I was one of the early players of the original TORG when released by West End Games in the early 90s. I was mostly a player then, and didn’t take up GMing until some time later. I really loved the game a lot and it will always be one of my favourite RPGs. I really loved the ways genre was blended fairly seamlessly, and play has this real push towards teamwork over individual effort.
I loved the game that much that I eventually collected one of every book in the entire release, including a proper TORG edition dice and a complete set of Cards (more on this later). Within a month of getting the last three books for my collection, it was announced that Ulisses Spiele had purchased the rights to TORG and will be bringing out a new edition. My first thought of course was ‘Fuck!’, I’d just completed my collection, and now they are re-releasing it! But then again, I already knew that Ulisses Spiele was a pretty damn good company, and it’s not like TORG was without flaws. Maybe, just maybe, Ulisses Spiele might be able to do better. I jumped on the first Kickstarter as soon as I found it.
Let’s start with the Original
I’m going to save myself some typing by referring to the Original TORG as OT, and TORG Eternity as TE. With that out of the way let’s just cover the key things that make OT really stand out.
There are a few things that made OT a game you could return to over and over without it growing old. First there is the cross genre thing, where the party might consist of a super hero, a rogue cyborg, a primitive lizard man and a fantasy themed elven mage, and that would just be normal. The world setting was built around this cross genre concept, the characters were not shoe-horned into a world that didn’t support all equally. I recall my first character was a street kid come prostitute in a dystopian cybernetically enhanced religious high tech middle ages set in the modern world. If that sounded confusing, it’s not, not for TORG. The cross genre was not only seamless, it was also fair, with all characters, no matter the background, all having comparable abilities.
The other huge thing was the cards! OT introduced the Drama Deck, which were used to decide various combat elements such as initiative, as well as being able to be used from the player’s hands to boost their own abilities (or disrupt the enemy). The cards were absolutely awesome and did amazing things towards achieving one of the creators goals, which was to have a cinematic universe. I could fill the entire article on just what the cards meant to the game, but chances are most readers already know about the cards so I’ll move on.
There was something special even about the dice rolls. It’s just a d20 but if you roll a 10 or a 20 you get to roll on (i.e. an ‘exploding die’ system), and you might be able to chain these rolls to reach amazingly heroic results. Combined with the card play, the dice mechanic was further enhanced, allowing a party to work together to play for critical moments, meaning incredibly difficult things could be overcome with teamwork.
You know how some games use Fate Points or similar mechanics which give players a limited resource with which to cheat the dice gods and change a result. TORG calls those points Possibilities, and they are not some mystical meta-game mechanic, they are explained by the core game setting. Characters can talk in character about Possibilities because they are a focal point of the entire world setting. We’ll talk more about Possibilities later.
There’s a lot of other things I could mention but I’ll try to keep this shorter by covering just one more unique element, and that’s Interaction Skills. There are four types of Interaction; taunt, intimidate, maneuver and trick. Each is connected to a different attribute so pretty much regardless of your character build you should be able to become decent at at least one of the skills. Notice none of those skills really involve dealing damage? Very unlike most RPGs it is sometimes vital in TORG for players to forgo an attack to instead distract or trick a monster into position for another to make the kill. These skills tied back into the Drama Deck and were thus further rewarded when used correctly. In short, it means even a combat encounter might not be decided by who can hit/shoot the fastest/hardest, but instead by who can be the most effective team player.
Pretty awesome right? But did these things make the transition into TE?
The Problem with Remakes
I find the problem with remakes, be that in RPGs or other media like movies, is that the people doing the remake do not understand the original concepts. What they understand is their interpretations of those concepts, which in their eyes usually need tweaking. It’s like taking successive photocopies of a photocopy, each fresh copy will become more blurred until it reaches a point unrecognisable from the original. Some of you young people probably don’t get the photocopy analogy but trust me, it was a thing.
I’m not sure how they did it, but the people at Ulisses Spiele actually seem to understand everything that made TORG great. The dice, the cross-genre fairness, the Drama Deck, absolutely everything! In fact, as I compare OT with TE, I cannot find a single important thing which has been cut from the game. Okay, maybe I miss that incredibly complex chart used to make custom spells on the fly, but that got a bit overpowered anyway. The Drama Deck is still there much as it was but now the player portion has been moved into a deck call Destiny Cards. By spitting the deck into two packs it made room for art and now the cards look a lot better.
The only changes to the core good things are changes that are generally only superficial (the Deck split), or they address areas where game balance could become threatened. So, for the rest of the article all I can do is highlight some of the less than ideal aspects of OT and see of TE addresses those issues.
Oh the Possibilities!
In OT, Possibilities were used like Fate Points to alter dice rolls in the player’s favour. The problem was that Possibilities were also the equivalent of Experience Points. This means that players regularly caught in difficult situations and forced to spend Possibilities, also ended up with less to spend on their skills, and thus ended up in difficult situations more often, etc.
With so much being dependent on Possibilities players of course sought ways to
cheat creatively game the system. The best way was to make sure your character excelled at engaging enemy Stormers in reality storms, which made it potentially possible to suck up hundreds of possibilities, when an adventure might only yield 5-10. It was a broken element of the system which lead to terrible power creep.
TE has fixed this system in two ways. First of all they separated Possibilities from Experience Points, thus encouraging the use of Possibilities to enhance the action in the game. Secondly they redid the way reality storms worked to make them much more user friendly, though still very dangerous. So in this respect TE is a better system than OT as a simple separation of Possibilities from XP now makes the use of Possibilities far more frequent to the betterment of player expereince.
Glass Jawed Ninjas
When you hit someone with an attack on OT, the ‘Adds’ you gained on the attack were added to the damage. This meant that if you play a dodgy evasive character (such as a ninja), then by the time the enemy got a high enough roll to hit you, they also had a high enough roll to completely decimate your character. This came to be called the ‘Glass jaw ninja effect’ by the design team.
TE did something a little weird to fix the issue, they still use the normal d20 roll to hit, but based on the degree you hit by you get a number of Bonus Dice (BD for short). The Bonus Dice, a d6, is an exploding die, meaning on a 6 you roll on. Under this system an evasive character might only get nicked or grazed, taking only minor damage, whereas a, easy to hit for might take more damage unless they have some way to mitigate that damage (Toughness, armour, etc). With the BD being an exploding dice, there is always that chance that severe damage might still result from any good hit. There are many ways to add more BD to a roll and ways to improve the results of the BD, meaning characters and foes can be created to be especially deadly.
Does the new system work? If you like those moments where the dice just suddenly bless you, then the system is brilliant. Of course the bad guys might get lucky as well but that’s what things like Possibilities and cards are for. Given the rules for the BD can and are applied to other features non damage related, then this gives the GM even more tools to spice up the game.
Perhaps my biggest gripe about OT was power creep. With no caps on how much you can improve skills then over time characters reach a level where nothing is a challenge. In fact, they can exceed the abilities of the High Lords themselves. In short, you eventually have to retire your characters to have any source of drama.
TE puts caps on attributes (based on race), and skills. You might purchase a Mastery Perk that lets you take the normal skill cap of 5 up to 8. This means an average core earth human can gain and end skill of 18, or 21 with mastery. Trust me, many supernatural foes will exceed these limits. If you start out trying to max one thing out, the over time the character will just round out there abilities and have fewer weaknesses, which if we look at Interaction skills, is actually really important.
Both systems allow a fair level of min/maxing, with the exception that TE has caps to limit the maxing, as described above. However, TORG of either flavour is kind of magical in that there are actually no dump stats. Let’s say you do the typical D&D thing and try to use Charisma as a dump stat, that will then make your character extremely weak to Taunt actions. So while you might have created the ultimate warrior, he/she can be lead around by the nose using persistent taunts. I like to min/max to a degree, but regardless of which version you play, do it at your peril.
I can be brief here. The interaction skills are still totally in TE and have nice clearly defined results based on how much you beat your opponent by. Why fight the tyrannosaurus if you can fool it into chasing other prey? Trying to land a big hit on the bad guy? Why not have someone distract him with a clever trick so he’s more exposed to attack. At the top end, lesser foes can be forced to fall from bridges, shoot each other by mistake or anything else the players might conceive.
I have to say that TORG Eternity still has everything good about OT, but all the issues of OT are fixed. Not only is it fixed, it has a ton of little tweaks that make for far more in depth character creation and development. The cinematic action the system strives for is further enhanced in TE. Characters feel like heroes, but only if they work together.
If you loved or even liked the original TORG then it is totally worth the move over to TORG Eternity. I would normally struggle to name a favourite or best system in my collection, but after many hours of fun play, I think I might have to elevate TORG Eternity to the position of Best System I Own.