Core Gameplay

The actual gameplay elements that players will engage with. That is, when the player or DM wants their character to perform some non-trivial action in-game, the DM will choose the appropriate challenge type from the ones below and the involved players will do as written there.

Game Materials

To play Othnell, you’ll want two packs of playing cards and at least one set of polyhedral dice (a four, six, eight, twelve, and twenty-sided die plus two ten-sided), but preferably one set per player.

This site also provides a digital character sheet which players will likely want to track their progress and combat stats.

Reading Dice Roll Shorthand

Some mechanics involve rolling a number of dice of varying number of sides. To alleviate the verbosity of having to write out “roll three eight-sided dice” or such all over the rules, most RPGs and players have accepted a standard shorthand pattern.

NdR where “N” is the number of dice and “R” is the rank or number of sides on each.

So if the rules or the DM say “roll 2d8” that means “roll two eight-sided dice.” If the rules say “increase die rank by one” then that 2d8 becomes 2d10, since a ten-sided die is the next larger die.

Impossible Dice

Sometimes the rules will tell you to roll a d2, d3, or d5. These are not physically possible polyhedrals, this is a mathematical trick. A d2 is a real d4 but halving the result, rounding up. d3 comes from a d6 and a d5 from a d10.

Brief on Attributes

While described in more detail in the Attributes page of the Characters section, for this section you will at least need to be aware of the basics.

Every character has five defining characteristics called “Attributes” which are each represented by a number from -1 to 3. These numbers have an influence on results of the mechanics described below.

The five attributes are: , , , , and .

Player Actions

For all trivial and mundane actions the player character performs (opening an unlocked door, drinking water, etc.) the player simply tells the DM what they are doing, then the DM continues the narrative based on what you did.

However, when the desired action is non-trivial or otherwise has significant risk (dodging and arrow, jumping a ravine), the DM will require the player to engage in one of the following mechanics based on the nature of the action. If the player “succeeds” then their character performs the action in the game world. If the player “fails”, then so does their character.

Clash Rolls

When two or more characters perform opposing actions, like attacking each other with melee weapons or using psychic powers to break someone’s mind, both parties simultaneously roll a die. The side with a higher roll wins by the difference. The size of die each party uses is based on the situational starting conditions and then is increased (or lowered) by one “rank” based on their Brawn.

Single Die Roll Ranks - This is the default type of roll

  • d2 > d4 > d6 > d8 > d10 > d12 > d12 + d2 > d12 + d4…

Two Die Roll Ranks - Used when specified by other rules

  • 2d2 > 2d3 > 2d4 > 2d5 > 2d6 > d8 + d6…

Example: A barbarian with a great axe attacks a old wizard with a dagger. The greataxe gives the barbarian a base die of d10 and the wizard has a d6 with their dagger. The barbarian has a +3 Brawn so the d10 goes up three sizes to d12 + d4. The wizard has a -1 Brawn, and so the d6 is downgraded to a d4. They roll, Barbarian gets an 8 total, Wizard gets a 1. The Wizard loses and is damaged by 7.

Skill Checks

When a character performs a non-trivial but unopposed action, it invokes a skill check. Players by default have a hand of three playing cards they can see. When they say they wish to make an action the DM sees fit to challenge, the DM will set a value based on an objective difficulty and the player must play a card of equal or greater value.

The lowest possible DC is 3, as anything lower would be automatic with a standard set of playing cards. An Ace is considered 1 higher than a King. The highest possible difficulty is an Ace Callout, which is described below.

If the player has 1 or more Poise, they may choose to discard one card from their hand to draw up to their Poise in additional cards, but they must play the last one drawn. At negative Poise, the player’s hand size is reduced to two.

After the check is complete, the player should draw back to their default hand size if below, or discard down to their hand size if above.

Example: The semi-dashing rogue in the party with a poise of 2 wants to open a locked door. If it was a cheap lock on a shed, the DM may determine the difficulty of the action is relatively low and so they say DC is 4. The player of the Rogue has three cards in their hand: a 2, a 4, and a Queen. Since they don’t want to waste the Queen and they don’t want to fail, the player throws down their 4 and successfully opens the lock. They then draw a new card to replace the old and get a 7.

Later the Rogue is in a secured palace and is trying to unlock a safe. The DM determined (hopefully ahead of time) that the safe is a “King” challenge. The player now has a 2, 7, and Queen in their hand, so they won’t succeed off the cards in their hand. So the player discards their 2 and uses their additional Poise draws and hopes for the best. Unfortunately they pull a 3 and a Jack, so they still fail.

Ace Callout

When the DM really wants to drive home the difficulty of a Skill Check while acknowledging it as possible, they may set the difficulty to Ace then roll a d4 to determine the exact Suit that must be matched by the player.

  • 1) Spade
  • 2) Heart
  • 3) Club
  • 4) Diamond

As a player, this means that if you have three Aces in your hand, it’s time to do something wild.

Memory Pull

When a character wishes to see if their character has some bit of trivia knowledge about the game world (say, acquired in their fictional past) or when the DM is about to reveal important information for the current narrative, the DM will have the player make a Memory Pull. The DM will pull a card (separate deck from the skill checks) and keep the value hidden. The player will then pull 1 card plus an additional one for each point of Memory. If any card matches the DM’s in suit or rank the DM must give correct and forthright information (they do not have to reveal more than what was asked). The DM will not reveal their card.

Probability at: +0 ≈ 31%, +1 ≈ 53%, +2 ≈ 69%, +3 ≈ 79%

At negative values of Memory, the player must draw additional cards equal to the number of negative points, but EVERY card must match suit or rank with the DM’s card.

Cognitive Load

A resource each player has representing their capacity for strenuous mental activity. A character’s maximum pool size is 4 by default and doubled once for each point of Wit. A negative Wit halves the pool size once for each negative Wit point (negative pool sizes are valid).

The Cognitive Load Resource (name pending) can be used like a currency to “buy secrets” from the DM. That is, reveal information that would otherwise be hidden to the character, by means of their reasoning ability. Many common tasks will have set values. For instance, if an enemy moves out of sight, the player may spend one point to get a 10’ radius indicating where the enemy may be, or they may expend 2-3 tokens and get the exact location. It can also be used in investigative tasks, such as guessing the motivation of an NPC. In that case, the player must spend a number of tokens they think is equal to or greater than 2 + (2 x Target’s Wit). If they don’t put enough tokens, the DM will lie otherwise the DM must reveal the truth, but the DM does not need to announce the target value.


Charisma lets a character compel or change the thinking of another by forcing the target to make a check on one of the other four attributes, depending on the type of influence being exerted.

Charisma mechanics are

  • Charm) Make a Skill Check with a DC of 5 + (2 x Target’s Poise). You may add your Charisma bonus to the card you play.
  • Intimidate) Actor and Target start a Clash roll with a dice based on their Charisma + Brawn: -2=d2-1/-1=d2/0=d4/1=d6/etc.
  • Lie) Make a Memory Pull. You may discard and redraw a number of cards up to your Charisma.
  • Persuade) Make a Cognition wager where the cost is based on the target’s Wit and the nature of the action you are attempting to compel them to. Your starting wager is equal to your Charisma bonus.

Additional notes on Charisma Challenges

Acting with Advantage

Sometimes the specific situation of an action will stack in the player’s favor or disfavor. Since it would be cumbersome (if not impossible) to figure out and determine the precise effect of every little environment condition, this game opts to take a simple approach of more binary Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic.

If the DM thinks the context of your action would make it significantly easier than normal, then they’ll give the acting player Advantage (Adv). If the DM thinks the situation makes performing the action significantly harder, they’ll give the player Disadvantage (Dis).

Advantage and Disadvantage then effect the action based on its mechanic in the following ways:

  • Clash Rolls) A player with advantage increases their die rank by two. A player with disadvantage decreases their die rank by two.
  • Skill Checks) A player with advantage adds an additional card to their hand before playing or drawing. A character with disadvantage removes one card from their hand.
  • Memory Pulls) A player with advantage may elect to redraw each of their cards once, discarding the original. A character with disadvantage must match rank.
  • Cognitive Load) Advantage halves the cost of the requested information. Disadvantage doubles the cost.
Wandering Spirit
Stone Dweller
0 to Clash Die Rank
0 Redraws
Draw 1 Match ANY
of 8
Intimidate d6 Clash Die
Charm 0 to Card Played
Lie 0 Redraw
Persuade 0 Starting Wager
Decent Meal
Good Meal
Hearty Meal
Threshold 3
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