Rules as Written

RPG Blog II and Bat in the Attic are writing about using the rules, something that I’ve wanted to post about here for a few weeks. So I’ll dive in.

I think that the biggest advantage of playing by the book is that people outside your group can sit down and play without missing a beat. If my group plays chess with loads of house rules, I can’t just go play my game at a chess tournament and I can’t just invite anyone to sit at my board and play.

Unfortunately, I’m a non-stop tinkerer and feel the need to fix things I’ve always seen as broken and tweak things to better suite my vision of the game. The biggest advantage of house ruling, of course, is that it allows you to play the game you want to play the way you want to play it. Maybe the changes are minor, like giving thieves d6 for hit dice instead of d4 or allowing clerics to use swords. Maybe they’re significant, like replacing the spell system with one based on mana points, using a combat system built on a deck of standard playing cards, or replacing the experience and advancement system with one based on d20 rolls at the end of each session. Either way, you’re customizing the game to (hopefully) improve the playing experience for yourself and your players.

My plan about a year ago was to play two games: Labyrinth Lord (nearly 100% by the book) and Swords & Wizardry White Box (completely and totally house ruled beyond recognition). When the real world notified me that there wasn’t enough time to game as much as I wanted, I decided to go with Labyrinth Lord and abandon the grand plans I had for my own version of S&W White Box.

I’ve always wanted to be a by-the-book gamer but have never really succeeded. And even though I think Labyrinth Lord is an excellent system and that the Advanced Edition Companion is a superb supplement, there were still a lot of things I wanted to tweak and fix and add and subtract.

I don’t want to play the rules as written and I don’t want to claim we’re “playing Labyrinth Lord” and then hand out sixteen pages of house rules.

So we’re essentially writing our own game. And then we’ll use the rules as written.

To be honest, I’ve got mixed feelings about this. Even with the ease of sharing and printing up rules these days, getting our game won’t be nearly as easy as getting a copy of Labyrinth Lord or S&W. But our rule set is in what I’m calling the “Alpha phase” right now and I’m fairly pleased with it. I had it printed up at Staples and we’ll probably game with the set for a month or two before advancing to “Beta.”

Is this better than playing by the book? I don’t know. But it’s better for us.

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3 Responses to Rules as Written

  1. Tim Shorts says:

    I’m with you on the tweaking. I do it frequently or grab this from one system and this from another. When I do I consult my group see what they think, do alittle more tweaking and then try to be as consistant as I can. Like I commented in Zack’s post, if its not covered in the rules or the player comes up with something cool I just have them tell me what they’re doing and roll.

  2. Michael says:

    Don’t sweat it. I’ve been doing that too. I’ve kitbashed the S&W rules into a LoTR game, changing class names, letting Champions/Clerics use any weapon, adding a rudimentary skill system, etc. It’s been a lot of fun to design and play.

  3. Verdande says:

    I hear you on that. I’m a tinkerer myself, and I can’t help but make my own rules up as I go along. For the last month or so, my project/obsession has been my own game, tentatively named the Secret of Steel for loosely emulating low-fantasy stories. All I need to do now is add magic, and that’ll be that. As it is, the magic system isn’t to my liking.

    So what I’m saying, I guess, is don’t worry about making up your own rules. The way I see it, if you aren’t, you’re doing it wrong.

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