Despite the "4 " rating I stand by my original statement in the Torg Eternity Core Rules review ... all the Torg cosm sourcebooks are a must-buy in order to properly and fully enjoy the Torg campaign setting, even the Asyle sourcebook (which honestly is probably going to just get a 3 out of 5 review from me by the time I get around to writing a review for it - yet I would view it as a must buy as well given the nature of the Torg campaign setting). I enjoyed the Living Land sourcebook a lot more in terms of it's ability to tackle not only the crunchy hard rules/mechanics side of the invading cosm but also the "fluffy" world building , describing in great detail the society and world of the invading realm plus an equally detailed discussion of conquered areas and how they are scrambling to react to the invading realm (though for an even more in depth analysis of not only that but all the invading cosms and conquered areas reaction to said invasion I cannot recommend Torg Eternity the Reality Choir enough ... heck even if you can't pay the full price snag it at whatever price you can afford and after you're thoroughly impressed by reading it - and you will be - when you can afford it go back and buy a second copy at whatever price you didn't pay so you can give this writer his full due .. though at the time I write this review the suggested price has been cut in half from the time I purchased it , very generous move on the writer's part. I have a review of Reality Choir if you want to read it but I digress, back to the Cyberpapacy).
(also edit and update - forgot to include the page count.. like all of the torg cosm sourcebooks, living land, orrosh and so forth this clocks in at 146 pages .. not a complaint by any means I consider it to be 146 pages of good stuff :) , albeit with the caveats mentioned above and below .. the original 1990's Cyberpapacy sourcebook that I also recommend grabbing is about 112 pages)
There was one reviewer who gave the Torg Eternity Core Rulebook two out of five stars describing it as quote " it doesn't feel like Torg to me. It's kind of like an android duplicate of an old friend with the personality of an internet chatbot " ... while I respectfully disagree I do see his point in that the original Torg books of the 1990's were known for going into greater detail on the "fluffy world building" part of the torg setting.... whereupon the current incarnation, Torg Eternity, while remaining a wonderful update to the original , at times could be accused of focusing too much on the crunchy "hard rules, statistics for things" part of the game and less so on the stuff that REALLY brings the campaign to life for some people... a detailed write up of the society and outlook of the invaders and an equally detailed writeup of invaded Earth and it's reaction to said invaders. And to be clear this current (Torg Eternity) incarnation of the Cyberpapacy sourcebook DOES touch upon the "fluffy world building" part, delightfully so in some sections as I'll go into more detail on later on .. just not as much so as the original 1990's version of the Cyberpapacy sourcebook.
To be clear I don't consider Torg Cyberpapacy to be a bad book at all ... the crunchy hard rules and stats stuff was very much needed and the problem with the original Torg books from the 1990's was they ended up evolving into a sprawling mess of game mechanics all over the place that at times contradicted each other.... so Torg Eternity does a great job of tightening things up and revamping the rules in a way that makes the game much more fun to play and the publishers absolutely deserve to be lauded for that. There's a lot of great stuff in here that I would argue is mandatory for fleshing out the mini-Cyberpapacy one act scenarios that pop up so frequently in various Torg Eternity publications and/or fleshing out the areas where the player characters do end up visiting the Cyberpapacy as they hop from realm to realm in the course of say some long realm-spanning adventure put out by the publishers or that the gamemaster comes with on his/her/their own. All the necessary "hard crunchy" stuff is provided here to make that happen and in all fairness there are gaming groups who fall into either one of the below categories which make the "fluffy world building" parts of a book unnecessary
groups of players who really don't want to write up even say a background description for their character, not even a single paragraph.. or a very sparse single paragraph at that... players who are far more interested in grabbing cool new abilities powers and gear for their characters, leveling up, and completing the mission by defeating the bad guy.. the game isn't a soap opera " I bring my character's personaity to life with great pathos and feeling" sort of thing for them. Please note that this is NOT a criticism of said gaming groups by any means, there are a ton of different gaming groups out there each driven by what is enjoyable for them and what fits one gaming group won't fit another.
gamesmasters who (bless their soul for their creativity, dedication and hard work ) bristle at the thought of a publisher telling them how things are going to unfold in THEIR campaign world and who are perfectly happy putting in the necessary time and work thank you very much as far as exactly how the invaders from another dimension think, their culture, society and background and exactly how earth reacts to these invaders... in which case the "fluffy world building" part is completely unnecessary since the gamesmaster is going to write up original material for this on his/her/their own. For players like myself however who can and will write up a 5 page essay going into excruciating detail on their character's background, personality, and motivations to either delight (or bore :P ) the gamesmaster with depending on what your GM is like ... a detailed description of the society, personalities, and background of both the invading cosm and earth's reaction to said invasion is music to our ears... it gives us a detailed tapestry we can weave our character's background and personality into. And this is where the 1990's version of the Cyberpapacy sourcebook delivered enormously... it had the opposite problem in not enough crunchy rules type stuff to make a cyberpapacy campaign feasible but here's only a partial list of highlights of what it delivered that the current Torg Eternity Cyberpapacy book lacks
introductory flavor text that perfectly describes a typical (invading high lord) Jean Malreux's sermon to the masses (though obviously you'd have to change the reference to modems as far as urging people to jack into the godnet since we nowadays are far more likely to use fiber optic cable or satellites or what have you as opposed to phone lines) .. compare to the introductory flavor text in Torg Eternity's Cyberpapacy that (I'm sorry publishers I know this is cruel of me to say) gave me the impression I was on a bad acid trip when I was done reading it :P .. I get why they did the flavor text that way, it did summarize an important event that took place in the cyberpapacy timeline but as far as that "first impression" of the cyberpapacy sourcebook it was, I'm sorry to say, weak compared to the grim dystopian feeling the introductory text of the 1990's cyberpapacy sourcebook gave you .. it lacked that "wow" factor that makes you think " Hey I could really DO something with this sourcebook.
an example religious pamphlet distributed by the cyberpapacy page 13 of the original 1990's cyberpapacy sourcebook
flavor text on page 16 describing a typical day in the life of the cyberpope (specifically how he exploits earth for his own gain not to mention his hypocrisy regarding his own religion)
the callous treatment of a random jackpriest targeted by the "master of monitors" (page 20) which clearly defines and establishes that grim dystopian feel of the cyberpapacy ... even members of Jean Malreux's flock aren't safe.
a wonderful section that goes into greater detail of the structure of the cyberpapacy's church/forces (pages 18-24)
page 27 for some well written flavor text describing a cyberpope controlled television broadcast
a breakdown of the provinces of france and how the cyberpope is controlling each one and activities in said provinces (pages 31-35)
a map with locations of all the cyberpope's churches and monastaries in France (page 36) , the improved rail system in france due to the tech surge (presumably) and a map of where the railroads go in france (pages 37-38)
the city of avignon and a write up of common places found in the cyberpapacy like a chop shop where illegal cyberware is installed and a godware hospital where those who worship the cyberpope go to get cyberware installed and a church police checkpoint (pages 37-44)
a wonderfully descriptive passage of an average day at a chopshop where a cyberpriest they thought was dead is being stripped of his cyberware which in turn will be installed into any buyers willing to pay the price (page 41) a detailed chapter and write up of the city of Paris itself.. and the list goes on and on ... Basically what I'm trying to say is that if you purchase the Torg Eternity Cyberpapacy sourcebook, it is absolutely worth your time and money to buy the original Torg Cyberpapacy sourcebook as well .. consider them to be two halves of a whole, and together they present a powerhouse that easily makes the Cyberpapacy (in my opinion) the most compelling, rewarding, evocative invading cosm of Torg Eternity. I realize there are some readers out there who probably think the publisher is paying me to write this stuff - buy the old and the new Torg books? :P ... and I swear that's not the case, and I admit to being biased as a huge fan of the 1990's Torg books when they first came out.. but I will tell you this - of all the Torg publications of the 1990's the original Torg Cyberpapacy sourcebook was hands down my favorite. I do sincerely wish the publisher would let you buy the original torg books at a discount if you buy the modern day versions of the books or at least discount the 1990's books below the current price the publisher is charging for them (maybe say three or four dollars American per book.. or even a pay what you want price since these books have effectively been rendered outdated by Torg Eternity)... but do yourself a favor, click on the Ulisses Spiele link you see on the left hand side of this webpage, click on Torg (not Torg Eternity) , find the original cyberpapacy sourcebook and buy that and read it. You won't be disappointed.
Also to be fair I totally get Ulisses Spiele's approach and why they're doing this and I agree to a certain extent.... if you look at the Torg Eternity lineup they are cranking out a TON of material for the campaign setting and as any experienced fan of RPG's will tell you, a campaign setting and it's RPG lives or dies depending on how much material you put out for it for people to use.. there are a lot of RPG players who are busy.. they have a family and kids, work, a combination of the above, they're busy college students, or they're simply not inclined to write up all this material and would rather buy it and there's nothing wrong with that.. and the more material you give them to work with the happier they are. Given all the material the publisher is coming out with I think it would be an impossible task for them to give all this "fluffy world building" material on top of that gamers like myself want and bear in mind not ALL gamers are like me and demand that our games be soap operas on top of everything else. I also salute Ulisses Spiele for their Infiniverse approach (basically giving writers free rein to publish their own Torg Eternity stuff independent Ulisses Spiele if I understand correctly) which gives writers who DO have the time for "fluffy world building" stuff to write that kind of thing as a supplement .. again I cannot recommend " Torg Eternity Reality Choir" enough as one such example and I am eagerly looking forward the "fluffy world building" stuff Infiniverse writers come up with for Torg Eternity Cyberpapacy in particular.. perhaps a sourcebook(s) that describes the Cyberpapacy dominated parts of Spain, Portugal and Brazil.
Okay so let's get to a more detailed review of the sourcebook itself .. and again I'm not saying it's a BAD sourcebook by any means there's a lot of good stuff in here.
Introductory part once you get past the acid trip flavor introductory text is great, it describes in broad strokes Malreux's strategy of invading Earth and overlaying it with his dimension all the while deceiving the populace and convincing them he's there to save them all, he's their one single hope against the other "real" dimensional invaders and so forth. Using the same broad strokes the sourcebook goes on to detail the structure of the Cyberpapal religion and it's society within conquered Earth , the "rating system" used in the cyberpapal religion and the perks it gives it's citizens (which obviously won't apply to player character storm knights fighting against the cyberpapacy but it gives a wonderful insight into what the PC's have to deal with as far as a happily brainwashed conquered populace which does not WANT to be saved for the most part) including but not limited to free cyberware ... problems with your limbs? Bad heart? Bad liver? Not any more the cyberpapacy will take care of that for you - for free! All it costs is your free will, independence, your freedom and oh yes the posssibility of being killed even if you're innocent just because someone THOUGHT you were against the cyberpapacy even though you really weren't... of course the populace doesn't figure that part out until it's too late... and of course there's the persecution of Jews, Muslims, the LGBT population and the disabled part of the population that doesn't WANT to be "upgraded" in terms of having their disabilities cured. I also got a big kick not only out of the piety scores but also how there's an actual point system detailed in the book that can be applied to the populace (as in an actual list of actions you can take and how much your piety score raises and lowers by said actions, accusing a family member of heresy to the cyberpapacy will net you a lot of points ... if memory serves me correctly your piety score or something similar literally appears above your avatar in the godnet which I also thought was a great touch).. also a fun read for me was how cyberware installed by the cyberpapacy literally watches you on the cyberpapacy's behalf.. as does all that nice shiny upgraded technology .. enjoying your holographic television set? Too bad it's reporting everything you do back to the cyberpapacy.. and so forth.
The society and politics part of the cyberpapacy is very well written too, and I enjoyed reading the state of the war section and how the not yet conquered areas of earth near to the cyberpapacy are responding to this threat.
There's a lot of cyberpapacy specific perks including some fun stuff on having your very own drones (flying tech type stuff that answers to you) and an expanded cyberware section that gives info on all sorts of fun new implants for player characters and non player characters (whether enemy or not) alike. I liked, and also did not like, the revamped version of spirit chips .. if memory serves me correctly in the original 1990's cyberpapacy sourcebook someone's personality was encoded on the chip and slotting that chip into your chipholder gifts you with the ability not only to talk to that personality but also to access that personality's skills.. in the cyberpapacy sourcebook version it instead gifts the recipient with the blessing (or curse) of going into the godnet's version of heaven or hell depending on how you are judged (the depiction of the godnet as basically holy and having it's own versions of heaven and hell.. the godnet is basically the afterlife here on earth inbedded in the technology that in and by itself is viewed as holy by the cyberpapacy .. is a fascinating concept and also a very fun read not to mention that the godnet is literally physically addictive, stimulating the pleasure centers of your brain) if your physical body should die (your personality and soul basically gets zapped into the godnet) ... as well the cyberpriests of the godnet, babel monitors, can possess your body at will. Lacking however is that neat " hey there's a personality on this chip I just jacked into my cyberware I have access to - cool ! " bit that I confess to missing quite a bit.
The chapters on magic and spiritual miracles also comes with some nice background info on the history (and persecution) of the witches that practice magic and some more info on the church - it's history - and spiritual beliefs of the cyberpapacy in the spiritual miracles section plus of course new spells for both sections. The godnet chapter, including detailed info on how to hack your way in there, info on both the physical machine-based layer and the virtual reality inside, and the function of the cyberpriests administering said godnet is also a terrifically fun read especially given how the godnet itself is an extension of High Lord Malreux's darkness device. The gear section has oodles of wonderful high tech goodies for people who love high tech but would rather not install it into their own bodies (and something I forgot to mention above yes you can install cyberware which does not come with the cyberpapacy monitoring tech either by using up perk slots or simply by having enough in-game money to have it installed - naturally the second option gets much more complicated but it's a possibility).
The warzones chapter goes into still more detail on the areas of earth the cyberpapacy has conquered, the unconquered areas that are fighting back and torg eternity's version of "random wandering monsters" in terms of the threats PC's will most likely face depending on what region of earth you're in at the time. Also a fun read. The axiom chapter and world laws does a great job of explaining how the axioms and world laws have shaped cyberpapal society and it's people.. particularly fascinating to me was the social axiom and how the cyberpapacy can't help but basically screw itself over due to it's own inefficient bureaucracy that actually helps the PC's and other cyberpapal enemies despite the high tech "big brother is watching you" feel of the realm as well as the law of stagnation ... pioneering scientists ? Not allowed never mind that high tech axiom - technology comes to you through divine inspiration, period, and if you dare to try to get say a school of science going you're going to be burned at the stake much like the scientists centuries ago were persecuted by the church " Of course the earth is the center of the universe not the sun ! Die heathen ! " and so forth ... sure there's monks working away in factories creating cyberware and sure these monks (read cyberpapacy approved scientists) might come up with some new piece of cyberware or other technology .. but (presumably) only if Malreux's darkness device allows it. Heaven help you (pun intended) if you come up with that stuff through your own brilliance... notice that I'm spitballing here and filling in the gaps, the book heavily implies it but doesn't come right out and say it ..
... which is the problem I have with the torg eternity version of the cyberpapacy sourcebook.. it has a lot to cover and it does so brilliantly but sometimes does so in very broad strokes.. the advantage of the 1990's torg cyberpapacy sourcebook is it's scope is much smaller making it much more limited but what it does cover it does so in loving detail... Moving on we have a great chapter on Malreux which is far better written and goes into greater detail on the high lord and his background, personality, motivations and relations with his darkness device and the other high lords than the original 1990's torg cyberpapacy sourcebook.. one thing I do miss from the 1990's book however was the detailed historical analysis and timeline that highlights how Malreux's dimension was similar to our own at first (the history of the crusades and so forth) and then where it diverged creating an alternate history and timeline.. I would have loved to see somethign similar in the Torg Eternity book but, again, I understand the publishers have space constraints.
Also great is the writeup of the cyberpapacy's stelae and the new defenses available to it, a look at Malreux's darkness device and it's relation to the godnet .. this darkness device in particular is a fun read.. never mind Malreux becoming that ultimately powerful being (like all the other darkness devices are guiding their high lords towards), the Torg, the darkness device wants that title for itself ! (and has set into motion a plan for doing so). Also great is the write up of the cyberpapal church and the factions within it including the hypocritical "Cabal" that uses the same practioners of the the magic malreux decries as heretic to not only grow the gospog Malreux uses to terrify the population (so not as foot soldiers like the other high lords use them as, but rather as threats that only Malreux can save the terrified populace from thus further cementing his control over the masses) but also to flat out terrorize the populace with "evil spell casting witches " who , in addition to terrifying the populace with their heretical magic, literally summon demons to cause further terror chaos and pain.. and of course, says Malreux, if that is happening to you then obviously your only recourse is to pray to Malreux and he will save you. These are the forces of evil (magic and demons) coming for you after all - only the cyberchurch can save you!
Following that is a great chapter on the Delphi Council that, like in other Torg cosm sourcebooks and the core rules themselves, acts as the resistance force against the invading high lords ... the chapter details the structure and organization of the delphi council , notable personalities and leadership (though my usual gripe applies here in terms of not having statistics for these notable persons) and some neat other organizations also rebelling against the cyberpapacy but sadly are only given a one paragraph description each and which are practically begging for their own sourcebooks that hopefully someone using torg infiniverse will write up one day (basically the publishers have opened the gates to persons not officially working for the publishers writing and publishing their own torg eternity material if I understand correctly).
Next chapter is the themes of a cyberpapacy based adventure and how it should be run, fantastic read which provides a lot of insight into the very reality of the cyberpapacy and (literally) how things work there.. the next to final chapter gives stats for various enemies the PC's are likely to face whether it be gospog (although again note that the gospog aren't used as shock troops by Malreux which is a fun concept in and by itself - imagine the look on confused church police soldiers's faces..well if you could see their faces behind their helmets.. when the PC's jump in and fight shoulder to shoulder with them to take down those gospog looking to murder those innocent civilians both the church police and the PC's are trying to protect), cyberware enhanced threats such as booster dogs (cybernetically enhanced dogs), cartagas (a mindless human body with a spirit chip being controlled remotely by a cyberpriest), cygoyles (cyber gargoyles) and stats for a wide variety of cyberpapal forces (cyberpriests, foot soldiers like the cyberknights and stats for beings the PC's might encounter within the godnet like the terrifying babel monitors)... the final chapter is the one I have the usual gripe about as far as eternity shards.. the original creation type ones that don't appear in real-life earth's history (or at least inspired by real earth history) are nice but I'd rather see more of the real life earth inspired ones like " Napoleon's Bicorne" or maybe some sword a member of the French Revolution was using, stuff like that.
Overall there's a lot of stuff to like in this sourcebook and it's absolutely worth the purchase price don't get me wrong. It covers a lot of ground the original Torg cyberpapacy sourcebook of the 1990's did not cover and it does it well. And I totally get that the page count alone would stop the publishers from going into as much "fluffy world building" detail as I would like and I have to say the publishers actually did a good job there and devoted a fair amount of the book to it - I'd just like to see more (and again bear in mind not all gamers are like me and are not going to request that sort of thing). Overall this is a worthy addition to any Torg Eternity fan's library and, like all Torg cosm sourcebooks, an essential purchase in order to fully enjoy the game ... and the Cyberpapacy in particular is a cosm you can have a lot of fun with. But I still recommend grabbing the 1990's original Torg sourcebook too and mining the stuff in it for all that it's worth.