Trophy is a game by Jesse Ross that appears in the Gauntlet Codex - Dark 2 zine. It’s a collaborative storytelling game about a group of treasure-hunters on a doomed expedition into a forest that doesn’t want them there. It requires one game master (GM) and one or more players to portray the treasure-hunters. The premise is that we’ll explore the the physical and mental descent of the treasure hunters as they move deeper and deeper into the dangerous forest, and their goal: the treasure they seek. It seeks a tragic ending, possibly in death, or very likely worse.
I’ve been excited by the hype around this game in the Gauntlet RPG community, where there’s been a bit of buzz. It’s been prominent on the Gauntlet Hangouts online calendar, first in sessions by Jesse himself, but currently being run by more and more people, as there has been a renaissance of those folks who want to run games from Codex... and this one seems both evocative and easy to pickup.
I’ve given myself a goal of reading new games and trying them out, which is helped by the availability of our Story Games Glendale meetup, as well as a renewed interest in story gaming from my partner J, and some of our friends who are both experienced and new to story games. This was one of my first forays into that this year.
OK, so what is this “Trophy”?
The game itself is only a few pages, and easy to read. If you’ve played Cthulhu Dark, you already know half of the simple mechanics, as Trophy borrows the basic “one stat” (in this case called Ruin), and six-sided die (d6) mechanic. Jesse threw in a few more mechanics, which really take the tension and push-your-luck mechanics up a few notches. You can roll a die if you have an appropriate skill. You can roll an EXTRA die to take a Devil’s Bargain, which is a variety of bad stuff in the vein of PbtA mixed success and hard move results. And then, the pièce de résistance, you can add a Ruin die to “risk mind and body”. Don’t get the result you want? Easy, just add another Ruin die to re-roll! Again? Add another die! Keep adding Ruin dice, until of course one of your Ruin die rolls highest, in which case bad things start to add up.
Your Ruin stat is the slowly creeping mechanical horror in this game. Starting at 1, if it ever gets to 6 you will lose yourself to the forest. (This could be character death, or being turned to an NPC for the GM to play with, or could be left to your player to cause trouble for the rest of the party, as you see fit).
But one of the truly fantastic pieces is that you can choose to have Rituals (essentially: spells) during character generation, for the cheap cost of +1 Ruin per Ritual. Want to have with 3 fantastic powers? Easy, just start with a Ruin of 4!
Another fantastic element is that when you get to a Ruin of 5, and you are on the cusp of losing it to the Forest, you can take some steps to reducing that number. Simply destroy some treasure, or sabotage the rituals or escape of your fellow treasure hunters, and you have a Reduction Roll which can reduce your own Ruin (at the risk of that others hold dear). Lovely player versus player action can ensue, encouraged by these mechanics…
Only thing I’d like is a cheat sheet (cue: me), and so I did scratch something together so I didn’t have to flip around the pages of the book, but I have yet to put it in computerized form. That said, run it 2 or 3 times and you’ll have it memorized.
Trophy session at SGG
After we split up into various groups, I had three players: Unique, Matt and Asher. We had characters that included a witch, a noble hunter, and a rogue of sorts.
Codex - Dark 2 includes the base game, but also includes an Incursion (i.e. a scenario) called Tomb of 10,000 Dreams. Incursions consist of “rings” (numbered 1 through 5) which are scenes that take the characters deeper in the forest. (This also evokes the rings of a tree, not coincidentally.)
I have to be honest I was a little nervous going in a for a few reasons. 1. I didn’t really have all the rules down, despite their relative simplicity. I took some notes prior to the game so I’d have them all on one piece of paper (a cheat sheet for this game would be great and simple!), but there was a lot of page virtual page flipping, which was a little annoying (I don’t like to slow down the game with that when I can help it). 2. One of the players, Matt, I’ve played with a few times, and he’s a solid role player, very entertaining, and plays flagrantly interesting characters. However, I wasn’t sure how that’d fit with the tone I was expecting. I have played in other pseudo-horror games with him before, although Bedlam Hall definitely aims for gonzo horror. That said, he knew what he was going into as far as the story type and tone, and mentioned he actively wanted to explore that character and their fall, and he did play into that really well. It is a thing to watch for though… this game sings when the players understand the tone well and are bought into it.
I didn’t do Ring 1 as written, but instead had a scene which was the characters boat sinking and leaving them on the shore of this large island which contained the forest they were travelling to. This included one sad crew member, who mostly was bossed around, and became fodder later for chasing pirate treasure hunters. The mechanics immediately started doing their work, and before long our crew was delving into the deep, dark path.
As the journey continued I quickly started playing with time and perceptions. We saw that the party was being chased by a pirate boat, but almost immediately we find those same pirates, all of which oddly mirror some aspect of our intrepid adventurers, meeting them on the road. However the pirates appeared to have already achieved the goal and are carrying their hoard of trinkets back towards the boat. Gaslighting becomes thicker as you go, as a big part of the game is adding those elements of horror, uncertainty, and questioning one’s reality.
We had a brutal fight, and then did some flash cuts to a few other horrors, and finally to a large tower in a clearing (as foreshadowed by a map they had that only one character could effectively read). Our witch saw a vision of a key, and this is when the party decided to go in 3 different directions into the tower, ditching each other. This set for some good, subtle (and not so subtle) player versus player scenes. We were running a little short on time, so we didn’t get to fully explore falling to a Ruin of 6 for most characters, but did get to see some backstabbing, and all the characters fall into their various tragic and desperate states with some great epilogues.
Where do I get Trophy?
Interested in picking up Trophy? The original game is found in the Gauntlet Codex - Dark 2 zine, which you can get on DriveThruRPG. Here's a Tweet with a lot of great information about the game from @GauntletRPG on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GauntletRPG/status/1069641802855124993.
You can also keep up to date with other locations, changes, and download character sheets from http://trophyrpg.com/.