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Entry updated 6 September 2019. Tagged: Game.

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Role Playing Game (1990). West End Games (WEG). Designed by Greg Gorden.

Despite a certain crudity of expression, Torg is perhaps the most interesting of the several Science and Sorcery RPGs whose settings combine multiple literary genres, typically sf, fantasy and horror. Rifts (1990 Palladium) designed by Kevin Siembieda is another, more commercially successful, example. In Torg, Earth has been invaded by a multitude of Parallel Worlds, each of which has converted part of the planet into something other, a piece of an alien cosm with different rules. The invaders intend to steal Earth's "possibility energy", a vital principle underlying all of physical reality. Players adopt the roles of "Storm Knights", individuals who have been caught at a moment of moral decision in a reality storm between two cosms and thus become attuned to possibility energies, enabling them to effectively oppose the invaders. The various realities are distinguished both by their different axioms, which correspond to natural laws, and by their "world laws", which effectively enforce the narrative conventions of a particular literary genre. Axioms dictate the levels of magical, social, spiritual and technological development that are currently possible within a given reality, in a manner analogous to the varying levels of intelligence and scientific accomplishment achievable in different regions of the galaxy in Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon The Deep (1992). Storm Knights whose native axioms do not match those of their current reality may find that their devices and abilities no longer function, while normal humans, animals and objects trapped within an invading cosm will eventually adopt forms appropriate to their new existence.

While each of the alien realities represents a particular subgenre of fantastic fiction, they are generally original and evocative, embodying novel twists on the conventions of their forms. They include the Sword and Sorcery land of Aysle, which has replaced most of England, the Living Land, where intelligent Dinosaurs take part in a spiritual communion between the landscape and its inhabitants, and the CyberPapacy, a totalitarian theocracy with Cyberpunk technology whose version of Cyberspace is itself a separate subreality. The Nile Empire is a descendant of an Egypt that never was, where mystical Mathematics enables astrological magic, while its associated world of Terra is based on the Pulp-magazine fiction of the 1930s. The hyper-capitalist cosm of Nippon emphasizes conspiracy and deceit; it is depicted as a reality which has chosen to infiltrate Japan rather than conquer it, subverting society from within. In the horror-fiction-inspired cosm of Orrorsh, Victorian empire builders carry the White Man's Burden by defending the resentful natives from Monsters drawn from their shared nightmares, while the world's Secret Master leads them into personal corruption. The Technofantasy reality of Tharkold, where demonic creatures have used "occultech" to enslave humanity, is reminiscent less of written fiction and more of such Videogame Hells as are seen in Doom (1993). An overall narrative arc was presented in the form of scenarios, Ties and supplements from the original release of the game in 1990 until 1995; as this progressed new realities were introduced. Of these, the Land Below contains various subterranean Lost Worlds, while the Star Sphere is the home reality (and galaxy) of the Space Gods, a race of ancient astronauts inspired by the theories of Erich von Däniken. Uniquely among Torg's many extradimensional cultures, the Space Gods come to Earth not to harm it but to help save it.

The design of Torg included several unusual and innovative mechanics. The gameplay is intended to be cinematic in feel, with rules that enable characters to perform the remarkable feats characteristic of much adventure fiction and a strong emphasis on highly structured linear narratives (see Interactive Narrative). A deck of cards is used to direct the flow of "action scenes"; both the Gamemaster and the players may use cards which introduce such subplots as a romantic involvement or the appearance of a personal nemesis, or perform more mechanical functions such as enhancing characters' abilities or allowing them to escape from difficult predicaments. While the concept is intriguing, its effect is to automate many of the dramatic choices made by players in more conventional Role Playing Games, an approach which is not necessarily beneficial to the development of the ongoing narrative. One experimental aspect of the design which worked less well in practice than in theory was the involvement of groups of players in directing the course of the setting's story arc. The intent was that players would inform the designers of events in their games, and the most common version would become the "official" one. In the event, however, most players showed little long-term interest in this process.

The sheer diversity of Torg's manifold settings and mechanics can become confusing. Characters can develop a range of powers and abilities including Psionics, magic, advanced cybernetic technology, religious miracles, biological enhancements, mystical martial arts and "weird science", all of which can interact in complex ways and which are detailed in a long list of sourcebooks. The game remains impressive, however, for the fertility of invention displayed in its many worlds, and for the potential of their combinations. As in Roger Zelazny's somewhat similar novel Roadmarks (1979), at their best the stories of Torg create novel and harmonius effects from their disparate elements.

Related works: TORG Revised and Expanded (2005 WEG) designed by Jim Ogle is a compilation of the core rules with minor revisions. Various spinoff novels have been written for Torg, including Storm Knights (1990) by Bill Slavicsek and C J Tramontana, The Dark Realm (1991) by Douglas Kaufman, The Nightmare Dream (1990) by Jonatha Ariadne Caspian, Out of Nippon (1992) by Greg Gorden and Bill Slavicsek, Interview With Evil (1993) by John Terra and City of Pain (1999), also by Terra. Strange Tales from the Nile Empire (anth 1992) edited by Greg Gorden, Bill Slavicsek, Dragons Over England (anth 1992) edited by Greg Gorden, Bill Slavicsek, Mysterious Cairo (anth 1992) edited by Greg Gorden, Bill Slavicsek, and Stormshooters and Troubleknights (anth 1993) edited by Paul Lidberg contain short fiction; the latter title is a crossover with Paranoia (1984). Torg (1992) is a four-issue Comic series written by Greg Gorden and published by Adventure Comics. [NT]


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