Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thoughts on Into the Odd

I know I'm late to the party, but I finally got a chance to run Into the Odd. 

Into the Odd frustrates me in that every rule seems obvious in a way that is vaguely insulting, but presented with the sincerity of my grandmother trying to describe to me whatever strange new gadget she recently saw at the store, which makes it very hard for me not to like it. It aligns with my aesthetic sensibilities, but reminds me of times when a loved one would stay over and I couldn’t get a moment’s peace, even when peace was less desirable than their company. It seems the closer I get to my ONE PERFECT RPG, the more despondent I’ll become to the point where quotes falsely attributed to Buddha will no longer raise my spirits.

Not everything here is a completely new idea, but we get a lot of smart concepts packaged in a  digestible way without any kind of nefarious pretense or edge. The book is usable, with setting taking up a minimal amount of real estate, with the bulk of detail laced into the starting equipment table. There’s no sections defining role-playing, and nothing about how the game itself is different (which it doesn’t need because it simply is).

There lack of to-hit rolls jumped out at me considering how old-school the game feels otherwise. Players only roll damage, and my players can’t decide if they like it or not. I’m fine with this. I sometimes feel like knee-jerk reaction blog/forum posts have become the dialect of the RPG proletariat, and I was proud of my friends for engaging the game with an open mind. It would have been really easy to dismiss the rule outright, or (almost worse) embrace it without thought.

The saving throws work because the values are liquid, and because they’re only intended to be used in response to the world. I despise d20 roll under with 3-18 ability scores for aesthetic reasons, but in ItO your numbers are less about who you are and more about what is happening. Those numbers are on your sheet because they have to be, but they only play a small part in what measures the worth of your character. Your Strength might be 18 right now, but it could just as easily be 1 by the time you make it to the next room. In the same vein, you can choose to define yourself by your stuff, but at the end of the day even your most fantastical artifact is a thing that can be broken or lost.

My Bastion was designed with the aid of Vornheim, MS Paint, and a healthy amount of overthinking. The streets are littered with bums, wild animals, raccoons in trench coats, and nerds dressed up as elves. Miles and Poco wake up in their single room apartment in the slums, elbow to knee with their seven other roommates every day. Nobody’s hiring, student loan payments are through the roof, and the only prospects are out there where the Odd things are.

I ran the example dungeon included in the book, but instead of using some fishing town, I decided that Bastion was so unthinkably huge that an entire section of the city could sink into the water and nothing could be done about it. The players traversed the murky drowned quarter in wooden bathtubs. The dungeon went well, with the players triggering absolutely every trap, despite complaining about their low HP and the constant danger they were in. 

Note: one thing I love about saving throws is that people want to dip their toe in—to properly fuck up and see if they can make it out in one piece. I think the game understands that, and the dice system ensures that the probability of success or failure is always evident.

If it seems Odd that I’m writing about a game that came out years ago I must state that, in my defense, I am relatively new to this hobby. I wish I had more to say at the moment, but after only one session I’m still on the fence. I won’t say I’m in love yet. It’s more like a little crush.  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Thoughts on Troika

1. An Adventure
Victorious the Venturesome Academic and Jib Duiggys (dwig-iss) the Monkeymonger are drawn to city of Wimborne by a common dream. Each time they sleep, they see images reassuring them of their absolutely unique place in the universe and their DESTINY, but only if they come to the city.

The city is bustling with travelers with the same thoughts. The tourists are corralled into a town square, and watch a presentation about the type of chronic foot pain that plagues travelers and adventurers. Of course, the point if it all is to sell shoes.

Victorious determines that the shoes reek of a low-grade enchantment, but is fascinated by the type of technology that could transmit images to dreams. Jib Duiggys sees this as an opportunity to sell monkeys.

The next day, they make their way to the abandoned baron's manor to seize this technology only to find out that it has been occupied by a terrorist theater troupe. City guards hide behind sacks and low walls while a talented archer (and soprano singer) fires at them with obnoxious precision.

One such guard sees the spindly magic student and derelict monkey-handler and, for whatever reason, decides that they are fit to infiltrate the premises. There is a rusted window on the prison tower that could easily be smashed, but to reach it you'd have to be some kind of MASTER CLIMBER.

2. Not a Review
I liked Troika almost right away. Getting Cake to play was easy. For Christmas, I got him Sorcery! on Steam and he kept making references to its signature monosyllabic spells. He is currently on New Game+. Sophia will play anything, but gets anxious with any system that has random or semi-random character creation.

The physical book itself is unimpressive, but cute. The cover features BOOB and WANG which makes it unacceptable for God's America, and prevents me from waving it in the face of small children which I do with all of my other books. It came with a bag of adorable, colorful dice used for initiative. Functional. Useful. Fashionable. But I would love a hardcover.

Both players were immediately captivated by the backgrounds, as I was. I immediately found myself theorizing backgrounds based on Dark Souls (something I had previously done with the Dragon Age RPG)--but for game one, at least, we would play RAW.

I'm a particular fan of RPGs with less than 64 pages, but I found myself wanting more. More books. A bigger book?

3. A Literal Troika
There is me, Cake, and Sophia. That's my group. Not much OSR content is great for small groups without the addition of hirelings or familiars, but Troika works for a few reasons.

NPCs will have Stamina and Skill, and that's pretty much it. Any NPC encountered is a potential ally, because all I need to do is pin them with a couple of arbitrary numbers and they suddenly become full-fledged party members.

Almost every time a sword is swung in Troika, somebody is going to get hurt. We've had entire enemy parties wiped out before the players ever had their own turn. In the few cases where we had tied rolls, it was thematic--swords clashing together, or tense stand-offs. Things were always moving forward.

I tend to judge systems based on how little they get in my way, and I am a very pushy person. Troika never got in the way. It actually pulled me ahead a few times.

4. Not an Adventure
I created the first adventure myself. The second game was Inn of Lost Heroes by Small Niche Games. It was a mistake? It was fine. I wanted to see how easily content for other games could be converted over. Without a monster book for Troika, I used some monsters from Advanced Fighting Fantasy and just eyeballed the rest.

IoLH is very much rooted in D&D, making specific references to classes and being a kind of commentary on the dangerous nature of the traditional RPG party. Not a good fit for Troika, but weirdly poignant as I find myself moving away from traditional dungeon crawls to more character oriented games.

5. Not an Adventurer
The crazed ex-cleric points at Sonny the Vengeful Child and says, "Her children were killed by adventurers like you!"

Sonny responds, "I'm not an adventurer," before asking me what the old man's name is so he can add him to the revenge list.