Into The Odd is a rules-light RPG brimming with myths, mystery, arcana and creeping horror. It exists at a crossroads between easily accessible starting out and spiralling potential, with a vague ‘age of industry’ meets ‘age of exploration’ setting that leaves a GM in careful control of the width of their campaign.
While it’s hard to split up GMs into groups, over the years I’ve found that you can roughly divide up most D&D-specific DMs into those who would rather run campaigns tight to the provided materials, and those who absolutely relish when the players entirely lead the direction of play. Into the Odd is perfect for the latter, especially those who want to move beyond Wizards’ familiar setting. Its minimized system makes it one of the best systems to step into for those who love tinkering with eerie worlds filled with mystery and potential.
From a structural perspective, everything about Into The Odd feels like it’s been streamlined and stripped back, however, when you look at the content — from the included campaign through to the abundance of tables and their magnificent entries — it’s clear that an incredible amount of care and thought has gone into things. I’m always in awe when people pull out a D20 list of ludicrous options, and Into The Odd definitely made me do that more than a few times. However, the most impressive thing for me was the amazing Oddpendium section. It includes tables for citizens, streets, businesses, island characteristics and weird creature inspirations… however, there’s even a table for what happens when you eat something you shouldn’t.
What I would say, though, is that the included campaign feels like it’s a world away from what might be imagined through the depth of options presented by all those tables, and even the exciting blurb: “Bastion is the only city that matters. In its industrial age, it sits as the smoke-shrouded hub of mankind, surrounded by a world of lurking horrors and cosmic interference. The Underground spreads beneath our feet and the stars loom above.” In fact, as I read through the book front-to-back I went through bursts of confusion and disappointment as early expectations didn’t materialise. Having been through it all a couple of times now, I can see that this is because Into The Odd is a fantastic toolset and setting before anything else — and that’s what some people need for a great game, rather than strict guidance.
Is Into The Odd good?
In short, yes, it’s an incredible setting. I love the sheer amount of potential within the pages, and there are more than enough ways for you to break away from conventional adventuring without wracking your brain too hard thanks to the dozens of tables and charts included. There are more than a few other cool things in there that make it stand out too, like an almost episodic structure through sponsored expeditions, and there’s a whiff of something special there with its hireling and detachment systems.
The included campaigns aren’t what I expected, but they’re a great introduction to what dungeon exploring can look like in the system. The Iron Coral, is a jaunt through a shifting mass of not-quite machine and not-quite living being, complete with the dammed that are trapped inside it. The Fallen Marsh is a masterpiece in exploration, where players make their way through a grid of locations, many of which tie into each other in one way or another; It also features a great rumour system that directly links to them all.
Holding all of this together is arcana, magical artefacts that can flip things on their head. They’re each powerful and game-changing, and there are instructions for everything from tiny handheld ones up to ones the size of buildings.
How easy is Into The Odd to play?
Into The Odd‘s system is actually easier to broach, as both a player and referee (its name for DM/GMs) than systems like Pathfinder and D&D. This is down to a simplification of attributes, saves, skills, classes and feats. Attributes are reduced to three; Strength, Dexterity and Willpower. Saves are a roll against your own attributes. Skills and Classes? They’re out, and instead you start off with a starter pack (of which there are multiple tables, if you want to mix it up) which is reflective of your max attribute and health, and sets you off with a pack that could indicate your style of play, if you wish.
An example starter package would be that a player with their highest attribute of 14, and health of 4 would start with a Musket (d8 blast damage), Portable Ram and Game Set. The chart is an equaliser, with high attributes and high health starting off with mutations or mutilations, and those at the opposite end of the spectrum being gifted or well-stocked with equipment.
Combat is incredibly easy too, with no roll to hit. Instead, you simply roll the damage on your weapon (or higher or lower dice depending on cover, flanking, or cool flair), then you minus the target’s armour score with what remains coming straight off the target’s health points. For players, 0HP means a wounded state, a check for critical damage, and (almost certainly) damaged Strength attributes. This means that combat is incredibly quick and decisive, and engaging in direct combat is very risky. In fact, I’d argue that it becomes more of a narrative point rather than the aim of the game, and so a DM might instead use combat to nudge players along or direct them rather than to punctuate an adventure.
The game’s expedition system, which I mentioned earlier, is linked to its levelling system. Once you’ve hit a milestone you roll a D20 for each of your attributes and if the die roll is higher than your attribute then it increases by one, you also gain an extra batch of HP, although nobody ever becomes a mighty tank character here… you’re rarely more than three or four bad rolls away from death.
Arcana, however, can’t be understated. It’s a core part of the Into The Odd experience and perhaps plays a bigger part in the experience than anything else. Arcanum become your feats and skills, and as you accrue half a dozen pieces you suddenly find yourself an incredibly specialised character. This is where your wisdom stat comes in, and so a party starts to really differentiate its members based on their varying attributes. A dexterous gunner, a plucky brawler and an arcana-wielding brainiac are characters that feel incredibly familiar, and achievable, even though those concepts are not written anywhere in the book.
Into The Odd in review
Overall, I highly recommend Into the Odd to anyone interested in fast-paced and atmospheric RPGs. It’s a great option for both experienced gamers looking for a change of pace and newcomers looking to dip their toes into the hobby. Critically though, it’s a toolbox, an amazing toolbox, absolutely brimming with ideas for adventures.
Into the Odd is available now from various outlets, including through Free League, which published the recently released remaster.