Here’s a glimpse of another work in progress on my 2019 to-do list: Agents of the O.D.D., an Into the Odd hack inspired by the Hellboy and BPRD comics, among other weirdness. Characters are occult and fringe science consultants, law enforcement academy washouts, and unfortunate individuals marked by the odd, conscripted to investigate the paranormal.
I actually have more than a full game’s worth of notes on this one—my main goal at this point is trimming it down to only the stuff worth keeping. I’ve written dozens of character oddities ranging from tidbits from myth and folklore to whatever random, gross idea struck me at just the right time. (A friend has forbidden me from ever using the phrase “homunculus gland” in her presence again.) A lot of these have tidbits of implied setting, though I wanted to leave a lot open to interpretation. Examples include:
- Pseudo-reptoid. When the snake people tried to replace you with a body double, your memory imprint accidentally overwrote their spy’s mind entirely. The new you can still appear human, but your mask slips when you take ability score damage. Your reptilian bite carries a paralytic venom (vs. STR, 1 in 4 chance of depleting your supply for a few hours).
- Fungal pathogen. A mind-controlling fungus covers your (host’s) body with spongy lumps. You potentially infect any creature that fails STR when they bite, scratch, or lick you, making them a clone with your memories up to the moment of infection within a day. Clones get their hosts’ STR, DEX, and HP, but the same WIL as you at the moment of infection. You are strictly prohibited from intentionally infecting human beings, but O.D.D. policy recognizes infection as a valid self defense mechanism in the face of hostile beings. Your clones have standing orders to report for duty to the O.D.D. as soon as possible.
- Ectoplasmic body. You don’t remember anything between dying and being summoned back by a medium, but you’re back. You can maintain a human shape for the most part, but you collapse into a puddle of goo when you take critical damage (or if you choose to). You remain conscious in this form, and can slowly ooze around, but can’t do much else. It takes a turn to pull yourself together.
I worried that these were too wordy, though, so I tried to turn hard in the other direction. I tried to tighten things up and fit a bunch into a single, small table, like the one in Into the Odd.
At one point, I wanted to keep character oddities really spare, and based entirely on starting ability/HP rolls—just a big table, as in Into the Odd.
I felt like this approach lost a lot of what I found fun in making, rereading, and imagining myself running the game, though. I tried to split the difference between extremely spare items and more detailed items, writing out about a hundred middle-of-the-road oddities. Examples:
- Mark of Cain makes anyone who sees you know you’re a killer. They must save WIL to kill you. Transfers to whomever kills you.
- Homunculus gland enables you to regurgitate a tiny, silent servant (3 STR). Swallow it back down to see flashes of its memories. Grow a replacement in 1 week.
- Egghead offers a 50/50 chance on your death of hatching a tiny creature with your memories (d6 STR, 2d6+6 DEX, your WIL, d6 HP), or producing unnervingly delicious-smelling yolk (whoever eats restores lost abilities, gets an egghead).
Eventually, reading Troika! and the Electric Bastionland playtest materials reassured me that there’s room for more detailed descriptions, as long as I leave some room for imagination and keep the rules simple. I may go a bit wordier than the middle-of-the-road option above to work in some more implied setting, but I think those tightened up mechanical effects are about as complex as I want to get.
It’s going to take some time to pick the best of these items, edit them, and combine it in a document with the rest of the rules and materials. I have some other ideas I am considering trying out too, like handling human consultants a bit differently from conscripted beings. (Don’t worry, I’d still let you roll for a quirk. I need an excuse to draw a priest in a gas mask.) Plus, I’ve been taking notes for another game with some potential overlap with this one (more on that soon), so I need to sort out which things fit better in which game. I’m so eager to run this one, though, that I must confess I’m already picking out some appropriate Trilemma maps for pulpy mysteries pitting cryptid spies against eldritch horrors in seaside towns. I better reread my Hellboy collection to tide me over in the meantime.