Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Whys and Wherefores of House Rulings

House rules have long been a part of our beloved hobby. They likely started because OD&D, especially just the LBBs, were incredibly rules light. Those first dungeon crawlers didn’t have rules on things they needed, so they invented rulings on the fly. That worked quite well and encouraged folks (rightly) to rely upon the ingenuity of their DM and the creativity of their players where house rules were needed.

As D&D got more complex, house rules seemingly took on a new life. Whereas before, house rules were used to fill in lacuna in the written rules, now they were increasingly becoming used to reject written rules that just didn’t work well for individual DMs and players, depending upon the preferences of the particular gaming group. The more complex the incarnation of D&D, the more common house rules replacing written rules became. Again, this worked beautifully as long as everyone was aware of the preferences of the group in which they played.

Something that’s been bothering me lately is running into people (online and in my FLGS) hiding behind house rules who simply don’t know the written rules at all. As stated above, I have absolutely no problem with house rules. I use them and my group loves them. However, we at least try to learn the written rules and have our own rationale for why we do what we do. But I keep encountering folks who claim to have played since the 70s who reject the written rules in favor of their own rulings, without knowing why or what they’re rejecting.

I hate to keep picking on “DM Vince” from the Roll For Initiative podcast (a podcast I generally recommend and really enjoy) but he’s a perfect example. The other two hosts, Jayson and Nick, have a great grasp of the AD&D rules. When they differ from them, they know the written rules and they know why they opt for their own rulings instead. Vince, on the other hand, never seems to know any single rule, as written, but you can always be certain he’ll just do things his way under the mantle of “old school” gaming. That’s fine as far as it goes. Nobody has to be an expert to play and enjoy (A)D&D. However, he has not one, but TWO podcasts wherein he discusses (A)D&D.

Again, I don’t mean to pick on any one person. I’m just finding that lots of folks do what DM Vince does: decide against using written rules without knowing what they are or why they’re doing it. By all means, reject the rules as written in favor of your own rulings, but at least know what you’re rejecting and why.

Okay, rant over.


  1. Nice rant! I completely agree - I always like to "play things by the book" for a while in a new game system before I house rule anything. Sometimes that rule that I thought wasn't needed or was written wrong is actually written perfectly. You need to understand the system before you change it. This goes for politics too :P

  2. I agree. Playing through the rules as written at least once is important. Things you thought didn't work might actually work quite well, or have unforseen repercussions in places you'd never anticipated.