Let's Discuss: Troika!

I was very close to running Troika instead of Mork Borg. It came down to book availability – more people already owned the Mork Borg book, and I’ve seen it carried in more game stores. This is a good reminder to keep talking up Troika, however, because it could be such a fresh experience for some players I know.

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When people ask me what Troika is like, I’ve pointed them to the “Goodbye Moonmen” music video a few times.


One useful thing to add: This little hack offers the option to make everything roll over. It helps making things a bit more straightforward.


I’ll also pitch in with Kriegsmesser Zine by gregor-vuga as another alternative route of sorts. It started out as a set of 36 Backgrounds for Troika! aimed at playing Warhammer adventures, then they just decided that they wanted an alternate (and in my mind easier to grok) system for using those backgrounds, so wrote one. (The author is the same person who wrote the game Sagas of the Icelanders.)


What a good way to introduce the Weird Wackiness of Troika!

And what a good song. Those were the days.


The implied setting of ‘vanilla’ Troika! is a real fictional sweet spot for me. It is as much an inter-genre collage as other things often called gonzo - but with a flavor very much its own - a bit Lewis Carroll, a bit Spelljammer, a bit Ghibli, and a healthy dose of 21st century weird fiction. It certainly has a wackiness to it - but there are enough genuinely cool and surprising ideas to make it substantial and wacky :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

But I also agree with @dozens about the game’s openness - and love the way the community has really embraced the idea that Troika! can be almost anything - and taken the game’s freewheeling attitude as an invitation to be ridiculously, creatively playful.

I’m currently running through a heavily modded version of Blancmange & Thistle in a playtest for my own ultralight/FKR science-fantasy game/toy box - I love how it unrepentantly indulges in the fun of throwing many absurd, but highly interactive situations at players, while letting whatever unifying logic or lore there may be come out in play.


I’ve had some good experiences with Troika!, but I’ve completely turned around on the idea of the initiative system they use. At first it felt fresh and cool, but now it feels like a “system for system’s sake” and not really much more than a novel turn order device. I’ve started playing with concepts that amount to “simultaneous” initiative and to me that makes much more sense than the concept of everyone standing in line to slap their opponent.


I like the system and the implied setting and I think the initiative system is a refreshing novelty.
Alas, I’ve never had the chance to run or play it.
Nonetheless, I wrote a little sphere for the TroikaFest! this year which I am very fond of, but I had not any significant feedback.
In any case, here is my The Black Pit

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I can appreciate the widespread fondness for Troika! but I wonder why there is such a gap between Troika! fans and interest in Advanced Fighting Fantasy, based on the old Fighting Fantasy gamebooks from 1982 onward.

Daniel Sell obliquely acknowledged the debt in his intro to Troika!:

The world is drowning in nostalgic dross. Everyone with a set of thumbs has glued together a dungeon and a dragon, slapped on a name that tickled our childhood memories and called it good to print.

I’ve got thumbs but I prefer fantasy fighting.

For all the hacking of Troika! that we find, why is there next to no looking back at Fighting Fantasy and the (utterly awesome) Sorcery! gamebooks? There’s a lot of material back there immediately useful to people who like Troika! but aren’t interested in the Terry Gilliam- or Douglas Adams-style (or maybe just “psychedelic”) weirdness.

The Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd edition by Graham Bottley is a typesetting disaster, overpriced, and very poorly organized, but those books offer a lot of material for traditional fantasy adventure with the rules that Troika! lifts almost exactly. More power to those who lift rules (my own house rules, for more than a year, were a hack of AFF), but why not at least include them in Troika! discussions?

The main contribution of Troika! is the character templates, with their hints at a strange setting emergent in play. I very much appreciate the use of templates. Looking for roots, they work basically the same way as the templates from the original Talislanta game of 1987, with all kinds of weird fantasy nations and creatures (“character types”) each with its own template. (You just don’t roll d66 for them, but have to choose one.)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for re-using old stuff in new combinations! But the disconnect between discussions of Troika! and Advanced Fighting Fantasy is so conspicuous. Imagine somebody made a D&D clone and most of its players never looked at any D&D modules. That’s like the situation here.

Given that Troika! is commonly classified as part of “Old-School” in some degree, the gap between the old books and the new material is even more glaring.

This is not a complaint, but an invitation to get into the roots of Troika!


I haven’t had a chance to run either yet, but my current favorite initiative system (at least on paper) is from ARC — turns grouped and ordered by intended action. I wrote a bit about how momatoes uses that arrangement to make magical combat more tense, and it has similar impacts on other aspects of combat.

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First of all – AMAZING summary. Perfectly accurate.

Second – Initiative. It makes me sad that it ultimately becomes a burden because it sounds like it should be cool and it offers a lot of opportunities for things like environmental moves (e.g. throw extra tokens in and whenever you get one the ground shakes). But yeah, I’ve played it a few times as written and it can be odd or feel unfair.

Third - Fighting Fantasy debt. I think there’s a beef that DS didn’t more openly acknowledge the source in his text. Especially if he straight up lifted some text (I believe the Oops table is verbatim to FF?). On the other side of it, he was afraid to name it since it doesn’t have an OGL or anything. Where he just copied system he’s safe, but fans of FF might not like the uncredited hacking. And I think 98% of the remaining fans of FF are fans of the solo-play books as much as anything.


I figured the lack of an OGL would make one anxious. That said, for the fans of Troika! there is a ton of extremely close genetic material out there in the family tree. My discussion was not about any beef but about resources for Troika! players. :slight_smile: Especially if they are attracted to the idea that it is “old-school.”


I think the main disconnect is that people generally like Troika! for the “setting” and vibe and less so for the system itself.

Interesting note about the “setting” - on some podcast I heard way back the author said that it is an homage of sorts to his memories of Planescape. He had the first boxed set and remembers it fondly because nothing was really set in stone. He dropped out of gaming for a while then got nostalgiac and bought all the Planescape stuff and read through it and was sad that all the further supplements crystalized and calcified everything…


I am more attracted to the system than the setting, but I like both.

Cool. Yeah I didn’t take it that way but thanks for clarifying.

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It sounds like you have mostly run one-offs or short campaigns. Do you have any concerns about the system for longer form play? Do you think the math will work out with skills or do they get “too good” around rank 5 or even 6? I suspect it’s an arms race kind of thing, where characters auto-defeat all “normals” but can be challenged by any monster with an equally high skill of some sort.

You’re right that small gradient increases can create auto-defeat situations!

For those listening in: Fighting Fantasy systems feature combat as a contest rather than alternating strikes-and-whiffs (as in D&D and most other games). 2D6+Skill+Trait from both sides / higher total hits the foe. Personally, I favor the contest method for any game, so that skill and ability (not armor) help people avoid damage (whereas armor lowers damage, but doesn’t make defenders more “slippery” with blows from massive foes just sliding off with zero effect).

There is the added complication of how to handle combat between multiple combatants, and here the FF system shows a weakness: it was designed originally for solo gamebooks. But it can be made to work, as I have done, with decent results, though it’s not ideal.

This method (combat as contest) is owed ultimately to Tunnels & Trolls, the main antecedent of FF with respect to mechanics. Another avenue for investigation for tinkering with Troika DNA…

The FF system definitely grants clear superiority to the one with the higher Skill + Trait total. Anybody with a base 3 points higher or more than that of his foe is overwhelmingly likely to win, with the possible exception of mitigating factors such as armor or much higher or lower Stamina on one side. Auto-defeat is possible (for PCs or NPCs).

Check out these odds for opposed rolls with 2D6+Base (where Base = [Skill + Trait]). This method also strongly encourages PCs to use the weapon with which they specialize, and it means that they are vulnerable if they lose that specialty weapon (note to referees!).


Strategically, this means that you should never pick straight-up fights against significantly more skillful opponents (as in life, I suppose). Or bring friends with you! The critical hit on double-six rule means, however, that a superior combatant cannot ignore the risks of melee, because there’s a 1/36 chance of getting hit very grievously regardless of one’s dice total.

One feature of my house rules to soften the superiority issue is that one can voluntarily Test Luck to gain advantage in combat (roll 3d, take the best 2d) instead of the default FF/Troika rule that a voluntary Test of Luck will add 2 damage if one actually wins. That system means that Luck doesn’t actually help anybody to land a lucky blow, but only helps the one who is already superior in Skill–which is, to me, not so much a matter of Luck. Hence the voluntary Luck Test > Advantage rule. (Plus, Luck is a rapidly diminishing resource, so this won’t be abused.)

For long-term campaigns in which Skill rises by even three points from the original number, combat threats have to be scaled up appropriately, but that’s not so different from D&D-based systems with hit dice and levels. Alternatively, pose non-combat challenges galore and minimize the use of dice in lieu of plans and described attempts!


I think it was Chris McDowall who called mien the worst-named mechanic ever, haha. I agree.

2d6 roll-under if wildly weird. It’s like DCC that way in making people do odd things with their dice.

It’s a great setting for “this could fit ANYTHING in here” because of the multiverse-vibe but Electric Bastionland is still better for that. :stuck_out_tongue:


Yeah? Do tell. I tried a few things along this line, like only letting people do damage on their initiative token. (If they were fighting on someone else’s token they did no damage if they won; they just prevented damage from happening to them. But it was only so-so satisfying and kind of hard to remember.)

Great post BTW. This is a good discussion.


I do think that the initiative tokens in Troika! are the attempt to solve this problem. I haven’t tried it, so I don’t understand it deeply.

My method was to make initiative irrelevant for everybody who was intending to fight in melee. You just roll against each other. (Defense only is possible, and necessary to disengage.)

Here’s a snippet from my rules.

In lieu of initiative, you state your goal or target. (Who are you trying to hit?)
Then everybody rolls.
Totals that beat targets’ totals hit.

For groups in melee:


This is all exactly as in AFF2e (p. 59), although I think I have presented it more neatly, instead of tucking the “ganging up” rules into a list of 24 possible modifiers.

After using it for… gosh, more than a year… I’ve given up on the FF way, or rather modified it much further to the point that no addition is required. The FF way has been fun, it works, but it requires too much adding of little digits on the spot (1D+1D+Skill+Trait) and then waiting to hear totals declared. As referee, I found myself jotting down numbers and comparing attackers’ totals to defenders’ totals. Long pauses might ensue. (In combat, fifteen to twenty seconds between dice roll and learning if you hit is a long pause, for my table, and it’s not easy to fill the space with lively combat narrative while adding numbers.)

Exactly what you said: “it was only so-so satisfying and kind of hard to remember.”

I had a way to speed it up drastically with player-facing rolls only, which I called “Fray Mode,” but that too works best in one-on-one combat.

The underlying model for FF combat, T&T, made more sense of group combat. In Tunnels & Trolls:

  1. Combatants generate combat totals of dice+adds representing their skillful effort. (moments of adding lots of dice ensue, a degree of suspense builds)
    (1a. Teams have group totals.)
  2. The difference between the totals is damage done to loser(s).
    (2b. Divide damage evenly among losing side if there’s more than one foe.) (not hard to calculate, really)
  3. Armor (if any) absorbs damage done to individuals.

Because FF depends on the same 2D total for each fighter, it’s really best for one-on-one combat, for which it was designed and pioneered. Group foes in FF (like swarms of rats) have single stats for the collective.

One lesson I’ve taken from this is that FF systems (like Troika!) should be truly excellent for duet play (referee + 1 player). Referees often ask about recommendations for that. It moves very fast with one or two players only, and I found that to be the case in practice in one-shots, but large melees with many participants strain the combat mechanics by requiring memory of added-up outcomes for half a minute at a time. Basically, AFF is ideal for one-on-one games. (It’s not ideal for large groups.)