RogerBW's Blog

More Torg Redesign 15 June 2016

I wrote a while ago about how I'd redesign the Torg world to keep a similar feel but make it a bit more interesting. Now I want to consider how one might change that feel by changing the rules. (Like those world modifications, this would break the existing campaign, so players in my GURPS Torg game need not worry that this will apply to them.)

There are two ways to view high technology, magic, and so on working or not working as you move from one invading world to another. What Torg does is to give you (at least the player character) a small hazard: if you're using things that would work in your home world, in a place where they shouldn't work, then one time in twenty they'll fail and you'll "disconnect" (be unable to spend possibilities to make things work better until you fix it). That's not an event you can completely ignore, but it's not something that seriously influences your character design.

An alternative approach would be to enforce the axioms more firmly: if you try to fire a gun in the Living Land, it simply won't work, just as it didn't for the non-possibility-rated soldiers who tried to resist the original invasion. This is what "pure zones" are meant to do, and it's a shame that this has been completely ignored in every published adventure I've read so far (especially the fact that un-invaded parts of Earth are Core Earth Pure Zones) – I think it would generate some really interesting character decisions, but if the bad guys can casually have high-tech traps and magical spying in areas of Core Earth that haven't been thrown into alternate realities, the player characters damn' well ought to be able to do those things too!

In my GURPS implementation I copied what the original system did, and you can use your native gear/abilities most of the time. I'd like to see PCs have to pay a bit more attention to that kind of problem, to think it was worth learning about Living Land plant-spears as well as pistols and rifles. As I see it, this would end up with most PCs trying to have some abilities out of each axiom: some magic, some miracles, some tech. (There aren't really any social powers that you can use solo, sort of by definition really.) The potential problem here is that the PCs might start to lose distinctiveness: everyone learns a decent gun, everyone learns fireball, whatever.

Under the current rules, axioms have a binary effect: the Cyberpapacy guy with his smartgun, and the Nile Empire guy with his Schmeisser, are equally at risk of disconnection when in the Living Land, or indeed when in Victorian-tech Orrorsh. I'd rather have a system with more graduated failure chances, so that Nippon Tech hardware is only a little bit unreliable in Core Earth, but Cyberpapacy hardware will always fail in the Living Land. (And similarly with other axioms, but tech is the obvious one.)

The one real down-side of GURPS as opposed to Torg is shown up, paradoxically, by one of Torg's well-known weaknesses, the "glass-jaw ninja" problem:

You roll to hit someone by generating a random bonus (which can be augmented by spending metagame resources) to your weapon skill and comparing the total to their defence score… but if you hit them, the bonus to damage is the same bonus value that you just generated. Which means that if your weapon skill is significantly lower than their defence (e.g. you're shooting at a ninja), any time you hit them at all you'll have done it by generating a huge bonus, which will probably take them out of the fight in one hit. They will never be just lightly wounded.

But there's a reason why it works that way, and that is that it enables the character with a paltry weapon or spell who tries really really hard (has built up lots of resources to generate a big bonus) to take out the huge tough enemy. If you want to kill a dragon, you don't need a Sword of Dragon-Slaying or even an anti-tank rocket: you can do it with a dagger if you're heroic enough. So you can take on the toughest foes not by giving up your signature sword for a claymore mine, but by being heroic and metagamey until you have the cards and Possibilities you need.

Which is something that my GURPS Torg does not even try to emulate. Maybe it should. Because if we're being realistic, which we are, the low-tech warrior with axe and crossbow really doesn't have much to contribute to a combat with guns, and when combats are a big chunk of what's going on that's not much fun for the player.

Tags: rpgs torg

See also:
Alternative Invaders in Torg (part 1)
Alternative Invaders in Torg (part 2)


  1. Posted by John Dallman at 01:06pm on 15 June 2016

    As the player of the low-tech warrior with mace and crossbow in the current TORG campaign, I'm not seeing a big problem as things stand. This is because it was fairly obvious that low-tech weapons lacked the killing power of high-tech ones, so I put most of my points into social abilities, which hasn't been working too badly.

    Going all metagamey is at the mercy of the fall of the cards, or using action-movie tropes that I don't understand, and usually find stupid when they're explained to me.

  2. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:23pm on 15 June 2016

    One of the reasons my TORG character has martial arts is because that will work in all realms (in addition to if you have your guns taken off you or lose them etc) and doesn't require any equipment to be carried. I can't see her ever bothering to learn a living land spear, but bow maybe. And she'd have never bothered learning magic, with 10 IQ and no Magery it's pointless to try.

    So I think the idea that all characters would learn a bit of things from each realm is pretty much unachievable at least when played under GURPS, due to stats and points budgets.

    But on the other hand I do agree it's a shame we've not been able to use the zone axiom rules due to badly written scenarios (and I guess it's too much work to re-write them). Thorfin would have had more he could excel at with his Aysle weapons for a start.

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 09:53am on 20 June 2016

    John: well, in effect you've shifted the frame of action from the combat that the scenarios obviously expect into talking with people and getting them on your side. Which in terms of the Torg setup makes vastly more sense!

    Modifying character actions to match action tropes seems to be what Torg expects people to do, and what it tries to reward.

    The amount of rework the scenarios would need means I wouldn't get any advantage in preparation time over simply running my own original material - which at that point I'd rather do, as it's more satisfying to me.

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