Monday, September 7, 2015

Grand Theory of Oddities

    Listen now: when I first got into Numenera, the third-party works of Ryan Chaddock Games impressed the hell out of me. They still do, as a matter of fact. So I thought, "Hell, I could do that!"
    I had an idea for my own third-party supplement, detailing adventuring on other dimensions. I was going to call it Other Worlds than These, based off of some arc words from Stephen King's Dark Tower series.
    Being a college student, I soon felt as though my time was better spent trying to graduate, and I didn't finish it. Now it looks like ol' Monte beat me to it.
    Oh, well. I might as well use some of what I learned while trying to write a book to fill out some blog posts, I mean, share with the community. So in this post, I will be discussing my Grand Theory of Oddities.

What are Oddities?

    Admittedly, this one won't be super useful outside of Cypher System games. Oddities are random odds and ends that either are or do weird, random stuff. They can be just about anything, but the number one rule is that you should be able to describe an oddity without using the rules.
    Some of them are useful, some are just cool, some are pretty much useless, and hopefully all of them are weird. They make for more interesting loot than just a handful of coins. As I was looking through all the oddities described in the corebook for an idea of how to design a large body of oddities, I found that they fit into a few broad categories:


    This is my term for those oddities that don't serve any apparent function, but are fun. I found that roughly 15% of the oddities in the corebook fit this category. Some examples:
  • Egg-shaped metallic bauble that occasionally spins and speaks in a language no one knows
  • Box with a tiny group of musicians in it who play when it is opened and look horrified when it is closed
  • Box filled with two dozen spherical magnets, each about the size of a pea


    A curio's main purpose is to be weird, get your players to think, or just look cool, like the sort of thing a wizard might have on his shelf. About 30% of oddities are these. Examples:
  • Two-headed cat fetus in a glass jar
  • Brass device with nested circular plates that rotate and click
  • Glass cube that shows what seems to be a live aerial view of an unknown, ruined city


    These oddities serve some obvious, but minor function. In theory, some of these could provide an asset on a specific task, now and again. About 35% of oddities fall in this category. Examples:
  • Plastic bottle containing a spray that cleans any stain and never runs out
  • Metallic device that creates one sheet of new paper each day
  • Powerful magnifying glass


    Swag improves your swag, in case that's not obvious. About 20% of oddities do nothing except make the character look cool. Examples:
  • Metallic mask that fits perfectly on your face and changes expression when you do
  • Cape that billows as if blown by the wind when worn, even in still air
  • Scarf that appears to be made of silk but is virtually indestructible and cannot be dirtied or stained.

Vendor Trash

    Those of you who are paying attention will notice that the previous categories all add up to 100%. Well, the fact is, I like oddities that are cool or useful, and that informed my design philosophy. There are a few oddities in the list that don't seem to do anything, nor are they terribly interesting. By keeping my oddities in one of those four categories above, I got to avoid disappointing players with things like:
  • Unknown musical instrument that plays only soft, unpleasant sounds
  • Three silken gloves with six fingers each
  • Metallic, pointed-toe boots designed to fit a horse or a similar creature

    And that does it for my Grand Theory of Oddities. Follow these guidelines, and I think you'll get a strong set of oddities for whatever you're designing. As for the oddities that came out this themselves, well...I think I'll save those for later. When Into the Outside comes out, I think I'll format some of my old material to fit that format. Until then, iadace.

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