Back in 1990, West End Games released Torg, a cinematic style multi-genre roleplaying game. This game featured many innovative mechanics such as the Drama Deck and Possibility Points, but is best known for its background. Not only did this game allow multiple genres to be treated with the same mechanics, but then smashed them together and added an invasion of Earth on top of it.
Torg is one of my all time favorite roleplaying games. Although I have only briefly played it in the last 15 years, I’ve always wanted to go back to playing it. However, although some of the mechanics (especially the Drama Deck) are great, the system as a whole is showing its age. From problems such as the ‘glass jawed ninja’ to an over-proliferation of skills (even though it is a skill-based RPG), there are several modern RPGs that are more ‘elegant’ than that system.
When I was introduced to the Leverage RPG last year, and learning about the various hacks to the system, I decided to work on a Cortex Plus hack for Torg. This has been something of a journey, learning the ins and outs of the various Cortex Plus games. Originally I planned on making it a straight Leverage hack, but then after playtesting the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game, I decided that it was the best fit. However, I did briefly flirt with the idea of basing my hack on Smallville as well.
Before I get into how I’m hacking MHR, here is a primer on the Torg setting.
In Torg, a cinematic version of our Earth (known in the game as Core Earth) has been invaded by other realities, led by powerful beings known as High Lords. These High Lords invade other realities in order to drain their “possibility energy.” Core Earth has a massive amount of possibility energy and as such, it was necessary for multiple High Lords to invade to avoid the destruction of their own realities from the backlash from Core Earth.
Each reality is defined by a set of four axioms (Magic, Spirit, Social and Tech) which limit interactions between the living and unliving. For instance, in a low Tech reality, someone’s M-16 simply wouldn’t fire. Computers don’t work. In extreme cases, Middle Age era swords are no better than clubs. In low Magic or Spirit realities, magic and miracles don’t work. In low Social realities, people simply cannot fathom the concept of nations or money. In addition to the four axioms, each reality has a set of three or four World Laws that further define the flavor of the reality.
Ordinary people (known as Ords) are unable to contradict foreign realities for long. Once the universe notices that they are creating contradictions, the ‘Everlaw of One’ disconnects them from their home reality. Then, over time, Ords transform to completely integrate into the invading reality, giving up their minute amounts of possibility energy to the High Lords. Possibility rated people on the other hand, are able to rec0nnect themselves to their own reality and even briefly prevent the universe from noticing that they are creating contradictions.
Seven different realities, known as cosms, invaded initially:
- The Living Land, which invaded North America. A low Tech, low Social, low Magic reality but with a very high Spirit axiom. This is the reality of Lost Worlds, dinosaurs and intelligent, miracle invoking lizard men.
- Aysle, which invaded Britain and Scandinavia. This is your high fantasy reality. It has a high Magic axiom (such that everyone native to the reality can cast a spell), medieval Tech and Social axioms, with a moderately high Spirit axiom. It’s a reality where everything that is observed is real, and where honor and corruption is reflected in the appearance of the person.
- The Cyberpapacy, which invaded France. Originally a reality featuring medieval level Tech and Social axioms, moderate Magic and high Spirit axioms, this was the Spanish Inquisition on steroids. However, a month into the invasion, a massive tech surge swept through the realm, boosting the Tech axiom much beyond our own. It’s now the Spanish Inquisition with cyberware and a Matrix inhabited by devils and angels known as the GodNet.
- The Nile Empire, which invaded Egypt and spread quickly throughout north Africa and into the Middle East. This is the reality of 1930s era pulp: superheroes and weird science. Indiana Jones would be right at home here. Where good people are Good and evil people are Evil, and can’t act any other way (but can be seduced to the other side). Where things go wrong for the heroes all the time. Where merely being heroic can mean success. The Magic and Spirit axioms here are high, allowing avatars of Egyptian gods to awaken and guard newly discovered tombs.
- Nippon Tech, which invaded Korea and Japan. This is the reality of high tech mega-corporate intrigue, where any organization larger than 100 people is guaranteed to have a traitor, where money means everything, and vengeance pays. Oh, and ninjas.
- Orrorsh, which invaded Indonesia. This is the reality of gothic horror. Orrorsh has Victorian era Tech and Social axioms, combined with magic powered by the Occult and moderate Spirit. The dominant religion isn’t just based on the Old Testament, it’s the Old Testament with a nasty side. In this reality, you can’t win until you overcome the Power of Fear. In the original Torg, this is where Storm Knights go to die.
- Tharkold, the reality of cyberdemons and technological terror, failed in its invasion of Russia, repelled by Russian psychics who were forewarned by agents of Nippon Tech.
When the invaders attacked, whole swaths of Earth’s surface were replaced by the new realities. Even in the Canadian arctic, humid and hot jungles appeared. Into this war-torn world, the PCs from various realities join up to fight the High Lords. This is a game where an Elvish wizard, a 30s era pulp version of Iron Man, a lizard man priest, a cyberdecker, John McClane and Sherlock Holmes can join forces and fight Nile Shocktroopers, Cyberpapist inquisitors and Nippon Tech ninjas, sometimes in the same afternoon.
In the next segment, I will discuss the initial changes to the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying datasheets and dice pools, specifically focusing on the effects of Torg’s reality mechanics on the system.