So You've Wandered Into the Forest and Now You Need to Interact With Dice
Whether you've never heard of Trophy Dark before, or are just beginning your journey into those dark woods, it's worth keeping in mind two key facts about this horror-fantasy RPG:
- Trophy Dark is a play-to-lose game. The game mechanics encourage you to take risks and invite danger every time you pick up the dice. Your character is doomed, so lean into opportunities to get them in trouble.
- The game mechanics encourage every player to help the GM invent the world, introduce new dangers and guide the story.
Below you'll find a play example that highlights how you make use of dice during a typical Trophy Dark interaction. We're not covering every rule. We're just highlighting a few key mechanics that new players of Trophy Dark sometimes get stuck on:
- How players contribute to the story through Risk rolls
- How a dice pool is created
- How to offer (or accept) a Devil's Bargain
Meet Taphos, a treasure-seeker whose quest has been briefly interrupted by the sound of a song: a lullaby from their childhood, sung in their mother's voice. Strangely enough, this song is coming from the throat of an enormous crocodile with golden eyes, partially submerged in a sluggish river, its head and open mouth on the muddy shore. The creature's toothy jaws are open, and in its dark throat Taphos can see a human hand reaching out... beckoning.
From past the hand, that bewitching song. It couldn't possibly be Taphos’ mother, right? Devoured by a beast but still alive, still crooning a sleeping song?
There's only one way to find out, Taphos.
Taphos declares that they will attempt something with a risk of failure. Namely, they're going to try to grab the hand inside the crocodile's mouth and tug it out. This is narratively interesting and so dice will be involved... as will every other player at the table.
The GM asks the table: "What could go wrong here?"
Every other player at the table gets to suggest horrible consequences for a failed roll:
- The crocodile bites Taphos' hand off!
- The hand grabs Taphos and pulls them into the crocodile!
- They get dragged into the water!
- They pull the arm free from the beast's mouth, revealing something terrifying on the other end!
The GM will consider these ideas. They may pick one, or they may have their own idea for what happens.
Now it's time to build a dice pool for Taphos.
You start with zero dice.
Does your character have a relevant skill to the situation at hand, from either their Occupation or Background? Add 1 light die.
Do you have more than one relevant skill? Ah, well, alas... they don't combine. You can only choose one, as you're going to declare how your skill applies to the situation.
Are you risking your body or mind? Or using one of your Rituals? Add 1 dark die.
What does that mean, "to risk your body or mind?" Consider the narrative position you're in. Of all those possible failure conditions, are you risking physical injury? Mental distress? Exhaustion? The answer is usually "yes." After all, it's a "risk" roll, so you're probably risking your well-being. Even if you think you're playing it safe, your GM may still tell you: Include the die. You're not safe.
The rules also state that using a Ritual requires you to include a dark die in your dice pool. This is because magic is a wild and dangerous thing. There's risk every time you try to use magic to bend the world to your will.
You might be done building your dice pool there. But if you want to further increase your chances of avoiding those terrifying fail conditions you've heard proposed, you may want to consider a Devil's Bargain.
If you accept a Devil's Bargain, you can add 1 light die to your pool, but to get that die, you have to pay a cost. Everyone at the table is welcome to make offers of a consequence you'll have to pay, whether you succeed or fail the roll. You don't have to take the deal.
(But it'll be fun if you do!)
A Devil's Bargain can start with "No matter what..." and then describe something that makes things more complicated for your character.
- No matter what, wrestling with the hand means you lose your grip on your pack of supplies and you lose them to the water.
- No matter what, additional alligators are attracted to the noise.
- No matter what, you're going to get bit and suffer a complication from that bite.
- No matter what, you will be "marked by the Alligator Siren."
Taphos really wants to pull that hand out, so they accept a Bargain. "I have no idea what it means to be 'marked by the Alligator Siren' but I'd love to find out! I'll take that bargain. Whether or not I pull the hand free, I will be marked."
The GM can veto any Devil's Bargains they don't think offer a significant enough cost for the die. But in this case, everyone at the table wants to find out more about this newly introduced Alligator Siren idea. What does the mark do? What does it look like? What's going to happen?
This process of negotiating die rolls supports the Trophy Dark play-to-lose ethos. Every treasure hunter is doomed, freeing you up to pursue interesting and dangerous opportunities. Tell the best story!
And with that, Taphos is ready to roll!
Good luck, Taphos! It won't help you, but good luck!