Friday 28 December 2018

Monster Design from Classics - The Lich

The Cocktail Codex makes the bold claim that there are only six cocktails, with all recipes able to be linked at least tangentially to one of these root recipes. So a Martini is defined by the relationship between spirit (gin) and aromatised wine (vermouth), so a Manhattan is simply a relative that uses whiskey instead of gin, sweet vermouth in place of dry, and bitters added for seasoning the added sweetness. 

So what’s the point of all this beyond theory and list-making? It’s really an exercise to demonstrate how new recipes can be created around classic structures, and understanding how to make changes without screwing up what makes the classic work.

Can we do the same for Monsters? It’s not a perfect fit, but let’s try one.

The Lich

The Classic
While dark wizards might seem like the true root, Liches feel much more iconic to me.

STR 7, DEX 7, CHA 18, 15hp. Ceremonial Dagger (d6), Lots of Spells.

The Orthodoxy
  • Great magical powers
  • Physically weak
  • Themes of greed and immortality
Experimenting with the Core

In this case the core of the Lich is its magical powers, which contrast its physical weakness.

We can move the focus to Psionics we get the Mind Flayer.

We can tighten down the magic powers to single extraordinary ability to give us the Medusa, Doppleganger, Dryad, and even the Rust Monster.

We can keep things closer to arcane magic and focus on a particular school to get classics like the evil Necromancer.

You can tip the balance slightly, giving them more modest magical powers in exchange for appearing in greater numbers and being a touch more hardy to get Drow and Gnomes that still rely on magic and trickery over their swords.

And of course the point of this is to help us create new monsters, so what if we focused on Summoning Magic?

The Elemental Conduit
STR 7, DEX 7, CHA 18. 12hp.
  • An elemental cultist that has given up their sapience to become a channel for elemental beings to enter our plane. 
  • They are humanoid but clearly made up of chunks of raw elements barely held together.
  • They want everything to return to raw elemental chaos, and can summon elementals at will. 
Experimenting with the Balance

The Lich's power is balanced by its weak physical form, classically a skeleton but sometimes taken to the demilich extreme of just a skull.

Another extreme take is going for the Brain in a Jar.

Giving the Lich a ghost form keeps them unable to have much physical impact, but gives them the added power of being immaterial, so you should pull back on their magical powers if you go in this direction.

The balance doesn’t have to be physical weakness, but could be other forms of physical restriction. An Aboleth is physically large but bound to water, and limited on where it can move. Some types of Demon or Devil can fit into the Lich mould but they can be banished to their home or otherwise controlled by magic. Vampires have a similar combination of physical power with serious weaknesses to balance their magical abilities.

So let’s make a new creation where the physical weakness is replaced with stupidity and a vulnerability.

Tome Golem
STR 15, DEX 5, CHA 5. D8 Smash. Lots of Spells.
  • Literally made out of spellbooks but doesn’t really understand them. Throws a random spell out in anger if provoked.
  • Drawn to absorb more spell tomes into its form.
  • Extremely flammable (any fire attacks get +d12). 
Experimenting with the Seasoning

The Seasoning is what binds the core and the balance together. A Lich that knows lots of spells but is physically weak isn’t interesting enough to throw into your game, but if they’re the last devotee of an ancient religion or the vain Prince of a ruined kingdom then you’ve got something to grip onto, a reason why they’re the way they are.

Most of the variants above change the seasoning from the classic, but let’s see if we can keep everything else the same.

Eternal Apprentice
STR 7, DEX 7, CHA 18. 16hp. Dagger (d6), Lots of Spells.
  • Doomed to eternally wander the tomb of their truly dead master, tidying up, checking everything is in order, sweeping the floor.
  • Can channel the power of their master if needed, but is woefully lacking in confidence and constantly scared of using the wrong spell.
  • Their spirit is released if the master’s corpse is destroyed.

Thursday 20 December 2018

A Stocking of Oddities

Work continues on Electric Bastionland layout, editing, and same as every year I face an avalanche of work and social commitments in buildup to Christmas.

Expect a return to more frequent posts in the New Year, including a full update on the state of the upcoming Electric Bastionland crowdfunding campaign.

In the meantime, if you ever wanted a book built on Into the Odd's rules, but replacing my peasant-words with Patrick Stuart's artfully crafted prose, with some of the most fascinating art I've seen in any RPG product, you should go and back SILENT TITANS on Kickstarter right now.

Let's do some loosely Festive Oddities for your stocking to tide you over until January.

 Reindeer Bone
A shard of red bone carved into a spike (d6 damage). By using a mental trigger the wielder can have the spike fly forward at high speed, carrying them with it (d8 to anybody in the path) but it only stops when it hits something solid (d8 damage to the wielder). The wielder cannot let go once it is flying and cannot change the direction.

The Darkest Wolf
8hp, Two d6 Claws or d8 Bite. 
  • An almost entirely black wolf roaming on its hind legs and howling out challenges. 
  • Hates all traditionally "good" animals such as dogs, eagles, and deer. 
  • Compelled to obey spiders, ravens, snakes, or other animals that are considered evil or dark in character.

The Number Song

An effectively infinite song with nonsense lyrics that everybody subconsciously knows the words to. Once you start you can't stop until somebody willingly joins in and takes over the song from you.

Flesh Gorger

A red, cucumber sized leech that sleeps if left in a bag or pocket. Can be violently shaken to rouse it into a feeding rage. It will latch onto the next thing it can (targets get a DEX save, if they pass it latches onto you instead) and start to devour them for d8 damage each turn until removed (STR save). Easily removed by fire, ignores all other physical harm, regenerating itself while it is attached.

Mercy Hawk
6hp, STR 5, d6 Claws.
  • Trained hunting bird, skilfully catches its prey without leaving lasting damage. 
  • Will show the prey to their owner before releasing them. 
  • Turns on its owner if they refuse to show mercy. 

Wishing Star

A large white flower that blooms for just a few days each year. When made into a tea it works as a powerful hallucinogen, showing the drinker's most desired wishes coming true. When they return to normal they will find a small object on their person that they dragged out of the fantasy.

Repeater Globe

A room-sized glass dome filled with artificial snow. When powered up, anybody inside is covered in a blizzard and transported back to one day in their life. They relive this day as a passenger in their consciousness, unable to change the past, but can view every detail of the day.
The Poverty Prayer

A sickly-sweet rhyme about how being poor and hungry lets you truly appreciate your family and faith. A victim's name is invoked at the end of the prayer, and over the next three days they lose all of their wealth. However, if the victim embraces their poverty with good spirit the praying-individual will be stricken with disease in return.

See you all in January!

Monday 3 December 2018

Electric Bastionland Preview - Deep Country

I talked about route mapping Bastion already. Here's a preview of how the same method can be used for Deep Country.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

A Quiet November

So this month has been quiet on the blog because I've been grinding away at the layout for Electric Bastionland. There's lots left to do, but the skeleton is in place.

I wanted to have a physical thing to take to Dragonmeet this Saturday.

It's full of typos, the cover is hideous, and it needs lots of format work, but it's a real one-off thing that I can wave around in front of people, show off the initial pieces of awesome artwork by Luka Rejec, and give them an idea what to expect of the finished book.

Tuesday 30 October 2018

Ritualising D&D Spells

I like the idea of spells that draw upon more concrete requirements than "Wizard, Level 4" or "3 uses per day".

Imagine Spells that any character can attempt, provided they learn about it and jump through the required in-world hoops.

I'm taking the spell list from Swords & Wizardry (from here because it's the easiest for me to work through) and seeing how they could be turned into Rituals.

The main consideration here is that this changes the spell by:
  • Making it usable by any person, no level restrictions.
  • Giving it a method or other means of restricting its use.
  • Keeping things system agnostic.
  • Making the spell more outright interesting while we're in there.
Here are some examples. I'm drawing on with spells beginning with A, but this is in no way a commitment to me re-writing every spell this way. 

Waking the Servant (Aerial Servant)
  • Ring bell of pure silver in the smoke of plants grown on a grave
  • Whisper a passage from a tome dependent on the current phase of the moon.
  • Command the bound spirit to fetch one thing up to the weight of a Horse. 
  • If the spirit cannot bring the object, the object is not the commander's legal property, or a command is not given within a few seconds, it goes insane and attacks whoever rang the bell until they are incapacitated (d10 crushing grasp, 5hp, immune to physical attacks). 
Feral Rebirth (Animal Growth)
  • Gather a number of creatures of the same breed equal to twice the normal litter size.
  • Pack the creatures into a wicker cage with no space left.
  • Cry out to the creatures in their own tongue. 
  • Shower the creatures in the blood of their predator or prey. 
  • Light the cage on fire.
  • The creatures will spring forth twice as strong and resilient and utterly feral until death. 
Invasive Species (Animal Summoning)

  • Wear the skin of a creature native to this area.
  • Use the blood of this creature to draw a symbolic representation of another animal on a natural surface (tree, cave wall etc).
  • The ritual calls forth a chosen creature not native to this area. The limit is one creature larger than a man, or three animals smaller than a man.
  • They burst out of the surface marked with the symbols. The animals obey the caster’s commands and nothing else, having lost all their natural instinct.
Death Spirits (Animate Dead)
  • In a graveyard, or site of a massacre or battle, perform an hour long poem and dance, remaining hooded and uninterrupted throughout.
  • Note that the site need not actually contain corpses.
  • After the initial hour, d12 Skeletons burst from the ground, and another d6 every hour left uninterrupted. If a 1 is rolled then no more corpses will appear and the site is dry of death energy. 
  • These creatures are minor spirits of death, not actual reanimated corpses, so they will serve you as long as it involves death.
Imbue with Soul (Animate Object)

  • Take one inanimate object that serves a function in a house, ie a chair, rug, or grandfather clock. 
  • Combine the entire hair of a crafts-person skilled in making that object into the wax of a candle. 
  • Light the candle and loudly chastise the object for not serving well. 
  • The animated object follows any commands as long as the candle burns, after which they return to inanimate. 
Stone Child (Animate Rock)

  • An area of natural, unshapen rock must be cleared of any loose stone, debris, gravel. 
  • A stone formed in the last day (commonly from magma) is ground to dust, formed into a paste with milk and spread over the area. 
  • The name of one of the Stone Children (there are twelve, guarded by druids) is called out repeatedly, then the ground struck with a pick to form a crack.
  • A shambling, 10ft tall stone elemental is born out of the ground. The elemental acts like a confused toddler, but has great strength. They can be easily influenced, but you have no real control over them. 

Scare-Circle (Anti-Animal Ward)

  • Lay out a 10ft circle of copper sticks during daylight and splash with clove-steeped alcohol. 
  • No animal (normal or giant) can enter the circle unless being carried by a human or similar. 
  • Animals within the circle cower and submit, and cannot leave without being carried. 
  • Non-animals can pass through the circle without effect, and removing even a single stick breaks its power. 

Saturday 27 October 2018

Electric Bastionland Character Preview

Do you long for raw unedited sneak peeks of your most anticipated game of 2019? 

Today's your lucky day. 

Monday 22 October 2018

Three Step Dungeons

I recently ran a group through the start of the Tomb of the Serpent King, and thoroughly enjoyed it. My dungeons often end up as ultra-non-linear piles of weird toys with a notable lack of anything that's an outright hazard or reward, and definite lack of a climax.

Sometimes it's nice to pull yourself a little closer to sanity, so I'm going to write a small dungeon that teaches players about its more unusual concepts as they are introduced, with a focus on leading towards a challenge for a reward, and multiple opportunities for an end-of-session climax.

In doing that I created a sort of procedure, because of course I did.

The Three Step Process:
  1. Introduce First Concept
  2. Introduce Second Concept
  3. Challenge involving both concepts and an additional twist, typically with a reward. 

First think of a bunch of interesting concepts you want to include in your dungeon. They can be monsters, items, hazards, or anything between.

You don’t really need to include things that are dead simple like “skeleton warriors” or “pit traps” but if you plan on putting a twist on them then add them in too. You can also skip out anything that has no real element of danger, say a crystal ball that lets you see other areas of the dungeon.

For this example let’s steal some fun stuff from other dungeons. Forget making a coherent theme for this, we’re just looking at how we would introduce these concepts.
  • The Green Devil Face
  • Wraiths
  • Portal Gun
  • Crossbow Snipers
  • Smoke Elementals
  • Reserve-Gravity
  • Quicksand
And we’ll be introducing them two at a time. This could be a small dungeon that only introduces two new concepts, or a sprawling dungeon comprised of smaller sections that each focus on two concepts.

The Introductions
Ideally this is an opportunity for the players to get information about the concept in a mostly safe way before it really challenges them. It needn't even be a direct encounter, the common example being a statuary that introduces the presence of a Medusa.

For the Reverse Gravity example you’d have a Reverse-Gravity room with one majorly obvious hazard so that they can get used to how it works, and the Sniper would be introduced as a lone sniper in an area with plenty of cover, and make them immediately visible (even if not immediately accessible). The Intro and the Challenge could even feature the same individual monster encountered in two separate environments, if the Intro leans towards a non-hostile introduction.

I lean pretty heavily into giving lots of information, so you may find that less works for your group.

The Challenge
Sometimes just combining the two concepts is enough, but usually it’s better to add something else in. Some ideas could be:
  • A beefed up version of the regular concept. 
  • Adding an “opposite” element to the monster, such as a hyper-intelligent variant of a previously dumb monster, or a pacifist version of a hostile monster. 
  • Adding a load of basic monsters.
  • An environment that makes things more difficult for the players. 
  • A restriction on how the players can act.
  • Removing a safety net that was previously in place.
  • Remember to put a reward in there, Treasure being the most obvious but even just passage to a new area would work. 

Adding Extra Stuff

If you go straight from concept one to concept two to a combination of both it can end up feeling quite game-y, like you're playing a Megaman level that's built around new enemies rather than a real place you're exploring. This isn’t a bad thing if that’s what you want, but if you want things to feel more organic then consider that a Three Step Dungeon need not be a Three Room Dungeon:

  • You can have simpler areas in between that don’t require introductions or just give some clues for the larger dungeon. 
  • You can include basic elements that don’t require explanation or previously introduced concepts. 
  • You can have nonlinear layout but keep the Introductions on the “main path” as best you can. 
Example- Wraiths in the Quickbog

We’ll assume this is a branch off a larger dungeon, linear except room 4 which branches off from room 3 as a dead end.
  1. Wraith (Intro 1) patrolling a hedge maze. 
  2. Precarious ladder. 
  3. Ghouls (let’s say these are civilised Ghouls, so more NPC than monster) hanging around Quickbog Patch (Intro 2). It's quicksand but gross and boggy. 
  4. Ghoul shrine (mostly just some fluff and to give the Ghouls a bit more territory to roam)
  5. Flooded cavern
  6. Treasure being guarded by three Wraiths, surrounded by Quickbog (Challenge)
This is all very vanilla so go back through and add another layer of detail on top. A nice trick is to add an unexpected or opposite element, rather than just adding another layer of the same coloured paint.
  1. Wraith patrolling a hedge maze is a pathetic lonely outcast looking for friends, but can’t help inflicting its chill touch. 
  2. Precarious ladder leads down a shaft, Ghoul Graffiti covers the walls and it’s mostly terrible poetry. 
  3. Ghouls hanging around Quickbog patch. They’re having a banquet, half sunk in the bog themselves, and arguing over which of them is going to give themselves up as the main course. 
  4. Ghoul shrine. The altar has a valuable crystal skull and the Ghouls say anybody that takes it is cursed. 
  5. Flooded cavern. A ghoul is chained to the bottom, doomed to drown forever. If rescued they reveal themselves to be a life-worshipping Ghoul-Heretic. 
  6. Treasure being guarded by three Wraiths, surrounded by Quickbog. The treasure is a helmet being worn by one of the Wraiths, the other two are jealous. 
Now what's happened is the Ghouls have almost ended up being too interesting to count as a basic element, but I figure they're fine if they're mostly interested in their own affairs, not hostile to the characters. 

Knock out a handful of these Three-Step Dungeons, have them branch off a hub area or lead into each other, and you've got yourself a decently sized dungeon ready for your next game.

It might look like this:

I messed up some of the labels in that diagram, but you get the point.

Each boxed-off section represents a Three Step Dungeon, with our example being D2. The hubs and "fluff" sections in between can still be fun, but they should either be safer areas or deal with simpler concepts that don't need introduction.

Oh and I should write up those monsters at least:

10hp (immune to physical damage). Chilling Touch (d10, ignores Armour)
  • Repelled by light or fire. 
  • Mostly want their tombs to be left alone. 
  • When a victim takes Critical Damage they will continue to drain them until they reach STR 0 and become a Wraith.

Civilised Ghoul
3hp, Claws (d6. Critical Damage: Bite to paralyse and drag away), Surprisingly Fancy Clothes. 
  • Revel in the macabre.
  • Fetishise death but have no appetite for killing. 
  • Try to maintain their humanity in spite of their horrible lives. 

Thursday 18 October 2018

D&D Magic Supercharger

Earlier I wrote about applying Into the Odd's Decisive Combat to D&D 5e, so it's only fair that magic gets the same treatment.

Art by Luka Rejec
Into the Odd has Arcana/Oddities in place of Spells, but they fill the same niche. Weird powers that break the rules. They have a few major differences, though.

  • They're tied to items.
  • No level/class restrictions for use.
  • They're often unlimited in use.
  • Usually their effects "just happen" rather than calling for a Save. 

5e's Spells are pretty tame by comparison, but rather than a total rewrite you could focus on the final bullet point and make everything feel a bit more impactful.

Spell Supercharger

  • Any spell that allows a Save to completely negate its effect now automatically succeeds. 
  • If there's a complication (typically something that gives the target Advantage on their Save) the target gets to make their Save as normal. 
  • Saves that allow the target to "shake off" the effect afterwards are applied as normal.
  • Accept that this a super dirty solution and is going to mess up the careful balance of spell levels. 
  • Cantrips are the real danger here, but I don't think it would be a massive issue at the table. The mild-option here is to keep Cantrips are they are but I can't bring myself to recommend that. 
  • If you're worried about the boost in spellcasting power, remember it works for enemy casters too. 


Charm Person now automatically charms somebody as long as you're not already hostile towards them. The more interesting payoff here is that the target still knows they were Charmed by you, so you've got to brace yourself for the consequences of Charming a powerful individual.

Fear this works, because they still get their Save to shake it off when they get to safety, after which they're presumably coming for you.

Acid Splash d6 damage to two nearby targets isn't all that bad, smart opponents will break formation.

Unaffected Spell Examples

Sleep is based off hp, so no change here. There's still the chance that nothing happens here, but it's relatively low if you plan correctly.

Grease is an interesting one, because its primary effect is to coat the ground in grease, with the DEX Saves for anybody passing through happening as a result of that. I'd leave it untouched, as even if nobody falls over, your Grease spell has still had some impact on the world.

Finger of Death for cases like this where the Save is to avoid half the damage, just leave it as-is. It's a bit weird when you've got other spells causing auto damage, but this whole thing was always going to screw with balance.

Monday 15 October 2018

D&D Combat Supercharger

So you want to use Into the Odd’s ultra-fast Decisive Combat, where every attack causes Damage, but you want to stick with your more traditional flavour of D&D, say 5e or LotFP?

But Why?
  • Missing with an attack is a lame way to spend your turn.
  • Hitting and then rolling 1 damage is potentially even lamer.
  • Combat just takes so long!
We can make this happen. Let's use 5e as a benchmark.

Decisive Combat for D&D

Roll to hit as normal:
  • Natural 1 is a Miss, no damage.
  • Miss becomes a Glance: Cause the minimum damage for the attack, but this cannot take the target below 1hp. 
  • Hit: Cause the maximum damage for the attack
  • Critical Hit (usually a natural 20) causes a Glance followed by a Hit
  • Secondary Effects like Sneak Attack Damage, Poison, Grappling etc only take effect on a Hit and they roll damage as normal if needed. 
  • Resistance, Vulnerability, and Damage Reduction are also applied as normal. 
  • Breath attacks and other attacks that do not roll to hit are handled as per the normal rules. 
An Orc attacking with a Greataxe (1d12+3) causes 4 damage on a Glance, and 15 damage on a Hit. On a Critical Hit it causes 4 damage followed by 15 damage.

Resting Changes
  • To account for the higher amount of damage flying around, you do not roll your Hit Dice when taking Short Rests, instead taking the maximum possible roll on that die. 
  • A Long Rest restores all Hit Dice
  • Other types of Healing function as normal. 
A Level 3 Fighter with 3d10 Hit Dice and +2 CON Bonus recovers 12HP whenever they spend a Hit Die during a Short Rest. They recover all of their HP and Hit Die with a Long Rest.

Preparing your Notes
Write attacks with their Glance Damage followed by their Hit Damage, so instead of 1d12+3 you’d write 4/15.

Missing Damage Rolls?
If a Feat or other special ability relies on the Damage Roll (such as letting you reroll 1s) then the GM either:
  • Applies the benefit to the Attack Roll, if it’s a good fit.
  • Presents an alternative.
This is Too Fast, I Want to Get Off!
If you want a milder effect, have a Hit cause Average Damage rather than Maximum, then have Critical Hits cause Maximum Damage. Who wants things to be mild, though? I warned you this is a Supercharger!

A Note on Magic
This all boosts regular combat in comparison to spell effects that grant a Save, so my next plan is to suggest a way to make Spell effects equally decisive.

Of course, it makes Monsters more dangerous in return, so don't you Fighters be feeling too comfortable.

Now all you have to do is decide how to spend all that time you've regained from drawn-out combats. 

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Life After Plus

With the news that Google+ will be gone in a year, there's a scramble for places to stay in touch with OSR contacts.

Have no fear! This is rubbish in the short-term, but I think it could be a good thing in the long run.

I suggest three things:

  1. Come over to the OSR Discord to keep in touch. We've got 600 members as it stands, but it's much more IRC than G+. You can talk about games, chew the fat, share ideas, collaborate on projects and arrange online games. Just be aware things move quickly and it's a different sort of feel to the trickling timeline of G+. 
  2. If you aren't blogging, start putting your long-form ideas there. They don't have to be perfect, just put them up. Add other blogs you enjoy to your blogroll and talk about them in the occasional post.
  3. All those blogs and other long-form content that you would link on G+? Start linking them on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, wherever you like. Google Plus was treated as a punchline by those that weren't already on the inside, so this is a chance for us to show some great content to a brand new audience. Your next favourite OSR writer might not even know what's happening on G+.

Friday 21 September 2018

Encouraging Scheming

Planning and preparing can be fun parts of the game, but how do you encourage that with a loosey-goosey system like Into the Odd?

Necessity to Plan

If you can take on any problem head-on then there's little need to plan.

Brand new characters vs a thug with a club? It's probably just a fight.

Same characters vs a Giant? Planning is the only way to succeed.

The most straightforward way to do this to throw in one huge, seemingly impassible obstacle to the most obvious solution, and announce it in plenty of time to react.

  • A dungeon where a force-field blocks all non-organic matter.
  • A big metal monster, completely impervious to physical harm.  
  • You need to get past a field but it's patrolled by jerky guards riding giant birds. They'll just hover and shoot at you if you try to get through. 

Opportunity to Plan

If you can't observe the bank or get hold of floorplans then it's difficult to have an exciting heist. Keep the difficulty high but give them as much information as they can take. Most importantly, for things that are really difficult, consider how much time pressure you're applying. If the only chance to rob the bank is right now then planning won't be an option. If the ideal window is in a week's time then you can really dig into the scheme.

  • This terrible monster attacks every other night. 
  • Your assassination target recently sacked a huge number of staff. They have information and grudges. 
  • You have the travel diary of the last explorer to visit a distant island full of Treasure. 

Ingredients for the Plan

I'm obviously biased towards interesting equipment over interesting character abilities, but both work here. If your wizard spell list is "Fireball, Magic Missile, Lightning Bolt, Sleep" then you could have an okay heist, but it's probably going to be more of a head-on assault.
If it's "Charm Person, Floating Disc, Summon Toads, Change Weather" then you're going to have to get clever, but the result will be more fun.

Likewise, if you're running Into the Odd then make sure the players have access to weird, non-obvious tools. Oddities are great here, but make sure you've got shops selling all sorts of specialist items.

  • The players get a voucher worth £100, but it can only be used at an elaborate pet shop.
  • A wealthy benefactor offers the complete service of his staff on your expedition, but they're mostly just house servants. 
  • A gifted inventor can create any electrical device you can imagine, but the more useful it is the more bulky and unreliable. 

Monday 17 September 2018

The ICI Doctrine: Information, Choice, Impact

Doctrine might be a bit strong.

Still, I'm trying to keep these three words in my head whenever I'm planning or running a game. They're the three-beat tempo of a game, even if you aren't thinking about it. Slacking on any one of them can result in a worse game. Get them all spot on and things will feel just right.

They're everything that's great about tabletop RPGs. Everything that sets them apart from video games, board games, novels, can be found in this, the spine of gameplay.

It all comes back to Player Agency, but I find it useful to break things down into threes.


In RPGs, questions are gameplay.

I guess this is the hill I want to die on. I've written about it in relation to traps before, but it's applicable to the rest of the game too. *clears throat*

Players cannot make a proper choice unless they have enough information!

Knowledge and Perception Rolls are the worst offenders of not understanding the importance of Information. When I see them in use I just wonder what could be lost by just giving the players the information?

I want players to imagine the situation their characters are in and think of a clever solution. Asking for more information should be rewarded! If they ask smart questions I give them great answers.

Whatever you're planning, think in advance about how you're going to present it to the players, and how you're going to give them enough information to make a proper choice.


No easy decisions.

This one is the most difficult to just insert directly. For there to be a proper Choice, there have to be multiple actions the players can choose between, and deciding between them shouldn't be easy.

This is really the glue between Information and Impact. Get those two right and this will often fall into place, but you still need to make sure your world supports multiple solutions to problems.

Look at your prep and try to identify the decision points the players will come across. Left or right at this junction? How do we get past this broken guard robot? How can we trust these shady mercenaries? If any of them have one really obvious solution then you need to make the situation more interesting!

One always-hostile orc guarding a chest isn't a decision point. You kill the orc and take the Treasure. Give the Orc a death ray, make him sympathetic just trying to hold down a job, or give him an alarm he can pull to bring the whole army down on you. Now you've got a Choice.


Everything you do matters.

I used to call this section Consequences but it felt negative-leaning, and Impact fits so well after reading Arnold's post on the topic.

Essentially, when your players have made a choice, things should happen so that they look back and think "huh, we did that!".

Maybe they regret it, maybe they're proud of themselves, maybe they just wonder how things could have been different.

My vice is making players feel guilty for killing some innocent monster or screwing over an NPC, so I ham it up real good. They always remember that, because it's over-the-top emotional silliness, but they know that they did it. I've seen players feel more strongly about killing an NPC than losing their own character to death.

This is the payoff for everything before this point, and without it your game is going to feel flat.

Friday 14 September 2018

The Referee is a Game Designer

From the Oddendum of Electric Bastionland

This game does not have rules for everything. You can use normal conversation in combinations with the rules of the game to adjudicate most situations, but eventually you’re going to want to create a new mechanic for your game. It might be for a particularly unusual monster, or a situation beyond the general scope of Treasure Hunting.

This is inevitable. When running the game, you’re also taking on the role of game designer.

First, think whether you need to create something new. Could this be handled as a Dilemma? Could you use a Luck Roll or a Save? Maybe you can just let it happen based on common sense?

If you definitely want to create a new mechanic or rule, try to make it:
  • Simple
  • Transparent
  • Decisive


Into the Odd was created out of a desire for simplicity. I wanted to strip back as many rules as I could without damaging the core of gameplay. It’s easy to look at the system and decide to add in a few house-rules here, a class system there, maybe tweak something you think is unrealistic, and before you know it the whole table is spending more time interacting with the rules than the situation the characters are in.

I like the game to be playable by somebody that hasn’t read a word of the rules. You can explain Saves to them, and how Damage works, then you’re good to go five minutes after they sat down.

Try and keep this level of simplicity. Keep the following in mind:
  • The players should be able to carry on playing without learning your new rule.
  • Consider if multiple rolls can be made into one roll.
  • Consider if a single roll needs to exist at all. Could it be a decision instead?
  • Will this rule end up taking more time than we want to spend resolving the situation at hand?


A great rule should have results that the players expect without them having to learn anything new. If it feels like it should be a 50/50 shot, then a good rule will reflect this. If your rule ends up giving a 10% chance of success instead, it’s going to feel off.

If the players are expecting a 50/50 shot, and you feel it should only be a 10% chance, make sure they know that going in. They can only make an informed decision if they understand what sort of chances of success they have.


You’ve gone to the effort of creating a new mechanic, so it should have clear and decisive results. Don’t make your work all for nothing!

Most mechanics come down to Risk vs Reward. Make both more impactful than you’d imagine.


For whatever reason, the characters have entered a Cocktail Mixing Contest.

A straight dilemma doesn’t feel quite right here.

Saves don’t really work on their own, or even Luck Rolls. You want it to be a bit more involved.

Let’s make something new, aiming for Simplicity, Transparency, and Decisiveness.

Because the characters’ Ability Scores don’t really factor into this (arguably DEX, but I don’t want it to just come down to who has the highest score) I’m going to base this around the Luck Roll and a choice of how risky to go with the recipe.

Adding more dice to a roll and keeping the highest or lowest single die is a nice safe way of shifting chance of success without shifting the range of results, so let's use that here. 

The contest has three rounds. For each round the contestants can choose to mix:
  • A Classic – Roll 2d6 and keep the highest.
  • A Twist on a Classic – Roll 1d6.
  • Something Crazy – Roll 1d4.

If they have an extra trick up their sleeve like a secret ingredient, add another die to their roll but only keep the highest single die. If they specifically have a background in this sort of thing then add another die.

Cocktail Contest
1: Blunder
This thing is beyond saving. Zero stars!
2-3: Something’s Wrong
Do you have an emergency fix? If so, you can still make it Good (see below) otherwise you just get 1 star this round.
4-6: It’s Good!
It came out well! Score 3 Stars for a Classic, 4 for a Twist, 5 for Something Crazy.

Highest total stars after 3 rounds wins. On a tie break come up with a dramatic showdown.

Monday 3 September 2018

Dragons for You, Not Me

Bastionland is essentially built on a single infinite dungeon, but Dragons have never been a part of it.

In Electric Bastionland there's the implication that some alien beings have settled in Deep Country as petty gods or monsters of legend, but I don't think I'd ever put a straight up Dragon into that slot.

Which is a shame, because Dragons embody a lot of what makes for a great fight.
  • Mobility: Usually flight.
  • Ability to take on groups: Multiple melee attacks and an area-effect breath weapon.
  • Environmental links: Even the standard D&D colours mostly have something that takes them beyond being a big dumb monster disconnected from its surroundings.
Roll d6 three times to get a Dragon that might not make much sense in Bastionland. Assign it an Environment based on where you need it to be. Mountaintop, dungeon, jungle, ocean, they all work. 

Basic Dragon Template
STR 18, 15hp, Armour 2. 
Claws and Tail (d10, targets all surrounding opponents) or Bite (d12). 

  1. Glide on giant bat wings, but can only crawl clumsily on land.
  2. Burrow through ground like a landshark.
  3. Slither into shadows, popping out from any other shadow large enough.
  4. Charge around like a juggernaut, smashing through anything.
  5. Float gracefully through the air with perfect control.
  6. Climb and leap great distances.

Breath Weapon
  1. FIRE but roll again because that's not enough.
    1. Green fire that can be manipulated into shapes and illusions.
    2. Black fire that only harms living matter.
    3. Blue fire that holds you in place while it burns you (STR Save to escape)
    4. Pink fire that sticks to you and cannot be extinguished unless the dragon wills it. 
    5. White fire that only burns non-living matter.
    6. Golden fire that causes all the pain of burning, but no physical damage.
  2. Choking smoke that makes the air unbreathable. Lost d6 STR each turn you stay in.
  3. Clouds that stick around and flash with lightning (d10, ignore Armour)
  4. Dirt, mountains of it. No damage but you're buried.
  5. Sonic blasts that throw things away (d8 damage) and shatter hard objects. 
  6. Lava that pools around (d12 damage)

Environmental Link
  1. Animates the bulk matter of its environment into animated servitors. 
  2. Devours its environment, always seeking its next home. 
  3. Literally made out of its environment, born out of nature as its avatar.  
  4. Trapped in it. Everything about its environment will fight to keep the dragon there. 
  5. Worships it, despite its indifference, and fiercely fights any perceived threat. 
  6. It was all created by the dragon. In addition to its normal breath it can conjure up whatever matter is needed to make more of its environment.

Friday 24 August 2018

A Player's Handbook

A brief player's strategy guide for Into the Odd, specifically Electric Bastionland.

Welcome to Electric Bastionland.

Your Character
Ability scores are secondary to your choices. A good player with an awful character will succeed more often than a poor player with a great character.

Your character will have certain things to work with. They might not even appear as obvious strengths, but they're your tools to make the most of. If you rolled a character with a knack for impersonations and a bucket of glue, start thinking of how you can put them to use.

While exploring a dangerous environment, the most important tool you have is Asking Questions. Using this tool well is the key to survival and finding Treasure.

When the Referee describes something to you, it's safe to assume that there is more useful information waiting to be found. Ask specific questions to try and get to information you need.

Sooner or later you'll hit an obstacle that stands between you and the Treasure you crave.

If it's an option, talking your way through an obstacle is usually the safest option. Use the conversation as a means to mine the non-player character for information, find out how you can help each other, and potentially identify weaknesses for if things turn sour.

If you can't talk your way past, sneaking or other ways of bypassing the obstacle are a good second choice. You might need to distract watching eyes, steal a key, or come back later, but you might not have to even draw your sword if you plan things correctly.

Combat is always a choice, and if you want to survive it will usually be your last-choice.

If you have the choice whether or not to initiate combat, consider whether the reward outweighs the the risk. Even if the combat was thrust upon you, there is rarely a necessity to fight to the death.

If you're determined to go through with a combat, you can make sure it's on your terms by:

  • Gathering as much information on your opponent as possible, ensuring you aren't underestimating them.
  • Gain the numerical advantage by isolating a target, or dividing large groups, while ensuring you have as many allies as possible.
  • Seize the initiative by striking first or from a position where the opponent cannot easily fight back.
  • Focus on the actual objective of the combat. Are you just trying to drive a target away, steal something from them, or do they absolutely have to die? Once that objective is complete, you might be best off withdrawing.

Understanding the different weapons at your disposal will help you weigh up your chances of victory.

Don't underestimate the difference between d6 and d8 damage. Stepping up the die by one size is roughly equivalent to getting +1 to your roll. If you add in multiple allies attacking the same target over multiple rounds then the difference is even more significant.

Ranged Weapons are ideal if you can keep your target at a distance, but you can find yourself in trouble if your opponent engages you in melee and all you have is a rifle.

Blast weapons are incredibly potent, able to take out multiple opponents in a way that normal weapons simply cannot. It's expensive to get a Blast weapon you can use regularly, but Bombs are useful to keep for the times you really need them. Use them as often as you can and watch out for opponents using them.

The best weapon you can use is one that bypasses the combat entirely. Poison their water, set fires, or trap them in cave-ins.

Wearing Armour 1 is roughly equivalent to reducing your attacker's damage by one die type (ie d8 to d6). There's very little argument against wearing Armour if you can afford it!

Risk vs Reward
The Treasure you're currently looking for isn't the only Treasure in the world. Is it really worth this level of risk? Remember, heading in a different direction is always an option. Or maybe you can just try an entirely different approach. Get a loan and hire some help? Come at the Treasure from another direction? Create a forgery?

The Core of the Game
Remember that there is a three-part sequence at the heart of the game.

INFORMATION: Gather as much of it as you can. Always be asking questions.

CHOICE: Remember there are always more options than are immediately apparrent.

CONSEQUENCES: After you've made your choice, make the most of the consequences.

Good luck!

Friday 17 August 2018

34 Good Traps

My measure of a good trap:

  • At least one part of it is immediately visible. 
  • It allows interaction and investigation.
  • it has impactful consequences for the victim. 

  • I've gone on before about the three pillars of running a good game (Information, Choice, Consequences) and you'll notice they match up with these three points.

    In short, your trap should have room for interesting interaction between "oh, a trap!" and "I'm dead". The trap doesn't have to announce itself immediately, it can even "trap" the players before announcing itself as long as there's still room for interaction beyond that.

    You can break the rules if it's connected to the theme of your specific scenario. Like your Tomb of Horrors style deathtrap dungeon might be full of hidden traps that don't announce themselves, but you're breaking that rule as a specific exception for this particular dungeon. If you're going to do this, make sure the payoff is worth breaking the rule for.

    Context is also important. You don't just stick a trap in a corridor and call it a day. Connect the trap to its location, most typically a passageway to somewhere desirable, a piece of treasure, or link it in with a monster. You wouldn't just drop a monster into an empty room, so give trap placement the same level of consideration.

    I blur the line between Puzzles and Traps a lot, but here I'm sticking to things that are placed deliberately to impair intruders, with nasty consequences.

    So here are 34 good, simple traps. Some classics that meet the benchmark, some new stuff I just made up, some lodged in my brain but originally stolen. 

    1. Open pit onto deadly spikes. Both sides of the pit are sloped into it and greased up.
    2. Concealed pit into piranha-filled water.
    3. Metal sword audibly humming, hooked up to electric charge.
    4. Green Devil Face with gaping mouth. Anything going into the mouth is annihilated. 
    5. A fishing rod propped up and cast into a lake. The rod is covered in fast-acting glue and tension on the line triggers a springboard beneath the victim, casting them into the lake.
    6. A column of light. When a being enters they are frozen, and an evil duplicate of them is conjured. The victim is only freed when the duplicate is killed.
    7. Walls dotted with arrow-slots. Any movement in front of them fires the arrow, but each hole only has one arrow.
    8. Upside-down spiked pit on the ceiling. Gravity is reversed under the pit. 
    9. Clusters of bright orange fungus growing on one or more corpses. Any disturbance triggers a deadly spore explosion. 
    10. Glass vials of green slime hung from a ceiling, a guard with a crossbow watching from behind a barricade.
    11. Two panes of glass blocking passage, filled with deadly bugs. 
    12. Shimmering, thick air that slows all movement down to a quarter of normal. Guards with missile weapons waiting around the corner.
    13. Glossy, friction-less floor and spiked walls.
    14. A metal room filled with crushed remains, visible moving parts to floor, and a sealed door leading forward. Two buttons. One opens the door, the other seals all doors and commences the crushing process.
    15. A peephole blocked up with glass fragments. Breaking the fragments releases a toxic gas.
    16. Giant chomping blade that must be passed through to progress. Visible pressure plate on either side. Blades are triggered when a pressure plate is released, unless the other plate is also depressed. Going slow poses no risk. 
    17. Stuck door with a gold snake-head handle. The handle will bite and poison anybody putting their hand near, unless they slip a coin into its mouth, allowing safe passage through the door.
    18. Disguised springboard, launching the victim straight up into the air. There is a hanging bar they can grab to avoid the fall, but weight on the bar triggers the release of giant spiders onto it, and rained down onto anyone below.
    19. Room dusted with a deadly white powder. Any rapid movement disturbs the powder, sending it into the air and then the lungs of anybody breathing nearby. Hidden pressure plate in the center of the room triggers a loud siren, alerting any nearby threats.
    20. Locked door, key visible in a stinky fountain. The liquid is fast-acting acid, the key made from a special resistant ceramic.
    21. Rope bridge primed to split in the middle when the majority of the crossing weight has passed the mid-point. The characters can grab their half of the bridge and climb back up easily enough.
    22. Damp, underwater tunnel with glowing treasure at a visible dead end. A pressure plate halfway through triggers flooding of the tunnel. A normal human could get back to the tunnel exit with breath to spare, but not if they try to grab the treasure first. 
    23. Two doors in sequence. First sprays anybody passing through with highly flammable liquid. Second spits out a flash of flame, harmless on its own but enough to ignite the liquid.
    24. Sloped walkway in a freezing cold room. Pressure plate halfway up releases a flood of water down the slope, freezing near instantly. 
    25. Haunted pots, audible screaming within, placed on wobbly plinths on an uneven floor. Any sort of weight on the floor is sure to release at least one angry wraith.
    26. Pool of lava, a metal idol partially submerged in the center. It's glowing hot, but valuable.
    27. Big metal skull with a gem in its open, toothy mouth. Obviously it bites anything put inside.
    28. Quicksand, just like in cartoons. 
    29. Giant spider lair, huge boulders suspended in the highest webs. Too much disturbance might release a boulder, fire will definitely release them all.
    30. Bear trap.
    31. Sealed door with two identical handles on the adjacent wall. One releases snakes from above, the other opens the door. 
    32. Hidden jet spraying you with disgusting smelling liquid. Not harmful in itself, but might attract scent-based creatures or warn inhabitants that you've been poking around where you shouldn't have.
    33. Pressure plate triggers part of the floor to move down, slowly transporting the victim into the now-visible lair of a horrible monster. 
    34. Giant cauldron filled with treasure. Any weight added to the cauldron causes the lid to slam shut and a fire to spark to life underneath it.

    Thursday 5 July 2018

    Expose your Prep

    You've probably heard the phrase "attack every part of the character sheet" from Arnold K. Let's flip that and see how the players can capitalise on every bit of your prep.

    I find that the crime of giving too much information is minor in comparison to the heinous crime of giving too little information. I lead with a good chunk of info, give good answers to good questions, and I want to give even more if the players are crafty.

    So what should you do to reward these exceptional player actions?

    Expose the Map
    I like giving the group a blank map anyway. For the most part I don't consider mapping a strong part of the challenge of my games, so I'd rather the players be tested other ways. It cuts down on a lot of time spent describing the spatial relationship between doors or sketching out rough drawings on paper.

    But if the players find somebody that knows their stuff, let them have a partial or full map! If your environments are so lame that having the map negates all challenge then it's time to crank up your adventure location design.

    Expose the NPCs
    If they go to the effort of finding out about an NPC before engaging them, let them see their info. Show them the HP, their moves, their relationships with other NPCs.

    Expose the Future
    Somebody has probably worked out what's most likely to happen if the players do nothing. If they do their research then show them that timeline you've planned out. Of course, it takes a lot of time to get to that point...

    Expose the Tables
    Switched-on locals know the encounter table of their area. Of course there's a 50% chance of a rabid cat attack here, that's just how we live. The blister beast? Oh that thing doesn't come around all that often.

    Expose the Mechanics
    You're going to be making rulings when you run Into the Odd. Be transparent about it, and reward information gathering with full access to the sub-system you've thrown together for conker games or debate contests.

    Friday 29 June 2018


    • They are made unique, not born. 
    • They attract attention. 
    • There’s always a compelling set of reasons to see them destroyed. 
    • Every abomination started out as something more mundane. 
    • Their origin could have been through design, accident, or their own action. 
    • Wherever they are, their surroundings become more monstrous in turn. 
    • There’s nothing quite like them, and they’re instantly recognisable as monstrous. 
    • They seek places where they can stay solitary but are often drawn to others by a need or curiosity. 
    • Nobody knows exactly what they are. 
    • There’s always somebody that wants it dead. 
    • There’s always somebody fascinated by it. 
    • These are as likely to be people, animal, machine, alien, or mockery. 


    Man-Monster:  STR 10, DEX 10, CHA 5, 5hp. 
    d8 Club.
    • Try to observe normality from a distance. 
    • Decorate its disgusting lair. 
    • Make things worse for everybody. 
    Skulking-Horror: STR 10, DEX 18, CHA 5, 8hp
    Four d6 tendrils.
    • Assume the worst of anyone they meet. 
    • Covet the belongings of others. 
    • Give in to Envy.
    Giant-Creature: STR 18, DEX 5, CHA 5, 15hp. 
    Armour 3, Two d8 Claws and one d10 Bite.
    • Try to scare others away. 
    • Lash out in anger. 
    • Move to a new home once discovered.

    SPARKS (Roll 2d20 and Combine)
    Human (Bastion)
    Human Science
    Human (Country)
    Alien Science
    Mammal (small)
    Machine Science
    Mammal (large)
    Mock Science
    Urban Religion
    Country Religion
    Alien Religion
    Alien Environment
    Underground Warping
    Time Dilation
    Industrial Accident
    Multiple People
    Another Monstrosity
    Alien (humanoid)
    Alien (beastly)
    Chemical Exposure
    Machine (mobile)
    Union Ritual
    Machine (structural)
    An Ancient Oddity
    Mockery (person)
    Failed Medicine/Repair
    Mockery (beast)
    Weird Comet
    Mockery (critter)
    Attempted Destruction

    SPARKS (Roll 2d20 and Combine)
    Organised Cult of Followers
    Dangerous Animals
    Twisted Creatures
    Space Manipulation
    Time Manipulation
    Reality Manipulation
    Collection of Oddities
    Strange Charisma
    Mind Control
    Corrupting Presence
    Destructive Abilities
    Colossal Size
    Manipulate Objects
    Manipulate Flesh
    Weaponises Environment
    Creates Oddities
    Creates Monstrosities
    Mystic Abilities
    Vast Intelligence
    Physical Power