So after that TPK I mentioned a few posts ago, I switched my game over to Into the Odd.
We’re still using Mysthead 4 and going for a sword & sorcery vibe. I’ve added things like Cairn’s spell list and Weird North’s corruption into the mix. I’ve put links to all these games below. I also really like the idea of archetypes from Weird North and have made bespoke archetypes for my players. I’m not sure if this will be at odds with the initial semi-disposable nature of ItO characters as presented in the book*. It’ll be an interesting experiment.
Here are the archetypes and their abilities if you want to use them in your own game. Yes, some of them riff off the archetypes in the Weird North book. Also as you can see I use some other house rules like a refresh die and letting players burn a stat to get a bonus or recover an ability:
TRIBAL BEAST SINGER (AKA the Bard/Ranger)
GEAR: D8 hand weapon or a D6 missile weapon and D6 hand weapon, 2 random spell flutes, tribal clothes (armor 1), small net (can hold 1 medium sized or smaller creature), rope, Pack (3 days food, bedroll, torch)
ABILITIES (pick two, gain another when you trigger prestige)
- Wind Carver: spend a week carving a flute to gain a random spell
- Endless Tune: your spell tunes refresh on a 6. Take again to lower by one point. Other refresh rules apply.
- Naturalist: spend an hour listening to nature to learn a truth
- Nimble: advantage on DEX saves
- Animal Companion: an animal like a hound, hawk, snake etc. accompanies you. You can communicate with it.
- Friends in Small Places: pick a small type of creature (mice, rats, songbirds, spiders) – you can command them to perform simple tasks for you
- Keen-Ears: never surprised
- Tracker: can track a single quarry across any terrain
- Pathfinder: pick a point on land, you will always know which path to take to reach that place
PRESTIGE: recover a treasure …. And ??? (everyone has two: recover a treasure is the same for all… but the other one is more bespoke and I don’t remember what we decided here. Tame an animal?)
Refresh: roll a D6, on a 6 you regain the ability. Refreshes automatically after a night’s rest. Can be refreshed after a short rest in lieu of HP.
THE CULTIST’S CHILD (AKA What if Tieflings were less sexy and more like something from John Carpenter’s The Thing?)
GEAR: 2 daggers (D6) 2 spells (random) Leather armor (1) Grappling hook 1 random item Pack (3 days food, bedroll, torch)
ABILITIES (pick two)
- Grow a random boil for a random spell effect (refresh 6 or spend D6 DEX to auto refresh)
- Third eye: can see spirits and invisible creatures (usually closed and unseen)
- Vomit blast (D6 blast, refresh 6)
- Scales (+1 armor)
- Poison Immunity (ingested)
- Toxic Immunity (environmental)
- Rubber joints – can slip out of bonds and squeeze through narrow spaces
- Iron mind: makes will saves with advantage
- Quick Recovery – reduce refresh by 1
- Physical modification (gills, wings, hooves, tail)
PRESTIGE: recover a treasure, defeat a planar being
Refresh: roll a D6, on a 6 you regain the ability. Refreshes automatically after a night’s rest. Can be refreshed after a short rest in lieu of HP.
The Botanist (AKA the Botanist)
GEAR: D6 Weapon, 2 random potions, Armor 1, Sample Pack, Tea set: (Kettle, Mortar/Pestle), Pack (3 days food, bedroll, torch)
BASE ABILITY: Brew tea (spend an hour to collect and brew a healing tea that heals 2D6 single stat damage from one person, or 2 points single stat damage from multiple [max. 6])
Bonus abilities: (pick one now, get another when you trigger prestige)
- Naturalist: can craft potions and objects of minor power from salvaged monster parts.
- Plant speech: sit for an hour in silence communing with nature to learn a truth
- Call plants: you can command plants to grow faster (refresh 6)
- Survivalist: Can always find the safest path forward while on land.
- Forager: can always find an herb or ID a plant.
- Soothing Balm: can heal D6HP from self or another if you are not moving or attacking
PRESTIGE: Recover a treasure, make a discovery
Right now they’re stuck between menaces along with a researcher and a hapless mercenary. You can see them all up there in the picture at the top of this post. Deviltoads one way, magic portal to an alien hive the other.
Maybe they’ll escape…
* When I played Electric Bastionland part of the fun was that random character matrix of failed careers you could be. So if your character died the loss was blunted by getting the chance to play some other weirdo. The way I’m running things the characters are still as squishy as EB characters, but it took two days to come up with their bespoke archetype abilities. I suspect this will likely bite me in the butt eventually.
Nine sessions into my latest game and the hammer came down.
Yes, at least one of my players would object to me saying that, since their character managed to flee the conflict wounded, reach an island, and crawl beneath their overturned rowboat as the buzzing of a group of stirges approached.
And as is always the case I wonder what went wrong.
Yes, there were bad decisions and bad dice rolls, and one night we should’ve called the game at a cliff-hanger point instead of pressing on – but things happened as they happened. Now everyone’s making new characters (and we’re changing the rule set while staying in the same setting), but as is the case it’s time for introspection and dissecting the game to see what worked and what didn’t.
Here we go…
Rule set: Through the Sunken lands by Flatland Games. It’s a retroclone and one I’ve used before.
Characters: A Pirate Captain, the Goblin’s Child, and the Student of the Dark Arts (players could pick playbooks from either Through Sunken Lands or Beyond the Wall). This ended up being a fighter/thief, a fighter/thief/mage, and a mage. The playbooks are fun, but they can be disappointing when the rolls don’t go your way. Despite two fighter types I don’t think anyone started with a strength above 13.
House Rules: The use of fortune points was expanded. Spend two to shrug off a spell effect. Spend a fortune point to regain a HD of HP on a short rest.
Advancement: XP was a combination of pop quiz style (each adventure offered a basic amount of XP for accomplishing certain goals) and XP for loot. Loot however needed to be spent in town. A carousing table was used.
Since characters got XP for loot, there were instances of one character splitting off from the party, getting very lucky, and getting loot the other characters never knew about. (The players knew and rolled their eyes in disgust… or at least I imagine they did. We play online without any cameras, but I swear I could hear the eye rolls.) This also meant times where the party had loot they needed to convert to XP, but had to travel to a bigger settlement to spend it. This was the situation before they died. Still I liked this mechanic and the mix of XP awards. But it did incentivize a certain selfishness among the players (or at least it did in that one heel player). This, however, fit the sword & sorcery vibe in my opinion. Whether the selfishness led to the TPK is debatable. The party never really came together as a group loyal to each other and able to strategize together.
Equipment: Inventory slots and a usage die. Both of these worked well, but they did seem to have an infinite amount of rope.
THINGS THAT MAYBE DIDN’T WORK
Nothing. I’m perfect.
Uhhh… I mean…
Time Management: You get a feel for the game and when something tells you this is a good point to end the session, end the session. It’s okay to finish 35 minutes ahead of the usual time. Better too short than too long. If the game had been cut early one night, then players would’ve had a week to prep/ask questions before going into the encounter that killed them*.
Avoid Bullet Time: There’s a tendency to want to play out every moment of game time. That’s not always necessary. The loot mechanic of get back to town to gain XP maybe encouraged some bullet time, since if the game ended with them making camp, the next session would then be them getting back home. Often a random encounter would happen that would then thwart their objective to get home and send them deeper into danger and deeper into turns and bullet time.
Telegraph Threats: It’s fun to make things weird and unpredictable, but (as an example) giving a goblin a breath weapon where they can vomit out a slurry of jagged gravel that does D6 damage to everyone in range may be fun, but A) it induces paranoia in players, which can lead to analysis paralysis, B) it also makes it difficult for players to determine what they should worry about.
Information Economy in the Fog of War: Is it punishing the players by withholding information about their current mission, because they spent their one opportunity to research things researching some other information they thought was more important? Is that a failure on the GM’s part for not telegraphing what details are important? Should the GM even worry about this? Are players supposed to say (hell, even know!) the magic words that will trigger an NPC to give the relevant information or should players just be given the damn information that might be relevant? In other words…
Should players hear about a thing (that may be relevant) even if they never ask about the thing?
* Yes, that character made it back to the beach so the campaign actually ended with the lone survivor cowering under an overturned rowboat and a fade to black as buzzing approached.
And here it is…
Mysthead #4, a system neutral micro-setting for seafaring fantasy adventures.
Inside you will find multiple generators, a local region and the many peoples who live there, several unique curiosities, a hexflower encounter matrix for seafaring events, and more!
Mysthead is my occasional tabletop rpg fanzine. Issue #4 is on schedule for a December release. It’ll be 48-pages and detail a micro-setting for nautical swashbuckling adventure. In fact the setting I’m using in my current games!
Navigate the seas beneath the Vortex Maelstrum!
Learn the secrets of the Midnight Squid!
Cower before the head of Dead-Eyes Anderton!
You’ll be able to find it on my itch.io page when it’s done: https://myxomycetes.itch.io/
So I’m putting together another zine. This one is going to be inspired by my current D&D* game: a swashbuckling, island hopping sword & sorcery game. But it’s also going to be a toolkit for running similar type games with generators for vessels, islands, cargoes, and travel rules like the above hexflower encounter matrix. My goal’s to finish it by the end of the year, but I’m on schedule to finish it sometime before that. When it’s done I’ll post it over on my itch.io page.
If you’d like to support its creation and get sneak peeks of its progress (along with other stuff) please consider supporting me on Patreon.
Thanks for reading!
* It’s not D&D but a different system. It’s just easier to call all role-playing games D&D.
I made a little pamphlet of six generators for your tabletop role-playing games. It outlines an invasion of alien spider things from another world. How they came here? What they want? Where they lair? And what makes their webs so strange.
Use it in all your paranoid little games.
Have you ever wanted to wander an endless staircase at the intersection of realities and populated by horrors?
Well, now you can!
Over at itch.io, I’ve posted a trifold brochure outlining this scarecase environment. It’s written for Old School Essentials but can be easily adapted for other games.
Link to itch.io. Or look for “Myxomycetes”.
And over on my Patreon, I’ve posted a game called Perils & Procedures and a bit from a WIP I’m currently calling Champion’s Mark.
Perils & Procedures is the journaling game of perilous procedures you play online! But really it’s me poking fun at a certain variety of TTRPG blog posts. On one hand, I love them. On the other hand, I hate them. Unfortunately, I can only navigate this tension with ironic detachment.
Champion’s Mark is a chivalric TTRPG supplement based on Orlando Furioso. It’ll be a mix of NPCs, Tables, and Adventure Seeds that I hope will let players embrace some of the weird hallucinatory wildness of chivalric romances. This is a real thing, not a gag like Perils & Procedures. I’ll likely share bits and pieces as I go along. Current deadline for that is January 2023. If you want to help make that happen, please consider supporting me on Patreon.
Welcome to Static Clearing Station, gateway to the Tseiling Ice Plateau!
Static Clearing is a 2-page brochure length science fantasy setting for tabletop role-playing games such as Mothership, Into the Odd, and others. Besides the station itself, the region houses a monastery devoted to the study of ancient creatures from the depths of time and a storage facility where cold chaotic matter is kept in isolation.
The brochure includes:
- An introduction to the Tseiling Ice Plateau
- A map showing the region around the station
- Brief descriptions of four locations: Static Clearing Station, the Feedback Palisade, the Monastery of the Mystic Starfish, and the Chaos Cold Storage Facility.
- Assorted gear and curiosities
You can find it here on my itch.io page.
Here’s the map to the Into the Odd game I’m running. Their base is the little domed house at the center of the map and the circles in the cube icons are artifacts that they have been tasked to find. Other icons are various things they have encountered or stumbled across. It’s science-fantasy and riffing on all of these:
- Electric Bastionland
- Those Who Came Before
- Weird North
- Iron Sleet: The Primogenitor
- Anna X-66
- Sudokar’s Wake
- Trash Planet Epsilon-5
- Ultraviolet Grasslands
- Vaults of Vaarn
So far it’s been fun. The premise is that once a century a vast alien megastructure passes through the system and various factions send teams across to plunder and investigate the structure. The players being among the latest to do so, but the whole structure is dotted with ruins from earlier expeditions and civilizations along with the structure’s indigenous inhabitants.
Things I like about Into the Odd… 1) It’s fast, a lot of adventure can be had 2) Combat is scary because everyone is so squishy 3) It’s easy to port simple rules on to the system (for example: usage dice).
Things I don’t like…? I think it’s easy to slip and remove player agency. One thing I’ve noticed about TTRPG players, especially those who enjoy OSR games, is that they pride themselves on player ability and smoother systems like ItO can remove some of that. I feel like there’s something here to elaborate on, but I haven’t thought deeply enough on it yet.
But that’s not to say I don’t enjoy it! Between ItO and Beyond the Wall/Through the Sunken Lands my game itch is being most pleasantly scratched.
I’m playing in an Into the Odd/Electric Bastion game. It’s fun, but has required some rejiggering of my escapist expectations. With D&D or Blades in the Dark you generally play someone with panache from the start. That’s not the case so much with Into the Odd as the below will show.
To start we made two characters and picked the one I liked the most. One of the options was an out of work animal tamer and I thought it would be fun to play as the shepherd kid accosted by the players in the game I ran (it’s the same group and would’ve been a funny in-joke), but in the end I opted for the other character: an out of work canal lock keeper with a robotic eye.
Now to me that sounded like a swashbuckling river pirate type:
And that’s what I planned on playing, until I looked again at my character sheet and saw DEX: 4. Now a DEX: 4 is not something that says swashbuckling pirate. It says more bookish and uncoordinated, so from swashbuckling river pirate I shifted to local canal crime boss’s in too deep accountant.
And that worked! My nebbish accountant has found himself stranded with strange companions on a very strange island. He’s diffident and not at all a fighter. Or wasn’t at first. Two adventures in and that’s changed.
Early after his arrival on the island he came into possession of a stuffed cat and now refuses to part with it. Not only that, but the statue has the power to turn him into a man-sized cat at night. This is okay, but not great because there’s a chance when he changes he’ll attack his companions. Thank god, he has the 4 in DEX and not WILL. More to the point of this post, my initial token for his cat-form was this:
But again, under all the fur and teeth and claws, he’s still a nebbish accountant who got in too deep with canal gangsters. Once more my expectations had to be changed (and I saw a tweet of some awful 19th century tiles), and so:
Let’s see if this remains his final form!
But there’s a notion when discussing Old School RPGs that your character is what happens to them and that’s proving true here. From a collection of numbers (DEX: 4!) to a personality to a history accumulated through play, this character is fun for the simple fact that the whole experience has been unpredictable. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly feels refreshing and liberating to me. Stuff is happening and not only has it changed my character, but also my character was never who I thought they were in the first place!
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