Sunday, August 4, 2013

Rambling On About House Rules

I've recently began a complete reading of Moldvay/Cook/Marsh B/X. I'm not sure if it was DCC's relationship to that set of rules, or maybe just the fact that I never played or refereed them. It is quite difficult to do any sort of OSR-related reading and not run headlong into a B/X lovefest. So, I am working with just that, thinking about how a dungeon, wilderness, and/or entire campaign would have been in 1981, with those rules. I may post about that this weekend, as well, since I have been so remiss this past month.

Anyway, an inevitable aspect of any sort of webispheric study of original rules is that subject of house rules. There is a school of thought that if one is going to actually game with original rules, whether LBB, B/X, BECMI, or even Traveller, the rules should be used as-written. Even if only briefly, simply for the sake of the experience. I've seen a lot of words spent on the notion that if a person changes some certain aspect of B/X then they aren't playing B/X anymore. The logic then goes "so what's the point of calling yourself playing B/X in the first place? Use the rules as written, as intended."

This really started me thinking about the very nature of house rules. Here is my conclusion: I submit to you that ALL forms/version/editions of OD&D/AD&D/D&D, including the retroclones (free and pay) are nothing more than house rules. The early versions admitted such outright by calling themselves guidelines. It was only later that they began calling themselves "rules". Here is how I arrived at this conclusion:

The LBBs sprang from Chainmail. That, as we know, was a set of rules for medieval miniature battles. It was based on real-world, historical, actions. It is quite easy to determine, even if anecdotally, how far a medieval soldier could expect to travel in a given amount of time. Their morale was also simply a matter of assigning an algorithm to historical evidence. Things were abstracted, but the abstractions were based on actual, historical, evidence.

Then came the desire to include fantastic elements in the Chainmail games. Mr. Gygax and Arneson had to decide how a fireball worked, how a unit of orcs or dwarves compared to a unit of human soldiers. There is nothing historical to go by, so they tinkered until they found what worked best for them. Isn't that the very essence of a house rule? So, by my reckoning, since every single edition or version is built on the LBBs, at least philosophically, they are all house rules.

This isn't particularly important, since most of us play our games our way, and aren't subject to internet-based fanatical puritanism. I just found it an interesting thought to ponder on, and wanted to share it.

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