Save My Game
House Rules
By Jason Nelson-Brown

This column provides advice for DMs whose campaigns are in trouble. Do your players constantly bicker or complain about issues both inside and outside of the main campaign action? Do your best ideas fall flat? Have you set up a situation that you now wish you hadn't? Worry no more, because Jason Nelson-Brown has the answers to save your game!

Problem: Players Want House Rules

I have a player in my game that tries to push me into installing different house rules that he would like. It is really annoying. I just want everyone to enjoy the game as much as possible, and as there are few roleplayers in my area I don`t want anyone to become offended, because I am afraid to lose players!-- DmMagnus, Wizards message boards

Stand firm, and see the previous column about dealing with difficult players. The player who makes a lot of demands for house rules -- and in this I include official, published rules that you aren't using in your game -- is something between a cheater and a jerk. You want everyone to enjoy the game as much as possible. You will accomplish this best by avoiding giving in to one player's selfish pressure to inject things into the game just to make more enjoyable for him. As the DM for all of the players, you need to make sure that any house rules you add increase the enjoyment of all the players, not just one.

That doesn't mean you should be a jerk in return. Your player might have some good or interesting ideas that are worth hearing, and you can often improve your game by listening to the suggestions of players. The problem is that it appears he's already pushed beyond the realm of helpful suggestions and food for thought into nagging and weaseling. You need to be clear and firm that the rules for the campaign are those that are currently in play. Perhaps once a year or once every six months you could ask players for suggestions about house rules, and then the group can discuss them together. In the end, you decide whether they seem like good ideas for your campaign.

If nothing else, you can suggest that this player incorporate these rules into his game the next time he sits behind the screen as DM!

Problem: Interpreting Alignments

The confusion really comes out when you talk about law/chaos. To most, they think that a lawful character is likely to follow the law, while chaotic characters tend to break the law; however, I think it would be better understood that a lawful character is disciplined and follows routines and set actions, while a chaotic character is more spontaneous and creative in their approach to things. Now my problem is how to best explain this without confusing my players, and it would be great if there was a sole article from the experts that I could have to give them so they could understand the differences between Law and Chaos.-- Kefka_Casselstone, Wizards message boards

Some questions just keep coming up. Alignment in general and law and chaos in particular are common subjects. I could refer you to an earlier column, Lawful and Chaotic, from last March, but really, you already have the answer to your question. The way you've explained it above is a fine way to explain it to your players without confusing them. Law is about consistency, routine, cohesiveness, organization, planning, consistency, regularity, order, reliability, tradition -- and did I mention consistency? Chaos is about freedom, intuition, spontaneity, whimsy, individuality, independence, impulsivity, and living and reacting in the moment.

When you talk about laws, what you're mostly talking about is rules of conduct and whether and why people obey them. A lawful character may obey local laws wherever he goes, but he does it because it's part of his personal code of behavior. Chaotics are every bit as capable of being obedient as lawfuls, but a chaotic person's reasons for obeying center around self-interest or individual relationships and feelings. Similarly, a chaotic might adopt a subversive attitude as a matter of principle while a lawful could be just as subversive but would approach it in a reasoned, calculated, and organized way. In this case, their actions may end up the same, but the motivations and the methodology will differ between lawful and chaotic characters.

Have a little confidence. As the DM, you are the sole expert on your campaign. Your explanation is more than clear and should be ample, but perhaps the above will help as well.

Problem: Incorporating Psionics

I don't yet have the Expanded Psionics Handbook, and I'm a little leery of putting psionics into play. Specific question: How hard is it for a psionics "newb" to incorporate these rules into play? What special considerations will need to be taken into account? What changes (if any) will need to be made to existing monsters, especially ones that use psionic-type attacks?-- sorites, Wizards message boards

Another perennial issue is psionics. This was also covered in a previous column (as well as a previous Tactics & Tips), but because you asked the question specifically, I'll answer it specifically.

The Expanded Psionics Handbook does a nice job of telling you the changes needed to existing monsters, especially psionic ones. The problem is, to use psionics, you need to introduce a whole new set of mechanics to the game. A psionics-oriented player is apt to know these rules more intimately than you do.

Psionics don't look much different from magic, but in actual play they are significantly different. A psion can use all of his power points to 'cast high level spells'; a Sor/Wiz can't. There is balance, because psions tend to run out of juice long before the Sor/Wiz, but if your campaign allows rest periods between major encounters, this limitation on psions becomes meaningless. I don't mean to imply that psionics are overpowered, but their balance is different. You can't run the campaign the same way you did before introducing psionic characters.

Psionic characters also require you to deal with psionic feats, psionic foci, mingling psionic and magical items in treasure, psionic NPCs, psionic monsters, psionic-related spells, etc.

If you are new to psionics, my advice (as someone who really likes psionics) is: don't use them until you learn them and are comfortable with the rules.

Psionics are cool, but wait until you familiar with the system. Meanwhile, you can still use psionic creatures from the Monster Manual with spell-like abilities, and they will work fine. When and if you decide to start using real psionics, begin with a shallow dip -- maybe an adventure to a faraway land or another plane where the PCs meet an honest-to-goodness psionic monster using the psionic rules. See how the rules work in an actual game a time or three. Allow a psionic cohort or NPC ally to join the party for a time. If things work poorly, the NPC can disappear. If it works well, it may be time to open the portal to psionic PCs.

About the Author

Jason Nelson-Brown lives in Seattle with his wife Kelle, daughters Meshia and Indigo, son Allen, and dog Bear. He is an active and committed born-again Christian who began playing D&D in 1981 and currently runs one weekly campaign while playing intermittently in two others.

1995-2008 Wizards of the Coast, Inc., a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. All Rights Reserved.