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Optional Rules

by Jeff Querner and Angelo Bertolli

Here are some optional rules that you may want to adopt in a more basic type campaign (which I find more fun). When deciding on a rule, go for whatever is more fun or will make a better story-line in the game.


Even though it may not be fair to my old players, I think I might adopt this system also. Just roll 9d6 for each physical (STR, DEX, CON) and mental (INT, WIS, CHA) attributes and then let the players choose where they want to put them. Allow players to trade 2 for 1 between the 2 categories. If you want, you might consider just rolling 10d6 for each category to give a better chance of getting good scores. Also, don't roll ability checks much, if at all. Too much rolling dice makes the game too random and not enough story. If you can't base it on a saving throw, you probably shouldn't roll it. How creatures react to players should be based on how the players have acted, not on a charisma check.


Alignments don't seem very important. Either just ignore them, or rule them out completely. Also, I would rule out alignment languages since they don't make any sense. You can give a group of thieves a secret code but chances are the thieves in a city 1000 miles away won't know it.


I don't think every little sub-class should have it's own class and an entire set of rules. I would say just add a little flavour to your campaign by giving guidelines for certain titles. Like a thief can be a ninja-type character, hiding in shadows, using assassin weapons, climbing walls, backstabbing, etc. So that could be his title if he dresses right. So you can make variations on any class. You can even offer/show these variations to players to see if they want to use it. However, I found that most players don't want to go with something like that unless the rules change for their character and they're getting extra bonuses. Class variations are a good way to add personality to your NPCs.


Unlike just about any other game, D&D makes it easy to buy the best (normal) armour and weapons at the very beginning and makes no reason to buy the cheaper, crappy items (like a club). One way to get around this is to make your own treasure chart, plus don't have every city and town sell everything on the equipment lists. Small towns and villages (perhaps where the characters come from) may have few items. Also, you might want to give players less gold to start with, maybe only 1d6 x 10 gp.


I treat food very loosely in my game and don't count time spent very carefully. How much food you consume ends up being a DM discretion. However other people just throw the whole requirement out of the game.

Saving Throws

One thing that I like is making saving throw modifiers based on other abilities. This makes it a little more important to have good abilities, and makes certain classes generally more resistant to certain attacks.

Also, one optional rule is to make players request saving throws (say they are going to do something besides just stand there and take what's coming). Ex: a dragon breathes on a fighter and a wizard. The wizard's player says, "Jump out of the way." The fighter's player says, "Hold my shield up over my body." The fighter makes his saving throw and lines his shield up. The wizard misses and jumps half-way out of the cone of fire and is blown back a few steps. This makes it a little more realistic... if you want a saving throw, you need to try and move out of the way or resist it somehow. Players get too used to automatically getting saving throws.


Monsters can be really boring if all they do is attack and have nothing unique about them. One way I solved this problem was by creating monster variations. This is REALLY good if you have a basic game and not a lot of monsters to choose from in the book. One of the things I saw was how they had 10 types of giants when all they had to do was have 1 kind of giant and just make variations off of that. It makes the game a lot simpler. All you need to do is change the description a little bit.

A goblin attacks, an orc attacks, a gnoll attacks, only a few hit points separates the monsters and all they are is a threat to the character's life. An interesting way of changing that is to give each monster class a personality, such as making bugbears act like Klingons, having honour above life but still acting evil. Kobolds can usually have a lot of jewellery but never, ever fight, always running and finding a way to escape. Lizard men can be the rudest creatures in the campaign, flicking the characters off or waving their private parts in their general direction or something.

Magic Items

You might want to throw out magic items that make no sense or are stupid. Potions of Bug Repellent, Climbing, and Speech come to mind. Plus, make your own items to put on the chart by adjusting existing items (to make sure you are keeping game balance) and throw out a lot of the typical magic items because most players already know what they do. Make existing items more sensible or easier to handle. Instead of Boots of Speed giving horse movement, jut have it double movement. Also I suggest if you make your own treasure charts to give a better chance to get wands, staves, or rods. They are so rare.


If you make your own treasure charts, try to base it on a different system than what is in the book. I don't even know how those things came about. Make different treasures based on how much gp value you get and what types of items you get. Plus, include personal, normal items that creatures might be carrying. Just random little items that give the game much more context. Also, throw in a few normal items in a treasure horde, so that players don't automatically assume that finding a helmet in a dragon's den means it's a magical helmet.


Spell variations are some of the best rules I've ever heard of. I think this is the best way to handle spell variations: Spellcasters make their own descriptions of spells and can cantrip any time. The way to make a spell variation is to take an existing spell and just change its description. Gandalph's Electromagnetic Barrier is really just a Wall of Ice spell but made of an electrical curtain of force. The players will never know it's the same spell, it'll just look cooler because they've never heard of that spell before. Cantrips are important too, because it allows a wizard to do ordinary things in an extraordinary way. For example a magic-user who likes to use a lot of fire variations, can just light his pipe with a snap of his fingers instead of having to use a tinder box like normal people. And when the villagers see that, they know he's got power.


An optional way of calculating XP is to forget XP from treasure and multiply all the XPV for monsters by 5 or 10. Multiplying by 5 will make up for the treasure according to the rulebook, but I found that 10 actually makes more sense in game play. Alternatively, instead of multiplying by 10, you can just divide all the XP requirements by 10 (fighters need 200 XP to get to level 2). Result: defeating the monsters will be more rewarding than finding treasure.

Wandering Monsters

By all means, don't rely on the rulebook for good wandering monsters. The easiest way is to just thumb through and choose something you like. Otherwise, make your own charts and you can include your own monster variations. You might also want to roll for encounters weekly instead of daily depending on how long it takes your characters to get from place to place.


One of the things I've always hated was the concept of "adventurers." Just bunches of adventurers running around towns, killing monsters? I suggest making adventurers rare, and socially unacceptable in town. Most people think they're kind of weird, because normal people wouldn't want to go around risking their life, and in fact most adventurers only do it because there is something important to be accomplished. There is nothing fun about harsh travel, weather conditions, and monsters who could surprise you and kill you at any moment.


One of the hardest things for me is having adventures for level 1 characters, and getting them past level 1. One solution is to just let players start on level 2 or 3, but make a reason why they are on that level and still start them out at XP 0 instead of what they are at their current level. By far, my favourite time for gaming is when players are on levels 4 through 8.


I allow everyone to move 5' and attack on the same round. However fighters also have the combat option to charge. This allows a fighter to use a lance on a horse and do double damage. You can also say that fighters can run up and attack by charging with any weapon, but they don't get double damage, and they will be prone to set spear vs charge. If you do this, you should also allow certain monsters to charge. You might not want to let monsters use every attack every round. Like dragons get 3 attacks: 2 claws and a bite, however you might want to say they can either claw or bite, or maybe even claw just once (or maybe they just don't want to because they are arrogant and don't consider the player a threat). In addition, two other requirements for fighter combat options that I would suggest is requiring smash to be performed two-handed.


One of the things I liked from AD&D is the 1d10 initiative where the number rolled represents the second of the round that you go on. This also makes it easier for the DM to determine special situations where strange actions are taken that might give some kind of penalty to your initiative. I still like to roll surprise on a 1d6 though.