Session Zero Part 2: House Rules

In Part 1, I discussed the simple world-building aspects I handout to all players in order to craft good characters together during Session Zero.  This part is a much more collaborative process where the DM and players decide the rules modifications (if any) that fit best with the game and maintain the fun desired.

Gerrit Dou - A Hermit Praying (1670)The 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide has many optional rules that DMs should address with their groups. Afterall, having Feats, Flanking, Multiclassing, Abilities, Attack Maneuvers, and many more added or removed from a game can alter the levels of fun players might expect. Refer to chapter 9 of the DMG for detailed published information.

Beyond the printed optional rules a game group can decide, everyone might want to have custom rules that will add fun complexity to a game.  As long as everyone agrees, adding new rules can be fun and challenging.  The most important aspect of adding any new options and rules, is the DM should periodically talk with the players to ensure they are working and fun.  If they are not, then they should be removed.

I do remind myself that 5th Edition’s design principles are focused around simplicity and elegance and not as highly codified as 3rd Edition or 4th Edition.  Adding optional and new rules and options can erode the simplicity.  But if it supports your player’s play styles and adds to everyone’s fun, then do it.

I recommend bringing a set of rules and options you believe the table should agree on even if you as DM don’t necessarily like them.  It can make for great discussion.

This post will detail what options and rules we adopted for our ongoing campaign that begins with the Lost Mine of Phandelver (LMoP) module in the 5th Edition Starter Set and moves onto a larger world.

Table Rules: 

  • Rule Ambiguity:  If a ruling is needed and there is no known rule (and is not life-threatening to a player’s character, a quick ruling will be made by the DM.  The DM & the Rules Lawyer will discuss a formal ruling that will be discussed.  If the character is in a life-threatening position, the Rules Lawyer will look-up the situation.  After 5 minutes with no ruling, the ruling will be in favor of the character.
  • Rules Lawyer:  One person will be assigned the Rules Lawyer and provided a Player’s Handbook & Errata document to reference when needed.
  • Board Runners:  We use a dry-erase board for tracking combat.  At the start of a session, a player is selected to run the board for the duration.  A session-long benefit is granted of  +1 Attribute Modifier bonus to be rolled on 1d6.  Thanks for tracking!
  • Story Recap:  Anyone willing to give a recap of the previous session will receive a session-long benefit is granted of  +1 Attribute Modifier bonus to be rolled on 1d6.  Thanks for recapping the story!
  • Quorum:  This campaign begins with three active players.  If one person cannot play, the game will be cancelled. The campaign will be capped at 4 players, should the opportunity arise.

Character Building Rules:

  • Playable Races:  Dwarves, Elves (No Drow), Halflings, Humans, Human (Variant).
  • Playable Classes:  Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard.
  • Feats: Yes.
  • Multiclassing:  At 4th Level, can choose any class except Sorcerer & Warlock (Story Reasons) to multiclass into.
  • Character Advancement:  No XP tracking, only Milestone-based Levelling.

World Rules:

  • Ammo Tracking: The players opted to track ammo; if spend 10 minutes after encounters collecting ammo, receive 1/2 back.  (Player Request).
  • Body Die:  DM provides a die to each player. When rolling any attack, all players and DM also roll the 12-sided Body Die for attack location.  This is primarily used for describing attacks. (DM Request).
  • Critical Hits: Critical Hits will be 2x weapon damage and a roll on a custom Critical Hit Chart. (Player Request).
  • Critical Misses: Critical Misses will automatically fail on any 1d20 roll, and a roll on a custom Critical Miss Chart. (Player Request).
  • Cursed Items: Many cursed items exist in the world.  All players roll 1d6 minimum cursed items. (DM Request).
  • Encumbrance: The players opted to track encumbrance. (Player Request).
  • Healing Potions: All healing potions are created using Herbalism and not considered magical. (DM Request).
  • Hit in hands: When an attack hits either hand, and the player or DM must roll CON save or drop item in hand. If relevant, a 1d100% chance item will break on ground (such as glass, ceramic, clay etc). (DM Request).
  • Housing: Characters can purchase or build housing.  Houses have Recurring Expenses that must be paid monthly to the proper collectors. (Table Request).
  • Injuries:  If a character rendered unconscious and passes death saves, they receive a permanent scar based on Body Die roll.  Length of scar is the damage in inches.  Unless scars are intentionally covered, they subtract from a character’s appearance score. If the party is knocked unconscious and survive, everyone rolls on the Lingering Injuries chart. (Table Request).
  • Magic Items: Each player rolls 1d10 minimum magic items that exist in the campaign scope. (DM Request).
  • Magic Item Durability: For story reasons, every magical item (unless consumable), has a 4-point durability meter.  If a character or NPC hits or is struck by a magical Critical Hit, all Magical Items in a 20ft radius lose 1 durability point, including the attacker no matter where they are located. (DM Request).
  • Natural Disasters: At the end of each session, a 1d100 roll is made.  On a 100, a Natural Disaster takes place.  Location is then rolled by region, then event. (DM Request).
  • Non-Lethal Damage: Any character that requests to attack with non-lethal damage, but rolls max damage, the attack is lethal. (Table Request).
  • Pets:  We will be using a Pet supplement for handling, training, and using pets. (Table Request).
  • Pet Location:  If a pet is stowed on a character’s body, the location is identified.  If hit and a body die roll matches the location, the attack hits the pet first (not pet’s AC), and any remaining damage is passed onto the character.
  • Physical Appearance Score: Each player rolls 1d100 to represent the numerical representation to your overall appearance.  We will not use Charisma to represent anything appearance related.  Players can spend up to +1 Ability Modifier to re-roll once. (DM Request).
  • Renown Points: Renown is an ongoing score that reflects the reaction of NPCs in a particular area such as a town.  Characters could be heroes in one area, but villains in another.  Tracked at top of Character Sheet.  (DM Request).
  • Resurrection: No changes to how resurrection costs or works for this campaign. (Table Request).
  • Spell Preparation: For spellcasting classes that require daily spell preparation, must state their spells when relevant.  If forgotten, the previous day’s spells are assumed prepared. (DM Request).
  • Stealth Checks:  Once stealthed, characters can move freely for 10ft before another Stealth check, based on surrounding cover & terrain. (Table Request).
  • Wild Magic: For story reasons, when Magic Items lose all durability they will crumble apart, and a Wild Magic roll will be made as the last bit of unstable magic is released.  We will use the published Sorcerer’s Wild Magic Surge Table from the Player’s Handbook. (DM Request).

I should note that any House Rules should always be revisited if begins to constrain having fun for everyone.  Also, it is not uncommon to add new House Rules to the campaign over time as situations arise.

Next time we’ll begin building characters and developing deep backstories.

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