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.

Saturday 21 May 2016

Unions and Rituals

Unions and their Secrets
Anything from a club to a cult to an army. As a general rule they:
- Want your money and service
- Offer secrets that you want to be a part of
- Have a Cause

If you convince the Union you're on board with their Cause, they'll invite you along to a Ritual. This is either a load of pomp and ceremony, or a bureaucratic meeting.

If you can show that you've significantly contributed to the Cause, or just make a generous 10g donation, you'll be let into the true purpose of the Ritual for one night.

These rituals can be anything from industrial espionage, or sharing of knowledge, to full blown occult ceremonies. The many can call on powers the individual cannot. They can have one off effects, or leave the participants forever altered.

You'll have your own, but here's a couple, with their Cause in italics, and some example Rituals listed. They won't be performing Rituals every night, but they'll tell you what's on tonight and when the next instance of a known Ritual is planned.

The Arcphagers - For all that I eat, I must bring equal to Big-Eater.
Material Ingestion: Participants each eat a pure piece of an otherwise inedible material and have a bodypart of your choice turn to that substance.
Self Feeding: Participants each fish out a part of your brain with a hook (lose d6 WIL) and eat it to re-live any memory of your life in perfect detail.
Brother Gorging: Each participant brings a non-human corpse for the feast. If any of the creature's Ability Scores were higher than yours, those scores improve by one point. If the creature had any special abilities there's a 1-in-6 chance of you developing that ability yourself. 
Idea Consumption: You learn a technique whereby if somebody tells you something, you can eat the idea out of their mind causing them to forget it, unless they pass a WIL Save. 

The Tin Soldiers - Flesh is weak, Tin will protect Bastion at any cost. 
Man-Hunting: You join a man-hunt for a known enemy of Bastion. They're open to suggestions.
Flesh Shedding: Each participant sheds a part of your body and have it regrow in its natural form.
Bastion's Wall: You learn this battle stance. When you take up the stance in a doorway or similar space, nothing can move you, but you take damage as normal.
Service After Death: Recently dead are brought in and reanimated as a Mock Soldier.

Friday 20 May 2016

Lifestyles of the Rich and the Odd

A Brief Note on Treasure and Oddities

I'm not about to give solid figures for how much treasure you should put in your expedition sites, but next time I'm going to try the following:
  • 1 Main Treasure that the group are expecting to be in there. The further away and more difficult it is, the higher value, but range from 10g for a mini-dungeon to 1,000g for something spanning worlds and multiple sessions. Make this Treasure interesting. Stick them at the furthest corner of the expedition site and you're good.    
  • 2 Side Treasures that the group will only know about if they've gone out of their way with research. Say 10% of the value of the Main Treasure Here, interesting is good, but they can be more straightforward in their nature. You can make these really well hidden to reward good play. 
  • Loot. Mundane stuff that just makes sense to be there (purses on corpses, furnishings and decoration, equipment for the function of the place) and isn't of huge value. Still, it's there. 
  • 2 Valuable Oddities that have the same value as a Side Treasure but are useful enough to fall into being Oddities, rather than just straight Treasure. 
  • As many other Oddities as you like, because they aren't really Treasure in this sense. 

Character Advancement

Okay. On G+ I posted some thoughts on advancement.

  • Character Advancement isn't about rewarding players or making characters more innately powerful, it's about changing the feel and scale of the game the longer you play. 
  • These changes should happen through play, rather then through an end-of-session levelling up process. 
  • Arnold wrote some required reading on the topic way back. 
  • The goal of the game is to find Treasure. The more you find, the better you are as a player. 
  • Successful characters are going to get Richer and Odder through selling Treasure and encountering Oddities. 
  • Getting Odder means you're going to have more tricks up your sleeve to survive and impact the world. Oddities, curses, mutations. 
  • Getting Richer means you can buy stuff that helps you survive but also stuff like Detachments, Enterprise, Ships etc. that raise the scale of the game. 
  • For the purpose of this experiment, imagine there's no standard character advancement in Into the Odd. Ability Scores and HP can increase through other methods, and cap at 18 (yes, HP too). 

So, you've got your Treasure back to Bastion and sold it for a big money. What do you spend it on? At the Shilling level there's plenty to throw your money away on, but here we're talking gilder-level stuff. Trading in gold!

Existing Spending Options
  • Noble Weapon (30s*), Heavy Gun (1g), Modern Armour (50s*), and Horse (1g). The best combat gear you can get for just shy of 3g. I remembered these being more expensive! I'm clearly a big softy with prices, they should totally be at least 1g each. 
  • Luxuries (1g). You want to bet I can't sell some rich players a 2g hat?
  • Detachment (10g hire and d6g monthly upkeep). Here's where I envisage a lot of money going after a windfall.
  • Detachment Equipment (20x individual cost). If you really want a unit of armoured cavalry behind you, that's another 22g at least. Just give them muskets for 2g and hope for the best, I reckon. 
  • Enterprise (10g). If you give them some attention then you can make a steady income to pay those detachments. Of course, they're designed to cause as many problems as they solve. 
  • Cannon (2g). I won't ask why you want it. 
  • Real Estate (10g house, 100g factory, 200g fort). These are niche, but you never know.
  • Ships (100g Galleon to 2,000g Ironclad). Of course you don't have to own the ships you take on an expedition, but if you have the money I could see the temptation to take up the pirate life. 
What's Needed

Most of the big money stuff here is there to scale-up the game, which is great. But I want more that changes the feel of your actual character. Being a general of a thousand men feels different, and I don't want huge character sheets for established characters, but I think we can slip a few little personal boons in there. 

These come from people that want your Treasure, and people that want your Money. 


It's easy to make selling treasure into an epilogue or prologue to the gameplay of a session. You found the Red Dog's Head Ruby, got it home without succumbing to its curse, and you sold it for 80g, now what will you spend that on?

Step it back and give the players some choice on who to sell it to. Give them at least two Patrons as contacts. Simply put these are immensely wealthy individuals or organisations that will take your treasure in return for money, but each will put their own twist on things.

Make your own, but here are some examples as a starting point. Each has the percentage of the Treasure's value they will pay and a positive or negative effect of dealing with them. 

Slerrance Tingeon-Larney
- Rich, preening, and unpredictable. 
- Treats you like the filthy wretches you are. 
- Will immediately offer 2d100% of the value for an item, and won't budge an inch on it. 

6th Bastiard Order of Vault-Keepers
- Secretive order that lock treasures away for the coming of their saviours. 
- Offer d20+80% of Value,
- If you go along with their beliefs and give more than one major treasure, they'll hook you up with Oddities at a price. 

The Pittance Society
- A society of former fat-cats that have denounced wealth. They'll treat you kindly if you appear poor, and with contempt if you appear wealthy. 
- Some loophole of their doctrine means they can't destroy wealth, so they spend it on Treasures and then dispose of them in elaborate ways.
- Offer 90% of Value but can easily be haggled up to 150%. 

Next Time: Personal Power
What exactly is the deal with Ability Scores and HP? Well you'll read about:
Joining Unions: The people that want your money. A twist on the idea of Orders I blogged about a while back. This is how you get more personal abilities, influence, and knowledge. There's clear room for overlap with Patrons here. 
Getting Grizzled: What effect does a career of exploration have on you, and what's happening in the downtime?
Getting Odder: Some expansion on how exactly you become more odd, besides the Oddities you can pick up and use. 
HP CAP WTF?: Scary, right? Especially when Enhanced attacks like a Backstab do d12 damage. I'll go into this next time and you'll see it's not as you expect.

Monday 16 May 2016

Odd Treasures

With treasure, I'm pretty generous when it comes to giving both new and ongoing characters Oddities to play with, but I'm terrible at giving actual Treasure.

You know, something that has more value than use. The stuff that you're generally going to liquidate to fund your spending back in Bastion. Riches, Loot, Spoils. With Bureaucrats to bribe, Detachments to hire, and Enterprises to run, there's plenty to spend that money on.

I've often fallen into the trap that Treasure is boring, despite there being so much good stuff written to the contrary. If you make the Treasure too interesting then it becomes an oddity the players don't want to sell, and you end up with Oddity-rich, cash-poor characters. They have three different ways to time travel but can't afford a good meal.

Not innately a bad thing, but I want to tilt things back the other way. Here are some treasures to put in your expedition sites. I'll be working on the following principles:

The Key Principles of Odd Treasures
- Their value exceeds their usefulness.
- There's a reason they haven't been taken already.
- They needn't be complicated, but should provoke thought.

Big Stuff
The easiest way to (mostly) hit all three principles is to make it a big heavy useless thing that's worth money. I also like how it unifies the group, who have to work together to get this thing back to Bastion and split the profits.

Hordes found at the very depths of the dungeon sort of fit into this, but they're still kind of dull to me in their overwhelming volume. With so much stuff in one room it's hard to make any of it have any impact. I guess I'd just always rather use one giant coin than a million small, which brings us onto...

Coins and Jewellery
I'm guessing this is the most common form of D&D Treasure, but it doesn't work so well with Into the Odd. There are just more gold-loving monsters (usually humanoid) in the D&D world, so it makes sense to be able to kill the green guy and find a chest of gold. I've heard people lauding the effect of using exotic currencies in your game, but that does nothing for me.

Gems are barely more interesting, notable only really in their physical appeal, and need of a single wealthy buyer.

So there are times when I'll put a case of 20g or a ruby ring into an expedition site, most often on corpses found in really nasty places. I just find treasure items to be more fun.

d12 Interesting Treasures
Value is always given for the right buyer, usually not general sale.

1: Black Spine (30g)
Charred spinal column of a ceaselessly destructive giant monster, blasted with every weapon known to Bastion. Visibly regenerating by the hour if removed from its acid bath.

2: Crystallization Catalyst (10g per bottle)
No use on its own, but it's the missing link for chemists to recreate a terrible gas weapon not used for decades.

3: Collectible Sweets (50s each, double if in a set with all six flavours)
Antique boiled sweets now prized for their rarity and aged flavour. The flavours are fruit, herb, spice, meat, bone, and blood.

4: Dead-Spice Liqueur (20g for the 40oz bottle, or 1g for a 1oz measure)
An infusion of extinct botanicals that smell like a more intense mint. Comes in a needlessly fragile bottle. Value is slashed in half without the bottle.

5: Companion Lizard (10g)
A sapient chameleon that changes its personality to be the perfect companion for the owner. Highly sought after as pets for rich children.

6: Deep Silk (20g for the full roll)
Ultra black silk that can very easily catch fire, stain, rip, or any other complication you like.

7: Heaven Shrimp (1g each)
Harmless little glowing shrimp that are a delicacy, but only if cooked freshly. Worth nothing dead.

8: Disgusting Art (50g)
A lead sculpture of many creatures in violent union. One in twenty collectors find the piece strikingly provocative. The other nineteen are offended if you even bring it near them.

9: Opiate Fruit Seeds (1g each)
Walnut-sized seeds, their fruit is essentially a massively addictive drug that ruins lives. Dealers obviously want these seeds a lot.

10: Man-Egg (2g)
Appears as a stone egg to you, but apparently they're used in some sort of cloning process, where the clone is an improved version of the original. Whoever you sell it to will offer you a discount cloning (just 5g, down from 10g) instead of payment.

11: Cosmic Steel (5g per sheet)
Unbreakable panels of light metal around the size of a surfboard. Painfully cold to the touch.

12: Star Mask (50g)
It's a mask for some giant being, so it's the size of an elephant and twice as heavy.