Sunday, January 17, 2010

Confessions of a NON-"House Ruler"

Just catching up on the blogs and Brunomac's post over at "the Temple" caught my eye. Yeah, it's three in the morning but for whatever reason I'm still awake (the beagles are sleeping on the couch next to me and the rest of the fam have all been tucked in), so I figure I'll jot a short-medium post on the subject while I'm in a "rememberin' mood."

[note to self: am I just on an adrenaline high after three straight crushing defeats in "Magic the Gathering" on top of back-to-back skin-o-the-teeth victories in Apples? Maybe. Who's been an exciting and fun-filled day on a lot of fronts]

So anyway, to the point: I was never a "house ruler."

Not that anyone will or should care, but I AM writing this blog as my own "testament" of role-playing history. You can chalk it up to laziness or young, naive idealism, but I never house-ruled ANYTHING when I played AD&D 'back in the day.'

Oh, well maybe I house-ruled a couple things...I did get my original start in B/X play and the "all miscellaneous gear weighs 80 cns" was too easy NOT to carry over to AD&D. But even so, I recall spending long hours (at one point) trying to figure how much encumbrance a character was carrying. In the end, I reverted to B/X simply because of its expedience.

However, everything else was straight from the PHB and DMG (as modified by Unearthed Arcana later on). Initiative and combat especially...with weapon "speed factors" and adjustments versus different armor types, the 1 in 6 chance of hitting helmets, and especially the rules for "two weapon combat" in the DMG (many PCs were fond of two-fisting long before 2nd edition gave us ambidextrous rangers)...system shock and negative hit points, aging, disease, intoxication...all that craziness was used in our games.

I've said before that I personally played fast and loose with time and encumbrance...the minutia of record keeping and resource management. But in RULES...especially casting times (and material components!) and rounds and segments I was a stickler. This was the REAL meta-game/gamist management of our combat worked. And if we never used miniatures and were easy with ranges and distances ("oh, he's at long range right now") at least I can say most of our combat took place strictly at melee range unless spell-casters/ranged weapons were deliberately "hanging back" while other fighters were up "front and center" keeping the enemy occupied.

But even so, no house rules. If we failed to randomly check starting distances (or keep track of turns such that wandering monsters were rolled for, besides "when it was interesting"), the failing was on ME, the individual DM. We ALWAYS tried to stick to the rules as written...the main reason being that Gygax's words were out Gospel, but an even MORE important reason being CONSISTENCY between DMs and campaigns.

I mean, we had a single game world (a "milieu," I believe it's called), but multiple DMs that would rotate in duty...and while all DMs had slightly different styles, we followed the rules as written consistently, sans alteration. All the players stayed the same from session to session (a PC in one DM's game became an NPC when that player took a turn as DM) and we all wanted to make sure we played by the rules. For us, it worked.

And it worked well, too. Certainly we added things from Dragon magazine, or some of our own little additions (there is no universal "trap/trick manual" unlike the Monster Manual, so DMs are forced to come up with creative obstacles. Hell we even created a slew of random tables for determining random taverns (along with the fare, drink, and vices offered for sale). But additions aren't "alterations." What was written was carved in stone as far as we were concerned.

Intellectually, I understand that a lot of people like to house rule D&D. Even Pat, a huge and traditional B/X fan, adds extra rules to increase survivability in his game (shield saves and bandaging of wounds for example). However, while I can get along with one player/DM's house rules, it doesn't make me feel strictly comfortable. I guess I'm too much of a "purist."

Or maybe I'm just stubborn and a rules lawyer and house rules don't allow me the leeway to do what I want to do. But, boy-o-boy, I HOPE I'm not that much of a spoiled brat!

I've always felt game designers write their rules a specific way for a reason...if they'd meant the game to play a different way, they would have written the rules differently. Me corrupting the game to my liking does them a disservice.

On the other hand, isn't refusing to follow the change of editions kind of a way of "house ruling?" If I say, I'm going to play D&D, just not 4th edition, am I really playing D&D the way the owners of the Intellectual Property owners prefer to have me play? Not really...I'm simply inserting a lot of earlier edition rules in place of the latest edition, in effect "house ruling."

Unless I consider B/X its own game, distinct from BECMI (which, admittedly, I kind of do...), all I'm doing is altering certain rules in a fashion that will only be acknowledged around my gaming table, under my roof. And everyone is admitted to doing that to a greater or lesser degree.

It irks me a bit...but oh, well.

Okay, it's 3:41 in the morning and my eyes are finally starting to close, so I'm heading for bed. More later I'm sure (though perhaps not till after Sunday's game). Hasta manana, folks!

: )


  1. Me corrupting the game to my liking does them a disservice.

    Don't nearly all of the old books encourage you to make the game your own? Even Gygax, by many accounts, didn't play AD&D "by the book." One could argue that house-ruling and customization are part of the game and not a corruption. (Of course, I like corrupting things...)

    Personally, I love house rules, particularly reading the house rules set down by others. One of the things that appeals to me about this corner of the internet is to see all the different things people are doing with D&D.

  2. I must confess that I like you started at a very young age, with d&d (BECMI variety)so going against any written rules would have been seen as strange. However when it came to ad&d some of the rules on combat sequence and weaponless combat seemed just too complex (same with encumberance). Now that I think about it though we played fast and lose with rounds and turns. Oh God now that I'm writing this the very first characters we made we just gave 18's for everything..I can't believe I blocked that out of my memory (that ones embarrassing and I have no good justification for doing that).

  3. Sometimes I do indeed add a few houserules. Sometimes I don't. My main criteria for adding a houserule are really twofold:

    1. will it add to the enjoyment of this particular group of players? For example, playing using skype I typically do include a couple of houserules to increase early survivability of characters because no one wants to step out of the skype game to make a new character, email it to the DM, etc. We also adopted many of these houserules for my Northern Marches campaign due to players unfamiliar with old school gaming styles and the resulting fatality rates impacting their enjoyment of the game.

    2. Does it add or subtract from Resource Management? I like houserules to add to resource management. I think that decisions such as when to sacrifice your shield, who should get bandaged or how much gp should be spent carousing add a new decision to the game. I am not a fan of houserules that eliminate resource management decisions.

    I love straight B/X - best D&D ruleset ever. My preferred ruleset would be B/X straight up with mini-game additions such as Rient's carousing, Blair's urban chases, or Zak's urbancrawl rules added to it.

    And it is very distinct from BECMI.

  4. Can I ask how is it distinct from BECMI; are the rules very different, or is it something less tangible. I started with the BECMI rules, and just recently acquired a pdf of the BX rules. I'd like to know the difference for when I start a game soon.

    Word verification: I swear to god came up as prick....I don't know what to make of that?

  5. If you are comparing all of BECMI to B/X it is quite different. If you are comparing BE to B/X they are quite similar from a mechanical standpoint but I find them very different in terms of tone and presentation.

    Of course those criteria are quite subjective so many may disagree with me. Of course, they would still be wrong ;)

  6. @ Ryan: absolutely...if we (my friends and I) did NOT house rule, call it as much our insecurity regarding our own ability TO house rule as anything else. But there are SO MANY house ruling old schoolers out there...I just wanted to express myself as a non-house ruling gamer of the old school. Sometimes I feel like an endangered species (like an actual born-and-raised Seattleite living in Seattle).

    @ Pat: again, absolutely. Sorry for taking your name in vain earlier. Personally I don't think things NEED to be changed that much (if at all) to make the game more enjoyable...for whatever reason, I find it tweaked perfectly to my personal "RPG enjoyment" level. Though for me there is more to enjoy in the aspects OUTSIDE resource management than within. Again, that's just me.

    @ Regamer: what Pat said. Mentzer's Basic and Expert are very much the same as B/X (simply a different lay-out with some great Elmore art, especially in the Expert book). It's the "CMI" part that emphasizes the change in tone and (IMO) nails down and corrals possibilities rather than opens 'em up.

    What the heck am I talking about? Well, B/X is essentially the original three volume OD&D rules, but stream-lined and codified a bit (up to level 14). OD&D was pretty much open-ended with what you do with begs for house ruling adaptation and people to "make the game their own." The CMI shuts all that down, defining the finite limits of the game, up to and including seeking immortality and the interaction of gods and the mundane world. By defining the absolute limits of possibility you shut down what is possible. BECMI (or the RC and WotI) stunts imagination and creativity even moreso than D20, in my opinion. But BECMI is NOT a "bad game." For me, it simply fails to deliver on the potential of OD&D/B/X.