Sunday, March 23, 2014

Make Gaming Your Own via House Rules

One of the best things about board games or pen ‘n paper roleplaying games like D&D is the ability to make house rules. When you don’t have a computer railroading you at every turn, you can do pretty well what you want, and house rules are those things that just make things more fun for your group of friends.

In MMOs today, the closest thing you have to house rules are basically how loot distribution works, or perhaps rules around role-playing—as most MMOs have no enforced constructs around either, or give you the opportunity to ignore said constructs.

An example of a house rule that my friends and I have for board gaming is, “Everyone gets one.” Which is to say, you get a do-over if you goofed and need to rewind your turn or whatever. Say you were playing Settlers of Catan, and you built a road and wanted to build a town but miscounted your resources, and you want to take that road back. “You laid, you played,” is the norm, especially if the next turn has already started; however, for us, sometimes getting that mulligan can be the difference between screwing yourself or being able to move forward with your strategy.

Chaostle don't need no house rules. Granted, there aren't a tonne of decisions to make to begin with.

For newer players, we often extend that to getting multiple ones, but most of the time winning for us is a bonus rather than the ultimate goal. Being able to dig yourself out of a goof can be pretty rewarding unto its own, as well, so getting more than one mulligan can actually kind of kill the fun (and it likely means that you aren’t paying attention anyhow).

In our D&D sessions, we have a couple of house rules we use. Combat can sometimes move a bit slowly, with all of the interrupts, options, people staring at the electronic devices, off-conversations, and so on, folks can be pretty distracted. In our 4th edition game, we use a “ready” rule—which I fully admit stealing from a DM panel at PAX Prime a year or two ago—where if your turn comes up and you know precisely what you’re going to do and execute it, you get +2 to your attack rolls for those attacks. It rewards those paying attention and keeps combat moving a little more smoothly. It breaks down a little for more difficult battles when the party starts really digging into the strategy of the fight, but then, a smarter strategy more than makes up for loss of the “ready” bonus in practice, and most people are engaged in the strategy discussion anyhow, so I count that as a win regardless.

Are they still called "house rules" if you're not playing in a house?

Another rule we started using only a couple sessions ago: the “mop-up.” Combat in most games has front-loaded risk. That is, things are the most dangerous at the beginning rather than the end. To this end, many fights most of the big threats are defeated first, and you often have one or two stragglers left over that aren’t a threat whatsoever, they may just be a small drain on your resources.

The “mop-up” rule for us in 4th edition D&D is if there’s one or two enemies that are not real threats, but aren’t likely to run away or surrender, rather than wasting time the party can just spend one or two healing surges (to represent the resource expenditure) to just win. No sense in taking another 15 – 30 minutes finishing the battle.

Now, at my (the DM) discretion, I can say, no the mop-up rule is not applicable. For example, if it’s possible that the stragglers could escape and warn their friends, or the final enemy is a lot more powerful than normal (or the fight is actually back-loaded in difficulty), I can say no, you can’t use that rule. On one occasion today the party opted not to use it because they figured they’d wipe the floor with the remainder and not incur even a healing surge’s worth of damage. It’s not really meant as a cheat, just as a convenience to skip past boring play where the outcome is effectively determined at that point.
The beauty of being the DM, however, is making all the rules. Who needs your crazy flat maps anyhow?
House rules making your gaming more comfortable, and often make things just a little more fun. If you have house rules that you use, feel free to share them! We’re always looking for ways to make our gaming better. Or perhaps, if you could implement a house rule in an MMO for you and your guild, what would you add?
#BoardGames, #DandD, #HouseRules


  1. Cards Against Humanity has a few 'sample' house rules in their instruction sheet, which I think is a great way to suggest flexibility. Munchkin, too, reminds players that 's/he who owns the deck casts deciding votes.'

    This can extend to online games too, though. I played Starcraft on a regular basis with friends when I was younger, and we'd regularly agree to conditions that would spice up our gaming relationships: no rushing for 3 minutes, rushing allowed but only with specific units, no ground, no air, etc. Later, when we were playing Soul Caliber and Super Smash Bros. we declared certain moves off limits after we found characters with easily spammable combos that couldn't reliably be interrupted. (Looking at you, Raphael.) I guess most of these could be distilled down to 'don't be a dick'.

    The only MMO house rule I've had, even for myself, was offering a certain amount of profit sharing to roommates or significant others. Friends of mine have shared that they won't directly compete with their spouse in identical markets for the auction house, too. I suppose that's a good way to keep pricing wars out of the bedroom. :)

    1. Good points! Especially around the local multiplayer "house rules". Not something you'd likely be able to enforce in a setting with random people, but I bet n a game like LoL or Dota folks have their own house rules with friends.