About Me

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Small Fish

"Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish. Do not overdo it."
-Lao Tzu

After playing several different systems in the space of a few days at Garycon, and buying several new shinies to read, I am –of course– pondering new kinds of things to run at my table. 

(We'll now take a brief pause to let readers get over the shock.)

One of the great things about con gaming is not only getting to play games you don't normally play, but also seeing the way people run their games and getting new ideas. Whether it's a different system whose mechanics vary from your standard game, or house rules, the wheels start a-turning.

I spent most of the flight home thinking about different modules I might run and different house rules I might use at the table. I would start to get pretty elaborate, but kept coming back to the idea that You Can't Fix D&D (YCFDD).

Now, at first that seems to say don't house rule anything, don't tweak, add-on, or fiddle with the rules as written. I believe, though, there is a little more (and less) to that idea, though.

My current thought is: Don't try to "fix" the game, but there's nothing wrong with more FUN.

So here's the rule of thumb I'm applying to my current noodling. Go ahead and add to or take away from what's in the book(s), but do it because it makes things fun, not to try and make something "more realistic", or "balanced." That doesn't mean I may not customize some stuff like equipment lists or house rule some stuff, but I will make an effort to tread lightly in those areas. "Fun" does not = "Easy" in this case, but it should be something that make playing the game more interesting. If players are getting confused because they have to keep flipping between your HRs and how its done in the book after the first or second time the rule comes up, you've probably gotten it wrong.

Too often, house rules primarily weaken the PCs. Things like limited spell lists, classes, etc. Anything that makes it harder for a character to survive or succeed is probably bad. At the very least, the rules should apply equally to monsters. Some examples I've fiddled with and seen posted over the years include:

  • Forbidden core classes ("No clerics" etc.)
  • Limited spell casting/spell failures
  • Added skill lists/proficiencies

These sorts of things may add a certain amount of flavor, but they also can make it hard on the players to keep their PCs alive and/or succeed at their goals. Ask yourself, is it really more fun for the 1st level MU's player when his ONE spell for the day fizzles because he rolled a 1? Or when the 3hp PC's player comes up with a clever plan to avoid getting killed, but can't try it because "he doesn't have that skill"? 

I've been looking at a setting I made up a couple years ago (map and all) that was riddled with these kinds of house rules, and now I'm cringing. I suspect that if I want to run it, I should tear everything out but the map. I'm thinking it may be for the best. Even the setting fluff may need to be be subjected to Jeff Rient's Twenty Questions


I may even make this into a series of blog posts as I sift through it and try to come up with something I think is worth playing/running. It is iffy whether the result even get used, but I'm interested in seeing what I can do with it.

(You can just HEAR the "Unfollow" buttons being clicked!)


  1. Your observation that most house rules weaken PCs is really interesting, because in my games exactly the opposite is true. With the exception of the occasional forbidden race, all of my house rules actually benefit PCs. Some examples:

    - Jeff's d30 rule
    - Free additional attack if you down an enemy ("cleave" for all)
    - Firearms that work like crossbows
    - XP bonus for maintaining strict encumbrance
    - XP bonus for writing session reports

  2. I'm considering the d30 rule. It was quite fun at Garycon. The rules you are listing look pretty squarely in the "fun" camp, or at least giving a benefit for doing extra work.