The Storm Has a Name … A Love Letter to RPGs
I’ve been a gamer and a role-player for most of my life. I still have fond memories of digging through the original Expert D&D rules set, making characters obsessively and hoping for that 18/00 Strength, rolled naturally.
I bought a copy of Gamma World from the local Waldenbooks when it came out. And even played one of the first sci-fi games that’s been lost to time. So obscure was this game I can’t even find it on any of the enclyopedias of RPGs on the web.
Just thinking about these things brings back memories of people I haven’t thought about in nearly 40 years. I can remember the kid John, a transplant from Minnesota, I hung out with in 7th and 8th grade, playing the Forgotten Game and D&D during study halls and at his house.
And I can’t remember for the life of me why we stopped hanging out together.
In college I had the good fortune of having a freshman roommate who was a professional sci-fi geek and gamer. He introduced me on our first day together to Novel Ideas, the local Sci-fi/comic/game shop. The progenitor of today’s FLGS — Friendly Local Game Shop.
I forged a lifelong friendship with that shop-owner, a wonderful guy. That shop took more of my scarce resources than any other in the 1990’s. It couldn’t stop the bleeding, however.
I walked in there for the first time and it was like a dream come true. I was 1100 miles from home, a freshman at the University of Florida, having grown up in New York where what I liked didn’t jibe with nearly everyone around me.
In fact, it was that first trip to that store that I met one of the great loves of my life, The Avalon Hill Board Game known as Dune (which I wrote about previously here on Medium).
I scoffed at it, thinking it, like most tie-in games of that time sucked. And Jody, my roommate, dressed me down immediately.
Dune is one of the singularly great games of all time. A brilliant blend of theme, cunning, politics and backstabbing that my wife and I nearly failed out of college playing.
While that roommate and I didn’t build a lasting friendship he did take me to a couple of his ‘gaming weekends’ in Sarasota with his high school friends. And it was awesome. I played Car Wars for the first time.
Titan, Lords of Creation, Boot Hill, Civilization, Diplomacy…. I sucked at them all but I loved every minute.
And it began a love affair with Role-Playing Games that my credit cards have cursed at me about for the last 30 years. We played a ton of games, from the common to the obscure.
I collect obscure RPG’s like some people collect stamps. I met Gary Gygax at a DragonCon when he published Dangerous Journeys. He signed my copy. It had an awesome character generation system… too bad the game didn’t live up to it.
Brief dalliances with Shadowrun, Paranoia, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Cyberpunk led to romances with the great games of the era — Star Wars (D6 West End Games), Amber Diceless (RIP Erick Wujick) and, still my personal favorite, TORG.
TORG was the original multi-genre RPG. One that mixed genres like a great painter mixes colors. Pulp Heroes fighting Egyptian gods, Japanese corporate intrigue, the GodNet and, of course, dragons.
TORG had more in its original box set than most games had in 50 coffee table supplements.
In TORG you could play a Werewolf!
No seriously, this was well before the White Wolf games. And the werewolf was an unqualified good guy. Because, the one thing that West End Games’ designers of the time understood… drama comes from having good guys and bad guys.
RPG’s as angst-fests are not why we play them. We play them to paint with broad strokes and have a group of friends sitting around the table trying to one-up each other in how they can impress the GM to get a little extra reward. Games like TORG rewarded your creativity and your passions. It also told you that you were a part of something greater, the Possibility Wars.
The fate of the Earth was at stake and you were the guys trying to end the Storm.
Last year I began a TORG game with my mates for the first time in over 20 years. I hadn’t run a game like this in years. I didn’t tell them anything and just asked them one question.
“If you could play anything in a role-playing game, what would it be?”
I went around the table and the answers I got ranged from a blue two-foot Scottish Dwarf to the Saint of Killers. One guy wanted to fulfill his adolescent dream to be a Power Ranger. And one guy wanted to gender-bend… of course.
I told them nothing. We set it yesterday, in our home town, and one of our friends had just died.
And then the Storm came, the war began and I watched these guys let loose in a way that they or I hadn’t been able to in years.
Sean punched out a Zombie. Larry came back from the dead with a demon on his shoulder. Judson became his true self.
George took over a bar from a Troll. Leo lost everything except his mind.
And I couldn’t stop laughing.
TORG was almost lost to time because as a game it was 20 years too early. Like Dune was to board games, TORG was to RPGs. A unique, quantum leap in game design whose roots are felt throughout so many games on the shelves today. But, like Dune, most modern gamers don’t know where these mechanics came from.
And while that’s all well and good, it’s also important that they know where their favorite games of today came from. My current group never heard of TORG no less had ever played it. Today they can’t wait until our next session because it indulges their every need as storytellers while having an absolute blast.
TORG wasn’t without its flaws, but those are all forgivable when you remember the rules are a guide to creating great story. West End Games stressed that in all of their stuff and it influenced so many great designers who came later.
The Kickstarter for the long-overdue reworking of TORG, called TORG Eternity, began the other day. It’s already blown away a dozen stretch goals. I don’t think Ulisses Spiele thought they’d get the response they’ve received. But some things are worth it.
The Storm has a Name and it is us: the gamers who continue to dare to dream big, fight for the right thing and, if necessary, die gloriously for the right cause (in game of course).