Saturday, November 6, 2021

Engine Overview: The Mark of the Odd

The Basics

Mark of the Odd compatibility 
Logog, ©2020 Lost Pages
The Mark of the Odd was developed by Chris McDowell for the Into the Odd role playing game that has become a popular OSR game engine thanks to its fairly open license and simple design. Some of its best-known examples include Electric Bastionland, Death is the New Pink, and Mausritter. Super Blood Harvest one, two, & three are other goid examples.

The game clearly comes from Dungeons & Dragons DNA , but has been significantly evolved away from it.

The Engine

Characters possess hit points and three attributes that stars rated 3 to 18. The statistics are usually Strength , Dexterity, and Willpower. Although the specific names vary from game to game. All tasks are handled by rolling a d20 under one of these three stats.

Into of the Odd cover 
©2015 Lost Pages
As characters gain levels, they have a chance of each stat increasing by 1 every level.

Combat is particularly dangerous. Attacks always hit. At first they deplete hit points, which follow the original gygaxian formulation of being this skill and vigour to avoid being hit. Once hit points are depleted, characters take damage to their Strength statistic. They die if it reaches zero. However, even a small loss to Strength represents  a serious wounds that can inflict lasting penalties, or disable a character until they can receive medical attention. Damage is roll the based on the weapon used, however if the character has taken cover or taking other measures to protect themselves from harm, it is reduced to a d4. If a character is unaware or exposed and unable to fully defend themselves damage is increased to a d12. Armor reduces damage by its 

This encourages players to stack advantages before making and attack, and makes it twice to avoid combat all together.

Levelling is handled by setting specific in-game achievements. For example, in Death is the New Pink, a character gains second level bysurviving one adventure, they gain third upon surviving two additional adventures, they gain the fourth by helping a first-level NPC survive to second level. Fifth level is achieved by helping an NPC reach second level. Sixth level requires them to build and maintain a warband. And Seventh requires them to make some significant change to the entire campaign setting, like founding a Dominion or beginning a successful music career.

Some games, like Mausritter replace this with a traditional experience point system. 

Death is the New Pink cover
Art by Angie Evans
©2017 DIY RPG Productions
Several versions of Mark of the Odd have very lightweight dominion and mass combat rules. In the case of the mass combat rules, a war band has its own stats based on evel, training, and size. It attacks as one unit. Individual creatures cannot harm a warband or "warband scale" monster like a dragon, and warband attacks automatically do critical hits to single opponents.

Character equipment determines their capabilities to some extent: a character with a set of thieves' tools might be able to make an Agility check to pick  a lock, etc. In Mausritter a spell book grants access to a single spell. In mouse with her, each spell has a limited number of charges after which it must be recharged using a ritual described in this spell.

Starting equipment (and sometimes special abilities or even character identity) in a Mark the Odd game is  determined by cross indexing the characters' highest stat and their initial hit points. This allows characters who are fragile and less skilled is to have an equal chance at survival in early adventures as characters who were lucky during character generation by having better equipment.

Silent Titans cover
Art by Dirk Detweiler Liechty
©2019 Patrick Stuart, Dirk Detweiler
Leichty, Christian Kessler
O verall, play in a Mark of the Odd game is focused on problem solving and creativity. Combat is lethal even for a relatively high level characters against relatively weak opponents. Instead, player characters must always focus on finding ways to stack advantages. Likewise, with all roles being a d20 roll under a set stat, but with advantage and disadvantage of flying, character should always be looking for ways to build an advantage.

With the classless system, and often no character abilities innate to a specific character, statistics are about the only thing that defines one character from another, and as higher statistics tends to increase less often, characters eventually become mechanically similar. What defines a character is entirely how it is role-played.

Game Culture

Culturally, Mark ofthe odd games tend towards strange and surreal settings. The original into the odd puts characters in a surreal industrial nightmare scape full of killer machines. Electric Bastionland, the Chris McDowell's larger setting, is a Mobius-esque  surreal world in which post-industrial cities are built in a hellush realm outside of normal timespace, gods and demons walk among mankind, and  magic and technology live side-by-side.

Mausritter 2nd Ed. cover
Art by Issac Williams 
©2020 Losing Games 
The Super Blood Harvest series focuses on player characters attempting to escape the clutches of vampires from outer space

Death is the New Pink is a Tank Girl style post-apocalyptic adventure game where player characters play scavengers and hired guns to brave the wastelands and the ruins define technology for the survivors.

Mausritter used has a slightly expanded version of The Mark of the Odd system to tell tales most heroes in the vein of redwall or the secret of NiMH.

A significant majority of Mark of the Odd based games use maps to do a great deal of the heavy lifting for them in world building. The surreal isometric maps of Dirk Deitweiler, in particular are a mainstay of MotO games. 

Because of the rules for the game are so light, in the Bastionland-based adventure  Silent Titans by Patrick Stuart, the game rules are included as a bookmark with the print edition so as not to take up space in the book which could be otherwise dedicated to developing a combination of gameplay theory and fees setting an adventure..

Strengths of the Engine

Map segment from Super Blood Harvest
Art by Dirk Deitweiler Liechty
(Licence unknown) 

Mark of the Odd is instantly familiar to Old School Renaissance players, and is not too far a jump for modern D&D players. It is compact, straightforward, and all the rules are included and it's open license.

Most expanded rules like warbands are also openly available thanks to the license. 

It is compact enough that it can be fit on a bookmark, minus the starting equipment table. In many Mark of the Odd manuals I have read the rules take one to six pages depending on how it is formatted, laid out, and explained.

Because  the rules are relatively simple and robust, it can be used to cover almost any kind of setting.  What sets apart the majority of the games is what equipment, example adventures, and general flavour text is added. It's an ideal setting if you want to have something that feels unique and strange and that you want to do a lot of world-building with. 

The integrated Warband / Dominion mechanics and the way character advancement is handled, mixed with a low power curve makes Mark of the Odd games one of the few minimalist games that does an excellent candidate for games and settings that are geared for longer campaigns.

Finally, the lack of solid "class" or special ability mechanics and the light, robust ruleset reward players intrinsically for good role-playing. It is only by making in character choices or acting that players can create unique characters. 

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