The rules-light science fantasy game Troika! has floated around the periphery of my attention for a bit. Its inclusion in the Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice & Equality provided the perfect opportunity to read through it. This little game has so many good ideas in it! I’m not going to walk through the whole system here; you can read the free SRD or, better, just go buy it, you cowards.
The rules engine in general does a lot of things I like such as only using a few attributes, having an open-ended skill list, and treating ranged attacks into a melee as dangerous. Lots of games do things like that, though. Some of the systems in Troika! appeal to the kit basher in me, whether for bringing stuff in or taking it into other games.
Player characters in Troika! only have three attributes (Skill, Luck, and Stamina), most of what differentiates characters mechanically comes from their Backgrounds. These package together a bit of lore with skill bonuses and spells. The game includes 36 by default, but the community has written many more.
Most of the implied setting lives here, plus the equipment and spells. The game has a whimsically gonzo feel, but if you wanted a different tone for your game, you’d just write (or find) some that fit your game. You might tweak the skill list at the same time; Troika! intentionally allows and even encourages this.
Rework them or remove them entirely and replace them with your own unique vision of the spheres. Boldy lay claim to the games you play, create content recklessly, and always write in pen.Troika! Numinous Edition, p. 2
Honestly, the implied setting doesn’t appeal overly much to me at the moment. It has the vague flavor of mixing Planescape and Spelljammer with Monty Python, and my head just isn’t there right now. That’s definitely only a question of my personal taste, but it also doesn’t present a problem. If I wanted to run Troika! in some other setting, I’d work up a bunch of backgrounds or, hell, just work with my players to write up the types of characters they’d like to play, and add skills as needed for their concepts.
Note that you still need other backgrounds at some point, because characters can die relatively easily in this game. That means they should have the opportunity to roll up a new character with a quickness and get back into the flow. Writing up a new background on the fly would impede that. (Alternatively, use the optional rule to test luck when their stamina goes negative and you might reduce the lethality a little).
I have never seen an initiative system like this. It might be the most novel thing here.
Basically, you gather a pool of “tokens” (e.g. a bunch of poker chips, a stack of cards, etc.). Each player character gets two (they should be distinct from one another), and the NPCs get a sum of tokens from the Initiative stat of each of them (all the same as each other).
So if you have three PCs fighting a Cyclops (which has Initiative 3) and two Goblins (Initiative 1), then each PC gets two tokens and the enemies have five total. The pool also needs an “end of round” token.
Then the GM draws a token from the pool, and the corresponding character goes. If it’s an NPC token, then the GM decides which of them should act. They are encouraged to do what makes sense rather than abuse the system to the detriment of the game. Once they draw an “end of round” token, all tokens for surviving characters are returned to the pool and the process repeats.
The system doesn’t model the quickness of each character but instead their decisiveness:
The goblins have few Tokens because they are cowardly, not because they are slow; the dragon has many because it knows exactly what it wants, not because it is fast.p. 43
This sounds fascinatingly chaotic to me. It keeps each player engaged to see whether they go next or whether whatever pseudo RNG the group uses passes them by. In a sub-genre too often obsessed with doing things the way that they have always been done, the Troika! initiative system boldly tries something drastically new and different. With a simple stat addition to your monsters, you could use this in whatever OSR game you like without breaking much.
I nearly skipped over this part of the rules because most games do things more or less the same, with maybe some abstractions like a usage die or abstract equipment tokens. That would have been a mistake.
Players list their inventory items in order. They get 12 slots; really small items take one slot all together. Normal items take one, and particularly large ones take two. They can carry more at a significant penalty to their rolls.
Then, if you need to pull something out during combat, they roll 2d6 and can access any item in the list with a number equal to under that roll. So if they roll 7, they can grab anything in slots 1-7 for free and do whatever other action they wanted; otherwise they spend their whole turn digging around for it. For example, if they’re using ammunition, they should put that in slot 1 or 2 so it always stays available.
This provides a really simple method while still keeping the “game” in it. You could stick this in almost any OSR game and it would keep things interesting at the right times. Even better, it avoids that whole issue of characters fighting nimbly while carrying a 120-pound pack. I wouldn’t do this in a game where inventory and encumbrance have lots of other mechanics tied in, but generally that’s not the case.
Most OSR games use a reaction roll: when the characters meet an NPC, you roll dice (potentially modified by the NPC’s disposition or the character’s attribute). The result determines whether they’re friendly, neutral, or hostile.
Troika! does not do this. Every creature type gets a Mien table; when the character meets them, the GM rolls a d6 on that table and plays the NPC accordingly. Of course, if the NPC already has some particular reason to react in a given manner, the GM should do that instead. The mechanic encourages characters to interact rather than immediately go to hostility (unless that makes more sense in the particular situation).
This immediately slots right into just about any OSR game I’d care to play. To be honest, you could use it in almost any RPG, regardless of the subgenre. I’ve already incorporated mien into Mothership, for example.
As my gaming continues to evolve, I look forward to using some of these ideas in upcoming campaigns!