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.

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