Archive for March 9th, 2011

House Rules

A series of house rules for the 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons.


The First rule of combat, the first roll of combat.

D&D Mk IV is such an intricately woven fabric of a rules system, that changing any single rule threatens to disrupt the flow, fairness, and continuity of the game in unexpected ways. For that reason house-ruling in my home campaign is a last resort to fixing a serious problem. As a youth, I house-ruled for the sheer joy of it – creating character classes, body-location hit charts, apocalyptic settings, and other things with abandon, but times have changed and my game has become less erratic and more stable as a result. One case where a house-rule absolutely had to be used was in the 4e process of Initiative. Specifically the tracking of initiative order.

Many many methods were used, the best among them being to use a magnetic board with name-magnets, and flipping note cards over. By the book initiative order means that each participant in a melee gets its own rolls – in theory every single minion has his own roll, but the DM Guide recommends the good common sense idea of grouping monsters into type, likeness, or otherwise into 2 or more sets each having its own group initiative roll. For PCs of course, they each get their own Initiative roll in the order. This differs from past editions in that before, the players as a group rolled a d6 against the DMs d6, then each side went.

The specific needs of the group that required adjusting the initiative order was the simple fact that combat was taking way too long, and much of it was fiddling with initiative order, asking whose turn was next, and generally stalling things up. None of our tracking methods completely solved the problem we as a group had. This particular problem is exacerbated by larger groups, and my game tables during the time of crafting this house-rule routinely numbered in the 8-11 range. (I know!)

Then it hit me like a flash. Why was initiative so much easier in the past? It was because we went around the table, and that everyone knew exactly who was going to go next. In theory we would all roll initiative, and then the players would change seats to be in the proper order and we would go on from there. And yes, if some one delays, they need to shift seats. in practice, musical chairs might be fun for some groups, athletic square dancers perhaps, but for us, we just sat generally around the table in order of initiative modifier. Or not. But that was the theory. I had a teddy bear and other stuffed animals I would set between two players around the table according to their initiative modifiers.

This was almost perfect, and we played this way for many weeks until the final piece of the house-rule clicked into place. The problem now was that there was no randomness, and that certain skills, feats, and character abilities were undervalued if they had an affect on initiative. And there was no roll, and everyone knows you ROLL for initiative. So, now everyone rolls for initiative, including the monster groups, and whomever wins, that is where the count begins on the great initiative wheel, and goes rolling on around the table from the winner of the initiative order.

This seems to be the finalized rule, and it worked well in play. The party won a surprise round, and assumed when the battle started they would get another round to act, but due to the initiative roll, the monsters won, and got a chance to react before the party steam-rollered them. Mission success.

In a nutshell: we all roll for initiative as usual, and the PC or monster who wins the roll goes first. We then go clockwise around the table from there.

Benefits: Vastly speeds up play, reduces record keeping, helps focus player attention
Downsides: Reduces effectiveness of initiative-based abilities.

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