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!

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