Gaming Tonic

It’s A Rule, Not A Law

lawThe past couple weeks I have been trying to come up with a superhero game, my favorite genre because I’m a comic book connoisseur, to run about once a month for some of the players in my regular weekly group.  The part that was difficult wasn't the story or genre; I had already kind of worked that out after reading Invincible and watching a Justice League Unlimited marathon with my son.  It was the system to run the game in that was draining my mental energy.  This is where my group tends to be very vocal about what they enjoy as well, and you want some feedback when you are setting up a new game.  In the end you have to choose what you want to run and then the players can play or choose not to play.  You'll never make anyone truly happy if you try to make everyone happy.

I like the Hero System for supers.  The system doesn't suit the tastes of some players, I get that.  It requires a huge intellectual commitment.  It also has one hiccup that I do not like from a storytelling aspect, and that is the complications.  You receive all the points up front and then try to avoid any situation where they would come up for the rest of your career.  I know that not every gamer does this but I see it often enough that it has left a sour taste in my mouth.  Especially after playing systems like Mutants & Masterminds, Marvelous Super Hero, or the recently deceased Marvel Heroic.  In my opinion it’s the complications in the life of the hero that make the character and not the powers.  At least in the comics I read.

So in an effort to lead by example with my group who tend to argue system and game style often and fervently, I changed the way this part of the system will work for this game.  I changed the complications in two ways, and hope that we will see a change in the way characters are played because of these changes.  The first change is that a character will choose complications at creation but receive an experience point for every time I bring up the complication in a game, or possibly two if the player brings it up.

The second change is not to have more than one complication a category.  The players would now have to select a few   complications which have impact, rather than a whole bunch of tiny quirks that were not really all that interesting or good for the story.  Superman doesn't get a little indigestion when Lex Luthor opens the lead box with kryptonite inside.  Aunt May isn't just somebody Peter stops by and sees between fighting bad guys.  Those are complications which are integral parts of the characters.

I didn't just give up on the system but simply decided to make a few choices that would suit my group better.  This is better than complaining.  I didn't have to write Steve Long a note and ask for permission, I’m free to play the game as I see fit, and how it fits my group.  This is true of any system but sometimes I think we can forget that changing the rules is allowed.  This seems a strange way to be in a hobby which favors and encourages creativity.

I have used house rules in my games and played in games with house rules before.  I am not saying that all gamers never changed anything about a game they are playing.  In fact I wrote a blog recently about a bunch of house rules that were being used in a Pathfinder game using the Reign of Winter Adventure Path that I play in.  I am saying that with the massive amount of rpg systems that are available today, too often we ignore making a simple change here or there that would smooth out something that roughs us up about a system.

I really wish D&D Next would switch to a system where a little bit of character development was rewarded with some sort of bonus.  If I remember correctly no core rule book for the system has ever used anything like that.  You can say good players will just come up with role-playing devices for their characters on their own, but that doesn't always happen and considering that D&D is one system that I see role-playing get completely abandoned whether at the my own table, the local game store, or convention, it might be something to consider.  If the new D&D doesn't have this, I can just come up with my own house rule for it if I feel that game play would benefit.  Are you a fan of house rules?  Do you use them often in your games or do you like to play it as it is written?  If you have some interesting house rules to share I’m sure we would all like to read and discuss them, and maybe implement them in our games.  You can tell us about it in the comments section, and until next time, Roll Hard!

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  1. One of the areas I have regularly seen house rules were things like owning business in games, one of the pathfinder games I play in, had some fairly heavy investment by players into businesses. Which up until recently we didn’t have rules for. My exalted game also had a couple house rules to close some exploits in the system. I think in the long run good house rules are to everyones benefit. Subject to group review, and dare I say it, common sense.

    However RaW is there for a reason and should not be changed without cause.

  2. How do you deal with the kind of character that has more than one physical limitation, or psychological complication, and it makes sense? Do they only get points for one of them, even if they intend to role play them all?

    This feels a lot like how I used to award XP back in the D&D days. You’d get bonus XP, appropriate to the situation, for a) actually role playing, and b) for making decisions that weren’t optimal to the situation, be it tactical or social, if they fit your character concept.

    • If a player came to me with a character that had two solid limitations from one category I would allow it. The idea is to get the players to stretch themselves a bit. If it was something like a Hunted I would probably say no because I have a large group and too many become a distraction. Two psychological style complications or perhaps two social complications would be the likely suspect. Two physical complications would probably not be too much fun if they were severe enough. No legs and blind would probably not figure most players style. Haha. Two vulnerabilities could appear but I don ‘t know a lot of players who would enjoy that. So I guess I would cross each bridge individually as I come to them.

  3. The last time I played a supers game, we just used the Savage World “Necessary Evil” rules, ignoring the world setting in favour of something a bit more Authority-esque. It can be good fun, because it is a quick as hell system, both for playing and character gen, so a lot of time can be spent on plot and character development.

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