New 4e House Rules (Part 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 24, 2009

Sometimes you have an idea while you’re playing and you think: “Man, this would make a great house rule.” And then you suggest it to the table and they shoot it down as dumb or too complicated or just unnecessary. And in most cases their feedback was bang on the money. However, every once and a while an idea that’s shot down refuses to die. Even though your immediate peer group thinks it’s a bad idea you’re convinced that it has merit. It is with this in mind that I’m writing this, the first of what I hope will be a series of articles, about house rules in 4e D&D.

Let me lay down some ground rules. None of these ideas have been play-tested. These are just some random thoughts for a guy who’s been playing D&D for 20+ years. Some of my ideas may seem really out there, and that’s ok. The purpose of this series is to get other DMs and players thinking and talking about these ideas. I’m looking for brutal honesty. If you don’t think my new rules will work, let me know why. And if you think they’ll work better with a few tweaks then please share your ideas. In the end the whole point of this is to come up with new and creative ideas for making D&D more fun.

Automatic Success

Proposal

Once per gaming session each player at the table has one “Automatic Success” in the bank. At any point during the game you can choose to use your automatic success to accomplish whatever you’re attempting. You must declare your intent to use this before any dice are rolled. The result is never treated as a critical success.

Balance

Each time a PC uses his Automatic Success, the DM gets a re-roll that has to be used before the start of that players next turn.

Notes

My original thought was to give the DM an automatic success every time the PCs use one, but that could be detrimental to the party. This way the DM gets something and has a very limited time in which to use it. This will force PCs to give it some serious thought before they use this benefit.

Reverse Failure

Proposal

During a skill challenge, a PC may opt to reverse a failure the party incurred earlier in the skill challenge. If successful, it will not count towards the number of overall successes required to overcome the skill challenge, but it will allow the party to get back one strike.

Mechanics

On your turn, you declare that your intention is to reverse a failure rather than earn a success. You then describe how you’re going to eliminate the strike. In social settings a failed Bluff or Diplomacy check may be reversed by using Intimidate on the PC who earned the failure, thereby gaining face in the eyes of the person you’re trying to impress. A failed Athletics check may be eliminated with an Endurance or Heal check made on the person who earned the failure.

Balance

Removing a failure should be reactionary and quick. Therefore, I’d deny any attempts to assist on these checks. Should there be a limit to the number of times a failure can be reversed? A difficulty 5 skill challenge would allow 5 opportunities to fix your mistakes, difficulty 4, 4 opportunities, etc.

Notes

Should a failure to reverse a failure count as another strike? Or should it be like a secondary skill check and count as neither a success nor failure?

What do you think of my first two proposals? Do these sound like house rules you might consider using in your game? We want your feedback.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mike April 24, 2009 at 7:56 am

I think both items you suggest here can simply be used with action points, let them spend a action point to reverse a failure or gain a automatic success. If your worried that they will use this all the time don’t be. Most players really want that extra action against the big bad monster so they save up, they have all sorts of feats that trigger when they spend action points in combat. So your giving them something powerful by letting them spend action points, but the cost to the player is on par to the reward.

2 Dungeon April 24, 2009 at 10:09 am

House Rule: when rolling for ability scores, reroll any single die that comes up 1 or 2. this gives the players an ability range of 9-18 (before ability modifiers of course).
this has nothing to do with the above house rules but i thought i’d post it.
as for “Should a failure to reverse a failure count as another strike? Or should it be like a secondary skill check and count as neither a success nor failure?” it should not count as neither a success nor failure, so yeah like a secondary skill check, i think.

3 Wyatt April 24, 2009 at 11:08 am

I have a massive article on houserules, and I was wondering if I could link yours there, as it seems interesting. Though the “balance” portions of this sort of bug me, it’s still an interesting rule.

4 Ameron April 24, 2009 at 11:27 am

@mike
I like the suggestion to charge action points to try these new rules. If a Fighter saved his automatic success for the use of a Daily power that does 4[W] damage, it makes sense to charge him something. Would you still give the DM a re-roll? I’m thinking no, probably not.

Good suggestion.

@Dungeon
If you’re rolling for attributes, then this is certainly an option. When I used to roll attributes (with AD&D and early 3e, I allowed 1s to be rerolled). The result is that the PCs are much more powerful at 1st level and rarely have anything below average. If the DM is ok with this, I don’t see a problem. Just keep in mind, powerful NPCs that are supposed to be at an equal power level to the PCs will likely be rolled up using the same house rule.

@Wyatt
Please feel free to link to this article. In fact, if you want to leave another comment linking to your page, that’s cool with me.

What part of the “balance” section don’t you like? I included it because I wanted to provide some rationale for why I think these rules will work.

5 Wyatt April 24, 2009 at 12:07 pm

I think it’s unneeded.

The DM has unlimited power. The idea of “giving him” a reroll feels off to me, because I don’t think it’s necessary to create more rules to “balance” a houserule. But this is where I differ from the vast majority of people who play 4e, most of whom I disagree with, so you can just blow me off as a lunatic and go on with whatever you were doing.

Link is here: http://spiritsofeden.wordpress.com/2008/12/03/wyatts-4e-houserules/

6 Asmor April 24, 2009 at 3:56 pm

I had a similar idea a while back… After talking it out on ENWorld for a bit this is what I came up with.

1. Every player get a token of some sort. At any time, they can give the token to the DM and declare the result of any die roll.

2. At any time, the DM may hand back a token to a player. When he does, he may declare the result of any die roll being made by or against the player’s character.

With the understanding that the DM can and should use his half at the most inopportune time.

7 Suddry April 26, 2009 at 9:00 am

Asmor.. that is evil! I love it!

As far as a re-roll goes, I’d almost suggest taking the action point idea a step farther and letting the PCs use their healing surges as a re-roll. I’d rule they have to use the second roll regardless of its outcome. Could someone use 5 surges as re-rolls? Sure. Of course when they are in their 4th straight combat and out of healing surges they may regret it!

8 Bartoneus April 27, 2009 at 7:24 am

I don’t really see a need for the entire half that involves the DM using tokens or action points (or anything) to change a roll, because the DM can always change rolls or even decide not to roll at all. Also I strongly agree with Wyatt about not using a new rule just to balance the house rule, if it needs balancing then the rule itself needs work instead.

9 Ameron April 27, 2009 at 8:05 am

@Wyatt
My reason for giving the DM a re-roll was to try to maintain balance. It didn’t seem right to just give the PCs a new power or ability (such as an automatic hit) and not have a down side. The idea of charging an action point or a healing surge is a good suggestion I hadn’t though of. I appreciate the feedback, that’s why I posted the article int he first place.

@Asmor
I really like this idea. It’s simple and balanced. Great idea.

@Suddry
I hadn’t considered “charging” the PCs for rerolls, but I like it. Whether it’s a healing surge or an action point, it still gives the PCs a down-side for using it. Good idea.

@Bartoneus
It sounds like I’m getting the same reaction from you and many other readers as I did from my table: let’s not create new rules if they’re going to make the game more complicated.

I’m just looking for a way to avoid the situation where one bad roll screws up everything. I’d like there to be some mechanic for allowing a reroll in that critical scenario where rolling a 1 just sucks.

10 Dungeon April 27, 2009 at 9:22 am

@ Ameron
how about this house rule: when a character rolls a natural 1 they add all the usual modifiers and add their character level. if the total is higher than a certain amount (DC 20 or higher) they fail at whatever they’re doing, but don’t Epicly fail. so at higher levels rolling a 1 isn’t as devistating.
I feel this can save a group of characters in a long-time campaign.
what do you think?

11 Suddry April 27, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Of course… if you are trying to avoid the whole “One bad roll” thing you are really leaving out a part of D&D that adds suspense. Besides… ONE roll should never be a disaster. I would surmise that before you got to the point where that ONE roll mattered that much there were already a series of rolls that got you there in the first place. Or a series of nimrod PC choices! *looks around with an evil grin*

12 Liack April 28, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Being both a player and a DM, there are some evenings where I would have gladly have paid action points or healing surges for a success of some sort. Botching all your daily and encounter powers in a big fight with a stream of bad luck…is part of D&D, but it still would have been to have some sort of comeback (à la FateSpinner) of some sort, and the paid success (maybe in the form of healing surge for encounter, and action point for daily) will probably make its entrance on the next game I’ll DM…and maybe that other DM will allow my character to still be efficient in combat (nothing like an evening stuck with rolls between 2 and 9)

13 Liack April 28, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Wow…just saw the plot coupon rull… Nice!

14 Ameron April 29, 2009 at 11:45 am

@Dungeon
I think that rolling a 1 in combat should be a fail, after all if the PCs have no fear of a bad roll then why play at all. But I think giving them the occasional “out” could be interesting. Of course, if you feel comfortable giving them a possible out every time, that’s up to you and your group.

@Suddry
Good point. I think you’re correct in assuming that if a PC is in a position where one roll can have that big an impact to the game he’s either made “questionable” choices or he’s got a really mean DM (no offense).

@Liack
I think we’ve all been the guys with bad dice. I agree that if you’ve saved a big power for a critical or important moment and then you flub the roll, it really sucks. I agree that there is room for a mechanism to let you try again. Spending action points or healing surges is a good way to keep it from getting out of hand.

15 Wyatt April 29, 2009 at 12:55 pm

I think the house rule is fine and not unbalanced even if the DM doesn’t get a freebie reroll, because he can always have a freebie reroll whenever he wants anyway. That is my position on this. Does there really need to be a downside? The game is already pretty skewed in certain ways, especially when it comes to trying to hit monsters (see: the Mastery feats for WotC’s good-intentioned but badly-thought-out attempt to fix that). My stance is: just add the rule and forget about giving it a downside, especially if the downside is silly or entirely uneven (people who have more use for surges won’t use it, Wizards with little use of surges will throw it around more, action points are better spent on extra actions than this, and the DM doesn’t need freebies.)

16 Bartoneus April 29, 2009 at 12:58 pm

@Wyatt: Didn’t I say that already? :P

17 Bog97th October 11, 2009 at 6:24 am

House rules can be the best thing in your game or the devil! I suggest trying all of them and if you have to vote on them within your group for total group use. You don’t want on DM to not use those so you can avoid confusion.
Also, if you do adopt rules write them up in rule book format and amend them as necessary. It’s almost like writing a whole new game some times. Those house rules have to be play tested too.

18 Tobias Pelzester November 14, 2009 at 3:41 pm

A favourite with my group is the +1 chip (I have a bunch of poker chips I use for this purpose). If you complete your turn in an efficient way, you get a chip. People also occasionally get a ‘pity chip’ for things like failing their third (fourth fifth) attack in a row, getting critical hit for huge amounts of damage, etc. A chip can be used at any time to add +1 to an attack or damage roll. Multiple chips stack, and anyone can contribute chips (which will often lead to someone missing by 2-3 and asking for chip contributions to make their attack), but once you’ve committed a chip you can’t have it back.

Chips are given fairly freely so it’s common for there to be 4-5 given out in a single encounter, but any chips unused at the end of the session are removed and the next session starts with none.

As for you ideas, I like the idea of the Reverse Failure particularly, not so sure about the automatic success but I do like the idea of the DM getting to reroll for a change ;). I’ll probably temporarily institute one or the other in my next game to see how it goes.

19 Guy Goddard May 20, 2013 at 12:05 am

I know this is a late post, but i just found this website.

I have used “luck points” in my games. The players get 1d4, non-cumulative, per level. They can be used to change a crit into a regular hit, re-roll a skill, get a chance to grab at a root as they go over a cliff and into a stream of lava, etc. But not re-roll a to hit or damage.

20 stealth? May 23, 2013 at 8:44 am

@Guy Goddard
I too just found this site (and just started DMing). I like the idea of luck points, maybe visually represented by poker chips. The group of players I am running a campaign for are very new to the game, so this would be a simple thing to add. I might try it out first in an encounter to see how it plays out (maybe a lucky gem in the mine gives those near it luck) before house-ruling it, but it’s an excellent idea.

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