Monday 16 January 2017

A Procedure for Play

Bastionland is going to distill a lot of GM guidance into very clear procedures. Each of the four sections of the world will have their own procedure, but the core procedure for running the game is something like this:

When you're Refereeing Into the Odd and the players do something, look at the list below.

Work from top to bottom, and when you find a solution to what you're trying to resolve, don't go any further down.
  1. Can you make this into a Dilemma? If so, do it.
  2. Does it make sense for it to just happen? If so, go right to the Consequences.
  3. Is it still uncertain? If so, call for a Save.
  4. I guess it was impossible, give the players more Information to help them come up with reasonable action. 

Further Guidance

Dilemma: Give a clear choice between two desirable outcomes. The players pick one or try to come up with a way to get both, usually by expending a resource or taking a risk.  
Consequences: Make their action matter in the world and push things forwards. Give them information about the new situation they find themselves in. If the consequences can ripple out to effect the world, all the better. 
Save: Saves always carry a risk, so explain what's at stake before the players commit to their action. 
Information: If in doubt, give the players more information and ask them frankly what they're actually trying to achieve with their actions. Don't be a distant referee, get down in the mud with them and discuss the situation. 

Saturday 14 January 2017

This Charming Mammoth (and Social/Mental Mechanics)

I've talked about my reasoning behind trying Charm in place of Willpower.

Essentially it strengthens the idea that Ability Scores generally have two uses in Into the Odd.

  1. Rolled against when you make a Save due to a risky situation.
  2. Whittled away as a resource when you take serious harm in that area.

(At some point I need to write about how point 2 fits in with DEX. It's not a problem, but it has some interesting implications)

1a. Charm Saves for Players

So my previous post talked a little about point 1, how you roll against your CHA. The key word to remember there is Risk. I'm not necessarily having players roll CHA as soon as they encounter another being, but if you attempt an uncertain interaction, that's when you roll. This could range from:

  • Asking a favour of someone who's friendly.
  • Calming down somebody who's hostile.
  • Trying to get somebody to spill some information without feeling strong-armed.
  • Convince somebody you're telling the truth.
And as with all Saves, smart play and obvious situations can bypass the need for a roll. 

Without a roll, but not without consequences. 
  • Throwing meat to alligators or paying a massive bribe? No roll, but you expend the resource and it's only a temporary fix.
  • Intimidating someone clearly weaker than you? They'll do what you want but now they're not going to avoid you, or maybe try to get you back.
  • Cashing in a favour from somebody you have a close relationship with? Fine, but they'll expect the same from you in future. 
1b Charm Saves for NPCs and Monsters

For allies, CHA can be used in a similar way to PCs. You send that lacky off to deal with a contact and they make a CHA Save to see if they get what they need without leaving a bad impression.

The most obvious use for opposing NPCs and monsters is for leaders trying to prevent a Morale failure amongst their troops. But while Charm is everything you project outwards, this in itself requires control over your subconscious. A lack of Charm reflects a focus on base needs, someone easily dominated by others and their own urges. 
So what about that individual monster with CHA 1. What does it matter that this Slime Thing is totally without Charm?

If the Slime Thing is hurt, and I know it's a mindless thing that will always fight to the death, I'm probably never going to roll its CHA. 

But consider the humanoid Slime Hybrids that lost half of their Charm as part of their transformation. The former humans might have CHA 5, which can be rolled against when there's a risk of their human side showing through (such as running from harm, or refusing to absorb those orphans). 

Or on the other side of the coin, a Cosmic Angel with CHA 17 might have a secret Vice that they must roll a CHA Save to avoid indulging in, given the opportunity. 

So rather than rolling WIL to see if the monster of NPC does the smart thing, I'd roll CHA to see if they have the composure to act against their base urges, which will vary based on the type of being they are. 

Can a Monster force you to roll a CHA Save to avoid some nasty effect? Absolutely! 

Can it roll against its own CHA to convince you of something? No, and I'm sure the reasons for that are obvious. It creates some asymmetry between PCs and NPCs but it's not a problem.

2. Charm Damage

Now what about Point 2. WIL Damage represented sanity-sapping stuff, but what does it mean to lose your Charm?

You become more detached. Those that depend on you for leadership become less sure of you. You turn inward more and more until at Charm 0 you can't interact with the outside world at all.

You Restore your Charm through psychiatric therapy, spiritual meditation, or heavy carousing.

Things that drain your Charm are sapping away at everything that makes you you.

Using CHA isn't as straightforward as using STR and DEX, but it's an opportunity to get creative with the behaviour of your monsters and NPCs. 

Conceptualising Charm

As an aside, I previously toyed with the names Modernity and Civility for the social/mental Ability Score. Thematic, but doesn't work so well in practice. Still, an element of that flavour remains. The big movers and shakers in Bastion usually have higher CHA scores, and animals usually have low scores. 

Charm and Oddities

In my own games, the reliance of Arcana/Oddities on WIL/CHA is gone. The fact that these are the only two names I've changed from the book probably shows my lingering dissatisfaction with that part of the game.

Now everyone can have Oddities. They're more likely to be disposable, or specific in use, though you might still find the occasional super-flexible item that becomes one of your go-to solutions, as long as there's an additional trade off to its use.

Less mentally bending the Oddity to do what you want. More using problem solving to create situations where your Oddities can help you. It puts more weight on your decisions than whether or not you can convince the Referee to let you make a WIL Save to have your Arcanum to solve the problem.

Might some Oddities still drain your CHA away as a trade off? Yes! But there's nothing stopping them draining away your other scores too.

This Charming Mammoth

That's a lot of theory. So let's finally get to the post title.

Mr Ears - Mock Mammoth Bartender
STR 18, DEX 5, CHA 18, 5hp, Massive Furry Body (Armour 3, bypassed by Fire), Wooden Tusks (d8), Threadbare Suit, Warm Fuzzy Voice.

  • Runs the bar at the Apocryphal Specimen Museum containing the remains of animals that probably didn't ever exist. 
  • Offers to cradle you in his trunk while you pour your heart out to him (two drink minimum). An hour of doing this restores your CHA but Mr Ears knows your secrets now. 
  • Knows every drink recipe but has a super clumsy trunk, so requires a DEX Save to avoid spilling even the most basic thing. Is utterly ashamed when he spills something.

Wednesday 4 January 2017


I'm currently experimenting with renaming Into the Odd's Willpower Ability to Charm.

Symbolic of Into the Odd leaping off the rails, potentially over a shark.

Relax, I still use it in the same way as WIL.

Here's how it currently faces the players in my drafted home version.

Your character has three ability scores.

STRength – Power and Toughness.

DEXterity – Subtlety and Precision

CHArm –Influence and Composure.

Reaction: When you make first contact with someone, person or monster, the player making contact rolls a CHA Save to avoid a particularly bad first impression. For hostile encounters, even a positive reaction can be unfriendly.

Morale: The leader of a group must pass a CHA save to avoid their followers being routed when they take their first casualty, or lose half of their total numbers. This applies to opponents and allies but not player characters. 

And slightly expanded for the Referee.

Reaction Saves: When a character makes first contact with another being, they make a CHA Save to see if they garner a more positive or negative response than usual. This Save is repeated if the character puts strain on an existing relationship.

High CHA characters that ask too much of others will still drive them away. 

So if it's the same, why use a different name at all?

I wrote about looking at WIL in a more social way last year. And these rules aren't anything new, but I've been using a different name lately for a few reasons:
  • The majority of the active use for WIL score is social, and I like the abilities to have a clear active use. If CHA is your only good score, you get an idea of how you should play that character. If WIL was your only high score, it wasn't as obvious that you still had a tool to work with. 
  • If I ask you to imagine a low, medium, and high STR person, it's easy to do. Same for DEX. For WIL it's a bit more fuzzy, but everyone knows someone that's high and low on Charm. While Willpower is inward-facing, Charm is something you project outward. 
  • I've sometimes had NPCs and Monsters roll WIL Saves to see if they "do the smart thing" but I prefer giving behavioural guidelines through their moves. If you need to see if they fall for the party's tricks then putting the focus on the player character's CHA score works well. 
  • Sanity damage stuff currently affects WIL, and the transition to CHA damage works just fine, but this is the one area where I feel a little something is lost. An attack on your Willpower makes more sense than an attack on your Charm. However, I like that as they lose CHA, the character becomes more detached and less likeable.
  • For Morale use, it shifts away from the WIL of the individual and to the CHA of the leader. This makes high CHA characters more useful when leading hirelings, and gives juicy targets to break organised groups of enemies. 
  • I continue to move away from WIL as the "magic score", and severing the link between the strange powers of Oddities and the numbers on the character sheet. Oddities should be interesting and potentially risky because of their own properties, not because you have a low WIL score.
Having a leader with CHA 17 doesn't mean you won't die.

Of course using the abbreviation CHA is going to draw parallels to D&D's Charisma. This is no bad thing, as it's probably the closest parallel to the way I use the score, though I find Charisma carries more weight of being the canonical dump-stat. I might end up using Charisma for that ease of association, but we'll see.

Also, a bit of clarification on yesterday's post. 

This book will contain everything you need to play and run Into the Odd.

It is not replacing the current book. Material that will not be reproduced in Bastionland is:

  • The Iron Coral, Fallen Marsh, and Hopesend adventure sites. 
  • The Oddpendium.
  • The sample Arcana and Monsters (a handful of the former have been remade and find a home in the new character backgrounds).
  • All of the art. 

Any rule changes I make will be minor, and conversion will be a complete non-issue.

So when both books are out there, and somebody asks me which one they should buy, I'd say:

  • Someone's running this and I just need to make a character and know how to play: Into the Odd - Free Edition
  • I want to run a pick-up game out of the box, with ready made content: Into the Odd
  • I want to play or run Into the Odd, and I want more setting-meat and content creation guidance: Bastionland