Math wizards, monkeymongers, and lawyers with swords—the citizenry of the Crystal Spheres come in all shapes and sizes. Last year Aaron dove into the deep end of a fever dream and reviewed Troika, “a science-fantasy RPG in which players travel by eldritch portal, non-euclidean labyrinth, and golden-sailed barge between the uncountable crystal spheres strung delicately across the hump-backed sky.” Troika has long held the title of one of the strangest and most flavor-drenched pieces of RPG media around: with the amount of esoteric lore attached to each character, item, and spell, you might as well be playing Dark Souls on acid. Can the world handle another dose of uncut whimsy? What more could you even want from the Other World’s Favorite RPG?
Melsonian Arts Council is Kickstarting the first ever Troika setting book this month in Very Pretty Paleozoic Pals: Permian Nations by Evey Lockhart. Permian Nations is a colorful exploration of a whole new world to include in your space-faring fantasy adventure—a world populated by ancient alien wildlife, randomly generated villages, and an asshole named “Count Joehaund Lizardbane.” The book itself will contain 18 prehistoric themed character backgrounds, two prewritten adventures, and a bunch of setting material for this dino planet. I spoke to the author about her favorite new additions to the Troika universe, but if you want to forego any spoilers you still have time to back the campaign here.
My favorite part of Troika has always been the character backgrounds. All the characters in the book are evocative and weird, and last year we saw an absolute renaissance of third-party backgrounds being written as a part of the Troika Background Jam run by Jared Sinclair and John R Harness. Lockhart continues the trend of brilliant character backgrounds in Permian Nations, centering her characters on six species within the Wide River Valley: Dimetrodon, Thrinaxodon, Broomistega, Ulemosaurus, Xenacanthus, and Nautiloid. Each species is further broken down into three possible backgrounds, an interesting improvement on Troika’s relatively monolithic cast of characters.
Dimetrodon Fern Hags are a perfect example of the kind of variety Permian Nations brings to character generation. These four-legged marsh-dwelling creatures are the result of a lost dimetrodon egg being raised by the marsh’s ancestral ghosts. They might not fit in to standard dimetrodon culture, but they know how to talk to the dead and cast a variety of macabre spells.
Thrinaxodon, on the other hand, are small furry synapsids who have the option of being Inventor Errants, Diggers for Hire, or Lizard Keepers. Despite coming from the same culture, each thrinaxodon background is intentionally unique. Lockhart’s favorite Thrinaxodon is the Inventor Errant, a master of construction who carries a stash of twigs, rope, string, and tools with which to build magnificent prehistoric machines.
The list goes on: you can play as an unmotivated amphibian, a lumbering map-maker, a formally-trained cephalopod wizard, or a poisonous shark cursed to swim through air instead of water. The absurd spirit of Troika is preserved perfectly in Permian Nations.
Alongside new character options, Lockhart has designed an entire world for you to play Troika in, and has stuffed Permian Nations full of spells, items, and characters to help flesh out the Wide River Valley. The centerpiece of the book is two prewritten adventures set in the new sphere—one focused on protecting the permian nations from invading humans, and another exploring the myths and magic that make the synapsid cultures so unique.
The first adventure, “Humans Attack!!”, is about the first fleet of non-permian beings attempting to colonize and exploit the synapsids. Count Joehaund Lizardbane has instructed his newly appointed Grand Surveyor to journey across the sea to figure out if conquest of the Wide River Valley is an option, and it is up to you to intervene. The adventure module includes a plethora of NPC’s, numerous conflicts for players to involve themselves in, and a timeline of inevitable events if the party can’t stop the dastardly crew of this grim expedition.
Outside of the prewritten adventures, Permian Nations has enough setting material to be the seed for your own homebrewed adventures. Travel to the Nautiloid Schools, roving bands of magic cephalopods who thirst for knowledge. Here your wizard can learn photosynthesis—if the Nautilus Wizards are willing to teach her the permian spell “Hyper-efficient Photosynthetic Epidermal Transmogrification Pictogram”. If your golden barge is damaged, you can buy a Void Canoe to get around the sphere. The landscape is dotted with random synapsid villages, which you can generate with a handy random table. The book is as versatile as it is beautiful.
Very Pretty Paleozoic Pals: Permian Nations will be on Kickstarter until February 11, 2020, so you only have a little time left to help reach the stretch goals. Troika is a great choice for people interested in a game that centers old-school design sensibilities while still delivering a fresh and exciting experience, and Permian Nations is a worthwhile expansion to the already wildly varied RPG. A digital copy of the setting book will run you £11, while a physical copy of the book costs £22. There are also options to get the base system book bundled in as well. If you really enjoy Permian Nations, you can check out Evey Lockhart’s other work on her itch storefront.
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