Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dead Orcs Society - House Rules Edition

Greetings, All!

It's been awhile since I've done any blogging, as I've been working on a pretty big project that was finally completed. In a few days, I'll be posting pics and information on my Myst Island campaign for 4th Edition. However, in the meantime, there's something else I'd like to talk about.

There's been a lot of talk on Twitter (my main hangout) as of late regarding the various conceits of Dungeons & Dragons and particularly 4th Edition. Monte Cook's various Legends & Lore articles never fail to encourage in-depth (and often unnecessarily heated) discussion on how the game of Dungeons & Dragons is really to be played.

As a Dungeon Master, I love 4th Edition. It's balanced play, ease of encounter construction, and flexible presentation make it the easiest game I've ever had the privilege to DM. It's because of this flexibility, that I feel comfortable modifying certain rules to help our own game group better enjoy the game. No game is perfect, but 4th Edition allows me to change things up and improve our group's experience without having to invest in yet another game that tries to fix those gaps.

Listed below are most of the house rules I've either implemented or intend to implement. I've avoided listing the ones that are "campaign specific". Thus, these rules are applicable to whatever 4e game I'm running and are listed in no particular order:

1 - Extremely Curtailed Perception Checks.

I discussed why I did this HERE, but the short version is that I wanted more Player participation instead of Character resolution. What I mean by that is that if there is a puzzle or mystery or search, I want my Players to be able to set the course of action, not the character. I now reserve Perception checks only for combat situations involving invisibility.

2 - Minions Have 1 Hit Point Per Level.

It's always bugged me that even a 23rd level Minion has only 1 hit point. I understand that there are reasons for this rules conceit, but I changed it anyway. Minions have 1 hit point per level. Powers that are keyed to taking out Minions are modified to scale up. Missed attacks still do not harm Minions. 

3 - Death Is Not The End.

While my own players haven't had their characters experience this yet, they will find that Death is not necessarily the end. Heroes have the option to continue play as a Ghost, with limited abilities. Since Rituals exist to bring back life to a Hero, the Ghost option (based on the Ghostwalk Campaign Setting) allows the Player to continue to participate.

4 - Curtailed Opportunity Attacks.

The only opportunity attacks that occur is when a character attempts to use a ranged or magical attack against an adjacent enemy. Those adjacent enemies get opportunity attacks. This rule applies to monsters as well.

5 - XP Is Not Handed Out.

While I base my encounters on the party level (so they are balanced), I do not hand out XP for said encounters. Instead, I level up the party when I feel it is appropriate. This process saves the Players some math, and I don't have to worry about keeping track of every little bit of XP.

6 - DM Controlled Magic Item Distribution.

I do not allow my players to really "shop" for appropriate magic items (although I have made exceptions for characters joining the campaign "mid stream"). Instead, I monitor what types of items the characters say they'd like, and if appropriate place them in the campaign as needed. Under most circumstances, the items will be random. In larger towns, there may be magic "shoppes", but these places will only carry Common magic items, alchemical reagents, and the occasional ritual.

7 - Action Point Usage (Daily Powers).

If a Player would like to insure that a Daily Power hits, he or she may expend an Action Point in order for that to happen. Because the hit is automatic, it prevents the hit from ever being critical in nature. An Action Point can only be used in this way once per encounter.

8 - Encounter Power Fallback.

If a Player misses his or her enemy with an Encounter Attack Power, the Player has the option to expend a Healing Surge and instead strike the enemy with a Melee or Ranged Basic Attack. This attack must be rolled, but the Character gains a +2 on the attack roll.

9 - Rare Magic Item Challenges.

Characters do not get to automatically determine the powers/effects of a Rare Magic Item. Instead, I have them do a brief skill challenge. You can read about how that works HERE.

10 - Extended Rests Are More Challenging.

Extended Rests are a little more challenging in my game. Not every resting spot is a nice comfy inn or safe castle. I wrote all about how I changed it up right HERE.

That's basically the list. It's not very long, but it's enough to fill in the gaps where the game (for our group) can become "un-fun".  I want to hear about the rules your game groups have created to either fill in a gap or improve play. Leave a comment and let me know!

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.


  1. I love these, and I usually dislike articles about house rules! Excellent stuff. I worry about #8 a bit, due to Essentials, but I would guess it actually works pretty well in play.

    I'll share a favorite of mine: Dominate means that on the controller's turn (the creature that mad the domination) it has you perform the standard action. This includes the round when it dominated. On the dominated creature's turn the dominated creature is dazed but otherwise gets to do what it wants. This prevents players losing a turn, still has punch, and reflects how you are fighting to regain control of your dominated mind.

  2. @Alphastream - Yeah, now that you mention that, it would have a different impact on Essentials characters. Something to consider if implemented in those types of campaigns.

    I haven't given much thought to Dominate. I don't have issues with the status effects much, but our group is still in the Heroic phase, and we haven't seen a lot of those effects. My understand is that Dominate can be problematic, and I like your solution. It allows the player to continue to participate. I would probably add a healing surge penalty as well, representing the difficulty of shaking off the effect.

    Thanks for stopping by and for the comments!

  3. Anonymous10:54 PM

    I really like almost all of these the Minion one is excelent though. Thanks! Can't wait to see the MYST build.

  4. @Anonymous Hey, thanks for stopping by. I think these rules help our game be more playable, but of course, won't necessarily be for everyone. Glad you liked them!

    Next time, though - be brave! Identify yourself so we can all know who is bringing the awesome!

  5. Steve1:52 PM

    There are some interesting ideas here. I think it would be worth running a one shot delve for my group to see how they like these.

    As for our own house rules, we only have one that has stuck. We now start each adventure day with two Action points instead of one and have set no restriction on the number that can be used per encounter. At a milestone, or an extended rest, AP reset to two with all 'saved' AP vanishing.

    We did this for two reasons, and found a pleasant third benefit by surprise.

    First, it was an attempt to encourage greater resource use. Even after multiple levels of play, and a considerable amount of real time playing their characters, I found the group often defaulting to At-Will powers. This was the result of a combination of analysis paralysis and fear of 'losing' a power if it didn't hit. No one wants to end their turn with a failure and have their toy taken away at the same time. This hoarding extended to AP, and I think it was one more resource the players had to make a decision about with accompanying fear of loss.

    The second goal was to speed up combat. In a simple three room delve, every player has the potential to add an extra action each encounter and then go nova in the third 'boss' room.

    The unintended consequence was that it contributed to healing. The party has an Inspiring Warlord so every time a player spends an AP, they recieve a smal amount of HP as well. This takes the load off that player to heal and allows him to do different things. Also, that same player can still use a standard action to grant first aid, and use an AP to then get in an attack in the same turn.

    How did this houserule turn out? Well, actually. Giving more AP to the group made them realize how useful a resource it is. Speed has increased. More importantly in my mind is that the players now flex their muscle a bit more. Knowing that they have a couple 'do overs' in any given fight has taken away the sting of missing with a cool power and as such I feel they have all become a little freer with their power usage.

    And of course, solo fights go much faster now :)

    The funny thing about this is that everything I describe was already possible with one AP. If a player couldn't decide between two powers before, they did have the ability to use an AP and use both.Same goes for the warlord stuck between making an attack or granting a save/surge with a heal check. In the end, I think making AP more common was really just a cheap psychological trick I played on my players. The fact they are easier to come by reduces the fear of expending them, and all the player's other powers by extension.

    The overall speed increase for combat was nice too. Even if it only cuts one or two rounds off of an encounter, that is a big time gain that can give more time for roleplay or just help wrap the game up on schedule.

    Thanks for the interesting window into your own game. Sorry about the long response.

  6. @Steve - No worries on the long response. Your extra action point solution seems to have worked out well for your group. In my case, my group isn't shy about using resources, and they instead tend to "game" me by figuring out when the boss (or an important solo) is coming up, saving their action points for those fights.

    Great idea for the right group! Thanks for stopping by & commenting!

  7. Great stuff. I particularly like number 7, though I might implement granting a reroll or making daily powers 'reliable' when spending an AP instead of an auto-hit. Missing on a daily is always disheartening, and extra options for APs are always welcome. I find that my players hoard APs and daily powers, whether it's because they forget they have them, or because like Steve said, they fear 'losing' a power and one of their toys. I've been playing around with using healing surges in a similar manner.. to add a bonus to the attack roll with dailies and encounters, or something along those lines. 

    I'd love to implement number 4 as well, though I fear my players would be up-in-arms over missing out on attacks. I've seen it mentioned in several sources that a static battle is boring, and DMs should encourage movement with terrain effects, etc. to keep combat exciting. The threat of opportunity attacks, though, often keeps everyone locked in place. I move my monsters around freely to give my players more opportunity to roll dice, but I don't know how many times one of my players has gone to move, and I said something like, "Okay. The monster's gonna take an opportunity attack," and the player quickly changes his mind. I might have to try your house rule next game anyway, despite the grumbling I'm sure to receive from my players. 

    Anywho.. keep up the good work. I'm glad you found the time to grace us with a post. 

  8. @Paul Cloud - Sorry about my delayed response, it's been a busy vacation so far! Glad you enjoyed the post. While I realize that all of these house rules won't be appropriate for every gaming group, I'm glad you've found some of them useful. Let me know if your implementation of some of these works for your group. I'd love to hear about it!

  9. So I decided to do the same thing about Opportunity Actions but then my players got mad who had feats and powers that directly related to that mechanic.

  10. @Frank "Darth Jerod" Foulis - Yep, this might have been mentioned elsewhere in the comments above. Issues will arise for players with those powers. Not sure I have a good answer for that. You could house rule a substitute effect, or perhaps allow the player to choose a different power. It's a flaw in the idea that you'd have to work around. My suggestion is to simply go with what the majority of the players thinks is acceptable. Thank you for your comments!