Friday, 15 January 2016

The Death of Arcana (plus Oddities to find)

The Death of Arcana
Arcana were introduced to the game to act as rule-breakers. Items that function as magic does in D&D, or high-tech does in Sci Fi games. Early versions were simply D&D spells bolted onto an item, some of those even made their way into the book.

But the more Arcana I create, the more I move away from seeing them as spell-replacements. They could be entirely passive, one-use only, big enough to be completely immobile, bolted onto a weapon, or existing within a living creature.

And where is the line? Is the Heat Ray from the starter list really an Arcanum? It doesn’t break any rules in an interesting way, it just zaps through things.

Don’t get me wrong, I want the Heat Ray in my game, but it’s just an example of how the boundaries between Arcana and Fancy-Item are blurred.

At the moment the distinction only actually matters in two places. Highly specific abilities that interact with Arcana, and more frequently in the ruling that characters can “bend an Arcanum to their will” with a WIL Save, altering its effect somehow.

The tie to WIL from the very start, albeit in different forms. It gives WIL an active use, which is nice. It meant you could create a character that was great at using Arcana, if you had your heart set on a wizard before your GM told you that this game is classless. Without that, if you rolled an 18 WIL it was hard to get excited.

Frankly I don’t know if I want Arcana to be some specific group of items any more.

There’s weird stuff all over the Odd World, and most of it isn’t drawn from an Arcanum. It’s just an Odd place, so of course there are talking snails in the Underground, and cow-titans in Deep Country. Sure, this guy’s a hologram, and this device lets you move the stars around to summon astral abominations. Why does only that last one get its own special classification?

The solution?

There are normal things, and there are Oddities, and the boundary is a huge mess. The term Oddity carries no mechanical impact, but the word can be used to describe any fantasy or sci-fi element in comparison to the more mundane Industrial-Era content.

A spider that weaves webs out of light instead of silk.
A poison gas grenade launcher.
The bits of the Underground that don’t follow the laws of physics.

So new characters might start out with an Oddity, most likely of which will be an item carrying a certain power. Any existing abilities linked to Arcana can probably apply to Oddities, and the Referee can apply judgement on how they function.

Bending their power to your will with a WIL Save? Looking back, I’d rather give Oddities their own risks, limitations, and side-effects, then let the players get creative in working out a way to bypass them. Giving WIL an Active Use was more of a motivator for this rule than it should have been, and I’ve moved away from the idea that all Ability Scores must be equal. I won’t be shutting down any players that want to get creative with Arcana in my games, but I might try shifting the focus from the WIL score. Expect a post on WIL Score soon to address its future. Rest assured it’s not going anywhere.

What does this mean for your Into the Odd Rulebook? Tear it up and await Into the Odd 2nd Edition?

Nah, that’s not happening any time soon. Just be aware that I might call things Oddities instead of Arcana, then the next day I’ll forget about this post and call it an Arcanum again. 

That's a lot of waffle. Let's put it into practice.

Oddities to Find

I love bombs. In the same way as potions they’re sort of self balancing by their one-shot nature. Of course it all goes wrong if you can make a load of them, but these are all intended to either be one-off items, or something you get one small batch of and never any more.

Roll d10
1: Crank Bomb
Turn a crank to power it up. Roll d6 for each turn you crank it, charging up the damage that is released when you eventually throw it. If the charge reaches 13 damage or more it blows up in your face.

2: Mass Bomb
Has a spike on top that takes a small sample of the material it is stuck into (must be soft enough to prod, no gold). Explodes to fill a 10x10 area with that material. Organic tissue created this way will live if it can, but most likely not.

3: Slam Bomb
Causes all doors and lids in 10m to violently slam open or shut, even if locked.

4: Portal Bomb
Has a home pod that must be fixed onto a solid surface. Anything the bomb strikes, up to the size of a wagon, is teleported back to the home pod and the bomb along with it.

5: Monster Bomb
Requires a brain to be fed into a funnel on top of the bomb. An hour later it lights up as ready. When you throw the bomb a monstrous version of the brain’s owner is spawned and immediately hostile.

6: Piranha Bomb
Spawns a swarm of hungry piranhas (6hp, d6 jaws, detachment). When no food is left they devour each other Obviously ineffective out of water.

7: Airmines
A floating sac of explosive gas (d10 blast). Far too sensitive, so a 1 in 6 chance that it goes off prematurely, causing no harm.

8: Augmentor Bomb
Explodes in a 5m cloud of shimmering air. Whoever is in the blast gets a random mechanical augmentation.
1: Digster - Replaces mouth. Mechanical voice and vomit a corrosive slime at will (d6 ongoing damage, melt stuff).
2: Extender - Replaces neck. Extend up to 10m at will.
3: Thruster - Replaces anus. Converts waste into a powerful rocket-thrust once per day.
4: Wings - Fly and Slash (d8)
5: Trunk - Replaces nose, prehensile, scent analysis
6: Observer Dome - Replaces top half of head. 360 degree vision, d6 laser, levitate small items towards you.

Literal or otherwise, they’re things you can use to hurt things in a pretty direct manner. Nothing should just be a better version of a gun or sword, so they’ve all got their own deal going on. As discussed, the line between Arcana and weapon was always blurred.

Roll d6
1: Light-Grapple
Functions as a grappling hook and rope, but fires an unbreakable "rope" of red light that can hook onto anything. Can be used to throw targets around for d6 damage, more if you can get them to fall or fly onto something nasty. Targets bigger than you get a STR Save to try to pull you instead. 

2: Predator Tick
A tiny bug that burrows into the back of your neck and whispers hunting advice directly into your brain. Gives you enhanced sense of smell and a venomous bite that paralyses the target when you cause Critical Damage. The tick needs lots of food, so you don't benefit from a Short Rest unless you eat a large snack. Removing the tick causes d12 STR loss in the wild, or d6 under proper surgical conditions.

3: Banishment Stake
Can be used as a regular weapon (d6), but if stabbed into a living heart (Critical Damage) the victim is transported to a Far Land without harm. If they get back to you they'll undoubtedly be changed.

4: Shredder Arms
A rig of six arms that fits onto your torso and lets you lash out for d10 damage, climb like a spider, and play complex musical pieces. If you take damage the arms lash out for d6 damage to everyone within reach.

5: Unstoppable Rod Launcher
A heavy tube that fires a single metal rod (d10) that never stops. Will smash through anything in its way until reaching the edge of existence.

6: Murder Lizard
A black and red terrier-sized lizard (5hp, Armour 1, d6 Venomous Bite, d6 STR loss on Critical Damage). If given a taste of any organic tissue it will hunt down the source unerringly and murder it, before seeking out a new master nearby.

Other Oddities
And now the general Oddities.

Roll d8
1: Mother Maggot
Wooly sheep-sized maggot that consumes wood, stone, or metal and excrete a delicious and nourishing porridge.

2: Egg of Immortality
A hollow egg that renders the carrier immune to any harm. Must be openly carried in an open hand, covering the egg in any prevents it from working. Incredibly delicate and loses all power if broken.

3: Pawn Tube
A big golden funnel that can be spiked into the ground. Feed any item into it and a rock or gem worth half of its market value is shot out. If the same stone is returned to the funnel, the item is traded back. 

4: Minion-Maker
A pink headband that turns the wearer into a mindless automaton, obeying any command given to it.

5: Sorrow Stone
A little black stone that gives you the benefit of a Short Rest if you hurt someone, and the benefits of a Long Rest if you torture someone.

6: Caustic Weed
Can be smoked, but causes d8 STR damage if inhaled. Can be blown into someone's face for d8 damage, ignoring armour.

7: Terrible Yeast
Consumes alcohol and flavour. Excretes sugar and tart acids. 

8: Primordial Slime
Can be rubbed onto skin, leaving it soft and jelly-like. You can now bend and squeeze as if you had no bones or internal organs, but you only benefit from rests while in water. If you spend a day out of water the effects wear off. 


  1. One usage odd devices (called cyphers) are prevalent in Monte Cook's Numenera rpg. There are random generators online that one can use even for other games (as Oddities, perhaps?)

    Check for example:

  2. Into the Odd has always seemed like a streamlined hack of Numenera to me. In the best kind of way.

  3. You mean Numenera is an overly complicated hack of Into the Odd, of course. :-)

  4. Tere was a Will Save toi identify the function of a Arcana.
    Will it be the same for Oddities?