Oneironauts 2

 And a second volume! More surreal backgrounds, enemies, items, and spells for your dream-based Trokia! game. 

Get it here for PWYW.


I made a Troika! zine for Micah Anderson's Dreaming Jam

It's got new backgrounds, spells, items, and enemies. Everything you need to start bringing incursions from the dream realms into your games.

You can get it here for PWYW.

News: A new mirror blog!

I've set up a twin Dice in the North blog on WordPress as a hedge against Blogger getting the axe at some point in the future.

The plan is to post on both from here on out, so you'll be able to find content here on Blogger or at Whichever you like.

Auction Rules

Normally if players want to make money off some piece of loot they found adventuring they've got pretty much one choice: Sell it. To a shop, private individual, institution, doesn't really matter. Find a buyer, negotiate a price, and sell it.

My players weren't satisfied with that (and also didn't have the time to find a buyer or reliable fence), so I made some rules for auctioning off items to let them sell their objets d' art (of questionable provenance) quickly and for a higher profit than a direct sale would net them. Here's how it works:

1) Players set:

- A starting bid. (A bid of 2x market price or more for an item will decrease the amount of bids they get later by 5 because fewer people are interested at that price.)

- A reserve price. (Optional. If the bidding doesn't meet or exceed the reserve, the item won't be sold.)

2) The Auction House sets:

- The percentage of the proceeds they will take from the final selling price as payment. (I set mine at 15%.)

- The number of days needed to publicize the auction. The standard time is 3 days, but the players can request more days to bring in more people or fewer to sell the item and get their money faster. (No more than 7 days or the public's enthusiasm will wane.) The number of days publicized is added to the roll that determines if a bidding war can start or not.

3) Bidding:

- Roll 1d8+2 to determine how many bids there will be. Once you reach the number of bids rolled, the auction ends and the item is sold. (If the players' starting bid is 2x the market price or more for the item, give this roll a -5.)

- Increasing the bid: For each bid roll 1d10. Each 1 is worth 5% of the current bid price. A bid can't increase an item's price more than 50% unless a bidding war starts.

Ex: For an item at 100 GP: A roll of 1 is 100 GP + 5% = 105 GP for the new bid. A roll of 8 is 100 GP + 40% = 140 GP for the new bid.

- Bidding wars: These can start if there are more people in the audience. Roll 1d12 + (number of days the auction was publicized), on a 12 or more a bidding war is possible. One will start if the current bid reaches 2x the starting bid.

In a bidding war roll 1d10 as usual, but each 1 = 10% instead of 5%; and roll 1d6 and multiply the d10 by it.

Ex: 1d10 = 5, 1d6 = 4. 50% x 4 = 200% bid increase.

So to make this happen:
  • Players set the starting bid (and reserve)
  • DM and players agree on the number of days publicized and the Auction House's cut
  • Roll to see if a bidding war might start
  • Roll to see how many bids there will be
  • Roll the bids! (If you hit the 2x starting bid threshold and get a bidding war, switch to the higher increase rate and rake in the gold.)
  • Bidding ends when you reach the number of bids rolled at the start. Take out the Auction House's cut and give the party their money.

This obviously involves more effort and math than a direct sale to an NPC, but it's worth it. Auctions are much more engaging than just getting [X] GP from a shopkeeper. If the rapid-fire math aspect concerns you, use a calculator. I definitely did to keep things moving quickly:

[Current Bid] * 1.[% from the d10] = [New Bid]

And this is important: Let your players roll everything. You don't touch any dice. Have them take turns rolling the bids while you tally up the current price. Watching the DM roll and do math isn't fun, rolling to see how much money you make is.

If you want a ballpark idea of how much an auction might net for your players, here are examples from my game: My players had two hyper realistic (read: medusa'd) sculptures up for bid, one deer and one squirrel. The deer had a starting bid of 260 GP and after 10 bids got 2397 GP. The squirrel started at 80 GP and after 4 lucky bid rolls got them 317 GP. After the auction house's 15% cut they walked away with 2307 GP and change. And that was without any bidding wars erupting.

If you want to keep the party poor, auctions probably aren't for you. Otherwise, give it a shot!

The Truth About Iron

(The shocking facts the fae don't want you to know!)

Everyone knows the fae hate iron and that it can ward them off. It's less clear what type of iron is most effective. Does normal cast iron work? Only cold iron? What does "cold iron" even mean? The folklore is so inconsistent and scattered because it's fae propaganda, spread over centuries to protect themselves from humanity. The truth is any sort of iron or its alloys will work just fine to repel and injure them.

Don't believe their misinformation and waste time searching for the "right" sort of iron, protect yourself with any of the common household iron and steel around you right now. Pure, uncoated metal works best, but iron-bearing compounds are effective too. If there's no solid metal at hand try using these iron-rich substances instead, or incorporate them into your existing defenses for an additional layer of protection.

Ironsand - This dark gray sand can be found all over the world. It's mostly made of magnetite and has an iron content high enough to cause severe blistering and burns, even blindness if it comes in direct contact with a fae's eyes. Keep a pocketful with you as a surprise defense.

Rust - Iron oxide is too flaky and brittle to be used on its own, but ground into a powder and mixed into paint or laquer it makes an excellent defense. Anything finished with rust paint becomes untouchable to the fae.

Goethite - Often found mixed in clay soils as brown ochre, this is one of mankind's earliest pigments for a good reason. Looking at surfaces painted with even a little goethite pigment causes fae intense vertigo.

Bog Iron - These nodules of iron are produced in swamps and bogs where the water has high levels of dissolved iron. You can locate promising places to dig for bog iron by looking for rust-red slicks of iron-eating bacteria colonies and rusty flakes on the submerged parts of plants. In a pinch the swamp water itself may have enough iron in it to act as a deterrent.

Pyrite - Also known as fool's gold or marcasite, it's about one third iron. It's commonly used in jewelry and large crystals are popular souvenirs. Wounds caused by pyrite are similar to acid burns, possibly because of the sulfur content, and can be horrific. Use pyrite only as a last resort.

Hematite - This stone is the next best thing to actual metal. For all practical purposes it works just as well as pure iron, the only downside is that it's much more brittle and shatters easily if hit. Hematite jewelry is common, affordable, and attractive. There's no reason to be without at least one piece.

Blood - If you have literally no other options, blood can sometimes be effective as a deterrent. It may buy you a few minutes, but the iron content in blood is too low to cause actual damage. If you have to resort to using blood, be sure to mix it with something else. Dirt, milk, and alcohol are good choices. Never let a fae collect a clean sample of your blood.

Now that you know what to look for, be aware of iron sources in your surroundings. Don't be caught unwarded!


Behold, a new game!

I wrote this one for the Good Morning Apocalypse game jam. It's a d12 system about surviving a long journey in the post-apocalyptic wilderness with your friends.

You can get the PDF here for PWYW.

Thrift's Infinite Cookie Generator

It's time to make some cookies.

To be perfectly clear, I'm fully expecting/hoping that you will actually bake these, with your own hands, using actual physical ingredients for consumption by real live human beings. I'm also not a very good baker and don't have any exact recipes I'd trust to share with you, so you'll have to find that yourself. But wild, near-heretical flavor combo ideas? That I've got.

Roll 1d6 times on the Ingredients table and use those flavors in your preferred cookie base. If you get repeats then double up on that flavor. If you want an even more random cookie, roll on the Type table too and use that to determine what sort of cookie base you'll be using.

You'll likely need to do some parsing to figure out exactly how the parts will fit together, but I have confidence in you.

Cookie Ingredients (d100)

1) Rosemary
2) Sage
3) Thyme
4) Lavender
5) Dill
6) Cumin
7) Marsala
8) Chili powder
9) Cayenne pepper
10) Black pepper
11) Mint
12) Rose
13) Jasmine
14) Violet
15) Hibiscus
16) Black tea
17) Early Grey
18) Green tea
19) Matcha
20) Chai
21) Anise
22) Fennel
23) Licorice
24) Cinnamon
25) Cardamom
26) Clove
27) Ginger
28) Nutmeg
29) Allspice
30) Caraway seed
31) Sesame seed
32) Poppy seed
33) Sunflower seed
34) Almond
35) Cashew
36) Walnut
37) Pecan
38) Pistachio
39) Hazelnut
40) Peanut
41) Peanut butter
42) Pine nuts
43) Macadamia
44) Coconut
45) Lemon
46) Lime
47) Orange
48) Raisin
49) Grape
50) Cherry
51) Apple
52) Blueberry
53) Fig
54) Date
55) Apricot
56) Raspberry
57) Cranberry
58) Blackberry
59) Elderberry
60) Strawberry
61) Banana
62) Pomegranate
63) Pear
64) Peach
65) Pumpkin
66) Marmalade
67) Jam
68) Cider
69) Sea salt
70) Cocoa powder
71) Dark chocolate
72) Milk chocolate
73) White chocolate
74) Vanilla
75) Coffee
76) Brandy
77) Rum
78) Amaretto
79) Whiskey
80) Honey
81) Maple
82) Caramel
83) Toffee
84) Praline
85) Butterscotch
86) Molasses
87) Fudge
88) Marzipan
89) Marshmallow
90) Dulce de leche
91) Buttercream
92) Ganache
93) Icing
94) Meringue
95) Cream cheese
96) Brown sugar
97) Crystal sugar
98) Powdered sugar
99) Shortbread
100) Oatmeal

Cookie Type (1d10)

1) Bar
2) No bake
3) Chewy
4) Crispy
5) Biscotti
6) Giant
7) Sandwich
8) Pressed
9) Rolled/cut
10) Raw dough*

Here are some that I rolled:

3/36,2,81/1 - Walnut maple-sage bars
2/8,73/3 - White chocolate chili chews
4/21,78,74,77/6 - Giant vanilla and anise with amaretto-rum
5/95,15,13,67,38/3 - Pistachio thumbprints with cream cheese and jasmine-hibiscus jam

They actually sound pretty good...

* Consuming raw eggs, yadda yadda. You're an adult, make your choices.

1d30 Casino Consternations

Like I wrote last post, casinos have major potential for chaos.

The tension and emotion of gambling, combined with the qualities of large crowds and whatever shenanigans brought the party to the casino, means something is going to happen. Might be something small and banal that only catches the party's attention for a moment, might be something that starts small but spirals out of control and engulfs the party, or it might be something massive that ends in tragedy for everyone.

Whatever form it takes, the chaos will be something a shrewd party can exploit, confront, or should have the good sense to run from.

1) Spilled drink
2) Chips or coins spilled on the floor
3) 52 card pickup
4) Table overturned
5) Rigged game or table
6) Unwarranted accusation of cheating
7) Warranted accusation of cheating
8) Caught a cheat red-handed
9) Loudly arguing couple
10) Crowd packed around a high-stakes game
11) Spectators commenting on games and players unfavorably
12) A very drunk VIP taking offense
13) Celebration over a win
14) Pickpocket
15) Creditor come looking to collect
16) Clandestine meeting in progress
17) Assassination attempt
18) Run into a rival
19) Run into an enemy
20) Mistaken for someone else
21) Recognized by someone inopportune
22) Security removing someone out the front
23) Security removing someone to the back room
24) Someone trying to outrun security
25) Security's closing in on you
26) Raided by the authorities
27) Brawl over [roll again]
28) Dueling challenge over [roll again]
29) Weapons drawn over [roll again]
30) Fire

Slot Machine Rules

Casinos are excellent locations to add into games. They're glamorous, there's tons of money changing hands, and people from every facet of society come to play and lose money at different speeds. It's a perfect venue for plots, surreptitious business deals, "chance" introductions, and other intrigue. There's also opportunities for everyday mayhem on the casino floor where emotions are running high.

Problem is, at some point the player are going to want to gamble. They might join a table to socialize with NPCs and make introductions or try to get information, but in that situation the actual gambling is usually handwaved and something that's happening in the background. I wanted a way to let my players have a real game of chance without having to break the flow of the session by pulling out a deck of cards and playing actual hands of poker or rounds of blackjack. (Also I'm very bad at cards and playing against me as the House and NPCs wouldn't be fun.)

The simplest solution was to adapt a game that has no dealer, no skill component, and is already designed to be played on impulse in real life: Slot machines.

Here's how it works:

The player makes their bet and rolls 3d8.

  •  If any die comes up 7, you get your bet back.
  •  On doubles win 2x your bet.
  •  On a sequence (1-2-3, 5-6-7, etc) win 3x your bet and another play.
  •  On triples win [that number]x your bet and 21 GP. (Ex: 5-5-5 = 5x the initial bet, plus 21 GP.)

Machines have a max payout of 100 GP at once. For larger prizes players have to find casino staff to collect the remainder.

Gem Valuation and Gemcutting Rules

Gems are a traditional treasure staple in RPGs for their "ooh shiny" factor and as a convenient, lightweight way to carry large amounts of cash. Problem is most people don't know that much about the minutia of gemstones, so unless you go out of your way to attach meaning to them a 30 GP agate ends up being the same as a 30 GP obsidian or a 30 GP ruby: A very pretty rock that's shorthand for a lump sum of money. There's none of the magic and wonder that should accompany finding jewels.

Here's what we can do to change that:

First, go do some research on gems. Don't just find a chart of birthstones and call it a day, do actual research on different minerals and what goes into producing and valuing cut gems. What's the difference between a ruby and a sapphire? Why do opals refract light into internal rainbows? Which sorts of cuts make gems sparkle and which show off their color?

Read, learn, be interested. If you're knowledgeable about a subject you can give much better descriptions of it and that will make your players more excited about their new rocks.

Next, step outside the list of gems everyone knows and give them something unorthodox. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and topazes are fine; but giving them a stone that's unusual will be more memorable. Throw a zircon at them, or a fistful of differently-colored beryls, a sunfire orange pearl, or a niche stone like a demantoid garnet. Make it weird, make it cool, and either describe the stone well or show them a picture of one to solidify what riches they've got.

Finally, unless the gem you're giving them is some mythic stone with a name and history of its own, don't describe it until after your players have had a chance to stop and roll dice to determine how much it's worth. Here's why:

- Letting the players roll to see how valuable each gem is makes it more meaningful. They're directly involved in determining their fortunes.

- Keeping the exact nature of the gems uncertain until the players have a chance to examine them makes it more exciting. There's a spirit of "What did we get?" that creates more impact than just being given a list of goods.

- Leaving the gems a mystery until the value is known lets you give a description with more teeth. The value of a gem doesn't just depend on what type of stone it is, it also depends on other details like how strong its color is and whether there are any cracks or inclusions in it. Once your players roll to see how much it's worth, you know the quality of that particular specimen and can tell what the stone actually looks like. A 100 GP aquamarine might be a gorgeous blue, but so full of inclusions that it's nearly opaque. Still a good stone, but not the best of its type. Meanwhile an 800 GP aquamarine looks like a perfect, sparkling drop of seawater made solid. Its only flaw is a tiny chip on the edge of a facet, barely noticeable. Both are the same type of stone, but that valuation makes a world of difference in how you describe it, so wait.

Now, how to assign values with rolls. I originally came up with these rules because I accidentally gave my players way, way too many uncut gems to individually value without some sort of system to make it fair and fast. (Something to the tune of 88,000. Oops.) It made for rules that are simple enough to be applied on a large scale, but also able to get granular if my players wanted to be specific with particular stones. It also assumes you're starting with raw uncut gem stock, something freshly mined or only roughly shaped for later faceting and polishing.

Uncut gem stock:

- Max value is 500 GP

- Roll 1d10 * 50 to determine value

- The type of gem is pure flavor and decided after a value is rolled. (I usually ask the players to give me a color, then I give them gems that are that color.)

Cut gems:

- Max value is 1000 GP

- Roll 1d10 * 100 for gems that are already cut, or the 2x the value of the uncut gem if you're giving it to an artisan for faceting.

- If more than one gem is cut from a single piece of raw gem stock, divide the GP value between the cut gems produced.

Ex: Raw stock = 400 GP * 2 = 800 GP. If 8 gems are cut from the stock, 800/8 = 100 GP each.

It takes an artisan 1 day to cut 1 gem in a traditional style. You need to pay them for their work and shop overhead each day. If you have them cut more than 1 gem from a piece of raw stock, it will take another day for each additional finished gem you request. (Because of the amount of money involved, I set daily rates for gemcutting at 10 GP/day per each artisan working and a 30 GP/day shop fee. It works out to be a noticeable but not ruinous portion of the profits, fair pay for the work the NPCs are doing.)

Unusual or custom cuts take longer (1d12+2 days) and require a specialized or highly skilled artisan. If you want to grind an emerald lens to be part of a magic scope to see into dimensions beyond your own, you need a master gemcutter; apprentices and journeymen just won't do. You'll also need at least one consultation and a detailed plan of exactly what's needed.

Findings: Only Humans

Back at the end of January I wrote about how there were only going to be humans in the new campaign I was about to start. No other humanoids, just humans. I outlined my reasons for the decision and sat back to see how it went.

Now, since an experiment is meaningless without results, here are my findings:

Humans are enough.

We've run 6 sessions so far and the absence of other humanoid species hasn't even been noticed. It's working out exactly as I hoped it would. Even the conceit of "humans still use the old languages from when other humanoids were around" is going smoothly and my players are managing to use it to their advantage.

The game's currently on hold on account of plague, but thus far I think the experiment has been a success.

Medicinal Amphibians

(Up from the depths crawls Penicillin Vol.3! Not only is it an early release, it's on sale. Go buy it, commune with it, absorb it into your being. This latest volume's almost twice as long as the last two and the unofficial theme is d r u g s, hallucination, and other altered states. The art is gorgeous. The material is system-agnostic and inspiring. It's incredible and you need it.)

Usually when you see a frog, toad, newt, or whatnot in fiction it's either of the "really generally poisonous" or the "gets you high" varieties. That's fairly realistic (because dosages are king in pharmacology), but I wanted more, so here's a suite of tables to generate medicinally useful amphibians of your very own! They're pretty self-explanatory, though you may need to look up some terms if you're not familiar with biology, ecology, and pharmacology. (Go wiki-walking! Learn! It's good for you!)

 While you're researching, here are some topics of interest when it comes to real-world amphibians (that can also be adapted for use in games):

 - Aposematism: Honest warning coloration on animals. It's often bright colors, but applies to any distinctive coloration or pattern that makes the creature conspicuous and says "go away" when you really should leave it alone.

 - Ecological indicators: Indicator species are plants and animals that are highly sensitive to changes in their habitat. When they're thriving, it's a good sign for the whole area. When they're declining, it's a sign that something's wrong and you need to sit up and take notice. Amphibians are often important indicator species because their highly permeable skin and water-reliant lifecycle makes them very vulnerable to pollution and disruption in their habitats.

 - The real-life toxins produced by amphibians in nature. They tend to fall into a similar band of nerve-disrupting chemicals and are absolutely fascinating.

 What's cool about these is that usually the amphibian doesn't produce the toxin itself. It gets it from its diet of other poisonous things (usually insects), either by sequestering the chemicals in their tissues or transforming them from a precursor chemical found in their prey to something even more toxic. If these amphibians are caught and kept, they'll gradually lose their toxicity because their diet in captivity doesn't contain the right chemicals. If they're raised in captivity and never eat a wild diet, they're not poisonous at all!

 This is why you have to adventure/quest for your medicinally valuable amphibians, they can't be farmed and still retain their potency. (Unless you create a free-range amphibian ranch, which sounds adorable.)

 Once you've finished reading about the delightful, mildly morbid world of poisonous amphibian toxicology, roll some dice!

 For some of the tables I've only given guidelines, it's up to you to fill in the details and make it work. Like the coloration table. If you roll "brilliant" it could be brilliant blue, red, orange, whatever so long as it's retina-searing and screams "do not eat!" Follow your heart and make something cool.

 (Remember! If you'd like to own these tables in a PDF or print format, along with all the excellent work from other contributors, go grab yourself a copy of Penicillin Vol.3.)


Type (d6)
1) Frog
2) Toad
3) Newt
4) Salamander
5) Axolotl
6) Caecilian

Size (d6)
1) Tiny - Fits on fingertip
2) Small - Fits on finger
3) Medium - Fits on palm
4) Large - Fits on whole hand
5) Huge - Need two hands to lift
6) Massive - Larger than a cat

Skin Texture (d8)
1) Smooth
2) Smooth
3) Smooth
4) Rough
5) Bumpy/warty
6) Wrinkly
7) Spiked/horned
8) Dendritic/lacy

Coloration (d10)
1) Dull/earth tones
2) Subtle
3) Bright
4) Brilliant
5) Iridescent
6) Metallic
7) Translucent
8) Achromatic/grayscale
9) Roll again x2
10) Roll again x3

Pattern (d12)
1) Solid
2) Countershaded
3) Zones/patches of color
4) Spots
5) Flecks of color
6) Mottled/camouflaged
7) Stripes
8) Single stripe
9) Characteristic symbol/shape (like a black widow's hourglass)
10) Mobile/changing (chromatophores)
11) Roll again x2
12) Roll again x3

Body Shape (d6)
1) Average proportions
2) Slender/skeletal
3) Beefy/solid
4) Round/chunky
5) Stubby limbs
6) Flabby

Potency (1d8)
1) Weak - Need 10 to affect 1 adult human
2) Moderate - Need 1 to affect 1 adult human
3) Strong - Need 1 to affect 5 adult humans
4) Dangerous - Need 1 to affect 10 adult humans
5) Lethal - Need 1 to affect 100 adult humans
6) Increases with exposure - Starts weak and gets 1 degree stronger each time it's used after until it's lethal
7) Decreases with exposure - Starts lethal and gets 1 degree weaker each time it's used after until it's weak
8) Placebo

Habitat (d12)
1) River
2) Pond
3) Marsh/wetland
4) Bog
5) Vernal ponds
6) Stagnant water
7) Forest floor/understory
8) Trees
9) Jungle/rainforest
10) Epiphytes
11) Prairie/grassland
12) Desert

Administered By (d20)
(H is harmless to the creature, NL is not lethal but stressful, and F is fatal to it)
1) Skin contact (H)
2) Hold to an open wound (H)
3) Press to eyeball (H)
4) Lick it (H)
5) Soak it in oil and mix the oil into food (H)
6) Sit in a sweat lodge/sauna with them and breathe the steam (H)
7) Run on gums/under tongue (NL)
8) Just hold it in our mouth for a while, then spit it out (NL)
9) Wash it in alcohol and drink the tincture (NL)
10) Blotting paper (NL)
11) Eat it (1 whole, 2 raw, 3 dried, 4 powdered) (F)
12) Pills (F)
13) Mixed into tea or broth (F)
14) Snort it (F)
15) Smoke it (1 dried whole, 2 powdered, 3 mixed with resin, 4 shredded) (F)
16) Cut out the parotoid glands and squeeze into eyes (F)
17) Render down the skin, put drops of the liquid in boiling water and breathe the steam (F)
18) Render down the skin, apply liquid to a skewer/needle and stab the patient (F)
19) Roll again x2, the second method is less effective (1 lower potency)
20) Roll again x3, the second method is more effective (1 higher potency), the third method is lethal

Toxin Effect (d60)
1) Analgesic/numbing
2) Anesthetic
3) Sedative
4) Soporific/hypnotic
5) Serenic (decreased aggression)
6) Choleric (induces aggression)
7) Oneirogen (dream producing)
8) Narcotic
9) Hallucinogenic - Psychedelic
10) Hallucinogenic - Dissociative
11) Hallucinogenic - Deliriant
12) Stimulant
13) Depressant
14) Orexigenic (appetite stimulant)
15) Anoretic (appetite depressant)
16) Emetic
17) Laxative
18) Vasodilator
19) Vasoconstrictor
20) Hemorrhagic
21) Anticoagulant
22) Coagulant
23) Antipyretic (fever reducer)
24) Anti-inflammatory
25) Antihistamine
26) Diuretic
27) Contraceptive
28) Conceptive
29) Aphrodisiac
30) Anaphrodisiac (decreases libido)
31) Immunosuppressant
32) Vertigo (balance disruptor)
33) Irritant/inflammatory
34) Capsaicin analog (just pain/burning)
35) Menthol analog (chemical frostbite)
36) Blistering/caustic
37) Necrotic
38) Neurotoxic
39) Antibacterial
40) Antifungal
41) Antiviral
42) Antiparasitic
43) Antimiotic (disrupts cell division)
44) Paralytic
45) Hyperactive nerve conduction (seizure, paralysis, heart attack)
46) Hypoactive nerve conduction (peripheral nerve signaling blocked, paralysis, suffocate)
47) Antispasmodic
48) Muscle relaxant
49) Anxiogenic (increases anxiety)
50) Increased suggestibility
51) Induces insomnia
52) Eugeroic (promotes wakefulness)
53) Nootropic (enhances memory/thought)
54) Euphoriant
55) Entheogen (induces spiritual experiences)
56) Roll again x2
57) Roll again x3
58) Roll again x4
59) Roll again x5
60) Placebo

What is O5R?

A while back I was talking about how I like 5e, but run it in an O5R way, and was asked "What's O5R?" Turns out that's a perfectly reasonable question because, despite running all my 5e games in the style, I had a hard time pinning down an actual set of rules/rulings and changes that make an O5R game different from vanilla 5e.

I've given it more thought and come up with an answer.

O5R isn't a distinct system, and it's not 5e that's been houseruled into something unrecognizable. It's 5e mechanics lightly molded and paired with the DM style and decisions to create an old-school feel at the table.

So what does that actually look like? The first, most important differences are:

1) Ignore balance.

Challenges don't scale to the PCs' abilities. There are real dangers confronting them and no guarantee that an encounter will be level appropriate. Your players should have to learn to judge if a situation is too dangerous for them, and if it is, to run away.

You should still at least check a creature's CR to see how dangerous it is, but don't treat it as the deciding factor in whether to use a monster or not.

2) Cut out all the standard D&D/WotC lore.

Keep the D&D IP creatures if you want (I love owlbears and rust monsters), but the setting lore gets pitched. No Faerun, no Sword Coast, no Underdark, etc. Can you have an ocean with pirates? Of course! A winding subterranean realm underlying nearly the entire world filled with unspeakable monsters? I'd be disappointed if you didn't! Just make them your pirates and your lightless underground hellscape.

Don't include things just because The Lore says they exist, and don't hesitate to bring out the gonzo. Throw true weirdness into the mix for your setting, give it some wondrous and bizarre style.

(The corollary to this is you have to explain it to your players clearly. Present them with the important setting details so they can make meaningful choices based on the conditions in the world you've made. Do this before the game starts, at session 0 at the very least, to give them plenty of time to ask questions and understand.)

3) Don't let the PCs start bogged down by a lot of backstory. 

Starting characters should be mostly formless. A basic personality and a handful of details like hometown, family business or previous profession, and a like, dislike, or goal is plenty. Let the rest emerge through play and the characters develop instead of coming to the table as an established entity with a specific build in mind.

(Do make sure your players have their characters take a background in the game mechanic sense though. That's a sizable chunk of their abilities. They can reflavor the backgrounds however they like.)

After you've done that, address the more mechanical aspects:

A) Good plans don't roll. 

If players do something clever or come up with an unorthodox plan that might work, reward them. They've done a good job. Their plan works without needing to roll for it. At the very least it should give them a partial success, positioning them to succeed later or to have an advantage in their current situation.

B) Move the focus away from combat.

This ties into ignoring balance because combat is more dangerous now and usually the worst option in a situation. Give players ways to solve their problems beyond "sword." A good way to do it is to put the focus on exploration. Have the PCs go out into the unknown and face obstacles that they literally can't fight. Rockfalls, deep chasms or cliffs, weather, crumbling structures, etc. Present them with things they need to work through or find ways around instead of a band of goblins that'll only slow them down for a few minutes.

There will still be some combat, but you don't need to change any rules or tweak death save mechanics to make it more lethal. You just need to make enemies smart. Have them use tactics, teamwork, have goals to achieve beyond plain slaughter, use the environment to their advantage, and care about their own lives. Sometimes the PCs have to retreat to survive, sometimes it'll be the enemies who cut and run; but it'll only take a few encounters with competent, coordinated enemies to teach your players that combat's not the default reaction and should be avoided if possible.

C) Homebrew! 

Throw your own stuff into the mix, but don't alter the player-facing mechanics. Instead of trying to lop off sections of the system or make radical changes to basic rules, have your homebrew material add to the existing game.

Pay attention to what the players are interested in and create spells and items that play on that. What you make doesn't have to be powerful, just interesting. For example, when my players fought and slew a bus-sized magically mutated scorpion they asked if they could harvest the chitin to make armor. Of course, they could! (I'm so proud of them.) They took some, dragged it back to town, and found someone to work it into gear. The finished armor had the same stats as a breastplate plus a little magic resistance. Not an exceptionally powerful magical item, but better than what they had and cool to them because of the origin.

Same goes for rules. Listen to what the players want to do and find a way to make it happen. The same group of players found several statues and wanted to try auctioning them off, hoping to get more money than they would with a direct sale. So I made auction rules that leave the exact amount of profit up to luck and keeps the party engaged in a mini game.

Whatever you decide to add, be sure it makes the game more fun and the world more wondrous instead of just harsher.

That's mostly it. Also for consideration is:

- Non-standard treasures and loot. Go beyond coins, gems, and magic items. Give out rare plants, harvested monster parts, spell components, and just generally bizarre artifacts that are maybe valuable, maybe powerful, but definitely intriguing.

- Magic is weird. Represent magic as the distortion of reality and entropic strain on time that it is. Encourage players to reskin the existing D&D spells to better suit their characters. Create new ones. Make it abberant and unsettling.

- Characters are beloved, but expendable. Make sure your players know their choices have consequences and you won't shield their characters. Also, let them retire their characters and make new ones if they want.

TL;DR O5R relies mostly on the DM's choices and flexibility to step away from vanilla 5e. They need to put in the thought and effort to apply basic old school concepts in how they run the game and make a world that's both engrossing and incredibly dangerous.