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Monday 11 January 2021
In January 2021 we presented the all-new Troika Bundle, featuring the acid-fantasy RPG Troika! from Melsonian Arts Council. Troika! lets you trip the light fantastic, or maybe just trip out, in visionary adventures fueled by hallucinatory creativity.

Daniel Sell’s Troika! is a psychedelic fantasia on the 1980s Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. With its simple, beginner-friendly 2d6 roll-under rules system and three character stats (Skill, Stamina, and Luck), nostalgic FF players will feel at home — until they see Troika‘s description: “Players travel by eldritch portal and non-Euclidean labyrinth and golden-sailed barge between the uncountable crystal Spheres strung delicately across the hump-backed sky.” And there are spells like Coal Resolve (“turns one’s heart into a burning ember of grief”), Thought Vapor (“The wizard can cause their nose to exist in multiple alternative realities”), and Zed (“No one knows what this does, but everyone who has cast it disappears instantly, never to be seen again”), as well as items like ruby lorgnettes and pocket gods (“If you whisper a secret to one and throw it away, you regain 1 Luck”). It’s all smart and vibrantly written, but every couple of pages you say aloud, “Wait, what?”

Troika! character backgrounds aren’t balanced, but rather — the best word may be “distinctive.” Yet this is a pallid term for classes like Befouler of Ponds, Epopt (“You are a roaming seer, selling your visions at courts and fetes. Road weary and worldwise, your unpopular visions cause you to constantly move on”), Journeyman of the Guild of Sharp Corners (an assassin in training), Lonesome Monarch (“you are now a lost and lonely sovereign without a kingdom”), Member of Miss Kinsey’s Dining Club, Monkeymonger, Parchment Witch (a long-dead sorcerer covered in perfect paper skin), Rhino-Man, Skeptical Lamassu, Vengeful Child, and Yongardy Lawyer. (The people of Yongardy “follow the careers of their favourite solicitors, watch all their cases, collect their portraits, and sneak into the court after hours to dab the patches of blood on white handkerchiefs.”)

Though Troika! has been called “hipster Planescape,” you’ll find little pretense or posturing in the books from original publisher Melsonian Arts Council and the many supplements by others. No fancy fonts nor mannered slang here; the weirdness is pervasive but Old-School minimalist. Paging through these concise entries, each studded with terse, evocative references, we gain a pointillistic impression of the setting, as we do from the flavor text on Magic: The Gathering cards. It’s not even clear what “Troika” is — it seems to be a hub city a la Planescape‘s Sigil. Together all the passing mentions — an Exographer or Red Priest here, a Gremlin Catcher or Derivative Dwarf there — artfully sketch a plane-hopping multiverse of lighthearted half-crazed wonder.

“The Blancmange & Thistle” adventure in the Troika! Numinous Edition rulebook sets a characteristic tone reminiscent of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. The party’s goal: Reach the top floor of their bizarre and dangerous hotel. Wait, what? Take the lift — right? Sure, but on the next floor the Cloud of Green Gas (“a higher life form that doesn’t understand solids well”) gets on with you, or the Pushy Wall Merchant, or Too Many Tigers because why not. Okay, what about the stairs? There’s Owls in the Stairwell, a Demon Seawater Leak, and His Moist Magnificence, King Juniper Jupiter Lexx-Hafwall IV, i.e., an enormous slug. On the roof, the Feast of the Chiliarch is in full swing. There many adventures (specifically, d3x10+d6 adventures), along with fireworks and traditional novelty fondant arrangements, await.

Could this ever make sense? “Ride it out and see what happens,” the text advises. “You can apply meaning and history to everything in your next session in light of the events of the first. Encourage the players to connect the dots for you.” Excellent advice for many RPG sessions, and the touchstone of Troika!: a brassy willingness to float zany ideas and commit, with unique panache, to anything that happens.

This all-new offer gathered all the Melsonian Arts Council Troika! titles plus several fine indie supplements and adventures. There were four titles in our Starter Collection (retail value $59.50) as DRM-free .PDF ebooks, including the complete Troika! Numinous Edition core rulebook and the Troika Initiative Cards; the Axes & Orcs Compendium, a potpourri of science-fantasy character backgrounds; and So You’ve Been Thrown Down a Well, an adventure that is exactly what it sounds like.

Those who paid more than the threshold (average) price also got our entire Bonus Collection with six more titles worth an additional $56, including the desert pointcrawl campaign Acid Death Fantasy; the adventures Fronds of Benevolence and House of the Red Doors; and the planar-invasion science fantasy campaign Terror of the Stratosfiend, explicated in three zines with a punk-rock aesthetic: Terror of the Stratosfiend #1, #1.5, and #2.

Ten percent of each payment (after gateway fees) went to this Troika! offer’s pandemic-related charity, Direct Relief. Direct Relief gets protective gear and critical care medications to health workers, with emergency deliveries to medical facilities across the US and to regional response agencies across the world.