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Troika! Initiative Cards

Creative Direction :: Illustration

The spirit of the Troika! tabletop role-playing game inspires many unique interpretations of it's science-fantasy setting. I found myself so inspired that I couldn't help but start sketching and creating.

Concept & Goal

The Troika! role-playing system is intentionally written to be flexible and to allow the freedom of representing it's setting in the style that matches your personal aesthetic. That being said, it's core approach does tend to lean towards a tongue-in-cheek, satirical style of storytelling in the vein of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels.


Fan of those novels as I am, when it comes to creating stories and narratives of my own, I'm inclined to substitute some of that satirical levity with an existential gravitas. Therefore, once I decided to create a set of cards to be used with the Troika! role-playing system, my goal was to create designs that spoke to other fans of the system whose imaginations leaned towards esoteric, metaphysical weirdness.



My starting point was to look at some of my favorite entries in the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror genres as they all encompassed parts of the feel I wanted the cards to have. Specific concepts or prompts I used to fuel my ideas were space, cosmic horror, eldritch mysteries, occult symbolism, and sacred geometry.

With this, I solidified my influences and desired visual motifs and went to my sketchbook.

Brainstorm, Sketch, Repeat

For the initiative system used in Troika!, I would absolutely need 3 card designs; player characters, enemy combatants, end of round. Once I put pencil to paper, I was able to approach the artwork for these cards from various angles.


I experimented with concepts, like one based on geometric shapes where each card type would center around it's assigned shape. This was a way of creating a visual reference for players to quickly process which card they're looking at. I played around with finding an established library of symbols to incorporate. I began researching moon phases, moon glyphs, and alchemical symbols among other things.


There were 2 sketches or elements that I gravitated towards as I kept drawing and researching. The first was an astronaut helmet, which just felt right given the source material. The other was something I was very familiar with as it's something I draw a lot; the eye. More specifically I took notice of the 'Evil Eye' found in a variety of cultures. 

This was the foundation of what would become the final product. With an eye design becoming the element that would tie everything together, I began a deep dive into astrological and occult symbology to form a narrative that would link all the designs.

To borrow verbiage straight from the Troika! book, I dedicated myself to exploring non-euclidean labyrinths and the liminal spaces that exist between crystal spheres.


Final Card Designs


Card Back Pattern


The design here is used as a catalyst for the rest of the cards. The center houses an iteration of the Merkaba symbol which connotes the union of opposing energies in perfect balance; spirit, body, and light. This union is said to transport or connect the consciousness to higher dimensions. The detailed open eye serves as an anchor that links to the other main card designs.

Thinking always of the overall theme, I saw this as a metaphor for allowing players to envelop themselves in the science-fantasy setting.

Player Character Card

Like many other tabletop role-playing games, the player characters are the protagonists and focal points of a given story. In Troika!, characters are cosmonauts exploring unique spheres found across the "humpbacked sky". Therefore, a design based around an astronaut helmet was natural and right on theme. The eye motif incorporated here is just line art with no fill to indicate the ability for this color to represent any of the player characters. Behind the helmet is a fluid shape with stars within it to reinforce the space theme.


The initiative system in Troika! calls for each character to be assigned a color. This design has a total of 6 different color variations in the deck.


Enemy Card


The enemy card design needed to be able to represent anything from lizard-men to a vast AI to an alien symbiote. Because of this, I focused on capturing a feeling as opposed to an image to represent anything & everything.

The foundation of this design is the inverted triangle, which in Wiccan witchcraft embodies the element of water. I was drawn to this because of the unpredictable nature of water. The disembodied hand from the darkness covers two aspects; fear of the unknown, and the hamsa with a filled version of the eye found in the character card to show the duality of each desiring protection from the other.

End of Round Card


Given the random draw nature of using a deck of cards for turn-based encounters with multiple rounds, I wanted the end-of-round card to be memorable. I continued with the eye motif, this time closed, for a direct translation of the card's purpose.


A cycle most are familiar with is that of the moon. So I incorporated moon phases to show the cyclical nature of rounds. The concentric rings serve to ground the design and were inspired by an orrery. Lastly, the moon placement mimics Hecate's wheel to invoke change/transformation.


Wildcard/Joker Card

The core rules of initiative tracking for encounters do not include this, it's a concept of my own and is an optional card added to the deck. I enjoy a sense of improvisation when I run tabletop role-playing games, and that's exactly the purpose this card serves.

The concept is that drawing this card during an encounter would bring about a drastic change. A new complication or obstacle for social or exploration encounters. Perhaps new combatants, an environmental threat, or a moral conundrum for combat encounters.

The dodekagram behind the vortex represents dispersal & concentration of the 12 zodiac signs.


This initiative card deck is an independent production by Luis Alvarez and is not affiliated with the Melsonian Arts Council.

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