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Faced with the prospect of restarting a campaign, it is time to update the house rules. You can see my final campaign notes for some of the problems I noticed with the second iteration. Hopefully, I can solve those without adding too many more to version three.
I have moved more of the informal, easier-to-remember, or less referenced rules to the first page so the second two pages can be printed front to back for a reference page.
Roleplaying vs Rollplaying
This section got a short update in wording and a few sentences added regarding how I deal with exceptional cases. Most regular players will skim this, but I am making an effort to write down the things I think are standard which might not be in your games.
Camping is getting bit of an overhaul mechanically. To work better with the consolidated stress mechanic, I am updating the various comfort levels to include a minimum food cost required to reach the equivalent lifestyle for destressing. The forage action gets changed to a lower amount of food and water but does get a little better because the food is earned in money equivalents rather than ration and waterskin equivalents. I weakened the sharpen weapons action, fixing three broken items was quite a lot, and removed the wear and tear component. To replace the loss and to synergize with a new hireling rule, I added the option for the sharpen weapons action to reduce the per day costs of a character’s hirelings.
Based on some feedback and confusion regarding the usage of the travel tool, the whole things got reworded to cement the idea of taking travel actions with time costs. Some rulings were tightened up to clarify terrain effects, especially when hustling. The search action was changed to match the forage mechanic of simple camping.
Learn by Looting
Some extra verbiage added to clarify that encounters have a set difficulty in my DM notes, regardless of how well or poorly the players respond to them. Carousing experience is multiplied by the number of players in the party, giving them each EXP equal to the total carousing money spent to encourage the practice and offset the risks.
Off the Gold Standard
Updated the wording and pegged lifestyle costs to stay the same along with wages to work with the new hireling rules and rules for reducing stress. I added a new rule for appraisal and bargaining to offer an avenue for players to seek better deals that results in interesting narratives and choices based on the imperfections of the items they deal in. As it stands now, I intend to encourage my players to come up with the flaws. If that proves tedious or difficult then I will come up with a quick table later, but I imagine most times the flaw won’t be relevant to gameplay.
This rule is a new rule taken partially from Courtney Campbell’s post on strong and weak henchmen forces. I’ve modified the rule slightly to fit with the bounded accuracy of 5e, but overall gave good reasons to have henchman while imposing enough trade-offs that it won’t be strictly better than going without. Hopefully this is enough to encourage players to keep NPC’s around, which opens up a lot of narrative trope-space, without slowing battles to a crawl.
I added this paragraph here to explain my approach to fumbles. This one is just part of my attempt to start writing down what I do differently.
Better Battle Tactics
As far as house rules go, this one has been a fairly large success. It sees play most games but has well-respected risks that the players weigh before using. I updated the verbiage, revised the description of save-based attacks to make it clearer, and modified PUSH IT TO THE LIMIT downside to fit with the stress mechanic.
Death and Dismemberment
As a tool for avoiding death, my old version of this mechanic worked but it just wasn’t very fun or useful. After their first few levels of getting knocked down round after round and picking up mostly superficial injuries, my players basically never used the mechanic again. Magical healing was able to get them back up before even one death saving throw. Injuries they picked up because tactical concerns delayed healing? Those go fixed up easily by their higher level healing spells. Then when they did get injured, the dice system was complicated, required on the fly injury generation, and generally had no real payoff for the extra work.
Now, based on a table jury-rigged from Goblin Punch, I think I’ve morphed this system to be, paradoxically, more lethal but also safer. Beginning injuries are unserious status effects while later injuries take those status effects and apply them to longer periods of time. At the same time, players stay in battle with 1 temporary hit point while making death saving throws. With a little number jiggering I partially solved the issue of ongoing damage repeatedly knocking players down while at the same time not giving the players anything like the invulnerable frames in video games. Tougher, higher level characters have an edge on surviving a lot of injuries, but they aren’t immortal. The spread of injuries goes up to a higher level of healing spell and are vague enough to let the players describe their wounds if they want without requiring me to generate injuries on the fly. Interestingly, applying this system to boss monsters gives them a sort of heroic survivability that you would see in movies, games, or books, hopefully enough time to trigger their doomsday device, get in a last rage-filled attack, or try to flee without needing DM intervention. Finally, I gave players some agency in giving in to the pain and passing out. Doing so before rolling an injury gives a better chance of a lesser injury but waiting until after an injury only delays the injury onset.
This mechanic combines some aspects of both Wear and Tear and Insanity, but leans more towards the insanity side. This single metric will be easier to track and able to come from more sources, so it is easier to include it as DM. To balance this, players can use any mental ability save. The breakdown itself has been simplified to a fear effect with any fumbles resulting in broken equipment. Stress also gives player a sort of currency to spend on a few minor abilities, reflecting how some stress in the real world is useful for staying alive, but it rides a thin line of risk vs reward. I am also adding this mechanic to test the theory that rules are more easily remembered when they bring the players a benefit. I don’t have to remember to be the bad guy and apply negative penalties.
Stress recovery is now tied to the players’ lifesyle expenses, with more lavish expenses reducing stress more quickly. Time spent on the road counts for half as much time as staying in towns or fixed buildings.
Hooked on Phonics
I feel that my language mechanic is basically sound, having moved away from annoying restrictions to a word count restriction in previous version. The lack of usage is entirely on the past campaign taking place in a relatively homogenous and small area with few intelligent foes. My intentions for my next campaign are to bring more languages and diversity to my NPC’s so I can test out how useful this really is.
DM Stylistic Resolutions
I will write up more traveling encounters, camping wandering monster encounters, and dungeon wandering monster tables so I can provide more meaningful sandbox games.
I will pre-generate lists of treasure so that my loot piles aren’t just heaps of coins, mundane goods, random artwork, and gems but include more single-use items, magic items, and exotic equipment.
I will experiment with different methods of describing rooms, relaying puzzles, and giving hints so that my players share the same mental pictures I do and can better understand what options are available.
I will insert interesting story hooks and encourage player buy in from an early start.
I will expect a 25 word executive summary of each player character and do something similar for important NPC’s. My NPC’s will always have at least one weak point that can be found and used as leverage, although it may not always be moral.