Monday, April 11, 2011

TORG: A Mostly-forgotten Game of Knights, Superspies and Talking Lizards.

I've mentioned before that I am a huge fan of tabletop RPGs, having encountered them fairly early on, and have played, run and done writing and development for them ever since. My first, and the one I've played the most, is of course Dungeons and Dragons, but I'm not ready to write the D&D article yet. In college, I was the Shadowrun guy, the mix of classic fantasy magic and monsters with cyberpunk's dark future, and seeing how it all worked somehow was appealing. This isn't going to be about Shadowrun, either. There's a single system that I own every single book published for, and most people have never heard of it.

West End Games was one of the early “big” companies in the small cottage industry that was hobby roleplaying games, a 2nd-tier company under the shadow of TSR and D&D. They produced Paranoia, the first Star Wars RPG, the Ghostbusters RPG, and a system called TORG. After hearing friends rave about TORG, I bought the boxed set at Gen Con one year, and I didn't get it. I flipped through it, and shook my head, putting it away thinking it was kind of stupid. Little did I know that I was just doing it wrong. TORG has to be played to be understood.

When a lot of people who know about TORG talk about it, frequently there are directly contradictory reports. I've heard some claim that TORG is a great multigenre setting with unusual, silly rules with dice and cards, while others hold that the setting is a little silly, and it is the rules that are brilliant and groundbreaking. I tend to agree more with those who make the second claim, though after reading all of the setting books, I've grown to accept the silliness of a world with dinosaurs, technodemons, wizards, superheroes, ninja and the cyberpope all in a single setting, and internalize how it all makes a kind of sense.

The world of TORG happens here, on Earth in the near future. Tomorrow, or next week, the invasion happens. Powerful beings called High Lords have been taking over and draining potential energy, or Possibility from the inhabitants of realities they come across, subverting those worlds and making them more like the one they came from. Earth, and our reality, is full of Possibility, too much for any one High Lord to try to drain on their own, the raw power would destroy them if they tried. So one High Lord doesn't invade. Seven do. Whichever takes over the most will be the TORG, and the Multiverse will quake.

The original rulebook, with a joke in the bottom right corner referring to how many of these came apart.

Six of the seven invading realities successfully drop down into parts of our world (one is fought back), and the rules and inhabitants there change. In England, the fantasy realm of Aysle turns inhabitants into medieval peasants, guns and technology stop working, yet magic and monsters are now possible. A high-tech “corporate ninja and superspies” reality takes over Japan... and no one notices. A cosm of pulp action and superheroes, a Victorian horror realm, a living jungle of dinosaurs and primordial magics, and a fusion of a dark medieval Catholic theocracy with cyberpunk round out the settings. For each place that is transformed, a side effect of the transformation is the storm of possibility that empowers special individuals with a greater destiny than most. These are the player-characters, the Storm Knights. With the additional option to play Storm Knights who hail from the realities that the High Lords came from, a party consisting of a wizard, a ninja, a superhero and an FBI Agent wouldn't be at all out of place.

The real draw for me, though, is the rules system. The only die needed is a single 20-sider, and rolling it once can determine whether or not a group of 5 zombies hit a hero, how many hit and how much damage is done. The system is unique in that it is the only one I know of where the group is at its strongest right before the final encounter, when they need to be to fight the main villain. Most games, the group is at its strongest at the start of an adventure, before they expend resources, which feels less dramatic.

Classic and deadly adventure featuring one of the most powerful High Lords.

A sense of drama and a group gathering strength is accomplished with a special deck of cards that handle initiative, special combat conditions that make scenes that are more important more dangerous, and give characters bonuses to actions. Using and redrawing cards to build the best hand, saving all the really great cards for the last scene allows for that moment when the bad guy is about to escape and a hero needs to make a one-in-a-million shot, the camera zooms in as his friends mutter, “You can do it, we believe in you”, “Get the bastard...”, the music swells and... bang. The villain slumps, falling to his apparent death, maybe to return at a later point with a grudge. With these rules, you can do that.

The game itself has been out-of-print for years, but I managed to buy a ton at conventions, and pick up a few spare decks (which I'm now frantically looking for) and the last few books I was missing on eBay. I may even put together a game with my wife and a few others who have never experienced TORG, fight the Possibility Wars all over again.
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Meghan Moran said...

Sounds like an intense and interesting game.

Patti D. said...

wow, didn't know about this one!

Jay said...

never heard of this game before, thanks for sharing. :D

The Angry Lurker said...

Had heard of it in the day but never got to play it.

Conspyre said...

All those HTU afternoons hearing about this game... I've always felt like multigenre games like this and Rifts have the stuff in there so they only make one game, but you can zoom in on any part of it. Like if AEG made "Secret Agent Snake Samurai 2099" instead of Spycraft and L5R. Just because you CAN make a Naga Hacker Assassin In Power Armor, doesn't mean that most GM's can hold together a reality where it makes sense.

DerpFiles said...

My friends and I play TORG, it's pretty interesting and silly so far.

Alpha said...

Hot damn, do you make a convincing argument to try this out.

Unknown said...

if you are looking for a current torg group that is still active then try - - we are looking
forward to discussing torg with you.

cheers, mark.

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