GM Advice: Dealing With House Rules

House rules are a great way for a GM to stamp his style on a game. To successful apply a house rule, a GM needs to remember four things.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

 

If you are a GM who has been gaming for a decent amount of time, it’s likely you apply at least a few house rules to your campaign. I myself have a couple of pages worth of house rules I apply to my Borderland of Adventure campaign. Pathfinder is a great rules set, but for me it doesn’t quite capture the gritty feeling of the earlier editions of the world’s most popular role-playing game.

Sometimes, though, GMs are reluctant to apply house rules. That’s a shame as they are a great way of stamping a GM’s unique style onto a game. In earlier versions of the game, almost every GM’s campaign was littered with house rules. Now, though, that the rules are more comprehensive and robust the need for house rules has waned.

When creating a house rule, a GM should know exactly what the rule is designed to achieve. The two main reasons for applying a house rule are:

  • Flavour: House rules are a great way of adding flavour into a campaign or to promote a certain play style.
  • Rules: A GM might not like a certain rule, or may believe it is broken. In either regard, a house rule is the perfect solution.

When dealing with house rules, it’s important to consider the following factors:

  • Disseminate The House Rules: Everyone should be super clear on the house rules. Ideally, you’ll provide a house rule handout listed all the rules you are adding, removing or modifying. That way no one gets surprised something doesn’t work the way they expected it to work. This is particularly important for players new to the group.
  • Explain Your Reasoning: Beyond telling everyone your house rules, it’s always a good idea to explain the reasoning behind the rules. For example, I like gritty, low fantasy games and so my house rules reflect that style of play. If you like high fantasy gaming, your house rules will almost certainly be very different to mine. If your players know what you are trying to achieve, they might be able to suggest improvements.
  • Be Flexible: Face it – the house rule you lovingly designed might be fundamental flawed in a way that only becomes obvious during actual play. Sadly, even professional game designers are fallible. If your rule isn’t achieving what you want it to achieve either remove or modify it. Also, if your beloved house rule is reducing fun at the table, it needs to go.

As a final note, remember there is nothing wrong with making a house rule for your game–just don’t expect GMs at other tables to honour it.

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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One thought on “GM Advice: Dealing With House Rules

  1. I agree that everyone should have house rules, at my table the only thing that I really change are max hit points and healing potions. We play a lot of 3.5 and honestly who wants to level up and receive only 4 addition HP on a level with a 12hd because of a botched roll? The same with healing potions, tank can get say 15 HP on a potion and the rogue who pops a potion only got 5 because of failed rolls?