One Shot Shenanigans: Troika! Odd Couple

I'm three regular campaign summaries behind at the moment but I wanted to get this session report out to mix it up a bit. Skip down to the postlude if you just want quick thoughts about Troika! but some of it won't make sense without the context.

My campaign has suffered a bit in the past month. I had to cancel one session because I was working a lot and didn't have time to play. This past weeks session I cancelled but managed to reschedule from Thursday to Saturday based on availability. Most of that fell thru at the last minute so I was left with two of my normal six players about an hour after our usual start time. We took advantage of the time to do some lovely catching up and then decided to hit the hay early like responsible adults.

Lies! We didn't sleep, we shot the shit and then I started proposing various one shot recipes for their preparation and consumption. I was thinking Maze Rats or Troika! since they were a ton of fun to run before for IntroCONso and character creation is a snap. One of my regular crew (I'ma call him Peanut Butter) who played in that Troika! one-shot for IntroCONso perked up immediately and the decision was made pretty quickly. Vegas had never played before so we got him spun up and they got to rolling up their characters.

Sidenote: You can see what they've played in the regular Lamentations campaign over here.

Troika! is a retroclone of Advanced Fighting Fantasy and has three stats: Skill, Stamina, and Luck. Doing things is generally Skill, you want a high one, and they both rolled as low as possible there (4). On the other hand, Peanut Butter maxed out on Luck (saving throws-ish). Both of those facts came into play very prominently later as the session got closer to ending. So we had:

Jonice "Jonesy" Tuscany (Peanut Butter)
  Sorcerer of the College of Friends
??? (Vegas)

If you don't have Troika! (why don't you there's a free artless version dammit!!) then you might not know that a Zoanthrop is a person who has willingly had their forebrain removed, turning them into some kind of wild animal man thing. Most likely they're naked, it says. This one wasn't naked, however, as Jonesy made sure to cover him up in loincloth and poncho. They decided that Jonesy probably knew this guy pre-op and has been trying to reign him in a bit after failing to convince him not to auto-lobotomize. Jonesy calls him "Erik" but unclear if that was his name before. Hell of an odd couple though! Guy who just wants to be friends with everyone and spread the love and barely-a-guy. That's the magic that the dice give you in Troika!

We decide that these two don't travel the million spheres on one of the golden barges but that they are aware of their life on one of those spheres. It's small enough that you could travel around it and it wouldn't take your whole life so that's what they're doing. At a local tavern they overheard some anglers complaining of lake monsters and another guy freaked out about trees that tried to kill him. They introduced themselves to the fisherfolk by way of "Erik" jumping forward and saying "spooooooky fishessss!" Vegas got into character real quick.

They asked about nighttime attacks and came up with day trouble only. Their plan was to go out and do some recon during the day in a borrowed boat. Only Jonesy had any skill in swimming and it's not much (5 or less on 2d6) so they were hoping they don't get into trouble. 

Of course "don't get into trouble" and "reconnaissance" turned into "let's hang out on this lake all day and see if we can find the monster." They managed to catch some regular fish before attracting the attention of a fifteen foot long tentacles monstrosity. It started off trying to grab "Erik" and pull him into the water but caught a couple of mighty club hits for the effort. It then went straight for murder tentacles.

Jonesy tried to Jolt the thing which would have been super effective in the water but alas, rolling 5 or less on 2d12 is really hard. Then he declared that he was taking out his knife to which I replied "Oh yeah? Where is it on your inventory list?" Even getting stuff out in combat is a roll based on what number line the thing is on (1-12). Of course poor Jonesy failed that one too even though the roll wasn't so bad (I think?).

Meanwhile "Erik" was just smashing back and forth with this giant tentacle thing. I toned it down after the first exchange because I realized 7 skill and damage as medium monster was way too strong for two starting schlubs with no armor. Oops. Second session of Troika!, still don't have an idea of mob strength yet. It was still close, but "Erik" got in a killing blow and they had until the end of the round before other it started to sink. Unfortunately the black end of turn die came out before they could secure the beast and it sunk into the depths of the lake. That was the only kind of initiative bag trickery that came up in this combat. It also wasn't quite as fun to pull the dice from the bag myself and shove them at the camera; much prefer making the players pull the init dice out.

Jonesy wanted proof that they had killed it so he prepared to dive in. The sorcerer wasn't a very good swimmer (one point in it) but he was still better than his empty-headed companion (no points). Since they both had a base skill 4, that put their chances of actually passing a swimming test at 28% and 17% respectively. Not good. Jonesy was committed though so he took off his gear and I think did some breathing exercises or something. He also created a pair of helping hands on the side of the boat to help pull the like back up once he'd secured it. "Erik" would help pull it up too. Prepped, Jonesy dove into the water!

And immediately failed his check. Drowning is brutal in Troika! (d6 additive damage per failed check) but we have him a mulligan since he was going in on purpose and wasn't really even in the water yet. Didn't matter much though, because now that Jonesy was in the water and dove down in earnest he failed again and started taking damage (d6). He secured the rope on the corpse and tried to use the rope to assist in his assent. He got big bonuses for being able to use the rope, probably needed to make 7 or lower at this point (58%) but still failed (2d6). "Erik" was barely able to haul the spluttering friend sorcerer onto the deck. Jonesy had very nearly died (and not passed a single check the whole time) but they had a big gross monster fixed to the hull. Success!

They returned to town to incredulous celebrations. The townsfolk gutted and salted the monster to leave it in the sun in the hopes of preserving it as a tourist attraction. Jonesy laid up for a bit after his very much near-death experience then spent the festival week casting minor magics and making friends. "Erik" just... did "Erik" things, I guess. He's a weird guy. An old lady, impressed by Jonesy's displays (stuff like Protection from Rain, too stronk) brought him a trio of plasmic cores but warned him of their addictive, destructive properties.

Sidebar: At this point we could have stopped or kept playing. It was general stopping time for our normal sessions but since it was the weekend we kept rolling.

Towards the end of the celebration they searched out the truffle gatherer who had fled the forest after being attacked by trees. He was grateful that they didn't think he was crazy and described the hill where he usually found the best mushrooms, right next to the lake. Jonesy stocked up on oil for the burning and they rolled out.

Found the copse easily enough, didn't approach. Instead Jonesy cracked open his Second Sight (detect magic) and saw an evil aura extending from the trees down into the roots. They circled over to the lake side of the cliff, saw a beech down below, and decided to go down. They had no rope but there was plenty of roots hanging down over the side. "Erik" also detected an acrid, foul smell down there, cementing their decision to go down. The man-beast scampered down the cliff easily enough and next it was Jonesy's turn for a feat of athleticism.

You might think that all of these handy climbing roots (and commensurate bonuses) would make this climb a cinch but nope! Jonesy barely failed his physical task again, taking a decent chunk of damage in the fall. He needed to rest and take advantage of the fact that eating a provision heals in Troika! "Erik" searched about and found a handful of gold coins. Rich! He also found a crack in the cliff, and they both went inside. The dirt turned into more finished stone and they found a mucked up chamber with more than half a dozen cracked eggs. More importantly, they found two miniature lake monsters!

The initiative bag jumped in a little bit here, ending some rounds early before everyone had a chance to act. Initially they were more hungry than anything and the players had an idea of that but then things devolved into blows pretty quickly. Maybe this is actually where Jonesy went for rations in his pack and failed the check to grab it in a tense situation. Either way, "Erik" hopped in front of his buddy and handily slew the two creatures inside of a few rounds between his turns and beating the creatures when they attacked him.

Sidebar: In Troika! someone always gets hurt when there's a melee combat, doesn't matter if it's your turn or not. Makes holding a door or facing off against a bunch of minions really interesting. Also makes facing a single, more dangerous creature more of a gamble for everyone not just the PC that gets attacked on the creature's turn. I love it.

They didn't waste too much time after dispatching the creatures beyond noting the improved stonework and remaining unaccounted for eggs. They coiled underneath that room and went further into the caves, spotting a mass of tree roots. Jonesy slowly approached one and it tried to grab him! He dodged, backed up, and lit them all up with his extra oil. Preparation!

They came to a large room with a pair of sarcophagi surrounded by an oily liquid. "Erik" took a running start and leapt onto the closer coffin. Unfortunately a hideous, alien creature exploded out from it and tried to kill him, letting out a horrific howl.

Good thing "Erik" ain't never scared! Forebrain removal really coming in handy here. Jonesy tested his luck and passed, so they both escaped the effects of the howl.

Sidebar: Luck is the saving throw stat in Troika!. It's got a max set at character creation and goes down every time it's tested regardless of result. It can be restored with rest and some consumables. Players can choose not to test luck if they'd rather save it. At this point they had both tested their luck a few times so the numbers were getting less favorable.

There was some back and forth on top of the coffin with Jonesy trying to provide support from the other side. "Erik" was hurting, and tried to flee back to the outside of the room, but failed, falling into the oil. The creature hopped down too but ended up going prone. Their collective plan was to get "Erik" out of the oil, have Jonesy light it up, and then GTFO before heat, smoke, or monster ended them both. The next few pulls from the initiative bag were pretty tense, but they manged to get "Erik" out of the liquid and onto the stone with Jonesy following up with the Ember to light it up.

Their plan was almost too successful, as now they needed to get out of the room without dying horrible because of all the smoke and fire and heat. Think it ended up being three turns to get out, test luck at the end of every round or take damage, something like that. Jonesy got out pretty safe, with his much higher luck, but "Erik" was in more trouble and fell unconscious just at the edge of safety. Our friendly sorcerer rushed back into danger to save his friend, healing him back up with a provision or some water or something enough to for them both to get out of the fire.


There are some review bits sprinkled throughout the summary but overall I think it should be pretty clear that I love Troika! The general play mechanic is straightforward, the backgrounds are dripping with verve and beauty, and the art inside is gorgeous.

Sidebar: Before continuing, a disclosure: Daniel Sell asked on g+ at some point if anyone wanted review copies of things. He was non-specific, but I volunteered based on the fact that I really loved Troika! and had backed Crypts of Indormancy. It turns out the review copies were for... Troika! and Crypts of Indormancy. I got review copies of things I had already bought and paid for. I don't really know what that means, I guess? I think if I had already bought something that I later got comp'ed it probably doesn't count as a comp but worth noting at least.

The initiative bag does a great job of adding tension and unpredictability to combat. Having speed, coordination, and decisiveness all represented as the number of dice that go in the bag is an effective abstraction. The fact that someone always gets damaged in melee is another good addition, simultaneously solving the problem of a bunch of PCs surrounding a badass monster and the inverse of that when a single PC tries to hold a choke point against a rush of little booger mobs or something. Spells and ranged weapons aren't contested, however, so maybe it just turns everyone into Legolas. I haven't seen that happen in two sessions but it would also be a lot harder since characters are rolled completely randomly on the background d66 table.

That background table is of course one of the other huge strengths of Troika! with 36 unique and interesting backgrounds oozing with implied setting. Creation is incredibly fast which is a great thing when health never improves over the (short?) life of a character. In my first Troika! session I had two PCs die but they were back with a newly rolled character faster than it mattered. I'm really looking forward to seeing the rest of the full d666 table (216 entries) that Daniel has planned for Troika!

I'll also note the inventory system as being incredibly elegant in terms of management but maintaining an impact on the PCs. Everyone gets 12 slots and that's (generally) it. You can carry more stuff but it's incredibly crippling. If you need something in a hurry, you have to roll over its slot number. That's it! No endless inventory but also no need to audit all the time to see if anyone should really be a lot slower when they're trying to run away from the awful murder beast.

Peanut Butter has basically guaranteed that I will be running Troika! at every IntrCONso and random one-shot for a while, too. He also said something really insightful after the session that made me appreciate Troika! even more. Part of the baked in setting is this idea of "travelling the millions spheres," so Peanut Butter pointed out how cool it was that both of the sessions we played were happening concurrently somewhere in this universe. I find this very attractive as a method to mix things up with different spheres, sessions, and characters while still maintaining a sort of continuity.

My only real complaint is that I don't like the second printing's cover as much as the first's.

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