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, 1: Life’s a Beach

A pair of hands hold mini-bottles of Maker's Mark bourbon. In the background, rain begins to fall on a tropical beach.

Today’s dram: Maker’s Mark

Today’s tasting notes: This is an old favorite. A classic for a reason. Well made to the same standard for better than a century. Good, warm, just enough bite.

Bourbon is an American creation. Today, it’s a reminder to me. Of home, when I’m away from it. And of the good things there that make it worth going back to.

Mostly that’s people, of course. Family. Friends. Friends who are like family.

But also ideals. Liberty. Equality.

We may fail, often, and years like 2017 may make us question the strength of our society and its commitment to those ideals, but we endure.

Today’s thoughts: Privilege. I acknowledge it. From a beach in another country, together with like-minded friends, I prepare to watch a new year roll in, and I know, within a reasonable margin of error, I’ll be fine in the coming year.

I didn’t feel this way as this year began. I felt quite a lot of trepidation, in truth. And 2017 has not been a year to be proud of, as an American.

Or, bluntly, for me as a writer, as someone who feels compelled to speak up, speak out, but all too often fails, allowing inertia, apathy, and whisky to prevail in place of the long, difficult slog that is activism.

Will 2018 be better?

I don’t know.

But as I sit on a tropical beach, miles away from responsibility and stress, I still find my thoughts turning toward all the things I could have said and done better this year, and I’m not ready to leave off just yet.

Today’s observation on the weather: It rained pretty hard for a couple of hours today, eventually driving most everyone away from the beach, and throwing kinks into the evening plans of locals and tourists alike.

That happens, even in tropical paradise.

But now it’s clearing, and the sun’s gone down, and plans will be re-configured, or new ones made.

Time will roll on, weather and human perceptions of its passage notwithstanding.

Today’s toast: To tomorrow. Always tomorrow.

Whisky Wind-down, 6: Rest Ye Weary Dead

A bottle of The Sexton single malt Irish whisky sits next to a glass filled with same, on a mantel with red holiday garland.

Today’s dram: The Sexton, single malt Irish whisky

Today’s tasting notes: Aroma is sweet and woodsy. Flavor is smooth and slightly sweet, with a warming bite in the finish.

It’s different. I don’t drink a lot of Irish single malts — they’re not terribly common, compared to Scottish single malts — but I enjoy one now and again, especially as they are a departure from standard Irish whisky. This one reminds me a bit of Highland Scottish whisky; probably I’m drawing that comparison from the sherry cask aging used here.

All in all, it’s enjoyable; I’ll probably keep this around for a cold night by the fire. Or, perhaps, I’ll fill a flask for company on a particular walk.

Today’s thoughts: The bottle lore on this one speaks of a graveyard by the River Bush, from which you can sometimes detect the aroma of distilling spirits.

It’s been awhile since I’ve walked a graveyard, but it was an old hobby of mine.

It’s an autumn sort of hobby, the sight of nature in decline serving to accentuate the stark stone reminders that mark our mutual finish line.

Works in winter, too, though. Then the cold breeze bites and the empty trees shiver, and everything says your time will come, too.

Many years I’ve sought such places in these final days of the year, when the festivities fast fade and the year’s last gasp is in the air.

It’s quite the melancholy week — a transitory time fit for reflecting upon the expiring year, all its good, all its ill.

It all starts again soon enough.

Today’s toast: To the dead: beyond the need for a dram, past all ambitions great or small, gone from the wheel.

Whisky Wind-down, 11: Longest Night

A bottle of Writer's Tears whisky sits next to a filled glass and Christmas Cthulhu.

Today’s dram: Writer’s Tears

Today’s tasting notes: This is smooth enough, with just enough rough edges. And maybe it’s my imagination, but is there a touch of salt there? Seems appropriate. Not much aroma. Mild malt.

Today’s thoughts: Solstice. The longest night. From here, the days only get longer. More’s the pity.

Today’s toast: To darkness.