Into the Odd and pre-school/proto rpgs: a comparison, colored by personal experience

On the online Mecca of roleplayers, +Wizard Lizard asked me yesterday:

Do you still run Into the Odd in addition to your Barons of Braunstein inspired proto-D&D system? I’ve enjoyed your posts about OD&D and ItO, and have been looking for good comparisons of the two. Care to expand on your experience switching from one to the other? I’m a big fan of the original game and its prehistory too, and the more time passes and we learn more about Dave and Gary’s home games, the more I feel like Chris was channeling Dave Arneson when writing Into the Odd because there are a lot of aspects, be it in the lore/implied setting or systems of the game, where ItO feels like Arneson’s D&D. And that’s a good thing!

So what are my experiences with both games? Hopefully, this table helps:

Into the Odd
Our Pre-school/proto rpg
Low hp, focus on survival
Low hp or no hp (total hp as gauge for the individual’s hardiness), focus on exploration
Saves: Roll on or under stat
Saves: roll on or over target# as told by the referee
Characters have numerical stats
Characters have either background notes OR

freeform “stats” that develop during play

Fixed procedures for gameplay
Freewheeling gameplay, procedures can change mid-game
No to-hit roll, to-hit and damage are wrapped into one
Roll against each other, higher roll hits and does damage (wrapped inton one), OR

Roll against target#, if successful, damage is implied

Unified game mechanism, the DM can derive solutions for any situation from there
Freewheeling mechanics, whatever the referee likes or wants to try, but best practice here is a unified game mechanism like “high roll is good” or similar
Existing rules give new players a feeling of “security”
Due to the changing nature of the rules, new players may feel helpless; for the game to work, it requires a huge amount of trust
Game system is easily separable from the setting
Game system is easily separable from the setting
Quick character creation because of the cross-reference/random tables
Character creation can be lengthy because a fixed mechanism is missing; new players might feel lost when they’re not familiar with a setting

Into the Odd definitely has the advantage of being a quickstarter into adventure, for every player, even if they’re not familiar with the setting. Pre-school rpgs have the advantage that you can start playing without having stats for any monster or npc.

Bottom line: Even though Pre-School rpgs are the “ancient form of rpgs”, they require a lot of work and preparation from the referee, as well as a deep knowledge of the setting. Into the Odd takes DMs by the hand and guides them; DMs unfamiliar with the setting can still pull off a great session. If this was a contest, Into the Odd would be the winner.

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