RogerBW's Blog

Fixing High Lord of Earth 17 February 2016

After a couple of shorter adventures, the campaign moved on to High Lord of Earth. Mostly it worked. Mostly… Spoilers for this adventure follow.

It's downright handy when running a game set in roughly 1990 to be able to download a copy of the CIA World Factbook for that year. Obviously the original authors couldn't do this as easily; it wasn't put on-line until 1994. Still, they didn't do an entirely terrible job of Belize; there's no mention that there was still a British garrison in place in the real world, but they might reasonably have been withdrawn to fight in the Possibility Wars somewhere else.

If you're drawing a map with numbered locations, it would be polite to number those locations in the text, or even to put the location names on the map, rather than having a numbered key and asking me to look up the names from that key in the text. It's an extra layer of indirection that adds nothing. (It helps later on if the place you describe as "in the middle of the corridor" isn't clearly shown on the map as being at the end of the corridor.)

In Torg, the living granite statues are just Toughness 17, very dull. In GURPS, I borrowed the stats from a one-foot-thick stone wall: DR156, and 94 hit points. No normal weapon will get through that (GURPS doesn't have damage boosting from unusually good successes the way Torg does, on the basis that a tiny little knife or gun won't destroy a tank even if you hit it in exactly the right place), and the players took a while to think of repeated hits to the same spot to chip away at it. Fortunately the statues were programmed not to try to climb the stairs (they'd probably have fallen through anyway). That did end up making them rather tougher than the zombies, but if they weren't then why use statues rather than zombies as guards?

I was very pleased to see that the vital clues in the sub-basement of the White Rose were in the far corner from where the PCs come in, so even if they got all explodey this wouldn't destroy vital information.

On to Flores and Tikal! Unfortunately the adventure contains absolutely no guidance as to what happens if the adventurers turn up at Tikal without bringing the Palenque vase fragment. (It's quite ready to hold the GM's hand if the players give up or wander away from the plot, but it absolutely assumes that they will do this particular thing.)

Sadly the WEG researchers didn't realise that there's already a perfectly good airstrip at Tikal (since 1951) so there was no need to invent a dubious drug-smuggling operation that just happens to be nearby. Still, it gave the party what Robin Laws would call a gratification beat.

(I get the feeling they expected Storm Knights to be scrappy heroes without much ready cash. My party kept the $300,000 payoff from Magnolia Station Research Park in The Destiny Map.)

Later, in Teotihuacan:

If the Knights refuse to enter any of the other buildings and proceed directly to the Temple of the Moon, allow them to do so. But they will have lost an opportunity to learn more about the nature of this particular Device, and perhaps discover a way to defeat it.

Will they really, Greg Farshtey and Paul Murphy? What they will have lost is a series of cut scenes that tell them that this Darkness Device thinks of itself as Huitzilopochtli (which they've already worked out, not being completely stupid) and wants to destroy the other High Lords and their own Devices (which isn't helpful). Plus some admittedly reasonably well-researched (for pre-Wikipedia days when this stuff still took some effort) notes on Aztec culture.

Then there's the fight against Malcolm Kane, whom I see being played by Vernon Wells, in the style of Bennett the chief bad guy in Commando:

Yet again we have a supposedly challenging villain who doesn't have much in the way of attack powers. Sure, he has amazing firearms, melee weapon and martial arts skills, but all he's given to work with is a dagger. Player characters have guns. At least give the man a bow, the way he's depicted on the cover of the adventure!

And in fact the next series of cut scenes, after that fight, is also dispensable. There's just one useful comment among all this stuff, which my players (having got bored with all the monologuing, not to mention being unwilling to spend resources against heavyweight Charm attempts) short-circuited… thus missing the one available clue as to how to banish the Darkness Device, the stela trick.

(Yes, "stela". "Stelae" is plural, you peasants.)

When main battle tanks have Toughness ratings in the 30s and 40s, giving the Darkness Device a rating of 203 (on a log scale, remember, in which each five points supposedly represent a ×10 multiplier) seems excessive. Why not just say "it can't be damaged by physical means"? Because, really, it can't. In GURPS, if you took the log scaling seriously, you'd talking about DR values in the 10^36 sort of range; never mind nuclear explosions, it can survive being dropped into a star. If a PC does do that level of damage, I feel that it's a case for narrative discretion by the GM, not "did you happen to roll well enough".

(Not that Torg does take the log scaling seriously; I don't believe that a Cyberpapacy hovertank has 160× the armour protection of a Leopard 2.)

Anyway, I thought having a PC survivor of a reality storm acting as an emergency replacement stela was fair enough, and at this point really the only way to avoid a total party wipeout. For an adventure that's been basically about fighting up to this point, that ending is a remarkable change of pace; having only a single workable solution, and only a single clue pointing to it, is distinctly suboptimal.

So how to fix the end? Shorten the monologues, for a start, and make the Darkness Device put more emphasis on the going away to get power and then coming back, rather than punting that right to the end. Perhaps give a demonstration of how physically tough it is, by an expendable NPC trying something on it? It shouldn't be easy to defeat, but other avenues should be available: tricking it into doing something stupid would be the most appropriate (I'm sure Darkness Devices all have terminal Overconfidence).

Tags: rpgs torg

  1. Posted by John Dallman at 01:38pm on 17 February 2016

    So, what does the Palenque vase fragment do if the PCs have it?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 01:43pm on 17 February 2016

    As written: it triggers a flying serpent attack when it's removed from the museum. It gets you an additional speech from the ghost of Pacal before the fight in Tikal. The skeleton inside that pyramid won't give you the clues if you don't have it.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:02pm on 17 February 2016

    I was specifically looking out for a way to trick the Darkness Device, since beating one in a fair fight is clearly not plausible. But as you say, with only one clue it's easy to miss it.

    Is it plausible to end the adventure with Kane dead and no high lord, but the Darkness Device still here? ie. you take the Stela claiming you're going to plant it and then simply destroy it instead?

    Even so, it seems every positive ending requires trickery and not fighting the Darkness Device, which as you say is odd when every other problem in the adventure is basically solved by killing everyone. John made that decision for us when he said "military pick to the Stela", not I suspect fully realising the implications. I think it needs to be more obvious you can't defeat the device.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 02:14pm on 17 February 2016

    If you break the stela but don't trick the DD into leaving (e.g. by claiming you'll go and plant the stela, then smashing it once you're outside), it can eventually gather more followers, make more stelae, and build itself back up. Or Heketon can spot what's going on and drop Orrorsh stelae into Mexico. Options like that get you half the possibility award for the adventure. (Allowing the Aztec Empire realm to get established gets you no possibilities at all. Not to mention being inconsistent with any future published adventures.)

  5. Posted by John Dallman at 12:28pm on 18 February 2016

    As best I recall, my reasons for smashing the stela were (a) defiance and (b) fear that the DD would manage to mind-control us into planting it. I know less about the details of the TORG setting than you may be assuming, since I find the rule and setting books fairly unreadable.

  6. Posted by RogerBW at 12:35pm on 18 February 2016

    It's a perfectly reasonable thing to do given the information you have at that point.

  7. Posted by Owen Smith at 09:28pm on 18 February 2016

    It seems to me there is an overly high emphasis on tricking the Darkness Device into leaving. But six other Darkness Devices reached Earth to invade, so the PCs have no reason to believe that once this one has left it can't get back. This is something the adventure neglects, it should give clues as to why this one can't return if getting rid of it is the preferred solution to the adventure.

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