I’ve been immersed in games descended from Dungeons and Dragons lately, playing them as a form of “comfort gaming”. However, my thoughts have been straying towards Troika!, a game that seems to offer something refreshingly different.
One particular sourcebook that caught my eye is Acid Death Fantasy, which, while only offering the barest sketch of a setting, could easily be merged with Ultraviolet Grasslands (UVG) and Vaults of Vaarn. In theory, it could work with Latter Earth (as presented in Worlds Without Number) and Numenera as well, but these books lack the “Saturday morning cartoon” or psychedelic feel that I’m looking for. So what else do I need to play? Lots of random tables.
Vaarn provides plenty of these, along with the Tome of Adventure Design. I could also incorporate Trilemma sites, which in theory could serve as a Troika! world on their own, although I might save that for later. (None of these end up featuring in the adventure I’m about to describe in this post, though.)
It’s worth noting that this game may benefit from some preparation, such as encounter tables or strategizing which enemies to use ahead of time. Struggling with that frustrated me in my previous attempt.
So after some consideration, I’ve decided to take a slower, more thoughtful approach to my Troika! game. While I’ll still be using ADF as my sourcebook, I want to plan out my adventures more thoroughly, rather than relying solely on random generation in the moment.
To start, I looked at the “Stuff to Do” list in the ADF end papers for inspiration. A few grabbed my attention:
The last one feels a bit too typical for D&D, but I’ve kept it on the list for now.
Before I start setting up characters, I took a look at what ADF says about the Freshwater Grubs:
They look like Spice Navigators from Dune to me! I’ll use one of them as a patron, and their current plan is destabilizing a power structure by leading something or someone to their doom. The “something” could be an organization or a person - really, anything that would cause significant chaos.
“Freshwater Grub” by David Hoskins
The One Page Solo Engine (OPSE) gives me a few details about the adversary: a new or recurring villain, so a person, likely with some power. The oracle says “drifter, mystical.” I’ll use a “Narrowman Nomad” whose goal, again according to the oracle, is “Enrich Self / Social”. It’s becoming clear that my patron doesn’t just want the Narrowman killed; they also want to destabilize the power structure in some way, which means I’ll need to cause a larger conflict.
The oracle says that the power structure is “Simple / Social” and does something “Transform / Mystical.” Perhaps that means a religious order led by my enemy, who is using his position to enrich himself mystically. With these details in place, I’m excited to start fleshing out my adventure and creating characters who will play a key role in the story.
I think that using the Scarlet Heroes “urban adventure” structure could be quite useful here. While I may not need the “Plots & Crimes” list, the Victory Points and scene structure could provide structure for my adventure. To align with Troika!’s preference for d6, I will reduce the overall threshold to 6 to keep things punchy.
Rather than inventing a new settlement, I’ll use Shurupak, which is already detailed to some extent in Acid Death Fantasy. Then I can supplement this information with some tables and a tag from Worlds Without Number (WWN) to provide additional context for your adventure.
After rolling on the “Major Cities” tables in WWN (p. 150) and interpreting them in the light of what ADF says: Shurupak is a former seat of a vanished nation that is now run by a monarchy, possibly with a hereditary line of succession. The nobles are decadent, and civil unrest among the locals is increasing. Enter Svell, a Freshwater Grub who hires adventurers to act as his agents in Shurupak. This city is the best place to meet the nobility, which could be an important aspect of future adventures. The WWN tag “Trade Hub” applies here but turns out not to be very useful for this adventure.
By using this structure, I can create a clear throughline for your adventure and ensure that my character has the opportunity to make progress towards their goals. With the city of Shurupak as your backdrop and Svell as your patron, my adventure can start to take shape.
Since this was a solo character, I thought it would be helpful to give myself a few extra benefits, then adjust as I go along if needed. Starting out, my character will take maximum Skill, Stamina, and Luck, and to reduce enemy initiative tokens by half in fights.
For my character, I chose the Freshwater Grub Agent background from ADF, and decided to use a Sumerian name generator in keeping with the origin of Shurupak. I settled on the name Zamug.
I’ll generate details of the cult as they become needed, but the focus will start out on the enemy himself.
Infiltrate a Location where the activities relate to a Clue. On a check failure, face a Fight.
The enemy, named Ninsun, is a “mysterious, stilt-legged” Narrowman nomad. The Narrowmen are “reputed to have a powerful mysticism” and “stand 3 meters tall, towering above the crowds as [they] seek out seemingly useless, petty items from the bazaars.” (ADF 11)
“Where they come from, or what they want, is entirely unknown. That they are mystics in some regard is the only fact widely agreed upon.” (ADF 28)
Zamug finds himself in a public plaza in Shurupak, “the greatest living city of the desert is Shurupak, breeding ground of pleasure and nightmare.” A Narrowman named Ninsun is preaching, and Zamug is there to hear his angle and find an exploitable weakness.
As Zamug listens, he senses that all is not as it seems. Though nobody is watching him, he suspects that Ninsun is using a spell to enchant the crowd (using Presence).
Test Luck to resist the spell: success.
With his senses fully intact, Zamug is able to stay focused on his goal of listening to Ninsun and finding a weakness that he can exploit later on.
1 Victory Point, 0 Enemy Victory Points, 1 Clue
Bribe an Actor to give you a Clue. Roll a die; on an odd, immediately face a Conflict scene with them or on their behalf and win it to succeed. On an even, pay a reasonable bribe or fail the challenge.
Zamug approaches a diseased beggar with the intention of giving him a few silver coins to learn more. However, upon closer inspection, it’s clear that the beggar is suffering from a disease, making it a better option to do him a favor instead. But as Zamug tries to help, a foe appears to stop him.
The oracle provides a clue, indicating that the favor must be related to deception or something mystical. With this in mind, Zamug decides to get the beggar into position so that Ninsun can try to heal her.
But just as they’re getting ready to act, a massive desert Ogre appears and blocks their path. There’s some posturing as they argue, but it’s clear that the Ogre is determined to stop them from getting near the Narrowman.
Suddenly, the Ogre attacks, hitting Zamug with a giant hammer for 10 points of damage. As Zamug tries to recover, the Ogre strikes again, this time dealing 4 points of damage. It’s time to go before things get any worse!
1 Victory Point, 1 Enemy Victory Point, 1 Clue
From this scene, I learned a lesson: Ogres are very powerful, and I should choose “bettter enemies” next time. In the meantime, Zamug eats a Provision and regains 5 Stamina.
Tail an Actor who might have a Clue. On a check failure, face a Fight.
As Zamug makes his way through the slums, he notices a streetwise young woman on a street corner. He remembers seeing her speaking with Ninsun earlier and receiving some coins from him.
Curious about their interaction, Zamug decides to use his Sneak skill to tail her. He’s successful and is able to follow her without being detected.
As he watches, he realizes that she’s been paid by Ninsun for something, although he can’t quite figure out what that might be. The oracle indicates this relates current physical need, suggesting that Ninsun is paying her for something related to her immediate needs or circumstances - or perhaps his own. However, there’s no other activity to confirm what that might be.
2 Victory Points, 2 Enemy Victory Points, 2 Clues
Outmaneuver a local official suborned or bribed by the foe. Roll a die; on an odd result, add 1 Heat to the community.
As Zamug continues his investigation, he finds himself in an exotic brothel, where he hopes to document or expose the local official’s activity. However, all is not as it seems, as there’s a complication related to “Future Plans/Social.”
Zamug’s plan is to protect himself from any mystical influences, as he believes that Ninsun may be using enchantments to control people. However, he’s surprised to learn that Ninsun and the local official, named Qisht-Ea, are actually friends and the official is willingly complicit in the cult scheme.
Using his Disguise skill to pose as a worker, Zamug is able to learn this information and uncover the truth about the two men’s plans. It’s clear that Ninsun is using an enchantment on his crowd to get them to give him coins, which he then spends on his friend’s lavish lifestyle.
3 Victory Points, 2 Enemy Victory Points, 2 Clues, 1 Heat
Pass an incriminating or disgraceful Clue to an Actor who can make sure important people learn of the evidence.
As Zamug continues his investigation, he discovers an NPC who is a steward of Qisht-Ea’s family wealth. The steward is visiting a school of arts, checking on the operations in accordance with the family’s donations.
However, there’s a complication to the scene: hostile forces are opposing Zamug and watching his every move. To avoid detection, Zamug checks his Sneak skill and is successful in evading the agents on the grounds.
As he moves around the school, Zamug passes on the incriminating evidence about Ninsun and Qisht-Ea’s activities to the steward, who is not happy about what he hears - nor about Zamug’s investigation.
5 Victory Points, 2 Enemy Victory Points, 1 Clue, 1 Heat
Suffer betrayal by an Actor; face a Fight as you try to escape or avenge yourself.
As Zamug hands over the incriminating evidence to the steward, he’s shocked to discover that the steward has betrayed him. The steward calls for one of his household guards to eliminate Zamug, stating that he knows too much and is a threat to their operation.
Realizing that he’s in danger, Zamug must fight his way out of the situation. As he prepares to defend himself, he sees an enemy soldier with a knife in hand, rushing towards him.
Zamug draws his Self-Charging Laser Pistol and takes two shots at the soldier, but unfortunately misses both times. With no other choice, he must now face the enemy in close combat, using his sword.
In a fierce battle, Zamug manages to strike a Mighty Blow, killing the soldier and opening up an opportunity for his escape from the prestigious school.
6 Victory Points, 2 Enemy Victory Points, 1 Clue, 2 Heat
Zamug has reached the needed VP and can move straight to an Action scene.
Bring in an outside authority or useful Actor to oppose the foe.
With the steward’s betrayal still fresh in his mind, Zamug realizes that he needs to bring in an outside authority if he wants to stop Ninsun and Qisht-Ea’s schemes. He decides to turn to the Monarch’s Guard, hoping to convince them that Ninsun is seditious and should be arrested.
To make his case more credible, Zamug uses his Disguise skill to position himself as someone with more authority and knowledge about the situation. He doesn’t want this to be traced back to Svell, so he needs to be careful.
As he presents his case to the Monarch’s Guard, everything goes as planned, and they are convinced of the truth of his words. Zamug has done what he must to stop Ninsun and Qisht-Ea’s schemes and to lead them to their doom.
With the Monarch’s Guard on his side, Zamug is able to successfully destabilize Ninsun and Qisht-Ea’s cult. They are quickly rounded up, and the cult quickly dissipates. However, this action may slightly increase the existing unhappiness with the Monarch; so be it. Nobody ever accused Svell of being a loyalist.
As a reward for his efforts, Svell pays Zamug 500 silver pieces and promises more work in the future. Zamug also increased his Sneak skill, although Dodge and Disguise remained the same.
This felt a lot like Amina’s adventures using Scarlet Heroes in Iramubar. I don’t find that surprising considering the similarities in tone and the fact that the adventure structure was the same. I think I’d prefer to add a second character, not necessarily fully-maxed, and do something in a little less pre-defined format.