Monday, December 8, 2014

[Into the Odd] Hypatia Handel and Mr. Sweets (NPCs)

The Favorite © 2010 Omar Rayyan 

As I noted in my last post, I love Chris McDowall's Into the Odd. I also love the artwork of Omar Rayyan. (There are signed and framed prints of Rayyan's Cemetery Puca and Tar Pitcher illustrations for Magic: The Gathering on my office wall.) Finally, I love image-based character creation (as utilized in, say, the late, lamented Everway RPG).

So why not put them all together? I'm going to generate a series of Into the Odd NPCs using some of my favorite Rayyan paintings and illustrations, beginning with the lovely 2010 piece depicted above ...

Hypatia Handel
STR 7, DEX 12, WIL 17, 3 HP.

Penknife (d6), 3S.

Blond and lacy. DRIVEN TO EXPLORE THE UNDERGROUND—ALL OF IT. (After all, the rest of Mr. Sweets's family must be down there somewhere?)

Mr. Sweets
STR 17, DEX 12, WIL 10, hp 10, Armour 1.

Leathery, baggy, and ugly—but strangely redolent of lavender. DRIVEN TO PROTECT HYPATIA AT ALL COSTS. Mr. Sweets usually attacks with his claws and bite (d6), but he will gore a target with his horns (d8) if he has room to charge.

... What, you thought Mr. Sweets was using Hypatia to conquer Bastion for his foul kind? He's really just the classic "hideous yet loyal pet that only a child can love"—but in Bastion, those pets come with fangs and claws and abdomen-ripping horns. I envision Hypatia's parents hiring PCs to track her down on one of her Underground jaunts; Hypatia could also be a valuable source of information about just what's underneath the city streets.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

[Into the Odd] Initial Thoughts

I'm currently obsessed with Chris McDowell's Into the Odd, an extremely streamlined D&D neoclone published in PDF and print formats by Paolo Greco under the Lost Pages imprint. I'm not joking about the streamlined part: an Into the Odd character first rolls 3d6 to generate Strength, Dexterity, and Willpower scores, then rolls 1d6 for HP, and finally chooses a starting package of equipment based on the intersection of his highest ability score and his HP total. That's it. It's so easy I'll do it right now ...

OK, I rolled a 16 STR, a 12 DEX, and a 5 WIL plus a 2 for HP. Clearly this character is a powerful brawler with a decent amount of speed and agility—but his will is incredibly weak. He's very impulse-driven and not at all good with the occult. His starting package of gear consists of a staff (d8 damage), a pair of tongs, and some glue. Not great equipment, but if his STR were any higher, he'd be looking at a prosthetic leg or one arm! (As your abilities and HP increase, your results on the starting gear table grow more ... ambivalent.)

Once play begins, the rules are incredibly simple. When your character chooses to do something risky or dangerous, you make a saving roll versus the relevant ability. Equal or under your score succeeds. Combat's deadly by design: there are no hit rolls, just damage rolls. Damage comes off HP first; when that total zeroes out, the character makes a STR save to avoid Critical Damage (i.e., being incapacitated and in danger of dying unless tended to within an hour). Assuming the save is made, the character then takes damage off his STR score. At 0 STR, death ensues.

Of course, simplified D&D clones like this aren't anything particularly new these days. The system in Into the Odd is mostly designed to get out of the way, letting players focus instead on the fiction, the experience of the game—and this is where Into the Odd really shines.

The game's setting can best be described as "China Miéville meets OD&D." There is Bastion, a teeming metropolis technologically situated somewhen between the late seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries. (Factories turn out firearms and the like, but swords are still commonly used.) Beyond Bastion's walls and its ring of sister cities are the largely abandoned Deep Country and the exotic Golden Lands. To the north lies the mysterious and deadly Polar Ocean. Oh, and there's trouble both above and below: beings are raining down into Bastion's streets from the Stars while monsters bubble up from the city's Underground, an endless chthonic playground.

A typical scenario involves the discovery and exploration of weird, eldritch ruins or landscapes in search of Arcana, strange artifacts capable of granting great powers as well as twisted curses. In other words, the player characters end up looking an awful lot like the adventurers who assist Isaac in Perdido Street Station or the salvors in Railsea. (Bastion-centered scenarios will feel more like the former novel while adventures in the Golden Lands will tend toward the latter book.)

It's the weird touch that attracts me to what's possibly an even more brutal ruleset than OD&D. When I'm playing a sword-and-sorcery or high fantasy game, I have trouble dealing with the low life expectancy of Old School characters. But transpose everything to a bizarre salvage-punk environment, and I'm golden.

Looking forward to getting a chance to play Into the Odd soon!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

[Beyond the Wall] Revised Edition On the Way

When Peter Williams of Flatland Games posted this Jon Hodgson image in the BtW thread on RPGnet, I was all

Then he went and posted this image of new Erin Lowe artwork:

And I was all

Today the bastard went and added this image to the thread:

Frickin' Larry MacDougall. Why do you torment me so, Peter? Why? Sell me the damn game already!

As my daughter said back when she was in preschool, "Patience hurts you."

(They were trying to teach her "Patience is a virtue," but my little girl knew more about patience than that.)

Monday, October 27, 2014

The D&D Player's Worst Nightmare ...

Last year I gave you a beholder pumpkin. This year I give you the one thing no player of D&D wants to meet on a dark tabletop at midnight. Happy Halloween 2014!

Friday, October 3, 2014

[Supers!] Brute Squad

Last night I started playing in a Supers! Revised campaign at my FLGS. I knew going into the game that I wanted to play a brick, but I was having trouble coming up with a concept that worked ... until a thesaurus search turned up "brute." Suddenly the light bulb went on: "brute" leads to "brute squad" leads to "brick with the ability to duplicate himself."

In other words ...

With this mental breakthrough, my character came together in a flash. Here are the stats for Brute Squad, a former henchman trying to make it as a hero:

Brute Squad

a.k.a. Andrew Irons

Resistances (7D)
Composure 2D
Fortitude 4D
Reaction 3D
Will 2D

Aptitudes (4D)
Athleticism 3D
Fighting 3D

Powers (12D)
Armor 4D
Duplicate Self 4D
Super Strength 4D

Advantages (1D)
Is That Your Best Shot?

Disadvantages (-4D)
Enemy (Wise Guy)
Obligation (Parole Officer)
Social Hindrance (Disreputable)
Social Hindrance (Ugly)

Competency Dice (2D)

Andrew Irons grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. He didn't have many options in life, and his brutish looks didn't help him win friends and influence people. A crappy job in an unsafe factory exposed him to a bizarre chemical solution, granting him the typical brick power suite as well as the more unusual ability to duplicate himself. His newfound abilities made him particularly attractive to the villain community, and "Brute Squad" found himself working as a henchman to a number of different bad guys. But his heart was never in his villain work. In fact, when his last boss, the super-genius crime lord Wise Guy, ordered him to execute a captured superhero, Brute Squad not only refused to do the deed but turned on Wise Guy as well. After serving a shortened sentence on account of his face turn, Brute Squad tried to find legitimate work for a man of his talents. But this ex-con is having trouble finding anyone who trusts him: will he stay a hero, or will he fall back into a life of crime?

Monday, September 29, 2014

[13th Age] Goodbye, Half-Orcs; Hello, Beast Folk?

Just a little thought-experiment here, something I'm contemplating for my own version of the Dragon Empire after reading some online discussion of half-orc origins:

13th Age gets away from the problematic origins of the traditional D&D half-orc by explaining the species not as the product of sexual violence but as a High Druid-initiated immune response to the return of the Orc Lord and the concomitant rise in orc populations. Walking, talking lymphocytes, if you all.

As a way of avoiding the inscription of rape into the game setting, this certainly works. But it does raise a new question: why use a breeding-related term for the resulting species of pseudo-orcs? Obviously the answer is "because 13th Age tries to preserve the sacred cows of D&D tradition whenever possible," but that meta-explanation doesn't make much sense within the fictional context of the Empire.

What I'm thinking then (and I suspect a Google search would demonstrate that I'm in no way original here) is to recast the half-orcs as an entirely different species: beast folk. The precise appearance of the beast folk is still up for grabs: they could just look like brutish humans with excessive body hair and pronounced canines, or they could have many more animal features, features that might be tied to specific subpopulations (a wolf group, a deer group, etc.).

But the advantage of either approach is that the existing half-orc stat block (bonuses to either STR or DEX and the Lethal racial power) can apply to the beast folk concept without any changes needed. The beast folk backstory also nicely maps onto the existing half-orc one: the beast folk of the frozen north have frequently been enemies of the Empire, but with the resurgence of both the Orc Lord and the High Druid, the Emperor has seen fit to make peace with his former foes and to support them against the hordes on their borders. (Especially since the Dwarf King's attention to the orcs frequently wavers based on whatever is bubbling up beneath his delvings that week.)


Friday, September 26, 2014

[13th Age] One Unique Thing, Rat Queens Style

I can't be the only person in the world who thought "One Unique Thing" when reading this panel of Hannah and Orc Dave in Kurtis Wiebe and Rob Upchurch's Rat Queens #5, can I?