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Day 11: House rules—Top 5 favorite hacks, mods, and shortcuts

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Here are some of my favorite house rules that I’ve picked up from other games and Game Masters over the years and use in my own campaigns.

#1. The +1 Turn of Swiftness

This one is from Max at work, and it’s one that I will apply to any game where the players are slowing down combat by using their turn to decide what they’re doing. It’s simple: if you come up in the Initiative order and you declare your action immediately, you get a +1 to your roll. It can be explained narratively by not hesitating and surprising your opponent, and does wonders to incentivize people to be ready when their turn comes.

#2. NPC Name Lists

Ever since I saw Jay Little’s NPC name lists for his Gen Con WFRP3 game, it’s been a must-have at my table. One of the hardest parts of improvising in a game is coming up with a setting-appropriate, remember-able name for the unplanned NPC the players invariably ask about and go looking for. The solution: come up with a male and female name for each letter of the alphabet, grab one off the list as needed, and cross it out after it’s been used. Here’s an example for Legend of the Five Rings (pronunciations included).

#3. Roll Obligation after the session

For our Thursday Edge of the Empire game, Dan always rolls the group’s Obligation right after we finish a session. This way, he can better plan for how the character’s demons come to haunt the plot, instead of throwing it in somewhat ad hoc right before the session begins, or forgetting to get to it at all.

#4. Bennies

Action Points, Destiny Points, Fate Points, Bennies—most systems have some sort of metagame currency that allows players to reroll or add to unsuccessful checks. If the game doesn’t have such a point system already, then I’ll definitely add one. Preferably these points are divorced from player advancement, such as XP or character points, because then players will always hoard them. Instead, they’re given out by the GM to reward good OOC behaviors, like helping a new player learn the rules while the GM runs the scene, or staying in character even when it makes the story harder, or making everyone laugh and enjoy themselves.

#5. “Previously, our heroes…”

At the beginning of every session during our Mage: the Awakening campaign, the GM would have the players recount the events of the previous session. Each player would cover a scene and highlight the most important points, and if we remembered enough details the GM would reward us with an extra experience point at the end of the session. I liked this method of recapping the previous session because it rewards players for paying attention mechanically but also narratively, because the details made it easier to pick back up the story where we left off last time.

What are your house rules, hacks, and shortcuts? Link your answers in the comments below! You can find the rest of the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge prompts here. And stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on table rules. Thanks again for reading!

2 Responses to “Day 11: House rules—Top 5 favorite hacks, mods, and shortcuts”

  1. One fun rule I’ve used in the past is Hero Points. Similar to #4, they’re not tied to xp or any in game stat; in my 3.5 games I’d give a hero point at each level up and for good roleplaying or buying the DM snacks and such. Any time you would normally roll to hit or for a skill check, you could use a Hero Point instead for the result of a natural 20. Useful for crits in boss fights and ass-saving against some of the more nasty status effect magic. Makes for some nice action-movie-ish sequences, but you have to be judicious when handing them out or they end up game breaking.
    Robert L. Lynch recently posted..Triple CritMy Profile

  2. Seldrak says:

    One house-rule I use is that unless trading is part of the storyline, do all your loot buying/selling/crafting outside of the session, so we don’t take 2 hours of everyone else’s time rolling to get a flame thrower attachment.

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  1. 30 Days of Game Mastering, Day Eleven to Fourteen | Renaissance Gamer - […] Day 11 – House rules: what are your favourite hacks, mods, and short cuts? […]

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