Friday, 9 October 2020


 Wow! \I'm really doing it! I'm making a post about initiative! I mean, I re-blogged shuttered room once...

Actually I have no really contribution to the discourse, just wanted to say what I like about Troika! initiative and there's a bit of chat about it's application in skirmish games and/or tactical RPGS... here's my take...

Such a beautiful cover!
You can buy it from The Melsonian Arts Council and they'll even include a free book inside it!

The memorious among you may remember that I was working on a Salute of the Jugger game a little while back and one of the most fun elements of the playtest with Tinhead Ned and Eugene was the random initiative system which I adapted from Troika.

...most fun for me at least, I don't think anyone else enjoyed themselves...

The Basics

Initiative determines the order in which participants may act in a round of combat (or other situation where everyone is trying to do stuff at the same time). In RPGS, combat is a situation where at least one entity is attempting to hurt another and that entity is resisting being hurt. An RPG is a kind of hobby where you substitute conversations about real life for conversations about a fiction that you create as a consequence of that conversation. A conversation is —

The very meaning and mission of deconstruction is to show that things–texts, institutions, traditions, societies, beliefs, and practices of whatever size and sort you need–do not have definable meanings and determinable missions, that they are always more than any mission would impose, that they are always more than any mission could impose, that they exceed the boundaries they currently occupy.. A “meaning” or a “mission” is a way to contain and compact things, like a nutshell, gathering them into a unity, whereas deconstruction bends all its efforts to stretch beyond these boundaries, to transgress these confines, to interrupt and disjoint all such gatherings. Whatever it runs up against a limit, deconstruction presses against. Whenever deconstruction finds a nutshell–a secure axiom or a pithy maxim–the very idea is to crack it open and disturb this tranquillity. Indeed, that is a good rule of thumb in deconstruction. That is what deconstruction is all about, its very meaning and mission, if it has any. One might say that cracking nutshells is what deconstruction is. In a nutshell.

  — Jaques Derrida, 1994 

Troika(!) handles initiative by-, wait a minute. Is it necessary for me to write out Troika's initiative rules again? Is it possible that I can explain the rules any better than the person who invented them, assisted by a crack team of editors? Or am I just afraid of violating international copyright law?

I assert that intellectual property is theft, 
but if I refute my own intellectual property rights 
then I open myself up to the possibility of exploitation.
Likewise my collaborators...

Okay so, here are the Troika initiative rules displayed here under fair use rules etc.
  1. During combat or at other times where it is important to know who goes first you will need to assemble the Initiative Stack. To do this get a container and a selection of coloured dice or other convenient markers (consider cards, poker chips, and so on).
    • assign each character 2 Tokens of a single colour.
    • Add Tokens to the Stack for the enemies equal to their total combined Initiative (if you have 8 Lizard-Men (Initiative 2) you would add 16 tokens to the Stack).
    • Add 1 Token of a distinct colour to the Stack. This Token signifies the End of the Round.
    • OPTIONAL: Enemy Initiative Limit. It is very likely that sometimes the characters’ enemies will grossly outnumber them and make it very hard for them to act. The GM may optionally limit the number of Enemy Initiative Tokens placed in the Stack to double that which the characters contribute. So if a party of 5 (10 Initiative Tokens in total) is attacked by fifty goblins (50 Initiative Tokens) the goblins will only contribute 20Tokens to the Stack. Bear in mind that the GM should feel free to balance Initiative Stacks as it seems appropriate.

  2. Using the Stack The GM will remove a Token from the Stack at random, the colour or design of which will determine who holds the Initiative and takes a Turn. Consider giving a copy of their Token to each player so that everyone remembers which colour or design is theirs.

  3. End of the Round If the End of the Round Token is drawn all Tokens, including the End of the Round Token, are put back in the Stack. Remove Tokens contributed by dead characters and enemies, resolve any per Round or end of Round activities such as magic effects, Drowning, fire, poison, or bleeding, then draw another Token and carry on.

  4. Henchmen Hired help that are willing to engage in combat each provide 1 Initiative Token to the Stack. Henchmen share a single colour Token and when a henchman Token is drawn the GM determines who acts and what they do. The GM should take the wishes of the players under advisement but act in the best interests of the henchman.

  5. Enemies All enemies contribute a varying number of Initiative Tokens to the Initiative Stack according to their combined Initiative and share the same colour or design. When drawing an enemy Initiative Token the GM can declare that any enemy is acting, including an enemy who has acted previously this Round. Obviously this can be abused for mechanical gain on the GM’s part though that would be entirely to the detriment of the game and is discouraged. Apply Initiative Tokens as they make sense. 

  6. Rationale The random Turn length adds a degree of uncertainty where you never know how  much time you have left. When actions are not taking place it represents hesitation, panic, or  other incidental delays that can happen in a tense encounter where every second counts. The goblins have few Tokens because they are cowardly, not because they are slow; the dragon has many because it knows exactly what it wants, not because it is fast.
 - Daniel Sell, Troika! (Numinous edition), 2018

This means of course that multiple rounds can go by without an individual being able to participate: likewise, it is possible for the same individual to act multiple times in a row. 

It's unlikely but possible, and the randomness is what makes it fun.

There a few peculiarities of the Troika! system that make its unique approach to initiative effective:
  • Melee is resolved through opposed rolls: a character that is under attack may end up harming that opponent, even though their initiative token has not yet been drawn. Initiative gives the combatant the chance to initiate (ah ha!) melee, or indeed retreat...
  • The drawing of an initiative token grants one action: characters can't move and attack, or fire then move... 
  • Opponents possess an initiative score: as described in the text above, generic opponents include a score for how many initiative tokens they have, reflecting their speed, behaviour, intelligence or other relevant characteristic.


In my incredibly silly tabletop interpretation of Salute of the Jugger I elected to use the system above. A finite number of juggers (by the way, in case you are unclear, this has nothing to do with juggalos)  on the pitch and the desire for "swinginess" in the flow of play (as opposed to being rigid and turn based) made it ideal.

A modification made was to assign tokens to juggers based on their speed skill: the heavyweight enforcers had a score of 1 and were assigned 1 token; the versatile "chains" and "slashes" were assigned 2; and the quick "qwiks" were assigned 3.

I used coloured dice for tokens, and used a black D12 to signify the start of a new round. Injured juggers had their tokens removed.

So What

Well, yeah, you might well ask that. So what?

I've not played a game of Troika! but my suspicion is that combat is quick, decisive and also somewhat frantic. 

These are, in my mind, all positive things, especially in a game which is about roleplaying a group of characters in a surreal universe rather than and out-and-out combat simulator. My reading of the core book (augmented vicarious exposure through various OSR portals).

That said, wouldn't this system also be really fun to operate in a crunchy (or crunchier), grid-based game? Or even a skirmish game? There's definitely renewed interest in the... genre (?) since Chris McDowall began posting about his narrative combat game Grimlite, and Emmy Allen was (as usual) ahead of the curve when she published The Dolorous Stroke more than 2 years ago.

In fact you can listen to the two of them discussing narrative war games and/or skirmish games TOGETHER on THIS PODCAST:

So why do I think Troika! initiative would be suitable for such a game? Consider the following scenarios:
  • The scavenger readies their bolt-rifle at goliath currently battering their ally: yet the ally is unable to peel away (their token is yet to be plucked!) and the marksman is spotted by other enemies who begin to close in... will they get a clean shot?
That was literally the only scenario I had in mind, prompting me to type out these 1500 or so words. A big chunk of them were Daniel Sell's and Jacques Derrida's, which may be the first (and last?) time those two people get mentioned in the same sentence.

Oh okay here's some more:
  • Plucky kitchen hand with a rolling pin gets an unprecedented series of initiative draws and beats their way through a goblin army.
  • Horrible monster is riddle with arrows from all sides moments before striking a crushing blow against a plucky kitchen hand.
Right, I'm done. 


Never let it be said that I only write about psychedelic proto-neolithic animist school gaming exclusively.

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