Old School Gamers

Version 1

Saving the world one dungeon and Dark Lord at a time

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 wns.

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. 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 are allowed, following a series of unfortunate events.

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.

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

02-03: -4 04-05: -3 06-07: -2 08-09: -1 10-11: 0 12-13: +1 14-15: +2 16-17: +3 18-19: +4

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.

Below zero hit points

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.


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.

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 after 3rd.

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 pummeling/grappling/overbearing 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.

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 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). If they are preserved, the player will apply bonuses and penalties for the age differences between old and new characters, and roll 1d4 for each attribute with the original value as the starting point. Rolling 1 or 2 subtracts 1 or 2 from the new attribute. Rolling 3 or 4 adds 1 or 2 to the attribute.

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.

Last updated on 4 May 2021
Published on 4 May 2021
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