House Rules (or The Book Also Says GMs Discretion)

This post was first published on my blog in July of 2011.

Not that long ago I was gearing up to run a Serenity campaign for some friends of mine who are new to tabletop gaming. After an email discussion about how I like to run games, and what the players were expecting, we organised a time to generate characters.

I sent them blank copies of the character sheet (so that when we sat down at the table they were already familiar with it) and a 3x3x3 template for them to fill out. I asked them to bring concepts for their characters with them, so that they knew what their character was about before we started.

A few days later everyone came around to my house. They had brought their concepts with them, and most had pre-filled the 3x3x3. “Excellent!” I thought, “They’re really getting into this.”

There were some awesome character concepts brought to the table, and the 3x3x3’s provided some useful background ties I could use to add flavour to the campaign. Unfortunately (you’ll soon see why) one of the players had brought a completed character sheet with him too.

It’s at this point I should explain, for those that don’t already know, that Serenity uses “Assets 1 and Complications 2” to provide not only mechanical advantages, but roleplaying flavour, to the characters.

My friend had included five assets and five complications on his sheet. I explained that as a house rule, I normally only allow the equivalent of two major (there are also minor) per side of the sheet (assets, and complications). He proceeded to quote the Core book at me saying that he’s keeping his sheet like that because it’s in the rules. I explained my reasoning behind the house rule (even experienced players can find it hard to play that many interlinking assets and complications, it adds a lot to the character; and that I like to leave room for the characters to grow naturally through game play. By leaving empty slots, the character can gain assets/complications throughout events in the game (think Amputation)).

He still wanted to play with five assets and five complications. He argued that the character he’d thought up required all of the Assets and Complications and that taking any away would alter the character too much. Not wanting to upset and possibly make his first tabletop experience a bad one, I relented and allowed him to play with the full sheet.

A week later we met for the first session, which wasn’t that great (my fault). Wanting to give my players a fun session I tried a different approach to a first session, and I think it failed. But that’s another article.

Should I have stuck true to the house rule and had him alter his character? Should I have told my players of the house rule in the initial email in anticipation of them bringing created characters to the character generation sessions?

What house rules have you had to bend/ignore in order to keep your players happy? What’s your opinion on “but the book says I can”?


  1. eg. Lightin’ Reflexes (Major) which grants you a bonus to initiative
  2. eg. Blind (Major) which obviously means your character is blind; as such suffering negatives to things normally involving sight, such as moving through unfamiliar environments.
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RPG Alignment Table Analysis

I have encountered a lot of confusion and discussion over how to correctly interpret the character alignment table. As an actor, I have found the table to be really useful in understanding how to play a character. And I have found some of the explanations given to be a little confusing or contradictory, and even some of the official documents seem not to have fully thought out what was originally a very simple concept.

The table doesn’t give you the entire shape of a personality, it only sets them up on the basis of two very significant factors. It also does not set up whether a person is insane (some people read CN as insanity). Insanity can befall any of these alignments and has interesting effects on each of them.

The alignment table is based on the interaction of two factors, the individual’s response to laws or power/authority structures, to order and organisation; and the individual’s focus and direction of effort, whether they strive for the benefit of others or themself. Do they like organisation with comprehensive rules and structure or do they rebel against being told what to do? Do they work to benefit themself at other’s expense or do they give of themself sacrificially for the benefit of others?

The neutral aspect in any of these alignment simply signifies the non-dominance of that characteristic over the other one. So a NG person is strongly motivated toward good (being unselfish) but not strongly motivated toward either order or rebellion. A person of LN alignment is strongly motivated toward order, but not strongly committed to helping others or toward advancing themself. The N alignment simply means that person has no real affiliation or ideals to speak of.

↓Altruism\Order→ Lawful Neutral Chaotic
Good LG NG CG
Neutral LN N CN
Evil LE NE CE

It is worth noting that the majority of people’s action and efforts are rarely to serve others at their own expense. Most people’s actions much of the time are simply for their own benefit, and often without regard to anyone else. This is not to say that people don’t ever do anything good, or even that they don’t so a lot of good, but only that the default for most people is not to consider other people’s desires and to simply do what seems to be of benefit to themself on the assumption that everyone else is doing the same.

A “good” person, when approached for a donation, will give their money away, even if they have to miss their next meal to do it. A “neutral” person will consider whether they can give something and still get to eat what they want, and an “evil” person will refuse to give anything unless they can think of a reason it will benefit them more to do so than not.

A “good” person will be found volunteering their time to help others or make things better for no reward (including generally not being recognised for their work) and will often continue to work as long as they believe there is a good reason to do it. A “neutral” person will generally do that kind of thing occasionally, but not when it becomes burdensome or when they go a long time without being recognised, rewarded or seeing significant results. An “evil” person will not do anything like that unless they know there is some reward or benefit for them in doing it, and will stop working immediately if there ceases to be any promise of reward.

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LG – someone who is Lawful Good gives what they have – even when it hurts – for the benefit of others. They believe in having a good legal structure and actively support legitimate authority to keep order and peace in society. They always prefer to achieve their goals without breaking the rules or upsetting the established organisation unless that organisation is shown to be causing harm or perpetuating injustice, and will seek to peacefully resolve issues or work to establish a better structure in its place. They tend to feel that sometimes some freedom is worth sacrificing and maybe some hardships and acceptable losses endured (preferably by inconvenience to themself or to those who are able to choose it) for the sake of keeping peace and order for the good of everyone. Some very interesting antagonists are actually LG, these are people who serve and make great sacrifices for what they (perhaps wrongly) believe to be the “greater good” completely at their own expense and are willing to die to achieve their goals. This person is a true believer and a crusader and is very hard to stop.

NG – a Neutral Good character is also someone who gives what they have – even when it hurts – for the benefit of others, however they do not have total faith in authority structures, they value peace and order, but also value freedom, and tend to choose whether to obey the law or ignore it on a case-by-case basis. Their primary focus is the good of people and of society as a whole, and will gladly risk their own life to make things better. They will join a rebellion against injustice as likely as join the unjust organisation to try to make things better from the inside.

CG – again, the Chaotic Good person is someone who gives what they have – even when it hurts – for the benefit of others. They believe that freedom is more important than peace, and always worth fighting for. They tend to feel that established organisation and authority structures are a breeding ground for corruption and injustice. they rebel against rules and authority figures whenever they have reason to personally disagree with them or believe them harmful to others. This person only supports authority insofar as they believe the person in charge is a good person and is doing good for people, and more importantly is promoting general freedom, but is quick to rebel if that ever changes.

LN – a Lawful Neutral person is someone who believes wholeheartedly in having a clearly laid out rules and well- organised authority structures to keep order and peace in society. They are not overly committed to helping everyone else, but are also not irretrievably selfish. They tend to feel that sometimes some freedom is worth sacrificing and maybe some hardships and acceptable losses endured for the sake of keeping peace and order for the sake of predictability rather than uncontrolled chaos. Their guiding principle is maintaining order and structure, and they are not particularly heroic, ambitious or greedy.

N – often called Neutral or True Neutral, but possibly more accurately ‘ambivalent’, this is someone who is no more committed to order and organisation than they are to personal freedom. They see both things as equally important (or unimportant) and likewise are no more interested in their own personal gain than the benefit of other people or society as a whole. They tend to choose whether to obey the law or ignore it and whether to serve their own self interest or that of others on a case-by-case basis. They have no clearly laid out guiding principle to follow and are not particularly heroic, ambitious or greedy.

CN – someone who is Chaotic Neutral believes wholeheartedly that freedom is more important than peace, and always worth fighting for. They tend to feel that established organisation and authority structures are a breeding ground for corruption, injustice and oppression of personal freedom. They rebel against rules and authority figures whenever they appear to be causing an inconvenience to themself or others. They have no clearly laid out guiding principle beyond the belief that authority should be challenged, and that rules were meant to be broken. They are generally rebellious, but not necessarily malicious, and are not particularly heroic, ambitious or greedy.

LE – this is someone who puts all their energy into advancing their own desires, even when it is to the detriment of others, including their friends (unless said friends are likely to be be of more benefit later). They believe in having an established legal structure and actively support effective authority to keep order and as a means of personal advancement. They like established rules because they allow them to predict and control outcomes and maneuver themself into the optimal position to benefit their own aims. They tend to feel that sometimes some freedom is worth sacrificing and maybe some hardships and acceptable losses endured (preferably by inconvenience to someone else who will be unable to exact revenge) for the sake of keeping order and maintaining the structure that benefits their personal advancement. Many of the classic villains are LE, particularly those who have little personal power, but great manipulative intelligence. The rules and structures keep them safe from more powerful people while they increase their influence.

NE – a Neutral Evil person puts their energy into advancing their own desires, even when it is to the detriment of others including their friends (unless said friends are likely to be be of more benefit later). They do not have much faith in authority structures, they value peace and order, but also value freedom, and tend to choose whether to obey the authorities or ignore them on a case-by-case basis. Their primary focus is their own benefit and they will either work the system to achieve that end, or rebel against it if that approach seems more likely to be profitable to them.

CE – a Chaotic Evil character is someone who puts their energy into advancing their own desires, even when it is to the detriment of others including their friends (unless said friends are likely to be be of more benefit later). This is someone who believes wholeheartedly that their own freedom and advancement is more important than keeping the peace, and always worth fighting for. They tend to feel that established organisation and authority structures and figures are a hindrance to their personal freedom, and only work with others as long as it seems beneficial to them. They rebel against rules and authority figures whenever they appear to be causing them any inconvenience. They have no clearly laid out guiding principle beyond the belief that their own interest comes first, that authority should be challenged, and that rules were meant to be broken. This type of character is often physically powerful, or trusts in their own fighting ability to back them up when they rebel, they are naturally rebellious and belligerent, and typically have neither the patience, nor the cunning to manipulate structures or authority figures to their benefit. This person has to believe in their own ability because they do not generally trust others to help them or protect them from reprisals. The only real authority this character respects is power, and only so far as someone else having more power than they do will buy that person respect until they show a sign of vulnerability and can be defeated.

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Roleplaying the Unfamiliar Characters

As an actor and a writer, I really enjoy the roleplaying aspect of tabletop RPGs. I thought people might be interested in how to play a character that is nothing like yourself. I say nothing like yourself, but in reality the work of acting and roleplaying is in finding that part of yourself that you have in common with the unfamiliar character, and getting to know them as a person. Continue reading

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