Tuesday 19 October 2021

Starter Packages

I'm obliged to remind you that there are just a few days left to back Into the Odd Remastered on Kickstarter.

And I can get away with such rampant marketing, as today's post is actually connected to the work I've been doing on one of the stretch goals.

Starter packages are one of the features that people really enjoy about Into the Odd. The initial inspiration came from this post by Brendan, where he creates a selection of equipment packs for the big four OD&D classes based on the starting wealth roll. 

I loved the quickness of that method, and thought there was potential to evoke a world through these entries, much in the same way that people had recognised in equipment tables. Keen readers that spot garlic in the D&D equipment list will assume that this is a world with known vampires. I wanted to give every player a little nugget of world knowledge just with the gear they get handed for free.

So you end up with this.

And I've done a whole new table as one of the ITO Remastered stretch goals, which really forced me to evaluate what makes a good starter package. 

Really you want to look at each of the (generally) three pieces of equipment individually, and then consider the package as a whole. And guess what? You're looking to hit three different notes.
  • Useful
  • Exciting
  • Informative

Useful Equipment

It's easy to think of Into the Odd characters as down on their luck losers, scaping together whatever bits and pieces they can, and some of the starting equipment certainly points in that direction. In spite of this, we're still playing a game about exploration and problem solving, so no matter how humble the equipment, you're still presenting your players with tools that they can put to use. Some require more creativity than others, but that's just another thing we want to encourage.  

Exciting Equipment

Now maybe this is just me, but I get excited when I see my character starts the game with a pot of glue, or a pigeon, or a net. Of course the big flashy Arcana are exciting, but a lot of the gear in this table thrives on novelty, with Electric Bastionland going even harder in this direction. For those used to more typical D&D-style equipment, it's refreshing to get something weird or even just weirdly mundane. We want items that players will light up when they see, even if its laughing at the absurdity. Useful items are those that the players will find a use for; exciting items are those that the players will enjoy finding a use for. 

Informative Equipment

Good equipment tells you something about the world, and suggests things about your character. At the simplest level, weapons like muskets and bombs nudge you toward a certain set of assumptions, muddied by sitting alongside maces and shields. Weirder entries like "Glowing Eyes" and "Dreams show your undiscovered surroundings" set some of the tone for oddity existing everywhere. Some items imply something about your history, but I've avoided being too prescriptive here. Owning a set of manacles could imply wildly different things about your character's background, but the specific interpretation is up to you. 

The Complete Package

Now the real trick here is that not every part of the package needs to hit all three notes. Instead, you should aim for a package that hits them all when viewed as a whole. Sometimes it's all in the combinations. A dagger isn't that interesting alongside a spear, but it raises more questions next to a bag of sweets or syringe. 


So let's see how some of these new secret Starter Packages hold up under scrutiny. 

Useful: Your first weapon is always useful, so everybody generally gets one. Poison also fits, but the Bell is less obviously useful. 
Exciting: Poison is always exciting, and tying it to mushrooms gives it a twist on the classic vial with skull and crossbones. I guarantee the player that rolls this will try to get somebody to eat these within the first session. Again, the bell feels like a weak link, but it's all part of the plan. 
Informative: This one is really focused on asking questions about your character. The axe carries certain implications, but the bell is the real spark here. Despite being a super mundane item, it subtly nudges you toward a few different backgrounds. Town crier, of course, or perhaps some religious significance. It's wide open to anybody that would need to make a racket though, perhaps the classic "Bring Out Your Dead!" person. 

Useful: The weapon and Arcanum give this a solid 2/3, but I'll talk about the usefulness of the perfume in the next section. 
Exciting: Arcana are always exciting, so here we let it be the star of the show. Perfume might feel like a purely cosmetic item, but I think creative players will relish the challenge of finding a use for it down in some awful hellhole. 
Informative: In previous starter packages I've tried to avoid overly arcane words. If you're reading this blog then of course we know what a jezzail is, but never forget that we're not normal. For the Alternative Starter Packages I allowed myself a few words that might send players over to Wikipedia. With muskets appearing to be the standard, what does it mean that your character owns a more bespoke, uncommon type of gun? Combined with the perfume and Arcanum it implies a certain worldliness, or perhaps vanity. Lots of ways you could go with this one. 

Useful: Their weapon is bad, although does at least have some secondary function. The worms are certainly challenging and the odour is generally the opposite of useful. However, it's worth noting that this is a Starter Package for a character that has a stat of 18, so their usefulness is already innate in whatever natural talent they happen to possess. 
Exciting: Now maybe I'm strange, but I do enjoy getting this sort of entry. It's designed to prompt some laughter at the table, but again I think the jar of worms is simultaneously bad, but has just enough potential to be useful if you're clever about it
Informative: Not so much informative of the world, but there's no shortage of implication about your character here. Gardener? Fisher? Worm farmer? Just somebody that really likes worms?

To get your hands on the full game with the new Alternative Starter Packages, go and back Into the Odd Remastered on Kickstarter before the campaign closes this week!

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