Less Dice, More Decisions: Houserules for OSR and D&D

Every RPG group has their own set of house rules, after all, every player has their own sweet spot between options and simplicity, and as each GM sets up the game they want to run, their chosen system will likely need tweaked to match.  If anything this is even more true with OSR games where everything is pretty heavily abstracted to start with.

It seems to me though that it is very easy to overcomplicate things when you start tweaking rules and adding in multiclass options and combat manoeuvres and whatever else. So when I started running my own OSR games I set myself the restriction that I will only implement a house rule if it fixes an issue without making the game more complicated.

In this post, and the next two or three, I’m going to share the house rules which I like to use with my OSR games. Hopefully you will find some of them useful.


Part 1: Character Generation

Rolling Ability Scores

The Problem

Some players love random character generation. They roll their dice then interpret the results shaping a multifaceted character with an unexpected mix of strengths and flaws. Other players though just want to play a Fighter but then they rolled a 5 for Strength.

My Fix:

Roll 3d6 for each stat, in order. You may then make one swap of two of those scores.

This keeps the random nature of old school character generation but should allow anyone to play whatever class they like while still leaving the possibility of problematic low stats.


Rolling Demihuman Ability Scores

The Problem

Giving each race maximum and minimum scores for their abilities requires referencing during character generation and then probably a house-ruling when the player who wants to play an elf didn’t roll a high enough Dexterity.

My Fix:

If an Elf rolls a Con higher than his Int, swap them.
If a Dwarf rolls a Dex higher than his Con, swap them.
If a Halfling rolls a Str higher than his Dex, swap them.

One simple rule for each race, no maths, no +1 adjustment which probably doesn’t matter and it stops all members of a race being very similar.

NB: If you are using both of the above house rules, perform the optional swap first and the demihuman swap second.


Weak starting characters

The Problem

Level 1 characters are notoriously fragile. Sometimes it is best to toughen them up a bit if you want to tell a story other than, “Can you survive?” Also younger or new players might enjoy the game more if their characters can survive making a mistake.

My Fix:

If you want tougher, more capable PCs, start them at level 2 or 3.

There are so many house rules around on the internet for this problem. I’ve seen an additional level 0 Hit Dice or a racial Hit Dice, I’ve seen WFRP style Fate points and rules for going into negative HP and then recovering. None of it is necessary, just skip the first level or two and you suddenly have a varied and interesting bunch of adventurers with a life expectancy beyond one dungeon.


One thought on “Less Dice, More Decisions: Houserules for OSR and D&D

  1. “If you want tougher, more capable PCs, start them at level 2 or 3.” — Blunt and to the point!

    Before I first ran OD&D (for a con game), I’d heard it was “Fantasy Vietnam”, so started my characters at Level 4, and was amazed at how tough they were. I then reran the session with a different group starting at Level 2, and they still seemed quite comfortable. Perhaps a more sustained attack might have taken its toll, or maybe it was clever tactics, but it was plenty for a one off. It also gives the casters plenty to do and means that you’ve got a class of enemies that really are easy (but don’t underestimate the strength of numbers, that’s when 20 zombies really do become a threat).

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