Barsoom: 1960 – A setting for Troika! – some design notes

I’ve finished my entry for the #TroikaFestJam over on It’s set on the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs, during the Cold War.

Barsoom: 1960 – A Cold War on a Red Planet

  • 36 PC Backgrounds
  • 15 Enemies
  • Plot Seeds & Locations

If you’re interested in other games set on Burrough’s Mars, I keep an updated list of Barsoom-related RPGs here.

Design notes

The Backgrounds

I struggled particularly with coming up with the 36 backgrounds. Thirty-six is the traditional number for a Troika supplement because you can roll d66 (roll a D6 for each digit) to select one at random.

A lot of Troika! settings are incredibly gonzo. You can create anything you want as a Background: Gremlin Catchers, Rhino Men, Thinking Machine, etc. It all generally works because a lot of the settings are weird interdimensional places where anything can happen. Barsoom: 1960, on the other hand, was intended to be a much more focused setting. All of the backgrounds had to be rooted in either Burrough’s Mars or the other inspiration of anti-colonial fiction. This makes it a little harder, but a lot more satisfying when you come up with an idea that works.

The Setting

The heart of the setting is about the effect of the Earthly Cold War on the people of Mars for good and for ill (mostly ill). Mars is sort of a stand-in for the Third World during the 20th century. Despite this, I don’t really talk about Earth nations or politics much in this game. I never mention the US or the USSR directly. I do refer to the conflict between the Eastern and Western Jarsoomian factions. It’s also pretty clear that Okar is a Soviet client state. However, I wanted this to mostly be about the Martians. Most of the backgrounds are in someway related to, or commentary on, the effect Earth culture and politics has had on Mars.

The Art

I’ve been trying to learn basic sketching so I can make my own art, but I’m not really there yet.

Like a lot of game designers, I lean heavily on public domain art sources. For this project, I used a lot of stuff from It’s all Creative Commons vector art, which I find a lot easier to modify in Inkscape.

I also played around a bit with Artbreeder, which lets you combine various bits of art together to make something unique.

For some future projects, I’m considering just commissioning a few simple B&W pieces. I’ve been collecting a list of artists I like.

The Format

I went with an A5 sized document for two reasons. First, that’s the format the original Troika! is in. Second, it’s a little easier to scale an A5 document down to US sizes than vice versa.

I created two versions of the project. One is a normal screen version, and the second was designed for home printing in a booklet layout. For this, I used the tool Bookletify, which will take a PDF and rearrange it into a booklet for you.

The Price

Most of the stuff I’ve put on itch previously was either free or PWYW. This is the first thing I’ve actually put a price on. It’s three dollars U.S. I’m still a little uncertain about that, but I think it’s reasonable for a 38 page booklet.

The Future

Other than any spelling and minor formatting issues, I probably won’t update the book much at all.

I’ve been considering throwing together a few adventures. Here’s some of the ideas I’m considering:

  • The players have to travel up the River Issus to eliminate a rogue Jarsoomian colonel.
  • A Hollywood production starts filming in Cartertown. Trouble ensues.
  • The Okarian Missile Crisis
  • A Mau Mau Uprising on Mars
  • Television comes to Barsoom

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