271 and 272 - House Rules Part 1 and 2

House or home rules. What games do you implement your house rules? Do they make the game system better. Are there times that a house rule works across different role-playing games? Thanks to Peter Isaacs for the suggestion.

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My preference is to avoid house rules whenever possible. This has the unfortunate side effect of making it very difficult to find a system that works the way I want without house rules. Now, if it just comes down to ignoring a particular rule because it doesn’t provide sufficient benefit for the added complexity, that’s no big deal. But if it comes to actually changing or adding rules, I tend to start looking for another system. I don’t want to have to generate a handout of house rules.

As an extreme example, a new player joined our group some years back. After a few months, he wanted to run, so I took a break from GMing. The first session he handed us his house rules for the system, and it was about three pages. Annoying, but okay. Every session after that, he handed us his updated house rules. By the time we’d had enough it was up to about 8 pages. Some of these changes caused us to go back and re-work our characters to fit his new rules. That was the worse I’ve ever seen. We quietly left his group shortly thereafter as some of his old group had re-joined and it wouldn’t kill his game. (Which we were willing to do at that point, but it was good it didn’t come to that.)


Much of the topic, to me, seems dependent on context. For most of the newest games, I would agree with Sean: play that game; otherwise, what are you playing? But there is another discourse that is predominately composed of house rules. This is the OSR, a gaming arena that is expanding outside of its first and most prominent interest in the Original Game to comprise such old school systems as Rolemaster, Champions, Star Wars d6, Runequest, Warhammer—they all are returning, many as modified retroclones, some with different titles, packages and innovations. Sean sounded somewhat disparaging when he said that such games as DCC are house ruled versions of D&D that, in turn, are house ruled again, becoming yet newer games. I’d like to hear more about what he thinks about this. Some might say—and this accords with Brett’s cooking metaphor—that no table of D&D ever precisely has played the exact same game.

It seems to me that all the systems under the umbrella of the Original Game and others are voices in an ongoing conversation about “this is how we play.” Those purchasing such games are hearing more and more of the discussion, and they are being encouraged to borrow or modify anything they happen to like. What’s the ultimate aim? It’s to most effectively cultivate a particular experience at the table or online, whether this method of play is designed by the Referee or by the common will of the game group. All these systems are tools for emulating specific fictions, in whatever manner seems to be the most elegant and effective, within the game. With this aim, whether or not a group is playing a certain game as “intended” becomes secondary. Does that sound accurate? I might be suggesting that the most satisfying games—remembering that the goal of a particular game is a certain experience—are kluges of an entire rpg library.


I’m confused - where do official “optional” rules fall in this false dichotomy? :slight_smile:

I really have a problem with any statement like “If you feel you have to change any of the rules, you should look for another system.” I find that, on the face of it, absolutist, absurd, and insulting.

For D&D 5e there are common reinterpretation of RAW that are “house rules” at more tables than not, such as “Inspiration”: RAW say to use it BEFORE a roll for advantage. Many of us allow it to be used as just-in-time Advantage AFTER seeing a role. That shouldn’t prompt a “well, you’re playing the wrong game then” response.

Let’s stop telling people they are playing it wrong without even taking the time to play with the people we’re judging.


Well, I think the answer here is obvious.

Brett is right. Sorry Sean.

Anyway, my opinion. I like house rules as tweaks, not as “lets reinvent the wheel”. Some of mine are super important, like " Knotting a rope (for climbing) reduces the length by 20%." Prevents it from being an argument (again) later.

My method-
Disagreement occurs. We discuss a minute or two. I make a ruling. After the game, we there’s an email to discuss it so we don’t have to screw with it at the table. Decisions are made. There is a document. It’s currently 1 page, front and back, triple spaced. Mostly just clarifying spaces left in the rules, not changing them. To Sean’s point, if you have to actually change the rules, maybe it’s not the right game for the group.

OK, maybe you’re both right… maybe… it depends.



Seriously, if anyone has played pool, I can say that pool in a bar looks nothing like the actual RAW. There are no rules for where you have to put the the cue ball after a scratch, etc.


I’m assuming comments on 272 (a continuation of 271, including discussion of comments here…) could go here as well.

Thanks for the detailed response to my post in the latest podcast. I’m glad my comments were taken in the spirit intended!

I did want respond to @sean’s Baseball analogy. It was both an unintended good example and an as-intended bad example at the same time! :slight_smile:

Baseball (Ball, Bat, Bases, Pitcher, Fielders, Batter and Catcher) is played LOTS of different ways Just Like D&D (or any other RPG) - “Sand-lot”, “Tee-Ball”, “Wiffle-Ball”, “Kickball”, “Softball”, “Hardball”, etc.

That’s even before we consider variants based on ages and handicaps (something Brett mentioned using Football instead…)

Also - there can be variants on a PER GAME or LOT basis. Sound familiar?

So much for “Rules as Written!” Which rules? As long as we all agree, Play Ball!

Pro American Baseball has LEAGUE rules - it is the basis for determining legal play.
I think the closest RPGs have, is Adventure’s LEAGUE rules. There have been 9 editions of those! To make the game more accessible to new/casual players, they’ve been increasingly abandoning D&D 5E RAW (as in the PHB/DMG!) No more rolling stats or HP, no XP, no found GP or magic items, and there are severe limits gaining magic items and Consumables use! Look how many rules HAD TO CHANGE to get D&D to modern league play. There are many who say they don’t recognize AL as D&D at all. [It is D&D - it just not fully interchangeable D&D - and not to some folks tastes. Which is fine.]

But wait, there’s more! Even the Rules of League Sports drastically change over time. If you don’t know the story of Basketball’s 3-point Rule, you should really study up on it. All game rules are subject to min-maxing, and no rule set is beyond tweaking!

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Yes, @OldSchoolDM, good idea to keep it all here. It appears you know your sportsball. :slight_smile:

In the end, this is my official stance on home rules. It’s a balance. If you enjoy house rules, everyone else that is playing your game is having fun and respects them, then rule away. I also ope that if you’re modifying a game too much (relatively speaking of course), that you might open your mind to consider other games. I mean modifying a game so much that it changes the overall game in order to not switch would leave me scratching my head. It’s not a big deal, but to rule it out seems a bit short-sighted.



2 parts of feedback.

  1. I don’t disagree, that your players should be subjected to games they don’t want to play. But I also don’t think GMs should be forced to run a game they aren’t interested in. This is where I remember deviating from, and eventually just setting down the fabled “Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastery”. It’s been a long time ago, but the impression I remember getting was that you should find out the game all your players want, and run that. Well, if I don’t want to run it, I think my lack of enthusiasm is going to be pretty transparent. If the whole table wants to run a game you have no interest in, sounds like it’s a good time to step back, relax, and let someone else step up.

  2. This may have just been my sound set up, and if it’s not, please don’t take this too critically, but i think I was hearing quite a bit of an echo in 272.



I haven’t read Laws’ treatise, but is the GM not also considered a player? That’s the way I’ve always looked at it… so the ‘game everyone wants to play’ includes the game master.

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I have a number of house rules in my classic Traveller game, simply because the original game didn’t really address some things. Example: Not great stuff, if any, for vehicle combat. I have house-ruled the skill advancement just bit, because 4 years of game time is just too long. I cut it in half. My goal was to not blow up the original game, but make it work just a bit faster. It seems like newer games are more complete and might require less tweaking.


Harrigan- maybe. Again, I read it at least 10 years ago, my memory of it might be COMPLETELY off base. Just working from memory.

LordBob- I agree with the idea, I feel that newer games are more complete. I’m a huge fan of OSR concepts, but I personally feel that many retro clones are better games than the games they are based on. Again, just my opinion.


@LaramieWall I totally agree with your comment about the OSR. I think someone said it last episode: this notion that there is some game out there that does everything that a GM wants… must be some sort of fallacy? And if there is, so what? What’s wrong with making one’s own game, choosing and synthesizing the best parts of all games? I’m detecting a buried assumption that people should be playing some game that has been produced, not just playing. I like the guys’ sports metaphor for house rules, and I’ll extend it: we have a couple old and battered bats out of Sarah’s garage, Tim’s older brother’s catchers mitt, and we’re designating that tree, that garbage can, and that chain link fence as first, second, third. All disparate elements, maybe an analogy for the OSR, except that I agree with Laramie that many articulations and innovations for the Original Game are “better.”


I never had an issue with a few tweaks to the rules when needed, as long as it dosen’t go overboard. When my home group decided to move to 5E from 3.5 I held firm on RAW until we all became familiar with the rules. Then any rule change we would take out for a spin for a few sessions to see what the overall effect was. We have been at it for over a year and I have only let a few changes become standard.
Out of 9 players I have 3 rules lawyers so RAW really helps me keep peace at the table at times.


There is an audiobook of Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering available now. I picked up a bunch of GM advice audiobooks over the holidays. I hadn’t read the book previously, but had seen people refer to it for years.

I think there was a lessened impact for me listening to the audiobook because I have heard so many people cite the book now that anything that could have potentially felt new and revolutionary has been said in a lot of places by now (in part, I’ve read bits and pieces of this from Robin specifically when he contributed to other GM books for other games).

Not a bad listen, but I honestly think books like Never Unprepared, with the more structured and actionable discussion on a topic, are more useful to me now.

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My group house rules every experience system. Years ago, we wanted to run 20 level D&D characters and we realized playing weekly it just wasn’t going to happen. It had never happened, so we changed how we dished experience. Now, we play twice a month and it is even more imperative that we ignore the rules.

On top of that experience systems tend to not be fun. They are more of a differed gratification sort of thing, which too some extent is good. But, everyone likes to see there characters change and grow.

One of the few exceptions to, “experience rules are not fun” I find is Dungeon Worlds. Getting xp for missing is brilliant! We all had those nights when the dice are not your friends, but in Dungeon World, so long as you survive, it can be a good thing.