OSR: The Underground Economy

Typical dungeoncrawl resources I use:

HP: depleted by combat, exploration, etc. Healed by rations and rest.
Gold: why you're in the dungeon.
XP: 1:1 conversion with gold looted (but not earned). Makes you better at not dying.
Time: spent exploring, resting, preparing, or planning.
Light: oil/torches. Typically does not run low but limits exploration if absent.
Rations: healing and exploration ability.
Inventory Slots: problem-solving tools you can carry with you (from armour to rations). Can be filled by exhaustion, cold, madness, etc.

If I can build a class ability or a system or a challenge that uses only these resources, I will.

On the surface, rations and torches are cheap. The most common path is [time]+[light] => [gold] => [XP].

A fat, happy adventurer needs 2 rations per day: one at lunch (takes 1hr, heals 1d6+Level HP) and one at dinner (takes 1hr, if followed by 8hrs of sleep heals fully). This healing might seem generous, but injuries stick around, and it takes at least a day to go from negative HP back up to full.

The system above works well for classic adventuring, but it needs some adjustments for the Veins of the Earth.
Adapted from Tom Gauld's cartoon.

Meals and Deals

A full meal is likely to be rare in the Veins. There are 2 options if you have an abundance of food an time.

"Lunch" takes 1hr. Consumes 1 ration. Heals 1d6+Level HP. 
"Dinner" takes 1hr. Consumes 1 ration. If followed by 8hrs of sleep, heal fully.

You can only eat 1 formal HP-healing meal every 12 hours. If you've had a meal, excess rations consumed heal +1 HP per ration but require a Save vs Constitution with a penalty equal to the number of rations consumed. If you fail, vomit and lie in misery for 1d6 hours.

The Hungry/Starving/Dying track from Veins of the Earth applies (in a modified form).

Hungry: Default state. If you do not consume 1 ration every 3 days (as a meal or hastily devoured), move on to Starving.

Starving: Requires 2 rations to reset to Hungry. You gain no healing benefits from the rations. Every possible opportunity to get food that you do not take imposes a -1 penalty to all rolls. If you do not consume 1 ration in 3 days, move on to Dying.

Dying: Madness. Requires 3 rations to reset to Hungry and 1 ration to reset to Starving. No mechanical penalties carry over from Starving, but you will do anything to get food. Lose 1 level permanently for every 24hrs you spend in this state. No level = dead or worse.

Side Note: "Skerples," I hear you ask, "Patrick put in bonuses for eating opponents and hirelings. Why did you remove them?" 
Simple. My players feast on edible opponents anyway, even if they have plenty of food. Sandwiches are a common cause of death in my games. There's no need to encourage additional culinary experimentation. Also, I'm using my Monster Menu-All rules, which should be enough of a bonus.

Values in the Veins

Rather than using a calorie to gold to light conversion, I'm simplifying things by sticking to an abstracted Ration setup. Calories are listed for cross-compatibility with VotE. Currency values, as usual, use my currency system. 1gp = 10sp = 100cp, 1cp = $1 modern American = 1 ~1300s French denier. 

Creature Accessible Calories Sale Value Rations
Cave Louse* 10 1cp 0.005
Cave Crab 200 2sp 0.1
Blind Rat 750 7sp 0.3
Medieval Chicken** 2,000 2gp 1
Small Person 60,000 60 30
Normal Person 100,000 100gp 50
Large Person 140,000 140 70
Medieval Cow 600,000 600gp 300
Wurm 3,000,000 3,000gp 1,500

*If you spend 1d10 days doing nothing but picking cave lice, you can get 1 ration. This might mean you starve to death.

**Medieval chickens were small and very stringy. I've seen estimates that put the total mass of all white meat on a medieval chicken at approximately one modern chicken breast.

Plant or Fungus Accessible Calories Sale Value Rations
Cave Slime 0 0 0*
Fungoid 60,000 60 30
Troll Oil (0.1 L)** - 3gp 1

*Cave slime provides no nutritional value, but it does provide some psychological comfort. If you are Dying and you spend 12hrs licking cave slime, you can permanently lose half your HP to reset to Starving (with a -5 penalty to all rolls).

**Troll oil is flammable and slightly alive. It counts as a ration and heals an additional 1d6 HP. Save. If you pass, no other effect. If you fail, you have 1d6 hours before you keel over, vomit up the oil, and take 2d6 damage. Other effects at the GM's discretion. It's temporary salvation.

Eyeballing It
These charts let me estimate the ration = gp = light ratio. 1hr of light is worth 1gp. A wooden torch worth 1cp on the surface is worth 1gp in the Veins... but meals are also more expensive.
1 Ration (any quality) = 1gp = 1 Hour of Light
For estimation purposes, multiply prices on my Medieval Price list by 100 if you're in the Veins.

That's right. A mouldy chicken breast in the Veins is worth $100 surface dollars. Life is hard and you're going to go broke very quickly.

Also, all food and money in the Veins loses value. Rations decay, get soaked, or get rubbed in dirt. Gold is heavy and weighs you down. Spend what you have quickly before it kills you.

H.R. Giger, the Vortex

The Invisible Hand

No, not that one.

The prices above assume:
-the trade is fair (both sides get something they want in exchange for a less desirable item)
-the trade is equal (nobody is threatened or the threats are balanced)
-both parties have a reason to continue a relationship after the trade

Imagine a meat-pie vendor named Starf-Meself-Loony Dibblah roving the Veins with his little cart. He sells dodgy meat pies (1 ration) for 1gp each.  He has jaunty red cap. You have a hollow eyes, a hollow stomach, and a hollow soul. You go up to him and:
1. Stab him and take all his meat pies.
2. Stab him, take his meat pies, and also eat him.
3. Give him 1gp, take a meat pie, then stab him, take your 1gp back.
4. Threaten him and take a meat pie.
5. ...
917. Pay 1gp for a meat pie and leave.

Poor Mr. Dibblah. He couldn't cut it in the Veins. It's a ruthless world. Nobody has a monopoly on force. There are no laws and no policemen (except, possibly, potentially, fleetingly, inside cities and villages).

But take another example. Now Mr. Dibbah has a crossbow, a serrated knife, a lantern, and a full belly. You've been starving for days. You can barely stand. He'll cut your throat as soon as look at you if you go for a pie without paying. He charges:
1. 1gp
2. 10gp
3. 1,000gp
4. Everything you can afford to give him, including your boots.
5. Everything you can afford to give him, including your boots, and one of your feet (it was rotting anyway) so he can make more pies.
6. Your life (more pies!)
7. ...
In the Veins, a thing is worth exactly what its purchaser will pay for it. When all forces are balanced, that's 1 ration = 1gp = 1hr of light.

When forces are not balanced, everything is either expensive, deadly, or free.

Mark Chilcott

But... Why?

Given the entry costs and ludicrous risks, why would any sensible party of adventurers bother going into the Veins? Leaving aside accidents, idiocy, and lies, what could possibly convince a surface creature - someone who likes three square meals a day and feather beds - to crawl down satan's gastrointestinal tract or live in Patrick Stuart's nightmares?

One word: loot.

Veins loot makes conventional dungeons look like a discount clothing warehouse after a fire sale, in a hyper-inflationary economy, right before the coldest winter on record. Your gold crowns and polished gems and magic wands are bent clothes hangers and ragged Snoopy t-shirts compared to the stuff in the Veins.

It will get to the point where gold is too heavy and too pointless to transport. Pouches of strange metals will adorn your back. You'll carry a sword that can cut a syllable in half but your face will be streaked with clay and muck. You'll cut your hair off and file your teeth into points, but you'll also find a machine that spins music into cloth. When - or if - you emerge, changed and warped, you will change the surface world forever. There are treasures in the Veins that are the seeds of empires.


  1. I particularly enjoyed the poetry of "Buy...Why?"

  2. Very interesting!

    I found the source of the last picture: https://www.reddit.com/r/Art/comments/4otpaa/the_body_ink_a2/