Free League Publishing has made a name for itself with some major hits in recent years, with heavy hitters like the Alien RPG, The One Ring, and Twilight: 2000. However, another aspect of the publisher has been to bring RPGs from the European market into wider distribution. Not only has this brought projects like Vaesen and Symbaroum to the wider market, but it has also created a space for smaller, more focused RPGs, like Mork Borg and Death in Space. Today, we’re going to look at another one of these RPGs, Into the Odd Remastered.
I received a copy of Into the Odd as a review copy from Free League, and I have received other games from Free League for review in the past. I have not had the opportunity to play Into the Odd myself.
Into the Odd Remastered
Publisher: Free League Publishing, Bastionland Press
Rules and Writing: Chris McDowall
Graphic Design and Art: Johan Nohr
This review is based on the Into the Odd Remastered PDF, which is 152 pages in length. This includes endpapers, a title and credits page, a two-page table of contents, and a one-page index.
The layout for Into the Odd is single column. There are various color pieces in the book, but most of these have a limited palette that is not shared by all the artwork in the book, but rather seem to be chosen to reinforce the individual feeling conveyed by the art. There is both original art, as well as historical photos and images that have been manipulated to add color and chaos to evoke the tone of the setting.
The format is very clear, with wide margins. Most of the book uses black lettering, with examples called out in blue. I think this is a case where the limited number of people working on the rules has allowed for a much more intentional presentation.
What Is This Setting?
Into the Odd takes place in a fantasy world, but one that has reached its industrial age. There are dirty factories and mass-produced tools, but there are alien artifacts and the remnants of ancient civilizations to produce wondrous effects. Bastion is the primary city of the setting, and the place from which adventurers set out.
The Underground runs beneath everything, and the sewers of Bastion naturally merge into it. The landscape has lost cities, ancient broken statues, and evidence of cosmic horrors and strangeness housed in multiple ruins.
The feeling that was pervasive to me was similar to China Mievilles’ New Crobuzon stories, but with less of the biting political commentary. There are amazing machines that don’t work the way we assume they work in our world, strange intelligences, but also familiar cities trying to mass produce a new world while ignoring the wonder still left in the setting.
What Do You Do?
Adventurers are a part of society in the setting. When new ruins are found, a wall in the sewers reveals an alien temple, or people go missing on the way to the city, adventurers are expected to investigate, and potentially make some money along the way. In many ways, it is a very traditional formula applied to a non-traditional setting.
What Are the Rules?
The game uses a traditional set of polyhedral dice (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20). Characters have three stats, Strength, Dexterity, and Willpower, and HP (in this case, referred to as Hit Protection).
Whenever a character is trying to avoid a detrimental effect, they try to roll equal or under their relevant ability score. Whenever an attack happens, you roll damage and subtract armor from the attack. An attack that is hindered does 1d4, and one that is enhanced does 1d12, but most weapons fall in the d6 to d8 range.
Some effects do damage in HP, and some in Ability Score damage. HP recovers on a short rest (a few minutes), while Ability Score damage recovers after a full rest (a week of downtime in a safe location).
When you create a character, you roll 3d6 in order, and the rest of your character is determined by cross referencing a chart that gives you your Starter Package. The Starter Package gives you gear but may also give you another trait. The lower your Ability Scores and HP are, the more likely you are to have a more overtly supernatural and/or beneficial starting ability.
Most rules are discreetly detailed. For example, if you do have a special ability, there isn’t a section that describes the full list of special abilities, you are just told what the relevant effects are in the entry.
Whenever the group finishes an Expedition, they gain a level. At this point, they roll for more HP, and roll to check if any of their ability scores go up. Character levels aren’t numbered, but use the following titles:
There are also simplified rules for dealing with actions taken between Expeditions. Characters can make a few simple rolls to see if an Enterprise is making money. They can take on an Apprentice, who can level up as you adventure (and might make for a good replacement character if something goes wrong), or you can fight battles.
Characters leading a group in battle make a Detachment. The Detachment is effectively a single character, but with more HP, and the ability to always do Enhanced damage to individuals. These Detachments can come on adventures, but only if it makes sense to bring a company of troops.
Arcana are the leftover artifacts that produce special effects. These are divided into Arcana, Greater Arcana, and Legendary Arcana. Like most of the rules in this game, the details are provided in the descriptions of the items, rather than referencing a range of possible Arcana effects. A GM creating new Arcana must model their creations against what is presented in the game, rather than against specific guidelines that are laid out.
As an example of these different power levels, a regular Arcana may let you sense the direction of something you are looking for, a Greater Arcana might summon a creature to fight for you, and a Legendary Arcana might bring the dead back to life.
Hazards and Monsters
There are a few pages of example hazards, which usually involve a character making an Ability Score check in order to avoid an effect. Some of these do standard damage, while others do Ability Score damage. A few may even cause you to be possessed into taking actions you otherwise wouldn’t take.
Monsters usually have a drive associated with them to explain what they want in a scene. Particularly large monsters may not be affected by attacks from single creatures, and some may inflict specific conditions in addition to the damage they cause.
In addition to the standard Starting Packages, the Appendix of the book provides alternate Starter Packages and notes for generating characters that begin as “simple folk,” as well as Mutants from the Underground and Unhumans (sapient beings from other worlds). There are also random tables to provide prompts, NPCs, campaign events, and even some suggestions on what is in the next room.
A lot of the system struck me as clean and “comfortable” as I was reading it, but the adventures really engaged me. There are a number of items presented in this section, although the primary adventure is The Iron Coral, a dungeon crawl through a growing fortress made of metallic coral that has only recently appeared along the coast.
In addition to the levels of the Iron Coral, however, there is a hex map showing the locations between Bastion and the coastline. There are a number of random encounters that can happen in each hex, but this isn’t the part that really struck me.
There are individual sites in different hexes, and some of these locations help to add context to why some of the other encounters happen. There is another settlement, Hopesend, where characters can gain rumors on the location, and together, it forms a number of webs that allow for almost the full context of any of the encounters or locations that the PCs may visit.
I’ve seen different encounters provide context for random encounters before, and rumors that reinforce the story of the adventure have existed since the beginning of the hobby. That said, all of these things are so tightly woven, it feels especially compelling to follow the through line of rumor, encounter, mini-adventure site, to get the whole picture.
In addition to the locations and encounters, there is also a table to roll on to see how the Iron Coral changes over time, in case the PCs decide to (wisely) investigate a little bit at a time.
Legendary Arcana The example adventure and the surroundings are so well woven together than I think it’s going to be enjoyable just to see where all the threads lead.
This book is a pleasure to read, and wonderfully imaginative, even if those flights of fancy are only one step removed from the kind of fantasy that the hobby originally revolved around. The emphasis is on getting into play as quickly as possible, and interacting with, well, The Odd. The example adventure and the surroundings are so well woven together than I think it’s going to be enjoyable just to see where all the threads lead.
I Eat the Stuff (Yes, that’s a Table for Determining What Happens When You Eat Random Stuff)
Whenever you have a wide-open setting like this, it’s always possible for people to not share a common vision of what the setting is like. Much of it is drawn from a collection of images and words that may be more symbolic than proscriptive. In addition to making sure everyone is on board with the tone and presentation of the setting, there is no discussion of safety tools, either for campaign calibration or for active feedback. Finally, while I think there is a lot of fun to be had in iterating from the designs already present for things like Arcana, Monsters, and Threats, some GMs are going to be less comfortable with this than they would be with clearer guidelines, or possibly even more items to pull from.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
I think this is a beautifully realized game that shows some great imagination. It may even appeal to gamers beyond the desire to play the game, and also appeal to gamers that just want to see the presentation and how it builds connections through content. That said, the simple rules coupled with the very loose guidelines on creating content may not appeal to gamers that want a bit more structure and guidance in their content.
What are some of your favorite games that add a new twist to an existing genre? Are you a fan of rules-lite games that also assume a degree of proficiency in those light rules in order to generate content? We want to hear from you in the comments below!