Interview with Darrell Hayhurst, Ulisses North America - Part One

Interview with Darrell Hayhurt, Ulisses North America - Part One

It's been a few weeks since the last Ulisses North America update, but there’s a very good reason why. We have some exciting news today. In January, our contacts over at Ulisses North America arranged an interview with EN World. Ostensibly about the Torg Eternity: the Nile Empire (the massively successful Kickstarter had just finished), the interview eventually expanded into more about role-playing, the world of Torg, the challenges of game design and adaptation, and a few bits about other Ulisses North America products. So, without further ado, here our interview with the line manager for Torg Eternity, Darrell Hayhurst. This is part one of a two-part interview.

This interview was conducted on Jan. 10, 2019 via Skype. This transcript has been edited for clarity. At the beginning of the interview, we experienced some technical difficulties for the first few questions. Darrel introduced himself as I expressed my excitement about learning to play Torg Eternity and Wrath & Glory. While the interview was primarily related the newest releases for Torg, Darrell covered aspects of game design, the challenges involved, some freelancing info and a few surprises throughout our talk.

David Buck (DB): I'm very excited about Torg Eternity...can you tell? I think we were talking about your wildly successful Kickstarter.

Darrell Hayhurst (DH): I was just saying how grateful we are that people turned out for us, because the whole reason to do a Kickstarter is you don't know [how it will be received] when you're bringing a product like this back. Because Torg came out in the 90s and it was kind of a cult classic, there's a lot of us that loved it when it came out. But it didn't have a huge image now. A lot of gamers these days maybe never played it, maybe they've heard of it, maybe not. So, when you bring something like that back around with a new version, you never know if it's going to take off or catch the popular imagination. We've been just staggered that a lot of the old fans have come back for it and like what we've done with the new version. A lot of new fans are discovering it for the first time. One of our big goals was to make it accessible to new fans but also leave something there that speaks to what the old fans remember--kind of walking that tightrope between the two to make both happy. The indications from the Kickstarter indicate that's what we've managed. We're very happy about that.

DB: Excellent. Would you say it's being well received?

DH: We have some critics, but for the most part the positivity in our community is awesome! Knock on wood...there's one thing I don't want to change whatsoever is how excited people are to play. Even if there's something they don't like, they say, 'eh, ok, we'll just brush over that and move on to the next thing that we do love." You can't ask for better.

DB: It's great to have that in a community, especially in any kind of gaming community. People like their RPGs a certain way sometimes, with strict adherence to rules and elements of the game itself. How does Torg differ in that aspect?

DH: What's interesting about the original Torg is part of its genesis. Greg Gordon tells a story of how he was walking through the city streets and noticing what was true and real for him, really wasn't the same for another person walking right next to him that came from a different background. That dichotomy formed the genesis of this idea that all these realities are true and their competing with one another. That spun out into the Possibility Wars. Since that's sort of baked into the DNA of the game, we tell the community it's an Infiniverse. What we mean is your campaign world could be completely different. If there's an element that doesn't work for you, it simply doesn't exist in your cosm, but it does exist in another one. I think people get used to that and it's very empowering to them.

DB: I like the idea of a multiverse or infinite realities and just playing off that. It's a great science fiction concept. There are just so many ways to do things--so many possibilities, so many different worlds...I think that's probably what caught my eye about Torg Eternity when I first started reading about it. I think that's where the Egypt (the new Kickstarter) comes into it. That's just another one of those possible worlds.

DH: Right. When you've got a canvas that big, you must focus it down to get a story you can grasp onto. Our version of that is this Possibility War where there are invaders invading our reality. It's basically our reality, but it's not quite our reality. It's more action movie reality. We like to joke that Die Hard is a documentary in this core earth. It happened there and that informs it. All the street names are the same, Google Maps is the same, all the people you know are there, BUT there are action heroes that exist for real in this world. It's been invaded by other versions of reality and The Nile Empire is another version of reality is based on 1930s pulp fiction. Everything that would be true in pulp fiction of the 1930s was true on this planet. So, Egypt is the capital of the world and a supervillain pharaoh has taken over everything and is now invading. All those rules and that baggage comes across as part of this invasion and starts transforming our earth to match.

DB: All these different crazy creatures. You mentioned pulp of the 1930s. That caught my eye first thing when I looked at the preview for Fires of Ra on the Ulisses North America website. I was reading through that first page and kept thinking it would be a cool adventure to just read.

DH: That's what we thought! It was originally plotted with Diana Gilbert (who works with me) and me and Brian Reeves, one of our freelancers whom we've been bringing in on more and more on stuff. So, the genesis of that adventure was that we really wanted a book-length adventure that gives you the full tour of the Nile Empire. It will take you to all the different corners of Africa that have been invaded and bring out some of the different colors and flavors that you would experience--all within that umbrella of The Nile Empire. Every section of it has a slightly different feel to it and of course, you're trying to stop the gigantic, mad plot of Mobius and his Engine of Destruction.

DB: I love the whole idea behind that. That's the central campaign--to stop High Lord Mobius, but you have all these different pulpy, cool things happening in between. I could tell just from the first six objectives (I don't have it in front of me) that it starts off as a fetch quest, but suddenly it starts throwing you into these insane encounters.

DH: [laughs] That's one of the most interesting things about Torg. It's got a basic rules grammar that happens everywhere, but different realms (we call them Cosms) have an extra layer of rules, where they change slightly to match the reality as it's changed. One of the things about the Nile Empire is it's baked into the rules that obstacles will come out of nowhere and you're going to have action scene after action scene after action scene. You know, like the back half of Raiders of the Lost Ark movie. You just can't stop it once that momentum gets going. You must keep going at break neck speed. [laughs]

DB: I was expecting to see Indiana Jones somewhere in that adventure. He'd fit right in!

DH: Right? He casts a big shadow. What's interesting is different people that write for it have different inspirations. I love Indiana Jones--most people do--but the thing that's great about Indiana Jones is that was my bridge to get back into the source, the pulps of the 30s. The more of those you see, it gets even more different. He's this great example of it, but that leads you to Doc Savage and The Shadow in his original form. All the 12-15-chapter serials and all that. That's really what we're modelling. It's also what Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Mummy, The Phantom and The Rocketeer modelled. They did a Hell of a job doing it!

DB: I'm seeing some of The Nile Empire stuff and it's like you said--the Mummy, Indiana Jones. I think I briefly thought about League of Extraordinary Gentleman--the comic version, not the movie version--and I'm seeing all this stuff just coming together. All the dots connect to a point and that's just good design. It comes down to a point where everything's connected in one way or another and you can take all these different aspects of it to create something entirely new from that source material. You don't just have to be railroaded on these.

DH: Right! That's the cool thing. This is the trick with Torg. Yes, we're coming from this place of pulps and the tropes that inform all the original pulps/serials and their modern descendants all follow those rules. It's those rules that are the fabric of reality there, but that reality is at war with ours. So, you've got this extra layer of conflict. We've kind of got the modern action movie tropes that are battling 1930s pulp tropes for dominance to see who's coming out ahead here. It adds that extra zing to the story [laughs].

DB: Oh Yeah. I love that. That is one of the things that separates this game from some of the others on the market. We just got finished talking about some of the inspiration behind the new adventure and the new campaign setting. I guess I shouldn't call it a campaign setting. It's probably more of just an extension...

DH: Yeah, well, really the inspiration was from the original 90s version of Torg. The Cosms that we're exploring, they explored in that one too. We're updating them, putting twists in them, to make them again both familiar to an original player, but offer that little edge of exploration and discovery to it. Nile Empire is one of the ones we changed the least because it was one of the most popular from the original game. It's what got me into the original Torg. You'd see that imagery and it just grabbed me and hauled me in. Many, many people feel the same way. So, we're like, "Ok, don't break it." [laughs]

DB: Right, don't fix what isn't broken, right? As far as this new version or reiteration of it [Torg Eternity], what sort of challenges did you guys face in making Torg Eternity a little bit more contemporary for 2018, 2017 era especially regarding the update of the Nile?

DH: What's interesting is, for the most part, since it wasn't broken, we didn't fix it. The only real tweaks that we made on it were: in the original when the pulp reality invaded Africa and kind of overrode it, it made it very much like American pulp fiction. One tweak that we made was that's not as true in the new one. It is still pulp fictionalized, but it is a pulp fictionalized Africa, rather than a pulp fictionalized America written over the top of Africa. That's added a lot of local color to things. They stressed Egyptian religion in the old one, but we really leaned into it hard in the new one. One of our sorts of meta plots is this notion that there's been a surprise in Egypt for Moebius as well as the heroes, in that they keep finding these hidden tombs that aren't copies of things from Moebius' realm, but they don't belong in our realm either. We had great pyramids, but they didn't have giant stone scorpions in them. So, it's like "what? why is this different here?" Moebius knows they didn't have that in ours either. If they did, he'd know where those things are because he grew up there. Instead, it's a third thing that's different. Why is it different? It leads to this archaeology race where everyone must find these hidden tombs and get to the bottom of this first because it's going to give them an advantage. And we really wanted that race to find those tombs and give the feel that the archaeology is happening. It was such a strong aspect of things like the old versions of The Mummy, the serials, Perils of Nioka, Perils of Pauline. They were all about "we've got to go, we've got to explore and beat the bad guys to it." So that was sort of our device to really allow that race to happen and we know why, but we don't reveal why in the source book. We talk about it a little bit--for GMs to handle it and add those elements to the game, but it hasn't been solved yet. [laughs]

DB: I like that kind of open-ended storytelling. I think that's a great way to also get people interested in playing something like that because it's not just "go fight the next big bad evil guy." You're in a competition with him, which is a nice aspect of that. Then you have the tombs. Tell me a little bit about that giant stone scorpion. That sounds intriguing.

DH: [laughs] Yeah, yeah. So that was when the first Torg Eternity Book came out. Part of the Kickstarter was that we added a book called "Day One." It was different at the time. One thing that we did a little bit different was that original Torg had a starter scenario where you played as mercenary Quinn Sebastian fighting stuff. But for the most part, things were already established, the cosms are there and you're just sort of learning to deal with it. We thought an interesting way to introduce the concepts of Torg are we're going to start you off as a regular person on the street when the invasion happens. All Hell breaks loose. As part of that, the heroes in Torg--called Storm Knights--become a heroic best version of themselves when the invasion hits. Some of them on the core earth become action movie versions of themselves while others transcend that and become the Nile Empire versions. They put on a mask and go to fight crime, because that's what you do. It varies from Cosm to Cosm. What we really wanted to do with Day One was "here's how to Nile Empire. When you're in the Nile Empire, it's got a different feel. It feels like this. Run this adventure to get that." And we did that for each of the invasion zones. In the Day One, you play as tourists at the Great Pyramids and the invasion happens. It kind of washes over you really fast and you end up falling under ground, under the pyramid. You find out there are all these tunnels under there that shouldn't be there. You find the hidden chamber protected by its guardian and this all connects to that Egypt That Never Was. You end up (what you can do) is getting a map to other sites that can spin off your adventures, so you can play in other areas. You've got the map, Moebius is going to want it and you'll follow the map to see what's there. You can drop in your tombs from "Fires of Ra" or anywhere else and you can tie it together as you like.

DB: So, it all works in conjunction with each other to operate as an overarching adventure path rather than a simple one-shot?

DH: Right, think of it as a buffet where it's built for just a one-shot, but it is part of this broader canvas if you want to keep playing in that canvas. You can drop it in or drop it out, move on as you wish.

DB: It sounds very modular.

DH: That's we wanted. It isn't just the hobby of role-playing that's changed over the years, it's the people who are playing. We don't have as much time as we used to. We were doing this in college or high school, when we had ten hours to brew up and build all this stuff. Now we know that for most people, that's just not true anymore.

DB: Absolutely.

DH: We try to cater the game to that new reality, so to speak. It's worked for people. Our big goal is that this is not a gamebook to just collect, it's a game to play. The thing that makes me the happiest in the community is when people tell their stories about their playing. They're out there, they're doing it and they're having fun in the system. That's our big goal. That's more important to me than hitting a milestone in the Kickstarter--that people are playing it and enjoying.

This interview will be continued in part two. This article was contributed by David J. Buck (Nostalgia Ward) as part of EN World's News Columnist (ENWC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!

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David J. Buck

David J. Buck


Cool, thanks. I'm curious, and it probably won't be answered in this set of articles, but what is up with Ulisses International and no more mention of Ulisses North America? Also, the Torg Facebook page was eliminated and rolled into generic Ulisses FB page. Things seem to be changing.
As a side note, it looks like the Nile Sourcebook is on schedule for release and I am looking forward to it.

I can ask Darrell about that, but I can't guarantee an answer! The Nile Sourcebook is going to be great. The next part of this interview covers it in more detail. IIRC, April should see it's release.

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