Not at MY table

We have talked about the contract but what about how things are done?  This post will be about House Rules…Things that are done, or not done at your table…and how to deal with other people’s house rules!  In general, there are 3 kinds of house rules: Table rules, Interpretation rules, and prohibitions, which is generally a subset of Table rules.  Table rules are the rules about how things are done.  Interpretation rules are a referee or groups decision to interpret certain rules certain ways, and prohibitions are kind of the opposite of Table rules…Lets look at each one and discuss it!

Table Rules

Table rules are those rules that you use to set the tone of your game atmosphere as well as expectations in the real world.  It would be impossible to list all of the possible Table rules, but they do tend to fall into categories: Snacks, Dice, Players, and Language or manners.  Snack rules:  Who brings them? Who eats them? Food? Drinks?  Smoking could fall into the snack rules, but could be a manners category.  Dice Rules : All dice always as rolled?  What if it falls of the table?  Rolling surface?  How many bounces?  Secret dice rolls (usually the Refs purview)? Cold dice?  Refs dice are too hot?  Players:  What does the group do if a player doesn’t show?  What about when the ref burns out?  Who’s house do you play at?  How late is too late?  Manners: What sort of language is unacceptable? Smoking (see a few lines ago)? Booze?  Sanctity of a character sheet?  Dice touching?  As you can see, this list could go on quite a bit, and no one expects you to create a handout with each house rule and punishments for infractions and give it to every player…of course that is an option!  However, most of these are generally created as they come up, and are consensus among players.  Or are they?  What about when you have a new player?  Or when you get the opportunity to play in a new group?  The point of Table Rules is that before you assume anything…ask the question!  It is important to the happiness of  the table!  The biggest problem with table rules usually comes from them not being known or understood.  For instance, if you are like me and are not  a member of the dice police, you are not too hard up as to how your players roll…even if they realize, post roll, that these are the “WRONG DICE!”  and then dig out another pair and re-roll.  But if one of my players came to your table, and you are a strict dice reading table, then they would be called out, shamed and maybe even not invited back when they did it there!  And…unless you have codified all of your rules, then it won’t come up until it’s too late! do you cure it?  You don’t.  Let it happen…but let it happen once.  Inform your new player about your table rule, and forget about it!  IF they continue to violate the rule…well then feel free to heckle, ridicule, harass and even…not invite back!!!

Interpretive Rules

Interpretive rules are what most people think of when they think of “House Rules.”  These are the rules that either have become the accepted way you implement a particular rule, or are a set of rules you have established to deal with something not covered, or not covered adequately, in the base rules of the game you are playing.  In many cases, these are what makes your game YOUR game.  Rules light games often come up short in some topic that you want some detail…say dealing with a mounted combatant.  So, you come up with the required skills or rolls needed to keep the flavor but reflect the damage and danger of a person on horseback.  On the other hand, a particular game (Chivalry and Sorcery 1st edition) was at the top of the FGU end of the scale, but maybe you are not interested in rolling up to 11 different rolls to see what happens in a jousting pass, so you cut it down to just 2 or 3…


So?  well, nothing really…just be aware that some people get upset if you play their game rules, but change some of them…oh, and a new player will not know that you are not playing according to published rules.  (and remember that in tournament play, canon is pretty much expected!) It is definitely important to get rules that you like and fit your, as ref, style as well as those of your players.  It is also important that if you change the way something works in your universe everyone is aware of it.  If a player comes to rely on a previous ruling that allowed him to create an ice bridge with his ray of cold spell, and then you decide it is too powerful, make sure the player knows that!  You can metagame it however you want…magic has moved into a lower power cycle…the salinity of the water prevents it…the sea god has become angry so bent the universe to keep it from happening…whatever…but DON’T take things way from players, particularly for balance reasons, without telling the player that it will never work again!  And in that case i heartily recommend a discussion with your players rather than just make an arbitrary ruling. Note that this should not prevent you from making quick and arbitrary decisions….but keep in mind the suspension of disbelief (yes…another post!).  Interpretive rules can be very important and make game play smoother and more fun for you and your group.  However, if you have basically rewritten the rule book, maybe you should look into getting your game published!  Because it is occasionally important to how a player plays their character, it is a good idea to have a list, or near complete list, to cut down on potential rules debates, and maybe turn a new player to your way of thinking.

I do want to bring up one more interpretational rule situation that is a little more abstract: Setting rules…These do not come up as often as they used to, at least not in my experience.  If you are playing “GFW” (Generic Fantasy World) using a known fantasy or generic rule set, you have already made several decision about your setting.  How much role do the gods have? How common are magic items?  What about magic users?  Does everyone speak a “Common” tongue, or does everyone need to speak several languages to get by?  Well, now you have invited a friend into your game who happens to have a character equivalent to your other players.  Great!  It’ll be easy and great fun, as you’ve each heard how much fun the other is at the game table. But her character doesn’t fit the setting rules you have created…can it be converted?  Her character is goblin ninja who speaks goblin and the common.  Your setting has no ninja, and goblins are rare and despised.  She has a knife that can magically change color as her only magic item.  All of your other characters have at least 4 magic items with fairly potent enchantments and they all speak at least 5 languages as only 2 of them have a common tongue between them…These situations used to arise fairly regularly and then, to play in your friends world your character had to be completely remade and gain(or lose) several items that were central to who they are.  The only way to get by something like this: Compromise.  And, unfortunately, when adding one player to a group of 4 other players…the minority usually looses.  One way I dealt with this almost exact situation:  each player picked the changes needed.  I would allow the new player to choose whether to go first or last and then go around asking what will you change?  Each person could change a particular character, a setting rule (with gm approval), or change their own character.  Yes, this caused the new player to get changed significantly, but it also allowed them the chance to alter things in their players favor.  (If I remember, I gave the new player two vetoes and each other player one…)


Prohibitions are things that are just not tolerated.  In many cases these are like table rules, but they are don’t cross lines. Smoking and alcohol often fall into this category, for instance. Never touch someone else’s dice…never ridicule a player for their character…Never bring guacamole…  Whatever they are, every table has one or two, and some have several.  It is imperative that every player know what these are.  These are the most deadly sins at your table, but fortunately they are rarely very many, so make sure any new player knows them!

By following these relatively simple guidelines on your house rules, your table will be a much smoother place to play, and this will lead to much better game!

Happy gaming!  And I mean it…No guacamole!



Pick Your Poison

or, What is the best system to use

In the last post, I offered the two simple rules of reff’ing.   So, now you need to consider what rule system you want to use.  First of all, that’s easy!  What rule systems do you have available to you?  Then those are where you start.  “But Master,” I hear you whine, “I only have first edition AD&D, but I want to play a game like Star Wars, but with dinosaurs!”

Well, that’s OK, say I…and that is why we come to this post.  Game designers spend a lot of time trying to build a game system with an internally consistent setting.  Often, they work very hard on Game Balance issues as well.  But that does not mean you must play their rules in their setting!  True, AD&D is best suited to a high fantasy almost Tolkienian setting and appropriate stories.  The same way the Traveller rules are best suited to a high-tech, far future SF setting with starships.  But let me pass on another ref rule:

Any story can be told with any rule set!

The thing that you will need to keep in mind is that the farther away from the intended setting, usually, the more modification you will have to do.  If you are a beginning GM, I’d not recommend venturing too far away from the setting.  In fact, I’d encourage you to acquire either A) A game system with a setting much closer to what you want to run, or B) acquire one of the several generic systems, such as PEG’s Savage Worlds, Steve Jackson’s GURPS, or Chaosium’s Basic Role Playing.  However, if you can’t, or don’t wish to get a new system here are some things to think about.

Before attempting to modify a game system, you need a pretty good idea of both the normal, expected, game setting, and the setting you want to use.  With this in mind, you can see what does and doesn’t need modified.  In the hypothetical I posed above, we need to change the character races into dinosaurs, create a magic system like the force, create star ship and robot rules, even figure out what character classes are needed, which ones are not, and how we need to modify them to fit the new story line.  Is a Jedi a cleric, or magic user?  Could they be a Ranger or Paladin?  If we made them a Ranger, then they would be more fighter types, with access to some of the new FORCE, instead of MAGIC.  If we decide to create a new class all together, then we need to start considering the game balance built into the character classes.  What if we use a dwarf template to create our new scaled Bear-a-saurus…who use specially designed Laser slings…“But Master, a Dwarf is short and disdains the use of slings!”   Again I hear you thought, but this leads us to the next consideration:

Why change the rules if you can just put a new paint job on it?  In other words, Our Bear-a-saurus is stout, a little slow, but very strong.  Hey…that fits the dwarf, or maybe a Half-orc.  Well, so rename them, re-describe them, but don’t make any changes except maybe take away their infravision, and give them Hunters sight…What’s the difference, and what can you see with Hunters sight?  Well, it detects movement in low light…not much use in an underground dungeon, but in a forest, or town…LOTS of things move…The less you need to change then the better to preserve the balance built-in by the regular designers.

One more thing to consider: Special Effects!  This is something that struck me like a lightning bolt when I first read it in Masterbook: What is a laser blast?  Well it’s a beam or missile of light.  Oh, so kinda like a magic missile, but it can miss, and come in a wand, uh gun, that has charges, um…ammo in it?  How much damage does it do?  Well…a magic missile already has a damage listed.  Not enough?  Well, is it more like a lightning bolt?  Something that causes damage: a fireball or grenade or catapult or dagger or pocket pistol…does damage!  That’s it.  What does it look like?  Well, they all look different.  What about something that heals damage?  A healing spell, or health potion or first aid kid or spray skin…well, they all heal damage!

Well…this is just a taster of all of the possible considerations.  And it may be better suited for quite experienced refs, but I want people to consider the possibilities…Could you use the Shadow Run rules to tell a Deadlands game…yup   without too much change.  Could you use the Chivalry & Sorcery Rules to tell the story of a post zombie apocalypse? Sure!  Using them for their own genre is easier, and converting a generic system is the next easiest thing…but with patience and a will, it could be done