Thursday, July 23, 2020

Troika Pamphlet Jam Reviews, Part 5

Thus concludes our journey through all 52 entries submitted to the Troika Pamphlet Adventure Jam. I've had a grand time reading these pamphlets and writing the reviews, and I hope you've enjoyed reading along with me. Maybe I helped you find your new favorite adventure or maybe I've made several new mortal enemies with my criticism. Either way, thanks for taking a look. But don't go rushing off just yet, we're not quite done here.

Next post, I'll be assembling some of my takeaways from the jam in a little post-mortem and distributing a series of arbitrary awards. I'll also post a list of my favorite adventures from the jam for folks who don't want to read all the reviews and just skip to the good stuff.

Here's a sneak preview of some of the arbitrary award categories I've been brewing up:
  • Honey I Shrunk the PCs Award: For most creative use of minute-scale adventuring
  • Who Do You Think You Are, Troika Is Award: For excellence in ridiculous nonsense
  • Prozac in a Book Award: For most therapeutically peaceful adventure
If you have any suggestions for award categories or topics you'd like to see covered in the jam post-mortem, please share them in the comments.

Below, find links to the rest of the reviews:

They Might Be Troika!

Fans of They Might Be Giants would likely get a kick out of these (presumably) song references loosely organized into RPG tables, but I feel lost. Some of the entries jive with Troika and make for decent session inspiration, but many stretch to get there.

By Adam Good & Rick Richards

Antiquities and Curiosities

This module has all the charm of a vacant mansion. Structurally it looks the part. Abstract white sheets obscure what might be aristocratic furniture, but the fine wood inlay exists only in your imagination. Lack of specificity in this golden-barge-hosted auction heist casts a dusty film over noble and robust architecture. 

By Josh Hittie

Lukomorie and The Tree

A 3-location adventuring spot with figures from Slavic folklore. The locations feel largely unrelated except by culture and mostly encourage binary interaction: you can either do the thing or not. I like the tree and its golden chain that collapses the sky if removed. I wish the rest of the pamphlet supported an adventure related to that.

By Max Verbludenko

The Pelican's Secret

A murder most foul aboard a ship soon to port. The module admirably crams a lot of misdirection, actionable clues, and fun diversions into a small package. A few of the clues fail to connect in a way that make sense to me, but those gaps are easily filled. A worthy entry into the notoriously difficult to execute RPG mystery canon.

By Andrew Murdoch & Rolland


A design so ambitious and experimental I have no idea how fun it would be to play but certainly looks interesting enough to try. Essentially two entire board games using Troika as an extra layer of mechanics. In one, hunt beasts through a maze of tiles and harvest their bits to build your Creaturekart. In the other, race your vehicle against competing karts down a branching track. The mechanical abstractions seem to minimize space for roleplaying but there's plenty of room for a Troika board game among these adventures.

By Robin Gibson

Tower of Crab

This tower never plumbs the absurdist crabby depths I hoped it would. It takes a moderate approach to crab based humor, staying comfortably within the box of "but what if it was crabs?" The smooth jazz of giant enemy crabs, if you will. Some people like smooth jazz.


Belly of the Vellum Wyrm

A fine dungeon crawl through the belly of a multidimensional wyrm that eats up the players to get the game a-rolling, but forget all that. Grab your scissors and 1st grade folding skills because this is an arts and crafts project. The dungeon is linear and therefore the map not particularly useful, but I made a little snake and I had fun doing it. Pictures enclosed.

By James Lennox-Gordon

I did the head a little goofy

House Party

Navigate a sea of bros and hipsters to find a non-Gnome infested pissing spot and escape the house party. Heavy on contemporary party tropes, a bit light on gameable content. Fun, visceral encounters border things too abstract to be of much use. Much like a real house party, you're gonna have some aimless conversations that leave you jaded, but maybe you'll have a life-changing heart to heart or two that you forget the next day. Are you gonna have brunch with the god of death tomorrow like you planned to? Probably not.

By Joel Forster & Hana Lee

Descent Into The Baleful Basilica

A map-less, vanilla dungeon crawl with encounters almost exclusively of the sword-whacking variety. Investigate a vault suspected to imprison a terrible monster long ago sealed away by the ancients. Should you foolishly unleash the monster (a classical gorgon), you must fight her and if you win you can take her treasure. The boss encounter is balanced for party size.

By Emir Aciyan

Sakto's Karaoke Night

Content warning: Abuse. 
Prepare yourself for tonal whiplash. I'm still recovering. A little girl remains trapped inside her family's karaoke bar after she made a deal with a demon to rid the world of evil men like her abusive father. The demon haunts the place, tricking those who enter into committing acts of evil to convince the girl of man's heinous nature and whittle down her will to resist him. The adventure revolves around the demon's "temptations", but only one of the twelve provide any incentive for the players to behave poorly. Further, several encounters feel disconnected from the theme. In one, you can only convince the girl of man's goodness if you stab a sentient sword into a bunch of food. In others, you must sing along with the demon or resist falling asleep in a comfy bed. There's a distinct rift between the heartwarming karaoke-themed whimsy promised by the cover and tagline (and occasionally represented in the text) and the very serious, dark themes that dominate the adventure. The resulting clash between these ideas confuses and disturbs more than it provokes laughter or reflection.

By Giuliano Roverato & Rodrigo Melchior

SPYJAMMER - MindMeadows

An aesthetic feast for fans of brutalist architecture and cold war espionage. A rival syndicate wiped your brain after a failed mission and locked up the encoded memory files in MindMeadow Corporation's archives. It's so close to paranoia-fueled psychedelic bliss, but many of the encounters in the corp offices miss on practical adventure-fuel. I'd kill for a meatier and more developed version of exactly this, because this aesthetic is one of favorite takes on Troika.

By Galazor

He Made the Trains Run on Time

A pleasant hex crawl through a bit of woods where a failed wizard's project now rusts. There's nothing dangerous or nasty here, only some mildly curious encounters and the potential for time travel shenanigans. Perhaps not dramatic enough for the spotlight of a night's gaming, but a perfectly lovely amuse-bouche or detour elsewhere.

By Eli Hardwig

Banini: Legend of Alec

A peculiar adventure loosely based on 3D platformer video games of yore. It comes with two pamphlets, one the adventure and the other some backgrounds plus a music-playlist-based initiative system, which seems fun. Players are Baninis, presumably the ball-shaped creatures featured in the art. Imagine Kirby but without the gluttonous powers. In the adventure you do a series of things that don't lean as far into the video game theme as I hoped. Some of the things you do leave wide room for creative solutions, others involve fighting something in an empty arena. It's idiosyncratic and personal, like a parent's campaign notes for a game with their kids. It doesn't feel like it was written for me, but maybe that's okay.

By Christopher W. Reynolds

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Troika Pamphlet Jam Reviews, Part 4

We're coming down the home stretch with these reviews. After this, I'll post one last review compilation of the remaining 13 pamphlets and then onto the review roundup.

What is this? Chronologically ordered reviews of every module from the Troika pamphlet adventure jam that ended a month or so ago. Here you'll find reviews of the 28th-39th pamphlets submitted to the jam. Below, find links to the rest of the reviews:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 5


A Star Fox-esque cadre of roguish space animals heist oregano from a slug crime boss in their junker starship. With each subsequent sci-fi reference, we crawl further from Troika's science fantasy into a wacky-space-opera hole from which there is no return. There's some encounters, a background, and rules for spaceships. It's not my thing, but if it is yours go forth and enjoy War Fox of the Space Dunes.

By Philip McElmurray

Dream Midden

A pleasant and modest little adventure into a world of caves and mushroom people. I like the snail taxi, the potential for immortality via Death Shroom inoculation, and the inexplicable scale. Did the quest-giving alchemist shrink the players to tiny size off-screen, is the author confused between inch and foot demarcations, or should I learn to stop worrying and love the Troika?

By Bear Commune

The Walking Gaol

Go and free a prisoner from the Waking Gaol, a jail within a giant golem. Apparently you'll know your target when you see 'em, but really it's anyone's guess. A rarity in this pamphlet jam, the dungeon uses puzzles. Some decent ones too. There's a lot to like here between the open ended encounters and ambiguous hook. There's a bit that misses, but it mostly hits. And where it fails, I'm inspired to get in there and fix it.

By Klum

The Department of Doors

Thousands of doors await in this secret doormaker's guild warehouse. They lead anywhere and everywhere, but mostly they lead to pure joy for you and your friends. Do you want to play Monster's Inc, but Troika and better? Yes, you do. This module delivers in every way you'd hope. Delightful door-destinations, portal-riffic encounters, tantalizing hooks, weirdos lurking around, everything. It does exactly what it needs to do as a pamphlet and I still want a full-length chapbook version.

By Max Kämmerer

The Last Stand of Septimus Nox

If you've read this far and noted the author below, you might know what to expect. This is no more practical than any other Lutra Ludos, but it's one of his better ideas. Shrink down to minute scale and confront a tyrannical wizard lording over a tiny people trapped by fictitious threats from outside. It's so open and ripe for player hijinks you could almost run it just from the pamphlet. Almost. If you're confused or curious about this mysterious Lutra Ludos character, I encourage you to read one of his 10 pamphlets submitted to this jam. This is a decent place to start a delve into Ludos's oeuvre, though I'd recommend A Wizard Did It as his best or The Birdcage as most exemplary of his style.

By Lutra Ludos

Panic on Pyramid Prime

This pamphlet looks cool. Triangular glyphs over psychedelic flows of harsh black and red prime you for a cool fucking adventure, which this almost is. The premise is great. A multidimensional apocalypse ravages a pyramidal plane and only the players can storm the pyramidion palace to save the day. The actual adventure takes players through a series of nondescript rooms fighting enemy after enemy with only a single opportunity for a non-combat solution. I love the setting and the aesthetic, the enemies are individually awesome, but there just isn't an adventure here that I'd want to play.

By Alexei Vella

Dwarf Stars

Speculative fiction-fiction on far future D&D. Tiefling and Genasi roles in spaceflight, Dwarven hegemony. A micro-system or perhaps extremely optimistic 5th edition D&D supplement, maybe a minable idea or two if your Troika tends towards the 40k.

By Lutra Ludos

Wanted: Belladonna Mortsafe

Where in the world is Belladonna Mortsafe? Probably in the Flea Market, or the House of Indolent Blooms, or the Department of Doors, or someplace equally likely to host a dashing rogue up to no good. The problem with this module: Your players will love Mortsafe too much to ever wish her harm. The next Troika pamphlet jam should be called "The Belladonna Mortsafe NPC jam" because I need more of this in my life.

By James Holloway


A post-mortem adventure idea paired with a countdown of apocalyptic events. Nothing about this feels so uniquely afterlife-y that you could not slot the apocalypse into a mortal campaign world if you like. The countdown hooks well into things likely to impede or disturb a typical adventuring party and feels appropriately apocalyptic.

By Lutra Ludos

Slime Temple

Sail down the slime river to rejuvenate yourself in squelching pits and falls. Keep noble company among multifarious ooze species, perhaps seek an audience with Mother Ooze herself. I'd like more specific Treasure ideas but the ooze flavors and effects are quite nice. Thumbs up for the vertical map.

By Ember + Ash

Across☆The Humpbacked Sky, Baby!

Bounty hunting across the humpbacked sky, supported by narrative tools and minigames. A bit more storygame-abstract than what I typically go for, but it feels appropriate for an adventure of this scope. The sample spheres and orbital threats make for compelling golden barging.

By Aaron Burkett & Carolyn Pagan

The Shinnanig Inn

Cool your impulses on the beaches of the Sea of Thought, attended by silver butlers and a golden hotel awaiting your reprieve. Great blocks of text and tedious skill challenges obscure nuggets of good ideas. A contender for one of the greats if adapted to RPG-practical language and stuffed with more game, but stubbornly unwieldy as is.

Paul Sciberras