House rules have always been a part of roleplaying for me. While my interest has always been in storytelling (not combat simulation), I am a incorrigible tinkerer when it comes to rules. Now, I have stripped out almost all of the rules-specific content (i.e., stat blocks) from the dungeons and adventure descriptions on this site. This is partially because I have used several RPG game systems over the decades and it would be confusing, but mostly it is because the information doesn't really advance the story line - it merely provides mechanical support around the table.
This page provides a single place for my thoughts on House Rules for our current rule system, Savage Pathfinder.
History of the Rules
While my first adventures were run using the white-boxed set of D&D rules, the introduction of the Player's Handbook in June 1978 shifted our gaming group to AD&D where we stayed for over twenty years. Over time, the new AD&D books declined in quality becoming more formulaic. By the time the Fiend Folio was published in August 1981, I was already creating house rules to handle a dynamic game. In 1988, I published a series of rule books to normalize the AD&D system, extend the character progression to higher levels, and introduce new spells and monsters. When D&D 2nd edition came out in 1989, we already had something better. We still use these expanded AD&D rules at Matcon once a year with the classic campaign.
In 2000, I started playing with a group using the newly-released D&D 3.0 rules. I was immediately hooked. After playing in dozens of systems over the years, I had finally found something better than my homegrown AD&D system. The 2003 release of D&D 3.5 continued the upward trend by fixing a few fundamental flaws of the d20 system. In 2008, D&D 4.0 came out. It was terrible. I threw the books away. At that point, I expected to return to creating rules content myself. But in 2009, Paizo released Pathfinder - sort of a D&D version 3.75. It was great - deep, crunchy and well supported. I could focus on storytelling and content, and Paizo would do the rest.
In 2014, WotC released D&D 5th Edition. I played in a few D&D 5e games and even ran a few. Pretty quickly, my gaming group decided the new system felt like a sanitized starter game. Bounded stats, attuned magic items, and way too many ways to cheat death made the game safe, balanced, and boring. In 2018, Paizo unveiled Pathfinder 2. The new rules did clean up some of the complexities of a rule set that had 28 books published over a decade. But, it also focused the game on combat simulation and simplified all the quirkiness of the rules into nice neat compartments. In many ways, my complaints about this system are the same as my complaints about D&D 5th edition. As a storyteller, neither of these systems got me very excited, so we passed.
Over the years, I have had one major complaint about the d20 systems (including Pathfinder). When characters get to 12th level or so, combats take too long to resolve. An entire session can be lost to a single battle with each round of combat taking 30 minutes or more. The newer D&D 5e and Pathfinder 2 do not solve the problem - characters still have huge sinks of hit points and many, many ways to keep filling up the pool. Now, some folks complain about the complexity, lack of character class balance, etc. in Pathfinder. Complexity, asymmetric mechanics, and unbalanced characters are interesting and a challenge for the Dungeon Master. But, the pace of play is too slow.
In 2021, Paizo and Pinnacle Entertainment Group announced a new system - Savage Pathfinder. It has the structure of Pathfinder coupled with the speed of play of Savage Worlds. Now, I have been running The Madness using Savage Worlds rules for years. It is the perfect system for sitting down with players of differing roleplaying backgrounds and getting stuck quickly into the game. And, we can get through a two hour combat in thirty minutes at high levels. I avoid change for change's sake, but every twenty years, something better comes along. So, we are switching to Savage Pathfinder as the default for campaign-style play for the Irregulars. Wish us luck.
It's A Dangerous World Out There
A couple of questions that come up about the Realm whenever a new player hits the table for a long-running campaign. As an amusement, I thought I would jot down my answers.
How dangerous is the Realm? The answer is a hell of lot more dangerous than most D&D and Pathfinder worlds. Why? There are a couple of components to this.
- Not all encounters are level-appropriate. Player characters need to learn when to run away. If it seems like the encounter is too difficult, it probably is. Stay and take your chances or retreat and return to fight another day. As a player, I hate to be railroaded from encounter to encounter - I want to participate in the storytelling, not just be in the audience. If every encounter is perfectly level-appropriate, the decision as to what to do has been taken from me. Meh. As a dungeon master, I try to always allow players to make the decisions - even if they do wander into the bad part of town on occasion.
- As a corollary to this, I don't fudge rolls, monster stats or anything else. That's why I roll dice in front of the players. It's good drama. If there is no chance of dying, then the adventure is boring. This does make the Realm a dangerous place, however.
- My NPCs are better than average. NPCs might be born at first level, but very few remain that way. Yeah, there are children, the town drunk and some slackards who never go anywhere. But, most townsfolk, craftsmen, guards, and the like become proficient at their jobs and protecting themselves - peaking at 4th or 5th level. Now, those who become guild masters, parish priests or captains of the guard might be 10th level. While these two groups represent most of the population (80%/20% split), it is not unheard of to run into a 15th level NPC who is a military commander, high priest, wizard or noble. Those reaching 20th level (and mythic tiers) are rare - mostly adventurers, high kings, archdruids, wizards of the council, and the like. These are the legendary figures that shape the Realm in their images.
How much gold and magic will I get adventuring? Well... here are my thoughts.
- In order for gold to be interesting, character's coins need to be spent on something more fulfilling than piles of potions. I usually have a major project at the center of each campaign - a castle, ship, stronghold, or the like. This provides a meaningful use for coins after characters have outfitted themselves with the basics. Unlike many DMs, I allow characters to roleplay buying basic magic items. In addition, there are a handful of trading posts that have four or five major magic items - with ties to the campaign - for sale.
- I spend quite of bit of time crafting magical items that will be useful in the campaign. As a player, I really dislike getting a pile of random magic items that are immediately sold - it just takes some of the, well, magic from fighting hard for treasure. I know that D&D and Pathfinder rules suggest giving a party of six about 24 items per level. I usually place about half that. On a good adventure, the party will find most of the magic items. Sometimes they find none. So, my campaigns are light when you consider the sheer volume of magic, but the items tend to be more powerful and useful.
- Finally, just like the statement that my NPCs are better than average, they are also richer than average. The Realm is a dangerous place and the peasants who only make 3 sp/year died off a long time ago. Most townsfolk can make enough to feed and clothe their families, take a pint at the pub, and save a bit for a rainy day. That's about 1 gp/day or 360 gp/year. Now, most of this is spent living and might come in the form of barter, but townsfolk are not destitute. The average townsfolk spends about 120 gp/year with children costing about half that.
As a new system, Savage Pathfinder has 11 core classes: barbarian, bard, cleric, druid, fighter, monk, paladin, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, wizard. All of these are allowed. With the ability to use prestige edges and multiple class edges, it is easy to tailor a character to suit almost any need. I suspect that new Savage Pathfinder publications will introduce new classes over time. Many classes also have organizations (i.e., churches, guilds, etc.) associated with them for support, advancement and missions. See the Organizations page for full details.
Likewise, Savage Pathfinder has 7 core races: dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, half-orcs, hobbits, humans. All of these are allowed. In addition, the Reaches Campaign has 11 other races available for players. See the Races page for full details. Again, I suspect more races will be introduced by new Savage Pathfinder publications to come. Also, with permission, I am always game for players exploring non-standard characters - an ogre archaeologist, a parrot illusionist, or a fairy seeking help for her queen.