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House Rules

The intent behind these house rules is to provide a rapid mechanism for resolving situations that are probably not in the rules without spending an hour making sure they aren't in the rules, or arguing about what the rules say.

In some cases, I'm preemptively specifying whether or not I intend to use a common practice from past games I've run or participated in. As a general rule, take this as a list of how I intend to run things, which should be pretty close to the way the rules are written... but is unlikely to match up perfectly. When there is a conflict with the printed rulebooks, these rules win. When there is a conflict between these rules and a ruling on an in-game situation, the DM wins.

Valid Sourcebooks

I will consider anything from 1st Edition valid by default, if you have the sourcebook for it. I will consider material from 2nd edition sourcebooks as well. The sourcebooks I own (that are relevant to players) are listed below. 2nd edition sourcebooks are in italics. Strikethrough means I will not allow players to use that sourcebook by default, but if you really want to play something from a crossed-out sourcebook, ask and maybe we can work it in. In general, anything designed for 2nd edition AD&D stands a good chance of being allowed, but it may be best to run it by me first. Certain things don't quite fit the intended flavor and won't be. Other things are unbalanced (1st edition psionics) or just don't fit the flavor well (2nd edition psionics).

I've had requests to allow school-specialist magic-users as per 2nd edition. I will allow that.

I've had requests to allow necromancers per the Complete Guide. I don't have the sourcebook, but I've glanced over it. Since necromancy is a forbidden art, necromancers must start as normal magic users (perhaps with a gothic fashion sense) and find some source of power over the undead that can teach necromantic-school spells and perhaps grant additional powers for a price paid in souls. Those wishing to follow this path might want to peruse the archives of the Band of Misfits for clues.

I've had a request to allow a drow. My rules for allowing drow characters are simple. Convince the party to go to the Underdark and survive. While in the Underdark, join the party as a 1st level drow character and convince the party to allow you to join them. Then, return to the surface and survive while all your friends and family try to kill you. If you make it back to the surface, congratulations, you have your drow character. Everyone will still be trying to kill you.

Dragon Magazine monks will be allowed in the future, but some events must take place first.

The campaign began near the small city of Rookroost, within the Bandit Kingdoms.

Character creation

We will be using a character pool to start the game off. Everyone will roll up three 1st level characters. Only one can be played at a time in most situations; the others are assumed to be unavailable. This gives you a fallback if your character dies or is captured beyond immediate hope of rescue. The characters may or may not know or trust each other, within reason. If they know each other, include it in your backstory. I suggest having at least some connection, so your characters have a reason to help each other (since as a player you are likely going to want to). Family members or childhood friends are obvious solutions. If you want to play Crom the Strongarm Robber trying to reform his life through small town living and Sir Percival his parole officer in Rookroost, for example, I see bonus XP for roleplaying in your future.

Please have at least a minimal backstory for each character, even if it's just "I got hit on the head and don't remember anything."

I encourage players to work with each other during character creation to coordinate the background and relationships between characters in the party.

I will allow two optional systems for character creation. We'll call one the newbie system and one the old-school system. The latter is designed to provide a roleplaying challenge. Make a note at the top of your character sheet if you are following old-school or newbie rules. Old-schoolers will get an experience point bonus. Feel free to mix characters with both systems, it's a per-character choice, not per-player.

Newbie system

Roll 4d6 per ability, discard the lowest die for each, and assign to abilities as desired. If you want to play a particular class and can't meet the minimum requirements, trade points between abilities as desired to reach the minimums.

Old-school system

Roll 4d6 per ability, discard the lowest die for each, IN ORDER. Make the best character you can with the results.

Starting equipment

Standard gold and prices per the 1st edition player's handbook.

Ability checks

When the DM asks you to make an ability check against a given attribute, you will roll 1d20. The DM will give you a difficulty number and your roll, plus the bonus from your ability score, plus your character's level, must be above the difficulty to succeed. The usual rules for natural ones and natural twenties apply. The bonus from your ability score is the result of ((score - 10) / 2) which should map closely to the standard bonuses in 3.5.

Table of Ability Bonuses

The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide defines ability checks differently. It says that the player rolls 1d20 and seeks to roll under the character's relevant ability score. I will occasionally use these checks under the name Ability Saving Throw in situations where only raw ability matters.

Non-weapon Proficiencies

Characters start with a number of non-weapon proficiencies depending upon their class, and can learn more by trading in a weapon proficiency if desired. You can then perform skilled actions within that proficiency, assuming you have time and tools. Each has an ability score it is tied to, and ability checks will be used to determine success or failure. Generally, using a non-weapon proficiency is a time-consuming non-combat action that can only be performed during down time (overnight while camped, between sessions). There are some exceptions to this.

As a general rule for those without the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, fighters receive 2 non-weapon proficiencies to start. Thieves, clerics, magic-users receive 3. Monks receive 1. Additional non-weapon proficiencies are gained as characters gain levels.

In some cases, your non-weapon proficiencies are related to what you did before becoming an adventurer, and possibly what you still do in the down time between adventures. Work this into your character's back story for their starting non-weapon proficiencies. Note that you do not have to allocate all your proficiency slots at character creation, you can learn skills later. You can also place more than one non-weapon proficiency into a particular skill; each additional proficiency you dedicate to a particular skill gives you a +2 on checks within that proficiency.

Example Non-Weapon Proficiencies

Since it is likely to be asked, healing as a profession can be used to bind wounds and treat basic diseases. Parties including a healer can regain their FULL hit die automatically when resting overnight, instead of rolling that die, and assuming the healer passes the ability check. This will also prevent the healer from performing other tasks, including standing watch.

Feel free to propose more not on this list, and to tie your non-weapon proficiencies into your character's background as a roleplaying aid.


Everyone rolls 1d12. I will call out segment numbers (1-12); when your number is called, declare your action. Monsters will also roll and act individually, unless there are large numbers, in which case I will separate them into a manageable number of groups. Ties happen simultaneously.


Surprise cannot be achieved randomly. For surprise to occur, one party must know the other party is present while remaining hidden until they attack. The DM will evaluate whether the players have been detected based on their actions. If the party is ambushed, the first they will know of it is when they are told to roll for surprise.

In the event an ambush is successful, the surprising party rolls initiative normally, and the DM will count segments normally. Each character may move or attack once per segment after their initiative number is called. For example, if a character rolls a 1 while the defending party has been surprised, that character may move 12 squares or make 12 attacks or some combination of the above.

In a truly random encounter, it is assumed that surprise cancels out.

It will be very difficult to surprise a party actively exploring a dungeon, or an alert guard on duty. But parties have to rest, or let down their guard while traveling from place to place, and guards often get bored when nothing seems to be happening. Furthermore, dungeon dwellers often consider themselves to be "at home" and are not at their most alert.

Hit points

Newbies take full hit points per hit die of the appropriate type for their character class per level. Old-schoolers roll the die. Both add your constitution bonus. Old-schoolers, Unearthed Arcana minimum hit point rules do apply; if your roll is low at first level you can accept the minimum instead, which is usually half the maximum roll for your class. Apply your constitution bonus, if any, after the roll and the minimum adjustment.

In combat, characters are unconscious when they reach 0 hit points or below. Death occurs at your constitution in negatives (ie, a Constitution 12 character dies at -12 hit points).

At DM's discretion a character may be bleeding; they lose 1 hit point per round until their wounds are bound. Any character can bind wounds with one round and cloth.

An unconscious character may wake up by making a constitution check. If successful, they must immediately make a system shock check. Failure on the system shock check means death, after a few last words. Success allows the character to perform non-combat actions while remaining immobile. Binding your own wounds IS possible (but it's safer to wait for someone else, usually).

Healing normal wounds is assumed to occur at 1 hit point per hour of rest outdoors or in a hostile environment. If the party can rest overnight in a safe place (with no guards posted), indoors, each character will recover 1 hit DIE (roll it) per hour of uninterrupted rest.

Near Death Experiences

If your character enters negative hit points from a particularly traumatic incident, please make a note of it on your character sheet. This will likely provide roleplaying fodder for the future, if your character survives. For example, after the first game session, the Mouser may well develop a paralyzing fear of rats, and Thick Duck may never again venture near a bookshelf...


To regain spells, rest for one hour per spell level (1 hour regains ALL 1st level spells, 2 hours all 1st and 2nd level spells, etc). Note that lower-level characters with only low level spells can regain them fairly quickly, which might come in handy.

Spellcasting in Armor

Fighter/Mages (multiclass, or dual class with both classes active) can cast spells in armor provided: the spell has no somatic components, OR they accept a chance of spell failure based on the type of armor worn, OR they have spent 1 non-weapon proficiency per spell level to be able to cast spells of that level in armor freely.

Newbie Spellcasting rules

Newbie rules ignore material spell component requirements for spells below 3rd level. It's assumed your character is obtaining their material components in a town market. Pay 1 gp per level for each spell cast, in advance. Spells with special material component rules or particularly expensive components may not follow this simplified system. I'm not going to track this very closely; just announce you are spending money on spell components occasionally and how much.

(Yes, that's 3 gp for a small ball of bat guano. It's a very special ball of bat guano.)

Old school Spellcasting

Rules on components will be used. Material components can be substituted for similar materials at risk of spell failure at DM's discretion. Please track components yourself; when you are preparing your memorized spell list, note what the material components are. You can try to gather the components from your environment (Intelligence ability check per spell; enough for 1d4 uses of that spell) if they are common. You can also buy components at the market as per newbie rules, but track them per individual spell and number of usages.

I'm not usually going to try to track material components closely enough to enforce the rules on them; treat them as roleplaying aids. If your spell requires an eyelash wrapped in gum arabic, announce that you are getting out your tweezers occasionally to add flavor. Under some circumstances I may track these more closely, such as for characters held captive.

Spell Memorization

This can be a difficult topic to handle with realism. For my purposes, memorized spells are those you have carefully prepared in advance, with exact material components, reviewing the exact steps, words, gestures, and so forth. In an emergency you may be able to swap one non-memorized spell for another that you know well (NOT one of your highest level spells). To do this, make sure you have material components available (improvised components will add an additional penalty), declare you are attempting to cast an improvised spell, and make an intelligence ability check at a difficulty (10 + spell level). Even if you are successful on this check, improvised spells will always be somewhat unpredictable... if you fail, nothing happens (but you have still used that spell slot), and on a critical failure something unexpected and unpleasant happens.


This isn't really a house rule; it's more of a concept that appeared in later supplements to simplify combat procedures. Rather than consulting a class-specific table to determine what your character needs to roll to hit a particular armor class, you can record a single number -- the roll you need to hit AC 0 (To Hit Armor Class 0, see?). (For first level characters, you're pretty much looking at a 20, but if you have to-hit bonuses from strength or weapon specialization it may be lower). Once you have your character's THAC0 recorded, when you find yourself trying to hit a creature, you simply subtract the creature's Armor Class from your THAC0 to find out what you need to roll to hit. For example, if you are fighting a guard in plate mail with a shield (AC 2) and your THAC0 is 20, you need to roll 18 or better to hit. If you were attacking a kobold with no armor other than its scaley skin, AC 7, you would need to roll a 13 or better.

THAC0 reduces four huge tables to a single number and a simple subtraction operation. I encourage players to use it rather than making me look up numbers on tables for you.

One note -- when calculating THAC0, remember what bonuses you included in the number, if any. You may want to write down a different THAC0 for each weapon you carry if the bonuses are different (eg, for weapon specialization, or a ranged weapon when you normally have a strength bonus to hit).

Critical successes and failures

Rolling a natural 20 on a d20 is considered a critical success. The DM will apply some bonus to the results. If it is an attack roll, this will usually be double damage.

Rolling a natural 1 on a d20 is considered a critical failure. The DM will apply some penalty to the results, such as dropping your weapon, in addition to failure on the attempted action.

Players are encouraged to roleplay critical successes and failures.

Firing into combat

When firing into a general combat with a missile weapon, the character attacking will roll to hit their target. If they miss, they will then roll attacks on anyone else in the line of fire until either one hits, or they run out of targets.

With a melee weapon, you always hit only your intended target, unless your intended target is actually grappling with or biting another character (in continuous contact). In that case, roll to hit both your intended target and the additional character(s) grappling with it.


Experience points will be handed out between sessions. There will generally be a group reward for everyone who showed up in person based on monsters defeated and treasure obtained. There will be bonuses for exceptional roleplaying or heroism, when earned. Characters whose players are not present receive no experience. Division of treasure under those circumstances is up to the characters.

Old school characters receive a 10% experience bonus.

Roleplaying bonuses will be handed out by the DM as noticed. If I missed your dramatic moment, players can nominate other players for roleplay awards if they notice something they found particularly enjoyable, funny, dramatic, etc. Players cannot nominate themselves.

In the event of large end-of-adventure rewards when players who contributed are not present for the actual session where the rewards are distributed, I will calculate shares based on all the sessions related to that reward (1 share per character present per session). In some cases this will count NPCs who make a significant contribution. The result will, hopefully, reflect who actually participated in earning the reward more accurately than simply dividing by the number of players who showed up when the rewards were distributed.

Between Sessions

As a courtesy to the DM, at the end of each session or shortly thereafter, the party should determine roughly where they intend to go during the next game session. This will give me a chance to prepare ahead of time.


Bastard swords wielded in one hand do damage as long swords, and as two handed swords in two hands. If this sees a lot of use, I may require separate weapon proficiencies for each style.

We will not be using the AC adjustments per weapon table.

Leveling up

Leveling will take one day of training or self-study, multiplied by the character's new level. (1st to 2nd: 2 days. 2nd to 3rd: 3 days. 3rd to 4th: 4 days. And so on). Clerics gain access to new spell levels immediately upon finishing their training. Magic-Users must either find new spells or a teacher to learn new spells, but other effects (additional spells per day, hit points, etc) are obtained automatically once the time is spent.

Starting with 6th level, self-training is not allowed. Characters will need to seek out a trainer of at least the level they are seeking to obtain training for. For most character classes this will be easy, given a little time in a medium-sized city. Thieves and assassins might need to seek out a local guild, as most thieves don't open shops or advertise. Druids and rangers might need to travel outside of the city. Fighters might seek out a local arena or gladiator competition. Clerics will likely have a temple hierarchy, and mages may have a local guild or simply ask around.

It is not necessary to find an exact match for your character's faith, even for clerics, monks, or paladins. It is sufficient to find an alignment match.

Trained animals

Under 1st Edition, rangers do not get animal companions. However, any character can purchase a trained animal, and with the right non-weapon proficiencies, can train animals themselves.

Training dogs is pretty straightforward. 1st Edition rangers do not get animal companions as they do in later editions, however, so you basically have a trained animal: not very smart, no empathic bond, doesn't gain stats or hit points as you go up in level, and so on. You won't be able to give it complex directions. At best you'll be able to point at something and command it to attack or guard. You'll have to feed it, keep track of it, find a place to leave it when you go into most buildings... In other words, it's likely to be a pain in the posterior when you're not out in the wilderness. And if you are out in the wilderness, well, it's going to act like a dog -- loud and attention-getting, perhaps when you least want the attention. So bear that in mind. On the plus side, it has thousands of years of genetics encouraging it to work with humans, so it will naturally want to stick by your side, protect you (so long as you feed it), and find you if you get separated.

Training birds, however, is not straightforward. In addition to all of the above issues, Barron will need a very heavy leather glove on one hand to carry the bird with him, and the bird will need to be hooded most of the time and on fetters all of the time. The glove will prevent use of any thief skills requiring manual dexterity while worn (open locks, disable traps) and will take one round to remove or put back on. The bird itself will need to be kept hooded and caged when not in use. The hood will take another round to remove. The cage you use to keep the bird in will be pretty large; unless you have something specially made you would need a cart to carry it for long distances. If you do have something specially made, then you're probably looking at a large pouch (for a small bird) or a backpack-sized device (for a medium sized bird) with a wire frame to carry with you. That will impose a penalty to move silently and hide in shadows checks, and possibly negate your dex bonus to AC -- you can't dodge well if you've got a birdcage strapped to your back.

Finally, if you roll a one while deploying the bird for any task, the bird will fly off on its own instead of attacking -- if you follow it immediately, you may be able to recapture it when it lands, but it will take some time unless you are in a confined space. Between fragility in melee combat and the tendency to fly off, trained birds should probably be regarded as multi-use but ultimately disposable missile weapons.

Most of this we can gloss over to keep the game moving, but make sure you mention how you are taking care of your animals when appropriate, or I'll assume you aren't.

How do monks speak with animals?

At third level, monks gain the ability to speak with animals "as druids do". Druids can speak with animals in two ways: via the 1st level spell "Speak with Animals" and by learning an animal or creature language from a list starting at 3rd level and continuing with each additional level.

Monks are not a spellcasting class, and the coincidence of both abilities starting at 3rd level is suggestive, so the monk ability follows the latter pattern. Monks (and druids) may learn one animal-type language per level from the following list:

This reflects actual study and effort, not a magical ability. These languages are in addition to languages learned by way of the character's intelligence score. Contact with the type of creature whose language you are learning is helpful for fluency, but not necessary. (Note: Any unusual languages spoken, excepting those learned magically, will require an intelligence check when trying to communicate for the first few encounters. The difficulty of this check is based on the rarity of the creature encountered. Once the check is successfully passed, communication happens normally, as the character has supplemented his "book learning" with colloquial modern usage and pronunciation).

Non-lethal Combat

This isn't really a house rule, more of a summary of obscure rules. There are two frameworks for non-lethal combat in 1st Edition. There are grappling rules, which are overly complex, not very useful, and which I intend to avoid unless absolutely necessary. And there are subdual rules, which are covered in the DMG on page 67 and the Monster Manual under Dragons. To briefly summarize, the subject of the subdual attack must be intelligent and takes 25% of subdual damage inflicted as real, but if he reaches 0 hit points or less in subdual damage it essentially forces a surrender. Characters conducting a subdual attack must use obvious subdual tactics (such as striking only with the flat of their blades, etc).

Any real attacks during the subdual attempt will make the target treat the combat as life or death again, removing the subdual damage (but leaving the 25% of real damage) and fighting to the death.

Masterwork weapons

I'm still pondering exactly how to handle this, so these rules are subject to change. 3.5 edition rules for masterwork weapons are summarized here. I do not like those rules enough to use them unmodified.

Masterwork weapons with bonuses are not generally available off the shelf. Their bonuses are based on being specially made, not only by a master craftsman, but specifically for the wielder's size, fighting style, and so on. Having one made for you will require at least a week of working with the weaponsmith every day for several hours, followed by even more labor by the craftsman. A player requesting a masterwork weapon should write up a detailed description of the shape, material, decorative elements, and how it fits their character's fighting style. Naming the weapon would also be appropriate.

Masterwork weapons are NOT magical weapons for the purposes of striking magical creatures. They may, however, be enchanted. (In fact, to take an enchantment, they must be at least masterwork quality). Bonuses do not stack.

Masterwork ammunition is not allowed, although thrown weapons that are intended to be reused can be made to masterwork quality. Arrows, quarrels, etc, are right out. Masterwork missile weapons are allowed, and are capable of imparting both to-hit and damage bonuses (due to draw weight and similar factors). Masterwork weapons found as treasure retain their masterwork bonuses only for their original wielder, but are still obviously high quality and valuable weapons.

Masterwork weapons are priced roughly as the table below, though prices will vary substantially depending on how busy the weaponsmith is. Since players are basically asking for his full output for a substantial period of time, and other customers may have already put in requests, they may have to wait for some time before the weaponsmith is willing to begin working. Characters must pay the base price just to hold a place in line, followed by half the total cost at the beginning of work and the other half when the work is completed.

Weapon TypeBase TimeBase PriceTo-hit bonusDamage Bonus>Both
Small (dagger, hand axe, short sword, etc)10 days100gp250gp250gp1000gp
Medium (battleaxe, long sword, simple spear, etc)60 days500gp500gp500gp2000gp
Large (two-handed sword, bastard sword, pole arm, etc)90 days1000gp1000gp1000gp4000gp

The above time values are taken from the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, page 26, and doubled to account for the exacting quality requirements. Prices are a rough guide only and will be highly dependent on the market.

Can I backstab with a ballista?

Backstab rules (thieves and assassins) apply only to melee weapons. No missile weapons allowed. Absolutely no siege weapons. Ballistae are right out.

How does reincarnation work?

What exactly you come back as will be determined by whether you are using the druid or magic-user version of the spell. If you come back as a humanoid creature, where your previous class is are remotely appropriate, the levels in that class will be preserved. Attributes may be preserved or rerolled, depending on how close a match they are for the new body (and with some player input as to whether they want to reroll or not).

The player may choose whether to dual-class at the time of their return into a new class appropriate to the new form. This follows the normal dual-class rules, except that it is not restricted by race. If the player chooses not to dual-class, they can resume their previous class. Note that this only makes sense if the previous class makes sense in the new form.

Shield Bashing

Shield bashes do 1d4 damage. Magic bonuses for the shield do apply, but so do non-proficiency penalties. Using a shield bash counts as your normal attack, unless you have a spiked buckler, in which case it can be used as a second weapon in your off hand subject to additional penalties. Using a shield to attack negates the defensive bonus for that round.

Level limits by race

Non-human characters have some level limitations in the first edition rules. I'm going to handle it like this. Level limits do not apply to single-classed characters. Non-human characters who multi-class are subject to level limits, but without an experience penalty (ie, if they cannot advance in a class, they no longer count it when dividing experience). If they reach the point where they can only advance in one class, they may continue to advance without limit in that class. Half-human characters with only a single class may dual-class like humans, but multi-class characters may not, and fully-other races (dwarves, elves) may not.

Tracking ammunition usage

If you don't want me to ask you how many arrows you wrote down on your character sheet at the worst possible time, write down that number and keep track of how many you used. I suggest using a standard loadout plus hashes. So you would write down "40 arrows" and as you use them add a mark in blocks of five, four vertical and one horizontal (possibly on a separate sheet of paper). Then when you are back in town, declare you are replacing your standard load of arrows, bolts, javalins, throwable dwarves, etc, and write down "40 arrows" and start over.

For each block of 5, roll 1d4 after a battle to see how many you can recover, then write down the new number; eg start with 40, fire 10, roll 2d4 = 6, write down 36 arrows. This applies only if you announce you are recovering your ammunition AND are reasonably able to do so (not fleeing, unconscious, etc).

How does the paladin's protection from evil 1" radius work?

First of all, it's 10 feet (1 square).

Second, the description of protection from evil (as a spell) is that it works like a force field. No physical contact possible. The best way to conceptualize this appears to be as a pentagram would work to confine a demon, except in reverse... the individual protection from evil prevents touch contact, but attacks with weapons (or thrown objects) work fine. However, this applies only to incorporeal beings of pure evil, eg demons, undead with no physical body, and the like.

The paladin's 10-foot radius version prevents melee combat from incorporeal beings with the paladin completely (possibly exceptions for pole arms or the like). Anyone within 10 feet of the paladin is safe from touch attacks., but vulnerable to melee attacks. Possible exceptions for non-combatants who deliberately stay away from the edge.

Maintaining this barrier requires concentration. The paladin can take no action other than concentrating on the barrier while it protects people close to him.

If the paladin ceases to concentrate for any reason, the barrier reverts to passive form and provides only a -1 penalty to attacks from evil creatures across the barrier. It takes one full round of focused concentration to bring the barrier up.

To summarize: Evil creatures with material form get -1 to attack always. Evil creatures with no physical form must remain 10ft from the paladin while he is concentrating on the barrier.

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