Are they rules or guidelines?


One of the many questions I get asked frequently is “What edition of D and D do you prefer, and what rules set do you like the most?” In truth I do not have a favorite edition, although most of my best memories came from AD&D and 2nd edition.

To answer this question, the first thing I want to point out and remind every Dungeon Master and player alike is that while the Dungeon Masters guide and Players handbook are full of “rules”, they shouldn’t be taken as being set in stone, or adhered too regardless of circumstance. One of the first things a Dungeon Master needs to understand is when to break or modify any rule he or she is presented with in one of the daunting manuals that our beloved game presents us with. I don’t know any “good” DM that has not converted, created their own Home brew variants or darn right ignored many of the “rules” that come with each and every edition. One of the things I am quoted as saying is “these are not a set of rules, more a set of game mechanics that you use to tell the story you want to tell and play the game you want to play“. I learned long ago that the enjoyment of playing for both DM and players alike is derived by a good flowing game and a great story, and not by arguing over rule semantics. In fact just about all of my bad gaming memories are a result of players stressing over or arguing about rules.

I tend to take certain types of mechanics as I find them, such as spell durations, weapon damage etc etc but tend to attack and modify any rule that I feel either offers a high chance of being abused, or feels just plain wrong. Due to this, which edition I tend to run or choose is dependent on the story I want to tell in my campaign.  I make my choices based on a few factors.

  1. Are my players familiar with it or are they new players?
  2. What style of campaign is it? (fast paced action, intrigue, political etc).
  3. Which editions rules set do I need to modify the least to fit the campaign story?
  4. Do I own the materials I need or will I need to purchase something new?

For example. Currently on Howreroll we are playing 3.5ed Home Brewed. When we started the players were all fairly new to D and D so I wanted a system that was fairly easy to learn quickly, and get to grips with, so that rules out AD&D and 2nd edition in my mind (#THAC0). I wanted to run an intriguing and tension rich campaign and not a hack and slash, so while 5th would be easier for them to pick up, I would have been modifying the rules a fair bit, especially the healing and rest mechanics, so I passed on 5th. 4th edition was just not well received by me (not getting into the reasons whys here) so that left 3rd or 3.5 edition. Now without starting the debate of well you could still run that type of game with 5th etc etc, and I agree I could, I didn’t want too as 3.5 was easier for me to modify for my campaign.

I have so many house rules or home brew variants for each edition its scary, and I have some that I alter based on the campaign world or story. I take the well written manuals that come with each edition and read them cover to cover, and then I tend to ponder individual rules and ask myself how I see that playing out in my campaigns. I look at aspects such as the magic system and decide if it fits and if not, I justify to myself, why not?

One campaign I ran was set in a world where magic was rare and difficult to obtain and to use. In this campaign I was stringent on material components being used for every spell cast, and I imposed a rule that linked spell casting directly to constitution, to demonstrate the drain on the casters physical state. Each time a spell was cast your constitution was drained a number of points equal to half the spell level rounded up. A constitution point was regained per hour naturally or for every fifteen minutes of meditation. This lead to a totally different use of magic in the campaign by the players and the NPCs, and a very healthy respect for spell use and timing. I also modified several of the spells to better fit this type of system.

To me any “rule” has always been nothing more than a game mechanic to use or modify as you see fit.

The simple answer to the originally posed question is “I have no favorite edition and to me there are no rules, only guidelines.


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