Monday, March 26, 2018

Houserules and my Beef With Them

As a life-long gamer (in my case – table-top RPG and wargames for those that don’t know me) I’ve always heard this “Just house rule it… “ when it comes to the question of whether a rule sounds like it’s not working out. I’ve been hearing that since 198-something, it’s become a trope, and it aggravates me. When I hear it as an answer to a rules-question now it just seems condescending and trite.

The latest 2 triggers to my aggravation were:

Did a big pike and shotte era wargame last weekend using the Pikeman’s Lament rules by Mersey. A derivative of his X Rampant, they are mostly well-thought out, elegant, and I like them save a few bits that are dice-dependent and, if the dice go against you, will turn the game immediately. A lot of the Grognards I play with love the rule-set so I play it too. Suffice to say, I like to play and it was a fun game regardless of my teeth getting kicked in.

A rule, an ability of a specific unit, was played wrong but we went with it. Later the host of the game brought up the rule in question on a Facebook fanpage for the rule-set and, via the magic of modern social-media, the co-author of the game himself chimed in. It was not as nice as one would think.

To wrap it up the exchange on the FB page:
1) We played the rule incorrectly.
2) A question was asked to clarify what the book said (which indeed showed us we did it wrong).
3) Many had opinions and evoked historical context (my newest pet-peeve BTW).
4) The writer of the rules chimed in, said what the book says is what it says, then states it is mis-printed thus not the intent of the writers of the rules. Further, how we played it wrong is closer to said intent.

The conversation went back and forth a bit and some feathers got ruffled. Finally, “You guys should house-rule it and play it how you like.” Was the final answer … which is funny because we want to play it as it’s written in the book but the way the conversation flowed many came from the perspective that it was not Rules As Written; house-rule to play the game by what the book says? Weird when you witness that.

The whole exchange showed me that when a mistake was found we were told to “house rule it” and that was that. Mother-Fucker… I spent money on your rule book, why do I need to house rule it? You’re just trying to shut me up and save face hunh? Sounds like a cheap and easy way out.

Next – post Dungeons and Dragons game this weekend I was doing some research for the party re crafting items. Like they got some down time and want to make horse shoes and arrows and stuff and what the rules are for that. I fell down a rabbit hole and found many Reddit, forum, and blog post conversations that all fell into the “just house rule it…” trap. In one of those conversations, date stamped in 2015, someone called out the “just house rule it…” guy and asked him (I assume gender via the forum name) “Why are you being dismissive about another’s concern?” the reply opened with. House Rule It Guy answered that the original situation was not a big deal and easy to house rule and the responder came back with:

“The original poster thought it was Big Deal enough to post a question here about it. It is a big deal to them. You say it’s not a big deal but then you went through over a dozen posts here until you finally replied it was not a big deal. Why did you do that?” … and I love that tact!

My main problems with house rules are a few:

1) Lack of consistency amongst groups or tables. When I buy rules for a game I expect those rules to be followed everywhere I go. For me gaming is a social activity (amongst others) and it is hard to enjoy myself when I go to a game not knowing what is going on and not being able to take care of my own.  Fun is a very important aspect of games but I am not having fun if I am standing at a table not knowing what is going on AND I have the rule book.

There is a full spectrum, in my opinion on the reason this happens. A prevalent one is Host/Game Master power of adjudication. I’ve been involved in “home-brew” role playing games where no one had a copy of the rules other than the GM. I did not like that. Every single one of those games the GM was the over-bearing omnipotent god that, in the end, decided all the player’s fates regardless of any rule that was played before hand and I hate that.

On the other end of the stick were some historical wargames I’ve been in where the modified rules were pretty dang modified and not even close to the rule set they were “modified” from – nor consistent in rulings. One game the cannon does 3d6 damage. The next game it’s doing 4d6. No consistency.

The above two instances are more of the upper-level and I feel most house rules are just there to keep things going. The issue is they seem to fail, Like throwing on a Band-Aid when you actually could use a stitch or two.

Granted, there are degrees to this. In my game daggers only cost 2 gold pieces but per the RAW daggers are 4 gold pieces. That is not a big deal. It is not a house rule that would trip up a new person if they came to the game not knowing the house rule. Critical attacks happening on natural rolls of 19 or 20 house rule? That’s a big deal because that may usurp a whole character concept if they did not know about the house rule.

2) The Big Brush-Off: Sometimes it just seems like people say it to show you they don’t care.
*Long, well researched, honest question about rules as written*
House rule it.” << the answer you get.
It’s like being a player that house-rules everything is somehow a mark of skill or experience. Very rarely is that so in my own experience but stating it marks you as someone that has “imagination” and is in it for the fun!

I’ve been at this long enough to be able to tell when it’s an honest and earnest “house rule it” or not. I find most replies like that are just a person brushing people off. It’s kind of rude and trite.

I know, I was all negative and stuff and some may feel put off by all this. Just remember that part of “fun” is consistency and fairness. We play games with codified rules so that we can play with each other with said consistency and fairness. Further, for some of us, rules are hard to learn and memorize (me) and when we do get them memorized it’s nice to be able to use that. It is very uncomfortable, and slightly embarrassing, to be standing at a table not knowing what is going on or what to do.

I know of many people who do not “game” as they feel not adequate enough to stand at a table. Many “bad experience” horror stories I have heard revolve around a misunderstanding of what is a house rule.

1 comment:

  1. Great post again, Gabe. I was just about ordering a copy of Pikeman's I am very curious about the error you mentioned and even more of the co-author's response.