Tuesday, 22 September 2015

How I Run Into the Odd

Someone asked how I prepare for a game of Into the Odd, so it's time for some rapid fire tips on how to run a game exactly like I do (which you won't want to do).

DISCLAIMER
I mostly run one-shots or short campaigns using Hangouts or with around a table with friends I'm already super comfortable with. My priorities are a brisk pace, meaningful choices with big impacts, and keeping the focus on the situation rather than the mechanics.



PREPPING

Get a Map
Draw one, or steal one from Dyson. Number up the sections and think of a concept for the place. Make a random encounter table using this format.

Work out a Good Start
You really want to avoid a weak start where nothing interesting is happening and the group don't really know what they're doing. Give them something to deal with right away.
If it's a dungeon it's easy, you just throw them right into it.
If you're in a city or wilderness, have something chasing them or some big crisis kicking off right in front of them.

Bait Hooks
Link that initial situation with the place you've prepped for the game to take place. Don't railroad them into a specific place, but if you want them to stay around a particular borough or head to some distant location, give them a really good reason.

Bait more Hooks, Seriously
The worst feeling I get as a player is when you're sort of passive and not particularly inspired to follow any of the directions. Bait up a couple of alternative hooks that might draw people in.
If you're using treasure as you're main hook to get an expedition going, throw in some side-hooks of mystery and power too.
Most of all, don't start the game off somewhere you don't want the group to stay. If you've prepped a dungeon off in the Far Lands and you're starting in Bastion, be prepared for the game to never leave the city.

Make the Main-Thing the Main-Thing
If you've prepared for the group to take an expedition to the Far Lands, have rival expeditions heading out, kids reading about explorers that went there and came back, market traders selling exotic things that have been brought back. If it's about a monster-of-the-week terrorising some Deep Country village than have give every villager a strong opinion on the monster and cover all angles. If you want to play in an industrial borough of Bastion then have everyone live in workhouses and make a table of nasty smog effects.



Get out your Specialist Tools
Okay so this game will probably feature a giant gorilla, so I'll make sure I have the Detachment rules to hand and I've got a load of ideas for things it can smash. I've prepared a ruling for the likely eventuality of it climbing something tall while being shot at.

I've also made sure to give the big guy some means to attack the whole group at once, and he's seriously tough. No anti-climactic gang-up-and-stab kills here.

I want these creepy number-chanter guys to be fun to deal with, so I've given them a mechanic where they pick a number and do something crazy when that number is rolled. It's meta-gaming but this group will enjoy a dash of it.

Get your tables that help when the group go off somewhere you don't have prepared. The Oddpendium tables like What's This Street Like and What's In the Darkness work well for this.

Don't Make Soft Monsters 
Into the Odd monsters shouldn't have abilities like this:

Whirlwind Flail: All surrounding the beast must pass a DEX Save or take d12 damage. 
Brain Sap: Pass a WIL Save or lose d4 WIL. 
Transformer-Needle: Pass a DEX Save to avoid the attack, or else you start a quiver. Attempt a STR Save at the start of each turn from now on. On the first fail you start to shift into a fishlike-humanoid. On the second fail you have full on scaly skin and hideous fish mouth. On a third fail you're a fish. On a pass, you shake off the effect for good.
(Yes I've done this myself in the past)

Just do the thing you want it to do. Into the Odd is designed around the idea that attacks do bad things every single time. Just because you might roll a 1 with your Musket and barely scratch your enemy doesn't mean monsters can't do horrible things every turn.

Knock it off with multiple saves, Saves against damage (NEVER use Save against Damage), Saves against Ability Score loss can work but it makes your monsters soft and unreliable. You want something meaninfgul to happen every time the players get in a position when a monster can attack them.

Go straight to the Ability Score loss. Go straight to the big d12 damage and don't be afraid to target multiple characters if it's a lone monster. Have Save vs something terrible happening. Put nasty effects on Critical Damage, because at that stage anything goes. If it's as bad as a Save or Die then forecast the hell out of it (see Danger in Plain Sight).

The abilities above should be like this:
Whirlwind Flail: d12 damage to everything surrounding the beast.
Brain Sap: Lose d6 WIL. Turn into a mindless Slave at WIL 0. 
Transformer Needle: Lose d6 STR and gain a fish-like trait. At STR 0 turn into a fish. 



Include Toys
The Starter Package section is full of toys. Little things that operate in that sweet spot between fluff and hard rules. Pots of grease, mirrors, razorwire. Things that the players can use to solve problems creatively.

Into the Odd characters tend not to have innate toyness like D&D classes do, so put extra stuff in your games to balance that.

Go full-crazy with the toys in your crazy places because players want to get a slug-mount and a moralistic-hammer to play with. Think of things that can be used creatively, rather than things that are innately powerful. They don't have to be equipment, but think of trick rooms, factions that can be manipulated, enemies that can be turned to allies. Everything that you can bend to your will to solve problems in game.

Things that just make you better at doing stuff are not toys and aren't even in the same league as this stuff.

RUNNING

Reward Questions with Good Information
Generally don't roll in response to questions. Rolls are for action or generating content you haven't prepared. Usually you can just give them more information.

Can I hear anything through the door? Sure, sounds like machinery but it's faint enough that you'll have to stick your ear right up against it to hear.

Do we know anything this guy wants that we can use to bargain? He hasn't let anything slip but you could ask him, or maybe ask some of his colleagues.

Any traps on this door? Nothing to suggest there is. You know I'm not a jerk with traps, so you'd know right away if it was.

What's in those woods to the south? The locals think the woods are haunted, but the watch say it's just kids messing around.

Danger in Plain Sight
I told you to make monsters dangerous, but the more dangerous something is, the more obvious it has to be.

Snotlings can be sneaky little bastards because they're just throwing itchy fungus at you from the shadows. A medusa isn't going to come out of nowhere and hit you with a Save or Stone.

I announce the presence of traps, because trying to get around a trap is the fun part. Spotting the tripwire isn't fun. The exception is if you're bolting blindly through darkness, at which point I'll say "You know you'll just run into anything down there, right? Sure you want to run away from the monster in that direction?"

Death Traps are big whirring devices, lots of hanging blades and ominous holes in the walls. You want to get through? Deal with it.

So you won't get killed in the night by a skilled assassin, or impaled on a well-hidden spear trap out of nowhere. I think we're all fine with that.

Force Choices
You stop to patch up your wounds? 
Are you doing it down here out in the open or going to look for somewhere more hidden?

You fail to kick the door in? 
The noise echos through the Underground and you hear sudden heavy breathing from the other side. What do you do?

You're going to hang around this pub and get drunk? 
Looks like the drinkers are split into two gangs in silly uniforms. Do you try to socialise with one or stick to yourselves?

In short: You do a thing that doesn't immediately push things forward? Make a choice that will move things for you. 

I like the rulings mantra "If in doubt, look for the interesting choice".

Deep Impact
Everything the group do has a massive impact on the world. You killed that stray dog? The street urchin gang that look after him are coming for you. You donated a bunch of money to this cult? They bounce between treating you like royalty and trying to sponge more money from you. You offended the guy on the toll-booth? He's told all his colleagues to give you an extra hard time.

Amplify People
Nobody will remember your NPCs if they're all nuanced realistic individuals. Give each of them some weird quirk that comes out when you interact with them. Silly voices are great, but hammer home their personality and desires as much as you can. If this boring shop-keeper wants to be mayor of the borough, make him never shut up about it and give him really clear political stances. If this dog is stupid and gluttonous have him eat every gross thing you come across in the dungeon.



CHEAT LIST

- Make things fun to interact with and combine to interesting effect.
- No soft monsters, weak consequences, or subtle characters.
- The more dangerous something is, the more obvious it is.
- Reward questions with good information.
- In in doubt look for an Interesting Choice.

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