Interview with Darrell Hayhurt, Ulisses North America - Part Two

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 two of a two-part interview.

DB: With some RPGs, it feels like your bookshelf is just collecting dust. What appealed to me the most about this is that it's just a pick and play kind of game. If you have someone who is an aspiring GM for Torg, what would you suggest they do to jump right in?

DH: That is literally what "Day One" is designed for. One of the original issues that Torg had was that it was a big, weird, sprawling game about reality, it makes some assumptions about the rules that aren't necessarily easy to latch onto at first. They're not hard, but you've got to a do a bit of mental gymnastics to get there first. People would buy the book because it was cool but wouldn't play it because they'd read it and bounce off it. The joke at the time was that if we could put Greg Gordon in the box and have him run a session or two for you, then a lot more people would be playing Torg. Shane Hensley is the lead designer of this iteration of Torg and when we talked about it, he was the one that came up with the idea of the "Day One's." The pitch would be that those were our version of Greg Gordon in the box. So, you'd pick up the "Day One." The first adventure, the rules are very light. In the second scene, we'll add additional rules in the sidebar. Then we'll say, "this is your first dramatic task and here are the rules to show how it's going to work for you to do it right. Now we're going to add a chase, then add another element to it." As you go deeper and deeper into the book, it just brings those elements out one at a time and eases people into the system. Also, the setting; when you try to describe the setting, people always ask "what's your elevator pitch?" How do I do that? We've got seven worlds to describe. So, when you play them as one-shots, people know. They know what the Nile Empire is because they played the "Day One." Then it inspires your character. Many people take their human character [from the "Day One" starter adventure] that transformed and decide to keep them. That's great or at least it inspires their own choices later when they create their own character.

DB: Character building is easy in this game. I like that.

DH: That is the influence of Shane Hensley. He's brilliant at that. Building a character that can be provocative but also doesn't take a long time to make. Especially when you know the basics, there's five choices that you make. You can go deep in terms of choosing your different perks, but really it can be very simple.

DB: In the new Nile Empire, I was reading about the new archetypes. Any comments on those?

DH: Yeah! Archetypes were part of the old game. Personally, they were my favorite part. You'd get this book of weird ideas like the Cyber Papacy (17th century France overlaid with cyber punk and ruled by a pope) and you're confused. It's cool, but where do you start? In the back of the book were these pre-fab characters, the archetype templates. The renegade templar, the cyber hacker or whatever. It would tell you the most important thing that any game can tell you, which is what do you do in this game? D&D worked because you knew you were a fighter, a wizard. You're going to throw spells or go into dungeons and fight dragons and that's what you do. The stranger you get with a setting, the more important it is to capture who you are and what you do. That's what these archetypes tell you. So, maybe people haven't seen that many pulp movies. Ok, everyone's seen Indiana Jones. But if you've got five players and they're all playing a rugged archeologist, it gets a little bit weird. We need to have a little more depth here. Let's make sure we have the rocket ranger. If you saw, The Rocketeer, then great. This is easy, you can make that up yourself. But if you haven't, this gives you a good place to start. So, we have our rugged archeologist, we've got our vengeful vigilante with his mask, we've got the torch singer, the ex-gangster. These are the colorful personalities that will populate The Nile Empire. What's interesting in Torg is the whole group won't necessarily be from the Nile Empire. One or two of you may be. So, you can be the vengeful vigilante with the mask. You know, "I am the terror that flaps in the night!" [laughs]

DB: [laughs] "Suck gas, evil doers!"

DH: Right! Exactly! But standing next to you is like a Dungeons & Dragons wizard or man, I don't know what this guy's deal is.

DB: Is that our pulp sorcerer?

DH: Right, then Arnold Schwarzenegger is standing there saying, "I'll be back" right next to him. Then you've got Mad Max and this crazy mixture of all these different genres who get to cooperate and go on their own adventure and put their own spins on it.

DB: So, is The Nile Engineer--one of the new archetypes--is that like your [version] Daniel Jackson (from Stargate) type of person?

DH: Yeah, a little bit. What's funny is I never made that connection, but part of the flavor of the Egyptian mythos is you had the builders, right, that are making the pyramids. In original Torg, there is a subtle magic that goes to that. So, if you're playing a Nile Engineer, you're a magician of a very specific type. You know science, but you're not a crazy super inventor. You know your science, but you know it to a mystical level. Internally, we call it archaeology magic. If you go to a structure, you know how the building works. You know there are traps here and there, don't step on the floor panel. They've also got stuff where they can analyze for weaknesses--like you just hit that bad guy in the chest plate and his arms are going to fall off. That's the kind of magic they deal in. It's a subtle character and because they're very intelligent, one of the things Torg does very differently from a lot of systems is they have a baked in thing called interaction attacks. These are taunts and tricks or maneuvers (like a physical feint or whatever) that don't often do direct damage, but they set up foes and can take them out or stun them. The Nile Engineer has this high intelligence and a very good trick. The simplest example of that is they set a trap, or they say, "Hey, look! A comet!" and the bad guy looks over while the engineer gets them almost every single time. And while they're looking up at the ceiling the engineer just said would collapse, the engineer's friend shoots them, and it's done. Or they see a little speck of dust falling, think the building is going to collapse and they run. So, even though you're not this massive damage dealer, you still have something to do even in pitched battles. That makes it interesting to play the nerd character because they have these crazy options.

DB: So, it sounds like it's advantageous to bring along a Nile Engineer. He's more than just the cleric who can heal you and stays in the back. He's actively participating in not only exploration of the structure, but the finding and disarming of traps and battles themselves. He might not be at the brute force aspect of it, but...

DH: ...he's got a lot of options for support! Exactly.

DB: I was curious about The Nile Engineer specifically because I wasn't sure what it was initially. But now I understand what it is and why it would be a good idea to take one. So, the Pulp Sorcerer is more like that character you described earlier.

DH: Yeah, they are masters of mysticism and all of that. They've got the more overt magic.

DB: Ok. The magic system in Torg. In the source material, how would you say the magic system compares to other games you've played and have experience with?

DH: So, what we did with this (a very Shane Hensley choice) is make spells, psychic powers and miracles granular. There are lots of different types of faith-based invokers that might know a miracle. Healing works the same for all of them, but the process of getting there is very different. Magic is the same way. Not every magic user knows every spell, they all focus on different things. The Engineer knows magic to find traps or weaknesses. They don't have fireball. That's more for the wizard from the fantasy world or the Pulp Sorcerer. Instead of the Crimson Bands of Cinerac, they might know the Blue Bands of Bastet or something like that and be able to be that kind of front line, overt magic user. All the realms have axioms of what works, where. As a Storm Knight, you can kind of push your luck on that, but Fireball--that's not a thing here on Earth. We don't have magic...we might have subtle magic. The kind of stuff you can get away with unnoticed, but there's not going to be a wizard walking down the street casting Fireball with everyone saying, "Oh, yeah, that's a thing. I've seen that before." In the fantasy realm you do and in the Nile Empire you do, but those are the places that have magic--it's the pulps. But as soon as that magic user steps into "the real world" there's a chance the real world is going to push back and say, "No. That's not how it works here." You cast your spell, and nothing happens. It's vice versa with tech [in some worlds] as well. If you bring a modern M-4 assault rifle into the Nile Empire, it won't work.

DB: Some of the tech and gear that's available in Torg is very interesting. I love the rocket suits.

DH: The Nile Empire is weird because they have a limited tech axiom (a modern assault rifle would cause a contradiction there) but they have a weird science axiom where they have ray guns.

DB: It sounds like there's great potential for some exciting scenarios in that sub section of the game. As far as game mechanics go, it looks like there's a GM screen that comes with Nile Empire that has some great stuff on it. Anything interesting to add about that?

DH: This was a hard decision to make. The original box has a GM screen and we know our next seven products are these source books and adventures that deep dive into the different Cosms. We were 50/50 on including a GM screen with that or not. It came down to the question, "is there enough unique information for each Cosm to warrant a GM screen?" As we continued playing, we realized there actually is. Some information is applicable to all Cosms--the bonus chart, the value chart, which you need no matter what--but with The Nile Empire, the rules say that things are going to get crazy on you. So, we have a chart where you roll a d20 and something crazy happens. You'll be set on fire, or something will explode in 1d4 rounds. People might be caught in the crossfire and it'll be up to the party to save them. It's not all on the GM to make it up as they go along. We offer help!

DB: I want to jump back to the idea of the rocket suits. Are there any plans for miniatures of those? That would be super cool.

DH: We would love to do miniatures, but they've been tricky for us. We tried to them on the first Kickstarter, but it was super problematic. We were very delayed on those. We had to switch manufacturers several times. It's not something we're good at, so we basically said we need to be better at it. So, stay tuned, because there are possibilities to get better at it. Those will happen behind the scenes, but if we get that together, they would be a separate thing (rather than part of a Kickstarter). Perhaps a board game based on the Torg IP with the miniatures as playing pieces.

DB: Are there any plans to expand into the Inca mythology or other...?

DH: Funny you should mention the Incans! In the original Torg, after the first year of the war, there are is a late comer called The Space Gods (they called themselves The Akashans). They had a strong through line to Incan and Mayan architecture/society. Their Cosm was literally half that and half Star Trek. They were not part of the original Possibility War, but they came on Earth and added their own layers of problems. They're not going to participate in Torg Eternity in the same way, but they do exist. People will be seeing them. We've already had some adventures that mention what happened to most of them and the Nile Kickstarter had a stretch goal unlock were the "Relics of Power" adventure. In the original Torg, that adventure brought The Akashans into play. So, stay tuned for our "Relics of Power" adventure.

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

I just ordered the new verson of Torg from Amazon. Not sure how this is but I played in two campaigns in the early 90s, one as a player and one as a GM. It was an amazingly fun game. I think I missed the KS for the Nile Empire but I assume there will be one for the Cyber papacy. And that one I absolutely will jump in on!!!

Obvious_Ninja, I played in a regular Torg campaign for years in college, and I've backed the first three Kickstarters. My regular gaming group decided to try out a session, and they've demanded a repeat performance. I think it reproduces the best things about the original Torg and smooths out some of the rough edges. I've also played with my sons, ages 7-17, and they've enjoyed it.

Obvious_Ninja, I played in a regular Torg campaign for years in college, and I've backed the first three Kickstarters. My regular gaming group decided to try out a session, and they've demanded a repeat performance. I think it reproduces the best things about the original Torg and smooths out some of the rough edges. I've also played with my sons, ages 7-17, and they've enjoyed it.
So happy to hear that! I'm looking forward to seeing it. Thanks for heads up!


For a split second, when I first glanced at the picture, I told myself "whoa, is that C-3PO with a cape and Darth Vader's helmet commanding an army of mummies? That is so metal!"

a quick closer inspection revealed the image to be something entirely different...

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