Metatopia Design Diary: Agents of the O.D.D.

​I ran two sessions of Agents of the O.D.D. ​at Metatopia, a convention geared toward playtesting games in development. The feedback was a mix of things that made me go, “Great, I was planning on doing that already!” and things that made me go, “Hmm, I’m really going to have to think about that.” Some key takeaways:

More referee guidance

A few interactions highlighted for me that I need to rethink both how I as a referee present the game to players, and how I as a writer present the game to referees. For instance, I indicated to the first playtest group that player-character death was on the table, so they should avoid combat, but we could roll up new characters fast if need be. This led them to believe the characters were simply disposable, and the game only suitable for one-shots. I ran the exact same scenario with a second group, and just phrased things a little differently—characters can die, yes, and combat is quick and decisive, but it’s rare for characters to die due to how ability score damage works—and our conversation afterward focused largely on long-term play. Framing is important! 

And, of course, there are specific procedures and guidelines to help with moment-to-moment refreeing that I can expand upon, along the lines of what we see in the ​Electric Bastionland​ text. One playtester indicated that he was happy with how I resolved some challenges by saying, “That’s a good enough plan, you don’t have to roll,” but wondered if referees at home would have a good sense of when to do that. That kind of decision making actually has a pretty significant impact on how the game works in play, so I’d like to offer some more guidance.

More support for going rogue

The O.D.D. is not necessarily a “good guy” organization. This is probably pretty clear in the text, but many players may not even read the text—the referee will. And “you are a team who goes on missions” is a pretty tried-and-true story framing device in RPGs, so it’s tough to imagine how you might break out of it.  But I ​do​ want to leave room for—and, depending on the tone of a campaign, even encourage—player characters to decide to “go rogue” and leave the O.D.D., so I need to think about how to support that better in the text. Are there character advancement options outside the O.D.D.? Would you still be going on missions? If so, where would you get those missions from? Some playtesters suggested a “rival” agency to defect to, but I don’t want to go that route: I want it to feel like it’s a legitimate dilemma that your employer does occasionally save the world, but also feels the need to uphold a terrible status quo where most of its own agents get little support and have to live in secret. 

I still need to decide how to highlight this, but one consideration is to include multiple sample missions representing different campaign phases (e.g., doing good stuff for the O.D.D., hunting rogues for the O.D.D., ​being ​rogues from the O.D.D.). I think I would also like to offer options for how you might keep getting quests outside the O.D.D. (which Jim Davies​ offered some great tips for, as inspired by other urban fantasy stories), and how advancement might work outside the O.D.D.

Test rules for including arcana

The rules worked as expected (which I knew they would because I’m just stealing them from a game that already works well—go back it now on Kickstarter​, by the way). I advised that rolling the dice is always risky, so you should come up with creative solutions to problems that don’t risk saves or put you in the line of attack; players then figured out all kinds of great solutions with special abilities from their profiles and their arcana. Great! But: Unlike Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland, you are not playing as treasure hunters who are likely to find “magic items” as a matter of course in their adventures.

I deliberately sprinkled some arcana into the mission we tested (a revised version of the one already in the rules available now), but running one-shots didn’t really afford an opportunity to test the other rules I had in mind to get arcana into people’s hands (via equipment requisitions between missions). I will need to run a campaign or at least a short arc to see if that method is satisfying, and I’m already working on revisions to simplify it. (No idea yet how “requisitions” will work for rogue agents, though. Hope not to turn them toward looting, though.)

I’m pronouncing the name wrong

​​I pronounce “the O.D.D.” like “the FBI” or “the CIA”—as initials. That’s why I always write it with the periods. Doesn’t matter—everybody reads it as an acronym anyway. I couldn’t change how I think about it on the fly, though, so I had games where the players all referred to it as “the Odd” and I kept saying “the O-D-D,” leading Alexi Sargeant​ to suggest that probably the people in charge insist on pronouncing it “properly,” but nobody else ever does. I think that might be canon now.

Thanks again so much to my playtesters, Sergio Ake, Zac Daignault, Jim Davies, Mackenzie Hayes, Judd Karlman, Lissanne Lake, and Alexi Sargeant! I’m looking forward to getting back to work on this game soon with all this new feedback. 

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