Trophy is an incredible short-form rpg that embraces and depends on the hubris of treasure hunters to tell a story of terror and ultimate defeat than any fan of horror will enjoy.
First and foremost, I have to mention that this is the first review I have written in a while. In fact you will probably have noticed that it is the first of anything on this website that I have written in a while. But, I wanted to get back into doing reviews/spotlights as the first step in content coming back. Given the time of year I figured something spooky I have seen pop up over and over again would do nicely. So I finally went and bought Trophy.
Trophy is a short horror game written by Jesse Ross that can be found in Codex, a monthly rpg zine. You can find the specific issue containing the Trophy rules by following this link. You can also find out more about Trophy and its numerous add-ons over here. The game takes its cues from Cthulhu Dark and Blades in the Dark (neither of which I have played) to create a fairly simple rule set that fits the intended narrative incredibly well.
The game requires only a handful of d6, a few of which must be recognizable as “dark” dice. One or more of the dice are rolled to determine success but getting more dice comes at a cost. Some risks are bargains with the GM that you may choose to decline while others are guaranteed risks you take on yourself. As you proceed through the game you will undergo changes and succumb to the dark forces of the woods (your Ruin) where you seek the treasure. There is no way to avoid it because risk is the only way you will be able to push forward and find the sought after riches.
What is wonderful about the game and its mechanics is how wonderfully they work to generate a very dark story. You go into the game knowing that, in all realistic likelihood, you will die. This occurs in the design of any session as stages of play, called rings, which require increasingly dangerous encounters to pass through. The rings themselves are designed to bring out specific aspects of the story like confidence, paranoia, and defeat. The deeper into the game and closer to the treasure you get, the more dangerous it is and the more risks you must take, all while your Ruin leads you towards self-destruction.
In the way that Jesse Ross has designed Trophy, the game not only does a wonderful job of providing you the tools to mold a great story, it does so without any of the burden of hefty mechanics for deciding every little thing. Almost everything is designed with the narrative aspect of a doomed treasure hunt in mind. In fact it is so well done, so succinct, that I will be using the outlines for developing scenarios when I prepare the adventures in my various campaigns (especially the more horror-inclined ones I tend towards).
Jesse has divested plot points (in the rings) of specific scenes or sights (the game’s moments) as well as the dangers to players (conditions). By listing each of these separately you generate a distinct outline with a set of tools that can be used as needed as the story progresses rather than having specific scenes tied to specific plot points or events that may never come to pass. It is a practice that many GMs may be aware of or actively participate in, but Trophy brings it into concise and clear light as an integral part of the game.
From the mechanics to the clear narrative building, no game is complete without good design elements. Simple but evocative imagery is used to highlight the type of game that Trophy is. Additionally, there is a narrative block that not only sets an example scene from the perspective of a specific character but is written such that it might be a prompt for a session of gameplay. Trophy alone is well worth the price of the Codex issue and I look forward to perusing the rest of this issue’s contents and purchasing those other issues with Trophy material. If you are looking for more one-session style games for your arsenal you definitely need to check this one out. Doubly so for any fan of horror.