"Heroic" House Rules

So after recently reading “The Children of Hurin” and a great deal of R.E.H’s stories of Conan, including “Hour of the Dragon,” I’ve settled on a few house rules to add to ACKS to bring about a more Sword & Sorcery feel to my games and let the players play the part of characters who are larger than life.

Starting Ability Scores:
You can choose your character’s scores using the following restrictions:

  • The sum of all your scores must not exceed 75 points.
  • The sum of all bonuses/penalties derived from the scores must not exceed +4.
  • Only one score may be an 18.
  • No score may be less than 8.

Starting Experience:
All PCs start with 2,500 XP.

Hit Points:
All PCs start with maximum hp for 1st level. At levels 2-9, PCs gain the indicated amount as follows (modified by Con as usual).

d4 = 2 hp per even level; 3 hp per odd level
d6 = 3 hp per even level; 4 hp per odd level
d8 = 4 hp per even level; 5 hp per odd level

Notes on the above rules:

  1. I’m allowing the players to choose the type of character they’d like to be. I know I’ll get more-or-less cookie cutter ability arrays, but I’m okay with that. They also start with a very good base level for scores (12.5 on average). That’s not on Conan’s level IMO, but I plan to grant bonus points to add to their scores as they level (perhaps around 5th level) so they can grow into such scores. The score limits are there to mitigate min/maxing.

  2. I like the concept of starting the players at a higher level than 1st to represent their characters as more heroic. It’s the least intrusive way to make a character so.

  3. For hp, the PCs get the benefit of max. hp at 1st level and a standardized progression ensures that a PC won’t end up with an unlucky roll for hp.

Game Play Rules:

Hit Points:
Hit points (only in the case of PCs and important NPCs) strictly represent energy level, luck, and minor wounds(nicks, cuts, bruises, minor burns, etc). So for example, even if you get hit by a fireball spell and fail your save, as long as you have at least 1 hp left, you have only minor burns. The verisimilitude of this is going to depend largely on my description of the damage caused and somewhat on the players buying into the idea that hit points aren’t exactly “life points” when they “hit” Malkus the Vile, their arch enemy.

Natural Healing:
Due to the above assumption of what hp are, natural healing of hp gets a boost and is equalized amongst all the classes. For each day that a PC obtains adequate rest and nurishment, a character will recover 20% of it max. hp (take your hp total and divide it by 5 to get this number - round fractions to the nearest whole number).

Spell Casting:
A caster can always use a higher-level spell slot to cast a lower level spell. For instance, a mage who can cast 3rd level spells may use a 3rd level spell slot to cast a 1st or 2nd level spell.

Special Maneuvers:
Except for Sunder, all listed penalties to attack throws for these maneuvers are dropped. (And consequently, related profiencies provide a bonus instead of reducing the penalty).

Fighting Defensively:
This is a movement option that must be declared. The combatant may not move (unless a fighting withdrawal is also declared) and suffers a -2 on attack throws, but gains a +2 AC bonus against attacks he’s aware of.

Dodge and Parry:
A combatant may attempt to dodge or parry an attack he is aware of. If a combatant is hit in combat, and has not yet acted that round, he may forego his action, and attempt a save vs. Paralysis (this choice must be made before damage is rolled). If successful, the character avoids the damage.

I’m not sure I’ll include this last rule yet, but I’m really tempted to. Optionally, I’ve made a table for it that trades a lesser effect for the damage. A summary of it:

Roll 2d6:
2 drop an item in hand
3 Glancing blow (d3 non-lethal damage)
4 Off balance (-1 to initiative next round)
5 Give Ground (you can avoid the damage if you fall back 5’)
6-8 Unscathed! (no consequences)
9 Wardrobe Malfunction (an article of clothing, jewelry, or exposed item, such as a backpack, belt pouch, etc. gets damaged)
10 Damaged Armor (armor or shield’s effectiveness reduced by 1)
11 Dive (you must go prone to avoid the damage)
12 Damaged Weapon (your weapon suffers either -1 to hit or -1 to damage)

Let me know what you think.

these all look pretty good. not to spoil your fun, though, but there’s a thread a few pages down where alex detailed a campaign he was starting in order to playtest some “heroic fantasy” rules in the same vein. ultimately he had to give up the campaign due to too much else being on his plate, but maybe if you encourage him enough he’ll pick it up again :wink:

Yes I know of that thread. I don’t know of the rules for that campaign however and I would venture a
guess that the character creation rules are more or less the standard ones for ACKS.

  1. I really like these rules
  2. We have been talking about setting our next ACKS campaign in Middle Earth
  3. I really really like your 2d6 chart for effects of a successful dodge/parry!
  4. It’s clear that you and I are thinking almost point for point about the same issues in simulating heroic fantasy

I want to preface this by saying there is nothing at all wrong with your HP system, but I know one that I like a lot and I wanted to share.

I like the vit points/wound points split from Star Wars d20. The way it works is that every character has a number of vitality points equal to the HP they would normally have, and a number of wound points equal to their Con score.

Vitality points represent energy level, scrapes, bruises, and other minor injuries. They heal extremely quickly (the original system had them at 100% healing with a full night’s rest, but I would probably do what you did and make it 20% for a day of rest).

Wound points represent real lasting injuries. You regain 1 wound point per day of full bed rest, under normal circumstances. (A character with the Healing proficiency would get you an extra 1d3 per day.)

Critical hits deal damage straight to wound. (So in ACKS, a nat 20 with Weapon Focus in the weapon used.) Because no matter how good you are, a dagger in the eye is a dagger in the eye. (Or, as ended one our longest-running Star Wars campaign, even 13th level Jedi die when they fall from just below orbit to a planet’s surface. Falls from a great distance go straight to wound too.) You might also decide that some spells (Dismember comes to mind) deal damage straight to wound as well. (One houserule I used for a bit in 3.5 when I was using VP/WP was that ‘save or die’ spells actually just dealt damage straight to wound, and it was save for half.)

For most monsters, you can simply assign them wound points equal to their normal HP value. A goblin would have approximately 4.5 wound points, for example, while a 9 HD vampire would have approximately 40.5. For adversaries, you could give them an appropriate vitality and wound point split, and of course, anyone with class levels would have VP and WP just as a PC would.

“Spell Casting:
A caster can always use a higher-level spell slot to cast a lower level spell. For instance, a mage who can cast 3rd level spells may use a 3rd level spell slot to cast a 1st or 2nd level spell.”

This is your only mention of magic – do you envision any other changes to magic, spells or spell-casting classes? I like flexibility and have considered the change above in general, but have not done so due to “breakthrough” spells like the no save sleep spell.

Your dodge/parry table has a lot of interesting results! I wonder how often players will sacrifice an action to use this option? What if a potential cleave were sacrificed for a dodge/parry? This would make higher level characters and Fighters better at dodging than other characters.

Thanks for posting!

Shoot, I didn’t realize the down-conversion of spells wasn’t already a rule until this thread. Looks like the availability of Cure Light Wounds might be going down…

Yes I do envision a few other changes to magic in general. Perhaps they aren’t actual changes so much as play considerations. Very little of this is set in stone and I’m open to any ideas:

  1. I want to mitigate or eliminate any spells that are essentially plot breakers, or spells that trivialize many natural challenges that would fit well in this type of campaign. Alex made a list in a thread awhile back, though I can’t remember where. Here’s my list:

Spells I would consider eliminating: Detect Evil, Read Languages, Create Water, Create Food, Tongues.

Spells I would consider reducing the power of: Knock, Find Traps, Locate Object, Speak with Dead.

  1. With regard to the Sleep spell in particular, I know what you’re driving at, but I don’t have an answer, other than I’d like to change spells as little as possible, simply because it’s a lot of work.

  2. I’ve also been considering having cantrip-styled spells for arcane casters.

I envision it as building on the concept of Spell Signatures. Coming up with them would be mostly up to the player and approved by the GM. Rather than try to explain it, here are a couple examples:

Cantrip - the caster may illuminate any translucent object (essentially a light bulb) roughly the size of an apple to shed light as a torch, as long as the caster is conscious and holding it. It may be affixed to another implement such as a wand or staff. Yes… I sort of ripped this whole idea from the scene of Gandalf in LOTR, leading the Fellowship through the Mines of Moria.

Ventriloquism or maybe Magic Mouth:
Cantrip - the caster can speak without moving his lips and counts as taking the Mimicry proficiency twice.

There is a lot of fertile ground here IMO. I’d probably want to limit the number of them… perhaps equal to the number of 1st level spells known? I’d also seriously consider them off limits for the most popular spells (such as sleep and magic missile… though making people drowsy could be really fun!).

  1. Magic Items: I would prefer to limit the amount of magic items quite a bit… Conan, nor Turin have any magic items for the most part. Actually doing that though kinda rains on the fun for players… they always get excited at the prospect of a new magic item.

Sounds similar to Crypts & Things? Take damage to hit points, when those drop to 0 take damage to constitution, when that drops to 0 die. HP heal quickly, con heals slowly.

I actually had house rules very much like this for a time when I was running Pathfinder. I derived them from the 3E Unearthed Arcana rules, which are very similar to what you’ve written here. It was a little more complex than what you have here. My players really liked it, but what I found was that I was doing more of the accounting of their hp/vp than they were.

Since you brought it up, I’ll do some thinking on it. It would certainly fit into a “heroic PC” campaign… sort of giving the PCs pseudo plot armor.

On your point #2, I’ve been tempted of late to do:

  1. a Middle Earth-like campaign
  2. a Hyborian Age-like campaign
  3. a blend of the first two
  4. just plop the PCs into R.E.H’s Hyborian Age alongside Conan

I can’t decide which one to settle on…

With regard to the chart, there are a few loose ends on it, such as if you roll “10”, but aren’t wearing any armor, what happens?

Maybe make cantrips dependant on the spells memorized? For example, if you’ve memorized a fire spell, you’ll be able to produce a small flame (such as from a lighter) from your fingers tip at will.

Yes, that is the idea. In my examples above, you would have to have the Light spell in your repertoire to be able to cast the cantrip example I gave.

for #4:
just don’t make them magic items. what’s the difference between finding a ring that gives you the ability to cast jump or knock once per day in a dragon’s hoard vs. the act of slaying a dragon being such a monumental feat that you become a warrior so fierce you can simply do that? same with spider climb, giant strength, just about anything that involves enhancing physical capabilities. They also can’t turn around and sell such boons for money, nor can their companions loot their amazing skills from their body when they die.

Except, perhaps, by eating their hearts to gain their strength…

There’s an old reference work for a Conanization of OD&D at the bottom of this page:


including a lot of simple house rules that would be applicable still in ACKS/BX. There’s two documents; one focused on sorcery.

Jard, I love this idea. But how do you implement in play?

With a magic item, you can give a +1 sword. One member of the party gets it. How do you give out a +1 to hit and damage bonus in a way that one member of the party gets it? If it’s training, why isn’t it available to everyone?

Does one end up creating a 4E-style “Powers” tree from which characters pick at defined levels, instead of having magic weapons?
Does one use 3.5-style “inherent bonuses” to replace magic items?

(Replying to both in one)

I don’t know Crypts and Things, so I have no idea how similar they are in play!

It is very similar to the 3.5 Unearthed Arcana version, for a reason :wink: The 3.5 Unearthed Arcana is a reprint/rework/expanded version of the same rules. Some differences may also have arisen from the fact that I was just posting them off the top of my head and might not have been 100% accurate to RAW.

In fact many of these things are possible once you realize magic items don’t have to be magic items. I can think of a few scenarios off the top of my head.

First, perhaps everyone DOES get it, but at a cost, the cost being the price of a +1 weapon, which must be paid in order to hire 1 on 1 attention from an ancient fighting master who can teach you his ways. One month or more of study may be necessary, in fact the time spent “crafting” it may require not only the master, but the student.

This leads to all sorts of potential madness, such as a fighting type performing “spell research” to discover new fighting styles, which he then teaches to others who seek him out.

But if all that’s a little bit too out there, you could simply do something like giving whatever benefit you’ve concocted to the person who scored the killing blow, or to whoever built enough of a rapport with the grouchy martials arts master who is only willing to teach one student (and learning it is much different from being enough of a master to teach it).

4e also did “inherent bonuses” for dark*sun, so it’s certainly not unheard of. I think the reason you don’t see it much in old school is twofold: 1) nobody thought of it yet and 2) the +s weren’t essential to the math of being able to hit things yet.

You should be able to do low magic and then life is just difficult but feasible for old-school PCs. However if you know your PCs will be sad if they don’t get a carrot every once in a while but you want the FEEL of low-magic, you could use some substitutions like the ones proposed above.

As regards 4, you could also use non-magical but significant items in their place. The Imperial Seal, Adamant Crown of the Old Kings, Battle Standard of the First Republic, and such aren’t important because they’re magical - they’re important because they’re symbolic, and impart moral authority to their possessor. The nobility is also likely to seek them, and to have the cash to purchase them from the PCs.

One thing I’ve also done successfully is providing rare books as treasure. Each such book covers a single topic in detail, and a week’s study provides answers to a number of questions based on the quality of the book (which may be used immediately or saved for later). Information that lets you win a fight is on par with a magic sword for effectiveness, if not style.