INTO THE CARD — a variant for fifty-two friends

I’ve shared before how much a fan I am of Chris McDowall’s INTO THE ODD.  It remains my go-to when I’m interested in light-investment exploratory roleplay.  Coupled with the fact its rules can fit entirely within my mind and that I tend to run dungeons through a memory palace anyway, I’ve been looking for a way to make the game more portable.

I don’t tend to carry dice with me.  (If you’ve seen my Slick Thames hack of ITO, you’ll see how I also collapse the 3d6 stat generation into d4+d6+d8 {that way I only need one set of polyhedrals}.)  I do tend to carry playing cards.

INTO THE CARD

Take a regular pack of playing cards.  Remove the twelve court cards (each Jack, Queen and King).  Introduce one of the jokers (I recommend the guarantee one).  This will form a communal pile that’s drawn from whenever players would roll a dice.  Once a card is drawn, a communal discard pile builds; this is shuffled whenever the joker comes up in play.

  • Aces are always low (they always score 1).
  • The joker will always be the optimal value for the task at hand (4, 10, or 14 damage; 1 for Saves); drawing the joker also shuffles the discard pile into the stock (as in Savage Worlds).
  • If you would roll d20, instead draw two cards and combine the values.
  • Ignore differences in weapon strength.  All weapons draw one card for damage equal to the value.
  • If a draw is Impaired, instead use the suit as value: spades have 1 point, hearts have 2 halves, clubs have 3 segments, diamonds have 4 edges.  With weapon attacks, look to Impair many more than you usually would.  Players should be encouraged to use their weapons effectively and imaginatively.
  • If a draw is Enhanced, instead add the suit value to the pip value.  (The 10♦️️ is the best card in the pack: ten pips plus four edges for a diamond.)

Character Generation

  • Draw seven cards.
  • Create three pairs in any order that you choose & assign each score to STR, DEX & WIL.
  • Treat the unpaired card as Impaired.  This value becomes hp.
  • Consult whichever INTO THE ODD starter package system you are using.

This is slightly meaner than regular ITO.  The probabilities pool towards the middle of the spread (essentially 2d10 vs 1d20, though that shifts as the discard pile grows) and more damage is likely to be dealt.  Consider having it that Critical Damage will typically enable only an Impaired draw’s number of actions until you pass out.

INTO THE CARD — a variant for fifty-two friends

d6 encounters, probably

In the National Gallery, a lot of the paintings’ information panels describe their name & “probably 16–“.  It doesn’t take long to stop seeing the date, and seeing a suggestion of the content instead.  These encounters are taken verbatim from the NG information panels

1. Man transcribing lion-skin, probably

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A sage is hard at work transcribing the spell tattooed on the back of a (thankfully, sleeping) lion.  If you come back later, he will have made you a further copy he’d be happy to sell you.  The sage, a slovenly chap named Jerome, doesn’t know what the spell is (it’s Flight).  If the lion bites anyone, the spell is cast on the bitten.

2. Witches trying to slack off in front of their skeletal overseer, probably

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A coven of witches (Nigella, Theresa, Margovia) are working at their incantations under the watchful eye of a skeletal ostrich.  A perceptive viewer might spot that they have hidden the ingredients and vials required to make a strong healing draught.  If the bone-ostrich is distracted, they will hurry to make another batch and slip it to one of the players.

3. Needy naked ladies, probably

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A short distance away from a pile of discarded clothes, just off the path, three naked women are arguing over whose body is best.  One of the players is asked to come to a final judgement.  Unless skillful wordplay allows her to escape, the women will attack the players and try to eat their eyes.  If a judgement is made, the other two women will curse the chooser.

4. A young child empties the ocean, probably

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A young child (Minerve) is working to empty a large body of water into a hole in the ground.  If the players help, the water empties with remarkable speed; Minerve takes advantage of their becoming trapped in the mud and steals an inch of skin from each of them.  If the players investigate what’s in the hole, they find a simulacrum of Minerve himself.

5. The fin-de-siecle paper shortage, probably

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In a large pit just off the road, a group of people are working to treat and bleach some irregularly shaped pieces of material.  They are prepared to sell some finished paper (more of a vellum really) to the players; if a map is drawn on the paper that shows where the owners currently are, their rest will never be interrupted.  (The paper is made from the skin of criminals.)

6. Messianic cockblock, probably

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A woman on the road (Ellipse) is frantically running from person to person, begging them to show her some intimacy.  Her husband believes he is the reincarnation of the messiah and as such has taken a vow of celibacy.  He is accurate in his beliefs.  Ellipse is a very skilled lover.

All images taken from the National Gallery website under a Creative Commons license.

d6 encounters, probably

PIER — a one-dimensional dungeon for INTO THE ODD

If you’ve yet to read the wonderful series of essays at The Alexandrian called Jacquaying the Dungeon, you should line that up.  Its findings aren’t mindblowing, but the clarity of dungeon design logic contained within is not to be missed.

One of the key tenets of that series is that the best dungeons have multiple paths through the space in order to reward exploration.

This is an attempt at inverting that truth.

The Hook

Heading directly into the mists off the lower coasts, there exists a pier.  No-one has gotten to the end of it.

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How does it work?

There are a number of truths about the pier.  For the first time they are encountered, they are true.  For each subsequent time the players venture along the pier, whether or not they are true is a matter of luck — a roll of 1-3 means truth; 4-6 gives the players a respite.

Before venturing onto the pier, players can spend time and effort collecting rumours about the pier.  Make a WIL save — unsuccessful rolls mean players only receive the first truth; success means players receive another random fact.

  • You can’t look back.  Looking back to the shore means you teleport back to the start of the pier.
  • Bottled water turns brackish.  You can’t take short rests.
  • It’s impossible to catch up with the pier train.
  • The train doesn’t take you to the end.
  • The third rail is alive.  (Third Rail: STR19, Armour 2, d4 coil & throw; driven to keep people off the pier; if it causes Critical Damage, it throws the target off the pier.)

The pier is cloaked in mist.  It’s only possible to see 50′ in all directions.

If a player falls into the water, the wash up on the shore a week later with an oddity.

Reaching the end

To reach the end of the pier, each of the following events must have been encountered.  With the exception of #1, each encounter is unique — if you’d encounter the same result twice, instead move up to the next undiscovered entry.

  1. CRAB BATTLE!  d8 crabs scuttle up from the underside of the pier.  They are armed with knives and like to move to the shoreside side of the players.  (Crab: STR8, 8hp, d4 weapon / d8 claw; so long as they are armed, all attacks against them are Impaired; driven to collect small weapons.)
  2. A 20′ section of the pier is missing.  There are still handrails.  The train tracks have vanished.
  3. There are two women at the edge of the pier.  One of them is crabbing, the other sells candy-floss.
  4. At the edge of the mist, floating above the sea is a firm wooden door.
  5. One of the passengers of the train offers the players a ticket stub.  For as long as it is dry, it negates any one of the pier truths.
  6. There are names engraved on the planks of the pier.  For each name that is read, that person appears from the mist and attacks the players.  The second named folk to appear begins to read the names from the planks.  (Named folk: STR12, 0hp, d10 unwieldy ghost field weapons; driven to add names to the roster {by killing people here}.)

The end of the pier

Once all of the entries have been met, it’s possible to get to the end of the pier.  This is expedited by players asking “are we there yet?”

Inside a small amusements arcade, there are a number of shove ha’penny machines.  They are rigged to never pay out.  The machines are very easy to smash open.

There’s a lady here who will sell you a suit of crabmail — name your fee.

There’s also a mystic in a polythene tent.  She invites one player to name a truth about the world.  From this point onwards, it has always been true.

PIER — a one-dimensional dungeon for INTO THE ODD

Exuviae: A Mother’s Interest 

There’s a secret scratching beneath the surface of this town.  A secret that Annie Bishop and “Big Al” Halifax are going to split open for the whole world to see.  A secret powered by my completed EXUVIAE rules, within two and a half hours and with no preparation whatsoever.

Annie Bishop works the taxidermy store at the top of town.  It’s a stuffy job, but she’s got the stomach for the work and the intermittent deliveries of Big Al.  So, Big Al pulls up outside her house one morning, having “hit something” on the freeway again, but there’s something up with this moose.  Intricate patterns have been carved into its skin — though clearly not by any knife or claw that Al’s familiar with.  He hauls the carcass into her house — the symbols are weirdly familiar both to south American ancient cultures, but also European and Asian paganism too — though what’s less than familiar is the fact the moose’s liver has calcified into a lump of granite.

The two are both hot up on their conspiracies — Annie reads a ton of occult books and their authors tend to take too much seriously, and Al is a regular listener of those radio stations where you’re allowed to speak out against the vampire lizards.  This stoneliver is clearly a sign: and probably tied to the fact that the florist opposite Annie’s taxidermy shop was broken into a few days back, but still no cops have turned up to turn the place over.

So the two hit up the florist: Al taking his usual subtlety with a heavy kick to the door.  Inside is dark, and the place stinks of rotting lilies and bloating flesh.  There’s a body on the floor and someone rooting through the pockets, but this guy stands up and holds his hands into the air.

But then, see, the body on the floor, it sits bolt upright.  Al spooks, throws his wrench at the guy with his hands up — guy whose head snaps back with a flailing proboscis.  Annie flees the scene, but is barged to the floor by some heavy who steps into the doorway.

The clearly-not-a-corpse has gotten to its feet by this point and grabbed Al, who stares transfixed at the empty eye sockets of the thing.  By the time he breaks free, a steady stream of mosquitoes pour from the sockets, and Annie’s looking through Al’s truck for something to lever open the nearby hydrant.

Except that she sees someone over the road and is promptly interrupted by her mother, who’s not only clearly friends with the brute who knocked Annie to the floor, but also friends with Al’s ex-wife who also crosses the road.  The brute grabs Annie, Big Al runs into the brute’s mate out the back of the shop, and the pair wake up tied to chairs in a dockside warehouse.

This first act of the game led to the players uncovering almost half as many truths as they needed to win: and after escaping the warehouse and resting up at Al’s contact, they researched an abandoned truck-stop at the edge of town.  Eventually leaving that in flames and with the corpse of a hybrid human insect in the back of a truck, the pair fled along the coast road to Annie’s father, where they eventually learned the truth of her mother’s involvement…

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EXUVIAE is currently in the run-up to a Kickstarter later this year.  I’m organising artwork, layout, printing, &c.  However, if you want to get access to the beta reader rules then send me an email at SEANatBOOKSEANSMITHdotCOdotUK.

 

Exuviae: A Mother’s Interest 

PATIENT DEVIL— a solitaire variant where you choose your damnations

Recently, I’ve been thinking that Canfield just isn’t a complex enough solitaire game.  I’ve designed patient devil to provide you with more options that you’ll feel that you just don’t want to take.

  1. The aim of the game is to get all of the cards from the pack to the four foundations.  They will vary between (& within) games.  Continuous ranking is allowed.
  2. Take a shuffled pack without jokers and deal seven cards face down into the reserve.  Beside this, deal one card face up to form the first foundation, then four cards face up in separate piles beneath to form the tableau.  Keep the remaining cards aside as your stock.
  3. The foundations are built up by suit in ascending order (A, 2, 3, &c.)  As long as its suit is not yet represented in the foundations, at any point you may move a card to the foundation; from there, the suit is built up as usual.  There is no requirement that the value of any of the new foundations match those already present.  Be careful not to do this too soon — you don’t want to find yourself trapped later on.
  4. The cards from the reserve can be played directly to the foundation or can build down on the tableau.  One of your first goals should be to clear the cards from the reserve.
  5. The tableau is built down in descending order, regardless suit or colour (i.e. you may build any Q on any K, &c.).  Cards may be moved individually or in blocks between the four piles of the tableau.  If you have an empty space, it may be filled with any card.
  6. If you’re otherwise unable to make a move, deal the top three cards of the stock into a single waste pile.  You can play the top card of the waste pile to either the foundations or the tableau.
  7. Once the stock is exhausted, you may turn over the waste pile to produce a new stock.  Do not shuffle the cards.  You may do this as often as you please, though you may find yourself at a dead end regardless!

You’ll find the game slightly easier to win than Canfield (though I’ve yet to calculate the likelihood of winning), though it will regularly feel like you’ve made a choice that’ll upset the game later.  Either way, keep going until you fill the foundations or find that you’re unable to progress!

Let me know in the comments how you find the game — or otherwise what your favourite patience games are!

PATIENT DEVIL— a solitaire variant where you choose your damnations

What was this place, and why was it left?

Typically, most of the dungeons you’ll encounter in OSR games will no longer be being used for their original purpose.  These lists suggest what it was and why it’s no longer used for that.

What was this place?

 

  • Ace – A site of special religious importance
  • King – A site of military importance
  • Queen – A place to cultivate resources
  • Jack – A location to relax
  • Ten – A site to protect and guard value
  • Nine – An academic & research location

 

  • Eight – A space carved out from conflict
  • Seven – A tomb
  • Six – A short-cut or pass
  • Five – An animal den
  • Four – The home of some monstrous intelligence
  • Three – A natural hollow
  • Two – Draw twice & combine

 

Why was it abandoned?

 

  • Ace – Supply routes cut off
  • King – The inhabitants just left
  • Queen – They “dug too deep”
  • Jack – The original purpose was ruined
  • Ten – The original purpose was fulfilled
  • Nine – Invasion by monstrous intelligence

 

  • Eight – Superceded by nearby site
  • Seven – Inhabitants beset by plague
  • Six – Environmental encroachment
  • Five – Realisation of the location’s innate danger
  • Four – Internal disaster
  • Three – Overrun by beasts & vermin
  • Two – Draw twice & combine

 

Draw a couple of cards & see what you get.  Remember, the more often you can find contrast within the idea, the deeper you’ll be able to mine that seam of creativity.

What was this place, and why was it left?

Album review: Apple of my Eye’s “The Beast Below”

Such is the power of Apple of my Eye‘s storytelling, that the review that follows takes the form of a story.  Imagine it if you will, collaborately told about a table, its ballads sung to the clatter of falling dice.

Apple of my Eye's "The Beast Below"

“Your troupe sits lazily about a large table in the cider house, lost in fatigue and reverie from your last quest.  The air is thick with a sickly smell of cider and sweet tobacco.  A few of you are tweaking the trollgut strings of your instruments, picking stray strands from the bows.  Jo, you notice a man across the room staring at your cello.”

“What does he look like?”

“In a word, drunk.  Very drunk.”

“I’ll ready the finger positions for Delay Poison.”

“Do I have my harmonica?”

“No Dan, it’s still with the blacksmith.  He’ll have it rid of the curse in the morning.”

“Urgh, I get Break Enchantment next level.  Okay, no worries.”

“The drunk man wanders over to your table.  He places his feet carefully as he crosses the room, looking like he’s trying to avoid invisible patterns on the floor.”

Is a penguin a mammal?
Or is it a kind of fish?
Is it a kind of demon?

“I bloody hate riddles.  Why is it always a man in a tavern with a riddle?”

“Be patient, Arran.  As you listen on, it’s clear that this man is paranoid as well as drunk, but his words are frightfully funny.  At the very least, it’s proved pleasant diversion and amusement on a quiet evening.  Does anyone want to make an Insight check?”

“Yeah, I will.  Uh, add four — that’s eighteen.”

“Excellent.  Kit, you notice that there seems to be a hidden pattern to his drunken ravings.  With some subtle nudging, you’re able to get him to repeat parts of his speech.  You’re able to jot down some directions…”

Run, brother please run
To town please carry the tragedy of what’s become
For, of the four hundred men who went down
Twenty or so they came up from below

“Folks, your bardic lore means you recognise the location the drunk man was directing you to.”

“What’s his name?”

“What?”

“The drunk guy.  Surely he’s got a name.”

“It doesn’t matter.  Oh, I don’t know.  Tomwards.  He’s called Tomwards.”

“All of your drunks are called Tomwards.”

“Shut up.  Anyway, your bardic lore means you know where he’s talking about.  It’s the Barnsley Undermountains.”

“Haven’t we been looking for them for ages?”

“Yeah, but we didn’t know where they were.”

“That’s that dungeon with all the clothwork sprites, yeah?”

“That’s the one.  But to get to it, you’ll have to cross the eastern waterways.  Shall we call the scene here?  How do you want to get across the ocean?”

“I’m not taking a balloon again.  Not since the last balloon owner tried selling me into marriage.”

“We can charter a fishing boat.  I used to work as the compass on the Fruits of the Sea.”

“Cool, so you manage to make a deal with the captain of the Fruits of the Sea.  He makes a point of not asking you why you’re crossing the expanse.  The passage is calm, until … Wait, let me just check this…  Ah.”

“Ah?”

“The boatswain calls out to the rest of the crew to help haul in the net, for it’s picked up the biggest catch yet.  However, the load is so heavy, it takes everyone pitching in and using the mast as a pulley to drag the net even near the surface — the tumultous waters of which are soon broken by the thrashing of gargantuan tentacles.”

“Shit.”

“Uh, I want us to cast Greater Heroism.”

“Okay.  I want you guys to roleplay this one.”

Powder load
Fire the cannon at the Beast Below
We’ll not go down without a fight, my lads!

The album is excellent: a gorgeous collaboration between strings, mouth organs and melancholy.  It goes on sale tomorrow, Monday 19th September.  If you’re free this Weds, you can visit the beautiful St Pancras Old Church for the album release party.

Album review: Apple of my Eye’s “The Beast Below”