Monday, April 18, 2016

Into the Odd, old school with some indie ideas

I want to like Into the Odd so much more than I do. True to its name, it's an odd combination of indie mechanical sensibilities and serious old school theme. And that's something that should work but, in this case, it came out feeling half-baked. 

At its heart, Into the Odd is an old school dungeon crawl. And I mean 1974 Darkmoore old school, before dungeon crawls were codified into medieval European sword and sorcery. 

Character creation and mechanics are dirt simple. You make a character by rolling 3d6 three times for strength, dexterity and will plus a d6 for hit points. You then cross reference your highest stat and your hit points to get your starting pack. Which doesn't just include equipment. You also get things like supernatural powers or disfigurements. The chart is the great equalizer. If you have lousy stats, you get great equipment and powers.

If you're trying to do something that doesn't involve hurting folks, you need to roll under the appropriate stat on a d20. 

For combat, you don't need to roll to hit. You just roll for damage and subtract the other guy's armor from it. Hit points are really just ablative. After you work through them, you start damaging strength with a chance at doing critical damage. Some things, like poison, do extra nasty stuff with critical damage.

That's pretty much the rules in a nutshell. It takes about a minute to explain the rules and another minute to roll up a character. Of course, quick character creation and simple rules aren't that hard to find.

What actually makes Into the Odd interesting and ultimately, heartbreaking for me is the setting. It owes more to Jack Vance's Dying Earth than it does to Tolkien or Howard or Leiber. Although it's never actually explicitly stated, it sure feels like a post-apocalyptic world where the good times are so far gone that they are just vague myths. Not quite to the point of the Dying Earth but working its way there.

It's clearly not medieval since there are things like guns and factories and steam engines. On the other hand, most of the world seems to be nothing ruins and wilderness with city states being the biggest form of government.

Adventuring in the world of Into the Odd consists of going out into the wilderness and ruins and forgotten catacombs to find the lost wonders of the ancient world. So scavenging and grave robbing is clearly a major economic force.

What really gives the setting a distinctive flavor is the Arcana, the lost wonders and treasures of a forgotten age of miracles. These are not your generic magic items. They range from tchotchkes that can fit in your pocket to pieces of architecture. 

And they do very specific, ridiculously specific things. Think the mini-series The Lost Room things. Figuring out what Arcana can do and then how to make that useful is definitely a distinct part of the game.

I do have to say that the book doesn't just include the standard starter dungeon but a good-sized wilderness area around it, complete with a wandering encounter table and  encounters and story books on different hexes. As long as you're willing to wander around the Fallen Marshes, there's a decent amount of adventuring a GM can run in the fly.

Here's the rub. Into the Odd has simple rules and will make for a good quick and dirty dungeon crawl. But neither of those things are that hard to find. There are a lot of options out there for either one of them.

It's the setting, which is so old school that it touches the primordial roots of D&D that is the selling point for Into the Odd. And while the city of Hopesend Port and the Fallen Marshes do give you enough to run a short campaign, I wanted to see so much more of the setting. Yes, minimalism fits the old school feel but I could have easily enjoyed more than twice as much setting material.

Simple rules are nice but the flavor and setting was what I took away from the game and I wanted so much more.

Into the Odd is a quirky game that is three quarters Old School Revival with one quarter indie sensibilities about simple, intuitive rules. If it wasn't for that being a such extreme juxtaposition, I don't know if I'd consider it a indie game at all.

It's really not a game that I'd suggest. These days, my interests are in narrative driven games. But if someone else wanted to play it, I'm sure I have fun.

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