Wednesday, May 25, 2011

RAW vs House Rules vs Home Brew

Recently there was a great deal of discussion about house rules, tweaks, etc. and how you play D&D. Well more specifically 4E D&D. Somebody, saveversusdeath or EldritchReverie asked if we could play 4E without the books.

My gut reaction was NO! I would need the books to play 4E but 2nd Ed. we frequently play games without books. Several people people posted ways it could be done or encouragement to trying it. A few were condescending indicating people playing RAW were unimaginative sods that don’t get RPGs.

Could I run a game without looking in the DMG for a table with monsters pre-printed and PCs and power cards already. Absolutely. I consider using powercards akin to using the books. I also consider 4E such a carefully balanced game that it would break (in the DM or PCs favor) far too easily. So again I fear running with vaguely remembered powers just seems likely to end in a cakewalk or TPK. Additionally to play without the books I couldn’t level a PC or create on without the books, either. All of these make me feel like I’d need the books for a 4E game.

A few of the more interesting ideas floated in that discussion included:
    • Using basic attacks and “powers” that skill training grant. Or just provide example powers based on skills.
    • Skip races and just play classes, using simple powers choices.
    • Make all attacks basic and let players describe cool things in place of encounter powers

So, I think I missed the point of the question. The answer to could I play 4E without the books the answer is NO. But could I play D&D without the books, yes. I think that fine distinction rests only with me. But 4E is the rules as presented in the books and is a firm set of expectations playes will bring to the table. I could certainly play a D&D variant based on 4E. To me the fine line is would it  be different enough that if a person at a game store saw me playing would they immediately know is was 4E or just that it was an RPG.

Given the above why do I still feel like I could play 2nd Ed without the books? Well a lot of it is that the rules are a loose collection. With lots of optional and expanded rules presented, as just that options or expansion but not something to be expected at every table. The game math is also looser, meaning that roughly recalling a chart or how something is incremented at a level is less likely to dramatically shift  the outcome of battle. In other words the game was looser it had a lot more flexibility built into it. But that came at a price. Many groups had a great deal of variation and house rules making it harder to crash other peoples games. Additionally it wasn’t as balanced a game meaning some things were just overpowered resulting in.... more house rules!

To wrap this (intended to be short post up) to me: RAW is an explicit edition of the game and clearly and readily identifiable to anyone familiar with the game. House Rules are a few additions to the game that shouldn’t often break game balance and are table/DM variants that still do not change the defining points of that game/edition. Variant Games are rules that have been heavily modified enough that if a player that knows the original game would not immediately recognize that version of the game or if they sat at the table their expectations of “clear” rules would not necessarily be met.