Running Troika! with family

it’s also legal to buy and sell drugs if you do it through a mandrill

A while back I bought Daniel Sell’s Troika! RPG. It’s… strange. The Troika! game universe reminds me more than anything else of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but with rather more fantasy elements. It’s very whimsical, very British, very surreal, and very silly. As for the rules, after playing Into the Odd with its very, very pared-down ruleset, I found Troika! a bit long-winded (even though its rules are pretty minimal compared with many games). But I absolutely love the rule for determining who goes next in combat, which can produce really interesting results. It allows participants to carry out one, multiple, or no actions during a round, depending on the order in which a bunch of cards or tokens are drawn.

The game book includes a truly great introductory adventure, one of the best (certainly the silliest) things I’ve ever read, called the Blancmange & Thistle. I played through it with 2 relative RPG newbies: my wife (who’d previously played 1 session of Into the Odd and 2 of I’m Sorry Did You Say Street Magic) was playing a Chaos Champion called Minx, while my 26 year-old daughter (who’d only ever played a session of Honey Heist) played a Thaumaturge called Thora Turd. A report of their play is given below – contains some spoilers (although, given how far they got in the adventure, not many).

The two player characters met for the first time outside the hotel; they’d each been hired to work on the same job; they were to meet their patron in the morning. Some quick introductions followed, and soone they realised they’d be working together. (My plan was to run them through another module, Slow Sleigh to Plankton Down, if and when they completed the hotel adventure).

Entering the lobby, and enquiring at the reception desk, they discovered that, due to a festival being celebrated on the roof, they would be sharing a room on the top floor. They were handed their room key and, examining the hotel map, discovered that they could take either of two routes to their room: via the lift, or the stairs.

They chose the stairs, which disappointed me somewhat. Encounters up the stairs are a little (only a little) less quirky than those in the lift, likely to involve more combat and less roleplay. Still, I managed to keep my disappointment to myself, and they mounted the spiral staircase.

Each step had a carving on its face, and they examined a couple of these. They weren’t sure what these represented, or what function they served in the game, until I pointed out that “sometimes things are just decorated”. Even so, they remained suspicious. Minx, who had a skill allowing her to read Chaos signs, kept on asking “is this a sign? Is that a sign? Can I see any signs?” It wasn’t, and she couldn’t.

Approaching the first floor, they saw owls flying in the stairwell and around the landing. On the landing was a maid, cowering from these owls. Thora decided that a Thunder spell would be appropriate, the resulting soundwave knocking four of the six owls out of the air, and puncturing the eardrums of the maid (whom they later, forgetfully, tried to engage in conversation). The next quarter-of-an-our or so was a maelstrom of melée, as owls found their wings again, were knocked out of the window, flew back in through the window, and eventually were all killed. Annoying rather than particularly dangerous opponents, they very rarely scored a hit and, when they did, caused little damage.

This imbalance highlighted a quirk of the combat system. Regardless of who attacks whom, the winner of the contest deals damage to the loser. This meant that the owls were, for the most part, taking damage both on their turns and on the players turns. Thank god! Otherwise the combat would have gone on for twice as long. Meanwhile, the initiative/turn-taking system proved every bit as brilliant as I’d expected, with combatants acting at random points in the round, and sometimes not at all.

Owls defeated, the players headed on up the stairs. Puddles on the stairs, and along the next landing, were made of dangerous stuff but, with the players passing all of their Luck rolls, they assumed that it was just everyday water.

Round another bend in the spiral staircase, Thora and Minx encountered something rather disgusting. A huge, regal slug was wedged tight in the stairwell, above and below were smaller slugs, two on each side, trying free their monarch. The slugs were not keen for the player characters to approach any closer. Again, I found myself biting my tongue, as the players avoided the easy option of retreating down the stairs and along the corridor to the lift, instead trying to get past the slugs. Despite several opportunities for diplomacy, Thora and Minx’s brashness eventually lead to slug-attack. A long and painful battle ensued.

At the outset, Thora cast Assume Form to turn herself into a bag of salt. I ummed and ahhed over whether a bag of salt truly constituted a form, but in the end decided that, if only for the sake of fun, it was. The intention was clearly for Minx to take the salt and throw it on the slugs; Minx did not seem to realise this. (And Thora seemed not to have considered what it might do to her, when part of her was fizzling away in slug slime with her remainder sat still in the bag. I improvised some rules for this, but still Minx had not taken the hint. Instead of grabbing the salt, she vacillate, confused between whether to use her knife or her maul, and she wasted a good deal of time swapping between the two.

Minx fought on bravely, and killed two slugs, taking significant damage herself. The bag of salt, meanwhile, remained a bag of salt. Thora had discovered that she quite enjoyed being salt, and was going to stay that way, thank you very much!

Two down, three to go. The other two guard slugs were still on the opposite side of their monarch, and Minx fetched the bucket of water from the landing below. She threw it at the monarch. This had an unexpected effect: unlike the players, the slug failed its saving throw, and was reduced to terror, spending the rest of the conflict screaming. If you have never heard a slug scream, be glad of it, I hope for your sake that things stay that way.

Minx finally started flinging the salt (Thora wasn’t harmed, due to some jammy Luck rolls; by this time, both players’ luck was running seriously low). Unfortunately the salt was not particularly effective, doing less damage than a good squelch with a maul. The guards squeezed past their monarch as Minx was fiddling with salt; they attacked her; and they killed her.

Meanwhile, Thora was a bag of salt. A bag of salt, it turns out, is for life. She felt no compulsion to leave that form, and is probably still sat there, in her bag, on the stairs of the hotel.

I asked Minx’s player – in fact I asked both players – whether they would like to create a new character and continue the adventure. However both, while having enjoyed themselves enormously, were ready for a break. The game ended there. The salt was still salt.

There had been a lot more combat than I had expected, and than I would have liked; and a lot less whimsy, due to the route the players had taken. Still though… a modicum of whimsy. That, coupled with the jokes we made along the way, had me and the players giggling for much of the session.

A new phrase has passed into our family folklore: “you bag of salt!” It has already seen much use in the two days since this game was played. I suspect that it will last for at least as long as Thora keeps the form of a bag of salt.



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