repel an invading force.
TORG Eternity provides a setting that seems sorely lacking in the modern gaming environment. More and more games are embracing stories that aren’t high fantasy, although many of them tend to be alternate histories or franchise with large fanbases. TORG gladly lets a motorcycle riding samurai stand back to back with a magic wielding elf, a lizard man, and a cyborg to fight off mummies and it can make canonic sense. The circumstances must be highly specific, but it can happen.
A high tech samurai, a superurban wizard, and a Victorian monster hunter walk into a bar…
The rules can be a little crunchy at times with a suite of different possible actions, and leveraging two different decks of cards. To counter this, the math is simple and the chart checking can be easily memorized in most cases. At the time of this review, the system is unique and makes a noticeable effort to curb power gaming and channel metagaming.
TORG’s mechanic does, however, lead to some merchandising issues where the game cannot be run at random. A program is yet to exist to simulate the decks involved so when you and your friends want to throw down a one shot, someone better have the materials. It’s a deceptive cost – one that is understandable yet at times vexing. Many of the resources you can buy from the Ulisses shop are optional once you have the core set. Players can support the game by getting products to enrich play, and that is always a plus. Good games deserve worthwhile avenues to support them, but it is frustrating about the unexpected cost of entry. It also leaves the issue of wear and tear, especially down the line if/when this edition is no longer supported and players are still playing this version. Marketing does not change whether or not it is a good or enjoyable game, so the impact on the final score here is minimal.
What you get is a multi platform setting with a sliding difficulty scale and a lot of versatility and dynamic play. TORG Eternity earned 3.5 Buns, with wiggle room in either direction after new materials come out, such as the upcoming first Cosm Expansion: The Living Land.