Thursday, August 26, 2010

What Was I Thinking? Part 1

When I debuted my campaign of Labyrinth Lord recently and unveiled my house rules (already posted here) some of my players weren't too keen and seemed to think they were excessive in scope. I don't agree. On the other hand, putting myself in their place I can imagine how the house rules might seem arbitrary, since I didn't include explanations of my reasons for them.

I always like in an RPG when a designer explains why the rules are the way they are, so it seems only fair that I explain my decisions for making the house rules that I did. To keep this from being a huge indigestible mass of information (I have a bad habit of making overly large posts sometimes) I'm going to break it down into smaller parts.

Here's Part 1:


Strength, Dexterity, Constitution and Charisma work as described in the rulebook, except that Prime Requisites are removed, so these attributes don't modify experience earned for any class (ability score minimum values for demihumans still apply). Instead, Intelligence modifies experience for all classes, 5% per modifier point (i.e. -15% for Intelligence 3, -10% for 4-5, -5% for 6-8, no modifier for 9-12, +5% for 13-15, +10% for 16-17, +15% for 18). Wisdom modifies all saving throws, not just magic.

REASONS: I explained my thinking behind this one in a previous blog post. In short, I wanted to prevent the double-dipping of some Prime Requisites but not others (for example, Fighters getting benefits direcly from a high Strength and also for having it as a PR, unlike Magic-Users getting no direct benefit from Intelligence), to make mental attributes more appealing for non-spellcasters, and make the classes less closely tied to their typical attributes.


When creating a character, the player rolls 3d6 in order, nine times. The first six rolls make up the six attributes in the order: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma. The final three are floating results that can be substituted in for any of the six attributes (or discarded if too low to be any use).

REASONS: I didn't want a rolling system like 4d6-drop-lowest that just inflates the numbers across the board; nowadays that just seems to me like power inflation for its own sake. I wanted a system that was based on rolling stats “in order” so PCs might have atypical strengths and weaknesses for their classes (to make PCs less cookie-cutter). On the other hand, the floating results allow players to make some choices, and give some insurance against bad rolls on the original 6 rolls without powering up too much across the board.


All classes can use all weapons (apart from physical size limits), but the damage done is based on the character's class, not the weapon. The damage die is equal to the classes' hit die type. The exceptions are for daggers or slings (which do one die size smaller) and two-handed weapons (which allow the player to roll damage twice and take the better result).

REASONS: This rule isn't my own invention, but I liked it as soon as I saw it. I adopted it partly for Clerics; I don't have a problem in general with the blunt-weapons restriction on Clerics, but I'm using the Forgotten Realms setting again, after a 2e game where the Priest PC could use a sword (with limits) then a 3e game with no Cleric weapon restrictions at all. This rule allows all weapons to Clerics (and Magic-Users) without giving away one of the Fighter's advantages (hitting for 1d8 damage). Plus this rule helps avoid the factor of some weapons being clearly better than others, which is one thing I never liked about Basic. So this one simple house rule solves two problems at once.


On a natural attack roll of 20, the result is a critical hit, scoring maximum weapon damage. Blunt weapons cannot score criticals.

REASONS: I like the idea of something special happening on a natural 20. I wanted to avoid the 3e-ism of complicating things with adding “confirmation rolls” (despite using a similar system years before in 2e), and also to avoid ramping up the damage too much. So I decided to go with another rule I'd seen elsewhere, and simply give maximum damage on a critical. Also, with no special effects on a 20 I don't have to worry about the odd cases where a character needing a natural 20 to hit can only do a special-effect critical; if they do hit, they will hit hard, but I'm happy with that (and the fact that groups of weak enemies are a little more dangerous).
Regarding the blunt weapon limit, this is partly for flavour (edged weapons doing critical hits is more intuitive) but mostly because blunt weapons would otherwise be the best choices under the “class-based weapon damage” rule, because of their full effectiveness against skeletal undead. The loss of critical hits gives them a very slight loss of average damage to even the scales. Plus, giant's clubs are some of the most damaging single attacks in the game; with critical hits their deadliness would be too much for my liking.


When being raised from the dead, a character must make a save versus death. Failure means that something of the character doesn't quite make it back from the Fugue Plain, so his Charisma attribute drops by one point. If this would reduce Charisma below 3, the character doesn't come back at all and is permanently dead save for divine intervention.

REASONS: This is the one real “nerfing” house rule I introduced, because getting raised without penalty seems cheesy and too videogamey to me. I don't like the death penalties from other editions of D&D either (level loss or Constitution loss), because these have the potential to be “death spiral” situations where dying makes you more vulnerable to dying again. Charisma loss doesn't have that problem, it fits thematically, and it helps keep Charisma an important attribute. Allowing a saving throw to resist the Charisma loss helps to keep the penalties minor, just enough that death is more than a trivial inconvenience to high-level characters.


Demihumans can increase hit points after reaching their level limit. Every 200,000 XP above the minimum XP for their last level grants one additional HP (or a reroll of HP - see "Hit Points" below). This should be noted on the character sheet by writing a + after the level - for instance, a Dwarf with maximum level plus 2 HP writes "12+2" in the level box. Saving throws and other features do not increase beyond the level limit.
Note that the standard race-classes only represent typical adventuring members of their races. If a player is dead set on an atypical demihuman character (like a dwarven thief), he can combine class and race features to create a special class (e.g. Dwarf Thief) - subject to DM vetting of course.

REASONS: Although I supported demihuman level limits in a previous post, I prefer for PCs to have some potential to progress. This rule keeps this progress both small and slow so humans don't lose their unique benefit.
The second part of the rule reflects my feelings on the race-classes. Not every elf in the fantasy world has the Elf PC class (for example), the race-class just a template for game purposes that reinforces what each race typically does and is typically good at, giving the demihumans a “feel” that I never see in them in other versions of D&D. Requiring a player to make the special class for demihumans that don't follow the norm keeps those characters as rare as they should be (otherwise, “special snowflake syndrome” sets in and everyone wants to be the “rare and unusual” race/class combinations), and means that the player will be more invested in such a character.


This will be handled informally unless this leeway is abused.

REASONS: This is just a formalisation of what I've already been doing for years.


Characters get maximum hit points at level 1. At each level up, the character rolls his entire new hit dice, adding Constitution modifiers, and takes this roll if it is higher than the current hit point total, or keeping the existing hit point total if that's higher. Example: a level 1 Fighter with 14 Constitution gets 9 HP (max d8+1), and at level 2 he rolls 2d8+2 for HP, keeping 9 HP if the new roll is lower.
At each level beyond Name level, the player chooses to either take the fixed hit point addition, or to reroll all the hit dice and then add all the fixed hit points. If the latter option is taken, the character still can't lose hit points even on a low roll, but does miss out on getting the fixed hit point(s) that he would've had from the first option.

REASONS: As far as I know, the “reroll all HD each level” system had it's beginnings in a common misinterpretation of OD&D's vaguely-worded HP rules. I like how it helps to “normalise” HP so that a run of high or low rolls doesn't let a character shoot ahead (or fall behind) permanently in HP.
The “maximum HP at level 1” part of the HP rules is a rule I've been using for many years before it became official with 3e, and fits especially well in Basic where zero HP means instant death.

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