Wednesday 25 August 2021


This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.


Continuing down the Into the Odd Retrospective rabbit hole, I was drawn to another of those early posts. This is one that I spoke about briefly on a recent stream, and it's one of the clearest indicators of how my approach to design has changed over the past decade.

In this early version of the game, I already had the basic concept of Arcana in mind. Essentially, objects that contained spell-like effects. There were a number of reasons behind this, rather than just having characters learn spells as in more traditional systems.

  • It opens up spellcasting to all characters, not just the designated wizard or cleric. 
  • It pushes the players to go treasure hunting into more dangerous places if they want the coolest magical effects.
  • It fits nicely into the sci-fi flavour that I was trying to infuse into the world's supernatural elements, with the implication that these items have alien origins.

But in spite of all that promise, there were a number of things in this early version that worked against the philosophy. Little bits of residual D&D that I needed to scrape off like mechanical barnacles. In truth, some of them aren't even from D&D, they're from a more sinister place. They're attempts at being clever.

Clever Design. The sort that you share on a message board and other designers nod and say "ooh, that's a clever bit of design". In my experience this effect is rarely duplicated at the table. Today I'm less interested in creating clever rules and more interested in creating rules that people don't even have to think about. 

So we had Power Levels for Arcana, which required you to have a certain INT score to avoid Arcane Burden, which was just an outright penalty to everything. 

Yeah I know that's not clever design, but it feels like it was written because I felt there should be a rule for this. Turns out this is exactly the sort of rule you can throw out of the window and suffer no ill effects in return. 

That INT requirement for avoiding Arcane Burden was just one of the silly ways I initially restricted the use of Arcana. I knew that I wanted to break that element of mystical gatekeeping, but the other half of my brain was shouting "no, there should be a rule for this!"

So your INT also affected your chance of getting an Arcana in your starting gear. No starter packages at this point, we were still shopping for equipment. It also modified your roll to successfully cast the spell within. Bonding was a weird way to prevent others from using your Arcanum, potentially unlocking a greater power within, and was also tied to your INT score. But the worst one of the lot is hidden away in an early equipment list.

Mystic Paraphernalia (10gp): Includes wizards robes, hat, ceremonial beads etc. Add 2 to WIL and INT Saves related to Arcana as long as the character is not also wearing armour.

Bleh! As much as I still like the name, this shows just how far Into the Odd diverged from those early editions. Again, it's coming from a place of "well there must be some rule to discourage you from wearing armour and using magic". Maybe if you want to create a group of characters that fit a very specific profile, but why should they? 

Let's look at one positive at least. An idea that I actually like from this early version is that Arcana generally contain multiple spells. I still approve of the move to Arcana carrying a single effect as standard, but the occasional spellbook-like item is something I'd like to sprinkle into my games more often.

I know I'm making a habit of tearing down my old writing, but it's always worth keeping an eye out for that dusty old gem among the pile of shame. 

No comments:

Post a Comment