Sunday, June 21, 2020

Troika Pamphlet Jam Reviews, Part 2

I posted my first batch of reviews for Melsonia's now-completed pamphlet adventure jam nearly a month ago, with the plan to release around 6 reviews a week until I finished the lot. When I got started, there were a manageable 20 or so pamphlets posted to the jam. It concluded with a much more daunting 52. I still plan to review every single pamphlet from the jam, but I'll likely be cutting the length of my reviews down to a couple sentences each and releasing reviews in larger batches. Here I'm posting the 9 paragraph-length reviews I finished before life got in the way a couple weeks ago.

In early June, I popped my head into a brand new discord server created to organize the creation of an adventure anthology to benefit BLM bail funds. I soon found myself neck deep in the project, juggling efforts to coordinate almost 100 volunteers and write a 2-page Mothership adventure of my own. 10 days after we started, we had a complete, 140 page book called Dissident Whispers containing almost 60 adventures for a wide variety of RPG systems. We raised over $25,000 for the National Bail Fund Network in 24 hours after its release. I've never been more proud of anything I've done in my life, and I heartily encourage you to check out the project if you haven't already. There's even a couple (very good) adventures for Troika! in there.

Learn more about Dissident Whispers and find links to pick up a copy at our website:

Links to the rest of the reviews:
Part 1
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

And now, the Troika pamphlet reviews:

Flea Market

The Learned Troikish Dog, teller of truths, shrinks the party to sub-flea scale to quest for stolen, bloodborne knowledge in The Flea Market by Aaron King. Adventure awaits within the organs of a flea enslaved by vampire gnats. Compete with a gallery of tiny NPCs for answers to life's questions on auction as scabby artifacts--brilliantly creative treasure. The open and evocative setup fills the mind with countless schemes and alternative goals. Further reason to run Flea Market is the potential for more adventures in the shrinkoverse and with the Learned Troikish Dog. No campaign plot is likely to survive an encounter with this charming scenario. In the author's words: "This is your game now. The flea is like a golden barge."

Blockaded in Bahlgran

Blockaded in Bahlgran by Rollin Salsbery conjures a rich and palpable vision of a besieged fantasy-Venice. Mimes wield invisible swords, islands bristle with intrigue and flavor. However, like the gondolas that ply its canals, this "adventure" feels rudderless. More a setting than an adventure, Blockaded offers no context to orient the players or kick things off. Juicy hooks dangle from every shore, but in the tiny space allotted by a pamphlet they feel too undeveloped to explore without some heavy lifting. Make no mistake, I love what's here and will absolutely keep this waiting in the wings during my next Troika campaign, but I feel this brilliant setting demands more space than the pamphlet medium allows.

Scions of Sessar

Scions of Sessar by James Millichamp leads with a lore dump and marches through gloomy dungeon points of interest. The scenario maintains a death grip on the prescribed path forward until the very end, leaving little room for player creativity. Still, it isn't unsalvageable. It needs some breathing room. It needs goals. Some motivation for the random-encounter NPCs here, a little less encouraged player backstabbing there, we're starting to get something cooking. What if the players started the scenario dead, and this trek through the misty underworld ended with a rewriting of each character's death-book to bring them back to life? Now that's an adventure I could share a beer with.

Beneath Damp Sands

In his third submitted adventure, Sean F. Smith teases with an underdeveloped but lovely adventure concept. Comb the beach for the Razor-Clam Regent and undertake cute, peaceful little quests for his favor. A brilliant concept marred by dismissive, saccharine twitter-speak and painfully sparse design. I yearn for a version of this taken more seriously, but I still plan to keep this in my back pocket for a campaign that needs a shot of childlike joy.

The Birdcage

I dislike backstory. I particularly dislike backstory choking out space for gameable material from the narrow confines of a pamphlet. The Birdcage by Lutra Ludos fills its 2 pages almost entirely with long paragraphs of backstory and lore, and I find I like it despite myself. Holy relics from an ancient crusade await brave adventurers in the titan-bone sky prison, the Birdcage.  Only 1 of the pamphlet's 6 columns provides material to assist a GM in running an adventure within the prison: 3 evocative tables of prison residents and dubious jobs. As these tables conjure fantastical images of adventure, the giant blocks of text on the next page taunt and provoke me. The Birdcage dares the reader to fill in the massive gaps left by its backstory and run a campaign worthy of its grandeur. I'm unsure if it's worth the effort to develop this in the face of so many immediately runnable scenarios offered by this jam, but it's tempting.

A Wizard Did It

The second of five pamphlets submitted by Lutra Ludos (at the time of this writing) continues a tradition of quality that I suspect will hold for the rest of his entries. Three feuding wizards teleport the PCs to a demiplane to mediate their intense but obscure argument. With this brilliantly simple concept, the author leaves plenty of space to luxuriate in fun tables: a graphically fascinating relationship wheel, dark secrets between the wizards, and my favorite: dramatic twists befitting a stereotypical "DUN DUN DUNNNN" sound effect. Descriptions of the wizards equip theatrically-inclined GMs with all the material they'd need to perform, but as a poor actor I fear I'd fail to do justice to these complex character snapshots. This pamphlet would sing in the hands of a certain kind of GM, but I'm confident even the clumsiest roleplayers would have an uproariously good time probing the wizards' absurd facades.

In The Thicket

Jonathan Dersch pens another pamphlet replete with public domain art and practical ideas. Six dryads preside over a botanical katamari-sphere. Die drop mechanics establish each dryad's domain and encounters within while sylvan adventure hooks push players in all the right directions. A fury system tracks crimes committed by PCs against plants and dryad-vibes, raising the encounter table die rolls towards more dangerous events. However, the structure of said table and recommended die drop dice size mean players are unlikely to encounter hazards that would begin them down the path of plant slaughter, keeping their fury low and beginning a vicious cycle of peace. Encountering chaotic blight (alluded to by the introduction and represented only in the highest reaches of the encounter table) or dangerous creatures seem a far less likely result of incurring the thicket's wrath than meeting gentle wild animals (entry #5) instead of a tranquil clearing (#2). Despite my complaints, some minor retooling to the clunky fury system could easily spruce up this otherwise solid adventure.

Something About The Gnomes

Garden gnomes loose in the botanical gardens and free sandwiches await in Something About the Gnomes by PanicMolt. Endearingly DIY layout efforts jump off the page: MS Paint art, stats via spreadsheet screenshots, haphazard paragraph placement. Hit-or-miss encounters in the garden's 6 rooms lead to the hiding spots of 3 rogue gnomes. The good: A plant-overprotective, job-insecure rhino man, a den of cannibalistic tigers. The less good: A quiz with joke answers tied to skills, a large frog, passive voice. Should all gnomes be returned for relocation to new pastures, the players earn free sandwiches for life. Who doesn't want free sandwiches for life?


Delectably absurdist revolutionary factionalism abounds in Sentient Arms of the World, Unite! by Ben Foster. Hopeful propaganda introduces the Revolutionary Commune of Sentient Arms and its righteous tenets of pro-sentient arms liberation and anti-adventurer abuses. The RCSA squats on a dilapidated and teetering 19-floor high tower, rooms sagging with hazardous co-tenants and ambitious sub-committees. Despite a wealth of tables and information for NPC and factional goals, the sheer scale of the tower leaves wide gaps in gameable material. Without encounters, there's little sense of the tower as a complete ecosystem rather than isolated and static rooms. Vaguely antagonistic interior politics and a resounding lack of actual counter-revolutionary scheming means players have little concrete intrigue to grab onto. Sentient Arms feels like a prelude to something greater: The hub of an anti-adventurer revolutionary campaign rather than an adventure in its own right. I'm left pining for the brilliant political intrigue scenario that could have been, but still relish the pamphlet's revolutionary aesthetics and sincere charm.

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