If it’s not broke…

Generally speaking, it’s inadvisable to change the printed rules in role-playing games. At the very least it causes confusion, and it can undermine the authority of the GM when he adjudicates a contentious ruling by saying “oh, it doesn’t work that way anymore, I changed it – didn’t I say?”.

Of course, I don’t follow this advice. There isn’t a rule in D&D that I have tinkered with or tried to change at some point in my history as a GM. I’ve been as bad as ever (if not worse) under the Pathfinder rules than under all previous editions of the game. However, even I realise that there are times when it’s better – for the sake of clarity if nothing else – to take the rules as written, even if you’re not 100% behind them.

In this post I present four rules or sub-systems that currently use my own rules instead of the rules as written. I am now starting to think that it might be better not to have changed these in the first place. So consider these four rules, think what is best, and then cast you vote in the polls below. I can’t promise I’ll follow through with the results, but it will give me food for thought. The four areas we are looking at are:

If everyone ready, then we’ll begin:

Weapon Groups

Now, I use the rules for Weapon Group feats as presented in the third edition Unearthed Arcana and reproduced on-line at the d20 srd. This replaces the Pathfinder rules for Basic, Martial and Exotic weapons. I don’t propose to change this at all. The rules for weapon group feats have served me well since 2003, and I like them a great deal. What I’m proposing to change is the list of weapon groups themselves.

Pathfinder already has weapon groups. They aren’t used to determine proficiency in a weapon, but they are used to categorise weapons. Some of the fighter’s class features are tied to weapon groups. At the moment we have two lists of weapon groups in play: one derrived from the list of weapon group feats in Unearthed Arcana and one taken from the Pathfinder rules.

What I have done up until now is take the Unearthed Arcana list as the standard. I even changed some of the Fighter’s abilities accordingly. However, as time passes and Pathfinder starts to expand their list of weapon groups (as they have done in the recent Ultimate Combat) I am wondering if I haven’t made the wrong choice. Wouldn’t it be better to make the Pathfinder list as the definitive and change the weapon groups accordingly?

Here’s how the two lists stack up, side-by-side:

Unearthed Arcana


Axes Axes
Basic Weapons  
Bows Bows
Claw Weapons Close
Crossbows Crossbows
Druid Weapons  
Exotic Double Weapons  
Exotic Weapons  
Flails & Chains Flails
Heavy Blades Blades, Heavy
Light Blades Blades, Light
Maces & Clubs Hammers
Monk Weapons Monk
Picks & Hammers Hammers
Polearms Polearms
Slings & Thrown Weapons Thrown
Spears & Lances Spears
  Siege Engines

You can see that there isn’t very much difference. Claw Weapons are renamed “Close Weapons”; Picks & Hammers and Maces & Clubs are folded into the new “Hammers” weapon group – which makes kind of sense to me (although, I think that I would call it “Hammers & Picks” just to make it clear that picks are also included in this skill set). Natural Weapons and Siege Weapons are added as weapon groups. Small changes, you might think.

Well, yes and no. Firstly, Pathfinder doesn’t have a “Basic Weapons” category. This is simply because the Pathfinder weapon groups aren’t designed to be used as proficiencies. If they were, then undoubtedly they would keep something akin to Basic Weapons. Equally, we don’t see “Exotic Weapons” as a category either, or “Druid Weapons” for that matter.

If we consider that weapons can belong to more than one weapon group, and if we acknowledge the necessity of adding things like Basic Weapons and Exotic Weapons back into the list then I think the Pathfinder categories work rather well. I like separating Natural Weapons, and “Close Weapons” is a better grouping than “Claw Weapons” in my opinion.

The only place where this falls down a little is Siege Weapons. If “Siege Weapons” becomes a proficiency (Weapon Group: Siege Weapons) the we have to slightly revise the rules for Siege Warfare depicted in Ultimate Combat.  In those rules attacks with indirect siege engines (e.g. catapults and trebuchets) are made by rolling your Base Attack Bonus + either your Intelligence Modifier or your ranks in Knowledge (engineering) against the DC of the siege engine. Direct attacks (with weapons like arbalests) run of a normal attack roll with an escalating penalty depending on the weapon size.

Counting Siege Engines as a weapon group wouldn’t overtly change the maths at work here. The base attack would be rolled normally – with the exception that the -4 non-proficiency penalty would apply equally to direct and indirect fire siege engines. There’s no reason we couldn’t say that attack rolls were modified by Int (or ranks in Knowledge Engineering) instead of Str or Dex. So it’s not a great change: but one worth making.

So, based on these changes the Weapon Groups would look like this:

  • Axes
  • Basic Weapons
  • Blades, Light
  • Blades, Heavy
  • Bows
  • Close Weapons
  • Crossbows
  • Druid
  • Exotic Weapons
  • Flails
  • Hammers & Picks
  • Monk
  • Natural
  • Polearms
  • Siege Engines
  • Thrown

There’s still a few anomalies – whips fall under the Flails proficiency, for example – but these are anomalies of the Pathfinder game and not of my House Rules. Plus, we’re able to dispense with the Exotic Double Weapons feat, which always struck me as a bit odd. Also, none of the above stops me from adding further weapon groups if I want to – so Mariner Weapons, or weapons specific to certain clergies are still entirely possible. I’m leaning toward this change, however small it may be.

Cast your vote in the poll and be heard:

The Spellcasting Focus

Right, this is fairly straight-forward. In the hosue rules most spell casters use a focus to channel their magic. This mechanic has largely replaced spell components. That’s not going to change. However, the rules regarding how the spell focus (the wand, the ring, the holy symbol etc.) functions could well change. Here are my house rules on the topic:

Almost all spellcasters have a special focus that they used to direct their magic. Many traditions and character classes favour particular types of foci over others. Wizards, for example, are very fond of wands and gnarled staffs; druids have a penchant for mistletoe; and clerics use their holy symbol as their focus. However, these are simply conventions. The truth is that the spellcaster can choose any object as his focus as long as he abides by the following guidelines:

The construction of a focus is a complex and exacting task. It can’t just be any old thing: a wizard can’t unscrew the head of a broom and call the handle his magic staff. Only the best materials, harvested in just the right manner and brought together by a master of his craft, will result in an object that is capable of being used as a magical focus.

Each focus is created with a specific caster in mind. It is an inherently personal item that functions for the benefit of the caster, and only the caster. A wizard isn’t using some random staff, he’s using his staff. Each focus is attuned to a particular spellcaster, and cannot immediately be used by any other spellcaster.

In order to cast a spell to its fullest effect, the caster must have his magical focus. This focus must be held in his hand and presented in a forthright manner. As long as this is the case then the spell is cast normally as per the description of the spell.

Without a focus, spells can still be cast but spellcaster’s effective caster level is halved. In addition, he loses access to the most powerful level of spells he can cast until he regains his focus.

Advantages of Foci: Although foci seem to be the spell caster’s Achilles Heel, they are actually extremely useful things. Spellcasters can take a number of implement feats that change the way magical spells work when they are cast through a focus. Foci also exist as magical items, conferring even more interesting abilities onto spellcasters. Those few magic-using classes that do not have foci often wish they did.

Traditions and Foci: A focus is only good for one particular magical tradition. A multiclass cleric/wizard would need two foci: one for his divine spells, and one for his arcane spells. Switching between separate foci during combat would mean dropping one (a free action) and drawing another (a move action). The feat Combine Foci can help with this limitation.

Changing Foci: A spellcaster’s focus is bound to him and him alone. A wizard gains no advantage in picking up another wizard’s focus. In order for a focus to be of benefit to a spellcaster it has to be attuned. This can be done during a special ritual that lasts for one hour (and that all spellcasters know). Once a new focus is attuned to the spellcaster, the old focus can no longer be used. A spellcaster can have no more than one attuned focus at any one time – unless he takes the Dual Focus feat.

Enchanting Foci: Spellcasters have an easier time enchanting their own magical focus than other items. A spellcaster enchanting his own focus uses the standard rules with the exception that the ritual only costs half as much, and takes half as long. So if your focus was a ring, and you wanted to turn your focus into a Ring of Djinni Calling then you would follow all the usual steps except you would only need to find 31,250 gp (not 62,500) and it would only take you 500 hours (not 1000). The cost to maintain your lab, hire the right people and acquire the raw materials would still be the same. If you use these rules for enchanting your focus, you cannot have anyone else help you during the process. It is, after all, an intensely personal process.

However, Pathfinder has it’s own rules for spellcasting foci, or “bonded objects” as they call them. Of course, bonded objects are only supposed to apply to wizards who choose a focus instead of a familiar, however, there’s no reason they couldn’t apply more widely. Consider the rules as they appear in the description of the wizard from the Core Rules (edited slightly to remove all reference to the familiar):

At 1st level, wizards form a powerful bond with an object. The bonded object is an item a wizard can use to cast additional spells or to serve as a magical item. Wizards begin play with one bonded object at no cost. Objects that are the subject of an arcane bond must fall into one of the following categories: amulet, ring, staff, wand, or weapon. These objects are always masterwork quality. Weapons acquired at 1st level are not made of any special material. If the object is an amulet or ring, it must be worn to have effect, while staves, wands, and weapons must be wielded. If a wizard attempts to cast a spell without his bonded object worn or in hand, he must make a concentration check or lose the spell. The DC for this check is equal to 20 + the spell’s level. If the object is a ring or amulet, it occupies the ring or neck slot accordingly.

A bonded object can be used once per day to cast any one spell that the wizard has in his spellbook and is capable of casting, even if the spell is not prepared. This spell is treated like any other spell cast by the wizard, including casting time, duration, and other effects dependent on the wizard’s level. This spell cannot be modified by metamagic feats or other abilities. The bonded object cannot be used to cast spells from the wizard’s opposition schools (see arcane school).

A wizard can add additional magic abilities to his bonded object as if he has the required item creation feats and if he meets the level prerequisites of the feat. For example, a wizard with a bonded dagger must be at least 5th level to add magic abilities to the dagger (see the Craft Magic Arms and Armor feat in Chapter 5). If the bonded object is a wand, it loses its wand abilities when its last charge is consumed, but it is not destroyed and it retains all of its bonded object properties and can be used to craft a new wand. The magic properties of a bonded object, including any magic abilities added to the object, only function for the wizard who owns it. If a bonded object’s owner dies, or the item is replaced, the object reverts to being an ordinary masterwork item of the appropriate type.

If a bonded object is damaged, it is restored to full hit points the next time the wizard prepares his spells. If the object of an arcane bond is lost or destroyed, it can be replaced after 1 week in a special ritual that costs 200 gp per wizard level plus the cost of the masterwork item. This ritual takes 8 hours to complete. Items replaced in this way do not possess any of the additional enchantments of the previous bonded item. A wizard can designate an existing magic item as his bonded item. This functions in the same way as replacing a lost or destroyed item except that the new magic item retains its abilities while gaining the benefits and drawbacks of becoming a bonded item.

Okay. A few provisos. I am not thinking of adopting the Pathfinder rules for bonded objects whole cloth. I’m most interested in what happens when a character loses his focus. Here are the differences:

  • My rules: Without a focus caster level is halved and the caster loses access to the highest level spells he can cast.
  • Pathfinder rules: Caster must make a concentration check (DC 20 + spell level) to  cast a spell without a focus.

 And that’s the choice I want you to make in this poll:

Casting Defensively

Okay, I’ll keep this one brief. In third edition it was called “casting defensively”, in Pathfinder it is called “casting on the defensive”. What it means is that characters who cast spells while in the threat range of their foes provoke attacks of opportunity unless they successfully focus on both the spell and the combat simultaneously. This is what the game says about casting on the defensive:

Casting on the Defensive: Casting a spell while on the defensive does not provoke an attack of opportunity. It does, however, require a concentration check (DC 15 + double the spell’s level) to successfully cast the spell. Failure means that you lose the spell.

Let’s spell this out. If you standing in combat with someone who means you harm and you cast a spell then you provoke an attack of opportunity. If that attack of opportunity hits, then you need to make a concentration check at DC 10 + the damage dealth + the spell’s level (because the attack hits at the moment you’re casting the spell). If your concentration check fails, then the spell is lost.

You can attempt to avoid provoking this attack of opportunity by casting on the defensive. This DC is probably slightly easier (DC 20 + twice the spell level), but no that much easier. You must make this roll before casting every spell that would otherwise provoke an attack of opportunity. If you fail this roll then your spell is lost, however you don’t provoke the attack of opportunity regardless of whether you succeed or fail.

There’s no Concentration skill in Pathfinder as there was in D&D 3.5. Your concentration check is 1d20 + your caster level + the ability score modifier that governs you spellcaster. The combat casting feat gives you another +4 to the roll.

My house rules are easier to remember, and much kinder to spell casters:

It simply isn’t possible for most spellcasters to cast a spell and pay attention to the battlefield around them. Casting a spell while you are within mêlée range of an opponent provokes an attack of opportunity from that opponent. If the attack of opportunity hits (and doesn’t immediately kill or bloody the target), then the spellcaster must make a special concentration check or the spell is disrupted.

The caster must roll 1d20 + caster level + relevant spellcasting ability score modifier (e.g. Intelligence for a wizards, Charisma for a bard or Wisdom for a cleric). The DC of the check is 10 + the damage dealt + the level of the spell you are trying to cast.

If the check succeeds then the spell is cast normally. If the check fails then the spell is disrupted. A disrupted spell has no effect, but it still disappears from the mind of Acquired casters, and still prompts a languor check from Instinctive casters.

Spellcasters can defend themselves against these attacks of opportunity by selecting the Combat Casting feat. Spellcasters with combat casting do not provoke attacks of opportunity when casting their spells in mêlée.

However, even characters with combat casting may still find the spells disrupted by canny opponents. Any attack that strikes and damages the spellcaster during the moment of casting prompts a concentration as above. For spells that are cast as one standard action, the attacker must actively ready an action that is contingent on the casting of the spell. However, some spells take rounds or minutes to cast. Any attack during this time, whether readied or not, calls for a concentration check. In these cases, combat casting grants +4 to the concentration check.

Very different rules. My take is based on the way combat manouevres like Trip, Bull Rush and the like function in Pathfinder. If you have a feat that helps you (e.g. Improved Trip) then you never provoke attacks of opportunity from performing this action, if you don’t have the feat then you always provoke attacks of opportunity. That’s what I am hoping to achive with combat casting. Basically combat casting is to spellcasting, as Improved Grapple is to grabbing someone.

But is it too kind? Do you think that spellcasters need to be put throught more of a ringer than they are? Vote in the poll below:


Okay, we’ve been down this road before, but I’m still not satisfied with how polymorph – and spells like it – function at the moment in the House Rules. Please bear in mind that anything we decide here will also apply to Wildshape. Here is the full text of the house-rule version of the Polymorph spell:

Transmutation (Polymorph)
Level: Arcane 4, Divine (Change) 4
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Personal
Target: You
Duration: 1 minute/level
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless)

This powerful spell allows the subject to take on the form of another creature. When a spellcaster gains or develops this spell then he must choose two specific kinds of creature that he can transform into. Every time he casts the spell, he must choose which of these two creatures to become.

At any point after gaining this spell, the caster may attempt to add additional creatures to his polymorph repertoire. Simply seeing new creatures or knowing of their existence is not enough; the caster must research each additional creature using the same rules as an acquired spellcaster researching new spells. Once a creature has been researched it is added to the list of potential creatures that can be assumed. There is no limit to the number of different creatures that can be available through the Polymorph spell, as long as each creature follows the guidelines laid down below:

The new form may be the same type as the subject of the spell, or any of the following types: aberration, animal, dragon, fey, giant, humanoid, magical beast, monstrous humanoid, ooze, plant or vermin. The assumed form cannot have more hit dice than your hit dice or caster level (whichever is lower), to a maximum of 15 HD at fifteenth level. You cannot assume a form that is Miniscule or Colossal with the Polymorph spell, neither can you assume an incorporeal or gaseous form. You may not take the form of any creature with a Template.

When assuming a new form you gain some, but not all of the new form’s abilities. Equally, you lose some (but not all) of your own abilities. This addition and subtraction of your character’s ability and statistics can be complex, and it is strongly suggested that players whose characters can cast this spell create full statistics for their characters in each of their available forms. If the player does not have such statistics immediately to hand, then the GM may rule that the spell cannot be cast at this time.

All characters have certain abilities derrived from their race, and certain abilities derrived from their class. Polymorph does not alter the abilities gained from the subject’s character class: therefore all your class abilities are available in your new form. The only exception to this rule is if your new form simply isn’t capable of performing the class ability. For example, if the assumed form cannot talk or hold a focus then it cannot cast spells. If the assumed form has no legs then the flying kick feat is useless. If the assumed form cannot wield a sword then it cannot make use of the suite of combat feats that depend upon using a sword. On the whole, these restrictions should be obvious. The GM and the player should discuss what they are each time a new form is added to the character’s polymorph repertoire.

The character’s racial abilities are significantly altered. However, Polymorph only affects a physical change to the character: it does not allow access to any of the magical or supernatural abilities associated with the new form. Neither does it affect your character’s mind or mental acuity. A summary of the changes wrought by the Polymorph spell are as follows:

Racial Features Gained:

  • Gain the new form’s Type and Subtype (if any).
  • Gain the new form’s Strength, Dexterity and Constitution scores. These changes modify your skills, attack rolls, saving throws, CMB and CMD, but not your hit points.
  • Gain the gross physical qualities of the new form: this includes the creature’s appearance, colour, number of limbs, wings and so forth. Characters can decide the form’s more specific qualities such as height, gender and hair colour as long as it is within the norm for the race.
  • Gain the mundane movement capabilities of the new form: including burrowing, climbing, walking, swimming, flying with wings. You speed can never be more than 30 ft. (swimming or burrowing), 60 ft. (on land) or 120 ft. (flying) regardless of what a normal creature of this race
  • Gain the natural weapons of the new form, and proficiency in them. However changing form doesn’t give you any extra attacks. If you assume the form of a bear you don’t automatically gain its claw/claw/bite attack routine. If you only have one attack per round, then you still only have one attack per round in the new form, but you can choose which natural weapon to attack with.
  • Gain any racial bonuses to skills.
  • Gain the Natural Armour Bonus to armour class of the new form.
  • Gain the Size of the new form. This may mean applying a size modifier to your Armour Class and attack rolls (but not to your ability scores).
  • Gain the new form’s Exceptional racial abilities.
  • Gain any bonus racial feats of the new form as long as those feats provide Exceptional advantages. Bonus feats that provide Magical or Supernatural advantages at not gained.

Racial Features Retained:

  • Retain your Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma scores.
  • Retain your own hit point total (do not modify your hit points even if your Constitution score changes as a result of the Polymorph).
  • Retain your own Magical and Supernatural racial abilities.
  • Retain your own base saving throws.
  • Retain your own base attack bonus.
  • Retain the ability ability to speak, as long as the new form is able to speak intelligbly – i.e. it has a decernible language, not just the ability to make sounds.

Racial Features Lost:

  • Lose your Type and subtype (if any).
  • Lose your Strength, Dexterity and Consitution scores.
  • Lose your gross physical qualities – i.e. appearance and form.
  • Lose your mundane movement capabilities (these are replaced by the new form)
  • Lose your natural attacks (if any).
  • Lose any Exceptional racial abilities that you possess.
  • Lose any racial bonuses to skills (but don’t lose any extra skill points conferred because of your race – such as the bonus points granted to a human).
  • Lose your Natural Armour Bonus to armour class (if any)
  • Lose your Size (and any size modifiers to armour class and attacks).
  • Lose any bonus racial feats you have (this includes the bonus feat that humans receive at first level). If the lost feat is a prerequisite for any other feats, then also lose access to those feats for the duration of the spell.

Upon casting this spell, you are effectively disguised as a member of the assumed race. If you want to disguise yourself as a specific individual, then the Polymorph spell grants a +10 bonus to the disguise check.

When the change occurs your equipment, if any, either remains worn or held by the new form (if it is capable of wearing or holding the item), or melds into the new form. Items that provide constant bonuses and do not need to be activated continue to function while melded in this way (with the excpetion of armour and shield bonuses, which cease to function). Items that require activation cannot be used while you maintain that form.

When you revert to your true form, any objects previously melded into the new form reappear in the same location on your body they previously occupied and are once again functional. Any new items you wore in the assumed form and can’t wear in your normal form fall off and land at your feet; any item that you could wear in either form or carry in a body part common to both forms at the time of reversion are still held in the same way.

Any part of the body, or piece of equipment, that is separated from the whole reverts to its true form. Should the subject die when in the assumed form, then he immediately reverts back to his true form upon death.

In Pathfinder, you don’t actually take on the full stats of the creature you become. Instead you take on the form and appearance of the creature, and a number of special abilities if the creature has them, and if they are listed in the description of the spell. Polymorph has been replaced with the following suite of spells. Have a good read, and then come back to vote.

So what do you think? Which version is better? My house rules are very much based on third edition D&D before the Great Polymorph Errata was imposed. Does this make it doubly broken? Consider how easy the rules can be implemented in play, whether they work mechanically, whether they work from a narrative perspective (i.e. the verisimulitude), and whether they just feel ‘right’.

Bonus Poll for Druids

Okay – finally. I don’t think all the rules for Wildshape work very well. Namely, the one about druids being able to change form as often as they like with an increasing chance of being stuck in that form forever. Here is the full text of those house rules: 

Although the druid can Wildshape at-will, his level governs the number of times he can safely attempt the change. The druid may wildshape safely 1/day at level five, 2/day at level six and gains one more safe use of wildshape at each even-numbered level to a maximum of eight safe uses at level eighteen. If the druid wildshapes beyond these safe limits then the following rules apply:

The first wildshape each day beyond the safe limit imposed by the druid’s level functions normally. However, the druid must make a special level check to revert to his original form. The check is 1d20 + the druid’s level + the druid’s Wisdom modifier. The DC of this check is 21. If the check succeeds then the druid reverts to his original form normally. He may then (if he chooses) attempt to Wildshape again. However, each additional Wildshape attempt adds a cumulative +2 to the DC of the level check to revert to his own form.

If the level check fails then druid is stuck in his creature form until dawn the following day. At this point he can make another level check (at +2 to the DC of the previous check) to revert to his original form. If he fails again then he remains stuck for another day, before he can try the check again (at an additional +2 to the DC). He continues making checks at an increasing DC each dawn until he either succeeds or fails four successive checks. If four checks are failed then the druid remains in his creature form forever and may take on the mentality and nature of the creature.

At twentieth level, the druid does not need to worry about  these checks, as he is able to Wildshape safely at-will with no penalty.

I have two problems with these rules. Firstly, they diminish the awesomeness of the druid’s 20th level ability to wildshape at-will, and secondly I think this rule has only come into play twice in the last eleven years (and that’s with a druid in practically every party). So I would propose to make a change thusly:

The number of times per day the druid can wildshape is definied in his class description: 1/day at level five, 2/day at level six and one further use per day at each even-numbered level thereafter to a maximum of eight safe uses at level eighteen. If needs be the druid can wildshape once more than this limit suggests – however if he does so, he is automatically stuck in his new form until after he takes an extended rest.

You know the drill by now:

I would also be interested to hear any thoughts about limiting the amount of time druids can spend in their wildshaped forms (as per the rules) as opposed to being able to remain in animal form indefinitely.

And there we have it. Long post – but stuff I’ve been ruminating on. Now let the comments commence: