Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Making It Your Game: House Rules

When I mentioned a few weeks ago that my friend Wade had tweaked the rules to octaNe for our game, it never occurred to me that anyone would consider changing rules to fit your specific group or needs would be odd or unusual.

And that, alone, needs thought.

I don't know that I've ever played in an RPG where there wasn't a house rule somewhere. They're not necessarily rules that make huge differences - sometimes, they soften a particularly unforgiving part of the game. Sometimes, they clarify a vague rule. And they're another way to fight munchkinism. And, lastly, they set expectations under our Social Contract.

I played in a GURPS game a few years ago that had so many house rules that they called it "CURPS." Chris, the GM, had been running it for so long he knew which advantages and disadvantages caused problems and in what combinations. And with which players.

To counter this, he had a long handout that we got at character generation. No attributes higher than 15. If you choose X, you cannot have Y. These weren't set in stone for everyone - he knew that not all players were equal problems - but they provided good guidelines, and we could negotiate if there was something on the list that we desperately needed.

Occasionally, I run into house rules for board games. Bounty, for example. The rules have some .... issues. They're poorly-translated and don't cover all eventualities, which leaves players to determine what to do in certain situations. And the rule for buying a second ship broke the game. We house-ruled it to prevent the purchase of a second boat.

There are also House Rules which aren't game-specific:

If you cannot stack another die of the same type on top of a possibly-cocked die without tipping it over, it's cocked and should be re-rolled.
If the cocked die is part of a pool of dice, re-roll the entire pool, not just the cocked die.
Dice which fall off of the table (or other rolling surface) should be re-rolled.
Don't touch anyone else's dice without permission.
Don't roll dice unless it's your turn.

The GM gets whatever seat they want. The host gets second pick. Everyone else gets to fight for their seat.

The GM should never bear the burden of providing food and beverages.
If the host is providing food, a list should be made available to everyone else with the understanding that players who want something else should provide their own.
If you're not bringing food (and are not the GM or the Host), bring a couple of bucks to chip in for the food. Or provide food next time.

Table Talk
Is acceptable, provided it doesn't get in the way of the game - unless the GM says otherwise.
Don't tell the current player what to do unless they ask for help or advice.

I don't think it's that odd, by the way, that there are so many dice-related rules. In fact, the relationship of gamers to dice led to a book I'll be ordering on my next payday: The Bones: Us and Our Dice. It's from the same team behind Things We Think About Games, which was brilliant.

And remember how I keep telling people that Your Game Is Not Literature? In the next few weeks, I will be ordering Hamlet's Hit Points. It's by Robin Laws, who brought us Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering and Feng Shui.

Want me to buy a book? Get him to write it.

Tonight, I have a potluck to attend. My weekly game group is celebrating eight years of gaming together. I think I have a lot to say about that - but not yet. It'll keep for another week or two. Meanwhile, here is a Geeklist I put together last year, which lists all the games played in the first year of game night.

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