Troika! Deep Dive: Another Interview with Daniel Sell

I interviewed Daniel Sell previously and there is so much he is currently releasing that I wanted to speak with him again, and he was kind enough to say yes.

Troika! is an amazing offbeat sci-fantasy RPG with great third party support. The Troika Patreon is filled with monsters and other game extras. I interviewed Daniel Sell previously and there is so much he is currently releasing that I wanted to speak with him again, and he was kind enough to say yes. I also did a Troika! review and am writing a worldbuilding column about Troika! at Geek Native.


Charles Dunwoody (CD): Thanks for talking with me again, Daniel. British New Wave Science Fiction of the 1960s and 1970s include experimentation with the form and content of stories, imitation of the styles of literature other than sci-fi, and an emphasis on the psychological and social sciences instead of the physical sciences. You’ve said these stories are Appendix N for Troika. How did the tropes and themes of British New Wave Sci-Fi lead you to space fantasy RPG adventures across the hump-backed sky?
Daniel Sell (DS):
The Sci-fi New Wave influence on Troika was accidental, a result of where my reading so happened to be at. The strongest influence it had is probably in a shared willingness to experiment with form and be creative without worrying about the audience not getting it. Readers are smart! That leads us to where an adventure can be anything, even a trip in an elevator. All is permissible, as long as it’s fun.

CD: Was Troika the first idea that sprang forth from this inspiration or were there other ideas leading up to Troika?
DS: Troika
started as an exercise is writing a game I would enjoy making things for, not much more. The New Wave stuff got in the mix because it was a kind of fiction I felt very comfortable with. I can’t do long linear stories about elves and dark lords and the population and economic output of Cair Paravel. I wish I could! I find the most joy in making independently interesting things and putting them together in novel and surprising ways. It makes me happy.

CD: You are posting 99 Monsters on your Patreon. Will these will be collected in book form at some point?
Yes. We’re making a digital version that will creep up in price as it grows, and then one day we’ll probably print them in a bit fat-off book. No concrete plans for that yet, it’s a long way from finished. It will be quite excessive when it’s over, already a couple of them have adventures built into them. We’ll see where it goes together.

CD: Why are you writing one monster at a time rather than a traditional rough draft of a manuscript or in other words how does this approach help you in making the monsters you want to make?
It links back to my inability to write long single things. One monster at a time means you can complete one little journey, finish something, enjoy that feeling and start again. Forever! I also like to make things in pieces, like a fieldstone wall, where the previous piece informs the next one, and so on down the line until the whole thing is finished. That way it acquires little echoes and connections you wouldn’t necessarily think of if you planned ahead of time. These surprises are for the reader and for me, I’m a selfish writer, I want to be entertained.

CD: “Whalgravaak’s Warehouse is the first book in our new series of “1:5 Troika Adventures.” Oozing with adventure, soaked in danger, a return to the rotten roots of British fantasy gaming!” New adventures are most welcome. What does the 1:5 in Troika Adventures mean?
It was a working title that we never found a replacement for. It was based on us figuring out that £1:5 words was (at the time) around about the basic rate for freelance writing. So now it sits there as a little reminder to be nice to freelancers.

CD: What future adventures may we see?
We have one that’s heading to layout soon, Hand of God, about climbing a holy hand statue in the city of Troika. Another, unnamed one, is a sequel to The Blancmange and Thistle adventure in the core book, where the players head into the basement and through a hole into the anti-city in search of a good time. There are a couple of others, but we’re still working on those and can’t promise they’ll appear any time soon. We’re also still taking submissions (check Melsonian Arts Council or the inside cover of Whalgravaak’s Warehouse for details). Putting constraints on things has, so far, brought out the best in people, so we’re very excited to see what happens.

CD: You’ve said to read less RPGs and that is because RPGs are a circle. This statement is fascinating. Could you expand on your idea and provide additional nuance and explanation?
The RPG gene pool is pretty shallow. They’re been around for a short time (the 70s weren’t that long ago) and the appendix N stuff has been recycled into mash. To have new ideas you must read new ideas and steal them, add them to the pool. If we get off the beaten path in whichever personal, peculiar way suits us we’ll be able to return and mingle all the neat things we find. Read RPGs, for sure, but you gotta stay broad if you wanna stay fresh. I get asked this question a lot, I might have it engraved on my tombstone. It might help to clarify that I care most about the stuff which iterates on what came before. If I’m doing yet another dungeon, it better be interesting in some way. However, we should be doing yet another dungeon, we should each do one hundred dungeons all with the same map, and make them good and distinct. Stretch it to breaking point, power through running out of ideas and through the other side. You won’t find the answers to that inside RPGs, you gotta go foraging.

CD: You have been ruminating about writing RPGs and running an RPG company. Could you please share one thought or bit of advice to anyone out there who wants to start writing for RPGs or start writing more for RPGs?
Get your first thing out as fast as possible. Don’t spend years and years working on your perfect game. If anyone reading is currently working on that exact project, put it on hold and go make something else first. Give yourself a month, finish it, put it out there, then go back to the beast book. It’ll help.

CD: With the clarity of hindsight, do you think it would be better to write as a freelancer about RPGs and not be the publisher or take the plunge and be both writer and publisher of your work?
I’m too far in the weeds to say with any clarity. Publishing is hard and stressful, I don’t know if I’d say it was a good time, but then I’ve never been a good freelancer either so how can I compare? Try both, do the one that doesn’t give you a stomach ulcer.

CD: How did you come up with your company name, The Melsonian Arts Council, and does it have a deeper meaner?
‘Melsonia’ is a portmanteau of me and a couple of friends’ names we made up as a fictional country 20 years ago in our teens. When I started releasing my first zine I realized I needed a name for the publisher, and I was annoyed at the Arts Council England at the time so it seemed appropriate.

CD: Is the Sphere the city of Troika is located in called Melsonia and could it perhaps also be home to an arts council?
In an infinite city all things are true somewhere, right?

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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody


How interesting they called it Troika.

When I saw the name on this site the first thing that came to mind was Troika...not the one above...Troika Games.

They were heavily involved in CRPGs. They created Arcanum, but even MORE famously released a 3.5 D&D game called Temple of Elemental Evil. Not to be phased, they also released a game based on an RPG many saw as D&D's competitor, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines.

My second thought was related to the Troika which is composed of the European Commission, European Central Bank, and The International Monetary Fund.

Obviously it is yet another Troika in the article.

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