Tags: wod


time and small dreams

small dreams has always had an odd relationship with time.

small dreams is a Changeling: The Dreaming game. I'm the GM. It has a sprawling cast of a dozen or so character players, with five or six regulars at any one time. The game recently came back to life after a long break.

This game has an odd relationship with time. Three reasons why, that I can think of:

One - it has spent a large chunk of time not being played
Two - time in the game is really slow-moving
Three - it is closely tied to a very specific moment in time

I think these three things give the game a lot of its flavour and character. Below the cut I'm gonna talk about why...
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Chimera aftermath (2)

Continuing from this post about a Requiem game played at Chimera 2009.

Reflection and analysis

There was a lot about this game that was laudable.

This was an honest attempt to deliver a game experience founded in a cultural context that is not founded in Western (popular) culture. For that alone, it deserves respect. Rare is the game that takes predominantly white middle-class Western-culture gamers and puts them in a world in which they aren't competent. Crossing cultures is a challenging and valuable thing in and of itself, and for stepping in this direction the game gained power and layers of meaning beyond the obvious.

This was a New Zealand game. It was a game that could be played nowhere else in the world; it was highly specific to New Zealand, and in particular to New Zealand at the start of the 21st century. It was a game that felt entirely ours.

(Which reminds me of visiting the Edinburgh wargames convention Claymore in 2003, where the Phoenix Wargamers Club of Glasgow presented a dramatic battle from the land wars, complete with dozens of carefully-painted Maori warriors. I experienced no small degree of cognitive dissonance, observing these diligent Scottish wargamers enacting through play and discussing through conversation the tactical and strategic intelligence of the Maori during the land wars.)

Finally, while it was not a game about politics and colonization, it was structured to bring those issues to the fore and provide plenty of opportunity to engage with them. It is hard to think of a more consistently charged subject in New Zealand political discourse over the last two decades than the process and effects of colonization. It is very much a live issue, by no means settled, and one that speaks directly to the lives of New Zealanders, and particularly to Maori (as the colonized) and Pakeha (as the colonizers). Any game that steps into the realm of political relevance for the participants is brave and these matters were presented here in a way that did not force any particular conclusion, which is of course the best way to enter into such territory.

However, there were plenty of aspects of the game that gave me pause.

We who took on the roles of Maori in this game all felt some kind of responsibility to do the job well, and to do our best to step out of our own cultures to portray a different mindset. Also, I think, everyone was wary of romanticising the Maori, of depicting them as "noble savage". This was helped by the game material; the writers made it impossible to ignore the brutality of some of the warfare between iwi, for a start.

However, perhaps inevitably, the game couldn't escape these traps entirely.

The treatment of colonization in the game was the strongest example of this; the narrative that emerged was itself a romantic one, in which Maori were forced into trade with the insidious white man by a kind of prisoner's dilemma logic, with foreknowledge that European culture would be disastrous for them; in actual history engagement with European traders and culture was incredibly varied and haphazard, and many tribes enthusiastically embraced not only the valuable weapons but also the ways of the visitors, including their religion and their entertainments. Others, of course, resisted vigorously, or were cautious in their entrance into trade, or worked to develop their own hybrid cultures. And these divisions occurred of course at the individual level as well as the group level. The near-unified front that developed among the Maori factions says much more about the contemporary cultural and political stances of the players than it does about history.

My character was a "storyteller and historian". It was an interesting position that, to my knowledge then and now, does not exist in any Maori cultural context. Oral traditions were hugely important to Maori, of course, but I don't think there was any specific storyteller "role" in the same way, for example, the tohunga was a specific role. This further struck me as, perhaps, betraying a kind of primitivism in the game writers' assumptions - that oral societies tended to ritualise their knowledge and imbue certain people with supernatural authority over that knowledge. In my personal engagement with the character I interpreted the phrase "the storyteller and historian for the Ngai Tahu" as meaning I was renowned as an accomplished storyteller and a knowledgeable historian; that is, I had no special position with any cultural authority, I was just a guy who was really good at those two things. (Of course, if there was actually a "storyteller/historian" position in pre-contact Maori society these concerns instantly disappear.)

Another aspect of concern to me was the representation of Maori that we were encouraged to adopt. The adoption of moko in particular was a point of concern. Ta moko, as mentioned in the previous post, is something of great significance among Maori. Moko are not taken lightly, or worn lightly; they are imbued heavily with meaning. The adoption of moko by celebrities (Mike Tyson) or fictional characters has produced fierce debate among Maori, with a lot of agreement that casual or un-informed use is objectionable. Here, we were asked to moko ourselves purely as a signifier or Maori-ness, moko as costume with no deeper meaning, and while I didn't find it offensive at all, I was very uncomfortable with it and did not personally participate.

There were several secondary issues that were problematic but not of great significance. I found the choice of groupings in the game to be odd. A gathering of chiefs from three of the major iwi in New Zealand never quite seemed justified - the provocation for the meeting, as dramatic as it was, seemed to be essentially a local issue. It would have made more sense to me if the game had set a meeting between hapu (large family groups) rather than iwi to discuss these events. However, the use of iwi meant the GMs could use historical conflicts to inform the game, and gave greater weight to the underlying conflicts that encouraged trade for muskets; major aspects of the game would have been impossible without an iwi focus. So perhaps the answer would have been to communicate more effectively just how important this meeting was.

Another secondary issue was the use of language in the game. Obviously, English was used at all points during the game, but this had unusual effects for suspension of disbelief. It would be vastly more appropriate for Maori to be using te reo for their deliberations, especially because the Europeans were not important to the main decisions to be made. The Europeans in question could certainly be assumed to be fluent in Maori, but in play both fluency and vocabulary resided with the outsiders, with Maori players asking for explanations about terminology used by the Europeans. More powerfully, it meant that the whole discussion was framed within a European/English-language context, and Maori worldviews could not be asserted effectively. There's no obvious way around the language issue, but greater attention to the matter would have been appreciated.

Finally, and most importantly, play in this game was hampered by a lack of understanding of what it meant to be Maori. The play offered by everyone was weakly informed by history and cultural appreciation. Knowledge of Maori protocol was spread very thin among the group and there was no support through briefings, structured play, or metagame communication techniques to make the most of it. More pointedly, the main action of the game, the argument over what to do with the mother and her unborn child, was one for which we were massively ill-equipped as players. This argument turned on matters of cultural principle and compromise that we could only guess at. This in turn made the argument the weakest part of the game, for it was a dilemma that rested explicitly on a supernatural problem founded in an inaccessible cultural worldview (and one that was of necessity devised by the authors of the scenario and bearing little to no relationship to anything in history). Ultimately we had no way to navigate this argument without reference to our own contemporary worldviews, or the cultural assumptions we were comfortable making. It was impossible to engage with this plot within the roles we were ostensibly playing; this can only be seen as a missed opportunity.


The game was interesting and ambitious but it did not allow its players to engage fully with the cultural content it raised. As an entertainment it was successful, but viewed with a wider lense it left much to be desired.

I was, throughout the game, conscious of what my Maori friends might say were they there. I don't pretend to know their minds entirely well, but it was safe to say that I would not be confident of their approval. To my mind, what the game needed was some Maori leadership - a strong voice, confident in tikanga, who could lead the players into their roles and duties with some authority and insight. Someone to advise on how to represent protocol, on how to signify moko without inadvertant offence, on how the matters raised related to Maori cultural understandings. This is not to say that a game is impossible with a seal of approval from some designated Maori - lord knows there are disagreements among Maori about what is appropriate and what is not, they are hardly a monoculture - but rather that a game entering into terrain like this would be immeasurably improved by a skilful guide who was actively serving as cultural guide. It is no secret that the status of Maori in NZ society is contentious, and the meaning and value of Maori culture even more so. Given the very real stakes at play in depictions of Maori culture, it would be very responsible to have some active guidance.

I also think it would have been a lot more fun.

What else? In order to escape romanticised narratives you need to steer the participants away from them; they're the downhill that water always runs towards. Priming material should work to provide a diverse set of perspectives, none of which give participants space to fill in the blanks with the well-rehearsed narratives that lurk in our shared local knowledge. Force players to see things differently, and they will certainly rise to the occasion.

Also, pay attention to the kinds of history that are being used to feed into a game. The dramatic warfare stories were obvious elements to use, but there is more to Maori history and activity than that; more could have been made of this, to provide more anchors for understanding than war and rivalry.

The bigger recommendation, of course, is about being aware of the cultural context in which you're operating. Everything gets value from what is going on around it and from what people bring to it; the more awareness writers and players have of these effects, the better. But more about this in the next game I'm going to talk about.

To come: ignorant wogs and Chinese-as-enemy

Chimera Aftermath (1)

Over last weekend I attended Chimera, the second annual Live-action roleplay convention in NZ. LARP is a form I've drifted away from in the past decade, but I have enough of an interest that travelling up to Auckland seemed worthwhile; and it did prove to be an interesting and valuable expedition.

However, some parts of the weekend caught my attention, especially because I returned from Auckland to land right in the thick of the NZ Diversity Forum. I was, perhaps, primed to notice and consider diversity issues, and the games I participated in gave me much to think about on this subject. Here is some of that thinking. I will be trying to work this out as I type; it will probably take me a couple posts to get through it all.

I'll start with a fairly lengthy description before I get to reflection and analysis.

Colonization and indigeneity: Requiem

The first game on Saturday morning, and the second overall in the convention, was a "special episode" of an ongoing game of Requiem, the White Wolf Vampire live game. The ongoing game is set in contemporary NZ, and this session was a flashback to NZ in the early 1800s. Participants in the game were present for the birth of one of the game's important NPCs, and in principle at least the outcome of this game would echo forward to impact on the ongoing experience. I was very intrigued by this game once I saw that the premise was an early-colonial period where the player characters would be predominantly Maori. In a weekend where costume was widely encouraged, instructions for this game were to come wearing simple black clothing.

Pre-game experience

We turned up to the muster and character sheets were handed out, more or less at random, while the GMs advised us of some of the parameters of the game. As I looked around the participants I was extremely aware that we were a very white bunch of players, although with a fairly large percentage who weren't born in NZ. Notably, there weren't any brown faces in the bunch.

The players of Maori characters were divided into three (real-world) tribes: Ngati Toa, Ngai Tahu and Ngapuhi. It was explained that we were coming together to determine the fate of a woman who had fallen pregnant to the taniwha who had destroyed her tribe. A taniwha is a type of creature in Maori mythology that has many aspects, most prominently as fearsome monster and as guardian spirit. Here, the fearsome monster aspect was invoked in a story of a community being killed leaving only this woman alive, and then taking her against her will as a mate and impregnating her with a spirit child.

At this point the GMs distributed small pendants to each member of the tribes. They were small, plastic tourist-style artefacts. The Ngapuhi and Ngati Toa characters were given small green plastic hei tiki, which is the classic piece of commodified Maori culture. The tribe to which I'd been assigned, Ngai Tahu, were given bone fishhooks (made of plastic of course). These, we were told, represented an element of backstory taken directly from real history, in which members of our tribe had tricked, killed, and eaten a chief of Ngati Toa. This was a reference to the events in 1828 at Kaiapoi Pa, where Te Pehi Kupe was killed and his bones made into fishhooks.

I was, I admit, quite pleased when I heard that one of the pendants had fallen and shattered, so I could go without wearing this marker; they did not entirely sit right with me, and I don't put anything around my neck lightly.

Then, the GMs produced pencils to mark the face and asked men and women to give themselves moko, or facial tattoos. I was not comfortable about doing this. Ta moko is an important cultural signifier within Maori society, and it carries much importance. It was, to be blunt, a symbolic marker that I was not prepared to mess with. I left my face bare for the game. One person questioned me, but I just said I wasn't going to wear anything on my face, and that was accepted immediately.

As we made our way to the game venue a few other interesting aspects of the game became clear. First, more by accident than design, the players we had playing our three chiefs were all women. This was entirely ahistorical; even more notable was that the chiefs were all real. Thus in the reality of this game, Te Rauparaha of Ngati Toa, one of the greatest warriors and military strategists in NZ history, was a woman.

Secondly, it became clear that the three tribes were primed in the game materials to disagree about the appropriate response to the woman's survival and pregnancy. Ngati Toa was primed to seek the death of both woman and child, in order to prevent some future catastrophe; Ngapuhi was primed to save both woman and child, to honour the taniwha and show mercy; Ngai Tahu was primed to save the woman but ensure the child died so it could not grow up to threaten the taniwha (and thus endanger the fundamental balance existing in the natural and mystical world).

Additionally, one of the participants who was not playing a Maori character approached us in the Ngai Tahu iwi and said that his whakapapa was Ngai Tahu, so more power to us. Following this I made it my business to speak to my fellow members of Ngai Tahu. I can't remember exactly what I said, but my main point was that we should stand strong. We were representing real people, and we owed it to them to represent them well. (I was thinking, as I said this, of one of the experiences I'd had at a marae, where a Maori friend lightly chastised me for being reticent and deferential; these behaviours were polite in my cultural background but they made me look out of place and unworthy of respect within a Maori cultural context.) My short comments were happily accepted by those around me, and in fact sparked a discussion over how we would present ourselves in the face of our rivals and enemies in the other tribal groupings.

My assigned character was a "storyteller", who was an advisor to the chief and secretly a member of a supernatural caste.

The game itself

The game began. One GM took the role of a tohunga (a cultural role with elements of wise advisor, cultural expert, shaman and priest) and began the game by announcing the beginning of a meeting to decide the fate of the pregnant woman. He also introduced the other trio of players, all white men who were in fact providing the neutral ground on which the meeting took place. These were, again, all historical figures: James Busby, sent by Britain to mediate disputes between the Maori and the increasing numbers of European visitors; Samuel Marsden, the first missionary to NZ; and Captain John Stewart, who in real history would go on to help Te Rauparaha avenge the Ngati Toa defeat at Kaiapoi and capture Ngai Tahu chief Te Maiharanui. Te Maiharanui was another character in the game, played as noted earlier by a woman. I should also note here that the player of Samuel Marsden was the Maori player who had approached us earlier.

It was obvious that all participants were sincere in their efforts to honour the Maori they represented. Everyone was trying very hard to stand strong, and to engage in some level of cultural immersion.

The theme of colonization was extremely strong in the game. It was virtually unmentioned in the pregame materials and discussion, but the events of the game foregrounded it by sitting three figures from colonial days at the table. Additionally, it became apparent that the colonisation of New Zealand was intended to be at issue in the game, primarily through the trade in firearms which was a point of action for several characters and which, historically, had a huge impact on NZ history by empowering some iwi over others.

Even accounting for these in-game prompts, however, my impression was that the colonial theme was irresistible in play on all sides. A great deal of time was spent by Maori players arguing forcefully that their world view was not for sale and would not be abandoned, and that trade with the European visitors would end poorly. Direct arguments with the European players were frequent. Often these took the form where the European player would explain the benefits of engaging with them, and the Maori player would vigorously refute those benefits.

There was another curious note: a number of times Maori players asked the Europeans to explain the meaning of some of their terminology. This was an interesting ploy as far as it went, but it would have been particularly nice if the device had been used to show how the two worldviews were different; instead, it seemed in practice to simply indicate that the Maori questioner was ignorant and needed to have a term explained to them.

Discussion of the ostensible purpose of the gathering, the fate of the woman and her unborn child, did not proceed very far. Essentially the three tribes presented their expectations, and when it was apparent there was no obvious way to resolve the difference, discussion stalled. The three chiefs met with the woman and tohunga in private and continued discussion, while outside the others devised arguments as to why their approach to the problem was the best one. However, these were not founded on a shared metaphysic and so did not carry much argumentative weight. Meanwhile, the European characters tried to win us over to trade, Christianity, and the benefits of engagement.

This was the way the first half of the game went. The second half began when an omen of death was seen in the meeting house (a piwakawaka, or fantail; if the small bird enters a house it is taken as a sign that someone in the house will soon die - this customary interpretation is widely known even among pakeha New Zealanders). Soon after, some players began to push their hidden agendas, and the scale of the conflict escalated swiftly into a large battle with substantial supernatural activity. Throughout this, I had my character sit crosslegged, watching but not participating. (One of the other players noted this with amused approval, saying it was very Parihaka of me, which I thought was an excellent comment to make!)

After the main pieces of action had been resolved, we came together and the GMs discussed with us what had happened, what hidden information there had been, what was based on real history and what was invented, and where this would impact on the events in their ongoing Requiem game. And then the game was ended.

Next: why this game was great, and why it bothered me

It’s deja vu all over again

I’m reviving another game.

Do other people do this? Do you? It isn’t something I hear much about, with the occasional exception of college-age D&D groups getting back together as adults to fight some bugbears again. I do revivals, though. Not just for games - it’s a bit of a thing, in fact, the same stubborn streak that means the comic I’m working is an idea from a decade ago, and the play I drafted last year was first written even further back than that. I don’t let go of things easy.

My last big game revival was Slayers East, a stakes-and-babysitters game I ran in 2000-2002 and again in 2006-2007. Slayers East is in my big three, the best games I ever ran. This revival is also from that top three, this time it’s small dreams, a Changeling: The Dreaming game I ran in 1998-1999, and again in 2001-2002.

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Embedded below is the pdf I sent to the players to announce the revival. There’ll be more about this game, no doubt.

Anyone out there ever revived a game after years of hiatus?
And perhaps more important: anyone ever wished they hadn’t?


Three Games

On the weekend after Christmas I broke my long gaming drought with three games in quick succession. They were all different - in fact, they spanned the three "eras" of gaming previously discussed here on Gametime, the Old School (adventure and setting), the New School (character), and the Indie Revisionist (system and procedure). Here are a few impressions - they might spark further thoughts down the line.

First was me running 3:16 Carnage Among The Stars at hix's PostBoxCon. I've been eager to get in on some 3:16 for some time, and it was great to finally jump in with this in a one-off setting.

What I was doing in play: learning the rules; coming up with conflict scenes; figuring out what kind of critters the aliens were and what kind of threats they posed; playing the commanding officer specifically to make the characters' lives more difficult.

Impressions: The thing runs like a dream. There are some questions I haven't sorted yet, like how to represent the effects of people trying to achieve goals other than killin' aliens, and how some aspects of game description can be reflected in the system. Overall, though, I found it easy to learn and invigorating to run.

Second was a gathering for a relatively long-running Mage: The Ascension live game, The Invisible College. In this session, I took on the role of a spirit-world reflection of my personal character, and supported my character's best friend on his journey.

What I was doing in play: presenting and developing a scene for the hero PC; playing off of the other spirit-world NPC's improv in a fun way that opened spaces for the hero PC to explore; crackin' jokes; some pieces of developing the plot in a GMish kinda way; developing my understanding of my personal character through the behaviour I was taking as his reflection; following my intuition. The GM who set up the situation had no particular idea over how it would progress and resolve, so much of this emerged fluidly in play.

Impressions: the use of mechanical system in this game is so massively haphazard that it's hardly there at all. Basically, when the outcome of something is not apparent, rock paper scissors resolves that something. Narration explains odd outcomes (Theatrix-style), such that a weedy guy can take out a god just as easily as the reverse, but the way it gets explained in play will be completely different. However, the use of social system is really powerful and deep-set; like all improv games, there are complex understandings of genre that have built up over time that frame every creative contribution. This was a really fun session for me.

Third was a revival of a high-level D&D 3.5 game that had been dormant for a couple of years; with most of the group now back in the same city, we sat down to play.

What I was doing in play: referring to a prewritten scenario; framing scenes and providing connective narration throughout the game; thinking of ways to link character aspects to things in the scenario; trying to stage scenes to build up some mystery and suspense; make balance-of-probabilities judgements about the consequences of actions taken, knowing what I knew about the setting (the GM Imagined Space!); in combat sequences, always, always keeping things moving while handing over to players as much of the system detail as possible; making tactical and strategic decisions for the bad guys; trying (and failing) to keep track of all the special abilities and options available for the villains; rolling plenty of dice.

Impressions: this was a near-classic mission scenario, with all the good and bad that suggests; detailed planning followed by relatively successful execution and then a big boss fight, leavened with occasional moments of light-hearted character play. As always, the devil is in the details for D&D 3.x, with the resolution of conflicts building up from many incremental moments. The "ten minutes of fun squeezed into four hours" thing originates from this kind of play, but that misses the point that the detail of those increments, and the way dozens of small choices interlock, is the fun for many people.

So that was the last weekend of 2008 for me - three games in quick succession, good times all around. They all felt similar enough to me that they're clearly the same pastime, but looking at the detail of what I was doing in each, they were all very very different from each other. Anyway - good times. Onward to more games in 2009!

And did you see Mash's fascinating deconstruction of his gaming life?

[old school] Reply to Mash's Torg post

I've broken this out into its own post because Mash's original that I'm replying to is multiple pages back in your LJ feed now. If you didn't read it then, go back now, because it's a great post. G'wan.

Mash's choice of Torg as a focus delights me, because it's a great game that also confused all heck out of me for the longest time. In my RPG-collector madness I acquired three or four books for it about a decade before I finally got hold of the rules; they sat on my shelf, utterly confusing in the way they presented adventure situations in a world that had become a battleground for contesting realities. I sensed there was something amazing in there but there was also something not quite right about it. I knew that I never wanted to run a game of Torg like the game expected me to. Mash's post helped me finally figure out why.

At the heart of Mash's post is an interesting way of defining old school vs. new school in RPGs. The old school is all about going on adventures; the new school is about what else there is to do.

I think there's a lot of truth to this. I think in "old school gaming" it's true that adventures and quests were foregrounded - looking through the other posts in this old school series draws a line under that.

There are additional wrinkles. There was another common approach for classic-era games (which may or may not be counted as "old school"), namely foregrounding setting. This was usually framed as a deliberately counter-D&D style, where games are about experiencing life in a detailed world rather than chopping orcs and taking their stuff. This goes right back to TSR's Empire of the Petal Throne game, which put the focus squarely on exploring the extremely detailed world of Tekumel, and has impeccable credientials as being its own beast rather than a kneejerk reaction to D&D's adventure focus. Setting-foreground games are some of the most memorable from the 70s and early 80s - Runequest's Glorantha, Harn, Skyrealms of Jorune, Pendragon, Gangbusters, even Paranoia and Toon were all about experiencing a setting not going on adventures. (Yes, even Pendragon, which celebrated its quests but also placed them very carefully within a larger tapestry.) But this trend of foregrounding setting was always a distinctly second-tier trend in RPGs - the mission-based games had an overwhelming dominance. Even Pacesetter's ambitious Sandman game was fundamentally a mission-based scenario. (So I've heard anyway - I've never seen a copy.)

The new school had a different focus, and this is where I want to look again at one of Mash's points. He implicitly argues that the "new school" was about grappling with moral complexities and ideological conflicts, and points at how these features were not explored in Torg-as-played (or Torg-as-presented-for-play). I don't think that's quite right as the distinction, though. I think the things Mash identifies as interesting about Torg have a long lineage - hell, Tekumel has been confronting players with moral challenges since D&D came in a white box.

I think the New School is actually about foregrounding character. Vampire put the focus squarely on the characters, rather than the missions they went on. The blood points and humanity score on the character sheet and the mechanics for hunger, torpor and frenzy put the focus right on the character like nothing before ever had. Its easy to forget now how radical this was - the idea of character focus was so unfamiliar that Vampire itself provided mission-based adventures for its first two years in publication, unsure how else RPGs could work. A character-based approach required a whole new technology of RPG gaming, one that didn't exist at the time and advanced through rough trial and error over the years. The first editions of White Wolf's Wraith and Changeling games were both beset by this exact problem - one, a game of personal reconciliation with the past, the other a game of negotiating compromise with the complexities of life, and both rulebooks had GM advice sections recommending espionage and monster-bashing as appropriate focus points for games.

So, with that in mind, I think Mash's identification of Torg as a key transitional game is dead right, though for slightly different reasons. It isn't the moral complexities of the setting that make it so, rather it's that the game forces the player characters to be ambiguous figures themselves.

Torg is a high concept game and trades heavily on the idea that anything is possible with its characters. You can play a cyberpunk, a fantasy hero or an occult investigator in the same group - in fact it is assumed that this massive variety is the default. However, from another point of view your choice of character is severely limited. Everyone will have to play a character cut off from their own reality, imbued with significant power and burdened with responsibility, and most crucially given a special and privileged perspective. Torg characters, unlike almost everyone they meet, understand the nature of the conflict - they know what is ultimately at stake. And they are also entirely bound to the weird rules and requirements of their special status. They are adrift from any baseline, existing entirely in a liminal space in which they have to choose an orientation for themselves; this is a softer form of the way Vampire forced every player character to exist in its own state of confusion and necessary drama.

This, then, is where and why Torg fails to pass into "new school". Torg characters are ripe for exploration, but instead the game fills the vacuum around them with one high adventure mission after the other. And there's nothing wrong with that, hell no - but now that I see the most compelling drama in Torg as internal to (in fact hardcoded into) each character, I finally understand why the adventure tone of Torg always seemed so wrong to me, and I get what I was trying to do with my own Torg game (sadly unfinished and certain to remain so now that players have scattered across the world).

Torg, in fact, recommends that play begins weeks after the reality invasion that kicks off the game's internal timeline - at the start of session one, everyone is set up as a "Storm Knight", ready to fight the villains and save the world. The backstory is summed up in the rulebook, and given more detail in the novel trilogy. And that struck me as nuts - the thing that should be defining the characters in the game, their experience of everything they know breaking down around them, left to scribbled background notes? No. In my game I started at the very beginning; I started with the characters. And with that change it all made sense to me.