Wednesday, May 31, 2023

‘Into The Odd’ Is A Funky Fever Dream

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The term “weird” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to TTRPG’s. People make weird characters, weird stories, weird adventures. We’ve generally got a tolerance for it. But sometimes a game comes along that is just so hard to define, so hard to categorize, that the only word you can honestly use is weird. That’s Into The Odd, a TTRPG originally released in 2014 by Chris McDowall (Electric Bastionland) with graphic design by Johan Nohr (MÖRK BORG). It got an updated re-release recently by MÖRK BORG‘s publisher Free League with some tweaks, new art and all that Free League polish. And I had to check it out because even the description looked insane. Then I dug in, and it got infinitely stranger.

What Is This?

So Into The Odd is described as a “rules light” RPG that focuses on the bizarre adventures players and referees can cook up, with combat meant to be decisive and choices meant to matter. It’s sort of a halfway point between the traditional structure of games like Forbidden Lands or Tales From The Loop and the black metal chaos of MÖRK BORG. It’s surreal and horrific in equal measure, and even the setting itself is kind of hard to place.

Into The Odd spread

The setting is extremely malleable, with the general timeline being somewhere between the 17th and 19th centuries. There’s guns and factories and all the dark corners those bring, but also fantastical magic and that sort of swashbuckling feel you get from an era when men still wore powdered wigs. It doesn’t functionally matter where you set your adventures, only that you follow the general vibe the game lays out. Everything you could want for a hook is here: ships sailing into the forbidden northern ice, star cults and mobs milling around hanged corpses, and plenty of ruins to check out.

The core of the game is the Arcana, which are magical artifacts that are essentially the most important things people could want in the game. You can get useless ones or even fake ones, but others are so crazy powerful they’re only discussed as myth and rumor. The job of the game’s adventurer’s is to explore the world and find these, to use for themselves or hawk for a tidy profit. These are where you can see the game getting the most creative since the effects are some of the most interesting I’ve seen for magic items in a TTRPG. There’s a gavel that makes any door impassable, a needle that makes anyone taking critical damage explode into a bloody mess, and a magnet that can repel or attract “anything with a boney skull.” The biggest and baddest Legendary Arcana are often locations or large objects and include the teleporting Space Cube, the revivifying Rebirth Coffin, and the Divine Pool, which glamours you into appearing as a massive godlike entity.

How’s It Play?

Into The Odd Art

Into The Odd isn’t a D6 based system like most of the other Free League titles, though they’re still used more than others. Your character only has three stats, Strength, Willpower, and Dexterity, and a D6 of HP. The interesting thing the game does here is use your scores and HP to find your starting place on a grid. This dictates your equipment and even some starting abilities, and encourages you to just trust the dice rather than min-max. Higher scores get worse stuff and more problematic “gifts” while weaker people get things like an Arcana sense and guns.

As you try to take actions, you’ll use a d20 and roll to compare it to your relevant ability. If you can get it under or equal to the relevant score, you’ll pass! If you go over, you fail. 1’s are natural successes and 20’s are auto failures. You can move and do one action each turn, but that’s essentially all the restriction you get. It’s up to the Referee what ability goes to what action.

Combat is similarly simple, with the attacker rolling their weapon’s attack die (as seen in the above table) and taking the damage, which is only reduced by the opponents set armor. The emphasis here is not long drawn out strategic battles, but quick fights that don’t bog down the story.

The Verdict?

If you’ve played a lot of more traditional TTRPG’s and want to experiment a little, this is the perfect gateway game to the wilder end of tabletop. The rules are streamlined but still resemble the standard enough that you can get your head around it, and while the overall theme of the game is strange and dense the language here is clean and easy to understand. There’s plenty of ways this can facilitate collaborative storytelling without taking the training wheels all the way off, and a few games of this will get you well prepared to tackle something like a Wanderhome. It’s also just a genuine creative masterpiece in a space so often full of derivatives and boring copies. Every turn of the page here brings with it a new surprise, wondrous or grotesque, and that alone makes this worth checking out should you get the chance.

You can grab Into The Odd from the Free League shop or your FLGS at an MSRP of $38.17, and a digital copy from DriveThruRPG for 14.99.

World Building

Images and review copy via Free League Publishing

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  • Dan Arndt

    Fiction writer, board game fanatic, DM. Has an MFA and isn't quite sure what to do now. If you have a dog, I'd very much like to pet it. Operating out of Indianapolis.

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