O5R - Or Old School 5E

Lots of people say D&D 5E can't be played in an old school fashion. Not only do I disagree, but I think a really cool game is made out of 5E and OSR principles combined. More importantly, I think that this flavor can be created without any major rules changes. Here's why:

A little dungeon scuffle
Rule Intention doesn't dictate how your game has to be played.

ON 5E AND COMBAT
It's no secret that 5E is a game whose core enjoyment is derived from combat. As written, players encounter monsters and they kill monsters and then they get experience and life continues. In opposition of this is the OSR, where combat is not the best option for every problem, even if it can often be a viable solution. In OSR games, this is true because the characters are fragile and because they have almost no tools beyond player creativity to take on problems. But in 5E, you have a litany of character features, most of which provide combat ability. Likewise, a common complaint is that 5E's death saves are too kind to player characters, and too safe.

This last point in particular is bullshit. Why? In Tomb of Annihilation, Death Saves are pushed to 15 instead of 10 for success. This gives you a near 75% chance that characters do not survive at 0 hit points. By having realistic monsters who go for the coup de grĂ¢ce, falling to 0 quickly becomes a very dangerous place to live. And even beyond that, monster damage is variable, and it's suggested to use standard amounts. Usually the average damage is given for a monster, but there's no rule against using the maximum damage, or any value between average and the maximum. So now players, despite having bigger hit point pools, are being hit so hard as to make combat far more grueling. Thus, combats are now faster, and more dangerous for players.

You can go even further still. Have it so when a character comes back up from 0 hit points, they gain 1 level of Exhaustion. This is a fair use of Exhaustion and it makes it so combat gets harder and harder the longer players press on through a dungeon or the wilderness.

These changes make it so players can still desire combat and see it as a viable option, but it is certainly not the best option in every encounter. Assassination, roleplaying to dissuade enemies from combat, and sneaking past encounters all become more attractive in the wake of this more grueling combat paradigm. Thus, players handling obstacles through a more OSR-oriented perspective is achieved.

One more complaint I see before moving on to the next section; people hate CR. I hate CR. Remember that CR is a guideline. In other words, ignore CR and just read the stat block and use that.

Job to end all jobs
Just because you can cast Fly doesn't mean you can easily get out of this.

ON FEATURES VERSUS PLAYER INGENUITY
There's a common false-narrative perpetuated that having more features takes away from player skill. This is not true. In an OSR game, your features is the horde of equipment and hirelings you have with you. Tactical use of both equipment and hirelings is nothing more or less than just a different suite of features. Compare this to 5E where there are no hirelings, and where equipment is, overall, just an accent or means to an end. Instead, 5E offers the aforementioned litany of features to use. Access to features is not a point of argument against tactility. How a Cleric manages their spells and Channel Divinity options, how a Druid invokes their Wildshape, and when a Fighter chooses to finally Action Surge are all tactical decisions the same as when you light that pitch on fire that goblins are charging through or when the wizard chooses to finally blow their one, single (and usually useless) spell slot.

A common argument is that having more features limits what you can and cannot do. However, unlike B/X, thief skills aren't limited to just thieves in 5E, and sub-classes allow casters to sacrifice some spell ability for martial combat (and vice-versa). In other words, though it seems limiting, most of what happens in 5E does not strip options from everyone else. This is not to say that some things are cut off. Class fantasy will always take what an ur-Adventurer, like Conan or Elric, and split them up between the PCs themselves. Unless a classless system is opted for  this is a simple reality that must be faced. Tangent aside, while more crunchy, 5E's multi-classing, sub-classes, and more feature-heavy classes is not a strong argument for a lack of player ingenuity. How you choose to use your features, when you choose to use them, and the potential to still have hirelings and make equipment meaningful only serves to put more focus on how player's ingeniously operate.

One flaw, though, is character builds. This is inescapable. OSR relies a lot on randomization to prevent this. This is something I'm willing to compromise on. Thematic character builds are what my player's produce overtime, with decisions influenced on what happens in their games, what NPCs they meet, and so on.


The Agreement
If you can't talk your way out of the troll, using Skills as a last ditch attempt isn't all bad.

ON SKILL SYSTEMS 
5E's skill systems aren't the system's strongest aspect. Still, skills aren't all that bad. I ask for skill checks only when a plan the players are putting into action is utterly terrible, has an incredible chance or failure, or to mechanically punish during the adventure. Skills are, for me, kind of like saves in this aspect. I also only ask for a skill check. My players tell me what they want to do, and if I think it doesn't need a check to go through, or if the plan is really solid, I have no problem letting these situations play out without dice. Skills are thus the least offensive thing in 5E for O5R play style, as it's just an issue of play style.


ON GOLD AS XP
5E milestones allow the DM to reward player's milestones, which are cashed in for leveling up. This is an easy use for Gold as XP. For every X amount of GP worth of treasure taken from a dangerous place, you get a milestone. Cash the milestones in, level up. Easy!

Liquid Sky
There's more rules than in OSE, but that doesn't mean these rules can't create a cruel experience.

ON CHALLENGING PLAYERS 
So, how do you challenge players without combat in a combat-heavy system like 5E? WotC has provided ample ways to do this.

First, traps are obvious, but Xanathar's Guide to Everything introduces rules for complex traps. These traps are elaborate encounters with lots of moving parts that allow players to use their many features to save their lives and escape the trap.

Puzzles and riddles, common in all forms of Fantasy, are always viable.

Environmental hazards are offered in the DMG. Beyond falls, rushing rivers, etc, you have various oozes and other horrific things that a fantasy environment can contain that'll frustrate players, steal their resources, and provide lethality.

For Long Rests, a big point of continent for a lot of OSR fans, simply saying that they can only be taken in "Sanctuaries"--safe rooms, cities, holy places, etc, makes it so players don't stay topped out on hit points 24/7 and have to be careful with what they're doing in terms of their own resource-based abilities.

Lastly, Exhaustion. Throw in a level for when players fail a saving throw to some environmental effect. Throw in a level if they've gone too long without a proper Long Rest. Throw in a level for when they come back from 0 hit points. Throw in a level for when they haven't eaten in a while, or had water. Throw in a level for every day they spent wandering lost.


RECAP

5E can be ran through an OSR mindset pretty easily. I'm not saying it is an OSR game. What I am saying is that O5R is a viable practice that channels a lot of OSR mindset to make running 5E a lot more palpable for those who like a more grueling style of play.

The White Dragon & its Hunt


There is a dragon whose scales are the color of fresh snow and whose flame is cold as the day the Earth will die. Like all of its kind, it is a hunter before anything else. What greater thrill than warm blood lapped up after a struggle? What greater realization that one is alive then right before they die and steal that very same life for themselves? But, unlike its brothers and sisters, unlike its mother, unlike all it will sire, this dragon has a gift: the gift of true Intelligence.

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True, it is, that most dragons are incapable of abstract thought. That is a cruel curse latent to their biology. They horde and horde because they are driven too, cannot stop, but though they may horde gold or philosophy or poems or magic, they know not the true value of these things. It is greed that keeps them at what they do. A dragon's riddles are but manifestations of this greed; a confused dialect meant to throw away the clever and to protect what is theirs. That is not to say that dragons are stupid. A dragon knows well how to manipulate, for that is a method of hunting; but, it goes no further than that.

This dragon, whose name I do not know, is different. Value, abstractness--these things are clear to it. Emotions are understood. Empathy, sympathy, antipathy all--yes, the dragon understands the world around it. And this has made its hunts truly devastating.

At the age of 400, the dragon mastered how to use its body. It put value in this, for by mastering its body, by refraining from hording and other dragon behaviors, by thinking in the long-term, it could ensure a never-ending life of success. So, it mastered the art of flying, of swimming, of digging, of walking on ice, of Breathing, of balance. It is adroit in all things physical. One might ask, how can monster so large be so adept? 400 years is a long time. Even the clumsiest of fools, given time and training and willpower, can become an acrobat without compare given so many centuries.

At the age of 700, the dragon had learned many of arcane magic's deepest secrets. It learned how to manipulate the weave, how to bring the arcana latent in its flesh out, how to grant Wishes and weave Fabrications. It is adept in the arts of Divination, Abjuration, and Illusion. Consider it a 9th-level Wizard, if you will. But the dragon did not stop with arcana.

At the age of 750, the dragon understood well the spirits of the world. It gathered forth an enclave of druids and, in true druidic fashion, studied with them the secrets of the oak and root, the rose and thorn, predator and prey, sun and moon. And, in true druidic fashion, the dragon consumed each druid above it, and with them their power, until it became an archdruid in true--just as many dragons with scales green are. Only those dragons are manipulators, not truly Intelligent, and thus can grow no further. But our hunter of white scales could, and so he sought greater heights.

At the age of 800, the dragon found religion. It communed with the gods, with angels, and with celestials of all kind. Then it communed with the Hells and the Abyss, with its great ancestress Tiamat. From these journeys the dragon the truth of divine magic and pledged himself to the Wild Hunt--that divine gathering of elvish deities that frolicked throughout the universe. They granted the dragon many miracles in exchange for its service. Oh how well they put that cold flame to use. How many heretics have been burn-frozen; how many empires created, toppled, created again.

Tiamat


Finally, at the age of 1,001, the dragon mastered art. It gathered poets and playwrights, jali and griots, bards and minstrels, comedians and tragedians, Muses and all else. From this art, it learned the truth of the Weave, how a simple guitar string well-plucked can create magic as deep and potent as any found in its many spellbooks. And with the mastery of art came the mastery of the self. The dragon fully understood its role and purpose as a dragon. It understood the Great Story that all things are apart of. The dragon became the Dragon, or the White Dragon, or the Silver Dragon, or whatever else you wish to call it.

And for all these years, the dragon cultivated that biological need to hunt. Yes, it indulged sometimes. When it was a servant for the Wild Hunt oh how it practiced. When it was a druid oh how it studied. And this need became a taste, and that taste became a style, and that style became a niche, and that niche became what we know of today.

This dragon cannot be slain easily. You see, it has created a hunting field perfect in all ways for what it wants. Let me tell you of it.

In the north, there is a tower. The tower is made of snow and compacted together by human engineering. Above that tower is great aurora, forever burning in the sky, that the dragon maintains. For 30 miles in every direction is pure snow. The tundra is unbroken. There are holes in it for one to hide, and underground dungeons that the dragon has curated over time. The valkyries are friends with this dragon, you see; they bring the greatest warriors of all the lands--giants and men and elves and other dragons too and more beyond--and they war in these dungeons. Those who survive these killing fields emerge powerful. Adroit. They are given riches too. With magical sword in hand, or great spell at their lip, they stand, covered in silk blood-warm underneath the aurora.

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From the top of the tower, death spreads its wings. You have a choice: go to the tower, or go to the trees, 30 miles away.

If you choose the tower, at its base, a door. It is made of cold iron and wrought with images of predator chasing prey. Should you enter, a maze lies on the other end. The walls are ice, the ground diamond, and snowfall endless from skies black as a moonless night. As you move forward, your reflections all around you, the dragon moves with you. It tracks you through this confusing maze, of which not even it can master. It hunts you here, the fear building for the both of you--what happens if you stumble upon it? If you stab it? If you rip its wings off? It knows what happens if it finds you--but this would not be a true hunt if you could not hunt it either. But in the end, the dragon wins. With so many great magics, with such great skill, with so much Intelligence, it happens upon you as the hidden hunter does the doe and then you are gone.

Do not believe the trees a safer fate. It is not until just before you reach them that the dragon roars. It is a shadow in the aurora. It descends into the forest. Know this as no true place. Every tree is a treant, every treant is old, ready to die. They move and shuffle. There are no landmarks that last longer than an hour or so. The wind is enchanted too. For every hour that passes, how one's bloodlust boils. You gain the benefits of a Barbarian's rage but are disadvantaged on anything requiring heavy thought. The shadows are alive too. Elves dance here, singing, blading, dancing, and the visions they weave, the terrors they inspire--yes, yes, the maddening, the insanity. And then, just as in the tower, you find the dragon, or the dragon finds you.

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The valkyries are slated. They gather up their new dead host and prepare them for a war in the distant futures. The dragon returns to the tower. There, underneath the aurora, its hoard is built: the bones of the dead warrior gods and all their tools, the love of valkyries, and heroic legends wrought in cold iron. The need to hoard is slated. The need to hunt is slated. The dragon heals, and waits, and the dungeons are restocked, and heroes emerge, and hunts occur, and the dragon blissfully lives on growing and growing and growing evermore.

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One day will this hunt end. The dragon has plans should it survive this event. But until then, know well that this is every hero's true test.

COMMANDMENT: Making a Point-Crawl & Changing Names

COMMANDMENT is me taking the literal Bronze Age Collapse and fantasizing it using Dark Souls tropes/ideas. I've decided it would best be played as a pointcrawl, meaning: dungeons connected by flux space where cool things happen.

In order to jack up the Fantasy a bit, I've decided to do some renaming of things. Some of these are based off of previous ideas, while others are corruptions of actual names, nicknames, or alternative names found across history.

POINTCRAWL GOALS

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The point-crawl map for Slumbering Ursine Dunes.
COMMANDMENT has a few goals as a pointcrawl that I want it to hit. These have to be considered goals for creating a Souls-esque style of game as well.

  • Every location should be utterly unique in terms of threats, treasure, lore, aesthetic, and implicit narrative.
  • Every location should have no more than 3 ways of exiting it that are "safe," leaving room for outside-the-box dangerous ways to escape. This promotes linking of the points.
  • Every location should either have a bossfight or climactic point that needs to be dealt with to really get the GOOD stuff from that location.
  • Some locations should require other locations to visit, while a good number of locations should start out varied and open to approach.
  • There needs to be a central hub area the players can go too (ala Demon Soul's hub, the Hunter's Dream in Bloodborne, the Firekeeper places in Dark Souls, and the Dilapidated Temple in Sekiro).
  • Travel between points should be a mixture of abstract and concrete. Flux Space will make these areas unique. Travel between hubs should cost something somehow as well.

BUILDING COMMANDMENT AS A POINTCRAWL


Image result for egyptian fantasy art

Pointcrawls are pretty demanding to design, I think. Hexes can be simple and treated as dungeon rooms on a wilderness map, while a full pointcrawl has very stylized, thematic, concentrated dungeons as its points. That being said, I think starting theme first will help us here.

This requires me to begin elaborating more on the world of COMMANDMENT. This is what I have thus far.
  • There is a tablet of 10 Commandments. It is utterly unknown in creation, cannot be destroyed, but can be separated.
  • These 10 Commandments change the laws of the world to fit the commandments, creating curses for those that break them and miracles for those that follow them.
  • Usermaatre Setepenre II, previous ruler of the Evening City, discovered this sacred tablet and used his deific magicks to rewrite it.
  • After rewriting the 10 Commandments, they were split into groups of two, each given to some other force to broker piece in the face of prophecized doom.
  • Each city is based off of its two commandments, save for the Sunrise City, whose Commandments are lost.
  • The Sea Peoples have the lost commandments and have rewritten them, providing the power needed for their invasion to have the success it does now.
  • Players will need to collect the Commandments, reassemble the Sacred Slab, and choose what/how to rewrite them in order to change the world's destiny. Or they can destroy them, somehow, or use them to make themselves god-kings, or whatever.
  • City names change a lot. Right now, the cities with the commandments have a naming pattern of the Seat of the Commandments of X & Y instead of proper names. Nicknames are given based on old prophecy, relating the city to a time of day, as well as a single word offered by Usermaatre Setepenre II to call the people of that city.
So we have here, from this outline, a minimum of 5 Cities to serve as hubs, plus the Denyen Isles--home of the Sea People. That's 6 points so far.

We're going to need some points for things beyond that. Libya & Syria are destroyed, so the Horn of Africa will be another point. The Great Green--this worlds name for the Mediterranean--needs 1-3 points in it as well, or maybe a generator to create points here. So right now that puts us at a minimum of 8 points and a maximum of 11. The Steppes we won't deal with in COMMANDMENT, nor will we deal with whatever life lies too far north of the Great Green to really impact this.

I want a few more points too, just as open-air what-ifs for right now. I think the Great Green itself could just be a mega-point, but we'll have one more point of interest in it as well, so settling on 2 from there.
Image result for anor londo art
Some of these cities I imagine like Anor Londo--cathedral meets ghost town.


So, to recap, a glossary of locations for COMMANDMENT:

  • The Godsblood - Grave of Heroes. This is the massive river is the renamed, deific Nile River. This is the player's opening hub--the mouth of the Godsblood, a sacred place where hero corpses end up after being put to river or sea. Allows for travel to 4/5 of the Seats or the Great Green.
  • Evening's Marches - The Seats of the Commandments of Authority & Conspiracy - City of the Masyreen. Renamed Pi-Ramses, it is here that the God-Prince Usermaatre Setepenre III fights his endless war against the Sea Peoples.
  • Sunset's Cradle - The Seats of the Commandments of Art & Lies - City of the Achaens. Renamed Pylos. Ruled by twin Oracles--one who channels the Sun, the other the Horizon. Divinations are inscribed onto pottery, weapons, fabrics, and skin here, and are used as currency.
  • Noon's Empire - The Seats of the Commandments of Ancestry & Trade - City of the Azuhinum. Renamed Asur. Ruled by the Queen of Heaven, a witch-queen from future eons. It is a solid tyranny with an army unmatched that has utterly conquered Sunrise
  • Morning's Chains - The Seats of the Commandments of Slavery & Truth - City of the Yisra'el. Renamed Israel. Ruled by Shelohmoh, a man who mastered the art of chaining divinity, and thus has created a city of angels, smokeless fire, and demons. Miracles were once worked in the streets; knowledge is gathered here en masse.
  • Sunrise's Funeral - The Seats of the Lost Commandments - City of the Bab-ll. Renamed Babylon. The Commandments here have been stolen, and Noon's Empire has replaced their leader with a vicious deific dragon, the Marduk. The people, oppressed, have access to Iron.
  • Denyen Isles - The Seats of the Commandments of Conquest & Iron. The dark home of the Sea Peoples. Utterly Barbarous in all ways. To set sail for here is to likely die in the Great Green, as its location is obscured by magick & heretical belief.
  • The Great Green - War's Endless Sea. A massive body of water that connects all of these different, spread out lands. From the far west came the Sea Peoples.
  • Santorini - Haunt of Gods. Gods of Conquest flock here for reasons unknown. An isle of monsters, ghouls, and other barbarous things and who knows just how many secrets.
  • The Pyramids - Ancient pyramids built by god-kings long past. Inside of each are secrets old, and riches true. Consider this like a DLC/expanse area to explore.
  • Ri-A - Where All Skies Meet. My thought up "Final location," which is literally the interior of the sun where all horizons lead. Maybe it's here that the Commandments are rewrit.

So now we have 11 nodes. Now for each node, we need the following:
  • Simple overview of location.
  • Encounter tables.
  • Treasure, armor, and weapon  with fluff descriptions.
  • NPCs.
  • Commandments.
  • Level layouts.
  • Factions.
Level layouts is the hardest thing on this list. I'm considering pushing flux-space up harder. Every point is a hub of more points (probably between 6-10) connected by Flux Space. Each sub-point is treated like either a miniature dungeon (no more than a few floors) or a strange, complex dungeon room. They will be laid out in a way that you need to do certain things to progress to certain rooms, with hidden connections found between important places.

There's something else that needs to be addressed too: making everything have gone to shit.

Dark Souls Ruin

In every soulsborne game, the would has gone to shit. The decisions of the player(s) determines if the world heals, stays as shit, or something new happens, each with nuance that makes everything a somewhat grey choice.

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Monsters, boss fights, and NPCs can be used to show ruin as well. See: High Lord Wolnir from DS3

That being said, we need ruin to come to this world. Luckily, we easily have it in the form of Sea Peoples and Iron.

The glossary of points higher up in this post describes things as they were before the Sea Peoples invasions began in earnest, and before iron-working became more mainstream. Now, with Iron making people Barbarous and the Sea Peoples constant attacks, much of the world is fucked. Some ideas right now are:
  • Evening's Marches is mostly barren of life, with literally everyone being turned into a soldier and sent into war. Filled with Barbarous run aways, weird mystics, rebels, and the twisted palace of the God-King.
  • Sunset's Cradle has been plagued with apocalyptic divination. Many people have fled, and those that remain are either trying to complete prophecies, prevent prophecies, or are becoming ever more brutal in their rituals to create prophecies.
  • Noon's Empire has no friendly souls there. Everyone is oppressed and hateful or oppressed and broken. A rot is spreading across the empire, the cracks this weakness creates are seeing Gods of Conquest and other threats slowly overtaking her.
  • Morning's Chains no longer is a place of masters-and-slaves. The deific slaves have finally revolted with the power of Iron behind them. A place caught in a very supernatural, curse-fueld, Hell-on-Earth stylized civil war.
  • Sunrise's Funeral is seeing massive amounts of Barbarous rebels and Gods of Conquest pop up. It is the most dangerous place to venture of the 5 Seats because of this.
That covers the "normal" places. The others are pretty self-explanatory, given COMMANDMENT'S backdrop.

So in the end, we have points to create, a format for creating them, and compelling reasons to go there. Now all that's left is creating each one (which will take a long time, I'm sure), and to establish some more concepts, namely:
  • What exactly are the 10 Commandments.
  • Potential character classes.
  • Making a character/running this stuff as an actual game.
  • Lots and lots and lots of item descriptions written and rewritten for consistency.