Ameron Answers 20 Quick Rules Questions

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 5, 2012

Every DM runs their home game a little bit differently, so as new players join the ranks it’s important that any house rules or tweaks to the RAW (Rules As Written) are clearly spelled out. This becomes even more important when you jump between editions or are playing in a home-brew campaign. Brendan at Untimately put together a list of 20 rules questions feeling “that it would be useful to have a list rules that often change from campaign to campaign.” By answering these questions DMs ensure consistence and rule clarity at their tables.

Many of the other bloggers who have posted their responses play older editions of D&D or use a mish-mash of various editions. The Dungeon’s Master crew plays 4e, bet even so the answers to some of these questions are not as straight-forward or clear-cut as you might think. Everyone has at least a few house rules and we’re no exception. So today I’m answering Brendan’s 20 quick rules questions.

1. Ability scores generation method?

Point buy. We’ve run into too many issues over the years when someone rolls amazing stats and there was no one around to witness them. Alternatively when guys roll really poor stats they cry because they’re not as powerful as the next guy. Point buy may be boring but it levels the playing field.

2. How are death and dying handled?

This hasn’t really been a big problem since 4e, but we’ve always played that if you die and want to come back the DM will find a way to make it happen. After all, the player shouldn’t suffer just because the PC died.

3. What about raising the dead?

Only if the party has suitable levels and resources. D&D has always been a revolving door of life-death-life and that’s a big part of its appeal.

4. How are replacement PCs handled?

If you want to play a new character that’s fine. Talk to the DM about how and when to bring in the new guy. Again our primary objective is to have fun and if you don’t like your character then change him to one you like better. We found this happened a lot with our group so now we all have character trees. In my tree are four characters. They all level simultaneously. At the beginning of each adventure I pick one and away we go.

5. Initiative: individual, group, or something else?

Individual initiative for PCs, group initiatives for monsters. For really big and long fights we’ll sometimes default to just going around the table. The other option we use for big fights is flipping back and forth between team heroes and team monsters. Team heroes can act in any order when it’s their turn; likewise for team monsters.

6. Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work?

When it comes to crits we follow RAW (Rules As Written). So for 4e a 20 is an automatic hit, and as long as 20+ the attack modifier beats the defense (which it almost always does) then it’s a crit. Max damage + any overflow dice from a magical weapon or implement.

7. Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet?

Nope. That’s already included in the numbers for your AC based on whatever type of armor you’re wearing.

8. Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?

Again we default to RAW. Your allies don’t provide cover to your enemies and you never have to worry about your allies with an attack that doesn’t target them. However, if your power says all creatures in an area burst 1 and a PC is in the danger zone the attacker must roll against him like he would against the monsters. This is especially common for Wizards and other controllers and it happens a lot in my home games.

9. Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?

I try to keep my encounters balanced, as is recommended for the 4e mechanics. However, I will push the players to venture onward without a short rest from time to time which will make things considerably harder. My players have learned that retreat is always an option although they rarely back down.

10. Level-draining monsters: yes or no?

As far as I know this is not a mechanic that’s used in 4e so my answer is no. However, I used it all the time when I used to play 3.5e, especially when running undead.

11. Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?

The only failed save that can result in death is the third failed death save. So failing a save can result in death in 4e but it’s unlikely. If you can’t work together as a party to save an unconscious ally before three rounds have passed (assuming he fails all three saves) then you really need to examine your play style.

12. How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?

As long as you can make your case for an item, I have no issue if you’ve got it. I don’t want to add another unnecessary level of record-keeping to the game. Buy a Bag of Holding and we’re all good.

13. What’s required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time?

I rarely allow leveling up during a session or even during an adventure if it’s short. I like to try to include some role-playing to explain what the characters did to represent this level increase. I don’t apply any formal mechanics. When characters level up they get whatever their class would normally allow. I wouldn’t gimp a spellcaster and not let him have access to more powerful magic while letting the Fighter swing his sword better and for more damage. I try to treat all PCs equally in this regard.

14. What do I get experience for?

I don’t track XP. You level when I think it makes sense for the story. I don’t believe in individual XP awards and it discourages party unity. Everyone tries to hog the spotlight and do his thing to get the extra XP. By leveling everyone simultaneously and not tracking numbers it lets players focus on other, more important aspects of the game.

15. How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?

I believe that traps should challenge the characters and not the players. OK, it can challenge the players too, but there absolutely needs to be a mechanic where a PC with a really good Thievery skill or exceptional Perception or just an extremely high Intelligence should get an advantage to overcoming the problem. Just because I’m playing a Rogue who’s a master trap finder doesn’t mean that I’m a master trap finder in real life. DMs have to have some way to allow for this in the game. You’d never make a player lift something heavy to demonstrate his character is strong so why challenge the intellect of a player with a really smart PC?

16. Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?

No retainers and no morale. Play the character the way you think he should be played in a given situation. Monsters will flee if they face defeat, but if they’re likely to be hunted down anyway they’ll fight to the death.

17. How do I identify magic items?

We follow 4e RAW, which is that you can identify an item after a short rest. I dislike this mechanic and suggested making magical identification harder, but for now we still use the RAW.

18. Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions?

Yes and yes. We don’t track XP but we certainly track money. If you can find it and afford it then you can buy it. Low level items are obviously more common as are most potions. Higher level items are less likely to be available but I will roll and see if it happens to be in stock.

19. Can I create magic items? When and how?

Not in 4e.

20. What about splitting the party?

There are times when splitting the party is a good idea, but sadly we don’t see it happen that often.

Be sure to check out the answers that some of the other bloggers have posted on their websites. Here are links to just a handful of other respondents.

Dak, DM | EN World | Grognardling | inthecitiesdotcom | Lord Kilgore | Lost Papers of Tsojcanth | Ostensible Cat | Tales of the Rambling Bumblers | The Grumpy Old Troll | Tower of the Archmage | What Troll?

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1 Megan March 5, 2012 at 11:30 am

There is a ritual for creating magic items in 4e. Could you elaborate on why you don’t use RAW for that issue? My paladin has a past which made sense with it, so I took the feat which gave me the repair items and enchant magic items rituals. The DM decided (understandably), that residuum would take some effort to track down, but not as much as the items themselves would have.

2 Ameron (Derek Myers) March 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Well I’ve learned something new today. Creating magic items has never come up in my games so I just assumed it was something PCs were not able to do. I knew they could transfer enchantments, improve an existing magic item’s enchantment, or even disenchant an item, but it honestly never occurred to me to have a PC create an item from scratch.

Allow me to offer an amended answer to number 19.

19. Can I create magic items? When and how?

Assuming you have the appropriate ritual, material resources and necessary skills to make the check then I would allow magic item creation. Items must be crafted in a lab or workshop unless there’s a really good in-game reason that makes sense in the context of the existing story to do it elsewhere. I’d allow any common items to be allowed, but rare items would require DMs approval.

3 Alton March 5, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Funny you mention the magic item creation rule. We actually found that magic item creation was lame and pretty much useless(unless you wanted a much lower level item; even then you could probably buy it by that time) in 4th edition. So we invented our own:

We also have a pretty cool fumble table: roll a d6
1. Nothing happens
2. Hit an ally(rerolling attack)
3. Hit yourself(no reroll, you just do)
4. Drop your weapon.
5. Throw your weapon. (d8 for direction and STR bonus for distance)
6. Fall prone (for those who have played 3.5, this could be detrimental)

Fun article.

4 Kiel Chenier March 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm

It’s interesting to see that so many people who are into D&D are unfamiliar with the rules for Fourth Edition. Often, I forget that many people stopped playing after Third Edition, or haven’t played the game since Basic D&D or AD&D.

Thanks again, Ameron, for doing something to aid new players and experienced players alike.

5 Sunyaku March 5, 2012 at 9:21 pm

I find myself slightly modifying a lot of these rules for my home game, just because the RAW seem silly… a paradoxical fusion of “simplified specificity”.

6 Kenneth McNay March 6, 2012 at 6:27 am

with the number of new players i see at D&DE and at my weekend public campaign, I’ve been thinking of creating a list of quiz questions to ask players about RAW to make sure players are taking time to know the 4e system. I’m startled sometimes how often I’ve reminded players of rules such as, escape as a move action (not full-round), heal as a standard action (not minor), shift as a move action (not free), you have a second wind, death comes at negative bloodied (not negative ten), sheath a weapon as aminor action, draw a weapon as a minor action, draw a potion as a minor action, quaff a potion as a minor action, natural 1 is just a miss like any other miss, rolling above the DC is just a success like any other success regardless of how much over the DC, crits don’t exist for skill checks, and others. Unfortunately, I haven’t come up with an incentive for being correct if I were to ask quiz-like questions before the game session began.

have you ever thought of creating a 20 questions for players to answer just to make sure they know the system?

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