Mangrove Crater: a wilderness exploration for INTO THE ODD

Half a dozen years back, a prolonged conflict between two settlements ended suddenly with an enormous soundblast that created a mile-wide caldera.  Soon afterwards, the crater was colonised by a network of mangrove trees: their bark is widely regarded as an excellent ingredient in summer broths but typically demands a high price as it is often found in shark-infested swamps.

It is also possible that whatever triggered the enormous soundblast is still within the caldera.

Rumours

If players spend effort, resources, or succeed in relevant Saves, they can learn the following things:

  • an enormous bird has sometimes been seen circling the area above the caldera (bring me some of its feathers and I shall reward you handsomely)
  • peculiar shaped stones have been collected from the edge of the crater — this one looks exactly like a lizard, will you give me a guilder for it?
  • the sloths that live there won’t attack you but they are louder than my daughter if you disturb them

Cartography

Unless the players are incredible at mapping, it will be very difficult to map the caldera.  If players choose to map the location of each tree, this becomes possible (but will take much time).

Instead, abstract the relative density of the mangroves according to the following scale.  At the caldera edge, there will be partial cover.  Unless players are looking to find denser or looser ground (and are capable of doing so), randomly determine if players advance up or down the scale — odd numbers or black cards move upwards in density, even numbers of red cards move downwards.

  • Mangroves choke the ground; here resides a roc nest, with a solitary chick tearing apart a sloth corpse and a large number of moulted feathers.
  • Almost complete canopy cover: anything larger than a bowltoad struggles to move efficiently.
  • Partial canopy cover; the mangroves are not excessively high and can be easily scaled.
  • Open ground, ringed with mangroves.
  • Particularly loose soil; buried beneath and making a high-pitched whine is Chafer’s trinket.

Encounters

Roll d10 or draw a card; if you would have a repeat entry, instead take the next available entry from the reserve list beneath.

1: Chafer, disillusioned veteran; STR14, 6hp, shears (d8); gone a bit deaf, seeking the trinket

1. Sat beside a tree, crying.  Inconsolable.

2: Bowltoad; STR6, 12hp, bite (d4); driven to surprise and eat movement

2. Wounded and retreating.

3-5: Quail-cockatrices; STR5, 5hp, petrifying breath (d4 DEX damage, ignores hp and Armour); driven to silence noise

3. Three, petrifying and eating a sloth carcass and its dung.

4. Four, fleeing something (consult the table again).

5. Five of them, one of which is an injured chick.

6-8: Lichenback sloths; DEX16, 8hp, claw (d4, Enhanced against wounded foes); driven to be kept to themselves

6. One, asleep in the mangrove branches.

7. Two, lazily feeding on mangrove leaves.

8. Six, haphazardly arranged in such a way that would make passage noisy.

9-10: Roc; STR19, DEX19, 19hp, claw (d6) & beak (d10); driven to feed its chick

9. Carrying off a screaming sloth.

10. Circling in the sky.

Reserves

  • The roc makes a surprise dive at the players
  • A well-buried bowltoad springs an ambush
  • Chafer tracks the players, certain they’ve taken her trinket
Mangrove Crater: a wilderness exploration for INTO THE ODD

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

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

Odd Armour: Crabmail Cuirass & Red Tapeworm

Because platemail’s efficiency is boring 

CRABMAIL CUIRASS

Some enterprising soul has managed to knit together a large number of crabs of sundry heft

Don: d4 actions

Doff: drink bitterroot tea and wait an hour

Crabmail provides you with Armour 2, though any ranged attacks made against you are Enhanced.  Crabmail is loud — it is unwise to sneak whilst wearing it.

If you ever take exactly 8 points of damage from a single attack, the crabmail scatters and mobs the nearest foe for d8 damage each round until the crabs are beaten off.  You cannot reassemble the crabmail afterwards.

Cost: Exorcise my pet eel, Flaccit

RED TAPEWORM

A precise parasite and the perfect evolution of exploratory-capitalist-symbiosis

Don: takes a week to incubate

Doff: submit form 85l to the Relevant Authorities

If a weapon breaks your skin, that weapon becomes enmeshed in a silken wrap.  Further attacks from it (to all targets) are Impaired. 

Your healing is quickened if you follow the Health and Safety (Subterranean) Guidelines.

Cost: name-drop three Leading Entomologists (including the lady selling it to you)

YOUR TURN

These armours have been statted for Into The Odd.  If there’s a system you prefer, I’d love to see the numbers you settle on for those!  Alternatively, I’d love to see these illustrated by someone more skilled than me.

The best entries will receive A Mystery Prize.

Odd Armour: Crabmail Cuirass & Red Tapeworm

BURN, SIR — an investigation for INTO THE ODD

The following adventure was written by stealing mercilessly from the excellent folk song Burn, Sir by Apple of my Eye. You should definitely buy the song: it makes excellent music to play out the end of the session with.

The Scene is Set

The town of Orchard lies barely a day’s ride from Bastion and is famed for its most excellent cider. It also happens to be the home of a young woman who was waiting on the visit of one of the players: who didn’t turn up as promised…

Ask the following questions of the players — ask a different question to each player:

  • Who is this woman & what happened that you didn’t go back to her?
  • You were also involved, but why don’t you feel bad about it?
  • Why did you plan on visiting Orchard?
  • What do you owe another player?

Likewise, ascertain why the players are now interested in heading to Orchard. Once they have stocked up on supplies, they may make their way out of town.

The Journey to Orchard

Orchard nestles in the low foothills outside of Bastion, set gently on a soft river that runs lazily out to the Polar Ocean. The route there is straight and largely uninteresting, though sadly the players are set upon by a murmuration of 2d4 johnson swifts.

The swifts are fast birds, night-black save for the dull pink of a slobbering acidic tongue in the place of their heads. They are driven to dissolve glistening surfaces (such as eyes). (STR6, DEX16, HP1; d6 acid tongue {ignores Armour}.)

Orchard Town

The village is a sizeable one, its buildings surrounded entirely by fertile farrowed ground. There are no trees. The inhabitants of the town can’t directly remember the recent past. This doesn’t worry them.

1 Halen Dormal
2 Corm Noergat
3 Zhett Blund
4 Glory Scart
5 Swifft Owin
6 Jarl Hedg

The memories are affected by the presence of the hateseed. Likewise, its presence means that all of the roads out of town loop back to Orchard.

At night, a solitary treegaunt stalks. It is driven to pluck ripe fruit. (STR14, HP14; very slow moving; d10 ripening touch; decapitates on Critical Damage.)

Points of interest

  1. The boathouse on the river might be the only way to actually get out of town. Beside it sits the watermill, whose grindstone is mealing up poison-powder from appleseeds.
  2. At the edge of town, a rainbow’s end almost meets the ground. There is nothing there beyond a murmuration of 2d4 johnson swifts.
  3. There remains a single barrel of cider in the pub. The price goes up continually as the barrel drains: half a pint currently costs sixty shillings.

The villagers are able to identify the house of the ex-lover. She won’t see anyone.

The next morning

The oppressive mood of the village feels even greater and when you look outside it’s possible to see hundreds of treegaunts moving slowly about. It very much feels like a net closing in. After leaving a building, as far as the eyes can see there are houses burning.

This is your doing.

Despite the external threat, there is a clear path to either the well, or a conspicuous cellar. The player with the lowest WIL knows that the solution lies beneath.

Underground

  1. There is a room with a precariously balanced round-bottom flask atop a chest. On the bottle is the inscription “Eat me”.
  2. Along one wall, a rainbow-shimmering cascade of water descends — it is possible to walk through this with no danger (beyond the dampness) and doing so will allow you to bypass the next threat.
  3. As you push deeper into the tunnels, there are two treegaunts holding guard.
  4. Ensconced in a bed in a sparsely lit room lies the weathered form of the ex-lover. About her neck is hung the hateseed — an object that turns negative feelings into animating power (and if it is taken from her, the treegaunts will cease to “live”). Being close to her is dangerous: she breathes clouds of cyanide gas (pass a STR save each round or take 1d4 STR damage).
BURN, SIR — an investigation for INTO THE ODD

Suburban Cathedral: a dungeon for INTO THE ODD

The Hook: Across town, various metal panels have been riveted into the ground. Some of these have even been found inside buildings. The panels have been put in place by a labour of molemensoon after the ground opens up in a fissure immediately beneath the panels. These fissures can be followed down into an enormous cavern five storeys deep into the earth. Out of the centre of this cavern rises a grand cathedral-like building of ruddy stone and marble.

 

The Truth: The panels prevent the fissures opening up further. The earth is splitting because a fissuremana living embodiment of an earthquakeis trapped within the suburban cathedral. The molemen are holding it there, trapped in a prison of tin.

It is not necessary to free the fissureman. However, the cathedral itself houses many valuable secrets.

 

The Map: The internal layout of the cathedral is one you know already. It will be a large public building with a mix of room sizes and shapes, and multiple entry points; a school or museum is perfect. The most important office in the building is the prison of the fissuremanit’ll be directly guarded by two frenetic molemen.

For each room the players enter, roll d6:

  1. There is a monster here. Roll d6+2 and consult the threat table below.
  2. This room is home to a monster, though they are absent. Roll d6+2 and consult the threat table.
  3. The room is empty, save for an odd sight or sound.
  4. The room is empty, save for a strange aroma.
  5. “The room appears empty.”
  6. There is something of value in the room. Roll on the treasure table below.

If players make a lot of noise, or delay for some time, roll d6: on a 1, roll d8 on the threat tablethat result enters this room; on a 2, roll d8 on the threat tablethat result is in the adjacent room.

 

The Threat Table (roll d8)

  1. “The air keens with a sudden pressure.” All players must make WIL saves or lose all HP.
  2. “From the direction of the further door, you hear an audible, breathless sigh.”
  3. An acrid scent tips your attention to one of the surfaces, which is coated with some indeterminate fluid.
  4. The room is darker than usual, save for a dancing humanoid glowing with dull light; it is in fact the lure of a CAVERN ANGLER (Str 18, HP8, d12 bite; driven to eat sources of warmth, swallows characters whole with Critical Damage.)
  5. A shapeless body on the floor is the home to a swarm of LEATHERWASPS (Dex 13, HP10, Armour 2 {because of swarming behaviour}, d4 sting; driven to escape into open air, lays eggs in victim on causing Critical Damage that slowly dessicate the victim’s flesh over a fortnightthe skin becomes a leathery shell for the adult wasps).
  6. Smack of d6 JELLYFINCHES that float through still air (Str 4, HP1, d10 beak; driven to crack open small, hard things).
  7. Chamber with d4 SKYCRABS moving through space on long, filament legs. (Str 9, HP4, Armour 1, d6 claws; driven to protect their territory).
  8. d6/2 MOLEMEN (HP2, d6 claws; driven to stay hidden).

 

Treasure Table (roll d10)

  1. Bag of Infinite Rats (single use)
  2. Hydraulics Bottles
  3. Dressed skycrab (very tasty)
  4. Baudrillard Hauberk (attacks on you are Impaired; take d4 damage when you move)
  5. Portable Portal (the size of a shield)
  6. Skeleton Key (only capable of locking doors)
  7. Niall’s Covetous Unguent
  8. d7 Artefacts of Impractical Shape (valuable to collectors)
  9. One cicada, bound and gagged
  10. Antique chess set

 

Suburban Cathedral: a dungeon for INTO THE ODD

Beneath Bastion Library: a dungeon for INTO THE ODD

For some time, the staff of the Bastion research library have refused to venture into the vaults beneath where arcana are stored. This is proving quite awkward, so a hardy team of explorers have been tasked with determining the nature of the unease downstairs and nullifying it. Their fee? Each explorer may leave with a single arcanum that they can carry.

Welcome to Bastion library.

Bastion Library Archives

Random Encounters

  1. one lernean serpent that’s crawled from a nearby duct (see Room 7)
  2. a sentient swarm of beetles (STR 19, HP0, may attack each player once with multitudinous bites d4); they scatter if they suffer Critical Damage
  3. a wandering archivist (if any remain – see Room 2)
  4. the player with the lowest WIL shudders and loses d4 HP

What is going on?
The Book of Death in Room 8 is infecting the atmosphere of the archives. If it can be destroyed, the strange feeling will dissapate and the archivists (see Room 2) will return to normal operations.

What are in the rooms?

ROOM ONE
The stairs descend into a long corridor. The atmosphere is dry and terse. All doors in this dungeon are closed – there is a 50% chance any door will be locked, which are easy enough to open but will make noise.

The point marked 6 on the map is an active Guardian Shield (see rulebook) that will push anyone back that tries to move beyond the thinnest part of the corridor. It has taken six damage from some of the serpents in the ducts.

ROOM TWO
This is the index of the archive – there is an elaborate card filing system detailing what object is where and a full map of the dungeon on a wall. There will also always be at least one of the two archivists here. The archivists are clockwork automata who (due to the proximity of the Book of Death) incorrectly assume any living thing they encounter to be a collection of file-cards stuck together. If they score Critical Damage they will tear off a limb of their target. {STR 12, DEX 5, HP 6, Arm 1; rend & file d6}

The owners of the library do not want the archivists destroyed. For each one destroyed, deduct one arcana from the successful players’ fees.

ROOM THREE
This room is a mess of unsorted arcana and dust-sheets. There are two arcana of note within the room:

Hamper of Plenty: perpetually fills with dried food that restores d4HP even above the characters’ initial HP, up to a limit of 9 – if this limit is surpassed, the character vomits erratically, losing all HP and taking d4 STR damage.

Conch of False Rest: if you take a short rest whilst in the same room as this arcanum, you feel perfectly refreshed. However, as soon as you leave the room, you lose all HP.

ROOM FOUR
The rooms is empty save for a five-foot floating black sphere in the centre of the room. This has been created by a Black Hole Collider (see rulebook) that is no longer in the archives.

ROOM FIVE
This room is perpetually chilled – an enormous refridgerator. There are drifts of ice in the room, but it is otherwise currently empty. For every minute the players stay in here, they must pass a STR save or pass out from the chill. The adjoining room (5a) is essentially an air-lock.

POINT SIX
A Guardian Shield pushing back anyone approaching from the left. See Room 1.

ROOM SEVEN
There are no doors into this room, though a network of air ducts join this room with every other room in the location. Because of the rain in Room W, this humidity sink is actually waist-deep in water. It is the home to lernean serpents – 2d4 will be present, and if either die shows a 1 that serpent has four bodies (see beneath). The first time the players use the air ducts they will encounter a serpent; there is a 50% chance subsequently.

Lernean serpents are strange beasts; whenever their heads are chopped off (if they receive 3+ damage in a single attack), twice the number of bodies they had before will regrow. The decapitated bodies twitch and decay soon after. The flesh is actually quite tasty though smells of burned corn when cooked. {x represents the number of bodies; STR 2x, DEX 3x, WIL 5, HP x; bite d6 (only one), body-slam d4 (one per body, acts between players’ turns)}

ROOM X
This room “appears empty.” It is, in fact, completely empty.

ROOM EIGHT
This room contains the source of the dungeon’s curse – the Book of Death. If anyone touches the book (a completely empty journal) with their skin, they suffer Critical Damage when they put it down. A WIL save will recognise this after someone tries to put down the book. Anyone who damages the book with a weapon suffers the same fate. If the book is forcibly removed, it will not kill the holder. The simplest way to destroy it is to feed it to the black hole in Room 4.

ROOM B
In the centre of the room there is an inch-long beetle holding a Mind Probe (see rulebook). It tries to read the minds of anyone in here. It won’t leave.

ROOM C
Set on a plinth on the middle of the room is a Curse Ring. If anyone puts it on, they are unable to remove it. It may be removed from a sleeping body. If anyone curses within earshot of the ring, it teleports onto their middle finger.

ROOM E
Atop the plinth in this room is a fabulous bust of an eagle. If any of the characters are women or if any female names are spoken, the Misogynist Eagle will cry. It reminds you of something your grandmother once owned.

ROOM F
In the centre of the room there is a three-legged stool that is perpetually on fire. The flames of this Fire Stool cannot be extinguished but are otherwise as ordinary fire.

ROOM H
There was once a plinth in this room, though it has been burrowed down the middle and has since split apart. Where it has split apart, it is possible to see deep hole the width of a fist. The hole is 10ft deep, and at the bottom contains an Earth Stone (see rulebook) with a single mushroom on top. The mushroom wanted to go down.

ROOM P
On the far wall hangs a painting of incredible detail, showing an elaborate pastoral landscape. As the characters move about it, they can see further into the landscape, as if it were a window. There is no way to pass through the canvas.

ROOM W
The walls of this room are lined with lead, for in the centre lies a Weather Altar (see rulebook). The room itself is perpetually raining until somebody changes the weather. Because of this rain, the humidity sink (Room 7) has filled up with water.

Beneath Bastion Library: a dungeon for INTO THE ODD