Sunday, April 17, 2011

House Rules

I hate house rules.

Excuse me, I did not emphasize that enough. I HATE house rules. I detest them. I loathe them. Of all my pet peeves, "house rules" are the most irritating, spiteful things I can think of when it comes to gaming.

At least, this morning they are.

"But JB, isn't your blog full of 'house rules?' Don't you use various (and fluctuating) house rules in your games all the time? Isn't your B/X Companion kind of a compendium of house rules?" Hey, give me a chance to explain, okay?, JB...and NOT a "rules tinker" type by nature. I'm not. I don't buy new games off the shelf and immediately start tinkering with them to match "my style" of play. I don't say, "hey wouldn't this work better IF," nor even, "this would work better for ME, if..."

I am a gamer.

I prefer Rules As Written. I like to know what to expect. For me, a certain amount of "system mastery" in game play. When I read a game, I have certain expectations about how it is supposed to play based on the rules as designed. Sometimes I find it plays a bit differently in practice from the designers text (for example, Vampire) and that can be bad. Sometimes it plays BETTER than one might expect (for example, old school D&D) and that can be great. But I want to be able to sit down and play games out-of-the-box.

I don't like "fixing" things in a game.

Now that doesn't mean I don't enjoy "adding content." If B/X only goes to level 14 and promises certain "extras" at "higher levels" and then fails to deliver, then By God, I don't see anything wrong with adding a book to the mix to fill the void. My Companion rules doesn't change anything in the original B/X rules, save that it corrects a typo or two (the character's table, the dwarf/halfling saves, the addition of the 2nd level detect invisible spell). Where there are rules that would CHANGE game play (for example, variable weapon damage by class) they are presented as OPTIONAL rules. I'm not trying to "fix" B/X...I am adding to the existing body of work.

But this is why I'm not a huge fan of Labyrinth Lord. Now let me clarify THAT. I am a BIG fan of LL and Goblinoid, but I'm not a huge fan. I really appreciate what they've done to revitalize old school B/X play (which I prefer to OSRIC, S&W, HackMaster, etc.), I hawk their book to everyone who wants to get into the B/X game, I've purchased (not just downloaded) three or four copies...four; I just gave my brother a copy for Christmas...and I talk it up to folks at the game shop.

But I don't like the changes to the game. I mean, I'm pretty sure I understand the reasons for the changes: a combo of copyright considerations and later adaptation of AD&D rules to B/X style play. But I don't like it. I don't like the expanded equipment list. I don't like the AD&D combat charts and AD&D spell lists and (God knows) I absolutely HATE clerics having a spell a 1st level (even Mentzer's BECMI stayed true to B/X and OD&D on that issue...clerics have enough handed to 'em for goodness sake! Make 'em work for something!).

To me, Labyrinth Lord feels like B/X with someone's house rules added. And it is so damn frustrating to me, because I LOVE Labyrinth Lord. I'm flipping through it now while I'm writing this (I own the "purple cover" edition) and I just dig it so really is a great book. Nice clean lay-out, beautiful easy-to-read fonts, everything in one place instead of spaced over two (or three) books.

And is it really such a big deal that magic-users get 7th level spells at level 13? I mean, that's actually kind of cool, right? Though I immensely prefer MY 7th level spell list to LL's...(*sigh*).

ANYway...I am really, REALLY going to make a concerted effort to cut down on the amount of house-ruling, aka "variation ruling" that goes on in my games. I LIKE consistency as much as anyone, really. If the damn B/X books weren't out of print, I'd be going by them exclusively.

But maybe I DO need to change things up to Labyrinth Lord.

+++++EDIT: I should have noted the thing which made me post this little rant in the first place. Namely, I came to the conclusion (this morning) that it's nearly impossible to play ANY version of D&D without some "house rules;" even B/X. My frustration (because I DO prefer Rules As Written) is what got me thinking about this stuff in the first place.

As an additional side note, I do feel much less "ranty" now than I did this morning.
: ) +++++


  1. For the most part I agree with you. I can't stand little rules that make the game "play better."

    I do however, very much enjoy settings that modify the rules to make them work for that particular setting. Carcosa for instance, changes the available classes and monsters that are regularly use.

  2. I agree, overall, but like you say, everyone uses house rules to some extent. I see people complaining about products like Labyrinth Lord for including some of the author's house rules, such as spells at 1st level for clerics, but I've seen that done in a lot of B/X and BECM campaigns over the years and it makes no sense to complain that LL did it.

    I don't mind house rules if they make sense, if they don't change the basic nature of the game, and if the DM or group presents them right up front when I join the game or when the campaign starts. Having a variation sprung on me mid-campaign would be bothersome.

  3. House Rules is a misnomer. Any cherent set of rules you are made aware of ahead of time is just another game. Give it another name if you must, like LL. So LL can most easily be described as 90% D&D. It's really it's own game. Take it on it's own merits and don't get hung up with some by the book litmus test.

    LL is just one of the better presentations that you can get bound and such. However your local friendly DM's house rules are deserving of no less respect than LL if they are coherent and disclosed to you in a timely manner.

  4. I don't think I've ever played in a game that was 100% Rules As Written... are you really opposed to any liberties taken? What about the DM making rules on the fly to cover something not specified in the rules?

  5. @ Ryan:

    No, not at all. I think GMs or DMs or "referees" are allowed to make "rulings" on games. I'm talking about CHANGING saying "clerics get a spell at 1st level because I don't like making them wait till 2nd level to Cure Light Wounds."

    That's what I meant by "house rules." If the game doesn't have rules for grappling, does it mean a character can't restrain someone without killing 'em? No, it means you need to come up with new rules. I suppose that's still a form of "house rule" by definition (unless you're creating an official game publication you're just inventing "rules" for your "house") but that's not what I was talking about.

  6. I'm probably your polar opposite when it comes to D&D then. There have just been too many editions and variations, and there are things I dislike about every one, even in the "good" editions. It just makes too much sense to hand-pick the good bits and toss the bad.

    That said, with any other game we'd probably be in agreement. ("this Call of Cthulhu game is okay, but what the characters really need are Feats and Daily Powers!") It's just that the idea of any sort of "purity" to D&D went out the window from the very beginning. Not even Gary played by the book.

    If you do genuinely agree with every single rule in B/X though, then sure...stick to your guns. And maybe I'm just a reactionary, from having to play with too many AD&D purists who were always so quick to point out what you COULDN'T do.

  7. Periodically I stop by here and read ideas that are so imaginative and flexible and just down right cool that I forget this is an old school blog based on the B/X system. I mean, you did a post on negotiation for crying out loud. I couldn't believe it. So awesome to see on an OSR oriented blog.

    Just when I think you and I are on similar wavelengths, I'll read about your love of killing off characters or something like this. I make no accusations of good or bad. No such thing as relates to personal taste. I am not saying you are any less awesome or creative but where I once thought I followed your thinking, now I'm not sure. A post like this
    leaves me confused.

    IMHO, it's all house rules. I'm still not entirely certain why and how we have several different OSR products that are essentially the exact same game with each person's house rules thrown in. Some people like Labyrinth Lord over Sword & Wizardy, for some it's the other way around and others go for - Stop. These are all D&D. All basically the same system. Some guys like the Thief, some leave them out. Sometimes an 18 Dex gives you +2 but that fellow over there prefers +3. No big difference. Not really. These are house rules that prior to the OSR you could find at any given table across the USA and the world.

    In a lot of ways I'm in league with the Iron Goat on this one (I think I have that album..."In League With The Iron Goat"). All I've ever seen or experienced in regards to 'Rules As Written' is giving DMs an excuse to kill creative thinking and tell you what won't work. I gave up playing the old school versions of D&D way back when they were new school because of it. It was always about what you can't do.

    My personal motto is, "If someone was willing to spend the time and effort to make a game, I'm willing to spend the time and effort altering it."

  8. @ IG: thanks for the vote of confidence, man...I hope that I'm not too mean a stickler about what characters can and can't do...please push the boundaries whenever the mood strikes you! I promise to consider player feedback (I'm already considering how we can fix the table arrangement at the Baranof!).

    @ Barking: Yes, the point of my post (which I admit was probably not very clear) was this: I am not someone that likes to tinker. I like to learn a (good for my tastes) system and stick with it. It is annoying (to me) that there needs to be house rules at all...but as has been aptly pointed out, it's pretty tough to play most (all?) editions of D&D withOUT house rules.

    I appreciate the compliment, by the way...I don't think the OSR needs to be devoid of creativity just because we're playing an ancient game system...I feel it's a mistake to be too crusty of a grognard with regard to the game system. However, the reason I'M playing B/X isn't's because I've deconstructed it (and other editions) and find it to be fantastic and full of "hidden gems" not yet mined. It's a great system, entirely adaptable to several different styles. MY style could be called "whimsical sadism," I suppose.
    ; )