I recently started a new campaign of Electric Bastionland with friends. This is a sort of “science fantasy” game with OSR roots, though mostly unrecognizable from the Original D&D from which it ultimately started. More precisely, EB represents the latest iteration of Chris McDowall‘s game “Into the Odd“. Neither game has the “faux-medieval” implied setting of D&D. ItO sort of strikes me as mid to late 19th century in technology and culture (though obviously not on “Earth”), and EB explicitly draws from the early 20th century (ditto).
I wanted to look a little into the differences between the two, as ItO has fascinated me for a long time despite the fact that I haven’t played it yet.
The biggest change lies in character creation: Starting equipment no longer depends on Highest Ability versus Hit Points, but rather on a Failed Career (background) which in turn depends somewhat on Highest vs Lowest Ability, modified by Hit Protection (another terminology change) and a random amount of starting currency. The Willpower ability has also been renamed to Charisma, although it largely remains unchanged in function.
Rather than getting a completely random starting arcanum, EB characters get oddities and special traits based on their failed career. Related, the default goal for characters and expeditions has changed from recovering arcana to repaying debt.
While we’re at it, currency has changed a bit, from the more-or-less traditional system of Pennies / Shillings / Guilders to New Pounds, and thus weapons and equipment have changed prices significantly. In general, EB characters have less starting equipment, though that difference obviously melts away after the first session or two.
The second largest change concerns advancement: rather than advancing to a new “level” when a character completes some number of expeditions, in EB characters grow when something takes them to exactly 0 HP. That change in terminology is explicit, too: characters grow and evolve, but not necessarily “advance”, at least not in terms of their characteristics. Changes in relationships, equipment, and status matter just as much as attribute scores and HP, perhaps even more.
Rules and Equipment
Additionally, ItO has several grades of Arcana (renamed Oddities in EB) and a starting library. I find it curious that EB removed that list, though you could consider many of the items found in the Failed Careers as a scattered compilation.
In ItO, if a player wants to use an Arcanum in a non-standard way, they must first pass a WIL save: that mechanic has been removed, so as to encourage players to seek these non-standard uses.
Detachment (group combat) rules have changed somewhat, and I think the rules for Enterprises did not make it into the new book. Solo opponents no longer have a Morale save, and ability score recovery now only requires overnight healthcare rather than a week’s rest.
EB has much more granularity in how bonus damage works, plus different rules for multiple people attacking one target. Several tags can be applied to characters, damage, or equipment, like Deprived, Blast, and Bulky, respectively, and weapon categories have been reshuffled somewhat.
One versus the other
I don’t think Electric Bastionland is, strictly speaking, an upgrade from Into the Odd. It’s a different take, to be sure, but it has far more implied setting than its predecessor and something of a more dystopian outlook. You’re not trying to discover and understand the world, but rather trying to pay back some debt you incurred somehow.
The cosmology of Bastion – Deep Country – Underground – Living Stars, while not new, plays a larger role in the newer game (which also makes less mention of other cities and regions referenced in ItO).
So which game you use depends on what you’re looking for. Want more exploration, dungeon delving, and weird phenomena? Then go Into the Odd. Want to focus more on people and schemes and their interaction? Spend some time in Electric Bastionland.
Thanks to fizzding and CosmicOrrery from the Bastionland Discord server for noting a couple of things I’d missed!