RogerBW's Blog

Failing to Fix Operation Hard Sell 25 August 2016

Operation Hard Sell was the adventure that convinced me I should stop running Torg, at least for a while. Spoilers for this adventure follow.

This adventure was written by Ed Stark with additional material by Bill Smith and "original story" by Brad Freeman; none of these people had worked on the core rules. It was published in 1991.

It doesn't get off to a good start, introducing a Science (Computers) skill which is completely separate from the Scholar (Computer Science) that hacker characters in the game already had. Oh, sure, you could use existing software with that boring old skill, but you couldn't think about writing your own, that was only for new characters. And in this adventure that new skill is also, suddenly, the skill you need for extracting information from computers, even though we already had lots of cinematic hacker templates. (Shades of power creep, as seen in Shadowrun and many other RPGs, but for a purpose which is a pretty minor part of the overall plot.)

The setup to the adventure is even sparser than usual, and casually informs us that Nippon Tech has managed to take over a chunk of California under the guise of restoring it to Core Earth's control from the Living Land. Why hasn't anyone (such as other American storm knights) noticed? Hey, look over there, a gambling den for your players to get into trouble in! With gambling rules so that they can lose money!

The middle section is a road trip across mildly hazardous country, one that assumes the PCs will use the vehicle that they stole from the first part rather than one of their own or indeed one they might buy. The adventure clearly thinks it's being really subtle by putting up a huge challenge for the players to sneak in and out of, rather than simply assaulting frontally.

The final act throws two heavy punches at my suspension of disbelief in quick succession: first, an ambush by a party of Living Land natives contains two First Planting gospog (weak servitor creatures of the invading reality) firing M-16s, high-tech firearms that will simply not work in the Living Land unless they're being wielded by a Possibility-rated character, which gospog aren't. And then, hell, I'm just going to quote:

After crossing [a small river], they travel north to within sight of a mountain. Scouring the area with whatever means possible, they cannot find the base. [...] Looking up through the mist, they see a single plane flying above the river [...]

That sounds fine, doesn't it? Except we're in the Living Land, where you can't see more than "30 meters on a good day, much less on a bad day" in any direction! There is no "within sight of a mountain" here; there's only "why is the ground suddenly steeper than it used to be". And, well, you have to assume the pilot of the plane has some sort of see-through-mist ability (this is never mentioned)… but he still won't be visible from the ground!

(Earlier the party has crossed the Columbia, a river between half a mile and a mile wide at this point, in an inflatable boat. Presumably by following their noses.)

The final fight is particularly disappointing, containing two foes of a type that the part has already defeated four of, and the overall boss who's essentially not a threat at all. Yeah, he has all those skills for taunting and tricking the party, but in terms of the skill levels normal Torg PCs had (never mind any artefacts of my GURPS conversion) he doesn't really have any chance of achieving anything.

(All right, when you have a base concealed in an extinct volcano, and then don't have any option for making the volcano erupt, that just seems wasteful anyway.)

This was the adventure that killed my enthusiasm for running a Torg campaign: I could either hold my nose and try to run it as written, which I mostly did, or put in lots of time turning it into something I could believe in. If I'm going to put in that much time, I'd rather be writing in my own world.

How to fix it? Well, the basic premise of a Nippon Tech invasion that nobody has noticed is pretty silly anyway, and the basic bad-guy plot (buy up cheap land in the Living Land, poison the natives, profit by selling them the cure, convert the land back to Nippon Tech mixed zone, sell land for building even though the natives are still there, profit) is incoherent at best. I don't think this one is readily fixable.

Ed Stark went on to work on the Space Gods and Tharkold source books for Torg, among others, which is another reason I'm losing enthusiasm for taking Torg further. He was lead editor on the Fifth Edition of Paranoia (the one everybody hated) and got design credits on various Masterbook products. After he left West End games he moved to TSR/WotC/Hasbro as a creative director and stayed on there through most of the d20 boom.

Tags: rpgs torg

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:14pm on 26 August 2016

    The thing that I find stupid about the volcano lair is nothing interesting happens in it. It's James Bond, every evil geniuses christmases all at once! And yet not one single thing of importance to the plot happens in the volcano, we barely had a fight in it and only with minor villains while we were finding out where the real plot was happening. This is ridiculous! If you've got a volcano you should use it for something.

    Many of the other faults Roger lists were also spotted by the players. We took our own truck, so we didn't need the one the adventure tried to foist on us. Why would we take it? We know ours works.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:46pm on 26 August 2016

    Because if you take the high-tech electric truck, you have to break into the Spartan base to get a new battery for it. Because, obviously, the Spartans will have a spare battery to run a high-tech truck, even though they have no electric trucks of their own (they live under Core Earth axioms and have no use for kit that won't work for them most of the time).

    It's just another case of "never mind what we've established about the way the world works, let's have a cool cinematic scene".

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