HoP Idol II: Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who

Holy crap, the Voice is on… gotta make this quick (don’t judge me, I’m my own harshest critic).  Apologies to those of you who have been following this and may have noticed the lack of activity in the contest.  It’s all my fault.  Let’s just say that I have had my hands way too busy lately due to a workstastrophe or a worksplosion.  Regardless, I have the distinct pleasure of presenting to you today Doc Brian’s latest installment in the contest.  After you read this make sure to go check out his work at “The Family that Slays Together…” I don’t want to spoil anything, either, but this one comes complete with a perceptual map.


They form the basis of our society and (perhaps more importantly) define how our games are played. So why is it we are always trying to break or change them? I recently read a study that found the majority of the Millennial generation, those who came of age in the last decade, believe that rules are necessary, but that they are a special case and should be an exception to the rules.


As a scientist, I wonder if this correlates to acceptance of house rules. Does the 15-to-29-year-old crowd find house rules to be more acceptable than their creaky-boned elders? Perhaps a new study is in order.

Unfortunately, I’m not a social scientist, so my passing interest in the topic won’t motivate me to delve deeper, but if any sociologists or psychologists out there want to tackle the question, I’d be interested to hear about it. Until then, you’re stuck with hearing my opinion.

The subject of whether or not house rules are appropriate can actually be a complicated and sticky
subject. Fortunately, I have a simple answer:

It depends.

I suppose I should explain my position. This would be a perfect time to break into a song and dance
routine, but given the limits of the written word, I’ll have to settle for some case studies. Maybe they’ll show a pattern by the time we’re done.

But fahther, I don’t waaant any of that… I want to sing!

Situation 1: Playing in your basement or garage

Suppose you have a few friends with whom you play your favorite game of choice in a private locale – a basement, a garage, a mancave, or what have you. This is the geek equivalent of poker night. Maybe somebody brings a friend once in a while, but usually it’s the same guys each session. Maybe everybody hates Deathstrike missiles or Cryx or Demonic Tutor or [insert name of totally “omgborken” thing in your game here]. If you can come up with a solution that is agreeable to all, go ahead and fix your problem. You have my permission. It’s usually not a big issue because the number of people to keep happy is relatively small, and new additions to the group are typically rare.

Rabbits are completely overpowered units

For example, before I moved, I played Magic: The Gathering with a group of guys. Since we were poor students and/or dads, we allowed proxies as long as you were working toward building the deck with real cards. There was a self-limiting effect in play here; since none of us had any intention of buying the Power Nine or other expensive cards, we didn’t proxy them, keeping our games at decent power levels. A few purists who learned of our group were put off by our heretical behavior, but our group realized that we couldn’t afford to play if we didn’t proxy at least a little bit. Thus, the Poor Proxy Club was born.

Another house rule we had was that Unglued and Unhinged cards (silly joke cards that were in no way balanced for regular play) were allowed until someone complained. Rather than require group consent, only one person had to object to card for it to be banned, but they had to allow it to be played at least once. We had a few that were quickly put on the ban list. I normally don’t agree with outright banning cards/units and prefer to find some way to allow players to use all their toys. However, banning cards that weren’t legal in the first place wasn’t really a big deal.

Corollary to Situation 1:

I prefer the solution that has the least impact on the rules. First, try to figure out a way to deal with the problem within the existing ruleset. If that’s not possible, modify a rule, unit, or card so that the situation is resolved. Finally, if the situation can only be satisfactorily resolved by removing something from the game, ban it. You’re better off doing whatever it takes to keep everybody happy rather than let your gaming group dissolve because you wanted to keep the game pure. Sure, you’ve kept the moral high ground, but all the other players left for games that didn’t make them mad, and you now must sit in your basement alone. Congratulations on your Pyrrhic victory.

Situation 2: Playing at the local store

Assuming that your store has a reasonably large number of patrons playing your game of choice, you’re better off limiting the number of house rules. Preferable number is zero. The difference here is twofold.

First, you will have a more difficult time gaining consensus on the house rule to implement. Second, the number of walk-in gamers who don’t know the house rules is significantly higher. Imagine dropping by a new store with your lovingly crafted and chosen army, deck, character sheet, or what have you only to find out in the middle of the game that you’ve been nerfed by an undisclosed house rule. You could argue that the locals should have warned you of the changes beforehand, but in their defense, they probably didn’t think about it since they always play it that way.

Fred learns that his Valkyries don’t come on the table the way they did at his last store

As an example, I was recently caught off guard at my new local store by a terrain house rule. I had
assumed the terrain in question worked one way but the guys had always played it another way. It wasn’t a big deal and didn’t significantly impact the game, but I could see how it could have turned ugly if we weren’t already friends.

From these two examples, we can see a continuum running from small, static groups to large, dynamic groups with the acceptability of house rules being inversely proportional to the size and dynamicism of the group.

Situation 3: Playing a game with a poor ruleset

So far, the house rules have focused primarily on overpowered or obnoxious items that are ruining the fun of the game. But what if the game itself has problems? For instance, Games Workshop games are famous for their loopholes, vague wordings, and lack of errata. Some rules holes are so gaping that they demand fixing if the game is to be successfully played. Some say to play the rules as intended, but how do you know the original intention when the game designers are tightlipped about their motivations behind the rules? Others say to play the rules as written and deal with the consequences, but how do you deal with rules interactions that literally crash the game when they occur? In extreme cases such as these, some sort of house rule arbitration is needed if the game is to proceed smoothly.

Possibly the best use of the WH Fantasy ruleset

From this situation (as well as its unmentioned counter situation, the tight ruleset) we can add another
axis to our graph. As gaming environments become larger and more dynamic and as rulesets become
better designed, the acceptability of house rules drops. In this graph, acceptance rises as we move down and to the left.

Size of dot indicates acceptance of house rules

I’ve plotted my opinion of a few example games and situations on the graph. Feel free to add your own.

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