[Review] Into the Odd

Into the Odd belongs to the games inspired by the hexploration gameplay that was re-popularized by the OSR. It does not try to emulate older versions of D&D, as many other OSR inspired games do, but follows its own way alltogether.

Within its 48 pages, the game offers a complete set of rules, an adventure, and a setting. The brevity demands a price though: The layout could do better. Page layout constantly changes depending on how much has to be squashed in, the illustrations are a hotchpotch of drawings, public domain pictures and photos. While this is not a problem when reading the book for the first time, it makes it difficult to find specific rules later.

The rules themselves fare much better though: They are concise yet flexible. For my taste they are slightly to light for long-term play, as I prefer a little more detail, but I could fully imagine to use them for one-shots or even mini-campaigns. Compared to games like The Black Hack, with their beautifully designed single resolution mechanism, Into the Odd feels a little rustic. Nonetheless, usability was definitely a key impetus during game design.

A great example for this is character creation: You randomly determine the value of your attributes, but the higher your values are, the worse your starting package (equipment, money, and other boons).

During game, all actions are resolved by either attacks (if you try to harm someone with a weapon) or by saves (everything else). An attack always hits, damage depends on weapon, circumstances and armour. Thus, even a character with low attributes can contribute fully on the majority of all actions. For a save, you need to roll below an attribute with a d20. These rules work on all scales, from individuals to structures, and organizations.

For magic and setting, Into the Odd follows the path of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or the works from Zak Smith (Vornheim, Read & Pleasant Land, Maze of the Blue Medusa). As those, it attempts to make magic less mechanical and more occult without laying it completely into the referee’s hand, and adding a level of weirdness to the setting.

Even though one only finds the most bare-bone description of the setting, it draws on so immensely powerful concepts and clichés that you immediately know what it is speaking about. Instead of your typical pseudo-medieval fantasy world, it implies a clearly industrialized setting with the urban metropolis of Bastion as its centre. Rural areas are dangerous and often abandoned, but home to ancient (and valuable) arcana. Bastion is already difficult to understand, but the farther you leave civilization behind, the less binding natural laws are – till they completely lose any meaning in the Far North, which is only implied in the book but described in further detail on the author’s blog.

Despite its accessibility and its author’s ongoing work, it lacks from support though. It is to different from standard D&D to easily integrate existing adventures or other gaming materials, those can be only used as inspirations. Thus, it cannot draw on the plethora of materials the OSR offers. It is a great game in its own right, but it lacks the weight of several decades of RPG to fight its way to the top, and for this reason alone it will never become my most commonly used game. On the other hand, it is to similar to those games to be considered fully unique.

Still, if you want to give your campaign a twist or are generally interested in nifty rules, you should at least check the Into the Odd blog out. I definitely do not regret that I bought it, and it will definitely be my first choice if I ever run a game in the universe of the Thief computer game series.

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