House Rules

The new Pathfinder RPG rules raise the challenge. The point is to write a set of house rules that is as small as possible while fixing the (few) problems with D&D 3.5 as written.

Skills: No cross-class penalty. Apply INT bonus retroactively. (Makes it easier to figure out what your skill rank total ought to be.)

Multi-classing: No XP penalty for multi-classing. (No getting extra screwed for playing an elven druid who switches to cleric.)

Grappling: Win opposed grapple check to do damage, move, or silence your opponent or to get out of the grapple. No other action is possible while grappling. (Grappling is easy, but all the little extras make it confusing.)

Iterative Attacks: When you get a 2nd attack, your attacks have a penalty of -2/-2 (instead of 0/-5). Instead of getting a third attack, the penalty drops to -1/-1 (instead of 0/-5/-10). Instead of getting a fourth attack, the penalty drops to -0/-0 (instead of 0/-5/-10/-20). [1] [2] [3]

Attacks of Opportunity: Attacks of opportunity may not use particular combat maneuvers like disarming, tripping, or sundering. (Gets rid of the terrible “umbrella of protection” – enlarged spiked chain wielding characters with Improved Trip.)

Feats: Dodge provides +1 dodge bonus to AC against all opponents. (People keep forgetting Dodge.)

Flight: Forget about the movement details. (Too complicated.)

XP: Use more story awards, award less XP for combat. Essentially I will provide points worth 300 XP for things done. Characters below average party level get 20% bonus, characters above average party level get 20% penalty. Followers will receive half a share and no bonus. Fighting is worth the challenge rating of a monster in points. Multiply or divide by two for every difference of two between average party level and challenge rating. (Get rid of the CR/XP tables.)

Scrolls: Once scribed, there is no longer a distinction between arcane and divine spells. If it is on your spell list, you can cast it.

Duration: Spells lasting a few rounds last for a single encounter. They never run out during a fight. This includes summoned creatures and similar effects. Spells lasting a few hours last for a single day. (Get rid of tracking time.)

Spellcasters: No limit on the number of zero level spells per day. No need to memorize them, and no need to keep track of them. There is no shortage of Light, Acid Splash, Cure Minor Wounds, Message, Prestidigitation, Detect Magic, etc. (Get rid of healing items, provide an alternative attack for wizards that have run out of spells.)

Hitpoints: At the end of the encounter you may take half an hour to catch your breath and you’re back at full hit-points. (Gets rid of the need to bring a cleric along.)

Magic Items: No XP cost. The fancy raw materials required might require quests, however.

Action Points: There will be no action points. (A list of action problems is available from Delta.)

Shields break: If you’re carrying a shield, you can have it shatter instead of suffering damage from an attack. (Shields Shall be Splintered unless you’re surprised.)

Confusion: Roll 1d4: 1 – act normally, 2 – do nothing but babble incoherently, 3 – deal 1d8 points of damage + Str bonus to self with item in hand, 4 – attack nearest creature. [4]

d30: Once per session you can use a d30 instead of a d20.

Life & Death

Character Generation: Players can roll for abilities using 4d6 and dropping the lowest die, or use a 25 point buy. Supposedly rolling the dice results in the equivalent of a 30-31 point buy. On average.

Hit Points: Players can roll for hit-points or use fixed values (DMG p. 198): 0.5 hp below average the first time you do this, then alternate between 0.5 hp above average and 0.5 below average.

Character Death in an Adventure Path: You start at the beginning of the previous level. If your level 4 character dies, you create a new level 3 character with 3000 XP. (”Under most circumstances, a new character should begin play at the beginning of the level lower than the player’s previous PC.” – DMG p. 42)

Character Death in a Sandbox: New characters start on first level. Alternatively, players may choose to play an NPC who has reasonable cause to join the party. (Encourage friendships and experiment with a wide variety of levels.)

Character Resurrection: Death and resurrection is part of the game. You start at the previous level with enough XP to get you half way back to the current one. If your level 4 character dies, you create a new level 3 character with 4500 XP. (”The character’s new XP total is midway between the minimum needed for his or her new level and the minimum needed for the next one.” – DMG p. 42)

New Players: You start at the same level as the lowest regular player character. If the party has player characters ranging from level 3 to 6, new players create a new level 3 character with 3000 XP. (”A new player should create his first character at the beginning of the level where the lowest-level existing PC is.” – DMG p. 42)

New Character: Use the same rule as for character death.

Absent Players: Absent players ⇒ absent characters, no questions asked.

Long Absence: Use the same rule as for new players, ie. “start at the same level as the lowest regular player character.”


Charisma: There is no Leadership feat. Instead, players build an entourage using roleplay within the limits of their Charisma score. One of their entourage will be a Loyal Follower and a potential replacement character. (Inspired by David Bowman’s Entourage Approach.)

Charisma determines the number of your followers, their morale score, and monster reactions. I like the simplicity of the tables in Labyrinth Lord.

Charisma Reaction Adjustment Retainers Retainer Morale
3 +2 1 4
4-5 +1 2 5
6-8 +1 3 6
9-12 0 4 7
13-15 +1 5 8
16-17 +1 6 9
18 +2 7 10

Morale check: Retainers only make a morale check when an unusal amount of danger is involved. Monsters make morale checks when suffering their first casualty and when things start looking grim. If the roll of 2d6 fails and the result is higher than the morale score, the retainer or monster will retreat or flee (depending on Alignment and Intelligence).

Monsters usually make a morale check when their group looses its first member and when half the group is killed or otherwise incapacitated.

Reaction rolls: Apply the modifiers from the Charisma table above.

2d6 Reaction
2 helpful
3-5 not interested
6-8 uncertain
9-11 threatening
12 attack

Long Term Play

These rules will not apply when we’re playing in a published adventure path:

Name Level: Characters reach reaching level 9 must build a stronghold or be ready to retire their character when they reach level 10. (Ordinary adventures will take place in the level range from one to nine; higher level adventures may involve mass battles.)

Slow Advancement: In order to enjoy more play between before reaching name level, we use a different advancement table.

Level XP Required
1 0
2 2000
3 6000
4 12,000
5 20,000
6 30,000
7 42,000
8 56,000
9 72,000

Land: Based on some numbers I got from Rob Conley here’s what to expect when building a stronghold:



Unearthed Arcana has rules for fractional BAB and saves, that includes not getting that +2 bump for taking the 1st level of a class. I like these rules because (1) you can’t get gonzo saves by lots of multiclassing, and (2) taking levels in different classes with medium or low BAB does not severely penalize your ability to fight.

The attack of opportunity rule you suggest is, in fact, how it is done in Iron Heroes. Just a basic attack, no fancy maneuvers (unless, I think, if you have some special feat, which might work in D&D). I figure you probably want to get rid of the attack of opportunity for standing up from prone, given your experience with the enlarged spiked chain tripper. Iron Heroes also features a more succinct description of what provokes at attack of opportunity: (1) any full-round or standard action that is not also an attack, and (2) moving greater than 1/4 your speed in an opponent’s threatened area. The particulars aren’t that important, but having a generalized set of conditions, I think, is kind of nice.

Our thoughts on skills (no cross-class) and multiclassing (no XP penalties) are basically identical.

– Adrian 2008-03-22 09:53 UTC

Must keep an eye on Justin Alexander’s Legends and Labyrinths. I like the tag line: “Legends & Labyrinths takes the most popular fantasy roleplaying game and strips it down to its most basic components. It removes everything non-essential, leaving behind a simple, fast-and-loose, easy-to-use system.” Might make a good intro syste to teach the game to newbies. Then again, M20 still has a special place in my RPG heart. :)

AlexSchroeder 2008-06-24 00:34 UTC

Maybe more skill points? 2 skill points per level is tough (except for wizards, because they invest a lot in Int), I personally think no class should get less than 4 skill pts/lvl.

– Adrian 2008-06-27 19:33 UTC

Yeah, I thought about adding two skill points per level, but then James had this nice idea of awarding skill points instead of extra XP for player contribution. I like that idea, too. What do you think?

AlexSchroeder 2008-06-27 23:25 UTC

I think bumping up the skill points would still serve a solid purpose, especially if you want us to have more Knowledge-type skills and social skills.

I’m fine with awarding skill points for player contribution, but it does create something of a bookkeeping mess, since those skill points are entirely arbitrary, and so must be tracked carefully. Frankly, XP is easier, in most cases.

Maybe give out action points? A free reroll? Something like that.

– Adrian 2008-06-28 21:40 UTC

I like skill points instead of extra XP. Its one of the possible bonuses for player contribution. I also do “mulligan stones”, which allow a reroll (1 per stone).

Zachary 2009-03-12 13:14 UTC

I like the iterative attack rules – simple and easy.

– Adrian 2009-06-26 22:40 UTC

Another set of house rules: Trailblazer by Bad Axe Games (the guys who came up with the stuff I suggest for Iterative Attacks).

AlexSchroeder 2009-10-03 22:53 UTC

Some major changes again. Moved life and death rules from the Roleplaying Social Contract here. Removed the “No first level +2 bonus to saves” rule, since I think it’s not really necessary. Removed the auto-level clause. Not sure about that, though. I guess people can be lame and say that just want to apply the «New Character» rule. I think coup de grace should be used in combat, so dropped that house rule as well.

I wonder why the house rules are using a 20% bonus or penalty instead of the original 50%. Weird.

AlexSchroeder 2009-10-08 17:13 UTC

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