House Rules, and HOW!

Although I’ve yet to play Heroes & Other Worlds, I’ve played a ton of The Fantasy Trip back in the day, so I’ve already started down the road of house-ruling a bunch of stuff.  Here’s my current list:

Criticals & Fumbles

In HOW, 3 is automatic hit and double max damage, 4 is automatic hit for max damage, 17 is automatic miss and dropped weapon, and 18 is automatic miss and broken weapon.  This is almost the same as TFT, which uses triple and double damage for 3 and 4, but HOW drops the 5 is automatic hit and 16 is automatic miss.

My proposed rule, which brings the chance of a special roll back towards what it was in TFT is this:

Triples are special.  A triple that is also a success (<= Attribute) is a Critical (max damage); a triple that is a failure (> Attribute) is a Fumble (dropped weapon).

So a roll of 12 that’s 4, 4, 4 would be a critical for somebody with adj. DX 12 and a fumble for somebody with adj. DX 10. I like this because it makes it more than just luck: the better you are the more likely to crit and the less likely to fumble (and the opposite if you’re clumsy or wounded).  This is one of the features I always admired about Runequest and its derivatives, though with much less math.

If you’re rolling more or less dice than usual, use different colors to be able to pick out the three dice that govern criticals and fumbles.

E.g. if you’re rolling 4/DX, roll three white and one red.  Success or failure is determined by looking at all four dice, but it’s only a critical or fumble if the three white dice score a triple, 4, or 17.

If you’re rolling 2/DX, roll two white and a red, and the white determine success or failure, while crits and fumbles are determined by all three dice being triple, 4 or 17.

This is way simpler than memorizing or looking up different numbers that indicate a crit or fumble for that number of dice.

Opposed Rolls

Without a degree of success mechanic, roll under stat vs. roll under stat can be a bit dull.  What’s the point of wasting an action shield bashing somebody if any character of  greater than average ST probably won’t go down?  One really strong character will almost never be able to knock down another .  I’ve seen enough football to find that a bit dubious.  A simple fix, employed by a lot of systems, is to make how well you succeed a factor in how hard it is for the opponent to resist.

As a result, I’m planning all opposed rolls such as grappling, shield bash, spell resistance, and the like be resolved by this:

In opposed rolls, whoever rolls the higher success wins, but criticals beat non-criticals. That is, whoever has the highest total on the dice, provided that’s still a success (<= Attribute) is the winner of the contest, but a critical success trumps a non-critical success.

Why higher?  Three reasons: One is my regular players just hate “low is better” systems.  It makes them mad when they get a high roll, start to cheer, and then realize in this particular system that was a bad thing.  They could probably be trained out of this, but why bother? Two is it’s less math than “How much did you succeed by?” systems.  Three is that I find it much easier to reason about the probabilities of the higher wins method.

What about criticals beating non-criticals?  Criticals are pretty rare in HOW, even with my expanded criticals rules, and it’s anticlimactic for somebody to score a critical only to be denied by very common case of the opponent rolling an ordinary success.

Opposed Rolls and Reactions

One of the problems that I had with TFT was that as characters progressed it eventually reached the point where they couldn’t miss except on a fumble.  Equally matched highly experienced characters just whaled on each other until one ran out of ST.  On the other hand, if one elected to defend, that defense couldn’t be broken.  There’s a fairly narrow range where the combats stay interesting and dynamic.

HOW addresses this, partially, by allowing “Reactions” as part of your turn: you can sacrifice your next turn’s move in order to Block, Parry, or Dodge an incoming blow (once per turn).  Since once you’re in melee with a foe you’re probably not planning on moving much next turn anyway, unless you’re going to disengage, most attack rolls will be opposed.1  That addresses the every-blow-hits problem with skilled opponents, but not the unbreakable defense.

Easily fixed:

Block and Parry are Opposed Rolls  against the original attack roll: you need to roll a success higher than the successful hit to block or parry.  Dodge remains unopposed. Eliminate the requirement that you can only React if you’ve moved < 1/2 MV.

This means that Dodging is superior… until you get cornered.  It also means that sometimes there will be no point trying to block or parry, particularly if the opponent is superior; this makes up for the TFT “Forced Retreat” rule that HOW dropped.  Instead of being able to push an opponent back whenever you did damage but took none, it puts the defender in the position of having to opt to retreat to avoid damage.  I think this will lend itself to more dynamic combat at the high end, with opponents trying to maneuver each other into positions where they can’t just safely dodge.

Multiple Reactions

Since you can only do one Reaction per turn, if you’re up against multiple opponents in HOW you’re in big trouble.  Also, Block and Parry are identical in HOW, so there’s no reason to ever use the one you’re worse at unless you’ve broken or dropped your weapon.  For a more cinematic feel, I propose:

You may Block and Parry as part of the same reaction, as long as they’re against different blows, whether from the same foe striking multiple times or against different foes. 


Movement rates in HOW are a little weird.  Basically, they’re like the movement rates in TFT halved.  So all characters have a base move in TFT of 10 hexes in 5 seconds, which works out to about 5 mph, somewhere between a walk and a jog.  In HOW an average DX character has a MV of 5, which is only 25′ in 5 seconds, or 2.8 mph…roughly a walk. Then both only allow you to do a half move and still attack, but in TFT that’s 5 hexes while in HOW it’s only 3 spaces…barely creeping along.  Running in HOW only grants a +1 MV, which takes you from a crawl to a doddle. Let’s get these up to a snappier pace.

First, let’s just change the TFT rate into 5′ spaces instead of 1 1/3 (?!) meter  hexes.  That gives an unencumbered character almost 6 mph pace, or roughly a jog.  Then we can interpret the 5 MV in HOW as a TFT half-move, allowing an attack at the end of it.  Walk up and attack seems pretty reasonable to me.  And what the heck, let’s add an option that lets you jog at the foe and smack him, re-purposing the Charge attack option to actually represent building up some momentum instead of taking a couple of deliberate paces.

You may move up to your full MV and attack (including with thrown weapons).  You may move up to double your MV and attack at 4/DX.  If you Charge (moving at least 3 spaces) with a pole weapon you get +1d6 damage, as long as the last 2 spaces (10′) are in a straight line.

The last bit about the straight line is lifted from TFT, and makes sense to me both physically and as a way of preventing players from just circling around a foe to qualify for the bonus damage.  The +1d6 damage is from HOW, and probably helps make polearms a little less uber.

What about those archers and spell casters?  Let’s grant them a tiny bit of maneuverability, too.

You may move up to your full MV and attack at range (spell or missile weapon), but if you move more than 1 space (5′) the check is 4/X.


I like having Charisma as an Attribute, since it’s patently obvious that being smart has very little to do with how well you can charm or persuade others, or your ability to see through others’ attempts to manipulate you socially.  For HOW I propose:

Charisma starts at 8, characters get an extra 2 points to divide among their attributes.  (Option 1: start characters with 7+1d4 and don’t give them any extra points. Option 2: start characters with 3d6 CH and don’t allow spending any initial points.)   The advantage of Option 1 is it prevents Charisma from being used as a dump stat and can be bolted on to an existing HOW/TFT campaign without severely disadvantaging current characters; Option 2 allows for a wide range of CH and eases translation from D&D-likes.

The following Skills are tested vs. CH instead of IQ: Act/Diguise, Bard, Charm, Detect/Tell Lies, Diplomacy, Merchant, Streetwise

Add a new skill: Investigate (3/IQ) which represents the ability to notice and reason about clues. Investigate can be used to try to detect lies (in place of Detect/Tell Lies which is now a CH skill) by analyzing and investigating inconsistencies in somebody’s story. Detect Lies is used to sense whether somebody is lying by their demeanor.

That’s the gist of the house rules I’m currently contemplating.  I have a couple more ideas percolating (e.g. I’d kind of like NPCs to have EN even if they’re not spell-casters, for the sake of symmetry, but I’ve yet to figure out how best to divide the ST score of the monsters between the two, or just go ahead and add EN at the expense of making them harder to kill), but nothing baked enough to be worth writing down.

  1. This makes HOW a little more like GURPS, or Runequest/BRP. 

2 thoughts on “House Rules, and HOW!

  1. Infornific says:

    Hmm. Haven’t had a chance to ply, but my solution to the auto-defense problem (when DX plus skill gets very high) was to allow characters to make tricky attacks – roll under 4d (or 5d or 6d) to hit but your opponent would have to do the same to defend.

    • Joshua Macy says:

      Reasonable, but I think it makes never defending the dominant strategy. If they make a hard roll and succeed you’ll probably fail to defend anyway…and in TFT defending blows your opportunity to attack. Better to attack and hope they miss. That changes high DX battles right back to I damage you and you damage me until one of us falls or runs.

      In HOW it’s a bit different since you always defend unless you’re planning on moving next turn, so something like electing a harder strike in return for a harder block might work better. Though the counter-attack Response if you miss your attack maybe screws that up as a strategy.

      Actually miss allowing counter-attack is another good reason to let people block and parry in the same turn, or every time you miss you’ll get stabbed (in a high DX fight).

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