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Troika!
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/11/2018 05:57:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This rules-lite RPG clocks in at 50 pages if you take away the front cover, TOC, and introduction; a simple character sheet is included in the deal. My review of this RPG system is based on the softcover print version, which is 6’’ by 9’’ (A5) in size. The cover of my print edition could be considered to be NSFW by particularly conservative standards, so please beware below – the review does sport a photo of the print copy below.

Now, while this RPG has been released by Melsonian Arts Council, it is not necessarily one we’d associate with classic OSR gaming in all but the most extensive of ways. Much like “Into the Odd” and similar games, we do deviate from the classic 6-attribute set-up, though Troika! Deviates imho even further from the classic set-up. While I have thus tagged this as “OSR” due to its aesthetics, it should be considered to be its own beast.

Instead, you only use d6s. Regarding dice notation, d666, for example, would mean rolling 3 dice in sequence and then adding the results together: Rolling a 3 on the first d6, a 2 on the second and a 5 on the last would mean you’d consult entry 325. Most checks will be done using 2d6, which you use to try to roll under or against a target value. The latter is known as “roll vs.” in the system.

Character generation is swift and painless: You roll d3 +3 to determine Skill- Skill behaves as a kind of proficiency bonus – you add it to all skills you have.

Then, you roll 2d6 +12 – this is your Stamina. Stamina is your hit points. If it’s reduced to 0 and your turn would come up or a turn ends, you die. Going to negative Stamina kills you instantly. Resting for 8 hours lets you regain 2d6 Stamina, and you can eat provisions to regain d6 Stamina, but only 3/day, so.

The third important value would be Luck. You roll d6 +6 to determine your Luck. When the GM calls for the “testing of luck”, you attempt to roll under the current luck score. Regardless of whether the test was successful, you reduce the current Luck score by 1. You may always choose to NOT test your luck, which is an interesting angle here. Resting for 8 hours lets you regain 2d6 Luck, to never exceed the starting maximum. Finally, if you have a tie in combat, you can test your Luck – on a success, you break the tie by adding +2 to your value.

And that is basically already the core chassis of the engine, though combat does work in a pretty radically different and interesting way: During combat or in situations where determining sequence of action is important, you assemble a bag: You take a container, put an assortment of differently colored dices, chits, coins or similar markers inside; all enemies share one color, a player is assigned a color, and there will be a final token of a distinct color that marks the end of the round. The GM will then proceed to blindly draw a chit/die/marker from the container, its color determining who gets to act. After acting, the token is removed. Once the end of the round token is drawn, all tokens are put back in the bag. Magic, poison, etc. is resolved at the end of the round. As you can glean, this makes combat a pretty risky and chaotic endeavor – while you only rarely will be doing nothing due to the tendency to roll versus as a response to attacks, combat as such turns out to be fast and lethal. It also manages to feel pretty differently from similar rules lite systems. One of my didactic concerns here would be that it’d have been nice to explicitly state how many chits a PC gets in the summary of initiative rules.

There is a card-based initiative alternative available, but I do not own the cards, so I can’t comment on them. You can find them here.

Now, the pdf does codify pretty tightly how combat actions work, what’s possible, etc., and delaying has you put your chit back in the bag, so it’s much less reliable than in comparable systems. Ranged attacks are opposed by shield or dodging, melee attacks by other melee attacks; ties mean that neither managed to hit the other in the case of melee attacks. Moving more than 12 feet takes up an action, and shooting into melee has all targets associate random numbers and determine who’s hit; casting spells requires Stamina expenditure. Interesting: In order to draw an item in combat, you have to roll equal to or higher than its position in your sheet, making item retrieval chaotic. Double 1s are failures and may force rolling on the “Oops”-chart of the spellcasting system; Double 6s on damage basically constitute critical hits, here called “mighty blows”, dealing double damage. Opposed mighty blows are noted.

Cover makes it harder to hit, shields impose a penalty to hit. Armor imposes a penalty on the damage incurred, but does take up item slots. I already mentioned these – you can only carry up to 12 items. Large items take up 2 slots, and carrying more than that imposes massive penalties. Now, damage is chaotic: You roll 1d6 and compare it plus its bonuses/penalties with a table; heavy percussive weapons can ignore 1 point of armor. As a whole, this makes the defense of characters mostly up to their attacking skill.

But how do you roll that? Well, it’s 2d6 + your Skill value, + advanced skills, if any. What’s that? Well, that’s what most folks will picture when reading “skills” – from sword-fighting to Stealth, to Strength, to Astrology, Blacksmithing, etc., this aspect of the system is very wide open – though thankfully, the core array of skills is codified: You will know, for example, that Run and Ride are different advanced skills.

How are advanced skills determined? Well, they are determined by the Background you choose. A d66-table if provided, and these basically represent both your race and class: You could end up as a member of the society of porters and basin fillers, as a rhino man, a poorly-made dwarf, a monkey monger, a parchment witch…or something more mundane. What’s a parchment witch, you ask? Well it’s one of the things that make Troika! shine beyond the basics. Littered throughout this gaming supplement, you’ll have tantalizing, deliberately obscure hints at an implicit setting that truly did capture my interest. Parchment witches, just fyi, would be undead that can’t give up on splendorous living, thus coating themselves in perfect paper skin. Rain and flame and not popular among them…And yes, several of these backgrounds do actually sport additional rules beyond the list of advanced skill values and possessions. The book also provides some guidance to make your own backgrounds. If you do want to play a renegade rhino man golden barge pilot, that ought to be possible, for example.

This does also extend to the sample spells noted: the classic sentry-spell, for example, has the wizard pluck out a piece of his mind and is risky: It distracts the caster and destroying the smidgeon of the caster’s mind can cause a nasty shock. If you cast “Zed”, you disappear, never to be seen again. Magic is just as odd and weird as the plethora of backgrounds, and the booklet does include a brief selection of sample items as well as a mini-bestiary. Each of the monster entries does come with a d6-based generator to determine the target creature’s mien. The list here is more conservative than I expected to see from the book, but e.g. goblins as vanguard of labyrinth-creation civilization, dull and fat lizardmen are nice tweaks. I also loved to learn that manticores are bibliophiles, and a sympathy snake crawling up your leg may make you despair at the awfulness of life. Totally okay to let go, as the predator mourns with you your demise in their jaws.

Advancement is simple, fyi: Upon using a skill successfully for the first time, you add a tick next to it; upon resting, you roll 2d6 and try to beat your current skill-level. On a success, you increase the skill by one, but you may only do so for up to 3 per rest; after a rest, you delete all ticks made. Improving past 12 requires rolling another 12 to improve by one point.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard and the booklet does come with quite a few amazing and weird artworks by Jeremy Duncan. The softcover is a saddle-stitched softcover with solid production values regarding the paper thickness.

(On my homepage, you can see photos of my print copy here.)

Daniel Sell’s Troika! game is deliberately vague and tantalizing, and some may call it “unfinished” – that would not be truly the case, though. Instead, it provides just enough to jumpstart your imagination with its oddities and peculiarities. The system is simple and elegant, though it can become very deadly very fast; defensive options are less potent, and eating a mighty blow can pretty much end PCs quick; similarly, bad luck in the initiative system can be lethal. This is a swingy system by design.

That being said, the game does level out pretty fast: Even veterans can and will die, so if you’re looking for long-term campaign play and pronounced character-attachment, then this may not be for you. However, if you are looking for an easy to pick up, weird, and often inspiring little system that plays differently from all other OSR-systems out there, that feels both old-school and fresh…then this is definitely worth checking out.

My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Troika!
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The Undercroft #1
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/11/2018 04:13:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment of this ‘zine clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 24 pages of content; the electronic version also includes a 4 page cover-file, which sports 1 page front and back cover and 2 pages of maps. I do own the physical copy of this ‘zine, and it is a surprisingly nice, saddle-stitched pamphlet (both electronic and print version are 6’’ by 9’’/A5), with red covers – stark, paper-quality wise nice, particularly considering the low asking price.

My review is thus primarily based on the print version, though I have taken the electronic version into account as well. It should also be noted that this is a LotFP-fanzine, employing the rules of the system, and, more importantly, as such it adheres to a dark/weird fantasy horror-aesthetic, recommended for mature folks. It’s not explicit in any way, but deals with dark themes.

After a brief introduction, we begin with the first article “Rewriting the Cure Disease Spell”, penned by Alex Clements. Okay, I usually try to go neutral review-robot, reserving my opinions to the sidelines and conclusion, but this, when I read it first, was an eye-opener of unrivaled proportions as far as what I expected from ‘zines and what I expect from them. Why? Because the article if pure frickin’ GENIUS. It is ridiculously simple, but it is something that has, at this point, found its way into all my games in one way or another. Yes, all of them. PFRPG, DCC, 5e, OSR-games – it doesn’t matter. I use this. Because it’s genius in its simplicity. The idea is as follows: A disease has an infection vector and a save (which is converted, should you need to, easily enough). Oh, and not all diseases are instantly cured. Syphilis suddenly makes sense in a world where clerical healing exists, for diseases can now have DHP – Disease Hit Points. These denote, in short, the number of times you need to cast the spell to cure it. In more complex games, you can tie this to At Higher Levels, caster levels etc. – or, well, not. There is a minor formatting snafu here, in that spell-references are capitalized, instead of italicized per the LotFP-standards. Similarly, multiple failed saves often come with progressively weirder effects – amazing.

Beyond the genius base system, we get proper, detailed stats for syphilis, Godrickson’s corruption (with its subtable of strange effects – and yes, you can lose your male genitalia, if any, to this horrid magical disease),the devil’s face tumor, sign of conduct with demons…and, obviously, the plague! Did I mention the glorious parasites or an elf-only curse that can render their magic volatile? Damn, I adore this section. This could carry a whole book, and all sample uses of the system are inspired. This one, alone, makes this a must-own.

Master of the Undercroft Daniel Sell does NOT fall behind this quality in the second section: “The Wager of Battle” is brilliant. In Yongardy, the law is followed and much beloved. Why? Because lawyers duke it out to settle disputes! The peculiarities of 6 different types of law are provided before we get a gigantic 3-page d30-table that lets you determine what a lawyer’s known for, a second section and a caveat. The table is one of the best examples of its kind. Estate lawyers (also known as doormen) battle with huge hammers and shields, while King’s law is enforced in plate and with great swords. I love this. It’s inspired.

Finally, the last section of the ‘zine depicts the “Barrow of the Old King”, which seems to be just a jolly old fetch-quest, to retrieve the ring of an obscure king who ostensibly slew giants. The pdf comes with 11 different random encounters, and the maps noted before, sport asterisks that, apart from referee-decision, are suggested to be when you roll the dice. The adventure is nominally recommended for all levels, but it should be noted that it is deadly and difficult. Players that don’t run may die horribly at low levels; personally, I consider this to be suitable, depending on player skill from levels 1 – 6. As a formal complaint, the monster formatting is somewhat inconsistent, with a few just getting HD-values, while others get hit point values. The adventure sports two levels with 29 keyed locales, spanning the barrow and some caves. Being an old-school module, this has no read-aloud text.

The following represents a brief discussion of the adventure and contains SPOILERS. Potential players should skip ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great! So, beyond the lavishly-detailed dressing provided for the locations, which is used in really cool ways (mummified-bear-drawn chariot with a trap-door!), we have salt mummies, and there is a chance that the mighty, eponymous king runs into the PCs. If he does, they better run. At 8 HD, he’ll wreck them. Oddly, pantomiming gold-plated skeletons, Dark Souls II-style tripled zombies, sewn together, visions of the dying king…and yes, dumb PCs drinking metal can die in a nice example of a deserved save-or-die. Blasting crystals, risk/reward for greedy tomb robbers…this makes sense and is fair in its difficulty. There also is a unique, magical mace that gains strange effects when doubles are rolled damage-wise: Each of these are weird and come with their own lines of evocative prose that reminded me of the doom-ladden proclamations in e.g. Bloodborne: “And his heart sang of the deep.” is noted before the effects of one of these, for example. It’s a small thing, but it adds to the overall atmosphere of the complex…and there would be corpse lions, disgusting, deadly insects that make up the weird critters that have entered the complex, getting an intriguing write-up, having nasty gummy resin goo, smells noted and reaction/morale modifications. Size notes “A large dog” here, speed “as fast as a house cat while running” – precise values would have been preferred here. Other than that, this surprised me once more. The set-up is so basic and per se tired, but the creative ideas, detailed dressing and creative ideas elevate the module beyond almost every other module I have seen in a ‘zine. This surpasses many stand-alone adventures.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal and rules-language level are good – there are a couple of utterly unnecessary deviation from established LotFP-formatting and rules-presentation conventions, which somewhat annoyed me. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 1-column b/w-standard, with artwork chosen from public domain in an atmospheric manner. Cartography is b/w and nice, but lacks player-friendly versions. The electronic version lacks bookmarks, which constitutes an unnecessary comfort detriment.

Daniel Sell and Alex Clements provide a first ‘zine that is remarkable in a ton of ways. The supplement is absolutely inspired, with all articles being excellent. Not a single one is boring or even mediocre. They all are excellent. Presentation-wise, this isn’t as elegant or gorgeous, but if you value substance, quality-prose and ideas over style, then you can’t do better than to check this out. The low asking price makes this a steal in my book. Now, I do have to complain about the minor formatting snafus and the lack of player-friendly maps, but considering that this is a freshman offering, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform, and this also deserves my seal of approval. Excellent indeed!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #1
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Troika! Initiative Cards
by Peter N. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/09/2018 16:19:27

I like these. They are a fun alternative to the dice pull initiative mechanic for Troika!. Construction is good, the cards have a good weight, and they are compact. The art is awesome, Walter's style is bizarre, super cool, and it lends itself so well to the feel of Troika! and other weird RPGs.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Troika! Initiative Cards
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Fever Swamp
by Felix M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/10/2018 20:00:20

Five dollars, and you'll get a living, writhing, steaming swamp, filled with pain and disease, and creatures that leak their way onto your gaming table, and into the minds of your players. It's so very very worth it.

It's extremely functional. I bought a copy at lunchtime, and was running a game almost immediately afterwards. It communicates its tone with profound and useful brevity. It's eloquent, but never outstays its welcome with prose. The illustrations are all beautiful, and serve that same unrelenting tone of oppressive heat and the stench of death.

If you're looking for somewhere to kill a few players of your favourite OSR experience in an afternoon, then Fever Swamp is the place to go.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fever Swamp
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Troika! - Free Artless Edition
by Gary M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/26/2018 14:08:52

As an American, I didn't come to Fighting Fantasy until late in life, after years of D&D and its derivatives. This is kind of an OSR version of Fighting Fantasy, and it's fantastic. There is more flavor in one paragraph of this than in a dozen OD&D knockoffs. While there's no given background, and that may turn some people off, the world of the game is given out in little refrences in the character, item, and spell descriptions - a very cool old-school way of doing it, and the rest is left up to the GM and/or players to fill in. With their imaginations! GASP! On the one hand this cries out for expansion, but on the other - it's a set of paints and brushes to create your own masterpiece with. AND simple d6-based rules! AWESOME is not the word. Hit that dowload button and savor!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Troika! - Free Artless Edition
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Something Stinks in Stilton
by Justin I. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/06/2017 18:49:48

I recently grabbed the pdf Something Stinks In Stilton in the very awesome ConTessa 2017 Bundle of Awesome. While I've definitely not had time to run the adventure yet, I've read through it a few times and am looking forward to running it one of these days.

Written by Oli Palmer, Something Stinks in Stilton is a 30 page adventure written for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but honestly is compatible with any version of D&D witha little work. Like most LotFP adventures it takes place in the early modern era of Earth. You won't find dwarves and elves, but you will find English folk with a healthy fear of what the Church can do.

Here's the premise:

In the 13th century, Stilton produced amazing cheese. Then the Church came and suddenly the cheese trade died out. Now it's 1730 and the village of Stilton has started producing great cheese again.

The adventure feels like a classic LotFP adventure. There's definitely weirdness and some magic, but no big rewards for players. Much like a Lovecraft story, we're presented with a group of odd rural folk with a big secret that taints those around them. I don't want to spoil the story but so I won't go into details about it.

There's a lot to like in this one. There's an interesting backstory, a quirky cast of characters, and reality warping magic. The pdf has a nice layout too. Important info and or potential character actions are bolded in red. The adventure has a clear timeline and an advice section labeled "Help, the PCs decided to..." Player's never do what's expected, so this is particularly handy.

If you're a fan of Lamentations of the Flame Princess and you want a short adventure with some rural creepiness and perhaps a bit of dark humor, Something Stinks in Stilton is a good choice.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Something Stinks in Stilton
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Troika! - Free Artless Edition
by Charles V. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/06/2016 13:59:20

Troika is free and awesome. Why are you reading this? Just get it!

OK FINE. The osr fighting and fantasy-based system is easy to understand, only requires d6s, uses skills and 3 stats. There is a base Skill number, your natural affinity for doing things without training, Stamina, which is basically HP, and Luck, which can be used as a sort of Save Against X and for other purposes. Skills range from Running to Jousting to Gambling to Axe Fighting, Etiquette and Trapping. In general the skills are descriptive enough you know exactly how they should be used without looking things up.

So Troika can be used to run the same kinds of games you'd run with OSR DnD. So why use it over DnD? Well, I'd say it's even easier to grok than B/X for a newcomer, and quite easy for an experience GM or player to adapt to. NPC stats are easy to improv up for GMs who, like me, don't want to have to carefully create every idiot who will waylay, oppose, or aid the PCs. The system might not supplant all other OSR systems, but that's fine - it's easy enough to learn that it won't be a burden.

But the genius isn't just the system, it's what else you get: the implied setting that you can see through PC backgrounds, the spell list, gear, and NPCs.

The setting is outstanding. There is a mix of science fiction and fantasy, though the world is more fantastical and magical than science fictiony. It's not like Numenera, where all 'magic' is really science. You have demon hunters and skeptical lammasu and androids (all PC backgrounds). Wizards of various stripe, priests, dwarves, gremlin hunters, and lost invaders from other spheres. It is evocative and unique. It is a world I want to explore.

The writing is also quite funny. The Poorly Made Dwarf pc background, the flavor text for the Troll npc, many of the spells, the Tower Wizard... Sell's sense of humor is sprinkled throughout. He hasn't written a parody of OSR settings or the like; I think that what he has is perfectly playable and can portray Serious Important Things. But I can't wait to see a wizard cast Banish Spirit by explaining 'clearly, sternly, why it is impossible that the spirit could be here at this time.'

So, a cool implicit setting, good writing, and a simple system, which means you're not going to spend a lot of time memorizing or learning odd or obscure rules for various things. It's free. Get it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Troika! - Free Artless Edition
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