I'm curious about what house rules other D&D 3.5e players have implemented in their campaigns. My fiancee and I have been running a two player D&D 3.5e campaign in Forgotten Realms for around two and a half years. About five years have passed in-game from when we started, and we usually have several subplots going at any given moment.
Non-standard or just plain useful things we have adopted:
- The original player characters started at "level 0", that is, first
level commoner as farmers. After the setup of the first session, they
were rewritten as first level characters of an actual player class
based on the profession they went into; in this case, they were hired
as town guardsmen in a small town and were given weapons training.
One of the characters was better suited to ranged combat based on his
stats so he became a scout, and the other was lawful good so he was
placed in the paladin class. (The paladin character did not know of
his divine calling yet, so he assumed he was just a regular
soldier/fighter until his powers started to manifest.)
- No XP system. This campaign is very heavily RP and story based, and
combat happens only when the story dictates it. Figuring out XP for
such a system seemed clunky and we fixed it so the DMs dictate when
characters level based on story considerations. The players were cool
with this and one of them has started using that in his own campaign.
- d10 used for initiative, rerolled every round. It halves the
initiative range, and characters' DEX plays in a lot more since it's
both used for initiative bonus and more than one character often
comes up with the same initiative. (Higher DEX goes first in that
case, or if the DEX is the same there's a roll-off.) It makes the
Improved Initiative feat much nastier as well.
- No random encounters with monsters based on an arbitrary roll on a table. All
combats, when they occur, are planned in advance to make sure they
make sense within the story. Encounters aren't necessarily designed to
be on par with the party - some are grossly underpowered simply
because they would make no sense as higher level, and some encounters
are designed to be nearly impossible - it makes more sense to run
away. You don't have to kill everything in your path! Also, most
encounters don't involve monsters at all; most fights are against
human armies. The early days of the campaign were strictly military
and the players only recently became adventurers.
- Unorthodox treasure. It's rare that the players ever encounter a fight where there is treasure to be had (they get most of their money though working jobs), but the treasure should make sense. In one of the most odd examples, the treasure from a huge assassin vine they cut down in a swamp in the late fall was 25 lbs of berries that they were able to sell later to a winery for a good amount.
- Money and gems are physical items. Gemstones are colored beads (I have a
table of colors and names/values) and gold is represented with pennies
and small wood bars. 1 penny = 1 gold, 1 silver-painted penny = 100 gold,
1 gold-painted penny = 1,000 gold, 1 silver-painted bar = 10,000 gold,
1 gold-painted bar = 100,000 gold. At one point we had black pennies
(representing iron) that were worth 10 gold, but this was strictly a
military payment coin that was not accepted outside of Archendale, the
players' home. Paper currency from White Ford in Archendale was
introduced as military pay at one point due to a war
and a trade embargo (and was only good in White Ford), but this was quickly devalued and is worthless at
this point in-game. The benefit to this method is it makes paying for
items seem more real through having to part with a physical item, and having a sack of coins really gives a feel
for how rich or poor a character is. Cure light potions have been used so rarely in the campaign that we also represent them physically as white poker chips, which are kept in the money bags.
- Very high numbers of NPCs in the party. The party has varied in size
throughout the course of the campaign. There are only two player
characters, but the party has been an effective 30 characters at one
point (the players were part of a military squad) down to four at
another, and is currently at ten. The player characters are always
controlled by the players without exception. The party NPCs are most
often controlled by the players in RP scenarios (and battles) unless it is strictly
inter-party conversation. All non-party NPCs are DM controlled even
if they join up with the party for a temporary period.
- The player-controlled NPCs that were part of the original military
company were supplied originally with base stats, class (depending on their military assignment), rudimentary standard-issue Archenrider equipment,
and nothing else other than being restricted to non-evil alignment. The players got to name them and throughout the
course of the game they each have received distinct personalities via
RP situations. By doing it this way the players get to feel like a
much bigger part of the action and don't treat the NPCs as cannon
fodder. The players are responsible for levelling them (and choosing their class, within reason, if they wish to multiclass) when appropriate and outfitting them from the pooled money they allocated to the rest of the party. The NPCs are as much a part of the story as the players' own
characters, and even the current and former de facto leaders of the
party have always been NPCs. Being as the NPCs have distinct personalities - and in some
cases even their backstories and motivations are known - one of them
advanced to being a player character after the player with the paladin
grew to like him more than his original character. The original
character was killed off in a manner that fit the storyline and to
give the NPC a real motivation to become a hero. This character death
has been revisited as part of the other player's storyline as well, so
it was a major plot point early on and as of late.
- The passage of time is recorded. We keep a calendar in Excel and advance it by weeks as events occur. The weather and traveling conditions in this campaign are dependent on the time of year and latitude on Faerun. This also allows us to go back to see exactly when key events happened.
- Non-combat skills and abilities really matter. In a heavy RP setup
they come into play more often than saves, AC, and base attack.
- Alignment points. I have a scale set up kind of like the Knights of the Old Republic light side / dark side meter, except on two axes: law/chaos and good/evil. There is a whole set of rules regarding point assignment, but the gist of it is that someone can slowly alter their alignment as detected by magical means through their actions and motivations. One of the players started as neutral (he was the subject of a mind wipe) and over the course of the campaign has veered strongly into chaos and finally inched into good. This character's alignment is actually a key plot point to his storyline, so it was important to track his progress.
- Introducing magic late in the campaign. The area the players call
home isn't particularly magic-heavy, and magic, while known as existing, is not
something the common folk know much or care much about. The players
never saw a +1 anything until they were around level 8, and
only then due to travelling to a trade-heavy area (Sembia). Having
restricted magic items and even limiting encounters with casters it
made magic seem like something to be in awe of, not something that is commonplace.
- Massive combats, when required by the story. The longest combat we
have had took three weeks to play out and was heavy with tactics. The
setup was on two battlemats, and it involved a slice of two
opposing armies in a border war. The players' company of their
military vs. a segment of the opposing force; it was about 30 vs. 50.
Most characters on the fields were levels 1 to 3, and it was
straight-up medieval combat with no magic to be seen. Another massive
battle is planned on an even larger scale, and this will be played out
in a somewhat different manner. I adapted the combat system from
the PS2 game Romance of the Three Kingdoms X to apply to a
pen-and-paper and miniature setup, and this system is geared to be an
overall view of an entire battle between various soldier units under
different commanders. The battles between entire NPC units
will take place within this rule system on a battlemat to show the scale of the entire
battle, but when the players' unit engages in combat it will be done
regular D&D style with a ton of minis on the field representing each
soldier and officer in the engaged units so the characters get to fight. One square on the
ROTK-style battle will equal one entire battlemat D&D style, as if
zoomed in. I'm projecting this combat to take five or six sessions.
There combats are exceedingly rare (We've done them about once a year in
thus far) so it's a good change for the play
- The DMs provide the framework, but the players write the story. We have had entire sidequests based on what the players wanted to do in-character. We try to guide the story but the players aren't on rails. If they do something unexpected, so be it. The story does have a vague endpoint planned, but how they get there is entirely up to them.
At this point the two players are levels 10 and 11 and are pretty much considered adventuring heroes. The party NPCs are of varying levels from 3 to 9 due to their initial status and a year-and-a-half gap in game time from a few of their deaths in a war to when the party had enough money to resurrect them.