One more hack for my backlog of works in progress: Down Town, inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Blue Blazes and Joel Priddy’s Underground. To be honest, this one’s low on my list of priorities because I don’t need to create it in order to run the campaign I want to run. After all, Underground’s 4 pages already offer sufficient material for adapting Into the Odd to run a modern-day campaign of urban spelunking in the deep places where technology fails to work. I am sure I could be happy enough with that. And also, the notes I’m taking for this overlap a bunch with Agents of the O.D.D., so maybe it’s still just a fuzzy idea, or redundant with other work. I’m listing it among works in progress, though, because writing it is just so damn fun.
“Down Town” is a placeholder name that has been growing on me, but we’ll see if it sticks. My initial concept was very specifically about exploring a megadungeon beneath the Boston area, accessible via the underground tunnels spreading out from MIT. My wife, who is cleverer than I am, graciously offered the title Massholes. This got me thinking about other cities, though, and what you’d call their weird adventuring parties—I am convinced Paris gets dibs on Catacombers—which in turn got me thinking more broadly about the concept in general, and wondering why the hell anybody would do this at all in this day and age. And, well, one thing led to another, and now I have several pages of notes.
Why would someone explore underground tunnels full of monsters, anyway? Here’s a smattering of examples from my notes.
- Addict. Got hooked on something from down there. Take 3 goldcap shrooms (grants a random mark for d4 hours; save STR each day you go cold turkey, taking -1 STR on fail).
- Dealer. Your criminal clientele will kill you if you stop selling them new, weird stuff. Take a handgun (d8) and 1 oddity.
- Daylighter. Investigating possible mole man heritage. Take grandfather’s cryptic journal and 1 mark that first manifests once you get down there.
- Hunter. No one’s ever stuffed and mounted a goblin before. Take your choice of a rifle or shotgun (d8, bulky) or recurve bow and arrows (d6, quiet).
- Sibling. Someone has to look after this knucklehead. Make sure another player or the ref is OK playing the sibling. Take an additional starting item.
- Millennial. If you strike it rich, you might pay off your outrageous student loans. Take an especially nice baseball bat that once earned you a trophy (d6).
- Anthropologist. Doing research for a peer-reviewed paper. Take a notebook, pen, and notes on a subterranean language you almost understand.
- Cryptozoologist. It’s only “fringe” science until it’s not. Take a net, binoculars, and a janky old camera that might hold out longer than the new-fangled stuff tends to.
New characters start with something like one of those packages, but spending any time at all in the strange world below tends to change a person. The “marks” you can pick up tend to be useful, albeit with some drawback. For instance:
- Dragonfly wings offer limited gliding capabilities
- Mildly adhesive tongue can extend up to your full height
- Prehensile tail
- Regain 1 STR a day, but scar tissue grows back purple and spongy
- No need to sleep anymore, and you never, ever blink
- Elongated, clawed fingers capable of fast burrowing
- Fire finger bones as projectiles (d6 area attack); regrow in 1 hour
- On taking STR damage, angry hornets spray out from under your skin
- Float steadily upward if not weighted down by something bulky
- Brain (1 STR) can abandon your body, crawl into a live body, eat their brain, and take that body over
This is the part of the game that has the most potential overlap with Agents of the O.D.D. The big difference is that characters in that game start with these oddities, and bring them to bear in special missions around the world, whereas characters in this game pick up oddities during play, and then get to figure out how the hell to explain them to their friends and family. If I ever do manage to actually complete both games, I might even leave in a few shared items. As far as I’m concerned, these could very well be two takes on the same setting: I could absolutely see a group surviving a Down Town expedition, then getting conscripted to be Agents of the O.D.D. when word gets around that they came back from their “camping trip” with a few extra eyeballs.
So, that’s the third of my three Into the Odd hacks in progress. There’s not much (if anything) in these that innovates on the game they’re built on. To be honest, though, that’s a big part of why I’m so excited to do them. Not that I expect them to be easy—doing something right and then putting it out into the world is always a challenge, especially if you don’t have an art budget—but I love the idea of putting together some games where I know the rules already work. I’ll let you know if and when I ever get around to them.