Sunday, 12 March 2017

Review: Troika!

If you know me, you will likely know that I have a major soft spot for Fighting Fantasy. This tremendously popular gamebook series was really my gateway into roleplaying, alongside Warhammer - two British institutions in gaming.

So when Troika! cropped up, a game that is heavily influenced by Fighting Fantasy, I had to take a look.

Troika!, created by Daniel Sell and Jeremy Duncan, is the British equivalent to an OSR game. Whereas the likes of Swords and Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord and indeed my own Romance of the Perilous Land are influenced by the original Dungeons and Dragons rules, Troika was created to harken back to that gritty, weird stable of games that originated in the UK. It doesn't use the polyhedral d20 system, instead opting for something more akin to Advanced Fighting Fantasy, a game that has seen a decent rejuvenation through Arion Games and bloggers like Stuart Lloyd who are taking a keen interest in the system.

Being of Fighting Fantasy stock, the ruleset is on the light side of the spectrum, which suits me to a tee, but will automatically put crunchers off. Oh, and the baked in setting is deliciously bizarre.

I say baked in because the setting is implied through character creation, spells, items and enemies. There isn't a 'setting' section - so it pays to read absolutely everything to pick out plot hooks and nuggets that will help realise the world of Troika. Readers who pay attention will gather that great golden airships sail the skies and aether, fuelled by plasmic cores that are sometimes huffed by wizards. They will discover that monkeys are often sold as snacks, and that witches shun the rain as their skin is made of literal paper.

The richest vein of setting in this short book is certainly through character backgrounds, which are essentially classes. Many of these are just wonderfully evocative - the Befouler of Ponds who pisses in ponds for their toad god, the Caliviger who is obsessed with opening locks, and the Fellowship of Knidos - mathmologists who seek to open the door to the universe with numbers. Each background has a list of skills, some starting equipment and some also have a special ability. For instance, the aforementioned Befouler of Ponds is able to drink stagnant water with no ill effects. Quite the niche ability but, as I say, entirely evocative.

Character creation is supposed to be random. Roll 2d6 and find your background. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of balance, but this feels absolutely intentional. Like in Fighting Fantasy, you get Skill, Stamina and Luck, which are added to a 2d6 roll along with any skill. If it's a contested roll, like in combat, you have to roll higher than the opponent. Otherwise, it's a roll under system. Being a Fighting​ Fantasy system whoever gets the highest roll on combat wins and does damage, which is dependent on the weapon used. Roll a d6 and consult the damage chart for the weapon. All very simple, although it's not immediately apparent how ranged combat works. Presumably if you miss with a ranged attack the opponent doesn't get to hit you, but this isn't spelled out.

Spells cost points, which are taken from stamina - so if you want to use magic you have to hurt yourself. This penalty exists because spell users have access to all spells from the beginning. To cast, it's a roll under, with a double 1 always succeeding but a double 6 being an Oops!. Yep, you get to roll to see how you fucked up your spell, something I love. This could be as innocuous as growing a tail to all money you're holding turning into butterflies and flying off. All of these consequences are inventive and super fun (probably not for the player in question). However, many of them are indefinite, meaning that you could end up turning into a pig forever, which is slightly irksome, so it's likely that GMs will build in a cure quest into the game.

Troika captured my imagination as soon as I read through it. Coupled with a simple system, this is a fun one shot or short campaign game. However, with no advancement it's unlikely that players will get a tonne from a prolonged campaign.