Wednesday 31 October 2012

Guns in Into the Odd

In the world of Into the Odd guns have recently started to be mass produced. They are the ranged weapon of choice for soldiers and civilian explorers alike. Of course, bows and crossbows haven't just disappeared completely. In fact, we all know these weapons can be just as deadly as firearms.

So I guess we're having the guns in D&D debate, right?

Well, no. I don't really see the need.

I've seen some great suggestions for making firearms feel different to bows in D&D. We've all heard the real world arguments of guns being easier to learn, but I don't see that factoring into any game I'm running. In game the distinctions tend to boil down to one of the following:

1. Guns do great damage but are unreliable and dangerous to use.
2. Guns do great damage but take an age to reload.
3. Guns ignore armour.

Point may have been true for firearms, but this is a setting where they've got a good grasp on their construction and use. I don't want everyone with a pistol to risk losing a hand.

Point would certainly seem most logical. Pulling another arrow from a quiver is much faster than reloading a flintlock musket, even for the most well trained soldier. But if we're going down this route shouldn't crossbows take longer to reload than bows? I'm going to render this moot with a personal preference against anything that wastes turns. I already adhere to a longer, more abstract turn than modern D&D's six-seconds. Regardless of reload times I want a ranged weapon to be able to attack each turn.

I love the simplicity and tactical choice inherent to point but it just feels wrong to me. We know that armour stopped bullets and even if the bullet penetrated the armour I'm sure the wound would be lessened than if the target were unarmoured.

Instead I look back at one of my mantras when writing Into the Odd.

"Assume common sense".

I can hear tables being flipped and monocles popping. Those poor players without common sense! I look at it this way. I'd rather have a game that some people misinterpret than a game with so many rules it resembles a legal document. Of course, there's a sweet spot somewhere in the middle, so let's put the false dichotomy aside and I'll explain myself.

Into the Odd has three categories of weapons you can buy normally.

Simple Weapons cause 1d6 damage and include crude or light weapons from daggers and clubs to, yes, bows and crossbows.
Martial Weapons cause 1d6+1 damage and are anything you'd call "modern" in the setting. Swords, axes and maces can all be martial weapons if they're made to modern standards and of course this includes pistols and muskets.
Exceptional Weapons cause 1d6+2 damage and are pricey weapons made to the best standard available.

So why is the bow still around if it's just a weaker gun? The boom in your boomstick is a key factor here. There's not really a quiet way to kill someone with a gun in this setting. Do I write this in the game document? No. See my mantra about assuming common sense.

If the player says "I try to shoot the guard in the back without alerting the others" and the Referee doesn't blink then they're probably already a lost cause.

So do I expect Referees to keep an expert knowledge of firearms? Should they stop players using their guns if they get wet? Should they require maintenance?

These are more questions I don't answer in the interest of streamlining things. I'd wager that any Referee reading this already knows how they'd handle them so I'll add assumption of competence to my assumption of common sense. Foolish, perhaps, but all I know is it's that foolishness that lets me fit an RPG with full rules for characters from grave-robber to emperor, ten spell-levels, combat manoeuvres, mass combat, company management, referee guidance, sample monsters, traps, magic items, a dungeon, a wilderness area and a settlement into a 25-page document.

It's a trade-off I'm pretty happy with.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Why Into the Odd is a Horror Game

Into the Odd is now officially "A Survival Horror Roleplaying Game". What qualifies it to carry that subtitle? There are those that would argue even regular D&D is a horror game, making some excellent points, but what about my variant?

Deceptive Normality
The setting of Into the Odd is filled with normality. Sure, there are revolutions, plagues and cruel factory-masters, but this is all very mundane stuff. The Odd is out there to be found, but most of civilization is similar to our own world, even the cities that are built on crashed spaceships. Wars are fought by men with guns, not armoured knights or battle wizards. Factories mass produce goods and companies and politicians share power, with monarchs being no more than figureheads. This is an early-modern world we can relate to, not a medieval fantasy.

The Known but Incomprehensible
Beside the relatively mundane happenings of an industrial world are things nobody understands. Grouping Arcana under one name is deceptive, as the game clearly dictates that they should break the rules. You can use an Arcanum and talk to scholars about them but nobody really understands them or knows a way to bypass the risks of using them. Similarly, everybody has a theory on the Astrals, but there are no solid answers. They could be aliens, divine beings, demons, advanced terrestrial beings or pure mythology.

Unfair Enemies
Referees are told to create monsters that break the rules and function in a vastly different way to normal characters. Most importantly, don't think of monsters as opponents to act as a fair fight to the characters. An encounter with a monster doesn't have to mean combat and in many cases it should be actively avoided. I hope to lead by example on this one with the seven example monsters provided in the game.

The Dust Hag, Beckoning Shadow and Thing of Glowing Smoke are immune to normal weapons. The Abbysal Turtle is so huge that small arms are going to have very little effect, requiring Arcana or at least siege weapons. The Dead Echo can only be fought in darkness or a reflection and the Strange Hunter has a disintegration gun that exceeds any earthly weapon. The remaining underdog monster, the Ebon Crawler, can be fought simply enough but if it pins you down it'll dislocate its limbs, slither down your throat and hibernate in your corpse. Needless to say I want to encourage a sense of fear when it comes to monsters the characters will encounter.

Creeping, Inevitable Death
Not quite inevitable, there's no fun in that, but the threat is inevitable. If you fight for long enough you will have to start making saves to avoid Critical Damage, and that's always bad news. Attacks cause damage automatically, unless your armour reduces it to zero, so your Hitpoints are always a limited resource. They recover with a moment's rest, of course, but there isn't a standard method to recover them in combat. Watch them drip away as your character gets tired and starts to lose confidence. Do you want to stay around until you're at 0hp and need to roll a dread Save?

Disposable Cast
An alarming title, perhaps not as bad as it might sound. This effect comes from a combination of the Company system, where characters of Expert level either become members of a Company or found their own. This is the game's nod to the Domains of old and gives them a bank of resources, including characters. As the character proficiency curve is much flattened from traditional D&D it's a very viable option to send another member of your Company on an expedition in your place. If your main character does die, there are a bank of new characters waiting in the wings to take over their legacy.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Into the Odd Pregen Cast

Rolling three stats and HP too tough for you? Roll 1d6 and take a gender-neutral pregen.

1: Bryce, Novice Revolutionary.
STR 14, DEX 8, WIL 9, 2hp.
Sword (1d6), Musket (1d6+1), Lackey (STR 4, DEX 6, WIL 6, 1hp, Pistol)

2: Hawkes, Novice Student.
STR 6, DEX 14, WIL 11, 1hp.
Pistol Brace (1d6+2), Crowbar, Falcon.

3: Sattler, Novice Ship's Mate. 
STR 10, DEX 11, WIL 10, 4hp.
Hatchet (1d6), Pistol (1d6), Crowbar, Metal Skull Arcanum (Burden Soul).

4: Baldridge, Novice Burglar.
STR 14, DEX 8, WIL 9, 5hp.
Pistol (1d6), Sword (1d6), Lackey (STR 8, DEX 7, WIL 5, 1hp, Hatchet)

5: Parks, Novice Cultist.
STR 10, DEX 6, WIL 16, 3hp.
Halberd (1d6+1), Shovel (1d6), Crow, Rod Arcanum (Heat Ray).

6: Dale, Novice Soldier. 
STR 11, DEX 12, WIL 7, 4hp.
Musket (1d6+1), Sabre (1d6), Mutt.

Adventuring Equipment Issues

If a piece of equipment is so vital to the adventure, do not make the assumption that the player will think to spend their precious starting money on it.

I put the following items in this category:
- Torches (yes, I've had the players arrive at the dungeon without any of the characters having bought torches. I just gave them some, but see below for why this isn't ideal).
- Food.
- Clothing and Backpack.
- Tents, Bedrolls and Flint & Steel.

Likewise, if you handwave things like camping equipment and food, do not let players spend money on that stuff only to see everyone else get it for free.

My solution to this for Into the Odd is the new addition of this passage at the start of the equipment list.

All characters carry standard equipment, including simple clothes, a backpack, basic camping equipment, torches and a few days' rations.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

The Odd World

I've caved to peer pressure and added a page of setting information to Into the Odd. This is the first draft so all is subject to change.

The Sister States

For over a century the four largest trading states surrounding the Silver Sea have been united under the Treaty of Sisterhood. Despite this, each state remains on the edge of conflict with its neighbours. As the cities swell revolutions rise and fall at least annually.

Bastion – Hub of Mankind

With nearly a million citizens, Bastion is the largest city in the known world. Its skies are black with smoke and its streets bustling with residents from every corner of the world. Canals feed the city with trade from every direction and vast workshops produce the first examples of steam-powered transport. The Senate of Bastion see Astrals as a lurking threat to the world of man and anyone considered a threat to mankind is put to death. Ancient Catacombs beneath the city give Astral Cults a place to carry out their studies in secret.

Starfall – The Stolen City

Some credit the bizarre architecture of Starfall to one of the handful of fallen civilisations to previously occupy the city, but its many scholars claim it was built by the Astrals. Glass towers and steel pyramids house everything from factories to universities, some remaining inaccessible to even the wisest academics.

Ashen – The City of Vaults

A city feared more than any other in times of war. As well as an elite army the city is known for its Arcane Vaults that house devices of great power. As well as the Vaults, Ashen is home to the largest banks in the Sister States and the union's House of Parliament. Outside of this fortress city Ashen is a land of lakes and sparse towns, renowned for their distilleries, sudden mists and harsh winters.

Rosevine – The City of Flies

Even the vast palaces of the aristocracy swarm with flies in Rosevine. This once proud city's population has been thinned vastly by a series of plagues. The filthy living conditions of both the aristocracy and working class only encouraged such pestilence. Many survived by turning to the city's criminal underbelly for support, giving these organisations a huge amount of influence in return. In fact, many argue the Astral Church's Primarch is ruler of the city in name alone.

The Eastern Colonies

These islands are dotted with tiny settlements, most of which are colonies of the Sister States. Life here is simpler but more lawless than in the Sister States. Uprisings against colonial rule are on the increase.

The Western Mountains

A jagged mountain range hides tiny cities filled with wonder. Volcanic smoke mixes with monsoon storms and swamp mists. In parts the mountains seem to give way to blasted plains and huge craters, which are seen as sites of great Astral importance.

The Southern Kingdoms

Plains lead to desert, to sweltering jungle to near impassible swamp. Dotted amongst the feral cave cultures are great, industrialised cities. These distant kingdoms watch the amassing guns of the Sister States and hide their own forces and Arcane secrets.

The Northern Ocean

The Silver Sea feeds into the great Northern Ocean. Few explorers return and each brings a different story. Descriptions range from a brightly shining paradise and cities of Astral beings to the Ocean leading out into the void, providing passage to the stars themselves. The mysteries of the Ocean continue to draw explorers to their death.