My second game jam submission in a week (and, well, ever) is Aetherway, for the delightful Goon Jam featuring hacks of Nate Treme’s Tunnel Goons . It’s meant to be a companion and/or conversion for Troika!, but I think it’s potentially useful to anybody who would like d66 tables of strange travelers and otherworldly portals—and it’s free for now, at least! It is an odd little game, and, like the many pilgrims and planeswalkers it contains, it ended up quite changed between the start of its journey and the end.
The game started as “Portal Goons,” a simple hack to run Troika! with the rules from Tunnel Goons. That wasn’t a very interesting project in itself, though, since the conversion is practically trivial: You pretty much just need to swap out ability scores for skills, make brief mention of “testing your luck,” and come up with how spells might work differently from other skills, and boom, you can use Troika! backgrounds as-written, right out of the book.
To add a bit more value, I figured, I should also provide new backgrounds—but Troika!’s are so good, and I was on such a time crunch, that I didn’t trust myself to do this well. Instead, I decided to try to make random background generators, thinking this would somehow be easier. Each table would be half a background; roll twice, combine them, and get something like a “Simian Astronaut” or an “Elder Psychic.” If you got a combo that you could interpret a couple different ways, you were free to tweak it with the ref. (Do you want your Robot Hunter to be a machine with a crossbow, or a bounty hunter who takes down rogue androids?) And if you got a combo you didn’t like, well, go ahead and roll again.
Unfortunately, once I started testing random pairings, I found myself with more than a few dull or nonsensical combos. (That said, I suppose somebody clever could come up with creative interpretations of “Dinosaur Rat,” “Witch Wizard,” and my favorite cringe-inducing result, “Priest Hunter.”) I tried making more complex table breakdowns in the hopes of producing more reliably good results, but I was still getting a lot of garbage because I was still too hung up on making the results sound like Troika! background names. (For a smarter approach that I’m jealous I didn’t make myself, see John Erwin’s Goon Jam entry, Galaxy Goons.)
I was getting burnt out on my wee little jam game. I finally decided to just ask some Troika! fans on The Gauntlet what kind of format they would like to see, and the answer was pretty unanimously not a background generator, but new backgrounds entirely. And by that time, I had already jotted down enough bespoke backgrounds that I felt more confident I could get that done faster than I could make my other idea work.
I still worried that the best results from my tables didn’t always fit the tone of Troika! very well—an ape with a top hat is more “zany” than “artfully weird,” I think—but I figured 36 maybe-too-zany backgrounds I liked might be worth more than a ton of background combos that may or may not work. And, I thought, as long as it felt internally consistent, at least it could work on its own. An image I found during a search for “surreal” on Public Domain Review—now on the game’s cover—helped me decide on a premise that made me feel more comfortable with the tonal drift: If Troika! presented the artful and cosmopolitan hub of the multiverse, then this game would focus on life on the road, out in the fringes. I’d focus on characters that have a good excuse to travel from world to world on foot, even. That feels goofy in a way I can get behind, and maybe enough implied setting even for players who don’t know anything at all about Troika!
And there you have it. There are things I’d still like to update, I think—Troubadours don’t seem as fun as Thespians, if you ask me, so I’d personally give out +1 for singing in character—but overall I’m pretty happy with this one. I hope you enjoy it, too. If you get a chance to play it, whether with its own rules or Troika!’s, please let me know how it goes!
(Almost forgot! As the legal eagles say: Aetherway is an independent production of Pretendo Games and is not affiliated with the Melsonian Arts Council.)