Monday, March 12, 2007

Beyond Vinland house rules

This new campaign of mine will be run mostly with standard 3.5 D&D, but I do have a few tweaks I'm making. I'll bold the text I sent the players, with my explanation following afterwards.

Wizards' Runestaff: Instead of spellbooks wizards utilize quarterstaves with runes cut in them, one rune per spell. They function exactly like spellbooks normally do. Any book of spells found in play will be more less like Elminster's Happy Recipe Book and more like the Necronomicon. Also: Wizards wear big pointy Gandalf hats. Believe it.

I thought staffs covered in eldritch runes fit the theme much better than musty old books. Since mechanically a wizard's staff functions exactly like a standard spellbook, there is little effect on gameplay. A runestaff can also be used to thwack people or can be enchanted with other magical properties, but I don't think there's ever been a rule against doing those things with a big book. Doug notes that one big difference is that you can really pimp over a wizard by swiping his staff and breaking it across your knee. One of the reasons I like to game with Doug is that he thinks like that.

Pantheon Clerics: Cleric's are not required to pick a patron deity, but instead serve an entire pantheon. Clerics may be of any alignment and may pick any two domains available to the pantheon. (See the Viking Cultural Sheet attached.) One domain must be from the PHB.

Everybody bitches about the fact that following one patron deity to the neglect of all others is historically inaccurate, but I went and did something about it. Does widening the domain and alignment choices make clerics even more powerful? Sure. Do I care? Not really. I'm not exactly sure why I demanded one domain be from the standard list.

Ale & Wenches Rule: At any time the DM may demand payment of 'miscellaneous expenses'. Expect to pay at least 100gp times your level when visiting Viking towns.

I'm not that concerned about draining coinage from the players. I just wanted to clearly establish the default motivation for the PCs to go on adventures.

Buying stuff: The biggest Viking settlement this side of the Atlantic only supports magic item purchases of 3,000gp or less.

In my email to the players I almost wrote "this side of Atlantis" but ultimately resisted the strong temptation to name drop when it wasn't necessary. Anyway, the point of this rule is to notify the players that most awesome magic items will have to be made or found. I am going to try superhard to include more cool, flavorful magic items in this campaign. My hope is to avoid the same boring old mix of magic items that comes from a fully functional magical economy. Andy Collins discusses the problem here.

Special campaign rule #1: Unless otherwise noted by the DM, time passes between sessions at the same rate as in the real world.

Uncle Gary actually advises this in the 1st edition DMG. The big thing we're looking for is to fully address seasonal changes in the local weather. The campaign world will loosely be divided into three regions: the Five Seas (the Great Lakes region), the North, and the South. The weather in the Five Seas region will parallel whatever is happening outside the window of my game room. Unless the PCs spend summer in the North and winter in the South, they will be expected to face the wrath of the inclement weather rules in the DMG.

Special campaign rule #2: The game ends no later than 10pm, even if that means stopping in the middle of combat.

Seriously, I am tired of running late because we tried to squeeze in one more fight. The DM and/or players will devise some narrative excuse why that last battle ended prematurely, even if we have to resort to "they got away". Not only will we all get to bed at a more reasonable hour for a campaign that meets in the middle of the work week, but I hope that this rule will shake loose a couple of spontaneously recurring villains.

Special campaign rule #3: As is usual, all 3.5 D&D books I own are legal fodder for character crunchiness.

I just don't see a point in owning all these shiny books if I'm going to not let people make use of them. My special Viking cultural rules (which will be the subject of another post) do place a few restrictions on PC construction, but I also give the players an out on that. As long as they design a true weirdo, they can play a local. Like the one friendly caveman hanging out with the pulp expedition to the lost land of the dinosaurs. Or Hawk in the second season of the Buck Rogers TV show. One player is seriously investigating this option.

Unearthed Arcana exception to special campaign rule #3: I don't like the races in this book. All class options but Gestalt are allowed. Otherwise only the following sections may see play: Spelltouched Feats, Metamagic Components, Incantations, Taint. Are the players interested in Contacts, Reputation, or Honor?

I can't let all of Unearthed Arcana into the game. What is already a nearly unmanageable mess of rules would break down completely. And we're all burnt out on managing Gestalt characters. The raw power is nice, but the number crunching is a major pain in the ass.

So far none of the players have taken up my offer to discuss using Contacts, Reputation, or Honor. That sort of stuff can be handled without a dedicated subsystem, so no big deal.


  1. The rune staffs rock, and so do the clerics. Oh, and the pointy hats.

    Okay, Jeff, there's my blessing. Get up get up get up and get down.

  2. Anonymous12:09 PM

    Some of the better games I've played in have been where the GM did not limit spellbooks to just plain old books. He allowed us to use anything we wanted, as long as it was cool. I've seen players use strings with spells represented as a complicated series of knots, bone runes that needed to be spread out and solved like a jigsaw puzzle, and one enterprising player even made use of his characters sewing skill to sew his spells into a book of bound cloth pages. It took him forever to inscribe each spell, but it was a small price to pay for a waterproof spellbook.

    Ever thought of allowing players to use something like that? I love the idea of using a specially enscribed staff, but what about the idea of enscribed bone runes as a spellbook? Maybe (for the more Aquilonian types) golden disks worn about the neck with spell runes enscribed on them? Or what about having spells scribed as tattoos all over their body?

  3. Longcoat, those are all awesome ideas.

  4. The knots are great for Ur-Inca-type spellcasters, and bone runes could also double as fortune telling devices, and the Vikings were very big on consulting the omens.

    There's something you may want to consider for your Viking clerics...

    Give them something extra for giving the DM a "portent of doom" - like interpreting the jumbled mess in someone's backpack when they camp for the night as representing evil falling upon them when they are confused and ill-prepared. It's always nice when the PCs throw you the next plot twist to use.

    And if you're going to use runestaffs as a spellbook, remember that the spell mastery feat can allow the bad-guy spellslinger to know a few even after someone snaps his staff. And breaking my staff doesn't take away today's memorized spells.

  5. Calithena here.

    You wrote: "most awesome magic items will have to be made or found."

    Great idea. If you substitute "all" for "most" you have every D&D campaign I've ever run, from the brown books to 3.14159.

  6. I have to give you props for saying the game ends at 10:00pm, no matter what.

    I unfortunately had to stop gaming with my friends because they would frequently game on weeknights to 10:30 or even 11:00, and that didn't mesh well with my having to drive 20+ minutes to get home and get up at 5:30 the next morning for work. I'm not blaming them for this, though, since it worked for everyone else's schedule but mine, and others weren't able to start gaming as early in the evening as I could.

  7. Anonymous9:34 PM

    I'm digging your posts on the development of this Vinland campaign, esp. this post on houserules. To me, the houserules that are implemented really are one of the the most interesting things to read about other people's games. Keep up the updates on your game.