Tuesday 8 December 2020

TROIKUS - A Troika/Risus Hack

I like mashing things together and seeing if something interesting forms from the reaction. Generally I pick ingredients that I like individually, and see something a bit special in them. Like how putting chilli and chocolate together brings out elements of each that you might not have noticed before. 

I wrote about a similar process before.

So the two games I've been thinking about are...


What do I like?

  • One of the great examples of having a simple core and then putting the core to work, especially if you pick up the Risus Companion, which I'd recommend as a great read even if you don't love the system. 
  • Low barrier to entry. Here are your four(ish) things you need to know about your character. When you do that thing you roll that many dice and add them up. Let's go. 
  • It took me a long time to realise that the "Inappropriate Cliche" rule is sort of the MVP of this game. It means that players are encouraged to twist their characters into situations they shouldn't really be in, and come up with creative and entertaining solutions. It's not how I want every game I ever play to work, but in the right context it's a lot of fun. 


What do I like?

  • The flavour is just pouring out of this thing. It's like when you eat something so tasty that you just can't shake the aromas from your head for the rest of the day. 
  • The Backgrounds are perhaps the most famous example of the above, but I think the monsters are up there alongside them. 
  • I don't normally think Skill systems add much to a game, but here many of the skills are so flavourful and specific that they serve a similar niche to the weird bits of equipment that I like to give characters in Electric Bastionland. You've got the usual candidates like Swordfighting, Locks, Sneaking, but then things like Gastrology and Vengeance. I really wish there was more of the second type in the original book, but the wealth of additional backgrounds available make up for that. 

What common links are already there?

  • Comedic elements, albeit from different angles
  • Squeezing flavour into those Cliches/Advanced Skills
  • Encouraging creative use of Cliches/Skills that might not be an obvious fit

Where do they differ?
  • Troika has a lot of fancy little mechanical systems (initiative, damage tables, luck) compared to Risus, which is essentially a unified-mechanic system. I'm going to lean more towards Risus on this one, though there's some interesting stuff in Troika. 
  • Risus is "the anything RPG" so is generic by design, but Troika is all about its own specific tone and flavour. This is a case of "opposites attract" for the purposes of this experiment.
  • In Risus every character starts with the same number of points to spend on Cliches, but Risus can have fluctuating character power levels straight out of creation. I'm happy with the imbalance here, but I can also see the appeal of less quantitative imbalance (Troika) ad more qualitative imbalance (Risus). Like if you have Skill 4 and you have Skill 6 that's not especially interesting, but if you have Talentless Imposter (4) and I have Genius Rocket Scientist (4) that's a more interesting type of power-variance.

What could be gained from this union?

  • I understand that Risus is deliberately generic, but personally I don't like the "blank slate" method of character creation. Blending some of the looseness of Cliches with the strange specifics of Troika's backgrounds and advanced skills could yield fun results.
  • Similarly, I feel like Troika's skills could benefit from Risus' attitude towards Cliche creation. Make each one work for you in an interesting way and drench your character in flavour. 
  • Annoy a whole bunch of people that think these games are untouchable, I guess. 

TROIKUS - The Anything Spheres

Rule 1: Go get both games because they're great and you'll need them. 

Character Creation

  • Roll d66 to get a Troika background, or take one from a supplement if you like.
  • Note down your Advanced Skills and their score, but you have to go through and make each one more unique and interesting, drawing on their description if possible. So the Ardent Giant of Corda has Strength but you might change that to Display of Strength to lean in on their storytelling side, or Mournful Strength if you prefer the tragic side of this background. 
  • Get creative when doing the above, and any amount of rewriting feels right as long as the end result is more interesting, rather than just more powerful. 
  • Note down gear, but don't worry too much about specific mechanics.
  • Spells are just a really specific Skill. Again, ignore specific mechanics and just write down the spell effect as if you were writing a proper spell book.

Playing the Game

Basically play Risus with Skills replacing Cliches. 

BUT because I can't help myself I'm going to mess with the core of Risus while nobody is watching. 

I never liked the way Target Numbers are assigned in Risus, and simply totalling die pools gives more of a middle-weighted probability curve than I like in this sort of light-hearted game. So run the game with the following tweaks:

  • When you roll your die pool, discard all dice showing 4-6 and total the remaining dice. 
  • For opposed rolls follow the rules of Risus after this point. 
  • When you would normally make a Target Number Roll, instead use this 1-2-3 scale based on the result of the roll.
    • 0: Failure
    • 1: You scrape through. The bare minimum of what could be considered a success while making a real mess of it. 
    • 2: Success with a minor setback or complication. 
    • 3: A clear success.

Run everything else by-the-book from Risus, especially the Inappropriate Cliche and Proper Rools rules. Up to you if you want to use double-pumps and other fancy stuff but I'd personally keep it down to the core.

What about Difficulty Modifiers?

What about that Risus Death Spiral?
Leaving that in there. I don't see Troika as a setting where you grind away on dungeon crawls or settle in for big boss fights, so having to surrender or flee from combat and find somewhere to recover seems like it would lead to some fun interactions with weird characters. 

Use Troika monsters but split their Skill points between two or three skills as appropriate, drawing on their special abilities and description. So a Troll might get Regenerate (4) and Abuse of Power (3) while a Dragon gets Wanton Slaughter (5), Wealth Accumulation (4), Forbidden Knowledge (4), and Soaring Between Worlds (3). 

Make sure to use their Mien from Troika, because it's a great mechanic with an awful name. 

So there you have it. Raw, untested chemistry in action. Enjoy. 


  1. I can definitely appreciate the small change to Risus's original roll system. Any time a system asks me to arbitrarily set target numbers, I either set a fixed number, or don't run the game.

  2. Was not aware of Risus at all, but I like what I'm seeing.
    Neat mashup!

  3. Hey Chris, good to see you turning your attention to Risus once again! I've always liked your ideas for it.

  4. You've managed to Mashup two of my current favs, thanks for the inspiration, Chris! I'll be playing around with this concept a lot. I suspect there's more that can be done with these two together than is obvious at first glance.

  5. Thanks for the great idea, Chris! Troika and Risus have been my two new favorite games lately (and now EB is up in the running ;p) so it's awesome to see a synthesis between the two! I suspect there's more to find merging these two together too that isn't immediately obvious from the get go. I look forward to trying this idea out ;D

  6. I'm good at being late to parties. Just got my hands on a copy of Electric Bastionland (fantastic, BTW) and while surfing ran across your blog. This mashup idea is fantastic, and it's got little brain parts jiggling to explore this further.