Saturday, December 10, 2011

Anatomy Of A Good Houserule

Jeff's Carousing Mishaps table. It's a classic. Tons of people use it. Jeff has many tables on his blog--why does this one work so well for so many people?

Let's pull this bitch apart:

-It deals with something that's already in the game but isn't usually dramatized in the game. Your PCs don't have to do some new thing or behave in a different way to use this table. It's assumed that characters are always drinking and wenching when they're not punching giant rats. It's also usually assumed that the game is about when they're punching giant rats and not about when they're drinking and wenching.

-It gives the players a toy. Let's face it: DMs have a million toys to choose from. What Color Is The Slugvomit? I have a table for that... Sometimes the game's moving at a pace where you'll use it, sometimes it isn't. This table is part of a subsystem that the players get to decide to trigger--that's slightly unusual. Give the players a wheel and generally one of them will spin it.

-It's something that comes up a lot. If you run the game like Jeff does, where each session is one delve, it can potentially come up every session. If you don't, it can still come up any time the PCs end a session in a town or city.

-The subsystem is simple. It's all over in one roll. Or two. Or maybe three. Not only are the new rules in the system simple, but unlike my plot-seed version of it, it doesn't make any demands on the game that it doesn't wrap up quickly. That hangover? That just means -2 to saves the next day--it doesn't suddenly change the whole game.

-The rules don't overlap with other rules This table doesn't have to replace or displace any other system in most other games.

-It's fun to read None of the entries stop at "functional". There's always some pithy description and some subrule or result tagged onto it. This is useful on account of:
1-Nobody's gonna decide to keep a table unless they read it, and...
2-You don't have to transfer it into game terms mentally to explain it to your players--they're written in such a way that you could just read them off the table to the group if you felt like it.

-You know why you're rolling on it Unlike this equally awesome table, the Carousing Mishaps provides color but is subtly more directed: you are rolling to see what horrible thing happened when you got drunk and how it will affect your next adventure. Story color is converted into mechanics in an interesting way. There will be a result and you, the DM, know roughly the scale of that result, so you know how much "design space" to let it have in your game--and you know it will mean something to your players.

-It doesn't make you do any work. It isn't one of those "Here's some ideas, make something up" tables. It's all right there.

-They're funny but don't force your game to be You do not necessarily have to shift over to Planet Gonzo to use these rules--partially because they compartmentalize the action into one small thing that happens at the end of a game.


I'm sure there are other reasons and I'm sure I'll see them in the comments. But there you go: that's one way to write some genuinely useful rules.

Now, in the words of Jeff:

"Now somebody please go and post something twelve times cooler than my chart."


  1. Can't beat a good random table! I would certainly find a use for this one. I've not played a tabletop type RPG in years sadly, but still enjoy reading about them. That's weird, I know. Is that weird? Yeah, that's weird.If you enjoy random tables you should check out (if you haven't already)

    It's the best site for random tables that you can use for writing and gaming inspiration I've chanced upon.

  2. I heavily modified your version for my campaign and have been using it after every longish adventure. Some of the result are fun and add color but don't really contribute anything lasting which I'd like. YMMV based on how often you use it.

  3. I have found that allowing PC's to use it at ANY time during a session gets better use from it. Then those crazy results can shape a session somehow which is always cool if you run a sandbox.

  4. I have to admit... I don't want to know what color the slug vomit is.

  5. I'm working on a conversion/expansion of that for use in EPT. Thanks for laying out the nuts and bolts of this thing, btw. -- it's useful when trying to design these things and attempting to discern what tools are fun and useful (and why) and what are simply window dressing.

  6. This is going to be a very long comment, but I think it may actually apply to all of those criteria:


    When a Player rolls a natural 20 during combat, usually they roll damage twice and take the higher result. Optionally, they may choose to just do normal damage, but also roll a d12 and consult the following table. All effects are immediate, and if they couldn’t logically apply (i.e., the creature has no pants, doesn’t need to roll for morale, had no treasure, etc.) there is no special effect, nor do you get to roll twice for damage; you had your chance. Players may choose not to roll on this table.

    1. Monster Pinata: All of opponent’s carried treasure falls to the floor, and there’s twice as much of it as the DM originally thought (multiply coins by 2, but not magic items or special treasure like maps, keys, etc. This applies only to the struck opponent, and only to treasure carried on their person, not what is found in their lair).

    2. Just Warming Up: The strike limbers you up; you are at +1 to hit for the rest of this combat.

    3. Lose a Button: Your blow causes the opponent’s pants to fall down (or knocks its hat off, etc). Opponent must take next round to cope with this embarrassment and cannot take any other action.

    4. Never Tried That Before: You attack with a move you had previously not mastered, and it works, so you gain 100 xp on the spot.

    5. This Guy’s a Maniac: Your attack is so vicious and swift that it’s scary—all opponents (in this combat only) are at -2 to morale the next time it is checked.

    6. Take That… and That: Opponent fails to parry your first attack, leaving them open to a follow-up strike. Attack again this round on the same opponent only.

    7. This Time It’s Personal: It’s clear you and your opponent have something to settle, and nobody else wants to risk your ire. The opponent will not attack anyone else but you. No other opponent will attack you until this opponent is dead… but you can’t attack anyone else, either. Once your opponent is dead, all bets are off.

    8. Ninepins: You knock your opponent back five feet. If anyone was standing directly behind him/her/it, they’re also knocked back, as well as anyone behind them…

    9. Tell Your Friends: If any opponent survives this combat and gets away, they will immediately go and warn any opponents of the same type (i.e., their allies or reinforcements or friends in the dungeon) that you’re coming, and you’re badass. Anyone they tell will make reaction rolls at +2 (more likely to parley and negotiate rather than attack) for 24 hours.

    10. I Hope You Didn’t Need That: Your attack does no damage, but you knock your opponent’s weapon out of their hand and they cannot use it for the rest of this combat. If the opponent was using natural weaponry (claws, bites, pseudopods), you incapacitate that one attack for the rest of the combat (break off the claws, knock out some teeth, etc). If this would leave an opponent unable to attack (i.e., they had only the one attack), they will recover their ability to attack after two rounds.

    11. I’m Not Left Handed: You’ve just been playing with the opponent up to this point. From now on, you can ignore any penalty you’ve been suffering—for instance, if you were fighting blind (normally -4 to hit), you in fact were just faking it and can see just fine, so the penalty is lifted. If you were not penalized in any way, you gain a +1 to hit for the remainder of the combat.

    12. Oh, Have We Started? You were distracted up to this point and didn’t even notice combat had begun. Regain—immediately—all hit points you may have lost in this combat. Any lasting effects (such as the continuous HP loss from a Sword of Wounding) will continue to apply, and you can be hurt normally from now on. You cannot roll this effect more than once per day.

  7. It's really fun. What else do you need?

  8. With regards to your pic, could you imagine Coach McGuirk GMing a game? Now that would be epic.