Running Trophy Dark: A Giant’s Carcass

I recently ran Trophy Dark using the incursion “The Giant’s Carcass”. If you just want to watch the actual play, it’s embedded further down in this post. First, though, a few words about the game.

Thoughts on Trophy Dark

Trophy Dark is a one-shot game with very light rules and very dark themes, published by The Gauntlet with a Kickstarter launching January 21st. (There is a companion game, Trophy Gold, that effectively is the campaign version.)

Trophy is a collaborative storytelling game about a group of treasure-hunters on a doomed expedition into a forest that doesn’t want them there. It requires one game master (GM) to moderate the game and portray the dangers of the world, and one or more players to portray the treasure-hunters. A game of Trophy takes about 3–4 hours.

The game tells the story of the physical and mental descent of the treasure-hunters as they move deeper and deeper into the dangerous forest. Their journey will ultimately bring them to ancient ruins that hold the treasure they seek, and the monstrous entities which now dwell there. This is not, however, a hopeful story of brave and daring adventurers slaying dragons and dragging bags of gold with them back to town. This is a horror story of entitled pillagers meeting tragic ends. It is very likely that all the treasure-hunters will die or—at best—be permanently scarred and haunted by their expedition.

As noted, this is effectively a horror game. Incursions (the game’s term for “adventures” or “modules”) are more or less linear, though with plenty of room for improvisation by everyone at the table. I’ve run it a few times now, though this is the first time I’ve run the Dark version on stream. So let me suggest a few lessons.

Call for Ruin rolls early and often. As soon as a player says “thanks I hate it” or indicates their character really doesn’t like what just happened, that’s a good indicator that “when your character witnesses or undergoes something disturbing” has triggered. Don’t be afraid of doing them early, either, as that just increases the tension in later rings (stages of the incursion).

Everyone can contribute to Devil’s Bargain ideas. I even let the player making the Risk roll suggest a way they can get that extra Light die. Of course, the GM has final say if needed, but in my experience that usually just means explaining that the Devil’s Bargain is something bad that definitely happens in exchange for an increased chance of success. Often, players will suggest something more diabolical than I ever would have.

If a player has an overpowered idea, make them roll for it. Even if they succeed, lean heavy into consequences (“be careful what you wish for”). As long as they know in advance of the roll what the potential bad results could be of a failure (which the rules already require), and you don’t take away their success (because that’s a jerk move), then it’s fine. In “The Giant’s Carcass”, a player succeeded in casting their possess ritual on the entire giant. It only lasted for a short time, and they got a view of how bad things really are.

Thoughts on “The Giant’s Carcass”

Just preparing for this sublime orgy of blood and flesh had me feeling icky and gross, which is intended. This particular incursion leans very, very heavy on body horror: the theme itself is “Body”, in fact. The minimalist cover of red, moist flesh conveys that particularly well.

I also appreciated the per-ring Moments as well as the use of Sigils instead of Rituals. This incursion does something especially interesting with the backgrounds:

While all these Backgrounds imply that the treasure-hunter is unable to follow their former profession because of physical disabilities, that does not mean that they necessarily see this as a problem, or something they want or need to have changed. Rather, the reason they are not following their former calling could originate in a cruel society, a double-dealing rival, or something that is not related to their disability at all—or perhaps the treasure-hunter’s inability to come to terms with their circumstances is actually the flaw that drives them to seek “magical solutions” by going on an incursion.

We didn’t use this feature for various reasons, but I would really like to tackle this theme in the future.

My players seemed to have a pretty good time:

Finally, our recording is up on YouTube:

Safety Tools in Horror Games

Horror games require extra focus on safety tools. By design, they lean into making the players uncomfortable, but no game is more important than the people playing it. We want to find the elements that everybody collectively agrees to experience. This means taking out a few surprises, but that’s a good price to pay to ensure nobody has to relive actual trauma.

As a note: use of an X-card or some variation thereof is good, but paying attention to your players is better. Not every technique works for every group. For example, some folks do not like Lines & Veils or consent checklists because they feel as though they have to relive their trauma. This is valid and legitimate and you should listen to feedback from your group. I encouraged my players to feel free to speak up on each other’s behalf: if you see your friend is uncomfortable, or you know them well enough to know something about them, when it comes up, be a buddy. Yes, this requires some level of emotional intelligence, and you can invent all sorts of scenarios where some technique is bad, so be a decent person and work within the reality of your group of friends.

For this game, I modified the free Consent in Gaming checklist from Monte Cook Games using the Google Doc version in the TTRPG Safety Toolkit from Kienna Shaw and Lauren Bryant-Monk. Some sections just didn’t have any relevance: for example, we did not deal with sexual or romantic relationships, nor social and cultural issues. However, I reviewed the incursion for specific things to include in the “Horror” section. For this incursion, I specifically asked about:

  • Blisters
  • Bodily Fluids
  • Bones
  • Gore
  • Hair
  • Harm to (non-domesticated) animals
  • Insects
  • Larvae (maggots)
  • Lichen
  • Spiders
  • Teeth

The section on “Mental & Physical Health” included:

  • Claustrophia
  • Paralysis / Physical Restraint
  • Self-Harm
  • Starvation
  • Suffocation
  • Thirst
  • Torture

It turned out that this was good. One of my players did not want any form of claustrophobic confinement, and a few other things I knew to tread carefully around. This meant, for example, that I focused on the maggots as larvae (although everyone knew what they were). Other stuff grossed them out, but in ways everyone knew they could handle.

Conclusion

While I definitely expect to run more Trophy Dark, even more I want to lean into Trophy Gold. In this version of the game, the treasure hunters aren’t automatically doomed (although at some point, they can become so!)

I also want to port some of this over to a science fiction setting. Someone has suggested, for example, that Rituals could be Cyberware, although I’ve seen one incursion in a modern-ish (20th-century) setting that relied on “modern rituals” like offering a cigarette to calm a companion’s nerves.

This game excites me quite a bit and I really look forward to seeing the Kickstarter just explode it onto everyone’s radar!

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