my-house-rules-for-dndThis month’s RPG Bloggers carnival is themed on D&D. The guest article below by Mike E. has some great ideas for modifying your D&D experience by borrowing what he likes from one edition and adding it to another.

I’d like to think I’m a fairly good DM. I know I have my strengths, and I have my weaknesses. I’m always looking to improve my DMing skills. I’m also always looking for ways to improve the game I love the most: Dungeons and Dragons.

Following are things I’ve either done, or am trying, that work for me. I figured I’d jot them down for other people to see. Maybe people will like them. Maybe they won’t. I like sharing ideas, because with feedback comes new and better ideas. Hopefully someone out there will like at least one thing I’ve done and try it in their campaign.

Oh, and I don’t claim that any of this is new or novel, ’cause I’m sure it’s all been done before.

Thanks for reading.

D&D 4E rules mentioned in this article

Bloodied: when your hit points drop to half their maximum. When bloodied, PCs and monsters often have access to different powers, abilities, and options.

Healing surge: PCs receive a certain number of these each day and can use them to regain 25% of their hit points. This conceptual mechanic represents second wind, rallying, and swings in momentum during combat.

Status effects: special states or rules applied to PCs and their foes to represent different conditions, such as poisoned, diseased, or bleeding.

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition rules

I purchased the core 4e books and the PHB 2 because I wanted to judge for myself on 4e instead of just listening to other people’s opinions. I read through all the books till my eyes bled and found that many of the mechanics I really like, but the classes and the lack of customization I really don’t. I also don’t like that many of the powers are just variations on a theme. So, reading through, I looked at what made 4e more fun and easy, and decided what I wanted to keep.

  • Character initiative going up every even level. This makes sense to me. Adventurers of level 12 still going at their original +2 (because they don’t have a great Dex or improved initiative) seems non-epic to me.
  • I’ve kept healing surges to lighten the load on the healers, but they only get 2 + CON Mod (min of +1) healing surges per day.
  • Bloodied. I’ve kept bloodied, but when bloodied characters take -2 to all rolls, showing they are becoming fatigued.
  • One thing that annoyed me with D&D 3.x is status effects. They are difficult to track. In 4e, status effects go on during the whole encounter, but at the end of your turn, you get a save. I’m keeping that, but using 3.5 saving throws.
  • Powers. At level 1 the players can choose two powers: encounter, daily, or utility. Both can be used once per day. As they level up they can swap out powers for something else. Also, if they really like a low level power, we buff it up to match their level.
  • I’m using 4e races, racial abilities, and racial powers and seeing how that works in 3.x.
  • Quick Draw feat gives an additional +2 to Initiative. I like this.
  • How do you update monsters from 3.x to reflect the initiative boost? Look at their challenge rating or level advancement, and + that to create their new bonus to initiative. If they have a rapid strike or quick draw feat, give ’em +2 initiative.

Monster Mods

One of the things that always got to me about many role-playing games is the length of combat. Something many GMs and players have struggled with. To me, combat should be fast, furious, and deadly without the really striving for TPK.

I decided to create a style of ‘minion’ or ‘mook,’ for lack of a better term. They don’t have 1 hit point, but can definitely be killed in 1 to 2 hits. To make them more of a threat, I give them a higher initiative, higher attack, and up their damage and saves. So, if the creature has an axe that normally does 1d8 damage, I up it to 2d8 or 3d8.

The next style of enemy has slightly higher HP and doesn’t do as much damage, but has some tricks up their sleeves that make them just as nasty, but again, they can go down in 2-4 hits.

Then it goes to mini-boss and boss type creatures. These can be anything; a goblin king to a shambling mound to a chaos beast to a lich. I look at what the Monster Manual says their abilities, stats, etc., are and use those as a base, and increase or lower damage stats and etc. Usually I do this on the fly and have become good at providing a challenge for my players.


I’ve heard that Nobis is coming out in July and has mechanics for fencing, and I’m excited to see what they have come up with and may take that over what I’ve done. One thing I see players rarely take use of is blocking, parrying, and dodging. Why? Because combat is a war of hit point attrition, and the one who loses hit points faster loses.

With 3.x mechanics, you have to use your attack (sometimes full action) to block or parry an attack. Then there is a complex set of rules that allows you to oppose roll, roll again, then roll again (I’m exaggerating) and you may get a hit off on the target for doing this.

What I’ve come up with (and am currently playtesting this) is fencing points. You get your level in fencing points and they refresh every level. Fencing points can be used to dodge, or block attacks. You can block 1 attack by target once per round by burning points.

If you have 4 guys making one attack each on you, you can burn 4 points in an attempt to block. If you have three guys making 2 attacks each you can only burn three points and block one attack of each enemy. To block or dodge you roll a DEX (the modifier) or Athletics/Tumble check (whichever is higher) and dodge the attack and shift one square away. The DC is their attack roll. For blocking, you roll an opposing attack roll. If you beat them, you successfully block their attack. The next part has more on fencing options in the Eberron rules.

Eberron Rules

I like Eberron’s rules for Action Points (AP). You get 3+ your level and they add +#d6 (depending on level) to your attack, save, skill check, ability check rolls when you decided to use one. They come in handy, and allow the players to be exceptional. I give everyone the Action Surge Feat, which allows the player to burn three action points to take an extra move or attack action (basically what burning 1 AP in 4e does). In regards to fencing it also allows bonuses. If you successfully block an attack, even if it is not your turn you can burn three AP and make a free attack. If you successfully dodge an attack, you can spend 3 AP and make a move action. These actions are limited because it is NOT your players turn, but allow you to do something extra.


I’m also using rules and changes from Pathfinder Beta, and when the published book goes live, I’ll assimilate what I like from that and what I like from the beta. Pathfinder has quite a few changes to feats, combat, etc. that I like.

Alright. So that’s it. My little bit of knowledge. Whether you like it or not, I just wanted to put it out there for others to criticize or take ideas from or whatever.


Mike E.

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