Tuesday 18 June 2019

Six Troikas 3


31 Troika the Grasping

Like all systems Troika seeks to perpetuate itself, reaching ravenous to the future. Whereas most cities live and die by their inhabitants, Troika becomes it's inhabitants as they become it. The effects are imperceptible, stretching out over years. A reluctance to leave. A slight roughening of the skin, life a little more sedentary. A stiff expression and a grey pallor. Not leaving your burrow den or domicile. Always being in the contact with the bare material of the city. Letting the stones take root in your flesh, blossoming and joining with the mineral root systems already infesting your body.
These living statues will still perform their duties as they sink into the stone slowly - many a successful shop is tended by an immobile merchant, fused with their counter, feet sunken into the flagstones beneath them.
None go unwillingly.
Chisels, crowbars and other such tools of separation are illegal and taboo without license and specific reason.

Who most recently embraced the City?

  1. The hedonistic Empress of the Hundred Falcon, who embraced the city on only her fifth visit - a topic of much speculation. Did the city chose her, or did she desire a truer union?
  2. One-Two Ancis, the skeletal thief. He had laid low in Troika for a century after his theft of the Collapsing Crown, still burning with its cosmic light in his lead-lined lockbox, just out of reach. Where Ancis embraced the city is another question entirely...
  3. Eight Jaws Broken and his force of Sharkmen brothers, walking into the depths together, still clad in their panoply.
  4. The now-canonized previously-heretical rogue architect and mason Yellowbug Mulch, who skittered through Troika improving on the natural forms of the city. It seems the city approves of his Grand Design.
  5. The multi-cephalic lightning-tiger which had been prowling the high-society towers, effortlessly gliding between the spires.
  6. No-one - something is wrong with the city.

32 Troika the Labyrinth

Bring everything you might need when visiting the city, so that it may not tempt you from the heavily settled entrances, bursting with temporary wooden structures - the labyrinth constantly draws itself inwards, a conveyor-belt fed maze stashing temples, tenements, museums, armories and sage's towers amongst the stony folds and ridges. From on high, the maze shift and warps to ensure none may cheat it. Those who come to dwell within the Labyrinth are sustained by it, able to unerringly find potable water amongst the twisted, confusing environs - unless they attempt to guide explorers. The City resists explorers at every turn, an endless gamut of trials and tribulations, maps all nonsense despite best-devised methods until you abandon such efforts. What lies at the center of such a Labyrinth? Only one way to find out...
Any specialized, rare or notable service/item lies within the labyrinth, at a depth of (1d6)d6. When attempting to traverse the Labyrinth, either generate a dungeon using the widest variety of random generators available, or roll 1d6 per day spent attempting to traverse the Labyrinth, giving advantage for relevant skills or clever plans. Keep a running total of these d6 results - when it is equal to or greater than the Depth, the location has been found. Reset this counter and repeat for the journey back out. On a 1 or 6 on this dice, an encounter occurs. Anything is possible in the Labyrinth.

What do you stumble upon in the Labyrinth?

  1. A wide bowl chamber filled with dirty water, plastic trees and vicious, guerrilla-war hardened chimpanzees, seeking an edge on their neighbors.
  2. A heart-shatteringly beautiful vista, the definition of landscape beauty. Step two inches to the left and it is revealed as a fortuitous assemblage of lines and angles. You will never find that perfect viewing spot again. 
  3. A statuary of martyrs and saints positioned in dialog with sinners and heretics. As in, they are screaming insults and proclimations at one another - all seek some neutral arbitration to settle the debates.
  4.  A battalion of soldiers, whisked from some foreign field and set to wander. There are 200 of them, and the lower officers plan a mutiny. The lower officers were previously the higher officers, until the most recent mutiny. This cycle is on its 2d6th rotation.
  5.  A cringing, scraping giant, believing themselves to be the last of their kind and hiding from some apocalypse. It will do anything to ensure it stays secret whilst it believes it is the last. (Of this particular type of Giant - it is, and it is being hunted.)
  6.  Trapeze artists.

33 Troika the Sunken

A free-floating assemblage of glass and light amongst black abyssal waters which shift gradually and gently into the stuff of the void. Fuel and caution are the center of life in the Ever-Sinking City, and the Airblade Servitors are ruthless in their enforcing of the latter, cleanly slicing offending limbs off. All manner of lamps and fuels proliferate, the colours and shades breeding strange new confluences of light and shadow, shooting strangely and chaotically through the glass tunnels and chambers until stopped by a privacy-rug or outward-facing mirror. The fashion of the city is all about positioning, finding the light which plays best on the uniform plain-white of the inhabitants. The slums are messes of muddy, confused, unhappy light cast in a dimness, with the black waters pressing close, drinking  the illumination. Mirroring the riot of shades, all manner of glass-tint and colouration may be found, intensifying and mutating already mutant light into yet-stranger, more novel forms.
Conventional fuels have double-value, whilst exotic, rare and unusual sources command up to twenty times their normal value. No weapons nor items with hard-edges may be sold in the city. All commerce is performed with sand of a variety of qualities, textures, colours and sources. This can be converted at most of the docks.

What Glass-Light pairing is fashionable currently?

  1. Soot-Streaked glass with a dancing umber flame pattern matched with jellyfish-blood open lanterns.
  2. Alternating strips of yellow and sable glass stacked horizontally matched with the fierce blue light of burning demon-bone.
  3. Thick, beer-bottle green glass in copious amounts matched with the greasy, insistent light from a caged Lazy Star.
  4. Volcanic obsidian glass matched with flickering half-present purple plasma lighting.
  5. Torrents of liquid glass matched with cool-blue timid lighting from underpowered crystal-torches.
  6. Broad beads fused together, all manner of colours and styles forming a nodular glass mosaic matched with a penetrating pure-white beam, generated from a trapped lightspear-anglerfish.

34 Troika the Insidious

Troika is not a city - it is an infection. An idea of the mind, poison carried by the feet of travellers. It seeps from their mind into the stones of every city they visit, implanting Troika into the very bedrock of this new host-city. It only takes months for the buildings to shift, shuffle and settle, the roads to twist curve bend and spasm, the inhabitants to change roles until another Troika once more has established itself, an outcropping of the same city on yet another Plane. Whether all are large portals to a singular Troika or some heretofore unknown super-city-organism-meme is a question unanswered.

But Where was before Troika? What detail remains?

  1. The Free State of Niffgretheim, a city of commerce, industry and cannons. Amongst the warrens of Troika the council chamber remains, the City Councilors and Guild Heads drafting a legal case against Troika, their protestations and low moanings echoing through nearby streets.
  2. The Most Holy City of the Trinity of Faiths, ruled by Seven Bishops, a High Priest and the Twin Martyrs. The grand cathedrals, stone circles and sacrificial pits are long gone, but the proliferation of candle-makers remains.
  3. Ascension Station, the orbital retreat of a Void-Nomad-turned Warlord, a coddled paradise wrapped about in glass, metal and enchantment. The conquerors are gone, swallowed with their pseudo-city, but the slaves remain, running free through Troika, thankful to this insidious city.
  4. The Iron Fortress at the gates of Hell - once the guarantor of separation between the captive demonic legions and their sub-captive sinners - now a thoroughfare for demonic invasions and divine crusaders. The Iron Fortress itself still towers above Troika, now filled with the Servitors ensuring the soldiers abide by the Peace of Troika.
  5. The city upon the shell of Urgathemmonon, ancient Civil-Tortoise - how he bears the weight of Troika is an utter mystery. Traversal through the basements and tunnels will still lead one to the warmth and safety of the inner-shell, where you must tread carefully to avoid attracting the shell-parasites, the size of dogs.
  6. London 1886. Queen Victoria broods in her palace, considering an empire across the humpback skies and growing fat on the riches of spheres unimaginable.

35 Troika the Beacon

Across the void and through the spheres and in the schools and libraries within the mansions and under the floorboards beneath the bridge where the rainwater comes through the slum roof in the cloisters and choir chambers from every set of dead lips in the crypt is one name:


The name a clarion call - once you've heard the good word my friend you will never be lost for you shall always know in which direction to turn - assuming you want to turn and face


Some cities have a thousand names but this delight has but one:


All ships, all barges, all portals and slipstreams and star-fortresses navigate by one voidmark and one voidmark alone:


Strange then, that no-one has been there.
It is empty, but the name resounds.


  1. TROIKA! The population consumed to power such a bright and noble signal!
  2. TROIKA! Forbidden by an unknown creator and enforced by power dwarfing the signal!
  3. TROIKA! An illusion, entirely of the imagination, never witnesses and jointly hallucinated!
  4. TROIKA! Heaven!
  5. TROIKA! Hell!
  6. TROIKA! Not empty but heaving! If only you had eyes to see! None have eyes to see! TROIKA!

36 Troika the Plastic

Once the city was as unformed clay - a dead thing, inert, awaiting a sculptor to evoke form and meaning from it. Rather than the hands of a craftman, the stuff of Troika is worked with a far more dangerous tool - the mind. The entirety of the city is a reflection of the psychology of all inhabitants and all visitors, each leaving some small indelible mark as the city shapes and strains to achieve a reflection of them, their thoughts and feelings in that instant. This intensification of any atmosphere can rapidly spiral out of control, great waves of emotion and architecture tearing through the city - leading to the creation of a class of lobotomized blank-thought wardens, enforcing the concept of the city exactly as it is now. Management and screening of guests to those areas filled only with positive impressions is a key skill, whereas the poorest districts are true nightmares of carnivorous, predatory architecture. The longer one haunts an area, the more pronounced their ability to shape the city. Attempting to think/feel the psychoplastic into anything directly useful leads to ugly, angular shapes, seemingly resisting any logical grip one tries to take upon it. Attempting to export any psychoplastic fails explosively.

What Psycho-Architecture runs rampant?

  1. Bewildering snarls of hard angles and twisting passages leading to places you clearly do not belong.
  2. Tall featureless authoritarian walls denying access to anywhere, anything, closing in around you.
  3. Idyllic peaceful plazas proliferate, plentiful pleasant perfumes press precious powerful perpetual.
  4. Impossible alien architectures, evoked from some nightmare and bleeding into reality, black oil dripping down the walls and from rusted hooks and spikes.
  5. An immense open hunting ground - no cover bar the buildings for the prey scurrying across wide, empty streets.
  6. A city much like any other when you think about it.

Friday 7 June 2019

Classic Traveller Experience

Me and the Thursday crew have decided to tackle Classic Traveller* for our next game on my relentless tour of RPG systems released before I was born.

*Using the '77LBBs** and Supplements 4 (more character careers) and 6 (76 Patrons)
**Except my copy of Book 2 is the '81 printing which gives some odd results, but nothing major.

EDIT (obligatory jokes: the real fantasy of Traveller is having a job/being able to afford a mortgage/being able to retire)

00 - Creating my Subsector

Planet creation boils down to 7 dice rolls, with previous results modifying the next roll. This process gives you size, atmosphere, water coverage, population, government character, law level and tech level. Whilst these facts individually are rather dry, the potential for incongruity is a masterclass in forced creativity. A world with 100% water coverage, a population in the billions but a medieval tech level and ruled by a Religious Dictatorship? At first, nonsense - but with some thinking this becomes a nightmare of Bioshock-style tunnels, every passing year reducing the livable areas of this underwater city, squatting in alien iron passages foreign to their tools.

This gets better when you start chaining these planets together into your overall sub-sector map. A fascist dictator planet with advanced technology and a huge population here and two small, lower population words with the government type occupied just a jump or two away? Without any explicit mechanics for control zones or inter-planet empires, we've got a powerful planet expanding their borders through military means - ripe for smuggling, blockade busting and rebellion.

Generating the map by hand forces you to learn the sub-sector a lot more intimately - online generators don't feel as personal. 

A lot of these planets immediately suggest some of the high-level political and cultural elements - but how do the players access this? (If something doesn't inform play meaningfully it's wankery, IMO) From my understanding, it's up to the Referee to make it matter by tailoring the Patrons to the situation locally and further afield. Patrons are your classic Mr Johnson - powerful or driven individuals looking for 'independent contractors' to deal with situations either beyond them or requiring a level of distance. Generally these are less-than-legal if not outright criminal (more on this later) as judging from the Patron table ( a d6xd6 table consisting only of titles/archetypes describing the Patron). Here we run into the first issue - there's no guidance on what pay should be, nor any more detail for generating the sort of work they're looking to have completed. Whilst a lot of this can be inferred or seems obvious by cross-referencing the planet/subsector info against the Patron title, more of that procedural goodness for the actual Patrons would've made this part of setting up play much much easier. In a few places I've just directly references jobs out of the 76 Patrons supplement, or else used them for inspiration - as well as for attempting to baseline appropriate payment. Still, it seems a shame that these very important figures, directly driving play, were given short shrift here. 

Speaking of Payment - Traveller seems to sing best when you're trying to make mortgage payments. Although I've read advice saying "you don't need to give them a ship!!!" I gave them a ship. The repayments system is explained in some detail before the game describes the ship meaningfully to you, which, to me, highlighted the importance of this aspect of play. By default, players owning a spaceship are locked into an eye-watering 40 year mortgage, paying 1/240th of the total value of the ship per month. For my players, this means the venerable Type A Free Trader, a 200 displacement ton ship capable of the basics, with enough of a hold to speculate on and freight cargo. The monthly payment for this is roughly the equivalent of 4 groundcars - which are not cheap. 
Quick aside - this sort of thing slots in nicely with shit like Inventory Management and Rations and stuff - stuff often handwaved away as boring - but when this stuff goes wrong or limits activity, they generate very very interesting decision making. They themselves are not fun - but the consequences are.
All this means the players need to be making serious, reliable money. And this is technically feasible only using the cargo freight and passenger tables. On a good roll. For every trip. And so the mortgage does it's magic and forces the players to get creative with their money making - or to agree to some of these less-than-legal Patron jobs spoken about above. Almost like it's all meant to slot together into a cohesive game experience.

01 - Rolling Characters

Rolling characters for Traveller deserves the reputation it has, especially when you're actually generating characters for play. The tension and hype of the survival rolls is so much higher, the lows crushing and successes a real triumph, when you're dealing with characters you're actually using. Despite being low-to-minimal in obvious RP queues, the system surprises once again with forced creativity from unexpected results - our Scientist with maximum Intelligence and Education scrubbing out after 4 years - during his graduate scheme effectively. From that, we got Alphus Magnus, the narcissistic prick who was kicked out of every research facility for being so fucking unlikable. We also have Grula Hug, who spent 16 years in the Imperial Navy and never once got commissioned, remaining a humble midshipman, but learning intimately the grubbier side of Naval life, as well as getting a powerful network of informants in any Naval base.

These are the characters who survived.

Running through these tables naturally gives you a shape of the character, which means we can invent their deaths when the dice take their fill - each 4 year term spent in service requiring a Survival Roll. Players (usually) choose if they wish to stay in or muster out, making death your fault. A Diplomat assassinated in their first posting (their brother, the players next character, used the Death in Service bonus to put themselves through Law School, despite being thick as pigshit). Numerous Scouts torn apart, lost in space, shot over petty squabbles. A 14-year-old Belter, desperate enough for the job and paying the price. These character generation tables set tone, expectation and built immediate attachment to the characters they generate without any art or window dressing - pure mechanics.