When designing a house rule, I tend to ask myself three questions: does it solve a problem; what effect does it have on the rules as written; and most important of all, is it fun?
Does it Solve a Problem?
As fantastic as 3.5 is, I think everyone will agree that the system has its flaws. Whether it’s grapple checks, two weapon fighting, polymorph, spacing, or epic level spells, 3.5 has a number of issues that, while not detrimental, could certainly stand to be improved.
That said, there are many aspects of the game that function just fine. For example, I like the d20 mechanic, I like feats, I like multi-classing. The magic system has some bumps, but overall, I like its broad sweep and that it’s fairly easy to customize.To me, these are the elements that make 3.5 such a fantastic system, because they allow you to create almost any fantasy character that you can imagine, without getting too bogged down in mechanics.
To me, the worst offense would be to create a house rule that doesn’t solve a problem. For example, a lot of people try to create house rules for critical fumbles. I would ask, what problem does this solve? Is there something so critically lacking in the 3.5 system that requires a mechanic that allows characters to accidentally shoot themselves in the eye when they fire an arrow? If the house rule doesn’t solve a problem- whether it be a story problem, a mechanics problem, or a roleplaying problem- then to be honest, I don’t really feel like it belongs in the game.
What Effect Does it Have on the Rules As Written?
Whenever I create a house rule, I always try to consider what effect it’s going to have on the game as a whole. If it’s going to have very little impact on the game as a whole, then I’m much more inclined to use it. If it’s going to have a broad and sweeping effect on the game, then I need to seriously consider how I want to proceed, so that it disrupts the game as little as possible. For example, I’m not wild about the rules for two weapon fighting (which is a topic for another post). That said, I recognize that by changing the rules for two weapon fighting, it affects any number of game mechanics, from the class abilities of rangers, to the Multiweapon Fighting feat. If I don’t take these rules into account, then I’m going to have to create a lot of additional, ad hoc house rules when I have to run a monster that has a feat like Greater Two Weapon Fighting.
Now some might point out that the changes I made to skills have a pretty broad effect on the game, particularly when it comes to monsters and NPCs. While I agree that this is the case, I tried very hard to ensure that every skill from 3.5 is either incorporated into, or has a counterpart in the house skills I created. That way, if a monster or an NPC from 3.5 has a skill, like Knowledge (geography), the DM isn’t left wondering what to do with the skill.
Is it Fun?
To me, this is the most important element when creating a house rule, because even if a rule solves a problem, and even if it takes into account all effects it might have on the rules as written, if it’s not fun, then all it’s going to do is ruin everyone’s enjoyment of the game. For example, removing the spell polymorph from the game might solve a lot of problems, and it might even have a minimal impact on the rules as written. However, it removes an important element of the fantasy genre, and in my opinion, that spoils everyone’s fun.
Now that’s not to say that house rules should only be changed if it makes things fun for the players. On the contrary, the DM should be having fun too, and if the DM isn’t having fun, then something needs to change. That said, it’s the DM’s job to make sure the players are having fun too, and if they’re not having fun because of a house rule you created, it’s time to reexamine that rule and see if there is a way to make it fun for everyone.
What are some of the questions you ask as you create house skills?