Torg Eternity Designer Diary – January 2018

A Question of Difficulty

I get to play Torg Eternity with all sorts of people, from storied veterans to absolute beginners, and the question of game difficulty is always an interesting one. For those who’ve mastered the system some of our published adventures seem all too easy, and there’s a strong reflex to make things tougher all around. But then I’ll play with a table of new players fresh to the game and remember just why we set our balance point where we did in the first place!

For those inclined towards probability analysis, the first thing they usually notice is that a regular test seems really hard to pass. An average hero attribute is 8, the average difficulty for a test is 10, and so all things being equal you need a die roll of 15+ to succeed at anything. What madness is this?! But that analysis is only part of the story, and as you play it becomes clear why it’s not representative. A small part of it is skill adds which may put you up into the range where an 11+ succeeds, but the larger share is Possibilities and card play—two absolute pillars of Torg that aren’t always intuitive to new players.

When you spend a Possibility you add to your initial die roll, and if you roll less than 10 you add 10. That dramatically increases the odds of hitting that 15+. If your initial roll was 5 or better spending the Possibility guarantees success. Cards are just as powerful and even more available, offering +3 to your total (not the die roll), so the target is actually 7. The kinds of cards that offer that boost are the most common, and you can trade for them during the roll itself. Plus, cards and Possibilities are both renewable resources. Following prescribed actions earns new cards, and anything from Cosm cards to just doing something really cool can gain Possibilities.

But it takes a little time to learn and master those options. And while you’re learning the game can be hard. If you’re in that spot, here’s a few tips to help you survive until everything clicks:

  • Don’t hoard. Use your cards and Possibilities early and often. Then start focusing on the things that get you both back: Cosm Cards and Approved Actions. Embrace the opportunities to use both. It’s not just more effective, it’s more fun along the way. The original Torg encouraged players to keep their Possibilities and only use them as a last resort. Torg Eternity very consciously goes the other direction, use them!
  • Possibilities aren’t just for Soaking, and you may get more good from them offensively than defensively. It’s especially useful trying to turn a hit into a Good or Outstanding hit. A regular damage hit usually only deals a 2 Shock to most opponents (or nothing at all against undead foes like Gospog). The number you need to succeed is public information, so if you’re close, go ahead and boost the test with a card or Possibility. The extra damage may put the opponent down for good and prevent a counter-attack that you’d have to spend to Soak anyway. If you have the raw damage to wound opponents with a standard hit try to Multi-Attack instead and then boost misses to hits so you’re taking out bunches of opponents at once.
  • Don’t ignore the cards. When you’re just starting there’s a temptation to keep things simple and skip the cards. Don’t. The assumption that the (very powerful) cards are present and in play is baked into every encounter. If for some reason you opt to play without the cards use lots of “Easy” tests and half (or less) the villains you might otherwise. This was the route I took for our Free RPG Day Quickstart last year, and it caused some serious sleepless nights. We almost didn’t do one at all just because we couldn’t really do cards (and the accompanying rules infrastructure) in the room allowed, but the experience is so different without them it’s barely valid as an introduction to the Torg experience. I tried to get away with it by keeping things extremely light, but that’s only a solution for a one-shot adventure. If you’re going to play, make sure to have the cards on hand and use them!
  • Interactions are crucial, even if they aren’t the Approved Action for the round. Most foes have a weakness. Someone who’s good at that interaction set them up, granting +4 to all attacks–essentially an extra Bonus Die of damage. Likewise, fully Stymying that opponent costs them a Bonus Die (or a hit) when they go after any hero. An Outstanding result does anything from costing that opponent a turn to taking them out completely. Make sure interacting characters go first in the turn so their allies can take advantage of any effects immediately.
  • Go for Glory. When someone has Glory in an Action Pool or just during regular play, be ready to capitalize on it. If someone rolls a 20+ that should trigger a flurry of activity. If you spend a Possibility, a Drama card, and a Hero card you get three more rolls, each guaranteed to be 10 or more. Trade cards to make that chain happen, because once Glory plays everyone gains more of the resource you want: Possibilities and cards.

On the other hand, once you learn the tricks above a standard adventure can start to seem too easy. This isn’t always a bad thing. Your players have earned that advantage, let them enjoy it! If your players are striving for a challenge, there are some easy ways to provide it. As we explore Beta Clearance levels and above in the future, some of the tricks below are incorporated into the rules–and more!

  • If things are too easy try giving the GM a pool of Possibilities equal to the number of players. Any Stormer can tap into that pool, which gives them much greater offense and staying power. Just as Core Earth and Apieros subtly help the heroes, the Nameless One subtly counters. As a design philosophy we try to avoid taking things away from the heroes to maintain balance, but rather to give the threats more power and options to match them.
  • Don’t just increase the raw number of foes, although if it makes sense for the story that can be an option. It works best if there are already significant forces in the area, or the Storm Knights have done something public that warrants their opponents calling for reinforcements, doubling the guards, and so on. Instead, add a reality-rated foe to forces that didn’t have one before.
  • Bolster existing reality-rated opponents. Add a special ability or a few Perks or skill adds to give them extra flavor. The bad-guys are training and developing just as the good guys are, and they love power. Don’t be afraid to kick up their Possibility pool to three or even five, especially if it’s a character the High Lord (or Darkness Device) has taken a shine to. A special ability like Gloater, Insidious, or Minions can dramatically change how an encounter plays out. Perks can too, especially combinations that players might have ignored like Hard to Kill paired with Vengeful, Endurance taken alongside Relentless, or for edeinos Deathclaw combined with Brawler! Experiment with different Perks each time to keep things from getting stale.
  • Add a ravagon. They’re reality-rated, appear in all the realms, and they’ll use whatever tools are available to win the hunt. The book entry represents the most basic ravagon, so use the same techniques above to flesh this hunter out and make him unique. Trademark Weapon is great here, even if it’s the ravagon’s own claws!
  • Glory is a big deal for the heroes, but it draws a response from the High Lords as well. They actively try to hunt and destroy those who do grand deeds and spread hope. All the techniques above can apply in a zone once Glory is played and the tales begin to spread. If you aren’t using a GM Possibility Pool start to represent the extra effort the High Lord and the Darkness Device are directing against the area to keep things under control. If you already have a pool, double it for the same reason. Regular troops should be out searching and intimidating innocents in hopes of locating the Storm Knights…or at least teaching a lesson to the the Ords in the region. If things are really getting out of control have a Darkness Device directly intercede and grant an important lieutenant a 40 skill for a short time, or even bring a High Lord like Baruk Kaah directly into play. Storm Knights are powerful, but the invaders still have the upper hand overall…for now.

Torg Eternity is designed to be very flexible in terms of overall difficulty, so above all else do what’s right for your group.

-Darrell Hayhurst, Line Developer