Rules And Reasons

Over the years, I’ve reigned back on the number of House Rules I use in D&D, a lot. It’s so tempting to fiddle with every aspect of the rules – and easy too – that it’s all too easy to end up with more House Rules than there are rules themselves!

So, as a quick refresher, here’s my few remaining House Rules which have survived the great cull, complete with my reasoning. Hope they give you food for thought in your own game.

1. All characters starts at 2nd level. Multi-classing is fine.

Starting at 2nd level means that it’s possible to start the game multi-classed, which is great for those concepts which demand two classes from the start. As I encourage multi-classing at such a low level, it means that there’s going to be more classes represented in the party, including the less popular choices. I’ve run a game where the starting characters were a fighter/rogue, a sorcerer/paladin, a 2nd level wizard and a cleric/rogue – that’s 6 classes represented, and a great mix of abilities. If that game had started at 1st level, I’d have had a fighter, sorcerer, wizard and cleric which lacks the all important rogue skills, and not a druid or paladin class in sight.

2. Any class or race from the PHB; alignment restrictions are lifted. Check with the DM for other classes/races

If the player wants to play a chaotic paladin of freedom, or a non-neutral druid, that’s fine by be, even though the “traditional” alignments are the most common choice. Paladins make a great multi-class choice in particular, and there’s little point in stopping the fun because of a rule we all know is silly anyhow :)

I’m unlikely to stop players from running a class or race from any other source (unless they’re broken, like the Drow), but I do like to know in advance so we can work out a suitable back story. I don’t like races with Level Adjustments, but it’s very rare a player has asked to play one so it’s not become an issue. As we’re starting at 2nd level though, there’s no problem with taking a +1 LA race and just a single class.

3. Beginning stat array 10,12,13,14,15,16. Adjust for race

We’ve settled on this array rather than rolling for stats simply because it levels the playing field between the characters. It’s possible to get an 18 in a stat by allocating the 16 to a stat with a racial modifier, and ensures that humans will never start with an 18. This, to my mind, is as it should be. DEX 18 elves, yes. DEX 18 humans (at the start of their career), no.

This is higher that D&D’s “elite” array of 8,10,12,13,14,15, so is only really suitable for the heroes themselves; they are, are all, the elite of the elite, the central characters in the story. I’m not a fan of every character being below average in one of their abilities (as is the case with the elite array), but don’t mind players dropping the lowest score into their penalized racial ability. In other words, CHA 8 dwarves rock!

4. Sorcerers gain Eschew Materials as a free feat at 1st level. Elves are far more likely to be Sorcerers than be Wizards.

I want more differentiation between Sorcerers and Wizards, and letting Sorcerers cast magic without spell components is one step toward that. After all, Wizards study magic, whereas Sorcerers are magic. Whatever the origin of their powers, the magic comes from within themselves rather than being ripped from other sources.

In my games there’s a lot of tension between Wizards and Sorcerers, who they view as things to be experimented upon to find the source of their power. Too many Sorcerers have died at the hands of curious Wizards in the past for them to share anything less than animosity. Sorcerers are (rightly) feared by many, as they need nothing at all to be able to wield their power, unlike any other class excepting the Monk. Disarm a Sorcerer, and he’s still a danger.

5. Wizards don’t get a Familiar at 1st level (but can gain one using a Feat slot at any time), but get a Wizard’s Staff that can be used to fire a bolt of magical force. It does damage and has a range equal to a Shortbow (1d6, 60’). Both ranged and melee attacks count as Magical, and it’s a Masterwork weapon (+1 to attack).

Wizards rock too!

One problem with the Wizard class is that once he’s out of spells you’re left with a weak baggage carrier. To re-enforce the Wizard’s image as a spellcaster who relies on stuff to do his thing (as opposed to the au naturale Sorcerer), I’ve given him a magic staff from the start so that he can keep blasting even when out of spells. To balance this, I removed the Summon Familiar ability (though it can be regained using a Feat slot). Some Wizards have familiars, some don’t, though they all have their magic staff. It’s a badge of office, every bit as important as their spellbook and component pouch.

Now, it might seem a tad generous, but really the magic staff is all smoke and mirrors (just like any good magic trick). In effect, it’s a Masterwork Shortbow and Masterwork Quarterstaff wrapped into one item. The damage is classed as Magical, which is great for overcoming some Damage Resistance, but not for much else. As I said, it’s a badge of office more than anything else, but it does give the class a much needed boost through the day. I like.

6. All characters start with 900gp to spend on equipment. Pooling resources is fine. The Standard Adventurer’s Kit from PHB II is recommended for all characters and costs 15gp (Backpack, belt pouch, bedroll, Flint & Steel, 50’ hemp rope, 2 sunrods, 10 days’ trail rations, waterskin)

As 2nd level characters they’re entitled to 900gp of goods, as per the DMG. This is enough for most characters to start the game with a masterwork weapon (maybe two), a set of masterwork armour and a good set of adventuring gear. I encourage the players to put a bit of history into their arms and armour; they might be heirlooms, a military uniform, a gift from their mentor or whatever.

The in-game benefit for this is simple: when their Masterwork longsword breaks (or stolen by goblins), they’re at a serious disadvantage until it’s returned. Especially at low levels, losing that -1 to hit is a big blow, and the players won’t like having to use their backup weapon or a found replacement. Which adds for great in-game tension! :)

7. Maximum Hit Points at 1st level, then Max HP-1 at 2nd level, modified by CON bonus. For example, a 2nd level Wizard with CON 12 will start with (4+3+1+1) 9hp.

This is a fairly recent addition to the House Rules, and just ensures that the characters start with a goodly number of hit points. I don’t want characters to die in the first round of combat just because of some unlucky HP roll. Giving them max Hit Points for first level, and (Max HP-1) for second level seems to be a good balance. After that though, the players have to roll for each level.

8. Initiative = Reflex save. The Improved Initiative feat adds +4 to the roll as normal.

This rule came in from the very start of playing 3rd Edition D&D. It made little sense that a 1st level DEX 18 Wizard could attack before a 20th level DEX 16 Rogue – what about all those years of experience, sensitivity to changes in sound, light and air movements? High level classes should be able to react before their low-level counterparts, certainly.

This one change also means that the Rogue (with their naturally good Reflex save and usually high DEX) would likely be the first to react in every combat. Again, as it should be; the same skills which make the Rogue sensitive to avoiding traps, etc should also come into play against their foes. This gives them the chance to disappear into the shadows, prepare for a Sneak attack or whatever else it is Rogues do.

9. Attack of Opportunity rules do not apply. Common sense does.

Last of all, we don’t use Attack of Opportunity rules. They’re an unholy blight on the landscape of D&D and deserve to die (several times over) in 4th Edition. They’ve done more to bloat the combat rules, have spawned countless ridiculous feats and do nothing whatsoever to make the game more fun to play. Die, AoO, Die!

Instead, we use a strange thing called “common sense”. If you’re going to try to leap past that hobgoblin, he’s going to get a free attack against you. That’s simple, easy to understand and doesn’t require a page-and-a-half of diagrams, a FAQ and multiple pointless threads on ENWorld to clarify.


There. That’s the lot. All of the House Rules for D&D, the way we play it. Of course, each game world has it’s own peculuar quirks and foibles, but that’s a whole other blogpost…………

Till next time!

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