House Rules

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My Story, my rules edit top

The purpose of this page is to provide easy reference to all the house rules for this campaign. This page only deals in mechanical information. For a full discussion of the thinking behind each house rule, check out the House Rules Discussion page. The following rules are still under consideration:

Since these rules are not in a final version, they do not yet appear on this page.

30 Second Rule Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

The 30 second rule gives itself away in the title. Player’s have 30 seconds to complete their character’s turn in combat. Time is kept on a stopwatch by the DM. Any portion of the turn not completed by the end of the 30 seconds is lost. This means a few important things:

  • If you didn’t complete an end-of-turn event or action, like rolling a save against an effect, within your 30 second turn you lose any positive effect and suffer any negative effect automatically. In the saving throw example, you fail the save.
  • If you failed to completely add up your damage, the enemy takes damage equal to wherever you are in your tally. If you didn’t get to rolling damage at all, you didn’t deal any.

All players get one exception to the rule per encounter. Using your exception is like using an action point. Want to make sure you get off that big daily? Want extra time to calculate damage? Using your action point and need extra time to get in all the actions? Use your exception. Turns using the exception are limited to two minutes. I may change the rule to accumulate like action points: start each day with one 30 second exception, earn a new one each milestone, and use only one per encounter. We’ll see.


The reality of this rule in play is one of spirit and not letter. We haven’t bothered with actually tracking 30 seconds or exceptions. If you take too long, the DM gives you a quick chance to do something before your turn resolves with no effect. So far, no one is complaining and combat is fast.

Active Defense Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

As written, attacks are always active and defenses are always passive. What I mean by active and passive is, “what requires the roll of a die?” Attacking? Roll D20. Defending? Call out your defense score (which, mechanically is like “taking 10” on defense). I intend to put all activity into the hands of the players. In other words, monsters are always passive, whether on attack or defense.

Here’s how it works:

  • When the PC attacks an NPC or monster, the PC rolls an attack roll. If the roll+modifiers is equal to or higher than the monster’s AC, the attack hits (this is as written in the source books).
  • When the PC gets attacked by an NPC or monster, the PC rolls a defense roll. If the roll+modifiers is equal to or higher than the monster’s attack DC (see below) the monster’s attack misses.

This means that PCs need to subtract 10 (or simply not add the 10 in the first place) to all their defenses. Similarly, in advance of play sessions the DM needs to calculate monster attack DCs from the attack bonus listed in the MM.

The DM needs to be careful, because we’ve inverted the interpretation of a tie. Normally, if the monster’s attack total equals the PC’s defense total, it is a hit. In the adjusted scenario, when the PC’s defense total equals the monster’s attack total, it is a miss. You can play around figuring out the math if you want, but the DM needs to add 12 to the attack bonus listed in the MM to get the target DC for the PC’s active defense roll. As mentioned already, the PCs subtract 10 from their normally calculated defenses to get a “defense bonus”.

Also, criticals are flipped. If the player rolls a natural 1 on the d20 while defending, the monster delivers a critical hit. Otherwise, damage is computed normally.

Encumbrance Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

Encumbrance is handled in the PC worksheet I built. The categories of encumbrance are:

  • None: 0 to STR score x 6 in lbs.
  • Light: STR x 6 to STR x 10, -2 check penalty to physical skills like with armor check penalties in the stock rules. You are assumed to “drop your pack” in/before battle. Otherwise the check penalties apply to attacks and defenses.
  • Heavy: STR x 10 to STR x 13, -5 check penalty and -1 speed.
  • Full: STR x 13 to STR x 20, checks auto fail and you are slowed (speed 2).
Experience Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

We won’t track experience. Instead, we will have MG-style level ups every so-many encounters or play sessions. Also, level ups will only happen as a result of the main story arc. Individual and subgroup Quests can increase individual PC power by granting access to the benefits of the completed quests (better magic items, access to paragon path, etc.). But such excursions won’t be allowed to increase a PCs level relative to other PCs in the party.

Further, on the subject of paragon paths and epic destinies, questing to acquire the advantages of these is required. Here’s how it will work: the PC continues to advance in the base class with or without a Quest. For example, on hitting level 11, the PC gets the increased abilities, increased HP, and new feat. However, the PC does not get any benefits from a paragon path until the appropriate advancement quest is complete. No new powers, no 11th and 16th level paragon path features, etc. It is conceivable, for example, that a character could acquire the level 13 base class encounter power before acquiring the level 11 paragon path encounter power. If this ends up too Draconian an implementation appropriate compromises will be negotiated. For example, if scheduling conflicts preclude a player from completing a PC’s quest in time for the next session (but everyone else did), the PC might gain the 11th level attributes (but no more until the quest is completed).

Flanking Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

All defenses have a “primary” and a “secondary” level. The secondary is the primary defense number less 5. PCs may apply a primary defense score only once per round. All other attacks that round use the secondary defense scores. In this way, being outnumbered is a great way to catch a beat down. All other flanking rules apply normally.

See also Nonferrous Armors.

Healing Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

The interpretation of hit points has changed, and modified the dying rules slightly. A full description of the rationale can be found in the “Caveats” section of the Healing entry on the discussion page.

Hit points represent how much you can take before you just can’t muster the strength to stand and fight. Thus:

  • Bloodied: you have a bloody nose, visible cuts or bruises, and are showing signs the fight is wearing on you. You are NOT bleeding profusely, gushing blood, or half dead.
  • 0HP: you are KO’d or otherwise beaten badly enough that you can’t muster physical defense. You are helpless, you are NOT dying.
  • Negative surge to 0hp: This is a buffer that continues to represent the 0hp state; you are KO’d and/or helpless. You are NOT dying. Any healing received starts at 0 and then applies, as in stock rules.
  • Negative surge to -3 x surge: you are dying. Normal death save rules apply. You cannot be healed by inspirational pep-talk powers like the Warlord’s encounter healing power.
  • Beyond 3 x surge in the negative: you are dead.

Part of this is to fit well with the low power campaign style. Part of this interpretation reconciles ideas like “second wind” and healing “powers” that are not divine magic actually restoring your physique.

Injuries Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

PCs that are reduced to 0hp in combat must, at the end of the encounter, save to avoid lingering effects of injury during combat. Those that suffer injuries must succesd on successive Endurance checks after each extended rest to avoid worsening of the injury and/or heal the injury. In this way, injury mechanics exactly duplicate the disease mechanics listed in the DMG. Specific injury conditions could include vulnerability to an energy damage suffered during combat, reduced movement, dazed, weakened, slowed, etc. See this page for sample injury conditions.

See also Healing for story related interpretation of the HP mechanic.

Instant Kills Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

Instant kills, or at least quasi-instant kills, exist in my game. The trick is you need to figure it out!

For all encounters (at least, all encounters where it makes sense), I will attempt to build in an “instant kill” mechanism.

I currently have two ideas in mind for implementing this in encounters:

  • Use a complexity 1 or 2 skill challenge. Players may spend their actions in combat to execute the skill challenge instead of taking attacks. Ultimate success will be the instant kill. Ideally, the skill challenge should be a “secret” that the players need to figure out. If I implement this well, there will be clues indicating what to try, and appropriate feedback will tell players they are barking up the right tree (or not).
  • I’ll have a scripted combination of attacks, or teamwork maneuvers, etc. that allow an instant kill without a skill challenge. For instance, against a larger foe, halfling rogues (with the correct feats) can move into the large sized enemy’s square. I could script a sequence wherein if the large monster is flanked by two other PCs, the rogue can slip into the monster’s square and attack with CA. A successful attack (with sneak attack damage) results in evisceration of the brute and instant death. Unfortunately for the halfling, he is now entangled in the mangled intestines of the enemy and must spend a move action to get free of the mess. Yuk!
  • Terrain and trap based instant kills. This relates closely to the first bullet, above. There could be a trapped ceiling in a room that the players figure out how to use against their enemies (enemies that probably planned to use it against the PCs). Similarly, dangerous terrain elements can be used. Bull rushing someone over the edge of a cliff or chasm is something I’ve done before that worked reasonably well. This particular example runs counter to the PCs not being subject to instant kills, below. If you get bull rushed off a cliff, tough luck brother. The players can’t expect me to NOT have the enemies attempt this, and I bet the bull rushed player’s next PC won’t stand so close to cliff edges!


This hasn’t manifested exactly as described. The main idea is that PCs can and are encouraged to do cool, unscripted stuff in combat and may be rewarded (when successful) with an advantage. I am not scripting these as hard as I originally intended. Players should also stay aware that this campaign is gritty, and stupid hollywood style antics will get you killed. Calculated risks are the advisory of the day.

Magic Items Status: Optional edit top

What is the rule?

This is an enhancement to the magic item creation rules as presented in the PHB and Enchant Magic Item ritual.

Power Limit

The maximum level of an item PCs create will not be limited by the PCs’ levels. Rather, it will be limited by the highest power level of the components. For instance, if 10th level characters slay a 16th level dragon, they can use the dragon’s hide to create level 16 magic armor.

Acquiring Components

Magic item construction requires more than gold pieces. The GP costs set in the appropriate source books will serve as a starting point for determining the required value of components in a magic item’s construction.

At some point, it is too much of a burden on normal play within the story to track every piece of this and that going into construction of a magic item. Currently, I am setting the rule at one major, named component per item created. Also, it is an accounting headache to make players track things to which their characters presumably have easy access. For example, characters may have easy access or procurement channels for components up to their own level. Acquisition of such components can therefore take place “off-camera”.

Otherwise, the major component for a magic item construction ritual will require special effort to acquire. See Quests. I hope to build some of these quests into the story and make others optional side excursions for individual characters or subgroups within the party.


Converting old magic items to cash via disenchanment and residuum is too mundane. At the same time, potentially too much time is lost to accounting headaches if characters don’t have an easy way to dispose of old items in exchange for something of value. On paper, it sounds cool that PCs search out bazaars and eccentric goods dealers and trade old items. In reality, I can see players tiring of 30 levels worth of this behavior.

My point is that something will change here, I simply haven’t figured out what yet.


The limited connection of PCs to Arcana and magic generally severly limits magical items in the campaign, as does the fact that this is a low-magic campaign. The story-driven rule applies, and if PCs manage to create or acquire items of magical power those items will be rare and far outside the general 4E stock rules.

Marking Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

Whatever the means (power, class feature, feat, etc.), a PC may only mark one opponent at a time.


Marking is handled case by case for each PC. We don’t have any defenders in the current party, so it hasn’t been an issue in the game.

Nonferrous Armors Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

Nonferrous armors have the characteristics spelled out in full in the Whoa! No levels? character sheet data tab. The derth of metal on Athas means that armors are made from more readily available items like kank chitin, erdlu or crodlu hide, or mekillot plates.

Players should be mindful of armor check penalties, and all armors have a secondary, hidden penalty: encumbrance. While not nearly as heavy as metal armors on other worlds, they are still possibly the heaviest gear PCs own. Endurance penalties for encumbrance under the Athasian sun should also be considered in the armor decision. See also Encumbrance.

Finally, metal armor is available on Athas. It is often made of bronze instead of steel. It is unfathomably expensive; only Sorcerer-Kings and the richest Nobles and Traders could possibly afford it. Per the 2E rules, wearers of metal armor during daytime suffer a cumulative -1 attack penalty per round until a number of rounds equal to the wearer’s Constitution score. At that point the wearer collapses from fatigue and burns. We can mess with this, or keep it as is.

PCs start play proficient with all armors above that are equal to or less than the protection of the armors they start with in the stock 4E system. For instance, Rogues start with cloth and leather proficiency. This grants them ichcatl, erdlu hide, and kank breastplate proficiency. The Whoa! No levels? character sheet has full details.

Nonferrous Weapons Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

Nonferrous weapons have the following characteristics:

  • Bone: 50% the weight of steel, -1 attack, -1 damage.
  • Bronze: 100% the weight of steel, attack and damage normal.
  • Obsidian: 75% the weight of steel, -2 attack, -1 damage.
  • Stone: 75% the weight of steel, -2 attack, -1 damage.
  • Wood: 50% the weight of steel, -3 attack, -2 damage.

See also Weapons Break.

Percentile Damage Status: Optional edit top

What is the rule?

Substitute your normal damage dice for a single die and assign values on the die to represent damage percentiles; maximum damage (the 100% damage percentile) is always represented by a critical. For example, use a d6 for all damage rolls with all powers. On a roll of 1, 2, or 3 you do damage at the 33rd percentile. On a roll of 4, 5, or 6 you do damage at the 67th percentile.

Pre-compute your percentile damage for all pre-assigned percentiles for a power and use it in place of a damage roll for that power. Pre-compute your average critical damage for a power (in case you have dice to roll on top of your maximum damage; e.g. magic weapon crit) and use it in place of a critical damage roll for that power.

To figure percentile damage, do one of the following:

  • Use a linear approximation. For example, say the power does 2[W] damage, your weapon uses d8 giving you 2-16 points of damage (a 15 point range), and you chose the above 33rd and 67th percentiles. 33% of 15 is 5 and 67% of 15 is 10; add the “missing 1” back to get 6 and 11. Add your damage bonuses and you are done.
  • Compute the actual, interpolated percentiles. Or fit to a normal curve and approximate. If you know what either of these mean, you don’t need an example. Otherwise, just use the linear approximation.
  • Don’t forget about things like the Brutal property and how it affects the curve.


Since damage dice in this game don’t scale (because of Whoa! No levels? damage output is usually one or two dice max. As such, no one need bother with this rule to speed play. Still, it exists if anyone likes it.

Weapons Break Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

Any time a weapon of bone, obsidian, stone, or wood deals critical damage or MAX damage (e.g. roll 8 on a damage that deals 1d8) the PC must make a successful save for the weapon or it breaks. Anytime a nonferrous metal weapon deals critical damage or MAX damage the PC must save for the weapon or it loses its edge. Such dulled weapons take a -2 penalty to attacks AND damage. As an added pain, physics tells us that if the weapon breaks, it absorbed the energy instead of the target. So your critical turns into half damage. Ooh, sucks to be you!

See also Nonferrous Weapons.

Whoa! No levels? Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

See Everything as skills and Modified level progression 2 on the House Rules Discussion page. In this variant, points are used to purchase everything: skills, abilities, feats, even hit points. Points are awarded after each session, perhaps 1 or 2 at a time. Point costs are in the Whoa! No levels? character builder excel file.

Magic and Psionics:

  • There are no PSPs. Magic draws its energy from surrounding life, psionics draws its energy from the life force of the psionicist.
  • Augment psionic powers by spending healing surges. E.g. Mind Thrust (Psion Attack 1), the Psion must spend two healing surges to achieve the Augment 2 effect.
  • Manifesting psionics and casting spells provoke opportunity attacks as normal. If the OA hits the triggering caster/manifester, the triggering power is lost, similar to 2E rules.

Prescribed Limitations:

  • Story considerations rule: some skills may not be purchased at certain times, some skills will receive bonus ranks as DM reward, etc. Also, if game time passing between sessions is short, no skill may change more than one rank.
  • Feats, training new skills, and power swaps require case by case adjudication and story relevance.

House Rules

To Kill a Dragon Gravedigga