Thursday, August 23, 2018


Erik creates a character

Troika is an unpredictable, fast paced, rules-light, multiplanar RPG inspired by old-school British fantasy. Think Warhammer (FRP and 40K), Fighting Fantasy, and Dragon Warriors. Think Moorcock, not Tolkien. New Crobuzon, not King's Landing. It's the brainchild of Daniel Sell and Jeremy Duncan.

I just finished running a two session game of Troika. It was a lot of fun, especially the second session, when I got a better sense of how to handle NPCs. Small differences in Skill level can be quite significant in combat.

Character generation is quick. There are three stats: (general) Skill, Stamina (which functions as hit points), and Luck (which decrements). There are also Advanced (i.e., specific) Skills and Spells, which function similarly to Skills in terms of  dice rolls.

The game uses a 2D6 die roll mechanic. You try to roll equal to or under the sum of your Skill + Advanced Skill (or Spell) when you are not in combat or direct competition with someone else. During combat and competition, Skills (and targeted Spells) are successful when you roll higher than your opponent.  Casting reduces Stamina, as does damage from weapons, which can also be quite variable.

The system has two killer apps. One is character generation. After generating your three core stats, you roll a D66 (i.e., two D6's, with the first die representing the 10-60, and the second die representing 1-6). The number you roll specifies your character Background, which can be anything from Cacogen (a "hideous" alien, a la Gene Wolfe's Shadow of the Torturer series), to a Chaos Champion, to a Gremlin Catcher, to a Golden Barge Pilot (think baroque 40K starships, or the starships with solar sails in Wolfe's Urth of the New Sun) - and many other Backgrounds.

The Backgrounds are evocative, and help define and give directionality to the setting and the activities of the player characters. As well as the evocative descriptions, Backgrounds also provide Advanced Skills and possessions/equipment. For instance, the Gremlin Catcher gets a "small but vicious dog".

Here's a sample character:

Jay's Cacogen

The other killer app is the game's unique approach to initiative. Each PC puts two dice of the same color in the GM's dice bag. (You need a pair of D6's of a unique color for each PC at the table.) Each NPC has an Initiative score, and the GM puts that many dice in the bag to represent each NPC. Initiative is determined by pulling dice from the bag. One additional die of a unique color is also placed in the bag as a turn-end counter. If your die is pulled, you have initiative. Most rolls are contested, and if the defender has the higher roll, then the "defender" can deal damage, even when they don't have initiative. A round ends as soon as the turn-end counter is pulled, which can happen at any time. The initiative system is therefore quite unpredictable, since adversaries (or PCs) may keep initiative for a few successive die pulls , and a round may end at any time with a pull of the turn-end die.

In tonight's two-hour session, players encountered and healed a fungal space-narwhal that had been wounded by an adamantine space-harpoon; the Chaos Champion faced off against a Mind Sloth inside a secret Chaos shrine hidden within a golden barge - shown here using a paper miniature created by Evlyn Moreau:

Paper miniature by Evlyn Moreau

 And, the Golden Barge Pilot faced off against a fearsome Mumbling Bird who was trying to steal the dead-captain's portolan; the creature is shown below:

This was a really fun, trippy game!  I look forward to running Troika again at a convention or at our game table in the near future. Be sure to check out the Troika Kickstarter if this kind of old-new weird sounds like your cuppa java!

Monday, May 7, 2018

It's Official!

It's Official! I'll be running Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea for Free RPG Day, on Saturday, June 16, 10 AM-2 PM, at Source Comics and Games in Roseville, Minnesota. One of the Source's staff had a great time playing the game at GaryCon, and was very receptive to me running the game as part of their massive Free RPG Day event! So I hope to see some ASSH fans there!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Game of Cat and Mouse - and More

Cold Light demon illustration by Les Edwards

This weekend, I completed two more of Karl Edward Wagner's Kane stories, as collected in Death Angel's Shadow.  In the novella "Cold Light", Kane plays a deadly game of cat and mouse in a mostly-abandoned city long ago devastated by plague. It felt like a desert ghost town from a Western. The crusaders who hunt Kane soon become the hunted, and their pretensions of killing Kane in the cold light of "good" only serve to expose their dark deeds. Watch out for paladins... and for their retainers, especially the ones who summon demons. But really all of them. This novella was about 108 pages long, but well-paced for its length.

I'm not sure how you'd make "Cold Light" gameable. To do so, you'd have to structure the adventure so that the PCs gradually reveal themselves to be murderhobos. Some of that could be accomplished using storygame mechanics such as flashbacks, or by PbtA style mechanics in which things go wrong more often than they go right.

The second story was "Mirage". There is an essay called "The Once and Future Kane" in the back of the Centipede Press edition of Death Angel's Shadow, in which Wagner describes his other Kane anthology, Night Winds approvingly as "pure acid gothic". This short story is entirely in that vein. It's a worthy Weird Tale, indeed. I won't spoil it, other than to say that Kane grows from the experience, and learns that undeath is even more boring that immortality.

This story is no more gameable than most of C.L. Moore's Weird Tales. But very enjoyable nevertheless.

Since I am reading the Kane stories in the order of Kane's life, it is time to close Death Angel's Shadow for the moment, and begin reading the third and final Kane novel, Darkness Weaves.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Reflections on the Winter of My Soul

Cover art by Frank Frazetta

Wolves, werewolves, madness. A bard, a visitor, deep snow, and a baron's family. On New Year's Day, I finished the Kane novella, "Reflections on the Winter of My Soul" by Karl Edward Wagner. The story evokes Beowulf, with its great hall under siege by a great beast. But unlike Beowulf, the siege also contains a mystery or two: the household slaughter may be an inside job.

As with my previous Kane readings, I am using the recent five volume collection of Kane novels and short stories published by Centipede Press. This novella is in Death Angel's Shadow, which in its Centipede edition collects both early and late Kane stories. Since I am reading the Kane stories in the approximate order of Kane's life, I will be reading two more stories in this collection, and then switching to the third and final Kane novel, Darkness Weaves.

But back to the story. "Reflections" builds a bit slowly, although perhaps I am just distracted by other things I'm reading, and having a bit of reader's fatigue from having already read around 1,000 pages of Kane content (two novels, numerous short stories) over the last month. But that being said, around page 80, the novella really takes off, and maintains that pace for the last 30+ pages.

The story involves both investigation and combat, and could easily be adopted as a scenario for an RPG set in a far northern lands with isolated manors. I can already think of a way to use it with Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea.