Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Inspirations for OSR from Assassin's Creed Odyssey

The Assassin’s Creed series has a variable reputation since the initial game was released in 2007,  with Ubisoft constantly churning out new titles. While there are some highlights, such as Black Flags and Origins, many of the games released in the franchise usually only changed the setting, but not so much for the gameplay.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey might feel familiar to people who played previous titles, especially Origins, but the game has a world design which sets it apart. While playing Odyssey, I noticed some elements that could be fun to use in roleplaying games.

In this blog post, and in a following one, I suggest some elements that you can put into your campaign, especially if you have a decent amount of coastline and a smattering of islands. Here are three out of five inspirations from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey:

Put Treasure Underwater

A lot of adventuring I’ve experienced in roleplaying games usually happens firmly on land. That’s fine, but you can also enhance exploration opportunities by putting stuff at the bottom of lakes and coastlines. Especially in Odyssey, there were several ruins and shipwrecks to be found under water, usually in shark-infested waters. In Greece there were several cities that ended up being submerged, such as Pavlopetri which sank somewhere around 1000 BC. The same can be true for your setting - there could have been earthquakes, rising sea levels or magical catastrophes that sank cities. Amongst the ruins, there might be treasure chests and relics of a bygone era that are worth a lot of gp!

Similarly, maritime disasters happened frequently, with ships being sunk due to rough waves, naval battle or grounding on shoals. Whatever the reason, the ship has now sunk and spilled its valuable cargo on the ocean floor. Now, diving a thousand feet to the ocean floor might be off the table for most PCs, but there are still plenty of places a ship can sink where it is still reasonably accessible to a brave freediver. Especially ships that are smashed against cliffs or shoals can be easy targets for “treasure recovery”.

Recovering said treasure can pose several challenges ranging from the logistical to hazardous. Some points could be:

  • Clearing the treasure the sea bottom. [ Corals, silt, collapsed building materials ]
  • Dangerous animals. [Octopi, sharks, venomous fish]
  • Weather hazards. [Rough waves, currents, underwater sediment clouds]
  • Bringing the treasure to the surface. [Ropes, diving challenges, air bladders, diving bells, cranes, boats]

Use Bounty Hunters

As evident by the term “Murder Hobo”, it’s not unheard of that PCs murder, steal and cause chaos, sometimes also in towns and villages. In Odyssey, if the player happens to steal, murder civilians, or worse, kill soldiers, then a bounty is put on the player’s head. As soon as the player racked up some bounty, two things happened:

  • A bounty hunter might come after you if your bounty is worth their time.
  • A ‘sponsor’ appeared in the world, who is responsible for paying the bounty to whomever brings you to justice. 

The Sponsor can be just about anyone, but probably someone with a stake in seeing the PCs brought to justice. Mayors, sheriffs and local barons are good candidates. If you want to make it interesting, announce a bounty on just one of the PCs. Maybe the PC’s companions will suddenly feel for cashing in their “friend” ? An alternative solution can also be to pay off the sponsor by paying the 150% of the bounty’s worth.

Bounty Hunters can be a bunch of encounters worth of trouble. They are tough and probably experienced in bringing in dangerous individuals from far and wide. They should use dirty tactics and strike when it is least convenient for the PCs. Still, they have to track down the PCs, which by itself isn’t easy. They only have the descriptions from local witnesses and whomever issued the bounty to go by, so they might just as well pass the PCs by without knowing. Initially, they’ll seek out the area where the PCs were last encountered and work their way from there. Some might be smart and have spies in major towns, while others might be lone wolves with a somber backstory.

Oh and here’s some random bounty hunters you can use in your campaign.

Home Is Where The Boat Is

Another prominent feature in Odyssey that makes a return from Black Flags is the naval system, modified to match the technology of Ancient Greece. Typically you’ll see Biremes and Triremes in Odyssey, which are oar-powered warships of that era. The most prominent weapon was the ram, which they used to crush other ships with. In Odyssey, you’re given control of the Adrestia, which is a Trireme-like ship that you could use to engage both battle and exploration. The Adrestia functions almost like a “home base”, allowing you to fast-travel to it when necessary. Another fun aspect about this was that you can upgrade the ship by buying new ram heads, figure heads, hull upgrades and better oars and so on.

The stuff I described above could easily be translated into a “west marches” like thing, where the ship is a stand in for the central town. Money brought back from adventures could be used to upgrade the ship, hire better crew and maps. Better yet, the ship can move around, bringing its players along with it. Certainly there’s a risk of the ship being destroyed, which could ruin everyone’s day... Really, I have no strong work-arounds for this. I think the PCs should be careful with their “home base” ship and not risk it needlessly. If it is about to sink, you can always beach a trireme. Heck, it’s even possible to transport a trireme over land, if you have enough crew and some crafty engineers.

Triremes had some limitations too. They had little room for supplies, so they had to make frequent stops to resupply food and drinking water. They could get waterlogged easily, so they were usually kept on land during nights. Also, rowing at high speeds usually wore out the crew pretty fast - for long distance travel, they primarily used sails. Triremes also had a high upkeep cost in terms of parts such as ropes, sails, oars and even masts. Oh, and they’re made out of wood, so be careful with your fire spells.

If you’re thinking of running a campaign in something like the Aegean Sea, having a ship as a “home base” could be very interesting. A trireme usually had a crew of 200, which means that if a PC dies, you could plausibly recruit an oarsman to become a new PC. It is also a great common point for the PCs to invest their hard earned gold, which everyone benefits from in the long run.

If you are playing Knave, why not check out the Knaval Rules?

Next time

Since these three inspirations already racked up a word count, I've decided to follow up in a second post with two other inspirations, involving the use of ruins and cultists.

A Random Bounty Hunter Appears

If you ever need a greek-ish bounty hunter, I hope this resource can be useful:

First, roll a d12 for its name:

  1. Athemos
  2. Posileo
  3. Tesele
  4. Danoro
  5. Cosico
  6. Eliagos
  7. Aphros
  8. Gorabo
  9. Eumaeus
  10. Demiodokos
  11. Kaeio
  12. Alkipodes
Then, roll a d6:
  • 1 - 2: It's a fighter.
  • 3 - 4: It's a thief.
  • 5: A cleric
  • 6: A wizard
The bounty hunter is usually the same HD as the player's level, only add d3-d3 HD. Minimum 1 HD.

How does the bounty hunter gather information? Aside from the regular tricks, the bounty hunter has this style (roll d12):

  1. Investigation and interrogation.
  2. Hires other Bounty Hunters, pays them 10% of the reward.
  3. Tracks the PCs using scent and trail signs. 
  4. Harassment and intimidation.
  5. Employs informants and spies to keep track of most vagrants.
  6. Pays merchants and traders for leads. 
  7. Is a trained animal that can follow the scent of anything the PCs have touched. Usually escorted by faithful humanoid servant. 
  8. Hangs around in a nearby tavern until the PCs are spotted.
  9. Uses a tarot deck to divine the whereabouts of the PCs.
  10. Engages with local priests and pious folk.
  11. Uses a special spell to detect a PC magic users' spell signature. Can sense this magic user within 600 feet. 
  12. Uses a divination spell that highlights the footprints of the PCs that are less than 2 days old. 
If asked to bring the PCs back alive, how does the bounty hunter do it? Roll d12:
  1. Will attempt to single out each PC and capture them when vulnerable.
  2. Manacles and batons.
  3. Pit or net traps.
  4. Hostages or asset capture.
  5. Ingested sleeping poison.
  6. Steals the PCs stuff until they're vulnerable.
  7. Will attempt to hire the PCs to go where he/she wants them.
  8. Hires local muscle, will attempt to beat PCs into submission.
  9.  Will use deception to lead the PCs into captivity. 
  10. Bestows a curse that attracts angry ghosts. Will retract the curse if the PCs surrender willingly. 
  11. Liberal use of Sleep spell.
  12. Visits the PCs dreams with the appearance of their victims, demanding justice. 

If wanted dead, how does the bounty hunter attempt to kill the PCs? Roll d12:

  1. As with capture tactic, but with lethal force. 
  2. Ambush with crossbows.
  3. Bear or gallows traps. 
  4. Arson. 
  5. Deadly ingested poisons.
  6. Slips snakes into their camp / bedrooms.
  7. Pays local thugs to ambush the PCs.
  8. Poison darts. Will throw at a single PC and flee. 
  9. Sets an ambush point with tumbling rocks, logs or wildfire. 
  10. Raises a fallen innocent that the PCs have murdered and bestows it the powers of a revenant. 
  11. Liberal use of Sleep spell followed by stabbing.
  12. Use illusions to make the PCs kill each other, accidentally or otherwise. 
Thanks to Byers2142#9618 and GalacticNomad#7375 from the OSR Discord for their input!

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