Friday, 7 October 2016

The Virtue of Greed

Into the Odd is a game about Greed.

Those without greed go and work in a factory and don't get to be player-characters.

You're a Treasure Hunter. You have Greed.

Even if you vow to a simple life, Bastion never stops teasing you with:
- Expensive things you want.
- Problems that money would solve.

Treasures always beckon from somewhere horrible.
Patrons both embody Greed, and enable yours.
Dilemmas tempt you with having your cake and eating it too.

Two Greedy Patrons

The Loot-Office Possession is Right
- Taking by force is the only true transaction, but if you rob from them and leave a Treasure behind they'll go easy on you.
- If you try to rip them off, their feared Reprimand Hounds (12 Dog-armoured Men, 8hp, Dog-Guns d8, blast through walls) will take everything you own.
- Know the location of all the best Treasure, but only announce it to entire crowds of Treasure Hunters on Monday mornings, sparking a treasure-rush.

Koppler and Klanger High-Risk Investment The Greatest Wealth is Yet to be Found
- Will invest d20g in any expedition that sounds suitably suicidal, as long as there is a high reward.
- Offer smaller investments of 1g to reclaim property from failed expeditions they have funded.
- As soon as you return to Bastion you will find yourself blacklisted until you have paid back 500% of the investment. New heights of bureaucratic passive-aggression, but never thuggery.

Two Avaricious Dilemmas

Banking your Hard Earned Money
You really don't want it all in your pockets.
Put it Somewhere Secret: Shadow-banks don't report to anyone, but if something bad happens to your funds you're compeltely unprotected.
Put it Somewhere Safe: Proper banks are watertight, but come with fees, paperwork, and restrictions.
PUSH: Find a way to get the best of both worlds.

Visiting a Gambling Den
Card and dice games do well, but animal races and fights are more exciting. Only take in what you're willing to lose.
Gamble Socially: You come out with 2d6x10% of your money, but you get to schmooze around and make some contacts.
Gamble Ruthlessly: You come out with d20x10% of your money. Either way you piss some people off, but if you've made a significant amount of money then you've won it off someone specific, and they don't like it.
PUSH: Find a clever way to do both. 

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Balancing Act

Balance isn't about making things equal, it's about preserving interesting choices.


Starter Packages lightly balance characters with higher scores against those with lower, by giving the low-rolling player better equipment.

This is a soft balance, as once play starts those scores begin to fade away behind the players' decisions and the weird things that they find.

Everyone can contribute when playing Into the Odd, and things move quickly enough that any time one character spends in the spotlight is sure to be fleeting.


If a rapier is better than a machete in every way then choosing which to use isn't an interesting choice.

Weapon balance is built into the system if you imagine that all weapons start at d6 damage, one handed. Every time you raise the damage by a die type, you have to add a disadvantage.

Field Weapons: d8, but two handed.
Noble Weapons: d8, but very expensive (enough to be a target of theft)
Heavy Guns: d10, two handed AND move or fire, AND expensive.
Power Arms: d10, two handed, AND some other problem.

So you can use this as a guide whenever you're making a new weapon, but bear in mind some qualities are both an advantage and disadvantage.

So a Flamethrower starts as a Field Weapon (d8), but affects everything in a cone. This is great in some situations, but makes it worthless in others, so keep it at (d8 Cone).

A Gatling-Gun, though, can target an individual or spread fire into a cone, so we'll give it the added disadvantage of needing a round to spin and warm up (d8, Cone or Individual, One Round Warm-Up).

Of course you'll want to have really weird weapons, but they probably fall into...


No rules here, that's the point. But if you're worried that you've created something too useful (again, defined as removing interesting choices, in this case "should I use this Oddity?") consider applying one of the following:

  • It's immobile.
  • It's a one-shot disposable.
  • It's a living thing with its own agenda.
  • It requires some sort of set up (feed it a heart, it needs to be laid like a trap, only works in specific locations). 

Remember you aren't aiming for net zero here. Oddities are good things to have around. You just don't want any one Oddity to become the solution to all problems.


Giant Ants are the worst. In by-the-book AD&D (see them fixed here). They fill a dark checklist that leads to the encounter being incredibly deadly, but equally uninteresting.

  • They're deadly. 
  • They always attack and you can't talk with them.
  • They're faster than you and good at tracking you down.
Characters meeting scary monsters straight out of the gate is one of the cornerstones of Into the Odd. Forget waiting until you've leveled up to meet a Beholder or Purple Work, I want those in your first session. 

You can make your monster as crushingly powerful as you like, as long as give the group something to work with. 
Giants will crush you but they're dumb and their size can be used against them.
Mind Flayers are super smart and powerful, but have bigger plans than just you.
Even this Lich that hates you and has crazy powers is stuck in their crypt, so you aren't just going to meet him in the woods. 

In short, if you make them powerful, pick at least one way to make them interesting:
  • Make them dumb.
  • Make them want something other than killing.
  • Make them restrained somehow. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

Bastion is an Adventure Site

Bastion is an Adventure Site.

It is not a hub. Not a main menu. Not an online shop.

People die in Bastion! They get tricked, take wrong turns, and fall victim to industrial accidents.

When characters haul the Treasure out of the expedition site, and slog their way back through Deep Country or the Underground, they don't get to switch off just because they're in the city.

Run it like a dungeon. Draw a map, fill it with odd stuff, punish mistakes.

When they go off-grid, roll on tables and make stuff up.





People are unhelpful. 

Places are difficult to get to. 

Things run bumpily. 

Finding and receiving treatment from a doctor is an adventure. 

Going shopping is an adventure. 

Getting the train to the library is an adventure. 

No fast travel without complications.

No downtime without decisions.

No switching off.

Everything is the game. 

The game is always on. 

Friday, 29 July 2016

A Bastionese Smokey in King Haffwun's Court

You don't have to get a time machine to visit the past. You just have to leave Bastion and head into Deep Country.
It stretches on and on. Seas, Mountains, Deserts, but always more Deep Country.

The long shadow of Bastion's backwards past. Every embarrassing phase of humanity's modernisation stuck in its rut.

Deeper in distance, deeper in time.

If they're close enough to see Bastion's smoke, you might be able to talk with them. Failed cities, idiot yokels, and toothless estates.

Any further and you'd be as likely to reason with wild dogs.

They live with beasts and follow their rules.

Their little wars favour only the strong.

Their faiths are ill-informed.

They lack the modern look.

Still, if you're there you might have need of a Patron.

In short, Patrons know about Treasure, and their main uses are buying Treasure off you, and pointing you to even bigger hauls. In Bastion they tend to be complicated and self-important, reflecting the city itself.

But this is Deep Country, and its Key Principles are:
- It's stuck in the past.
- Things move slowly.
- Everything is hiding something. 

Two Deep Country Patrons

King Haffwun - Petty King of Shambly Hole
- To non-subjects, he uses Guards (8hp, d6 Crossbow, Fur-hats) to tax them, then expel from any land his Cave can see. It's crap land, but provides useful passage and has lots of Underground connections. 
- You can become a subject by bringing a Treasure worth up to 1g, but subjects have to dress up in ridiculous jester outfits when in court (and he summons you often). He doesn't like jokes, though. 
- If you bring a Treasure worth more than 1g, you can become a Knight, but it's more work than its worth and loads of drawn-out ceremony. 

The Lion Council - Literally a Council of Lions (9hp, d8 Bite) in a Failed City
- If you come without meat, you are their meat. 
- If you bring normal meat, they'll eat it and bring you a mouthful of coins d10g they took from bodies of previous victims. 
- If you bring exotic meat, they'll eat it and savour it for an hour or so before deciding if they enjoyed it. There's a 50% chance they'll love it, and grant you a place on the council. If you take it and spend a day with the Lions you learn to pounce and bite as a lion (d6, or d12 to an unsuspecting civilised person the first time you do it). If they don't like it, they make an example of you. 

Now, as a General Thing:
Patrons are useful when you want money.
Unions are useful when you have money. 

Well money is still useful in Deep Country, but these Unions want something else. 

Here the line between Union and Patron can get blurred. Generally they both want something, and have something you want. 

Two Deep Country Unions

Instead of the usual 10g contribution to be allowed in to a Ritual, these Unions require alternative payment. 

The Buckwud Legiune - Backwards, Never Forwards!
Instead of the 10g fee, attending a Ritual requires you to destroy 10g worth of modern equipment. 
- Song of Yesterday: A droning lament against civilisation. Can be sung once per day to cause buildings to crumble and machinery to fail catastrophically. 
- Carousel of Unprogress: A spinning dance that returns those in the middle to a younger form, essentially taking your character back to how they were immediately after generation.  
- Nature's Tale: A long drawn out story about the glory of the savage past. All that take part in the telling forget how to use anything more complex than a doorknob, but can get vague hints of how trees and animals feel by touching them. 

Sub-Man-Pack - We All Must Slave
Instead of the 10g fee, attending a ritual requires you work a month as a Slave, complete with murder if you try to leave partway through. 
- Mind Breaker: Permanently lose d20 WIL. If you survive this, increase your STR to 18 and grow ogre-like in appearance. 
- Body Breaker: Permanently lose d20 DEX. If you survive this, you always count as having Armour 1 and essentially suffer no pain. 
- Spirit Breaker: Your personality is gone, and although you look the same your friends and family won't believe you're the same person. However, you are immune to anything that targets your willpower, spirit, or confidence. 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Odd Marks

Marks are just another type of Oddity, but rather than a tangible object they're a sort of transformation that happens to you. Something is changed, but you get an ability of variable usefulness out of it.

Some common ways that you might end up with a Mark:
  • Making a deal with some weirdo.
  • Killing some odd thing and eating a bit of it.
  • Stepping into the Blue Light.
  • Listening to that creepy broadcast for too long.
  • Going into that cheap tattoo place.

Maybe they cancel each other out, so if you get a bad one you really want to find some way of replacing it with something better. Or maybe they stack, whatever is more interesting at the time, just let the players know before they make any decisions based on it.

They always have some sort of negative, even if it's just making you look like a weirdo. Sometimes the cosmetic side is the most important.

If you ever read my Hellspace game, you’ll see where I’ve salvaged a lot of these from.

Mark of the Bonehead
  • You have a skull for a head.
  • You can detach your skull and throw it around.
  • When you die you can regenerate from your indestructible skull.

Mark of the Gazer
  • Your clothes always look psychedelic and you always smell weird.
  • Your hallucinations and dreams hint at the truth.
  • You can trigger hallucinations by staring at the stars for a while.

Mark of the Crusader
  • Any attempts to use a post-medieval weapon are impaired.
  • You have a small circle of 5 novices (2hp, robes, sword) at your command.
  • If you cause STR loss to an otherworldly being they are banished back to their home.

Mark of the Saint
  • Your eyes turn all-white and you glow slightly.
  • You can sense when a statement is a lie.
  • Your voice can travel as far as you want it to.

Mark of the Server
  • You have brass hands that allow you to directly interface with any machine.
  • You only really understand living creatures if you’re holding hands with them.
  • Upload yourself from your body to any machine at will, taking full control.

Mark of the Knife
  • Replace both your hands with knives.
  • You can use the knives to cut a hole in reality, annihilating anything that enters.
  • You can enter a hole in reality and leave through another.

Mark of the Pilgrim
  • Any weapon you carry turns into a walking stick (d6).
  • Instead of benefiting from Short Rests, you get the same effect from an hour of walking.
  • Instead of benefiting from Long Rests, you get the same effect for passing into a significantly different region (geographically or culturally).

Mark of the Beast
  • You have shaggy fur and long horns.
  • You have the enhanced scent and hearing of a beast.
  • Talk with any creature of animal intelligence.

Mark of the Flesher
  • Your skeleton was robotic all along, with fleshy bits attached.
  • Hold any organic part to your body and have it attach.
  • Shed your organic parts and crawl into a dead creature to take its whole body.

Mark of the Machine
  • Never feel joy, sadness, or boredom.
  • Perform a routine task tirelessly, perfectly, and inhumanly fast.
  • People can tell you’re dead inside right away.

Mark of the Severed
  • Your head flies off, immediately choose to either be the head or body, with the other part instantly annihilated.
  • While in your head/headless form you cannot die.
  • Attach a new body/head to yourself any time you like, but you become mortal again.

Mark of the Horned
  • Big evil-looking ram horns.
  • Cause intense pain in those that don’t follow your command.
  • Any holy symbol, if wielded with true faith, repells you.

Mark of the Snake
  • Get creepy snake eyes and a forked tongue.
  • If you convince someone to do something that will harm themselves (immediately or long-term), your snake-features fade away for a month.
  • You can only eat live things.

Mark of the Void
  • Your actions cause no sound.
  • You leave no footprints or trail.
  • Nobody ever remembers you.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Foreground Growth and Becoming Odd

This series of posts has been pretty heavy going, but we're at the end now! Skip to the bottom if you want a summary of how to actually apply all this to your game.

Foreground Growth

Think of character change as Growth, rather than advancement. You're becoming more distinct, more interesting, and getting more options as you progress, rather than becoming more numerically powerful. Advancement can be carefully planned and is usually positive, but growth is messy and you don't always know what you're going to get. Advancement is a five-year-plan, but growth is a turbulent childhood. And we all want a repeat of that, right?

These changes happen in the Foreground of the game, most often the time spent on expeditions or getting crazy in Bastion. You don't grow during your downtime, you grow while you're scrambling around in some hole half-dead. Your changes are significant, and they happen in-game, not as an after effect of finishing the night's fun. As a general rule, if I describe some of the ways your character has grown since their creation (more HP, scars, oddities) you should be able to tell me the specific event that caused that change, not just see the change as a general reward for actions.

You didn't learn to rip out hearts when you hit level 8 in Ripper Monk. You learned it when the Ripper Monk nearly ripped your heart out but you just managed to pull your gun in time.

Unions are on the knife's edge here. It would be easy to look at them and say that they're a downtime activity. Well don't let them be. If the characters want to visit a Union, then make gameplay out of it. Make the characters engaging but difficult, and throw in some Dilemmas.

Remember the rules of Bastion:
Bastion has Everything.
Everything is Complicated.
Nobody Knows Who's in Charge.

Ability Scores

If your HP improves by getting close to death, then how do your Ability Scores improve?

I see them as quite innate. By the time you've decided to become a treasure hunter, and spent the last of your savings on the gear in your Starter Package, I figure you've gotten yourself into fairly good shape and mentally prepared yourself.

I like the idea of advanced characters keeping their weaknesses, but learning to overcome them. The STR 8 explorer learns that you can win the war without personal martial prowess. The WIL 5 expedition leader keeps his followers happy through careful choice of lieutenants and an over-filled war chest.

Some characters are more suited to greatness in certain areas, but the brilliant ones overcome the obstacles. 

So I'm not using a rigid system for improving Ability Scores. You can't bank on it happening, so work out how to deal with what you rolled. But...

The world is odd, so of course you're going to change. I could see Ability Scores getting permanently improved as a result of:

  • Union Rituals. The Wounded Legion have a secret means of turning old war injuries into physical strength, at the cost of some mental stability. 
  • Blessings. The Spirits of Red Lagoon each embody a maritime concept, and will lay rewards on those that further their agenda. They can take it away just as easily, though. 
  • Oddity Backlash. I hear if you kill a Screaming-Man of the Yellow Caves you inherit their disfigurement, but also their superhuman hearing and agility.

So if in doubt, put these effects out there in your game, but give them a cost and remember the cap of 18.

DEX 18, 7hp
Sonic Touch
(d8, deafened on Critical)

Keeping Things Simple

Becoming Odd is great. Becoming complicated is awful. 

You can imagine a character, after a handful of expeditions, carrying around a pack full of Oddities and having a dozen special effects bouncing around his system.

Creating Oddities is fun, but having so many can feel silly. If your expedition site has lots of Oddities, consider changing them up in the following ways:

  • One use only, disposable.
  • Limited number of charges.
  • Random chance of depletion on each use.
  • Large and clunky, or even immobile. 
  • A creature instead of an object.
  • Occupying a specific part of the body that can't hold multiple things, like goggles, or gloves. 
And remember that people want your Oddities. Have Patrons straight up offer to buy Oddities that the players are likely to sell, and allies offer to put them to good use. 

If you handle it well, and give lots of information, thieves might try to steal them. Make sure this is still part of the game, and present some choices in there. No perfect cat-burglaries between sessions while the characters sleep. 

Retirement and Successors

All growth has to stop eventually, turning to decay. We don't need to see your character's retirement years in detail, but we might see them hit the turning point once they've picked up a few Scars and Afflictions. 

The good news here is that you've probably noticed one of your hirelings, followers, or allies that shows some promise. Look at them, with their fresh, unscarred body. A blank slate that could really go places with your guidance and resources.

As far as I'm concerned it's totally legit to name this guy as your successor and have them inherit your resources and wealth upon death. If you've picked up Oddities that are bonded to you in any way, there's certainly a Union Ritual out there to handle such a transaction through surgery, legal document, or blood ceremony.

Anyone wealthy or influential dying without leaving the appropriate paperwork sparks a lengthy succession hearing between all parties with a claim.

I'm telling you, this kid rolled nothing below a 15. He's got potential!


Well, that was a sprawling set of posts. Time to summarise them into actual action points that you can do in your game.

Active Survival
  • Cap HP and Ability Scores at 18. 
  • Make Combat a choice
  • Make more one-shot Oddities
  • Create Unions with Rituals and Manpower
  • Tempt the players with expensive items and problems that money would fix
  • Present suitable successors for advanced characters
Foreground Growth
  • Put Treasure in your Expedition sites and tell the players about it
  • Create Patrons that will buy Treasure
  • Use the Scars and Afflictions system
  • Don't be afraid to add in ways to improve Ability Scores, but give them a real cost
  • If an Oddity is too crazy, use it anyway but make it immobile, one-shot, or a Union Ritual.  

Monday, 23 May 2016

Active Survival, Scars, and Afflictions

Down with Hitpoints!

hinted recently that I wanted to experiment with a 10hp cap on characters. Well I've played around with the figures and I'm going to try 3d6hp, so an average of just over 10hp, and absolute cap of 18hp for high-rollers.

If you're looking at this with general OSR systems as a point of reference, remember that Into the Odd's combat is different.

The fact that every attack causes damage works equally in favour of the PCs, and against them. Odd characters are tougher than Level 1 D&D characters because of what happens at 0hp. In most cases they're going to risk being taken out of the fight, but as long as they aren't abandoned they probably won't die.

A hidden advantage to players is that this damage system is more predictable than D&D. The chances of you getting one-shotted to instant death are pretty low.

So, in my experience, Odd Explorers go down quicker than some D&D Level 1s, but they don't die nearly so easily.

Currently the highest level of character in Into the Odd has 5d6hp, so putting the cap at 3d6hp is in line with a current mid-level character.

So why am I even suggesting this?

Active Survival

When I think of a successful, established explorer, I don't think of someone wading into danger because they know that their HP gives them a good buffer against death. I think of somebody that's seen danger, and knows how to tackle or avoid it. While they have plenty of resources to call on (followers, equipment), some impressive skills (special abilities and knowledge) and even some true oddities at their disposal, they'll still die if they get cocky or let their guard down.

They still fear the monster and the spear trap.

In short, their means of survival are active, not passive. It's not that the world has less chance of impacting them, but when it does they have more tricks to stay alive.

Oddities, especially disposable types like potions and bombs, can get you out of a tight spot.
Hired Help is a great way of keeping you away from death, when a common cause of character death is the TPK.
Becoming Odd is something I want to make more use of, and is the topic of the next post. Expect mutations and other nice things.
Union Rituals can give you all sorts of tricks.
Player Experience and Knowledge is the most proven way to keep a character alive.

With these tricks under their belt, you don't need 5d6hp to be a big player in the world.

Of course, you do get more HP than your starting d6. But for too long they've come without a cost.

Getting Grizzled: Scars and Afflictions

- When you pass a Save against Critical Damage by rolling exactly the number needed, you get a Scar.
- If you roll a duplicate Scar then apply it, if able, and also roll on the Affliction table.
- If you roll a duplicate Affliction then apply it again, if able, or else no additional effect.
- Your first Scar earns you an extra d6hp.
- Your first Affliction earns you your final d6hp
- You only get Scars from real, deadly combat, so forget trying to get your first Scar through training.

Scar Table
Roll the die that was used to deal the significant damage.
1: Shattered Hand - One of your hands is out of use until you get a Long Rest, after which it's fine besides looking a bit gnarled.
2: Shaken Nerves - You stammer, twitch, or shake, unless you use something to calm your nerves.
3: Lasting Pain - A nasty scar that causes intense pain if pressed on.
4: Battle Scars - A random limb (1-4) or half of your face (5-6) is badly scarred and you lose all feeling in it. If you roll this Scar a second time you also lose all movement of the affected area.
5: Gouged Face - A random part of your face is gouged enough to impair its use and look bad. Roll d6. 1: Left Eye, 2: Right Eye, 3: Ears, 4: Nose, 5: Teeth, 6: Jaw.
6: Busted Lung - Your breathing is always loud and you can't hold your breath as long as normal.
7: Extremity Loss - Lose a finger, ear, or other small part of your body that you could live without.
8+: Personality Disorder - People don't like you until you've put in time to bond with them.

Affliction Table
Roll the die the was used to deal the significant damage.
1: Organ Damage - A vital organ is in critical state. If you suffer any other Affliction it gives in, and you die.
2: Fading Senses - One of your senses is slightly dulled now and is completely gone if you suffer another Affliction.
3: Disfigurement - Your injury has left your face totally disfigured.
4: Splintered Mind - A specific element of this injury is stuck in your mind. Lose d6 WIL each time you're forced to relive it.
5: Lost Limb - One of your limbs is torn off or otherwise made useless.
6: Fractured Skull - You have trouble talking and making facial expressions. If you suffer this Affliction a second time your skull is utterly split open and you die.
7: Broken Body - You're reduced to walking speed and require a crutch or cane to go faster than a hobble.
8+: Shadow of Death - You shouldn't have survived that. You have nightmares of your own death until you next have to make a Save against Critical Damage. If you fail it, you die instantly. If you pass it, the nightmares turn to occasional instances.

Design Notes

Scars aren't something you want your character to get, but you certainly want the extra d6hp. I guess it encourages combat, and rewards getting beaten up, but only the first Scar is desirable, and I certainly don't imagine anyone's going to be chasing an Affliction.

Each time you make a Save against Critical Damage there's a 5% chance of a Scar, then varying odds that any further scars will lead to an Affliction. If anything, these percentages sound a little too low on paper, but we'll see how they feel in play. A scar every couple of sessions, and Afflictions being a big deal sounds fine to me.

A side-effect of this system is that, if you make some freak rolls, you could end up with a Scar, Affliction, and the full 3d6hp before the end of your first session. Even if this happens, this isn't a problem, as HP aren't a main driver in the changing feel and scale of the game. The changes are much more a result of finding Treasure and Oddities. A tiny chance of a new explorer coming back from their first expedition as a one-armed bad-ass is fine with me.

The goal is that this will tie Advancement to specific events of the game. I like to think players will remember that they got their second hit die at the same time the Crystal Lion gouged their eye out, or a beating from the headless cultists left them with a permanent stammer.

Impact on Monster and NPC Design

- As a rough guide, give Green NPCs 1d6hp, those that have seen action 2d6hp and a scar (not necessarily from the list), and veterans of action 3d6hp and a noticeable affliction.
- We'll cap Monsters at 18hp and see how we get on. With so many ways to make monsters tough, I'm not worried about them being fragile.

Ability Scores

Static for now, while I test this, but I want something in there to help round out characters that roll crappy scores. For the sake of symmetry, and because I almost did so in the first place, I'll probably be capping them at 18, just like HP, even for monsters.

No Country for Old Explorers

With all these characters picking up Afflictions, they'll get to a point where they want to semi-retire and send a protege out in their place. We'll look at how I handle that, and link into what happens when your character gets increasingly Odd.