Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for Bending the Rules

As I mentioned in a previous post, rules systems for tabletop roleplaying games work best as frameworks on which to hang the trappings of your imaginitive world. As frameworks, they do not cover everything, and occasionally have bits that need to be glossed over or shaped to fit the needs of your own personal...

Idiom, sir?


Sound advice from
In order to fit your own personal idiom, some rules need to be bent from time to time. Bent rules are also referred to as "house rules" by those in the know. One of the rules from 3.5 edition D&D that has been bugging me recently, and which is about to get a whack from my bending hammer is regarding exotic weapons and weapon proficiencies.

According to the D&D rules, in order to use a weapon effectively, your character must be proficient with it. Each character class is assumed to be proficient with a certain number of such weapons. Fighters are proficient with anything from a knife to a greataxe, while rogues have a more limited selection focused mostly on concealable or light weapons good for stabbing people in the back or buckling swashes... and so it goes for each class.

Now, characters can become proficient in a weapon they are not otherwise able to use by taking a feat when they gain certain levels. This feat represents a concerted effort to train in the use of that weapon. If they choose to simply flail about with it, they suffer a penalty to their attack rolls during combat.

Here's where exotic weapons come in... Exotic weapons are a class of weapons in the D&D game with which characters generally don't automatically have proficiency. Certain types of characters might start out knowing how to use one or two exotic weapons (e.g. a bard can use a whip and a rogue can use a hand crossbow.) however, there is a whole slew of these weapons that nobody can use.

Here are the problems with this system:
  1. Because characters can only become proficient with these weapons by taking a feat, they will probably elect not to do so. There are tons of cooler powers that they can gain with feats, so adding the ability to hit someone with a differently shaped piece of metal doesn't make sense 95% of the time.
  2. Only some of the exotic weapons actually make sense as... well, exotic. A spiked chain, for instance is an excellent example of an exotic weapon.  You'd probably whack yourself in the face for several months before learning how to use it. However, a barbed dagger is also considered an exotic weapon. A regular dagger is a simple weapon that anyone can use, but rough up the edges a bit and you have to go to a 12 week dagger certification course before you can get your stab on.
  3. Probably 90% of all the weapons described in the supplemental source books are listed as exotic. So, you get the main rulebook with all the basic weapons. Great! Then you pick up a supplement to give your game some added flavor... ooh! look, a bunch of new pokey things... exotic!? Aww crap! Nobody can use them. Essentially, Wizards of the Coast included a whole chapter in each of the bajillion supplemental books which is full of fundamentally useless stuff... good times!


The point is, weapon proficiencies and exotic weapon rules are perfect examples of rules just asking to be bent... which is what I'm working on at the moment. One of the most common ways to address this issue is to make an exotic weapon not exotic for certain cultures or regions in your game. Just as the Scots knew how to use claymores while Salish whalers used harpoons, an instrument of death that seems exotic in one region might be over every mantle in another.

Another way to handle it is to ignore the "not really exotic" weapons. For example, a repeating crossbow likely works very similarly to the non-repeating kind. Point it at the thing you want dead and pull the trigger. The exotic part is not fighting with it... the exotic part is reloading the darrned thing. Same with the barbed dagger from earlier. The exotic part is getting the gibbets of flesh out from between the serrations when your done with it.

I am currently working out some specific bending of this rule as I continue to work on the world-building for my current game. However, this is only the latest in a series of bent house rules that I have worked out for my game. In order to help me keep track of them all and to help counter any cries of foul from my players should they say, "No, that's not how you said it would work!" I wrote up a nifty little house rules section over at my gaming group's wiki.

I personally find it easy to forget that the game's authors were not perfect. The books were not dictated to them from on high. Ultimately, if a rule needs to be changed, eliminated or added to in order to enhance the awesome factor of your game. Just do it. You are in charge. Your imagination should be the only true limit to the story you build in your game. The rules provide brushes and colors, but you lay down the paint.

Anyway, this post was a pretty gamer specific rant. I promise that Monday's post will have a broader appeal. That is when I plan to unveil "C" for Cartography!


  1. Well, good luck with your rule bending. Sometimes I'd like to just go whole hog and throw them out the window.

  2. Great post about rules bending and I must say, great use of the letter B :)

    I agree with you completely about the weapon stuff. When I was running 3.5 I usually used the Unearthed Arcana for rules regarding weapon proficiencies, similarly to how they do it in 4e. Using proficiencies in weapon groups works pretty nicely and gives you proficiency with some Exotic Weapons that you normally wouldn't have.

    I pretty much House Ruled that any weapon that could be used similarly to a standard weapon of that type was really just Martial - and most of the really exotic stuff was not really all that broken, so I usually just let players take them if they wanted them.

    Great stuff. Looking forward to seeing more. Also, great campaign wiki btw. You've been followed!


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