House Rules – Yes or No?

It takes a certain type of person to create a tabletop game. One must have the correct sort of mind to be able to develop all those rules and ensure they all work well with each other. One must be able to ensure the game plays well, without being too difficult or complicated. I respect those people, for they are better than I in that regard. But they don’t always get it right.

This is where House Rules come into play.

house rules

The term “House Rule” is typically used to describe a new game rule, or modification of an existing game rule, of a game. It is used for just about any tabletop game you care to think of. The general purpose of a house rule is to change some part of the game for a specific reason.

Some reasons for implementing house rules:

  • To fix a broken element of the game. This broken element could have been caused by a misprint in the book, poorly worded terminology or an ambiguous definition.
  • To lower the difficulty on a particularly hard game.
  • To change an element of a game to better suit a certain groups playstyle.
  • To reduce complexity and make the game easier to understand.
  • Most importantly – to make the game more fun to play.

RPG House Rules

When it comes to tabletop toleplaying games, the implementation of house rules is a simple thing. The inherent nature of RPGs can easily allow the modification, addition or subtraction of rules. Often, it states in the main rulebook that the rules and such are a guideline anyway, and it should all be modified to suit each groups needs.

There is one main thing to remember when house ruling in RPGs. Consistency. I am perfectly fine with rules changing, as long as once they are changed, they remain that way. Players will get annoyed if what they can and can’t do changes from session to session.

Difficulty is defined by the actions of the GM, not the rules themselves. So house rules, in an RPG, exist to either enable some sort of story element, make life easier for everyone, or to appease the (sometimes inordinate) sensibilities of the GM.

When it comes to RPGs, house rules are easy to come up with. Decide what you want to change or implement, and do so. Make a note of the rule, to keep consistency. That’s about it.

Board Game House Rules

However, in board games, house rules can be a little more tricky to both come up with and implement. A board game, for the most part, is comprised of rules designed to run in a specific fashion. These rules will define how turns work, what the players can do, and even how difficult the game will be. Messing with these rules can have a dramatic effect on the game. They could make the game too hard, too easy, or not function properly at all. One must be careful when modifying rules for board games, and significant amounts of testing must be done to ensure it doesn’t ruin the gaming experience.

Making up your own house rules for board games is a little more tricky. Testing must be done to make sure that it isn’t a game breaking change. But there is a bit of a cheat when it comes it board games. Depending on how long the game has been out, others will have encountered the same problems as one might be experiencing. And they could have already come up with some house rules, tested them, and found those house rules worthy. A brilliant site for this is Board Game Geek. There are a lot of resources available on that site, and I would absolutely recommend anyone with board games go have a look.

Some examples of house rules that have existed within some gaming groups I’ve played with –

  • In one version of a Pathfinder game, no one was allowed to choose gnomes. This would be understandable if there was a story reason. But in this case, it was just because the GM didn’t like Gnomes.
  • In a current group, playing Pathfinder 2nd Edition. The rules state that a weapon can only have a maximum of a 1D12 or 2D6 damage dice, regardless of the size of the weapon. Our Barbarian is wielding a large sized Greatsword. Since the Greatsword is already 2D6, being large sized had no benefit. The GM decided that was silly and upped the damage dice to 2D8.
  • In Mansions of Madness, a player has two actions per turn. Mansions is quite a hard game in general. We played many games, and lost the majority. To give us a chance to not lose every game, a house rule was instigated that players had three actions, rather than two. This actually let us win a few games.
  • A game I just recently got is Who Goes There?, a game based on the story of the same name, which the movie “The Thing” is also based on. Our first game was brutally hard, and most of us died. I managed to survive to the Helicopter, but failed the point total and was lost to the storm. We looked up some house rules written by others, as the game has been out for a couple of years. We used a couple of those, and had a much better time.

Some people, like me, agree with house rules, as long as they work well. Others do not, wanting to keep a game as true to the developers vision as possible. Let us know your stance on house rules. Are you for them, or against them?

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