Talian put his hands in the hole in his chainmail. “Well, that’s fucked,” he said. The creature he’d called a Son of Ghaldren lay dead on the ground and Sareh pulled a dagger out from it. Talian had been little use; his sword trapped under a fallen wall when the creature first appeared.
“Can you keep going?” Sareh asked.
Talian nodded, “It’s just the armour. You?”
Sareh used his good hand to search the creature’s body, pulling out a small broach and rubbing it against his robes. Jewels glimmered underneath all the filth.
“Well?” Talian asked.
“Damn. I hoped he’d have more on him.”
Sareh ripped part of the creature’s robes and wrapped his injured arm in it. He stretched his leg, hoping the sprain from earlier would subside. Up ahead the long grass grew even wilder. They probably had enough information to find the overgrown path to Hester’s Mill. He would feel eyes watching in the nearby clumps of trees. The wind blew a dry heat. The only structure was a burnt out husk of what looked like a church.
“We could go back.”
“You forget something,” Sareh said.
“I’m desperate,” he said and led the way, limping through the grass.
I’ve reviewed the original Trophy Dark which was provided as part of The Gauntlet’s monthly Codex Magazine some time ago. Trophy Gold was introduced the same way and has similarly grown exponentially. It’s quite different to Trophy Dark, despite having the same DNA, so its worth reviewing it from scratch here.
Trophy Dark is a tragic horror. Characters are doomed people going to a forest which doesn’t want them there to take things which don’t belong to them. Trophy Gold adds long term play and something new to the treasure hunters; a chance.
In Dungeons & Dragons it always seems foolish to go to forbidden dungeons and weird ruins in search of treasure. Trophy Gold confronts that idea directly by giving each player a Drive which pushes them on beyond where a sensible person would turn back. Your desperation is a fundamental part of your character, specifically when it comes to your finances.
Yes, this is a game about the gig economy. You have a collection of burdens. Your education, maintenance on any weapons, on armour or the cost of the home you live in are all going to add to your Burdens. When you go out adventuring you need to come back with at least as much money as your Burden score or your done. Killed by gangsters, locked up in debtor’s prison, you’re just done. This is a ‘push your luck’ game, something generally more familiar in the board game sphere, but tuned perfectly to an RPG.
You have a stat called Ruin, which you can raise by starting out with 1-3 spells and increases whenever you’re harmed when you’re adventuring. If it ever hits six, you’re done. Probably killed by monsters or traps, or absorbed into the dungeon itself. It’s a bit brutal.
Here’s an example character from this wonderful random character generator:
Your goal in Trophy Gold is to accumulate enough money to fill up your character sheet’s Hoard boxes and retire to safety having reached your goal. You will probably never reach this goal. The game encourages playing to win as far as making money and surviving, but also playing to lose as your character, knowing that death’s round the corner and you will hopefully greet it in a fun way.
Each adventure is called an Incursion and split out into different sets to explore. Again, there’s something a little board gamey in here, but in a good way. The GM will have a goal to read out to the group so they know what they’re aiming for, as well as different areas with props, traps and treasures. You also get ‘moments’ which can happen at any time to evoke the setting and the mood of the place.
The main roll the group will do is the Hunt roll. This is where you’re looking for any information or money. It all drives towards the goal. When successful, a Hunt roll gives you a token which you can cash in instantly for money or save up for later. If the group collectively spend three then they advance to the next area. You might not want to immediately though, as it’s often good to pry up as much as you can for tokens and money as you go. The problem is, you roll a few six-sided dice, picking the highest result and only get a token without any complications on a six. Anything less and either you get a token along with some trouble, or just the trouble by itself.
The next type of roll is the Risk roll, which is exactly as it was in Trophy Dark. You’re avoiding bad things and rolling some dice, possibly adding more if you accept a Devil’s Bargain put forward by the GM or other players, and another if you’re willing to risk your mind and body. These are light and dark dice, with the light ones (skills, bargains) causing no problems if they’re the highest ones or the dark ones (risking yourself) adding to your Ruin as you go. Even better, if you don’t like what you get as a result you can add another dark die and reroll. And another. And another. As long as you don’t have your highest die as a dark die, you can keep doing that, which will make your ruin that much nearer.
Finally we have a roll completely alien to Trophy Dark players. A combat roll. Yes, unlike Trophy Dark, you can fight a monster and live. This is another really fun innovation as the GM will have a monster’s details, but the players will discover them in play, writing their own manual of monsters, keeping track of weaknesses and resistances, as well as naming the monsters.
This all sounds like a very gamey game. Like, all the pieces might be a bit too mechanised and not leave much up to roleplaying given everything I’ve said so far but that would be doing an incredible disservice to Trophy Gold. The game oozes with flavour and gets the players on side with the GM as far as making this world appealingly sinister. The character sheet is more detailed than Trophy Dark’s which could be contained on an index card. The drives of each character mean you’ve got questions about their desperation and things which can be tagged in during play. The props, traps, treasures and moments are all great toys to play with. If someone’s spending a token for gold it can be a broken silver torc or a historically significant journal or anything else evocative of the dungeon. The ‘theme’ at the start of each incursion is great as a centring tool to return to whenever description is needed.
The game itself is only short, but comes with two premade incursions as well as rules for creating your own or converting any old school RPG modules to fit. Plenty of people have been making Trophy Gold incursions on itch.io, including ones based on the previously-reviewed Green Dawn Mall and the perfect Trophy-fodder, on Annihilation. I could imagine a really good Aliens game using this system, too.
I ran three sessions of Trophy Gold, making up the entirety of the premade Hester’s Mill incursion, for two players, although we didn’t have the same selection the whole time.
For the first session, Alex played Sareh and Wade played Talian. I used a character keeper from The Gauntlet for their details and showed them how to make characters beforehand. Wade picked from drop lists in the character keeper while Alex checked out the random character creator which made his character.
We were introduced to the characters and their motives, then set them on their way in the overgrowth of Hester’s Mill. I’m going to spoil some sections but the game so if you don’t want to know what its like, just understand that Trophy Gold is the good shit, game-wise. Hop to the bottom and you’ll see where you can get it.
Hester’s Mill is said to be a cursed place, ever since the zealous villagers rose up against their blasphemous lord and his soldiers. Saint Hester was so horrified by what they did in her name that she cursed the land. Nature reclaimed everything, but the adventurers were sure there would still be religious artefacts they could claim, to help with their debts.
Talien was a disgraced kingsguard who became a sellsword, looking to buy his way back into the nobility. Sareh’s life was less pleasant, as a butcher who had turned to mining in order to find gold and pay off his father’s gambling debts. That hadn’t gone well, so the promise of looting relics from weeds was appealing.
The first problem was finding the path to the village itself. That was tricky given how thick everything grew. There were overgrown pumpkins in odd colours, a dry wind blowing over the fields and a few small ruins where there were once buildings. This is where we first tried out our Hunt rolls. They wandered the fields and poked around in what used to be a keep. In describing what they were doing, they gained one dice, then another by employing their skills or tools. At first it was fine, but then some ghoulish creatures they named Sons of Gahldren appeared, scuttling through the long grass and hiding behind walls. I wasn’t entirely sure how the combat would go, especially with two players, but it was satisfyingly tense. The pair dispatched one of the creatures and were blindsided by another. For combat you roll one black die per player, aiming to hit their Endurance rating which goes from 2 to 12. The problem with two players is that the odds aren’t high with that, so most combats lasted a couple of rounds as each successive one gave them another dice. They were pretty messed up and while they could have gone home and covered their burdens, they wouldn’t have been able to do anything else. The pair pressed on.
They unlocked the net leg of the journey; the road to Hester’s Mill. There were more things in this set, but they fixated on the ruined shrine. After a brief examination, they found a secret hatch with a profane statue. They were rushing, so they didn’t see what else was down there. Up top, Sareh was poisoned by a snake and they decided to call it a day, selling the profane statue in town and buying the knowledge of the weakness of the Sons of Gahldren from people who’d encountered them before.
The next session had Talian leave us and Gareth joined the group playing Zoto, a cultist who’d fled the order along with his best friend/potential sacrifice, a goat called Saphedah, who I immediately figured was the one most likely to survive the scenario. They wandered down into the ruined temple and Zoto decided to use a Hunt roll on the statue of Saint Hester. I asked what he was using and he was torn between Gods and Trances, so I asked him to describe how he’d perform the action and we’d figure it out from there. This was important, as certain repercussions could have effects depending on how he was handling the matter. He had some visions of Saint Hester and when he snuck into the basement, he saw the horrible truth of the village. They’d asked a witch to help them rid the land of Gahldren, their godless lord. The rituals they performed made them all pregnant with horrible crow demons which burst out of them and destroyed the lord. Between the visions and the paintings, this was a pretty rough time.
While Zoto was down in the basement, Sareh stumbled onto a bear trap, making yet more problems he’d faced while on watch. The goat provided no help. Sareh pried himself free and decided to keep the trap for later.
The pair wandered into Hester’s Mill, a place mostly torn apart by the overgrowth and with a sensation of something watching them. Zoto’s cult robes were replaced by some armour which was found on a body in the village. There were signs of people who had fled a long time ago. They entered one of the more intact farmhouses and realised too late they’d drawn the attention of one of the Murderkin, as the pair had dubbed them. Horrible crow-like creatures with their lower halves replaced by a writhing mass of tentacles. As one closed in on the house, Sareh unpacked the bear trap, tried setting it up to snare the creature but it was already upon him. Sareh was pinned down and ripped to shreds while Zoto and his goat fled back to town.
The final session started with Alex making Parda, an academic turned conman. He’d heard about Hester’s Mill in his studies and when Zoto was talking about going over there, he decided to go along as well. They walked past the ruins and the old shrine, then examined the village from the top of the hill. In the distance was a farmhouse which looked entirely intact and safe from the plantlife as well as (hopefully) the Murderkin. Then there were some gallows set up by a large tree. The players asked me about whether they could simply go around the village. I checked the rules and realised that yes, they didn’t have to unlock the next section, which I’d kind of originally thought they might have to. I asked my usual question of, “do you want to go fast or go quiet” about them fleeing that way and they ran through the grass to the farmhouse faster than any of the Murderkin who watched them from the village.
The farmhouse was surrounded by fields which looked well maintained, and were protected by a scarecrow. Zoto got too near to it and found himself trapped in a dream where he was lying in a field of sunflowers, his old cult around him while he was heavily pregnant, preparing to give birth. I asked the Zoto what he feared and he said that it would be taken by the cult. The horrible mass of tendrils and feathers was taken away by them, ready to be indoctrinated into their ways. He snapped back to the present where the scarecrow was stood over him. He fled to the farmhouse and warned Sareh (and the goat) not to go near the scarecrow.
Inside, there were several clues about how the family who lived here gave their home over to the witch, about her regrets for the ritual which caused the horrors in the village and the attempts to undo it. The horrific scarecrow was a construct which could keep the Murderkin away. Sareh learned the spell, examining it in the basement, but he slipped and knocked a lamp over among all the supplies for making more of them. Failure followed failure and the house, their only safe place, was engulfed in flame as night fell.
The pair looked at their possessions and realised that they could probably flee back to town, but only one of them would survive. They looked at Gallows Hill. I gave them a little spoiler, “The goal of Gallows Hill is ‘Find the treasure of Hester’s Mill’” and so incentivised, they made their way quietly across the hilltop to the large gallows.
Underneath the gallows was a makeshift camp some of the soldiers had been using, including some bodies and bones made into a grim offering. Several cages were buried deep into the earth and used as oubliettes, made even more horrific when the inhabitants started moving, looking for warm flesh to devour. After a quick fight and the great use of an ‘Unfall’ spell to float out of an oubliette, the pair found a map to a chest of treasure which had been hoarded by a guard. It contained old letters, jewellery and valuables looted from the executed dead. With this bounty, the pair fled back to town and resolved never to come back to Hester’s Mill again.
From the centre of the village, an invisible creature sat, watching these events play out, knowing one day it would break free.
So that was Trophy Gold. Three weeks and some quite brutal events, making up my first ever full incursion with the system.
One of the best recommendations I have for Trophy Gold is that I had originally intended to run the game as a one shot. My group suffered several injuries and barely got enough money to go back without getting brutally retired. Still, they wanted to go back. Not only the characters who needed the money, but the players. The innate challenge of the incursion creates a kind of intoxicating need to ‘solve’ the incursion, or to wring as much as possible out of it. After the second session ended in a fatality and the remaining character fleeing back to town, the desire was still there to press on. To come back and sort out what’s going on at Hester’s Mill instead of calling it a day. I’m about to run session three of a one shot. That’s how good this game is.
Trophy Gold can be found at DriveThruRPG although next year there will be a full Trophy Gold RPG book. As I said, the rules here include two incursions, but more can be found at Itch. There’s also a Patreon for The Gauntlet which includes their monthly Codex ‘zine. A lot of their recent issues include Trophy Gold incursions set in ruins and at one point even inside a giant monster. They’re all good fun and I’m looking forward to trying a full campaign of Trophy Gold one day.