HoP Idol II Challenge: House Rules
Anybody out there ready for TKE of “Mind War FTW?” That’s what I though. Here it is.
Well, this is embarrassing. It’s stupid AM, and here I am staying up to write
a HoP article, because I simply forgot about it. I mean, there were
mitigating circumstances, to some extent, between the wedding of one of
my oldest friends, the start of the new English Premier League season,
and getting Pretty Damn Drunk celebrating the last Saturday I had off
work before my ignominious return next Saturday, coinciding neatly with
the return of Dr Who, and thus ruining the date for me to an almost
The article I’m here to write has been directed towards the ‘elephant in
the room’ topic of House Rules, and my feelings on such. In our brief,
the release of the 6th Edition of Warhammer 40,000 was cited as a
possible basis for the article – but my views on this abysmal product
are well-enough known that I don’t wish to rake over those coals. If
you wish, see my blog for more detailed commentary, although I warn you that I have more desire
to blog about sexism in gaming than 6th at present…and when I didn’t
jump on that bandwagon to generate hits when it did the rounds lately,
doing it now would be wholly illogical.
Right, two paragraphs before a conclusion is long enough. Here’s the thing.
When it comes to rules, and their integrity, I’m a purist. I make no
defence for any specific company or system (*cough*) or claims of
infallibility or even base competence here – but I firmly believe that
the Rules As Written are the ONLY valid way to play the game with
When I say ‘play with strangers’ of course, I don’t even refer to Tournament
games to the same extent as Pick-Up games, though given my preferred
subject matter and doubtless reputation, that would be an understandable
mistake to make. When you meet a player for the first time, and assume
that they are comfortable playing against your Imperial Armour rules
model, or with you using the 2nd Edition Psychic Powers system instead
of the standard, or using 4th Edition Wound Allocation, or WHATEVER
changes you’ve made to the core ruleset, however trivial seeming, you
are being incredibly presumptuous, and indeed rude.
I have something of an issue sometimes (as I’ve mentioned before) wherein
I ‘get’ something to an extent it becomes difficult for me to
rationally explain, as I literally cannot comprehend where the confusion
lies for the other party – I do not know how they don’t understand what
I’m saying as it comes so easily to me. This is not an uncommon
phenomena in situations with more cloistered playing groups, where rules
have been discussed, debated, and distorted to a point where any of the
regular participants have almost lost their understanding that the
actual rules printed in the book aren’t the ones they use, so ingrained
are the edits.
Naturally, it’s somewhat early in the lifespan of 6e for you to think that has
occurred, but I say not so. With a game like 40k, steeped in tradition,
often cosmetic edits, and where players are more often taught by doing
rather than reading, problems tend to amplify over time, and are not
simply scrubbed away by the new edition.
For a good and terrible example of this, just look around at the furore
half-way through 5th Edition 40k (and, alas, in some less enlightened
places, even later!) surrounding Chaos Dreadnoughts and Fire Frenzy
To anyone approaching the game from a TCG perspective (or simply with
logic) it was apparent that Dreadnoughts are Walkers, Walkers are
Vehicles, and thus they do not follow the Infantry rules for Line of
Sight. Since you may only choose a Target if it is in LoS, Dreadnoughts
didn’t spin backwards to present like a dog on heat to the enemy’s
Yet, despite the blindingly obvious nature of this when laid out coherently
and clearly, most players had house rule’d that they DID do so,
inadvertently, because they didn’t realise that they were Doing It
It’s entirely valid, under normal circumstances, to say that house rules are
NOT wrong – in fact, it’s more correct than for me to say the opposite.
However, in situations such as this, where the modification is
accidental rather than designed, it IS wrong. House Rules are a device
by which a closed group of players can derive more enjoyment from a game
by making it better fit their expectations and desires…if they want a
narrative to be forged, they can set the terrain up to reflect a
specific goal or scenario. If they wish for a smoother, faster
experience, they can resort to simply removing Look Out Sir, Challenges,
Deny the Witch, and the random Psychic Powers. If they want a more
competitively evaluative time, they can remove Mysterious Objectives,
restrict the number or type of Fortifications further, and modify or
remove the Warlord Traits.
Whatever way you choose to change the game, within the confines of your group of
regular opponents, is absolutely fine and great, ideal, even, if it
improves your gaming experience – as long as you realise that, as the
Rock so famously informed us, It Doesn’t Matter.
Players from outside your circle will not instinctively recognise, nor adapt
to, your changes – and therefore House Rules are detrimental to your
ability to meet new people on an even keel – which means you’re
struggling to play the game as ‘intended’ (assuming competence on the
part of the writers, of course…) and this in turn leads to an
increasingly insular group of your players, unable to adapt back to the
original ruleset well enough to welcome new blood, slowly diminishing
and fading into the West. Is this an exaggerated version of events? To
some extent, yes – but the fact is that it’s a logical progression of
extensive house ruling.
House Rules, in of themselves, are a tool – and a very good one – for
improving the quality of gaming within a select group. Assuming
everyone else will like, understand and/or agree with your changes is
where things fall down – and with Wargamers being such a spoiled,
entitled, self-righteous lot, it’s a much safer bet that your version of
the rules will meet more opposition than it garners support. Rein in
your arrogance, please, and try to keep your house rules to your
campaigns, narrative gaming, and basements.
Just so this doesn’t look like an ‘us vs them’ article, here’s a couple of
facts or whatevs. I’ve used house rules, and indeed potentially had
more fun doing so. I’ve played, and run, narrative games including
campaigns. Some of the most fun I’ve had in games was in a decidedly
uncompetitive fashion, such as Apocalypse, and I’ve literally spent
hundreds of hours writing rules, codexes and indeed entire game systems
of my own. I completely understand the inherent value of these things,
and have no shame in saying I will in fact play using house rules again
in the future.
None of these things change the fact that game systems SHOULD be designed
for inclusivity, and made so that house ruling should be additions, not
reductive in scope. Players should never be made to feel that things
should be removed or replaced to make it closer to their ambitions and
interpretation of fun – that leads to misunderstanding, to disagreement,
and to segregation within the Hobby. They are called House Rules,
because they are how you play ‘at home’ – but a game against a new
player should always be on their terms, not exclusionary, and they
aren’t simply called ‘variants’ or ‘the rules’ because they should be
the EXCEPTION, not the norm.
Thanks for reading, I’ve been TKE, and this has been both difficult and exhausting.