What Rules Do I Throw Out?

February 01, 2014 | | Comments 4

I admit, maybe it’s not entirely destructive, but when trying to weave a narrative, I often times come affront to the very rules I’m playing with. This is separate to something I’ve discussed before—how unbelievably annoyed I am at the near psychopathic nature of my player party. Being an adventurer is a line of work for a madman. Why would you spend 500,000 gold on a magic sword; why not buy a castle and live like a king? At what point did you weigh the option of living in a cave with +5 armor or owning a plot of land and growing old with sixteen sons and figure dying at the hands of a dragon wearing armor worth more than a thousand people’s lifetime’s earnings was the wiser choice?

Let’s put that aside for now and just deal with the elements of D&D I would like to not exist…and very often don’t in the various books or novels written under their banner. Some readers might think those books are accurate representations of the rules, but everyone else knows that most of the spells and special abilities were thrown out for the betterment of the narrative.

Just with my own group, I discovered how quickly they would die if the setting they were in didn’t make compromises to maximize their survivability. Perhaps healing and resurrection spells are necessary not because of some mechanical reason in the rules but because so many characters are generally too obtuse to know when to run away. Despite that caveat, I still find numerous rules within D&D simply too difficult to work around and I’ve found myself commonly removing huge sections of the standard format in order to make my own settings at least internally consistent and interesting.

1: Comprehend Languages

Such a simple thing. Comprehend languages, damn near every spellcaster gets access to this early in his progression. And what better way to whitewash a culture’s identity than to make their language vanish? Why bother being fluent in a language no one else is? How can you offer a carrot to a group in the form of a cryptic scroll or book only for the wizard to glean all the answers with a 1st level spell? Of course, there are ways around it…warding spells, assuming you want there to be any, or magical writing, assuming it’s necessary. But for me, language is a vital part of a fantasy world. It adds authenticity if not obviously ethnicity to a generally grey racial palette. To be able to circumvent that with a common spell feels like a cheat. When I presented such a mystery to a wizard in Amethyst, I ended up creating one of the biggest setting points as way to prevent the spell from working…and Pleroma was born.

2: Bardic Knowledge

I really hate the idea of a single die roll even a first level character gets that allows him to know…well…anything. Bardic Knowledge has been one of the more abused rules I’ve seen played. What’s the answer to any conundrum? Bardic knowledge, of course. Don’t want them to know the answer? Set the DC high, but what if you don’t want them to know? Why bother giving them a DC? Offering a DC is like giving a player hope and I’ve noticed players get angry when you offer a DC they have no hope in reaching when regarding one of the skills considered a staple of a class. It’s like being a guitar player somehow imbues one with an encyclopedic knowledge of lands he’s never seen.

3: Teleportation

I have removed teleportation from damn near every game I’ve ever run. It’s worse than the eagles in Lord of the Rings. I made a joke to a player recently that if he attempted teleportation, I would embed him fifty feet into the Earth. I outright removed most teleportation spells from Amethyst, placing them only back as the rarest of spells. So many role playing games are about traveling across a fantasy landscape. If you want to insert a fast travel system, that’s fine, but I’ve seen players teleport from one side of a planet to the other on a whim.

4: Resurrection

In every game, without exception, the first thing I removed is the relatively easy ability to bring the dead back to life with nary a side effect other than mild headache. The problem with resurrection is two-fold. Firstly it removes the fear of death which should be front and center in any individual living in a world without modern medicine and where the average life expectancy of a human is the same as a parrot. Second, and perhaps more subversively, it verifies the existence of a soul. I know that may be an odd thing, but several of the high level resurrection spells don’t require any sample of the original individual. They are just there. It automatically verifies a soul and an afterlife. If you are designing a fantasy world, do you want that certainty? People talk about souls today, but it’s still a matter of faith. We believe we have souls. We believe in an afterlife. Raise Dead confirms it, affecting everyone aware of that fact.

There are more rules I am sure? What is it with your games? What rules do you hate which you often have to remove? Magic altogether? The insistence that monk not be an out of place Asian cliché? Entire races or monsters?

Filed Under: 3.5 OGL4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons5th edition Dungeons and DragonsD&D NextRole-PlayingRPG

About the Author: Chris Tavares Dias is the literary equivalent of that crusty burnt cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot. Some people claim he looks like Mathew Perry. He would like that to be true. It's not. In 2010, Chris co-wrote and created Amethyst Foundations, a 4th Edition setting based on the previous version under 3.5. It has received critical acclaim for integrating science fiction into classical fantasy. In August of this year, Chris was last seen staring at a dead raven that had fallen beside his car. Two months later, his watch and notepad were found in the stomach of a basking shark that had washed ashore off the coast of Florida.