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House Rules from Celebrity Game Table: the Tegel Campaign

by Philip Athans

Part of the problem with using the old rules set is that every once in a while I have to figure out if something is possible without being able to fall back on someone elseís hard work. Most of the time, as stated in no uncertain terms above, I cheat and make things up off the top of my head. This is a time-honored tradition among DMs everywhere, and has worked well enough so far. (Are you going to get me started about THAC0 again? The first time I heard "I hit Armor Class 7" I just about burst into flames. . . .)

But part of the reason behind running the Tegel Campaign was to teach non-gamers how to play D&D. Removing or fudging too many rules doesnít really help. Also, the players, much as I try to retard their progress, are growing much more savvy and are starting to expect the occasional logical explanation.

As such, Iíve found it necessary to enact the odd house rule here and there. Some, if not all of these have certainly been dealt with (and probably better) in 3rd Edition D&D, but theyíre either not in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia at all or I couldnít find them.

Just a couple weeks ago one of the characters was snatched up by a wight that grabbed him by the neck and flew out a door, over a balcony railing, and up a hundred and fifty feet in the air. Though he canít seem to kill anything with it, Lardus (James Jacobs) has a magic halberd that allows him to fly. Lardus took off in pursuit and, lucky me, it was 1 oíclock and time to go back to work.

Over the course of the next few days I realized that I was going to have a flying chase on my hands, with one character being slowly strangled while another raced to the rescue. Time was important, and miscues could result in at least one player characterís death. Crap, I thought, I need a rule. So, I came up with this:

Basically they have to roll off against each other, adding their Dexterities to a roll of 1d20. If the wight (being chased) wins, Lardus (the pursuer) has a harder time catching up to him the next round (so he rolls 2d8 instead of 1d20). Every time Lardus falls behind his chances of ever catching up diminishes. All this was weighted to show that the wight, a natural flier, was better and faster at it than Lardus, who only occasionally flies, pulled along by a big heavy halberd. Oddly, this rule actually seemed to work. Give it a try.

One thing Iíve never really liked (especially as a player) is level drain. Iíll admit Iím not sure where the new D&D comes down on this controversial issue, but I hate it. As such, Iíve removed it from the Tegel Campaign, replacing it with this:

Instead of Level Drain

Touch causes temporary loss of 1 point each of Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution. If Strength is reduced to zero the victim falls down limp. If Dexterity is reduced to zero, the victim is paralyzed. If Constitution is reduced to zero, the victim goes into a deep coma for 1d6 days. The effects otherwise last for 1d6 turns, plus one turn per Hit Die of the draining creature, then points are recovered at a rate of 1 point per round. If all three stats are reduced to zero, the victim dies and becomes a half-strength servitor version of the draining undead. A remove curse keeps the victim from becoming undead, but a resurrection is needed to bring the victim back to life -- raise dead does not work. Restoration instantly restores all drained points to a still-living victim, but will not bring a dead victim back to life or prevent the servitor curse.

And there are a few more, but those are my favorites.

Occasionally, even the most seasoned DM is ambushed by one of the players who insists on doing something just to be a pain in the neck. A past Tegel Campaign player, Jim Bishop, insisted that his character use a net. The D&D Rules Cyclopedia calls for a save vs. "death ray" for anyone trying to avoid being tangled in the net. Why "death ray"? I have no idea. Did the intrepid designers of Basic D&D feel there were going to be so many death rays in the average game that they needed their own saving throw category? Apparently. One interesting side effect of that is that Iíve actually placed a working death ray somewhere in Tegel Manor. The players havenít found it yet, but itís in there.