Defining Reality

So, we know that Storm Knights has many cosms, and each cosm has a unique Reality. There’s the cosm of High Fantasy, the cosm of Pulp Supers, the Technohorror cosm, and so forth.

But how do we describe and define these Realities? What concrete terms can we use to differentiate between the real world, Pulp Supers, and High Fantasy?

Paradigm, Axioms, and World Laws.

A paradigm is the core worldview of a Reality, and everything else in the Reality derives from it.

The High Fantasy paradigm implies magicians, dragons, knights, dwarves, elves, noble Houses, and many other aspects of Fantasy fiction. It implies an epic struggle between Good and Evil (or, in this case, Honor and Corruption). All of these things are part of Aysle, the High Fantasy cosm, because its paradigm allows for them and, in a certain sense, demands them, or elements much like them.

Reality is an imperative, and what Reality creates and enforces is the cosm’s paradigm.

Axioms are more specific than the paradigm. In Storm Knights, there are five: Magic, Social, Spirit, Tech, and Psi.

The Tech axiom is the easiest to explain: it measures what technological advancements are allowed by the Reality, from 0 (pre-Stone age) to 21 (Technology capable of nearly anything). The development of agriculture (Tech 2), gunpowder (Tech 7), computers (Tech 13), and many other advances all appear on the Tech chart.

Magic, Social, Spirit, and Psi serve a similar purpose, with regards to other areas of development. Magic is the development of spellcasting, Social the advances of scholarship, social organizations, language, and other such tools, Spirit measures the ability of people to call upon the Gods to work miracles, and Psi measures advancements in psychic abilities (like telepathy and telekinesis).

Each cosm has axiom measurements appropriate to its paradigm. The Cyber-Religious cosm, for example, has a Tech of 17, allowing for cyberware. Aysle, the High Fantasy cosm, has a Magic axiom of 16, representing its highly developed system of spellcasting. Core Earth, the real world, has a Tech of 15, matching the modern day. And the Nile Empire has a Tech of 12, pre-WWII technology.

Axioms match the paradigm. Core Earth doesn’t have a Tech of 21, because that level of super-technology doesn’t exist in the real world. Aysle doesn’t have a Magic of 0, because it is a Fantasy cosm and a substantial level of magic is required.

Last are World Laws. World Laws are even more specific than axioms. They detail unique facets of the local Reality, elements that are unique to that cosm.

The Nile Empire has three World Laws, which implement the feel of its Pulp Supers paradigm:

Stalwart Heroes and Diabolical Villains!
Thrilling Tales of Action and Adventure!
Fantastic Inventions and Incredible Powers!

The first allows for the amplified morality of the pulps, the second for the high-speed, physical action typical of those stories, and the third allows for mysteries of the unknown, including the powers of costumed heroes, Weird Science inventions, and lost religious artifacts (including, as a random example, the Ark of the Covenant).

All of these World Laws introduce mechanics unique to the Nile, such as Inclination (are you a Hero or a Villain?), obstacle piling, and Pulp Powers. (In fact, all World Laws introduce unique mechanics.) These mechanics are concrete manifestations of the World Laws, and the World Laws exist to implement the paradigm.

Everything in a cosm descends from its paradigm. Everything exists to support and implement the paradigm. Its paradigm is what makes a cosm unique. It’s what makes it colorful, and colorful cosms are what makes the game fun to play.

Roleplaying the Clash of Realities

Here’s the beauty of Torg, for me:

In Torg, a noble knight, wielding the power of his gods, and a cyber-enhanced sneak thief can team up with Captain Heroic to fight bloodthirsty dinosaur-men in a primitive jungle. They can fight dragons in the magical reality of Aysle, scavenge for lost technomagical relics in one of Tharkold’s devastated and decayed cities, stop the insane Doctor Dimension from vaporizing Cairo with his dastardly Omni-destructor.

They can be from a dozen different realities, and can adventure in each of those realities. They can chase a villain across the globe, crossing from fantasy to cyberpunk to technohorror, all in the same game session.

That’s why I love the game. In my “Glory’s Warriors” Torg campaign, we had a Core Earth bum, who became a valiant knight, wielding the sword of Lancelot, an immortal Vampire Slayer, an alien soldier from a distant galaxy who wielded biotech weapons and psychic abilities, a pulp hero, the Gunslinger, a cyberdecker, and a Core Earth ninja.

Torg allows for a breadth of characters and adventures that no other setting allows for. Elements from nearly any other RPG or media can be found somewhere in Torg, from D&D to Indiana Jones to the Golden Age JSA to Dracula.

All of this links back to the fundamental premise of Torg: Reality is an imperative.

The Nile Empire is pulp supers, with an Egyptian twist. The Golden Asp, a character created by a fellow Torg-ite, is a masked adventurer, who could have come straight out of the pages of a 1930’s pulp serial. The Nile Empire, as a Reality, is the world of 1930’s pulps.

This entails some fundamental assumptions about the Nile. People there live the life of the 1930’s, socially, technologically, mentally.

Personal computers don’t exist, and the cosm’s Reality enforces that. But Stalwart Heroes and Diabolical Villains do exist, and often come to blows. And the cosm’s Reality causes this to be true.

The Reality of the cosm influences the minds of people living there. It’s the “thumb on the scales” of existence, influencing everything that happens, shaping daily life in the cosm to match its idiom.

More, this happens to those who enter the cosm. People from Core Earth, the real world, who enter the Nile find themselves becoming more pulp-ish. They find themselves drawn towards Stalwart Heroism or Diabolical Villainy. The Reality of the Nile induces them to act in ways appropriate to the cosm.

This is true of all cosms, and is a fundamental tenet of Torg and roleplaying in a Torg campaign.

In Aysle, the cosm of High Fantasy, they find themselves drawn towards the code of Honor or the deceitful ways of Corruption. They can feel the magic forces of the Reality surrounding them. In the Living Land, they find themselves becoming more tribalistic, more physical, more in tune with the goddess Lanala. Her presence surrounds them, and they can hear the whispers of Her voice.

Each cosm has its own idiom, it’s own “state of mind”. Reality is a “state of mind” for existence. And when you enter a cosm, your become subject to that cosm’s state of mind. You think differently, feel differently, act differently.

This phenomena is the critical difference between Torg and other multi-genre games. And the metaphysics of the Storm Knights campaign have been written to explain and enable this kind of roleplaying.

A Storm is Coming…

So, what’s up with the thunderstorm picture in the site header? Well, the Twenty Ten theme (the WordPress look-and-feel that this site uses) has a small selection of pictures you can use. Though very pretty, I liked none of them. So I decided to find my own, something that matched the site.

I deliberately searched for “thunderstorms” on Google, and grabbed one I like. It matched the “beauty of nature” theme of the other Twenty Ten pics, but has additional significance for Storm Knights (one of the main projects on the site).

In Storm Knights, my revised Torg campaign setting, reality storms are a prominent obstacle. At the edge of each cosm, where two realities come into conflict, reality storms result.

Massive banks of thunderclouds, with red-and-blue lightning, these towering mile-high storms run for hundreds of miles, massive walls of roiling clouds, rain, and lightning strikes. In the storms, reality itself breaks down and the laws of physics are revoked. They are truly dangerous places. The name “Storm Knights” comes from the fact that PC’s can venture into these storms and emerge unscathed.

Reality storms are an iconic feature of Torg, dominating the art of the boxed set and sourcebooks, being an integral part of the game’s logo (look closely at the letters of the word “Torg”), being featured in the first adventure (“The Lizard and the Lightning”), in the game’s tag line (“The storm has a name…”) and the game’s pre-release publicity (“A storm is coming…”)

This picture is obviously of an oncoming storm, a storm that hasn’t yet reached the viewer, but is getting very close. You can even see a red-and-blue lightning strike in the distance.

In other words, this visual deliberately evokes classic Torg:

A storm is coming…

The storm has a name…

It calls itself Torg.

Destiny is Not a Story Game

Destiny is, at its core, a very traditional RPG. It eschews the storygame “shared narrative” or “shared storytelling” approach in favor of a traditional GM/player split.

Play involves the GM, who prepares the world, and players, who interact with it in ways they choose, the outcomes of which are determined by rolling dice (“bouncing dice” in the parlance of friend of mine). There’s some interesting “fudging the roll” mechanics players have access to, to boost the dice in specific situations, but all in all it follows the gameplay model first established by D&D, and implemented by hundreds of RPG’s since then.

This is a deliberate choice, not an instance of blindly following the received wisdom. Having read several story-games, and seen how they run in play, I prefer the traditional model.

For me, the fun of RPG’s lies in creating a character, and immersing yourself in that role. It makes the game world seem more real. That’s why, when writing up my settings, I ty and work out the fine details of the game’s fictional world, so there’s plenty of details that make the world come alive.

I also try and give descriptions of what living in this world is like: what is it like to touch a sleeping dragon? To call upon the power of a living god? To smell the stench of a marching horde of goblins? As a player, I want the world to come alive, and as a GM and designer I want to help players reach that state of immersion.

(Or, at least, not actively hinder immersion. Not all players like that sort of thing. Which is fine. There’s coolness in making your character more powerful, or mastering mechanics, or any one of the dozen other reasons people play RPG’s.)

When a player assumes an “authorial stance”, they are by deliberate design choosing to step out of their role. This breaks immersion of character, and ruins the vividness of the fictional world. For me, this wrecks the entire point of playing the game in the first place.

Which isn’t to say that I’m trumpeting a “One True Way” of playing make-believe. People who enjoy story games, are welcome to do so.

Your game, your rules, your fun.

I’m just not one of them, and the design of Destiny follows from that.


Destiny is my own little RPG, still very much in development. In concept, Destiny is:

  • Genre-Neutral. Not universal or generic, but flexible enough to handle magic, guns, car chases, psionics, cyberware, and much more. Destiny campaigns can be set in fantasy worlds, cyberpunk worlds, the real world, and any other place the GM can devise.
  • Cinematic. As a marketing catchphrase, this has lost all meaning. In the context of Destiny, it means that Player Characters are action-movie heroes, capable of doing great deeds. Not Superman, but John McClane.
  • Action. Destiny is an action-movie system. The mechanics allow characters to emulate the daring feats of an Indiana Jones, Ethan Hunt, or Evelyn Salt. They encourage and reward players who do more than just shoot or punch; witty banter and rapier-fast retorts are often more useful than bullets or blades.

Genre-Neutral Cinematic Action. That is Destiny.

Dead Man’s Land

Six months after the zombies first rose, and humanity still survives. In the far north, in high mountaintops, inside walled Sanctuaries humanity holds on.

Zombies throng the fallen cities of mankind, driven to gather by causes unknown. They crowd the streets and fill the buildings, wandering aimlessly… until a victim crosses their path.

Between the abandoned cities teeming with hunting corpses and the remote Sanctuaries of the uninfected lies a vast wilderness, the land of the carriers. Those sick with the rotting disease, but who have not yet succumbed to their inexorable death, are half-zombie, yet wholly sane.

Without fear of zombie bites or the zombie plague, they wander the wastes, performing tasks no one else can do: scavenging supplies, carrying mail, staging raids into the zombie hives, or rescuing stranded humans, then bringing them to Sanctuary.

Solely the province of carriers — those doomed to death via slow zombification — the wastes between the cities and the Sanctuaries are known as…

Dead Man’s Land.

One Perfect Thing

A note about process, before I dive into the meat. Whenever I’m building a setting, I find myself floundering about until I can identify or create one perfect thing, that one thing which is exactly what it should be. This one perfect thing serves as the kernel of the setting, a solid core around which everything else can be built.

In the case of my revised Tharkold, it was the technomagical virtual-reality Grid. In my Tharkold, the Grid is exactly what it needs to be. Its origin, as a work of technomagic, perfectly matches its nature, in an easily explicable way. More, its nature delineates what all technomagic is or can be. In turn, technomagic underlies the history of the cosm, its mythos, and the nature of technodemons and technohorrors. By getting the Grid right, it ensures that the cosm I build around it is coherent and comprehensible.

By identifying and developing (and, in most cases, overdeveloping) that one perfect thing, it allows me to build the rest of the setting with confidence, confidence that everything fits together, that everything belongs, that everything makes sense.

So, what is the one perfect thing for Storm Knights? Possibility Energy.

Possibilities sit at the core of the game. They are what High Lords are here to steal. Reality storms liberate them, Storm Knights are empowered by them, and Eternity Shards thrum with their power. Possibility Energy underlies the Everlaws, Reality, and the game’s cosmology.

Get Possibilities right, and the rest of the setting follows.