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.