Running a game of Dungeons & Dragons is like cooking for a few friends on a regular basis. Recipes for a dish often start out the same. Everyone adds and subtracts elements to home cooked meals, whether a secret recipe passed down through generations or an interesting twist found in a social media feed. Smart dungeon masters also tweak their games with house rules and bits from other games they’ve read to get the feel of their experience just right. Here are some more rules from other games that work well with D&D, and here’s a link to our previous article full of these rules for those who might have missed it the first time around.
ONE UNIQUE THING
13th Age is a fantasy RPG created by Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo, both of whom served as lead developers for earlier editions of D&D. The game stands on its own as an excellent variant of D&D that mixes the classic structure of character classes, races and levels with ideas of simplified skills, player buy-in and faster but still challenging encounters. As part of the player creation process, every player declares the one unique thing about their character. It’s a common fantasy fiction practice that often results in Chosen Ones that are the center of the tale, but can also mean a character has an unusual connection to another race or a unique weapon.
The important part of this rule is that it shifts some of the work of worldbuilding onto the players. It can be a grand question—why is the PC the world’s only halfling paladin—or a small one. It also hands a intriguing plot hook to the Dungeon Master at the top of the game when she needs to pull together all the threads of the PCs into a cohesive group. There is certainly room for negotiation; the 13th Age book has an excellent section devoted to what makes good choices for this element.
Fate Core made it to this season of Tabletop for many reasons. Aspects are one of the most important parts of the Fate economy because they regulate the flow of Fate points around the table. Aspects are short, descriptive phrases that describe a character, like Cocky Smuggler or The Boy Who Lived. When these aspects can positively affect the story, they can be invoked by spending a Fate Point for a bonus or a reroll. When the character with The Boy Who Lived aspect faces off against his wizarding nemesis, his player can spent Fate points to help his rolls to ensure the bad guys’s defeat. Aspects also give characters Fate points by causing them trouble. The GM can offer a Fate point to tempt the player into accepting a plot twist that makes their life more difficult. When the Cocky Smuggler gets intercepted by an alien bounty hunter looking to cash in the price on his head, that’s a good sign her player accepted the Fate point.
Changing bonds to aspects means modifying how bonds and inspiration work a little, but they cover most of the same personality and story traits the standard Fate Core spread handles. Making them work more like aspects means changing a few rules. Players can have more than one inspiration, but they can spend multiple points on a roll affected by an aspect. Each inspiration spent in this way adds the player’s current proficiency bonus and those spends can stack. Aspects can also be placed on scenes and things, which opens up games for Theater of the Mind style combat on tables that are unable or unwilling to use miniatures.
BOONS AND BANES
The dark fantasy world of Shadow of the Demon Lord also shares a pedigree with Dungeons & Dragons. Rob Schwalb worked on several different editions of D&D before striking out on his own through Kickstarter. The Demon Lord has proven bountiful for backers with dozens of PDF supplements, adventures and optional rules, including an alternate setting where the Demon Lord mixes its goblins and orcs with a post-apocalypse full of guns, gasoline and deadly speed. Like 13th age, many of the best mechanics seem like refinements of D&D, but one stands out as an easy port to any D&D game where the D20 is central.
Rather than straight numerical bonuses and penalties, Shadow of the Demon Lord gives characters boons and banes to their rolls that reflect making life easier or tougher. Each boon or bane is a d6 that is either added or subtracted from the roll; boons add, banes subtract. They also cancel out, so if a roll has three boons and one bane, the roll is make with two boon dice. Only the highest die is applied to the roll. Adding this mechanic to a D&D game offers a bit more flexibility beyond advantage/disadvantage to assigning small penalties or bonuses for players, while avoiding the math slowdown of escalating addition and subtraction.
What is your favorite non-standard D&D mechanic? Let us know in the comments.
Feature Image Credit: Wizards of the Coast
Image Credits: Pelgrane Press, Schwalb Entertainment
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He writes about kaiju, Jedi, gangsters, elves, Vulcans and sometimes all of them at the same time. His blog is here, his Twitter is here and his meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.