Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Down the Rabbit Hole - Troika!

My immersion into Dungeon Crawl Classics has served as a sort of gateway to other, stranger RPGs. DCC has some weirdness, sure (and books like Black Sun Deathcrawl dive off the deep end), but there is more and stranger, stuff which feels as much like art as game. One of the first I stumbled across was Mork Borg (sorry, umlauts missing), a sort of art piece made of death metal covers and the back wall of old LP shops disguised as a sort of RPG system. I can probably play it, but I've been perusing it for weeks now and I have no idea precisely how it is all supposed to come together. 

Less confusing but much weirder is Troika! from Melsonian Arts Council (though hard to find in print in the US anywhere other than Exalted Funeral right now. I have seen Troika! mentioned as the source system for some odd sourcebooks on Drivethrurpg on occasion, which left me wondering why some publishers were providing system content for DCC as well as Troika! RPG. Book/zines like Terrors of the Stratosfiend left me wondering: is the DCC game the better system for their vision, or is Troika? After digging around and finding a copy of Troika! I found that the reality was a stranger tunnel than I had imagined.

If Mork Borg is what happens when someone channels a coke-filled death metal concert into a chapbook, then Troika! is what happens when someone Reads Lewis Carroll, watches David Lynch, and then takes too many funny mushrooms at the same time. Not to suggest that what is happening in Troika! is exclusively a weird, hallucinogenic bender-based excursion into nonsense, but rather that the game seems to exclusively revel in concepts and grounds which not only defy genre expectations (the game seems deliverately determined to avoid the tropes of the RPG and fiction genres it borrows from) but it ends up feeling like a game designed to emulate a weird dream state. It's not billed as an RPG of "weird fever dreams" but it sure feels like that's what it is.

Unlike some other fringe indies out there, Troika! doesn't even feel especially gritty or "adult" and  in fact even feels like a game you could invoke in the presence of kids. This is a welcome change from the traditional focus of a lot of the alt-OSR crowd, which seems overtly focused on recovering the narrow slice of a late teens/early twenties mindset from the 70's with all the accompanying sex, gore and debauchery they can throw in to a product. Troika! invokes the weird, but in an accessible way that is designed to spark creative expression.

Troika! also spawns from the UK OSR crowd, which is heavily influenced to lesser and greater degrees by the old solo gamebooks comprising Fighting Fantasy, which is a rough foundation for the slim mechanical rules of the system. The only part I have found suspect so far is the way initiative is handled, which is essentially what sounds to me like "take a bucket of colorful stones and pull them out one at a time until there are no more colorful stones." 

I'm intrigued enough with what Troika! is trying to do that I've picked up a couple more supplements, and will scrutinize them when they arrive. If your goal is "simple mechanics plus a setting/approach designed to maximize creative input in an environment entirely unfamiliar to the norms of the RPG landscape," it seems that Troika! does this exceedingly well. 


  1. At least I'm not the only person who is asking what is the hype about Mork Borg?

    Troika and its kin are probably not works I would devote campaigns too but I can see myself running short games with it.

    1. Yeah I see Troika as a better resource for insoiration and odd ideas, and it may work for games where the entire campaign is riffed ad hoc, but with Mork feels like its trying so hard to be edgy that it deliberately eschewed coherence in the process, because being too coherent would not let it be edgy enough. I like its weirdness, but its incoherence makes it hard to take seriously as anything more than an occasional beer & pretzels event, or a resource to mine for other more well designed and (ahem) coherent RPGs.