(if you like see also my review of Torg Eternity Core Rules - in that review I also mention the other Torg Eternity books I will be writing reviews of in case this of any interest to you - particularly in the rather strange cases where no one has bothered to write ANY review about a particular Torg Eternity book - I guess people are busy? :) )
Given that this is a pay what you want title purchasing it is a no-brainer... if you're feeling guilty about not being able to afford the recommended price bear in mind that the publisher no doubt intends this to be a "gateway drug" that will encourage you to buy their not pay what you want titles :P .... which I have to commend them on as being an excellent marketing strategy , plus I think it's just plain nice that they list a lot of their titles as pay what you want in addition to this one (my review of the Torg Core rules lists the ones I've come across so far that are pay what you want).
Let's get one thing out of the way ... like all pre-published modules this absolutely will railroad you in one direction as far as the storyline, or as my players used to put it with a chuckle " The plot is thickest over there let's go that way ! " :P ... however if you are running this that means you don't have the time to write up your own original material anyways .. nothing wrong with that plenty of gamesmasters busy with a spouse, kids, work and so forth. If you're in that situation hopefully your players understand and expect that pre-published modules can and will railroad you in a certain direction and cheerfully go along with it on the grounds " Hey at least there's a game we can play it's better than no game at all " ... still, expect to have frank discussions with your players where you shrug your shoulders helplessly and say " Um, not sure what to do here since the guy who wrote this adventure didn't expect you guys to do that .. any chance you guys could go this way please? (begs the players for mercy)" ... which in all fairness is a weakness of all pre-published adventures.
Even if you're the kind of gamesmaster blessed with enough spare time to come up with your own original adventures and you sneer at the thought of using some linear pre-published scenario that forces players along a certain direction (I'm not one such gamesmaster but I know of GM's who do fall into that category and nothing wrong with that either) I would argue it's still worth buying and reading this, even if not at full price, simply because it does a great job of giving you a bird's eye view so to speak of what happens to ordinary people and just how badly their lives are disrupted when the dimensional invaders attack and conquer parts of Core Earth... those ordinary people being your players' characters and for the most part the publisher/writers have made it very clear that your average player character or, as they are called in Torg Eternity, Storm Knights, are just your average every day people before the invasion who are changed, sure, they definitely gain advantages that set them above their hapless "average joe/jane" NPC counterparts... but in a lot of ways they're still everyday people who just happen to be thrust into the role of heroes.. there are certain exceptions like the tough as nails New York cop imbedded among the other ordinary people in the Living Land scenario or the team of soldiers in Tharkold but I feel they tend to be the rule rather than the exception... I don't consider that to be a bad thing at all and it encourages the players to be creative and to not just write up some sort of "combat monster here's my version of Rambo" type character.
The adventure comes with pre-generated characters you are expected to run and as another reviewer stated are meant to be introductory adventures that help players get their toes wet as far as the campaign setting and gives them a feel for how the game runs in general... it helps gamesmasters out too, I like how the first scenario you play through (Living Land) flat out drops rules recaps right into the adventure itself which in my opinion is helpful for gamesmasters who haven't quite memorized the Torg rules yet (though honestly if you have the time you're really best off not only reading prepublished adventures in advance but also specifically looking up game rules that will apply to the scenarios in those adventures and writing your own "cliff notes" summaries of said rules so you're prepared in advance). Obviously players who are inclined to do so can write up their own characters instead but the gamesmaster should warn them these sets of characters are "one shot" type PC's who will be good for that adventure only (I dunno, I guess if the players get really attached to their characters they could keep running them in other Torg prepublished adventures? I have yet to read the longer Torg Eternity adventures like "The Fires of Ra" yet so I can't comment as to how well this would work) in that particular cosm/invading dimension (so for example the characters written up for the Living Land wouldn't end up going on to Pan Pacifica after that for the next adventure that would require a brand new set of characters).. which in itself could be fun, write up one set of American characters (whether a "born and bred" American or say a recent immigrant unlucky enough to be in New York when the dinosaurs and their "lizard men" riders invade ) for the Living Land adventures, write up a second set of Japanese characters for the Pan Pancifica adventure, write up a set of Indian characters for the Orrosh adventure and so forth.. but in this case the gamesmaster would need to take careful note of what skills the adventure demands from the PC's in order to move forward (see I warned you there would be railroading) and request that at least one of the PC's is in possession of said skills.
The adventure does hint that any PC's who survive these adventures should show up later on as allies for the "real" PC's the players write up for a long term Torg campaign later on, which I would personally recommend , especially if the players other PC's later on play the appropriate card from the drama deck or the drama deck otherwise dictates help should arrive for the PC's... just make sure the players are okay with you taking possession of and running the PC they were formerly in charge of and be blunt - you'll do your best but there's no guarantee that you will be able to run the PC exactly the same way the player would since the player is the best expert as to how the PC would act (maybe tell the player you're open to suggestions if you have the player's former PC take a course of action the player doesn't think the PC would do and change the former PC's tactics accordingly if this situation comes up).
I enjoyed the Living Land, Pan-Pacifica (formerly known as "Nippon Tech" for old Torg fans like myself) and Orrosh adventures the most ... surprisingly I didn't like the Tharkold and Nile Empire adventures as much and found myself conflicted on the Cyberpapacy adventure not sure if I like or dislike it ... but again the adventures still do a great job of giving the characters a feel for what each invading dimension is like and the "feel" of the invading cosm as far as fighting in and surviving in it. I particularly enjoyed how the Pan Pacifica adventure captured the feel of the whole " Walking Dead" TV series ... the zombies (let's call them for what they are in Pan Pacifica, zombies) and the whole " everyone is doomed and going to die" scenario is something I actually found entertaining ... the gamesmaster is flat out told to do their best to kill off all the PC's as part of the mood and atmosphere of the setting and once you read the adventure even without the Pan Pacifica sourcebook being out yet (which I am now very much looking forward to after reading the Pan Pacifica part of the adventure) you'll see what I mean.. but,again, railroading, SEVERE railroading in the Pan Pacifica case even taking into account the PC's for this scenario are written as one-shot characters... honestly you're going to have to have a frank discussion with the players to the effect of " Look this is a horror-apocalypse kind of adventure where it's pretty much guaranteed everyone is going to die " prior to running the game and seeing how they feel about it.... I suppose a gamesmaster who is willing to put in the time can tweak the adventure such that it's not a certain death sentence for the PC's , particularly if the players object to this type of thing.
It's also worth pointing out that the campaign setting (Torg Core Rulebook) makes it clear the PC's are expected to be heroes, good guys who do the right thing ... for players who want something different it could be fun running a morally grey character (maybe you'll help the Storm Knights, maybe you'll help the dimensional invaders.. which benefits you more? The Reality Choir sourcebook does a fantastic job with this concept for certain factions it details in that book and I strongly recommend grabbing that book, see also my review of it) ... that would involve you deviating from the railroad the adventure sets up but in my opinion it's still do-able (you just don't bother rescuing the innocents screaming for help that pop up along the various adventures in this book ... though this creates the danger of splitting the party if say half of the PC's want to rescue the innocents and the other half don't).
The Living Land does a good job of establishing the "holy crap, dinosaurs and lizard men are invading Manhattan and a lot of people are turning into cavemen what do you do?!?" situation with the PC's having to deal with all sorts of outrageous scenarios such as fighting off an aquatic dinosaur trying to eat their boat and the people on it , dealing with a police chief who's gone primitive and all sorts of other stuff...
Asyle.. meh, I could take it or leave it but you should probably play through it anyways if nothing else so you know what it's like to be adventuring in that cosm. To give credit where it's due the Asyle atmosphere is tough for a writer to pull off, the forces of light and darkness, elves, dwarves, wizards, brave knights , dragons and undead all duking it out in the United Kingdom ... you would think it would make for a great adventure but I feel that there's too much going on , the scope is a little bit TOO broad to the point where you lose focus (which is a criticism I have of the Asyle sourcebook itself when I get around to writing a review on it.. still worth picking up given that Asyle is still a big part of invaded Core Earth) ...
I've already talked about how much I love the Pan Pacifica scenario and why , Tharkold was surprisingly " meh" for me as well, maybe because the whole techno-horror aspect of it is something that lends itself to a longer, drawn out campaign where you spend enough time with the NPC's to care about them when they're rended to bit by the techno-horror reality that dominates in that setting... I guess you could play up the "Mad Max" part of it that they're trying to draw on too but the problem is you're bopping from invading cosm to invading cosm in a typical Torg adventure and, again, you need to spend enough time in Tharkhold to actually care about the horror that's being inflicted upon the hapless NPC's...
The Nile Empire adventures is something that should have been fun with the clinging for dear life by your fingertips to your last hope yet somehow succeeding bravely against impossible odds atmosphere that's supposed to be prevalant in the campaign setting.. the problem here I think is putting everyday ordinary people in that sort of setting when (in my opinion) it really lends itself more to pulp heroes and is actually the one cosm setting where you DO want kick-butt characters.. rather than using the pre-written characters I would definitely tell the players to imagine some everyday person turned pulp hero (with the understanding they're not going to be "super powerful" like say batman or even daredevil, definitely not superman or wonder woman or spider man) and let the Nile Empire transform their PC's into the appropriate pulp hero right there at the start of the adventure - award experience points generously for painfully corny over the top dialogue and speeches and enforce my personal house rule " the law of dialogue" .. the moment you give a dramatic speech (whether hero or bad guy) EVERYONE has to stop and listen to said speech all action grinding to a complete halt ... so in my opinion the Nile Empire scenario is salvagable with some work...
The Cyberpapacy setting is something that you would think would be fun and it has the potential for that.. the problem is that the "big brother dictatorship holy crap they're controlling everyone's very thoughts and feelings" atmosphere is something that you need to spend time on in order to get that full immersion experience ... the way the adventure is written it's kind of thrust on the hapless populace far too quickly to the point where I don't think the full atmosphere of it is really going to sink into the player's minds. I would recommend some tweaking of this adventure ... and be careful here, players with real life religious convictions (I'm one of them) could be sensitive about this ...I'd like to think I'm not and I'm strong enough in my faith not to be too bothered by what's an imaginary scenario at the end of the day (bear in mind too I'm a religious person who actively supports and endorses LGBT rights which in and by itself can be a sensitive topic for players, see below but try to make sure everyone's either on the same page here or at the very least can respect each other's differences without it devolving into a real life shouting match) - if anything I would welcome the chance to play a religious PC who's incensed at the mockery the Cyberpapacy is making of what's supposed to be a faith based on above all else kindness and love of your fellow human beings if you're practicing Christianity properly to begin with,or Islam or Judiasm et cetera for that matter .. but the problem is the adventure doesn't really establish yet just how badly the Cyberpope is twisting his version of "Christianity" into something that's a horrible and terrible perversion of it because this is day one of the invasion and that hasn't been established yet...
.... so one tweak I would recommend is making sure the PC's either are very close to someone who is, or themselves fall into some minority category the Cyberpope will persecute (could be Muslim, Jewish, LGBT) and (months prior to the adventure having started) introduce agitators the PC's are all too familiar with , secret agents of the Cyberpope who have infiltrated France already and are doing their best to persecute said minorities.. the agitators greet the invading cyberpope's forces with obvious glee.. then (quite possibly with the agitators pointing right at the above mentioned minorities and saying " that's them right there") have the minorities rounded up (once they get to the mandatory " lecture to the masses" when PC's and NPC's alike are herded into the Roman Theater ancient landmark mentioned in the adventure) for what the Cyberpope's agents ominously refer to as "re-education" with some smiling cyberpriest talking about how he's going to "save their souls by putting them on the right path".. with it being abundantly clear the goal is conversion therapy (in the case of an LGBT person) and/or brainwashing them into following the Cyberpope's twisted religion with the cyberpriest spouting all sorts of stuff about how " God is in the machine" " Our cybernetic implants will rid you of your impure thoughts", " You will experience the ecstasy of the godnet once you are jacked into it " (the cyberpapacy sourcebook in my honest opinion is a mandatory purchase to run this adventure properly or any Cyberpapacy adventure for that matter) ... I know this is an incredibly controversial step that will probably hit close to home (and have a frank discussion with your players as to whether or not they're comfortable with this) but .. these are all things referred to in the cyberpapacy sourcebook and in my honest opinion are a great way of driving home that the Cyberpope is as the beloved Torg character Quinn Sebastian (see the Torg Core Rules book but us old school Torg fans are familiar with good old Quinn) likes to put it " Hitler in a frock".
I would go so far as to run a little "prequel" that takes place say one month before the "current events" (day one of the invasion) ... go around the table and run a scenario where it's just the one player character, the player character's beloved minority character (or if the PC is the minority the PC him/herself getting harassed) face to face with the Cyberpapal agent (of course they don't know yet it's a cyberpapal agent, agent doesn't have any cyberware or any other obvious give-aways) either pleading with the minority to change their ways " Because the one true god loves you" and/or obnoxiously threatening " the wrath of hellfire will be upon you ! Your soul will burn in eternal dammation" ... even if this agent gets the physical clobbering they deserve (let's assume said agent doesn't get flat out killed if nothing else because it's still core Earth France pre-invasion where that sort of thing results in jail time) assume they recover (if nothing else through - literally - miraculous healing from say reality rated cyberpapal agents) in time to show up during the "Day One" events of the adventure. I'm sure having these smug harassers show up when the riot breaks out in the adventure just in time for the PC's to punch them in the face (quite possibly for a second time if they got a punch one month ago) when the riot mentioned in the adventure breaks out would be immensely satisfying for the PC's. The presence of the agitators/sleeper agents could also make up for the players not using the pregenerated characters for this adventure if the players go that route.. the agitators simply whisper into the cyberpriest's ear who's giving the sermon and the cyberpriest then shows video footage - say from one month ago - of the reactions (probably negative) the PC's had to the agitators via the elaborate 3-D holographic projections the priest is effectively using as his big screen display. To warm the crowd up and make them really hostile to the PC's so they can be more easily "sicced" on the PC's here's another thought..
As written the adventure calls for a riot where some are in support of the cyberpapacy, others are against it and the PC's are right in the middle as the church police streetbeaters bear down on the PC's... bearing in mind that the atmosphere of the Cyberpapacy is supposed to be one of a frightenening totalitarian state (again I refer you to the Cyberpapacy sourcebook) here's another more chilling possibility... this will smack of being an obvious plot device but let's say a first planting gospog crawls out of , I dunno say a sewer somewhere , and starts beating on some hapless child ... you could say that the Cyberpope's darkness device actually took a personal interest here albeit briefly (I would guess even a darkness device has a lot going on to occupy it's attention on day one of a large scale invasion by the cyberpope's forces so it does this one thing then turns it's attention elsewhere - "beginner level" PC's should not have to deal with the full attention of a darkness device!) and triggers the previously inactive gospog (let's say sleeper agents of the cyberpope arranged the bureaucracy in such a way that this gospog's resting place in the sewers wasn't disturbed) to come out and attack this poor kid , beating the child nearly to death before the church police come to the child's rescue (the darkness device is playing the "long game" knowing this sets the populace up to witness a faith healing later on and that the nearby church police will save the child) ... bear in mind that the cyberpapacy sourcebook states that the gospog are basically sent to target the hapless populace so the cyberpapacy's forces look good in the eyes of said populace when they take down a gospog (also bear in mind that if I understand correctly as far as the church police know these monsters are "tools of the devil", "demonic forces", definitely and certainly not minions of their beloved cyberpope! ) ... and this happens right in plain view so everyone, PC's included, see what happens.. let's say this takes place prior to everyone being herded into the Roman Theater ... everyone sees a nun emerge from view where she was hidden from behind the church police desperately tending the child's wounds... some of the church police gently bear the child inside on a stretcher, refusing to let even self proclaimed medical professionals look at the child stating instead " The child will be cared for ... it is the true god's will.. trust us." Cue the cyberpriest doing a literal faith healing , the child's wounds miraculously closing and everyone being able to see it clearly thanks to the aforementioned 3-D projections showing it clearly to everyone and even from a distance people being able to see the child get up and walk around. Describe how everyone watches enraptured, some with tears of joy streaming down their face.. it's clear that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE except for the PC's and any beloved minorities of theirs , just got brainwashed... which would be in keeping with the world laws of the Cyberpapacy if I understand them correctly from the Cyberpapacy sourcebook.
Now here's where the scary part comes in.. the cyberpriest follows this up with the footage of the "heretic " PC's (remember the PC's are either minorities or have just been showing actively supporting "heretic" minorities) ... the cyberpriest denounces the PC's and their loved ones as heretics and suddenly the entire crowd is screaming for the PC's blood plus that of the PC's loved ones. (I know I keep referring to the PC's loved ones - the adventure stipulates the PC's have loved ones who get into trouble and need rescuing). This sets the stage for the PC's running for their lives (the adventure assumes that the PC's loved ones have been herded off elsewhere - personally I'm thinking it's best for the PC's not to even set sight on their loved ones or you'll have players staying put mob or no and their PC's dying to rescue said loved ones)...
Also, I understand that they set it in a village since it literally fits the medieval mindset the Cyberpapacy's dimensional laws support , though I'm disappointed they didn't set it in say a small city next to I dunno a sports arena or something instead of the Roman Colliseum where there's enough technology present and coming under the sway of the godnet to REALLY make things scary for the player characters ... " Big Brother is watching" is a core component of the Cyberpapacy and in my opinion really should have been encouraged... personally I would insert various pieces of technology in the village.. say screens on tripods that were showing re-anactments and dry historical commentary on the historical events the village was famous for (no doubt related to the giant Roman Colliseum the PC's end up in ) ... as the PC's run for their lives the video footage changes to a cheerful cybernun , cybernetic implants and all clearly visible, extorting the PC's from everything with a screen.. including any (now upgraded) cell phones or other devices the PC's are carrying .. to just surrender and accept their fate " because the one true god loves you and your death will cleanse you of your sins"... the cybernun is actually looking right AT the PC's to the point where her gaze follows the PC's whereever they they run, still spouting the same cheerful message about how the PC's should just give up... then insert the mysterious bearded man the adventure refers to (a priest from the cyberpapacy's invading cosm but presumably someone who practices Christianity the way it's supposed to be practiced, with love, kindness and decency - which of course makes him a heretic and the mortal enemy of the cyberpope and his forces) ... in this case the priest has helpers who lob enough tear gas grenades to slow down the mob and the priest rushes the PC's to safety.
As far as the upgrades the priest mentions.. and again this is where the cyberpapacy sourcebook really comes in handy .. remember, the godnet (the cyberpapacy's version of the internet only "better") is literally addictive and stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain.. to really drive home the hopeless totalitarian state of the cyberpapacy and the "good guys are in for tragedy" genre that is so common in cyberpunk (which the cyberpapacy sourcebook mentions you should look to for the general theme and mood of cyberpapacy campaigns)... have the PC's arrive too late... their loved ones just got a neural jack installed, they're now totally addicted to the cybernet, and even worse their loved ones denounce the PC's and do their best to sic the cyberpapacy's forces on them ... though of course the hapless PC's don't know this until it's too late. Maybe the PC's succeed in dragging a kicking and screaming beloved NPC out for "deprogramming" later on when Quinn Sebastian shows up, maybe not.. if you really want to make things tragic any PC who stays put trying to drag a resisting loved one out is overwhelmed by the cyberpapacy's forces with the brainwashed loved one adminstering the final death blow to the PC the loved one used to be so (emotionally) near to... the alternative for PC's who want to survive is to abandon their loved one to the cyberpapacy's forces. Anyways those are my (admittedly long winded) thoughts on how to improve the Cyberpapacy adventure.
I loved the Orrosh setting maybe because we're all fans of the horror genre (oddly enough I found it worked great for the Orrosh and Pan Pacifica setting, not so much for Tharkhold ) .. in my opinion the adventure does a great job of building up dread ... though it's worth noting the Orrosh adventure practically demands you use the pre generated characters that come with it .. or at the very least tell the players if they want to write up their own characters " This is an India wedding in a small village - so you're all from India, one of you is either the bride or the groom, one of you is the best man or the maid of honor, one of you is the priest officiating the wedding, the rest of you are dear friends of the families involved in this wedding and/or family members on either the bride or groom's side" ... so say if someone wants to play an Indian bride but REALLY wants that bride to be a brilliant doctor with dreams of going on to become a medical researcher you can do that, just make it clear that the bride comes from humble village origins (and obviously with the whole invaders from other dimensions thing going on the future career as a PhD or Doctorate medical researcher is going to have to wait )
Despite the criticisms I've noted, in my honest opinion this is still absolutely worth picking up even if you pay far below the suggested selling price (and again if you're feeling guilty remember - gateway drug! :) ... there's a reason the publishers have made it possible to pay less than the asking price). If you pay say one American dollar for it what do you have to lose? As a gamesmaster with the caveats aside I would have fun running this, as a player I would enjoy participating in it.