Monday, August 11, 2008

Five of my house rules that 4e implemented

I have embraced the 4th edition Dungeons of Dragons rules. In case nobody has noticed, Pathfinder is still around for those that would like to continue in the 3.X/D20 direction, but for me, the 4th Edition is closer to what I've always wanted.

In particular I've been looking at the house rules that I've been using for Alia. And many of them are mirrored with this latest edition of the world's most popular fantasy role playing game.


One thing that has always annoyed me is the implementation of alignment and it's impact on the game.

Alignment has always been an oversimplification of morality and ethics. It's a simple on-paper justification for killing things and taking their stuff.

I've often tried to remove the alignment system from my D&D games but it is, in fact, quite ingrained into the D&D system. There are a rather large selection of spells, abilities and other rules that:
  • Detect alignment (Detect Evil)
  • Protect against alignments (Protection from Evil)
  • Have effects only on an alignment (Dispel Evil, Smite Evil)
  • Magic items with alignment effects: (holy, unholy, axiomatic and anarchic weapons)
  • Monsters that have damage resistance dependent on alignment ( /good /evil /lawful /chaotic)
With some work, the long, long tendrils of the alignment rules can be removed from D&D 3.X. You can see some of my efforts here.

4th edition has really downplayed the alignment rules. They are still present, (in a form that many find distasteful) but those tendrils are not nearly as present as those that were there before.

And that makes me happy. My only house rule so far in relation to alignment is: "Alignment doesn't exist." Don't choose one, and ignore Alignment where it comes up. So far I haven't come across any rules that are particularly tied to alignment.

Death and Damage

The death at -10 hit points rule has always worked well for very low levels. When a PC's total hit points are less than 20 and monsters are hitting for 1d8 damage, those 10 hit points between unconscious and dead are meaningful. At higher level, where PC's have more than a 100 hit points and monsters are hitting with multiple attacks of 2d12+17 those 10 hit points make little difference.

One of my first house rules was to define the point of death based on the total hp. Of course then I went on to construct complex wound recovery rules, that are thankfully not present in 4e.

Magic Item Creation

I've read a few rants about how overpowered the item creation feats were in 3.X, many elaborating on just how powerful a class like the Artificer could be given the time to juice up.

That style of power-gaming isn't really mine. It may be fun to think about and discuss on a forum, but in actual play
it ends up being boring and/or disruptive in my experience.

On the other side, the rules for making such items demand time, money, feat expenditure and experience. Given many cinematic style campaigns don't give players the time and/or access to a magical laboratory when the big bad is about to destroy the world, players are often reluctant to take the requisite feats in fear that they will never see a use.

I have always waived the XP cost item creation. And 4e has too.


I have always allowed for the re-visioning of characters through play. The addition of a new splat book, or a player becoming dissatified with the mechanics of a characters play, but not being dissatisfied with the character itself.

Many times I've had a character express dissatisfaction with their vision of a character, and ask me if they can role up a new one. My usual answer is to say, no need your character can have an *atomic accident* like in Champions, or even be ret-conned in.

For example Thor the human barbarian, has always seen himself as a nature warriorlike woodsman, and a few sessions into the game says he thinks he'd rather be a ranger. If Thor has all along been doing ranger-y things then it really has no impact on the story to re-make the character sheet, maybe switching out a breastplate for hide armor, and redistributing few skill ranks.

Now, the rules in D&D 4 aren't talking about swapping whole classes and rebuilding characters from the ground up as a different one, but they're laying the ground for a flexibility in the rules that allows for modifications of choices that maybe once made don't feel right.

Swap a feat or power when you level. That's a start. It's not like I'm expecting rules for redoing characters. There's a section on character creation. Do it again!

Ritual Magic

It's not like 4e was the first to introduce ritual magic rules, but I've always liked to separate the god-like power at hand magic wielded by Wizards and Clerics, from the idea of the long, complicated potentially multi-participant magic that ritual magic can be.

Skill based, cross-class trainable, slow casting, non-combat ritual magic doesn't have to be the sole domain of spell casting classes. Having "Commoners" perform some ritual magic certainly fits many game settings. And I like it.

4e's ritual magic feats and the ability for anyone to pick up the relevent class skills is certainly not game unbalancing and gives many characters access to useful abilities.

It's also an area that can easily accomodate campiagn specific flavour, and can serve as plot points or even campaign objectives in a campiagn.

Hmm. Maybe I should add some of that. Skulking peasants... ritual magic... maybe some infernal influence? We'll see.

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