Building a Set of D&D House Rules

I have very fond memories of D&D 2E combats:

* Firing into melee
* Declare actions, roll initiative, then resolve; Repeat each round
* Spell casting disruption
* House ruled exploding criticals
* System shock
* Limited healing

Combat in 2E was chaotic and dangerous – not Rolemaster dangerous – but more so than later incarnations. And 4E was an unmitigated slog fest of predictability.

This is one reason I love the Burning Wheel combat system; Shit goes sour fast. And diving into Fight! or Range & Cover is something to carefully consider. But Burning Wheel is not in the running for the game I’d run.

So as I prepare for my next campaign short-lived multi-session game, I’m looking towards the 2E rules for inspiration and how they would map to a 5E game. I am also looking around for other things I want to add to the game.

Burning Wheel’s spell mishap is crazy awesome; My character summoned imps on a few occassions. We would kill the imp and extract the essence to make baked goods that never went stale.

I like the idea that spells are predictable if you cast them “by the book”; But you want to remove or reduce a somatic or verbal component, you need a casting check. If you cast a spell while an enemy is threatening you, you are tempting fate.

I’m also balancing the idea of Torchbearer‘s resource management, Brandon S’s Hazard System, and 1E DMG advice; “YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT” (1E DMG page 37). Jeff Rient’s Timeliness is next to Godliness has an insightful perspective on this topic.

All of this is to say, I am after a game in which combat is a viable option. However, its unpredictability encourages players to find alternate solutions. What I am after is hinted at in Torchbearer:

If you think the players have come up with a good idea—a smart use of their gear, spells or even bodies—then there is no need to roll the dice for test, no need to spend a check and it doesn’t cost a turn.

In other words. Make time important. Make conflicts cost more time. Make the cost salient. All of which is there to encourage players to solve problems without resorting to combat and to a lesser extent direct conflict.

And there-in lies the game design. What about the game do I want to make important. And shape the subsystems to hammer on what is import.

But as with any system, if you change something, pay attention to the ripple effect. For example, since I’m discouraging direct conflict, I’ll need to review the expectations of combat; And one of those is encounter XP.


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