Building on my previous post for “Adding More Mortar to the Three Pillars”, I’m in the process of compiling my preferred house rules for my “Dungeons and Dragons” game. I’ve spent years playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Second Edition (AD&D 2E 📖), Dungeons and Dragons: Third Edition (3E 📖), Dungeons and Dragons: Fourth Edition (4E 📖), and Dungeons and Dragons: Fifth Edition (5E 📖).
The Current Incarnation
I’ve played a few games of 5E, and find it an improvement over 4E and 3.x. However it does not sit well with me. My concerns are:
- Stat bonuses are too large
- Massive per round combat efficacy
- Saving throw system that leaves you very vulnerable at higher levels
- Good combat procedures, but lacking in other procedures
- Resource management in relation to time is arbitrary
- Lack of non-combat procedures
These concerns are evident in 3E and 4E as well.
Rudimentary System Checklist
I’m taking these “grievances” and attempting to find and compose my preferred system.
- Random ability scores
- Smaller distribution of attribute bonuses (-2 to +2 or even -1 to +1)
- Procedures for exploration, encounters, and combat
- Improving saving throws
- Acknowledging that balance is a questing beast; The game is a group effort
- Combat is dangerous and lethal
- Hirelings and retainers are a natural part of the game ecosystem
- Reward risk taking
- Not everything is a fight to the death
- Scripted combat would be nice to have
- Resource management is a downplayed element
- Randomization is an important tool for a referee
- Shift Experience Points (XP 📖) to a more “Treasure for XP” model in which monster XP is about 20% or less of the expected experience
- Skill systems are not required; Focus on player skills and engagement
The Archaeological Map
I’ve been digging through various Old School Renaissance (OSR 📖) clones, simulacra, adaptations, and hacks. Reading for differences, of which there are many. They are themselves a reflection of the differences in the original materials.
- Adventures Dark and Deep
- Adventurer Conquerer King System
- Basic Fantasy
- Beyond the Wall
- Black Hack, The
- Dark Dungeons
- Delving Deeper
- Dreams of Mythic Fantasy
- Dungeons and Dragons: Rules Cyclopedia
- Dungeon Crawl Classic
- Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
- Hero’s Journey, The
- Iron Falcon
- Labyrinth Lord
- Labyrinth Lord: Advanced Edition Companion
- Lamentations of the Flame Princess
- Mazes & Perils
- Neoclassical Geek Revival
- Old School Reference and Index Compilation (OSRIC)
- Sword & Wizardry: Complete
- Sword & Wizardry: Whitebox
- Whitehack 📖
Beyond the Rules
I’m also looking at how to best setup a regular game; Accept that people will come and go from session to session. Also acknowledge that character death should not end the player’s participation for that session (e.g. just grab one of the hirelings and take over).
So I’m thinking of leveraging a mega-dungeon as the primary focus of the first sessions. Provide a location for the characters to explore and plunder. And with their plunder, they engage and shape the larger world.
The megadungeon is a shift for me. Most of my games have been political and social games with human adversaries with little use of modules and random content.
I ran Out of the Abyss and found the procedures of the evading pursuit, travel, and random encounters to be my favorite aspect. But those procedures were leveraged in a prison escape scenario with minimal player character guidance. They were adrift in an opaque setting, not exploring the world, but traveling blind to various set pieces.
The current front runner is Labyrinth Lord; Though Sword & Wizardry’s unified saving throw is appealing. In part because there are free options for both.
I’m also considering a scripted initiative system.
Step 1: Declare Actions
- Players may declare actions; Gain +1 bonus to initiative
- Referee declares actions
- Remaining players declare actions, Take -1 penalty to initiative
Step 2: Each Player Rolls Initiative (1d6)
Or leverage a modified version of Philotomy’s Musings for initiative; Group initiative one side acts then another.
Additional House Rules
Lift a few ideas from Bill Webb’s “Book of Dirty Tricks”. In particular consider using:
- Static to hit bonus (e.g. Fighters & Monsters need 17+ to hit Armor Class (AC 📖) 0; All others need 18+)
- Simplified weapon damage
- Critical hits do +1 damage