Several people I know recommended Troika! to me, and it's been one of the darlings of the UK OSR movement so what else could I do but back the Kickstarter when it was announced. It arrived over a year ago and I read it cover to cover pretty swiftly at the time, and then parked it. I know at the time it was one of those games you read, like and then think "Will I really do something with this?" simply from the shelf on which it was placed. It's in the RPG cupboard rather than immediately adjacent and available. It wasn't in the sell-on pile. And there it stayed, right until I read about Acid Death Fantasy and bought that Troika! setting on impulse. I've talked about that setting elsewhere, so I thought it was worth looking at the rules once more.
TL;DR: Troika! is a delight, both in terms of the light and simple - but comprehensive - system and the setting implicit from the backgrounds of characters and enemies. There aren't many science fantasy games out there, making this feel unique and very different. It's sharply crafted and stylish, and a good base to build from, as can be seen with the Acid Death Fantasy expansion (which although very different, could easily be in the same universe). The artwork is distinctive and adds to the flavour. It's definitely worth exploring.
The Troika! Numinous Edition is a 118-page full cover hardback book, printed at what I think is A5 (but I'm willing to be corrected). The artwork is quirky and unique, and very evocative, and shares an artist with Patrick Stuart's Silent Titans. The game defines a setting through the backgrounds of characters and their possessions and also with a very tightly focussed - and somewhat bizarre - introductory scenario. The setting is best described as science-fantasy.
If you've played any of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, the character stats will feel familiar; you have Skill (rolled on d3+3), Stamina (rolled on 2d6+12) and Luck (rolled on d6+6). Your character gets some standard possessions and then you roll a d66 to find your character background. It's random. Although I'd probably let a player decide which way they read the dice (sucks if you roll doubles, lady luck has pigeon holed you).
Each background has an illustration, a short paragraph loaded with hooks, possessions with give further hooks beyond their immediate usefulness. Often you have an either/or so you can choose how this plays out. Finally, you have some advanced skills. These define what your character is really good at. Or maybe not, if you base Skill is high.
Core mechanics use 2d6. You roll equal to or under a target number (which is either just your Skill, or your Skill plus Advanced Skill) or you roll versus. That's typically when you're competing against something, for example fighting. You add your Skill and any appropriate Advanced Skill to the role, looking to get higher than your opponent to succeed.
You may have to test your Luck to avoid consequences. This is a 2d6 roll under. Whenever you do this test you lose a point of Luck, which is a finite resource. Luck recovers every eight hours or so. You can test your Luck to break a tie in combat or use it to increase the damage that you roll if you successfully hit.
There's an option to Test your Luck if your Stamina hits zero to have your character be incapacitated rather than dead, but it's only an option. If you hit zero Stamina, you're dying and will be gone when the current combat round ends. Messy. Stamina regenerates from resting, and can also be boosted by eating provisions.
The initiative system is a bit different; each character gets two tokens, and their opponents get a variable number of tokens based on how nasty they are. An end of round token is added, and then the GM pulls the tokens from out of a bag. Thus turn order is completely random, and it's possible that the end of the round could come before you have a go. This means that advanced planning isn't something that you really need to be doing; you need to think on your feet.
Damage is rolled on a combat results table; you roll a d6 and reference the weapon type. Weapons that aren't included are interpolated from the others on the table. Shields give a reduction to the roll made, not the damage itself. Armour reduces damage, but you will always suffer a minimum of a point.
The encumbrance system is simple; you have a number of inventory slots and the order is important, as the further down your bag they are, the more chance that you can't pull them out in a hurry.
You can't increase Skill, Stamina or Luck from experience, but you can increase Advanced Skills by rolling over your Skill total on 2d6. Once skill hits 12, you're very unlikely to raise it. If you find a teacher, you can learn new skills, with your aptitude for this determined by your base Skill. There is a list of Advanced Skills but you're encouraged to make them up if appropriate.
There are several pages of spells; these cost Stamina to cast plus a roll under your (advanced) skill with that spell. Double 1 is always a success, and Double 6 gives a trip to the OOPS! table, a d66 table which - amongst other things - can turn the unsuccessful wizard into a pig. Mmm. Bacon.
There's a collection of enemies, which are mostly unique. The scale of Dragons reminds me a little of Gloranthan dragons. Troika! dragons are "beings of hyper-light, unburdened by base matter, able to sort across the dark sea of sky between worlds. They're immortal but can manifest to cause base damage and wanton destruction, knowing that they cannot be truly hurt. Tower wizards are also entertaining; basically, they're wizards-gone-feral who raise towers and give magic a bad name. All in all, it's a great bestiary to perplex and threaten your players with.
The final section is the introductory adventure, called the Blancmange and Thistle. The characters have all recently arrived in the city of Troika! perhaps even on a Golden Barge pulled between planets on its Golden Sails. They have booked into a hotel - 'The Blancmange and Thistle" - and end up in the unfortunate situation that they have to share a room on the sixth floor and they must attend the party on the roof garden or cause offence. So, they get to take the lift or the stairs and events ensue. It's a very unique feeling adventure but gives a great way to bring a disparate party together. Attending the party leads to a series of plot hooks for future delights.
The book rounds out with character sheets and the OOPS! table across the end covers.
Troika! is a delight, both in terms of the light and simple - but comprehensive - system and the setting implicit from the backgrounds of characters and enemies. There aren't many science fantasy games out there, making this feel unique and very different. It's sharply crafted and stylish, and a good base to build from, as can be seen with the Acid Death Fantasy expansion (which although very different, could easily be in the same universe). The artwork is distinctive and adds to the flavour. It's definitely worth exploring.
4th October 2020