HOW-TO-DM: THE HOUSE RULE

Hello everyone! In this week’s installment of How To DM, I’d like to talk about house rules.

Ah, the temptations of the house rule. Most of us can’t resist the urge to open the Pandora’s Box of Amateur Game Design and homebrew some rules while we’re homebrewing everything else, right?

But fewer things can totally derail a game faster and more thoroughly than bad homebrewed rules or simply too many house rules no matter how well-intentioned.

This post is about my own personal guidelines I use when considering a new house rule. You might have very different opinions, and the number one rule is always – Whatever adds fun to your games is always a good thing. So take these points with a boulder of salt.

I also want to say up front that when I say “house rule” I’m strictly talking about rules that change or add to the existing rules mechanically.

So, let’s talk about house rules in this week’s How To DM!

Never House Rule on the Fly: If I’m considering adding a house rule to my campaign, it’s usually because a player has suggested something, and that suggestion is almost always during play. If I’m not going to disallow it immediately, then I will usually allow the change for one game only and will give my permanent ruling next game after I’ve had a chance to really think about it.

Get Your Players’ Buy In: If I do decide to incorporate a house rule, I usually take a session and let my players test it for me. It’s important that everyone understands how the rule works and when it will be applied. Everyone needs to be on the same page as to how this rule will affect the game. Player input can help you improve on your idea, or even help you avoid something disastrous.

Encourage Good Roleplay By Giving Inspiration:

Ground Rules for House Rules: Here are some specific things I consider before bringing a new house rule to my table:

Can everyone take advantage of it? If you start homebrewing rules for specific classes or species, then it is inevitable your players are going to want something special for their characters too. Pretty soon, you have a dozen house rules that everyone has to keep up with.

Is this house rule really needed? How exactly is a rules change improving the game? Or am I simply fulfilling a player’s wish list because they want their character to be able to do something they once saw in an anime? If it’s the latter, then many of these types of things can be handled using optional rules or simply letting someone occasionally have advantage on something.

For example, I have an Artificer in my current game, and he found a mechanical device he wanted to analyze. Of course, none of the basic skills really cover that sort of thing, but – instead of coming up with a new skill – I had him make a INT check using his proficiency bonus.

Is this house rule going to make things more complex? Is that added complexity (or “realism” as it’s more often called) going to slow the game to a crawl? Have I really thought about how this particular rules change might affect other, standard rules?

What tips, tricks, and advice do you folks have? Put them in the comments below, so we can all share in the info. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next week for another installment on How To DM!

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