Sunday, October 13, 2013

30 Days of GameMastering--Day 11!

We're on to Phase II of Lindevi's "30 Days of GameMastering" challenge, so we'll be spending the next ten days talking about the actual act of gaming.  With that, let's get into it!

House rules:  what are your favorite hacks, mods, and shortcuts?

It's pure impulse for any gamer to try to make even their favorite system better.  While fun is a subjective item in and of itself--and game designers do try to make things fun for as many people as possible--what's fun at your table might not be the same as mine.

Case in point:  ICONS.  I love the speed of the game and the fact that ICONS lets players be creative with their power usages through Stunts and the use of FATE-based elements, I really don't care for the idea that the GM never rolls dice.  Why?  Well, if the players know that Doctor Weird's psychic blast is always at a rating of 7, it takes the challenge out of fighting Doctor Weird.  So, for any 'named' villain or adversary, I throw the dice just like any PC.  It provides a much greater threat for the PCs, as that same psychic blast can now achieve the Moderate/Major/Massive successes that the PCs themselves can.  While I don't typically do this for "mook"-level NPCs, anything that ramps up the tension and conflict is fair game in my book!

The dice of a pirate who came up Snake Eyes!
Another rule I've cribbed shamelessly came from Skull and Bones--a d20 sourcebook focusing on pseudo-historical swashbuckling and piracy.  But, in among the various black powder firearms was tucked the "Roll the Bones" mechanic.  "Rolling the bones" is pretty simple--toss 2d6 and hope for as high as you can get.  Typically speaking, players are only permitted to Roll the Bones in a situation where they're hoping for extreme luck, as they're essentially stuck with the results of the Bones roll instead of any other (presumably failed) rolls.  I've used the Bones mechanic in other forms, as well.  WEGS' "cold rolls" and "frozen rolls" are frequent at our table, to say nothing of a straight up d20 roll to determine an NPC's attitude or reaction.

Honestly, though?  My favorite graft has always been the infamous Call of Cthulhu Sanity system.  Easy to port over and use in numerous settings, including Sanity as a score opens up whole new realms of tension at the table, as players now have to balance their tendencies to run in, guns-a-blazing, against the very real possibility that their character may be overwhelmed mentally...

The key thing, though?  Don't be afraid to play with a system's mechanics.  If something doesn't work after you've tried it, there's nothing stating that you have to stick with a broken house-rule.  Do what works best for your table and you'll be rewarded!


  1. Regarding the ICONS rolls, the variability is nice, but it has the downside of making them statistically weaker, since they will be on a bell curve and 50% of the time will roll worse than they would have on average. One workaround, especially for powerful villains, might be to roll anyway and ignore any results that would make it worse than their default. Perhaps in compensation, their base value is reduced by 1. That way the villain is more of an interesting threat (sometimes doing something more powerful), but doesn't run the risk of going down like a punk.

    My favorite houserule is including Bennies for systems that don't normally have them, like D&D 4e (where Action Points become these). Being able to hand them out for good roleplaying is a plus no matter what system that you play.

  2. Very true, but if players are also rolling, it evens out in practice.
    I just like having a 'swing' to the villain. Doctor Doom misses as often as he hits! :D