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I'm thinking of starting a new campaign with a laundry list of house rules. The variant rules on the SRD seem worth while. As an example, using 'armor as DR' and 'Spell Points' are at the top of my list. Has anyone ran a campaign with any of these modifications listed on the page? And would you suggest using them?

I ran a few encounters using the Hex grid system. I personally didn't like it, though it seemed very well thought out in theory.

I also tried having the players define which way they were facing during combat. This proved to be a complex idea to keep track of. I wouldn't recommend this.

Source: SRD Variant Rules.

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Welcome to the site! Good question. –  dpatchery Aug 3 '11 at 19:13
    
@MarkP Welcome to the site! Take a look around, and please look over the FAQ –  C. Ross Aug 3 '11 at 19:23
    
The SRD's Spell Points variant, from Unearthed Arcana, is bad. It takes the most powerful classes in the game, and makes them much, much more powerful. See this question for analysis and alternative suggestions. –  KRyan Jan 11 '13 at 18:01
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Also, ultimately, it's really awkward to ask about each system in turn in one question. You should consider asking questions about each variant that interests you. @oldrobotsneverrusts's answer is excellent for how to work with variants in general, and I think it might be a good idea to focus this question in that direction more, and leave specifics of certain variants to other questions. –  KRyan Jan 11 '13 at 18:05
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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Some things to think about (that I've experienced) when using variants:

Each additional variant used puts an exponentially larger demand on the DM.

  • Rule Calling: dealing with variants that have very little documentation can cause headaches in rule decisions. There will also be a much smaller group of people to turn to for advice on rulings, even on the internet.

  • Balance Issues: the line between a play-tested, truly balanced variant and a crap shoot one are quite blurry out there.

  • Player Lashback: players will shout out frustrations on their perceived (or legitimate) injustices over the variant mechanics. The expectation may be for you to fix and remedy these problems, which is often impossible or very time consuming.

  • More Work: Generally more man hours "tweaking" all NPCs and Monsters to follow the variant rules. I ran an Iron Heroes game (which uses Armor as DR) and found it very time consuming just to convert NPCs armor values over correctly.

Some Tips:

  • Give Strong Reasoning for Your Decisions: If you have a plan for the campaign that has just reasoning for the players to learn new mechanics, players will be more willing to chew it. Make your world/setting/game/style/tone all dependent on the use of your variant mechanics.

  • List them Up Front: make a clear, set-in-stone list before the game even starts of what variants you are definitely using and where everyone can find them. Give them to the players, so they won't feel cheated when they come up. If additions or subtractions are made, make sure everyone is aware and makes the changes on their own copy.

  • Be Open to Suggestions, But Firm: open up the feedback gate, but do not take it all to heart. You may not be able to overhaul a broken system, but you can do small things to alleviate the issue. But be firm in your reasons for keeping it.

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That is a very good point about 'tweaking' monsters and encounters to use DR. It will be an extra bit of work. I will need to come up with a system for dealing with this mechanic so that it is as smooth as the original AC mechanic. Otherwise, I have ran some of my house rules by the players and they seem interested in using them. –  MarkP Aug 4 '11 at 12:06
    
+1 for well rounded analysis –  LitheOhm Sep 18 '12 at 5:03
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I have used spell points before, but mind once the party gets ahold of the heal spell or anything curing fatigue as this restores spell points. Then what you have is Energizer casters who can just keep going and going and going... This requires some tweaking unless your whole party is spellcasters and you don't mind the party not sleeping. Ever.

Magic recharge was fun, as the party had a bit more restriction on what and when it could cast certain spells. However, with this variant there's even less burnout on the casters and they don't even fatigue when they're all out. Indeed, odds are they'll never be all out and at least have something to throw at you.

Hex grid was what I first started playing on (lacked a square map). I liked it except for the complexity of buildings (does this half square have enough space...?). It seems more suited to flight rules than anything else.

The battle sorceror is balanced but notable weaker, since their specialization is broken in favor of a more rounded character. My players and I are a fan of the cloistered cleric because BAB and health are worth the skill points and access to all knowledge skills to us. As a DM, I've really enjoyed the paladin variants for their story usefulness (no longer constrained to LG "I'll save you Penelope!"), and the switch of fighters without feats and sneak attack as well as rogues without sneak attack but with feats.

The prestigious character classes are split. I like the bard, ranger and paladin being accessible at higher levels and contributing to one's caster level but some of my players prefer them as base classes (I suspect this is because now they have requirements). Ultimately I've houseruled that chronologically, games before year X in my game have normal paladins/bards/rangers and games past year X have only the prestigious variety. So far, it's working well.

I've made a gestalt character for a one-on-one game where the PC was playing an overpowered class from an online source. They seem well balanced enough, but we haven't gotten into a great deal of the story yet, let alone combat between the two.

All of that out on the table, I playtested each and every one of them before introducing them into a game. Spell points and magic recharge are tricky, and a huge change for both the PCs and the DM. Heal is a sixth/seventh level spell and once they get that, then the only reason they would ever rest is to swap out spells (if that). Powerthirst, anyone?

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I havent used the armor as DR variant before but I have used spell points (or at least a variant of spell points where spell levels were directly translated into points rather than using the chart). Having played this system for both spontaneous and prepared casting I must say it takes a lot of the headache out of strategizing.

As a prepared caster I can plan out the day based even more on what I expect rather than what I'm constrained to by slots. Not expecting much at all? Prepare a bunch of "Oh shoot..." high level spells, but be totally unprepared if there's a sudden extended battle. Expecting that battle? Fill slots up with AoEs and hope the BBEG doesn't show up. No chance of battle at all? Throw a town party, prepare 12 hours worth of prestidigitation and make the town well water taste like fruit punch all day long.

As a spontaneous caster you feel like a psion, only having to keep a single number in front of you and subtracting from it when you have to use spells, except the calculations are a bit simpler due to never having to deal with numbers more than 9 (unless you allow higher spells slots than should be possible in normal gameply).

The extra versatility definitely makes for fun play, though I can see the rationale behind the official chart taking away power in exchange for it. It really depends on the players and type of campaign being run though. It can either be a great addition to a fun game or result in a chair being thrown at the high level wizard who coats town square in extended grease effects (which might be fun in its own right :P)

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I'm glad you shared you're experience. One of my players is running a Wizard/Rogue character and is enjoying Spell Points well. I'm curious to know how the Sorcerer benefits from this system. Spell Points are a huge boon for Wizards. –  MarkP Aug 8 '11 at 2:48
    
@MarkP Since the Sorcerer has so many spells available already the main benefit they get is the ability to track usage with just a calculator rather than a sheet of paper (more of a sidegrade than an upgrade really). Only way I can think off off hand for spell points to have a distinct advantage is if they wander into a dungeon with an inordinate number of incorporeal enemies and have to spam magic missile for hours on end. Possibly useful if they're really sneaky and need to put an entire room to sleep. –  Norvilion Aug 8 '11 at 18:10
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