Designer Diary: The Nile Empire Part 1 (World Laws and Pulp Powers)

“All of the cosms are going to be tweaked in some way, some a bit, some a lot.  But not the Nile Empire. It’s perfect.”

That’s an imperfect paraphrase of what I told a Torg fan at GenCon 2015 after we had announced the coming of Torg Eternity the month previous, and it’s completely, utterly, 100% true.
Well…not so much. I said that in something of a tongue-in-cheek manner, but the Nile Empire was arguably the most popular of the original Torg cosms, which meant that we had to be especially careful in updating it.

We knew it was going to be a challenge, but especially after we read Ross Watson’s kick-ass update of the Living Land. So here’s how we did that.

“First, do no harm.”

One of our design philosophies was “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” So we first had to identify the things we knew we for sure didn’t want to change.

  • The Nile Empire is a pulp reality, based on the 1930s where action is bold, drama is…dramatic, and death is temporary. Most of the time.
  • Doctor Mobius is the GREATEST High Lord of All Time! (Editor: Who put this here?)
  • It was going to invade Egypt. Hard to be a “Nile Empire” without…you know…invading the Nile valley.
  • An element of fascism and early World War 2 feel.
  • High Magic, High Spirit, Moderate Social and Tech

It turned out that the Nile Empire, unlike some other cosms, had story and flavor that worked really well. It had adventures, opponents, and atmosphere that were fun. The main problems lay in the mechanics of the realm.

World Laws

The original Nile Empire World Laws weren’t bad, but we didn’t like how the Law of Morality was implemented, specifically with how strict the restriction was, how that affected the idea of ‘avenging heroes’, and that there was a significant amount of rules associated with it. We wanted any of the World Law rules to be short and to the point. We originally replaced the Law of Morality with the Law of Inevitable Return, but eventually we decided to replace it with the Law of Heroism, which effectively is the same as the Law of Morality, but with the sharp edges softened.

Interestingly, on reviewing our early emails, I noticed that the first hints of what eventually would become Cosm cards showed up very early on, in the idea of gaining a Possibility for doing something according to a reality’s tropes. The Law of Inevitable Return would make an…inevitable return as a Cosm card itself, and with the release of the Nile Empire Sourcebook, as a Minor World Law.

Pulp Powers and Weird Science

One of the very first changes we knew we were going to implement was “No spending Possibilities to pay for pulp powers”. This was an extension of “XP for Advancement, not Possibilities”. Additionally, we knew we wanted to clarify how pulp powers worked in relation to the reality rules: they would be contradictory anywhere outside of the Nile Empire (with an exception later added with regards to Wonders in the Living Land).

Pulp powers were elements that fit Perks like a glove. However, once we decided that Perks would be uniform in cost (and that we were flattening attributes and skills to a degree), they would have to be rebalanced. Additionally, in accordance with simplifying where it would improve things, inherent powers, gadgets, and pulp sorcery rituals would all be just ‘pulp powers’ but with different trappings. This meant that Tech Axioms for weird science devices would need to be dumped too.

We also still wanted to keep the idea of flaws in the game, but because they couldn’t counter a cost that no longer had to be paid, we used Limitations as a way to get Enhancements without spending XP. This had the advantage of allowing players and GMs to get really creative if they wanted to.

One of the decisions we did make that I figured might be controversial (though it turned out that we got very little push back) was going strictly with ‘pulp’ and not ‘super’ powers. You wouldn’t see characters like Iceman, Storm, or Magneto capable of incredible feats over a large area. The Nile Empire would be more on the level of Daredevil or Jessica Jones, with Captain America as a theoretical ‘strongest’ hero or villain.

-Deanna Gilbert

Next time…

That’s all we have for today, but the next Designer Diary will discuss how we went about tweaking the Nile Empire’s magic, religion, and threats for Torg Eternity.

If you want to discuss this more, head on over to our forums!