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"Into the Odd" is "Left 4 Dead"

There was a discussion today on the Into the Odd Discord about how to describe "generic" Critical Damage and recovery. What do you tell players happened to their characters when they fail a STR save? What exactly do their allies do to get them back on their feet?

My response was that I describe it in a very "Left 4 Dead -like" manner. "Generic" Critical Damage knocks you to the ground like in L4D. Later on, your friends pick you up, slap you awake, give you some water and quick bandaging. Not too worried about detail or realism in my descriptions.


Image result for left 4 dead
Yes, this Left 4 Dead

My mind immediately went further down this path. The design of Into the Odd really is like Left 4 Dead in a lot of ways.

Critical Damage

Into the Odd: Knocked out of action, will bleed out in an hour if not assisted by someone.
Left 4 Dead: Knocked to the ground and largely out of the action. Will eventually die if not assisted by someone.

Recovery from Critical Damage

Into the Odd: Somebody picks you up after combat, you take a short rest and drink of water, get your HP back, but remain closer and closer to death as your STR doesn't recover.
Left 4 Dead: Somebody picks you up -- possibly during combat, although it is time consuming and risky. You get some, but not all, of your HP back. You inch closer to death as you can only survive critical damage a certain number of times.

Next Character After Death

Into the Odd: System encourages speed over realism in getting a player a new character and back into the game. In my games, this frequently means that the player's next character is found tied up in the corner of the same room, tied up in a treasure chest, tied up in a closet down the next hall.
Left 4 Dead: A dead player's next character is waiting locked in a closet not far away.

Game Over

Into the Dead: As long as you don't TPK, new characters will keep coming back in, and you can eventually make it through the dungeon.
Left 4 Dead: As long as you don't TPK, new characters will keep coming back in, and you can eventually make it through the level.

So, whether intentional or not, there is a lot of Left 4 Dead -style mechanics in Into the Odd. So let's think of what we can intentionally borrow from L4D.

Special Infected

Left 4 Dead obviously has its "Special Infected", the fancy zombies with fancy attacks. What's really interesting about the Special Infected is the way their attacks change the dynamics of combat in L4D. Typically the best strategy in L4D is to stay as close to your companions as possible. Many of the Special Infected have ways of separating you from your companions or making it ill-advised to stay too tightly packed with them. The Smoker drags someone away from the group with its tongue. The Jockey likewise steers someone away. The Spitter creates a puddle of acid that forces you all to spread out. Etc.

The Special Infected that don't directly separate you from the group change the dynamics of a fight in their own way. The Hunter pounces on someone and begins tearing them apart. This forces the group to ignore what they were doing and concentrate on getting the Hunter off their ally as quickly as possible. The Boomer creates swarms of new enemies and tries to remove your option of fighting up-close.

So, what can we take from this for Into the Odd? The best special attacks and Critical Damages don't just do a lot of damage, they immediately change the dynamics of a fight. They force the players to make new decisions. Following from this idea, a "Death Beam" that does d10 damage to a single character is probably a "worse" -- or at least "less interesting" -- special attack than a "Hurt Spray" that does d8 damage to all characters ganged up in a group. The first is dangerous, but changes little about how the players approach the combat. The second is going to make them think about positioning, try to avoiding ganging up their attacks, etc.

Likewise with Critical Damage. Even the "default" Critical Damage in Into the Odd -- character is knocked out of action, will die without assistance in an hour -- changes the dynamics of the fight. The party running away becomes less of an option as it is a death sentence to the knocked-out character. Unique types of Critical Damage should be encouraged to change the fight in similar ways. The goblins, orcs, kobolds, etc. I wrote about previously follow this. Finger-eating Goblins -- much like L4D Hunters -- force the rest of the party to immediately concentrate on knocking the goblin off of its victim. Kidnapping Hobgoblins and thieving Orcs force the party to immediately give chase. Again, its not just "big damage". It changes the dynamics of the combat.

The L4D Special Infected would actually work well as ItO monsters.

"Populating" a Dungeon

The actual "populating" of a Left 4 Dead level is sparse. What is initially there is just a few random placed zombies. They are weak and not particularly aggressive. There are no (?) statically placed Special Infected or "bosses". Most of the actual meat of L4D comes from hordes and Special Infected randomly spawned by "The Director" (the game's AI). So, L4D levels could be thought of as dungeons sparsely populated with mooks, but with a really dangerous Random Encounter Table. An encounter table for L4D might look something like this:

d6 Result
1 Horde of zombies
2 Hunter
3 Boomer inside horde of zombies
4 Smoker
5 Bigger horde of zombies
6 Tank!!

Applying this to Into the Odd, it might be interesting to write a dungeon that has almost no pre-populated enemies. Only weak mooks that are only dangerous in combination with other, bigger monsters. No pre-populated boss enemies, strong monster rooms, etc. anywhere on the map. But fill the random encounter table with nothing but the worst, most dangerous things. Roll for random encounters out in the open, in front of the players, being very clear what triggers a random encounter check (noise, light, passage of time) and what numbers mean an encounter occurs.

Light and Sound

Think back to the first few times you played Left 4 Dead (before you realized that speed running levels was usually the best recipe for success). If you were like me, you were hesitant of every noise you made, every bit of light you created with your flashlight. You weren't sure yet what triggered "The Director" to send a horde your way, but you were worried that noise and light had something to do with it. And terrified of accidentally flashing light in a Witch's eyes (thank you intro cinema!)

It turns out that -- except for car alarms, pipe bombs, Witches, and set pieces (turning on generators, etc.) -- noise and light don't have any effect on horde spawning. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.) But we can certainly make noise and light matter in Into the Odd. As a referee, work it into some of your Dilemmas and Saves. Party wants to open that rusted door? Make a DEX save, but the penalty for failure isn't just a random encounter check, it's a guarantee that the room full of vile Arm Takers that they just snuck through is going to wake up. Party needs to get through a dark hallway? A Dilemma: Stumble slowly and blindly through the dark, or light a lantern but be guaranteed to draw a random encounter.

Finales

Left 4 Dead chapters end in Finales. These usually take the form of having to survive in a location -- a house, a rooftop, etc. -- until an escape vehicle arrives. The game makes it very obvious to players that a finale is occurring and what interaction will trigger it (usually answering a radio call.) Before setting it off, the players are given  time to examine the area, make plans, gather supplies, set traps with tools (propane and gas tanks) in the environment. Once triggered, the players have to survive wave after wave of zombies and Special Infected, with only a little downtime in between to recover.

I'd like to try this in Into the Odd once. Create a scenario where you make it very clear to the players, via in-game writings, NPCs, or just telling them, that once they pick up -- for example -- this idol, the side doors are going to open and hordes of enemies are going to start coming through. Their only escape is a bridge across a deep chasm that will take X-number of turns to rise up. Give them as much time to examine the space, use their equipment and items in the room to prepare traps, create chokepoints, barricade passages. When they're ready, they pick up the idol. 

A wave of random enemies comes through. Every d6 turns, another wave comes through. Every couple waves, they get a brief moment to pick up knocked out allies, take a short rest, recover HP, quickly set a few more traps, then the next wave. HP and STR will definitely dwindle, but if they can only hold off the TPK long enough...

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