Sunday, March 12, 2017

TORG: The Wargame Masquerading as a Role-Playing Game

TORG is a good example of a game publisher (a tabletop game publisher, in this case) providing players with all of the components needed to actually play a role-playing game. Videogame publishers, merely by the requirements of the medium, are so long accustomed to doing so that it's not even comment-worthy anymore and hasn't been for decades; tabletop publishers don't have to do that, so it's novel when they do- and moreso when it's this hard-coded into the product's design.

TORG has its own ruleset. It includes a setting, and its setting comes hard-coded with a campaign attached that you can't avoided: the High Lords' cross-cosm invasion of our cosm of Core Earth. This invasion scenario is the pretext for "Let's play a game about different realities interacting.", but that scenario is a wargame scenario with binary conditions that can't be ignored.

The tell is in the subtitle: "Role-Playing the Possibility Wars". Players take the roles of individuals who, due to a strong morale choice made in a moment of crisis when faced with an alien reality, become champions of their cosm--their reality--known as "Stormers" and propagandized as "Storm Knights". All of this? Hard-coded into the setting and supported by the ruleset; if players don't engage the wargame scenario, the enemies win by default and our world is annihilated.

The core gameplay of TORG is to find and destroy the things that allow the invading cosms to attach to and siphon off our own: stelae and Maelstrom Bridges. As with all wars, this is about territory and the resources they contain (which, for this scenario, is the interaction of sentients with the environment; this war focuses on populations accordingly). Stelae, in this context, are devices that allow invaders to forcibly impose their reality over the defending cosm within the triangular boundary established. Maelstrom Bridges are the actual link between the two, allowing invaders to pour forth to take and hold territory.

That's a wargame. Dressing it up as a RPG doesn't change that fact; it obscured and confuses what's going on, such that even the designers and developers don't know what they're really doing with the game. For those looking for a character arc, you've got one (and only one): the struggle of those that became Stormers to adapt to the requirements of the mission they alone can accomplish to win the Possibility Wars. You've got a war drama to go with your wargame, if you want it, and no the other realities representing different adventure fiction genres does not change that fact- it plays only with trappings and details, not with the core of the game or the substance of its play.

Trying to avoid this means avoiding whole chapters of the book, entire subsets of the rules, and otherwise becomes far more of a bother than it's worth to try. You're better off playing some other game instead. However, if you can see the fun to be had in this game--and man, there is a lot to be had; Star Wars isn't the only choice for Plucky Resistance Against Existential Threat of Annilation--then you really ought to give it a go, and commit to its premise. Let's hope that the new publisher doesn't fuck it up like West End did.

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