Torg: A Love Letter

As my freshman year of high school was set to begin, a friend asked if I wanted to play D&D.  It sounded fun, so, during our lunch breaks at band camp we gathered on the floor of the music file room and that’s where I first stepped foot into a dungeon, failed a saving throw, and wondered just how a poor first-level wizard was expected to live at all with a mere 1d4 hit points and two measly first-level spells …

Yeah, I guess I could have just said I’m a geek (of various sorts) from way back. 

From that early experience — after another friend’s mom assured mine that Dungeons & Dragons wasn’t evil like the preacher-man said — the core of that little bunch of band geeks, along with a couple non-band misfits, forged lasting friendships through further games of D&D, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and some superhero RPGs whose names I forget. 

Then came Torg.

Quirky even by the standards of early ’90s RPGs, the game blew our minds with its massive, globe-spanning living campaign world of mixed realities, and we began a campaign that would last the best part of the next decade, before life pulled us in separate directions as young adults.

By then, of course, I had experimented, as one does, in college. I dabbled with more D&D, scored some Star Wars: The Role-Playing Game, even rode the wild pony Paranoia. 

(During those years I was also nursing the beginnings of a serious board-gaming addiction, but one story at a time.)

Mostly I played, but I ran a brief Torg game of my own in college, amid the hazy blur of board game nights, RPG-board game hybrids like Kobolds Ate My Baby!, as well as HeroQuest and Warhammer Quest (and probably some others whose names I forget but probably end in “Quest”).

I even messed with Magic: The Gathering, and I would later go on to score some 7th Sea, and vie with the vice of Vampire: The Masquerade.

Nothing ever topped Torg in my heart, however. Part of it was the game, most of it was my groups of friends — both my old high school chums as well as lifelong new friends made in the dorms at good ol’ VSU: my people — but so much was also just the alluring nature of Torg’s essential essence. 

Of course most role-playing games let you indulge in hero fulfillment, but I always felt something was magical about how Torg framed that classic appeal — a few desperate heroes from across our world (and others!) work together in a desperate bid to turn the tide in a losing war. Pure heroism. Sacrifices. Love for each other and reality itself in a bid for the very sake of existence. 

And they called themselves Storm Knights. 

Oh, I get a tingle just thinking about it. When I look longingly at the set of Torg books on my shelf it is with the same starry-eyed gaze addicts through the ages have cast upon the means of their best highs. 

Torg, like so many RPGs before it, eventually folded as a game system. People kept playing, of course, and there are still games going in that original world, groups of Storm Knights fighting a war that may never end.

But now, as with so many Gen X childhood icons, a new edition comes forth into the world. 

Torg Eternity keeps the very best of the core of the old game, its heart of heroism, while updating it to the modern world, cleaning up some ’90s-era social anachronisms, and making a few tweaks to what had become a bit of a kludgy ruleset.

And I greet it like Huey Lewis must have looked at the packet in the hands of the dealer who finally answered his request …

Now, these many years later, I gather my friends, and I ask: Are you ready to play?

Whisky Wind-down, 22: Let’s Play That Again

A bottle of Talisker Storm whisky sits between a pair of filled glasses, next to a boxed board game, Isle of Skye.

Today’s dram: Talisker, Storm

Today’s tasting notes: Yesterday, all I gave you on this whisky was: “It’s all peat and brine, and I rather enjoy it.” That’s more or less accurate, but I’d add that it also contains a hint of smoke, and I’d defined the brine as mild in nature, just enough to let you know the whisky was born on an isle.

Talisker sits on the Isle of Skye, one of the Inner Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. It’s the only distillery on the island. (If that phrase sounds familiar, it’s probably because several of the Hebrides are each individually home to “the only distillery on the island.” Honestly, it’s not such great marketing when you think about it. You’re on an island. Not a tropical, fancy, resort island. A rocky, cold, craggy Scottish island. You can fish, raise sheep, or make whisky. If these islands were any bigger at all the phrase never would have stood a chance.)

Today’s thoughts: As I mentioned yesterday, I opened my bottle of Talisker Storm in the company of friend who likes whisky and board games. The photo accompanying this post was taken in early October this year, on that very occasion. You’ll note the game is called Isle of Skye, and whether you believe me or not, we didn’t plan this. I mean, we planned to play board games that day, and whisky is usually an accompaniment for that, but I didn’t know my friend was bringing Isle of Skye, and he didn’t know I was holding a bottle of Talisker Storm in want of inspiration to be opened. Kismet.

Speaking of kismet, I don’t believe I’ve ever relayed here the story of how I met the woman I would later dub the Empress of Whisky. I was out to dinner to my favorite pub when I encountered a friend who was playing cards with three other people I did not know. We exchanged pleasantries before I settled at my own table. Not long after, he popped over to ask if I would be interested in joining the game, as one of the four players had to unexpectedly leave. As this was a game played in partners, they needed a fill-in player to finish. The woman I was thus introduced to as a game partner would end up being a far more long-time companion.

While we played cooperatively (and ultimately victoriously) that day, we are not at all opposed to being adversaries. Outside the game, we love each other. Inside the game, no quarter is given.

Today’s note on repetition: One of the things you’re likely to learn early on the journey to whisky appreciation is to never judge on the first sip. That one will usually burn a bit, and you need to let your palate adjust before sipping again to get a better assessment.

Games can be like that, too.

This is why the Empress and I generally play each new game at least twice in a row. That, and the loser can never wait for a rematch. That’s true whichever of us happens to have lost.

On this lovely post-post-snow day, we’ve been facing off in various new board and card games. I would like to tell you that I have triumphed consistently. So would she.

We’re both right, depending on the game in question.

At least the loser has whisky. Then again, so does the winner.

Today’s toast: To the Empress of Whisky: I love you. Outside the game.

Whisky Wind-down, 23: Drinking Buddies

On a snow-covered table, Peppermint Jack, the Christmas Jester, cavorts with friends, all of whom have been into my bottle of Talisker Storm.

Today’s dram: Talisker, Storm

Today’s tasting notes: It’s all peat and brine, and I rather enjoy it.

Today’s thoughts: My first experience with Talisker was The Distillers Edition, a bottle of which I opened the day I received news of a friend’s death, and thereafter it became a whisky I went for in melancholy times.

When I received this bottle of Storm, I therefore made a point of waiting to open it on a happier occasion. Said occasion was playing board games with a whisky-loving friend.

Today’s short entry excuse: It’s a post-snow day, and I spent it lazing about before taking in an annual party with friends. Good friends. The sort you go out on a post-snow day for.

Today’s toast: To good company. May you have it and be it.

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 15: You Had to be There

Today’s dram: Fireball Cinnamon Whisky

Today’s tasting notes: Wait, what? How did this get on my list? Or into my bar, for that matter? Is it even whisky?


Also, no. 

Per its manufacturer, Fireball is made from a base of Canadian whisky, aged (no statement on how long) in used bourbon barrels with natural cinnamon sticks. 

Of course, it doesn’t drink like whisky at all. It drinks like liquified cinnamon candy. 

So why the hell am I including it? It’s all the dragon-born sorcerer’s fault. 

Today’s thoughts: As I mentioned earlier, I have been a gamer for a long time. Recently, The Empress of Whisky and I joined a Fifth Edition D&D game. We played today, actually. (It’s partly why this entry is late.)

At one point in today’s session, our entire party was captured, disarmed, and chained up. We managed to escape, but as we were attempting a stealthy exit, our dragon-born sorcerer made the iminently unwise decision to start a fight. As a magic-wielding, naturally fire-breathing badass it never occurred to him that it might be a bad idea to start a fight by throwing  fire at guards in the middle of an otherwise quiet camp at night. His completely unarmed companions might have preferred another option. 

The fact his player was drinking Fireball at the time is just a funny coincidence. 

Today’s in-joke to be appreciated by at most six other people from another gaming group altogether: We later had to go back to the place where we had been captured. It was the first time we had been there since the last time we were there. 

Today’s toast: To players who always stay in character, damn the consequences: Fire away!

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 24: Reunions and Rare Bottlings

Today’s dram: Maker’s Mark 46, Cask-strength (only sold at the distillery)

Today’s tasting notes: I’m opening this one for the first time today. I picked it up last October, when the wife and I went on a road trip through Kentucky, home of bourbon: 1,531 miles, 8 days, 13 distilleries, 6 bourbon bars, 3 cave tours, 2 dinners with friends, 1 game night. (Gee, it would have been nice if someone had blogged about that, wouldn’t it?)

The distilleries included every one on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which includes most of the big-name bourbons you’ve probably heard of, including Maker’s Mark. For most of its history, Maker’s Mark only produced one bourbon, its namesake. One grain bill, one technique, one whisky. A few years ago, it began gradually experimenting and eventually released Maker’s 46, which is the namesake whisky aged an additional year or so during which time several lightly toasted wooden staves are inserted into the barrel. (They got it right on the 46th variation, hence the name.) While you can buy Maker’s 46 in any good bottle shoppe you can only buy the sparingly produced cask-strength version of 46 at the distillery.* It’s pricey, but my wife and I splurged on a pair of bottles, given how much we like Maker’s 46.

I love the handmade look to the label on this one. Not like the professional label on your regular bottles of Maker’s Mark, eh? Well, it kind of is. One of the cool things we saw on the distillery tour was the print shop, where two people are employed full-time to print all the company’s labels on a 19th century hand-crank printing press. Pretty damned cool.

I know that’s a lot of preamble for the tasting notes, but context matters, yes?

So, taste — sweet mercy! 

I’m a fan of Maker’s Mark, anyway. I love the nuanced difference between their bourbon and most others. I love that their mash bill isn’t the typical corn/barley/rye. They sub winter wheat for the rye. This tones down the spiciness (or “bite”) and gives the whisky a softer, easier touch. 

Maker’s 46 is that, with a gentle vanilla note added from the extra aging with those special staves. 

This? Oh, it’s lovely. All the grace and gentle beauty of 46, with the warmth dialed up just a touch from its cask strength. 

Today’s thoughts: Along the way on our road trip, we stopped in Louisville, which apart from being home to a few distilleries and many bourbon bars, is also home to a dear old friend of mine. And while I had not seen her in person in over twenty years, she is one of a handful of people I went to high school with whom I still care to keep in touch. She was DM for the first serious Dungeons & Dragons campaign in which I ever played.** She introduced me to R.E.M. and feminism.

These days she works in a game store, and I am a tiny bit jealous of that. But we got to stop by the shop to get a couple of board games in, and I even picked up a few dice while I was there because there is no such thing as too many dice.

It was good catching up. We agreed to not let another 20 years go by without hanging out. 

Today’s trivia: Since bourbon must be aged in new oak barrels, a steady supply of used barrels emerges from every bourbon distillery. Different distilleries have different means of disposing of their used barrels (nearly always for profit) but a great many end up at Scotch whisky distilleries. Scotch whisky also has to be aged on wood, but there is no requirement that the wood be new, so many varieties of Scotch whisky spend most (or all) of their maturation years in barrels that once held bourbon. (Some are aged in barrels that were originally used for sherry or other spirits, and this can be an important aspect a whisky’s profile. I digress. More one this later, surely.)

So, Maker’s Mark barrels? They’re mostly sold to Laphroaig. As our tour guide put it, if you love Laphroaig whisky  — I do! —  you owe a tiny bit of gratitude to Maker’s Mark.

Today’s toast: To travel and friendships renewed!


* — Cask-strength versions of original Maker’s Mark bourbon, once hard to find, have started popping up at better bottle shoppes. That’s good stuff, too. (If any of these terms are unfamiliar, check out yesterday’s post, Whisky Wind-down, Interlude: Terminology.)

** — I’d previously participated in other role-playing games, even a quick D&D session, but she ran the first proper campaign*** I was a part of. Glory days.

*** — It was a second edition game world of her creation, with a focus on role-playing over combat. I played a thief.