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Classic D&D house rules

A collection of various house rules for classic D&D that I’ve come up with or stolen:

Ability score rolling

The old standby: Roll 4d6 dropping the lowest die six times. Assign the scores to abilities to taste.

All at once: Roll 18d6. Group the dice into six groups of three dice each. Assign to abilities to taste.

Gold as an ability score: Use any other method, but roll one additional score. This additional score (times ten) takes the place of the roll for starting gold.

The swap: I like rolling scores “in order”, but I don’t want to be too draconian about it. So, I allow one pair of scores to be swapped.

It’s only a flesh wound

Once a PC falls to zero (or less) hp, as long as no enemy performs a coup d’grace & his companions get to him in a reasonable amount of time, the PC can recover, but loses a point of Con.

Another alternative: PCs falling to zero (or less) hp must make a save or die. (This is in the RC?)

The injury alternative: My injury table

Fate points: In this variation, each new PC gets 1d4 fate points. The players, however, do not know how many fate points their PCs have. The roll is made & recorded secretly by the DM. Whenever a PC reaches zero hp, a fate point is spent & the PC survives. The PC will be unconscious for the rest of the combat but may be revived thereafter. (Or, after a suitable period of time, will awaken on his own.)

PCs starting at 2nd level get 1d4-1 fate points; 3rd, 1d4-2; 4th, 1d4-3; 5th or higher, none.

PCs should not be able to earn additional fate points because the idea is to boost the survivability of 1st level PCs.

Kicker: Another way to increase 1st level survivability: 1st level PCs get 2 HD for initial hp. Upon gaining 2nd level, the PC does not gain any new hp. Upon gaining 3rd level & above, the PC gains hp as normal.


Based loosely on a system described in The Strategic Review.

To overbear an opponent the attackers must first make “to hit” rolls to grab him. Then each grappler whose “to hit” succeeded rolls their hit dice versus the target’s hit dice.

If the grapplers’ total exceeds the target’s total, the target is pinned.

If the target’s total exceeds the grapplers’ total, some (possibly all) the attackers may be thrown off. The margin by which the target beat the grapplers is the number of “pips” that he can escape from. The pips are applied against the rolls by the attacker. (...argh! How to word this? Let’s try an example...)

e.g. Four orcs attempt to overbear a fourth level fighter with a 13 Con. The orcs are lucky & all succeed in grabbing the fighter. 1d8 is rolled for each orc: 8, 4, 4, 2 for a total of 18. The fighter rolls 4d8+4 for a total of 26. The fighter exceeded the orcs total by 8 points, so he can choose to throw off either the single orc that rolled 8 or two of the other orcs (whose rolls total up to 8 or less).

(...options when pinned...)

(Maybe incorporate the RC “ladder”: free, grab, takedown, pin.)

Fancy combat maneuvers

To resolve fancy combat maneuvers (e.g. disarm) roll a “to hit” contest: Each character makes a “to hit” roll. If the attacker “hits” an AC better than that “hit” by his opponent, the maneuver is a success.

Breaking weapons

A character may try to break an opponent’s weapon. The following table shows what weapons each class of weapons can break. (It’s left to the DM to classify specific weapons.)

Magical metalMagical woodenMundane steelSteel reinforced woodenMundane wooden
Magical metal← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑← can break ↑← can break ↑← can break ↑
Magical wooden← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑← can break ↑
Mundane steel← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑← can break ↑
Steel reinforced wooden← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑
Mundane wooden← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑← cannot break ↑

A reinforced wooden weapon costs double the book price.

(A magical steel reinforced wooden weapon would count as magical wooden for attacking and magical metal for defending.)

Use the “to hit” contest from Fancy combat maneuvers above to determine whether the attempt is successful.

Perhaps the double cost for reinforced weapons is too simplistic? Perhaps some wooden weapons should be harder to break than others? Mundane weapons made of softer metals could be considered somewhere between steel & wooden. Consider them reinforced wooden?

TFT style ability checks

Roll ability score or less.

The number of dice to roll depends upon the difficulty.

Pendragon style ability contests

Roll ability score or less on d20. If both characters succeed, the higher roll wins.

Alternate reaction rolls

Roll Cha or less on 2d10. If the roll is doubles it is an exceptional result.

(...need to add stuff about probability of the book rule vs. this one...)

An ability check alternative

When a character attempts something that could fail & no existing mechanic covers it, the DM looks at the PC’s saving throw target numbers & chooses the one that seems closest to the PC’s chance for success.

Yet another ability check alternative.

Roll the ability score times a difficulty modifier or less on d%.

& yet another ability check systems

Roll d8 ≤ 4 + ability modifier.

Ability scoreSuccess on d8

Or, if you prefer, d8 + ability modifier ≥ 5.

See also Action throws & Alternative ability checks.

No declaration casting

Instead of declaring spells to be cast at the beginning of the round, casters declare what spell they are casting on their turn. Instead of the spell taking effect immediately, the spell takes effect just before the caster’s next turn. The casting can be disrupted at any time between the beginning of the casting & it taking effect.


d20: If you choose to reroll ties, then it doesn’t really matter what die you use for initiative. Using a d20 instead of d6 will give you the same results with fewer rerolls. This also allows you to use the normal +3 to -3 Dex modifiers for individual initiative.

d12: When using group initiative & there are only two sides, instead of each side rolling a d6, you can use a single d12 roll:

even (other than 12)PCs win initiative
odd (other than 1)Monsters win initiative
1 or 12Simultaneous

This gives the same odds as rolling 1d6 for each side.

Switching classes

For a PC to switch classes, he must typically go through some period of training defined by the DM.

XP for each class must be recorded separately. (Perhaps: Once he has switched, though, the XP total for his old class is frozen. All XP earned go to the new class.)

Likewise, hp for each class must be recorded separately. The PC uses whichever hp total is greater.

e.g. Bob begins his adventuring career as a magic-user. By 3rd level, he has 10 hp. He then decides to take a sabbatical & become a fighter. For his first fighter level, Bob rolls an 8 for hp. Since this is less than his 10 magic-user hit points, his magic-user hp are used in play. When he gains a second fighter level, he rolls 5 bringing is fighter hp to 13. Since this is greater than his magic-user hp, he now uses his fighter hp instead.

The PC may freely use the abilities of both classes. For “to hit”, saves, &c., use whichever is most favorable to the PC.

Wisdom & saving throws

Let’s just let the Wisdom modifier to saving throws apply to all saving throws.

Warhammer FRP alignment

Rolemaster style ability score increases

Roll 3d6 & 4d6(drop the lowest) for each score. The lower roll is the starting value & the higher roll is the maximum value. Each level, the player may bump the current value of one ability that hasn’t yet reached it’s maximum by one point.

See also...

Gnome PCs

On multiple attacks for my “natural 20” rule

On energy drain