Troika! Review!

A Rules Light Fun Heavy System

Please note that this review is based on the 1st edition, art-free PDF version of Troika!. I initially was planning to wait till I had the physical copy in my hand (available at Dragonmeet this weekend) to do a review but, well, I’m an impatient guy and Troika! is diamond.

Troika! is from the mind of Daniel Sell and illustrated by the talented Jeremy Duncan (just look at that front cover!). In the introduction, Dan remarks in his whimsical way that this is another one of those quick to explain, pick up and play systems with a few differences. He’s gone back to the drawing board and thought, “What can I do better?”; there’s an important distinction between that mindset and the standard “What can I do different?”, which does not always produce a playable game.

I timed my character creation and it came in at a few minutes, with the delays only being where I was reading the descriptions: character creation consists of a handful of D6 rolls to determine four things – your Skill, your Stamina, your Luck, and your Background. Your Background in turn determines your starting possessions and skills, as well as a vague overview of what your character is like to get you straight into the mix. There’s no experience tracking to upgrade levels or similar, alignments, general fluff. This is a bare bones system that is ripe for tinkering and adapting.

The suggested character sheet you fill in is simple, clear to read and understand at a glance. As you enter in your Skills, you add in your Base Skill in the provided columns alongside the Skill specific ratings column and you get your totals. Any checks made against the Skill are a 2d6 roll, rolling under for success.

Combat is where the meat of the system lies, and Troika! presents a fantastic cinematic feel to the clash of swords and the zap of spells. Rolling to beat an AC number is absent (those of you who know me will know of my deep frustration with rolling-to-hit mechanics), and in instead combat consists of an opposed roll. Want to stick your sword in someone? You both roll under your skill, winner then rolls for damage; in a tie no one is hurt but the Player can do a Luck check to see if they can take the edge. Alternatively if the Player wins they can do a Luck check to see if they can inflict more damage. There are two plus points to this method:

  1. Something happens. The chances of turn after turn of stale mate is very slim.
  2. In one turn, you could potentially damage all your opponents providing they attack you. Makes for a far more impressive round as well as speeding combat up.

Damage is determined through a combination of dice roll and weapon type. Roll a d6, find the weapon you’re using on the damage table and check the damage caused based on the dice roll.

The Hollywood effect doesn’t end there however, as Initiative has also been given a jiggle. Instead of working out an initiative order at the start then proceeding through the round, the GM fills a bag with coloured tokens reflecting each of the player characters (each player gets two tokens to represent them), one colour to represent the enemy (regardless of number, though different enemies get more or less tokens), and one token to represent the round end. At the start of the round, the GM draws a token out and that corresponding person moves, and so on until the Round End token is drawn out. This means that potentially not all parties will get to move in a turn, reflecting unexpected delays (hesitation, confusion, actions taking longer than planned).

A negative point here to highlight: I only know that the player gets two tokens to their initiative going by a sentence mentioned later on when discussing Enemy initiative rolls. As Troika! is quite straight forward, any competent GM reading up on the system properly would pick up on this but it’d be nice in future editions of Troika! to organise the info into one section for smoothness.

Stamina measures your health, and your ability to cast spells – when this is depleted, you’re dead. The nature of it of course lends itself to other uses; monitoring starvation, tiredness (from when those PCs pull all-nighters through dungeons), to travelling long distances at forced march.

The book goes on to list an impressive collection of spells that mages can fling based on their Stamina level, a list of potential items (and what bonuses they bring to the rolls), and an “Opps” table for when a mage screws up a spell. There’s also some Skills listed in detail, and an Enemies section that goes into a bit more detail on how they work mechanically. For example, Enemies cant test luck, they have a standard armor number, and they don’t waste Stamina casting spells. There is also a list of enemies your players could encounter, along with their respective stats.

While no setting is explicitly stated, the descriptions of entries for the various aspects of the system all build this vibrant amusing world. For example, take the Troll description:

Trolls are ill-tempered creatures, often spied leaning on a pike in the town square gabbing with the other guards while taking the occasional break to shout at a child or trip up an old lady. You’d think they’d stop hiring them.

These delightful snippets of text are one of the reasons I enjoy reading Dan’s work. It’s that charming kind of dry humour that reads well while also putting me in mind of the Dungeon Keeper narrator.

Overall Troika! is a light system that manages to achieve a lot. The rules create excitement and drama, the stats are meaningful, and the whole thing is ripe for modification to your own needs and desire. While some of the stat blocks and tables visually are a bit spartan (the header row for example on the Damage table isn’t immediately indicative of what the table is doing for example), it feels like this is a deliberate move – by keeping things clean and basic, it allows for very easy adaptation and changing.

You can either purchase Troika! from the man himself at Dragonmeet this year, or pick up the art-free PDF version from here. In the future, it will be available from the Melsonian Arts Council storefront in all formats.

EDIT: Daniel has decided to offer up Troika! before Dragonmeet, you can purchase your copy online from here.

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