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Use Critical Damage to make your critters memorable

Earlier today, I answered a similar, Into the Odd related question asked on both G+ and /r/osr. The question was, basically, how to go about converting old school, B/X style creatures to ItO. My answer echoed earlier advice I'd heard from Chris McDowall -- don't sweat the numbers. Make your creatures interesting in other ways.

This got me thinking about one of the things I really like in ItO that I don't exploit enough -- unique consequences for Critical Damage. Usually, Critical Damage (a failed save after taking damage to your Strength) knocks you unconscious until your allies can assist you. However, some of the example creatures in ItO have special consequences if you take Critical Damage against them. One creature might swallow you whole. Another might crawl down your throat and lay eggs.

This is a really powerful way to make a creature memorable. And requires little thinking over math, mechanics, or balance. The player has already failed their Saving Throw. Now the question is just, "How bad is it?" The game is almost whispering in the referee's ear: "It's okay now. Go ahead. Make it bad. Make it hurt. Make them remember this creature."

As an example of how I wish I'd been exploiting this more, let's tackle an old-school problem: Making our kobolds, goblins, orcs, and hobgoblins feel distinct from each other.

Let's give them the exact same stats: 

3 HP, 10 STR, 10 DEX, 10 WIL, 0 armor, d6 attack

The most generic of Into the Odd stats. We could spend time tweaking these for each creature. But is a 2 HP, 9 STR, 12 DEX, 9 WIL Goblin really going to seem any different to the players than a 3 HP, 12 STR, 10 DEX, 11 WIL Orc? If we instead give them each a unique Critical Damage effect:


On Critical Damage, the kobold places a lit stick of dynamite under the character's unconscious body.


On Critical Damage, the goblin begins eating the unconscious character's fingers. Each round, they eat another finger unless attacked.


On Critical Damage, the orc steals a random possession from the unconscious character and flees.


On Critical Damage, the hobgoblin picks up the character's unconscious body and flees with it.

Just that one little thing -- the consequence players will face if they fail -- makes these most generic of enemies suddenly feel distinct from each other. The players are definitely going to remember that Goblins are the ones that eat their fingers vs. Orcs are the ones who make hit-and-run raids on their equipment. And they're probably going to be worried fighting either, regardless of how average the stats actually are.

And that's it. No math, no new mechanics, no crazy complicated powers, as much time thinking about it as it took to type this. Why haven't I been doing this way more?


If you're curious, the answer I gave to the "How to convert old school, B/X creatures to Into the Odd" questions was:

General advice for ability scores, don't sweat the numbers too much. Your players really won't notice. Just keep STR, DEX, WIL at the default 10 unless a creature feels especially strong, weak, fast, cowardly, etc. And, in those cases, use the extremes of the scale. i.e. If you wouldn't change the ability to at least a 5 or 15, don't bother changing it at all.

Specific to B/X, I tend to use Morale as a rough gauge for what the creature's Into the Odd WIL should be. For enemies, WIL mostly gets used for morale saves anyway. Exceptionally cowardly or brave B/X morale? 3~5 or 15~18 WIL in ItO.

STR and DEX are usually easier to decide. Strong, fast, slow, etc. If you really need defined numbers, just borrow the equivalent creature ability scores from the 5E SRD.

The creature's attacks, special abilities, and consequences of critical damage are much more important than the numbers. The "Don't Make Soft Monsters" section here is great advice on how to make creatures feel unique and dangerous via their attacks:

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