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.