Torg: A Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Hack (Hacking the Datasheets)

After reading the Leverage and Smallville RPGs, I was tempted to base my Torg hack on Smallville, but once I had it in my hands, I knew that my hack needed to be based on Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. Torg ultimately is a cinematic game. It’s full of action, and while drama certainly can be part of Torg, it’s not inter-PC drama like in Smallville. Leverage ultimately wasn’t a great fit either since there are so many different archetypes in Torg, whereas Leverage features a team that where each person still has skills in all aspects of a con (though with different specialties).

Although my Torg hack is based on the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying rules, there are differences. Each Cortex Plus game needs to be altered differently to focus the important aspects of that game. Many of those differences are expressed in what goes into the dice pools that the players and the GM create. As far as Torg is concerned, the primary aspect that needs to be reflected well in the hack is the treatment of ‘reality’ and how it interacts with the characters.

Reality in Torg

First, I need to explain how the mechanics of causing contradictions in other realities worked in the original Torg game. If a character uses a tool: a spell, miracle, piece of tech or some sort of social concept, it causes a single contradiction if the axiom level of that tool is greater than either the character’s home reality or the reality that character finds herself in.   In the original Torg game, the Everlaw of One disconnects the character from their home reality on a roll of 1 on a d20. However, if the axiom level of the tool is greater than both the character’s home reality and the reality she is in (a double contradiction), the disconnection occurs on a roll of 1-4. When the character is disconnected, she is unable to create any more contradictions and is completely subject to the reality she is in. When the disconnection occurs, the action fails and usually the character is pretty hampered in her abilities. However, all the character needs to do is reconnect on her next turn via a successful Reality skill check.

In the original Torg game, the combat rounds were very quick to resolve, and there usually were 5-10 rounds in each combat. Although disconnecting was infrequent, enough combat rounds occurred in a session that a character could expect to disconnect once or twice. Disconnecting meant that the character lost a lot of her abilities (either superpowers, magic, miracles, high tech) for a brief period of time and then gained them back. It may take a round or two though, if the Reality skill checks fail.

In my initial playtest of the contradiction rules for my Torg hack, I tried two methods. In the first method, if the character was causing a single contradiction, he added a d4 to the dice pool. A double contradiction added 2d4 to the pool. If an opportunity was rolled (a 1 on one of the dice), the GM had the option of activating that opportunity and inflicting Reality stress equal to the die that provided the opportunity. In the end, I decided this made it too difficult to disconnect (which would occur when “stressed out”), it was predictable, and it would take a few rounds for it to occur at all.

My second method was to actually treat disconnection as a Limit, which could be activated by the GM or the player. However, when I did so, it severely nerfed the character’s ability to do anything. In this case, the Ninja wasn’t able to use any of his technological devices or his Ninjitsu (martial arts requires a certain Social and Spiritual axiom level).

Now, this problem normally wouldn’t be too bad since the player could have just made an action vs. the Doom Pool to reconnect. However, one thing I’ve learned in running Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and my Torg hack is that the individual Action Scenes don’t necessarily last very long, so disconnecting could mean a major negative impact on a character for much of an Action Scene.

Ultimately what I decided to do is reflect the fact that in the original Torg, the characters got to do their schtick most of the time, and any disconnections were usually speed bumps. The way I imagined it was that a US Marine, fighting in the Living Land, shooting at some incoming velociraptors suddenly would find himself disconnected, his gun not working until he focused briefly and reconnected to Core Earth. This would provide an opportunity for the velociraptors to chow down on him, but it would be a brief opportunity. So the solution to my dilemma was to use part of the first playtest option and add one category to the datasheet that all characters have:

Contradiction

Single              d4
Double         2d4

This solution simulates the original Torg game within the Cortex Plus framework. Disconnection can be a pain, but not one that eliminates the fun for the player.

Axiom Traits

Magic    d4
Social    d8
Spirit     d6
Tech      d10

During the first playtest, I tried just using the Affiliation trait from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, but it didn’t feel right. In the comics, heroes often split off, join up or run solo, but in Torg it’s always been expected that the group sticks together. My feelings on this were confirmed when Rob Donoghue blogged about not using the Affiliation trait for MHR hacks. Instead I’m looking at a trait focusing on the interaction of the character with the four axioms of all realities:  Magic, Social, Spirit and Tech.

These four axioms define all realities, and including them explicitly in the datasheets connects the character to the game more directly. Each axiom is associated with a d4, d6, d8 or d10 die, with one die for each axiom.

A d10 indicates that the character has a close connection with that axiom. Either he uses tools of that axiom instinctively, or at least knows how elements involving that axiom behave. For instance, a character with Magic d10  probably either uses arcane spells frequently, or at least is familiar enough with magic to know when it’s being used and how to react to it.

Conversely, a d4 indicates either inexperience with that axiom or that when using tools associated with that axiom, things get complicated for him. So a Social d4 could be a social misfit, or a coward. A Magic d4 indicates a character who has never been exposed to magic or could have weird things happen when he uses magic.

Although I’d considered using this trait earlier, I stopped thinking about it after reading Ryan Macklin’s blog post on “use whenever stats”. Although Rob Donoghue pointed out to me on Twitter that Cortex Plus pretty much assumes at least two “use whenever stats”, I felt it was better when the game didn’t use them (e.g. Smallville).

The solution came to me when I realized that I could force the reaction roll to use the same Axiom trait as the action roll that it was opposing. This would mean that there could be some tactical considerations when acting against a character. You might use your d8 trait if it was the d4 trait for your opposition. Plus, it directly ties in the fact that people who aren’t exposed to high axiom tools like powerful magic or amazing technology wouldn’t really know how to defend against it.

Distinctions

Distinctions work exactly the same as in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying:  either a d8 if it helps or a d4 plus a Plot Point if it hurts.

Aspects

Aspects are the equivalent to Power Sets from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. They are groups of power traits, limits and SFX organized on a theme. There are three different types of Aspects:  Cosms, Ability Sets and Equipment.

1. Cosms

COSM
Nippon Tech (Axiom Limits:  Magic 1 Social 16  Spirit 8  Tech 21)

SFX: Law of Intrigue. Add a d8 to your dice pool when attempting to be sneaky, deceive or bribe someone.
SFX: Law of Vengeance. If you have been seriously wronged, you may immediately replace one of your milestones with I WILL HAVE VENGEANCE.
Limit: Law of Profit  If you do not have Business Master or Business Expert, acquiring a resource requires 2 PPs instead of one while in Nippon Tech.

MILESTONE – I WILL HAVE VENGEANCE

1 XP       when you inflict stress on your enemy or interfere with his or her plans.
3 XP       when you harm your team in your attempt to exact vengeance on your enemy.
10 XP     when you kill or otherwise permanently defeat your enemy.

Each character not only includes a Cosm on their datasheet, but also is subject to the Cosm based on the reality they are currently in. Each Cosm lists the four axioms plus SFX and Limits based on the World Laws of that reality. Shown above is the Cosm entry for Nippon Tech.

In my hack, I am not using the axiom definitions from the original Torg boxed set, but revised definitions shown on Storm Knights, written by Jasyn Jones and “Kansas” Jim Ogle. Comparing the axioms of your tools or other abilities to those of the Cosm you’re from or in allows you to determine if Contradiction dice should be added to your dice pool.

The SFX and Limits from Cosm Aspects are situational, but for the most part are dealt with exactly the same way as they are in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. However, some SFX involve replacing one of your Milestones with a new one,  like I WILL HAVE VENGEANCE.

2. Ability Sets

NINJITSU

SUPERIOR REFLEXES d10          ENHANCED STAMINA d8
ENHANCED DURABILITY d8    INVISIBILITY d8

SFX: Block/Strike. When you are attacked in unarmed or melee combat, the attacker provides an opportunity on a roll of a 1 or a 2.
SFX: Ki Focus. If a dice pool includes a NINJITSU die, you may replace two dice of equal size with one die +1 step larger.
Limit: Exhausted. Shutdown any NINJITSU  power to gain 1 PP. Recover power by activating an opportunity or during a Transition Scene.

Ability Sets are dealt with much like Power Sets in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. However, because there may be more than two Aspects on a datasheet, you can only add a trait die from each Aspect up to a maximum of two.

Ability Sets usually involve abilities that are inherent to the character: specialized training, super powers, arcane spellcasting or the invocation of miracles. Sometimes there will be some overlap with Ability Sets and Specialties, but the trait dice included in Ability Sets represents specializations (e.g. Rifles vs. ‘Combat’).

One important difference between my Torg hack and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is that Torg is a bit more ‘street level’ as far as power scale goes. Torg heroes aren’t controlling weather over scales the size of a state, or teleporting across the universe, or being able to hurl tanks into orbit. For most of the Power Set descriptions, I’ve eliminated the “Godlike” category, and moved “Superhuman” into the d12 rank. To replace “Superhuman,” I’ve made “Superior” the new d10 rank.

3. Equipment

EQUIPMENT

LAR Grizzly 50 Big Boar Rifle d10 (Tech 20; Accurate)
Herod IV Pistol d8 (Tech 21; Full Auto)
Magic Sword d8 (Tech 7, Magic 9)
Kevlar Vest d8 (Tech 20)

SFX: Accurate. If a pool includes a die from an Accurate weapon, you may replace two dice of equal size with one die +1 step larger.
SFX: Full Auto. If a pool includes a die from a Full Auto weapon, add a d6 and keep an additional effect die for each additional target.
Limit: Gear. Gain 1 PP and shutdown Equipment you are using. Make an action against the Doom Pool to recover.

Equipment is a set of Traits, SFX and Limits representing signature items that the character uses on a frequent basis. These items can include tech, magic spells or miracles. Since the tools your character uses have an impact on whether or not you are creating a contradiction, each item in your Equipment list has an axiom level associated with it. Some of these tools will have keywords (e.g. Accurate or Full Auto) that will reference SFX.

I’m still working with exactly how this section works, at least as far as magic spells and miracles go, but I’ll elaborate on that in a future post.

Specialties

Specialties in my Torg hack are mostly the same as in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. There are some changes (though they may be set in Jello):

  • Cosmic is replaced by Reality and covers knowledge about the nature of realities, the cosmverse and probably will be involved in whatever mechanic I decide on to deal with reality storms.
  • Mystic is replaced by Arcane, Faith and possibly Occult. Faith will be specific to a certain religion.
  • Survival and Weird Science are new Specialties.

Milestones

Finally, Milestones are handled exactly the same way as they are in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. In fact, Milestones replicate the mechanics of subplots from the original Torg game well.

Torg Hack Archive

 

Comments

  1. I’m loving this. TORG is one of my favorite games ever.

    Don’t do Miracles and spells under equipment. They belong in an Ability set. You can set it up so that if they use a spell or miracle with a higher axiom level than their axiom level, that they create a contradiction.

    Don’t rule out Cosmic just yet, don’t forget about the Space Gods. Just add Reality as a new Specialty, and Cosmic becomes a specialty that you would have after being from/exposed to the Space Gods stuff.

    Also, for your hack, Plot Points should be changed to Possibility Points, and the Doom pool should be changed to the Drama pool. I’m sure you’ve already considered this.

  2. Arcane Springboard says:

    @GKT Thanks for commenting.

    As for your points.

    The original reason for treating spells and miracles like tech is that they were largely very similar things, at least as far as worrying about contradictions. However, after thinking long and hard about how I wanted the magic system to work, I’ve decided to go with a system that is much more similar to the usual Marvel Heroic Roleplaying power set mechanics. I’ll be posting datafiles for Storm Knights from various cosms and you’ll see what I mean. I think it’s more ‘elegant’. Preview: spells and miracles are SFX entirely now, they don’t add dice to the pool directly.

    As for Cosmic being related to the Space Gods, I may just do that, but I’m leaving Space Gods and Tharkold to the side for the moment, concentrating instead on the cosms that start the game off officially. Though that said, I’ve got a system coming up in my head that involves the players being involved in how the war evolves, much like City building in Dresden or Pathways for Smallville. Regarding Reality though, it’s something that may not have much use in the system in the end.

    Finally, as for the name changes, yes I’ve considered them but for now I’m not doing so. I want to keep Plot Points as is for two reasons. First, Plot Points are Plot Points throughout the Cortex Plus systems. Second, only the player characters get Plot Points. If the NPCs got Plot Points too, I would switch it, but rather they draw from the Doom pool.

    As for renaming it to the Drama pool, the fact is that it’s not really ‘drama’ but ‘doom’. Doom has a much more negative connotation and something that this pool deserves…especially if you consider Orrorsh. :-)

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