March 17, 2009

10 House Rules to Make Grognards Like 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons

Have you ever wondered why the D&D community was so fragmented?
Have you ever thought "Hey, 4E is the new Old School D&D!"?
Have you ever wanted a grognard at your 4E game table?
Well, I have. Some say its impossible though. Grognards are, by definition, grumpy dwarfs. They don't want to game with 4'Teens. They say it can't be done. It's against thier code of ethics. Plus, it is rumored that they will turn to stone as soon as they use a healing surge.

I disagree. These rumors all all bunk. I think they do want to game with us. I think they just are grouchy, but shy. Well, take any one of these 10 House Rules and help make your 4E game appeal to that grumpy old curmudgeon. Come on, you know we all love'em! Right?
OK.. maybe it will take all 10 of these House Rules, but give it an honest shot. You may surprise yourself...
  1. Limited Healing Surges. Limit the number of healing surges to PC's 1+Con bonus, or just set a fixed number regardless of constitution or class ("everyone gets 3 healing surges, that's it!")
  2. Halve Starting Hit Points. That's right. Start with less. In OD&D most wizards only started the game with 4 hit points, and that's if your DM was being generous.
  3. Limit the Classes to the Fab Four. OK, technically there were three in the original game, but the thief is just too good to pass up. From 4E, play only with the Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, or Rogue.
  4. Limit the Races to Three. All you need are the Human, Elf, and Dwarf races, right?
  5. Award XP for Gold. 1 gold = 1 xp. Also, drop xp bonuses for quest rewards, skill challenges, and traps. Killing things and taking their loot are the only things worth XP.
  6. Make All Encounters Deadly. When making encounters, always pretend the party is 2 or 3 levels higher than they are.
  7. Don't Scale the Campaign Setting. Take a page out of the book of Gygaxian Naturalism and design your campaign world independently of the PCs level. If those woods over there are dangerous, make them so. If that castle is inhabited by demons, make it so. There's nothing more annoying that a town frightened by a tribe of level 1 kobolds... its just laughable.
  8. Make Encounter Powers Daily Powers. This will make their use a bit more like old school one-a-day spells and abilities.
  9. Make Daily Powers Charged Powers. Make the use of a daily power drain XP, use a healing surge, or have some other charged effect.
  10. Put Away the Miniatures. Try playing without miniatures. This may seem antithetical for 4E gameplay, but it IS possible. How? Use your imagination. There's something very cool about playing D&D in a living room instead of at the game table. Try it.
  11. Try What Greywulf Suggests...
    1. Roll 3d6 for stats and then GO!
    2. Play an old school D&D module using 4E rules. Very cool... we like this. And YES.. this is the ELEVENTH house rule.. actually.. its two.. now I'm just confused.
With one or more of these house rules in effect, I think its pretty easy to recreate the deadly, resource management style game that OD&D embodied using 4E rules. Give it a shot, and let me know how it goes.

Oh, and this post is meant to draw fire. Flame away! Show me your worst! I'll take it on the chin like the geek that I am! [runs away, hides...]


  1. I always assumed that #6 was a compulsory “unwritten rule” for all DMs. I know I’ve been following it for years. (I hope none of my players read this.)

  2. I've been applying rule #6 liberally - and I've yet to do so intentionally. >_>"

    Part of what I hated about playing a wizard in the old editions was how weak they were starting out. If anyone sneezed in their direction, they were down for the count. I can't imagine ever going back to that.

  3. Forget #10. Minis have been part of DnD ever since it's inception, I don't care what anyone says.

    Just put away the plastic, pre-painted one!

  4. That game sounds unplayable to me. I think I'd rather play Swords and Wizardry. Or play 4e without having to bend over backwards trying to reverse time by 34 tears.

  5. Get rid of 1, 5, and 10 and that might be alright. Healing surges are too important to Clerics to reduce.

    Maybe you could make it so players can't use Healing Surges themselves and require the Cleric to do it for them?

  6. Amen to all that :D

    I'll keep saying it like the heretic that I am..... 4e does Old School very, very well indeed. Our last one-shot (which is what I'm writing up now) proved it to the last two players in my own group who didn't believe me. All it took was a willingness to loosen up a little, not worry about "game balance" and actually enjoy the thing.

    Me, I'm a total convert.

    Rolling 3d6 in order worked well I'd do it again in a heartbeat. The players might not like the idea to start with, but once they get inspiration for their characters from those dice, they treat those characters like they're the best ones they've ever made. All three players want to continue with their wonderful, dysfunctional creations.

  7. Rule #11 - complain that they should not have to house-rule to play the game they want, and that the RAW should support their chosen style.

    Rule #12 - shake head sadly because people clearly do not understand their "style" of DnD

    Rule #13 - use hand-harvested natural beeswax to sculpt beard into windmill. "your argument is invalid".

    I'm teasing, of course. One thing you might want to add is Replace every power with a weapon keyword with "I hit it with my sharp/pointy/blunt thingie of choice (1W)"

  8. Cute post!

    In all honesty, I'd add a #30 rule (cause I love the d30, yannow)...

    "Drop the Striker, Controller, Defender, etc expectations and play the characters as, yannow, characters and not football positions."

    That just sticks with me to this day from the people who played 3E/4E - it was like playing Counterstrike on tabletop.

    And you always have an open seat at my table :)

  9. Hmm... should probably add one

    Rule 0: "Don't use a known derogatory term to address certain Gamers if you want the want the aforementioned Gamers to remotely take your ideas seriously."

    Just a thought... ;D

  10. Hey all! thanks for the lively additions to the list! And welcome to all the first time commentators on this post!

    @Ameron - yes, it is a required one.

    @kingworks - oh come on... you know you LOVED the 4 hp wizard. I make a wizards - 20 min later he dies - I roll another wizards - 20 min later he dies. repeat.

    @Tom - well, Minis were there at the beginning, true.. but then they largely left the game table, only to return when WotC saw how much fun Warhammer players were having.

    @wyatt - but that's what they did, right? I mean.. 4E is the new OD&D.

    @hexmage - that'd work. since so many other abilities play off healing surges, that would definitely work.

    @greywulf - welcome back! and no you are not a heretic. You and I are in the same coven though... and I love, absolutely love, the simple idea of ditching point buy system.

    @wickedmurph - bah! Houseruling IS part of the RAW. So, it carries that any houserule IS the RAW. Oh, and your #13 is a MUST DO. that's aewshum -- roflmfao!!!

    @chgowiz -- I'm with you 100%. reducing classes to specific tactical roles was a major flaw in 4E. Althougth I still love the 4E ruleset, the RAW's inherent push for a minis' game is annoying.

    @nahctwulf - Disagree. Grognard is not a pejorative term. Like the terms "Biker", "Punk", or "Pops" - It's a term of respect. If you think I'm being disrespectful of grognards... you've missed the point of this post. This was clearly written to poke fun at ourselves and the community. Oh, and to make some half-decent suggestions of ways players might bring the two camps together. I'm just hoping that someone picks up on this and posts a 10-ways to make 4'Teens like OD&D or OCSIS. That would be.. aewshum!

  11. @kingworks - oh come on... you know you LOVED the 4 hp wizard. I make a wizards - 20 min later he dies - I roll another wizards - 20 min later he dies. repeat.

    The funny thing is, my brother in law is playing a 4HP mage. He's not only survived, he's probably *saved* the party a few times with well placed sleep spells. He knows his limitations and his powers and he plays it very well. He also has done some really interesting things, like sneaking up behind a goblin who was about to gib a defenseless party member, and SCREAMED in the goblin's ear. I was so amused and impressed by the improv, I gave it a 3in6 that the goblin would fumble his round. Sure enough, he did. The mage saves the day again.

  12. Nachtwulf: Not sure where you got the idea that it was a derogatory term. Even from the time of Napoleon it was used as a term of endearment.

    And I should know; I was there. ;-)

  13. Grognard is not inherently a term of endearment or an insult. It is a tag, and depends on how it is used. Mostly it is used offensively these days to refer to older gamers.

    The writter of this article says it is not pejorative but his opinion does not matter. The opinions of those targeted by the term he used does.

    "Pops", and ""punk" are most definitively NOT terms of respect or endearement.

  14. @edsan - welcome to The Core Mechanic! A couple points -- 1) I am a grognard. been playing actively since '79. 2) I was a Punk (capital P, mind you) in the mid-eighties; and yes it was used as a word of respect (not the same as _p_unk); 3) I am a "pops", and when my friends call me pops they do so out of respect becuase I'm one of the few of us with more than a one child at home.

    "but his opinion does not matter" -- I disagree. You see.. I use the term grognard out of respect. What else should I call those folks who are 30+ year veterans of the game who are more experienced and table-tested than most? Old timers? Since this would apply to me as well, I'm not ready to accept that term. Grognard would do just fine. Honestly though. grognard is not just about how old or young you are, it is about whether you prefer the "old ways of doing things" over some new fangled way. A pajorative term would be "Luddite", but we wont go there.

  15. I'm with Johnathon. I'm a Grognard. Been gaming a few decades now and started off with the White Box.
    IHMO, Making 4th Ed more like first is a step back.

  16. I've read a few different posts on making 4E play more like the D&D of yore. And personally, I'm not biting.

    Here's why:
    1. Starting w/ an easier / smaller set of rules, and adding to it (house ruling), takes less effort and ends up working better than starting with a very large, complex set and cutting away till you end up w/ what you're looking for.

    2. An old school game could likely be played w/ nearly ANY rule set out there. BUT there's a caveat, if the DM is well versed in the rules, and the character sheets support a more imagination-driven game rather than a rote, rules-driven game then it could succeed. Minimalistic character sheet v. the 2 page sheet listing powers, skills, etc. (See #1 above.)

    3. Do everything you've listed but completely strip surges and powers from all non-spell casting classes as well. (Not just from PCs but from the game as a whole.) Use surges to power things if you need to...OR just strip surges from every class. Shrink that safety net.

    4. Don't worry so much about balanced classes...Let the DM worry about these things. i.e. pull it from the rules and place it back in the DM's lap.

    5. Bring back the word 'yes'. It's a yes game. Either the player character succeeds in what they're trying, or if there's a decidedly ugly outcome upon failure, a die is rolled.

    6. Let the players shoulder some of the adventuring load. e.g. Stop with the skill challenges and let the players figure out a few things by themselves.

    7. Make magic items MAGIC again. This ability to drain items to make items or to trade items for other items just devalues the magic item overall, it turns them mundane and everyday. The "Sword of the Storm Lord" should be wonderful and rare...not just a set of statistics to be traded in for something more suitable.

    And I could go on...

    I've been playing 4E for 7 months now so I'm not a "hater" trying to debase 4E's value. I just find it funny that people are trying to drive a nail with a screw driver, while a hammer is perfectly suitable for the job...and it's easily attainable. (for free!)

  17. @gamerdude: welcome back! I you and my wife are cut from the same thread. She's been DM'ing a 4E game now for 6 or 7 months, and ... she can't wait for this next adventure to 'end' so that she can get back to 3E or 2E (she's never played BASIC, I should suggest it to her). As far as your comment "takes less effort and ends up working better than starting with a very large" -- all in all, I probably agree. These posts at TCM about 4E for old school players was aimed at generating some discussion about 4E's possible adaptation to the OD&D crowd. I appreciate both games for what they are - and for their distinctive character; but I can't shake this feeling that there's a certain lack of seeing the forest for the trees, lack of flexibility. It often comes down to RAW1 > RAW2 or vice versa, when ultimately the game really depends on the individual mood, pace, style of each gaming group.

    So, has anyone played BASIC Fantasy lately? Seems like it might be fun.

    >_> <_<

  18. Hey Johnathan,

    ... lack of seeing the forest for the trees, lack of flexibility.

    A lack in the rules? Or a lack in players "flexibility"? I would certainly agree that if someone's determined enough that they could make 4E play like the older editions.

    But I'm not sure the value. Does the effort far outstrip the results? It seems to me that it might.

    I know that there's value from the standpoint of a merchant or content producer, (e.g. Necromancer Games) and of course WotC would gain tremendous benefit from tapping into this recent upsurge in old school interest.

    But in the end the question must be raised: Would the customer benefit? If Necromancer games really wanted to produce "old school" material then I would imagine that there's some way in which they could do this. Maybe Clark starts a small little company that's dedicated to such an endeavor? I realize that there are license agreements that can't be broached, but there are always ways around such things.

    Anyway, I'm rambling. ;-) Interesting side effect though of the fracturing of the market is that I find it more and more difficult to find players who want to play older version games. It used to be that if you asked someone if they played Dungeons and Dragons that you were relatively assured that they played either one of two flavors. (Hobbyist or Tournament / D&D or AD&D)

    Now a days though, you've got an enormous amount of choice, and that's JUST under the Dungeons and Dragons brand banner. Wouldn't it have made more sense from a business prospective to extend those two brands? It certainly would have made things easier on us, the consumer.

  19. Er...Perspective, not prospective. ;-)

  20. I love every bit of it!

    totally down with Greywolf

    Reason the novices like freely given power is they have not had the experience of roleplaying a 20th level wizard who can shape change into a great wyrm dragon. They yearn, understandably so, for those high level experiences, so the aspect of death or losing an encounter is unacceptable. The grognards love the hard stuff because they have played those high level campaigns, realize it all really boils down to wordplay and arbitraryness of the DM at those levels, and thus they enjoy the hard calcuable challenges of low level harsh campigns.


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