Pathfinder House Rules

House RulesFor a long while, I have wanted to document all the House Rules which I like enough to make use of in my games. I’ve always been somewhat bad at codifying House Rules. Many of them come and go, their effect on the game only occurring when I remember to implement them, or when they seem appropriate. In some cases, I haven’t even figured out a good way to get the rule down on paper, simply allowing certain actions sometimes, and disallowing them at other times, all by GM fiat. All of the players spread throughout the games I GM are very understanding, laid back folk, so it hasn’t become an issue. However, I know only too well that my failure to solidify what is and what is not in the rules has a potential to come back to bite me in the future.

And so this page has been born. Below are all the House Rules which I include in my games. If, in the future, I add or remove any rules, I will make a new post describing the rule (or why I felt it no longer had a place in my game) and I will update this post to reflect the new ‘House List.’

Let me say right off that I do not have sources for most of these rules. Many of them were penned by far more inventive GMs than myself. However, due to acquiring them from my brother fa/tg/uys or from some other un-citable source, most will not have sources. If anybody would like to make a correction, please leave a comment, and I’ll make sure credit is given where it is due.

Natural 20 Crits: Any roll of a natural 20 on an attack roll is an automatic critical hit. Any other rolls within critical range must still be confirmed normally.

Skill Check Critical Success/Failure: When rolling skill checks, a natural 20 is treated as a roll of 25 (20 + 5), while a natural 1 is treated as a roll of -4 (1 – 5). Add skill ranks and other modifiers normally.

Shields Shall Be Splintered: Anytime a character who wields a shield takes physical damage, they can opt to sacrifice their shield to avoid taking that damage. Masterwork or Magical shields can block a number of blows per day equal to the shield’s equivalent numerical bonus (+1 to +10) without sundering. If the shield is used to avoid damage a number of times in excess of it’s equivalent numerical bonus, it is destroyed. Magical shields can also be used to automatically save against damaging spells. Treat this as two blows against the shield. Magical shields regenerate this damage whenever the character rests for 8 hours. Shields otherwise act normally.

Shields Shall Be Splintered was originally put forth by Trollsmyth.

Diluting Bad HP Rolls: At each level, players roll their character’s total HD, and add their Constitution modifier * their character level to it. If the resulting number is higher than the character’s current max HP, then it becomes that character’s new max HP. If it is lower, then the character retains their current max HP. Here are two examples:

Valeros the Fighter is level 5. He has a constitution modifier of +3, and a max HP of 40. After killing some Skeletons, Valeros has gained enough XP to reach level 6. Normally, he would roll 1D10 + 3, and add that number to his HP. Using this House Rule, though, he instead rolls [6d10 + (3 * 6)]. He rolls exceptionally well, getting a result of 70! Valeros Max HP is now 70, up from 40 in one level.

Valeros continues to adventure, and eventually gains enough XP to reach level 7. He rolls [7d10 + (3 * 7)] for his new max HP. Unfortunately, his rolls are not so good this time, and he only gets a total of 64. Since this is lower than his previous roll of 70, his max HP does not change.

This list will change a great deal over time, I imagine. Particularly as I am sure I’m forgetting one or two that I normally employ in my games.

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4 thoughts on “Pathfinder House Rules”

    1. Well, the first is pretty simple. Everybody knows that rolling a natural 20 is a critical hit. It’s just part of D&D culture. There’s only a 5% of it happening on any given attack, so it’s pretty uncommon, and when a player rolls a natural 20, they’re excited.

      I want my players to get excited during the game. I don’t see any point in taking that excitement away by forcing them to roll a second time, and potentially roll low enough that they don’t get a critical hit. I’ve been using this rule for about 4 or 5 years now, and it hasn’t unbalanced my games at all. I’ve even been considering expanding it so that all attack rolls within critical range are automatic crits. But that has a little more potential to unbalance the game, so I need to run the numbers on it I think.

      Regarding the second of the two rules, to be frank, it has fallen out of my favor. My original thinking was similar to what I’ve written above: the concepts of critical success and critical failure are ingrained into a player’s mind. They understand, and expect them. So while it shouldn’t be possible to succeed at ANY task by rolling a nat20, I felt it should be possible to succeed or fail to a greater degree than normal.


      These days the rule doesn’t really see any use. I’ve changed my attitude towards skills a lot in the last year, and tend to use them a great deal less in my games. Additionally, I’ve become less fond of anything which adds math to the game. Not that +5/-5 is difficult, but the game already has a lot of little calculations which I’d rather not add to.

      Thanks for commenting on these old posts, by the way! They don’t get as much attention as I’d like. Though many of them (such as this one) don’t really represent my current philosophies in their entirety.

      1. Yeah, I was a little surprised to see an extant house rule tightly integrated with the skill system, consider your posts about how you hardly ever use it anymore. :P

        Your critical hit idea makes a lot of sense! I was confused because I was thinking about the idea in terms of pure mechanics, and failing to consider the feelings of my players. To be perfectly frank, that’s something I do more than I should.

        I still consider myself something of a newbie GM. I’ve only run one “successful” game, and it was successful in the sense that my players had some amount of fun, and it came to a natural conclusion. However, they didn’t really go outside the box, and throughout the game I was committing what you’ve referred to elsewhere as one of the “cardinal sins” of being a GM: I had a clear endpoint in mind for the players, and they happily follows the railroad tracks until they came to the story’s end. I’m not really sure if their unwillingness to improvise or go off the rails to any degree is a failure of theirs, or of mine. … Actually, I’m not sure it /can/ be a failure of their’s, by definition. If they’re having fun, then everything’s going right, right?

        I dunno, I’m just spewing philosophy.

        Regarding old blog posts… At this moment I have some 20 of your posts opened up, waiting for me to peruse them more carefully and take notes. These were the ones I thought were exceptional, and which I thought held some information or ideas that I could really use in my games.

        I was brought to your site by googling around for alternative Crafting rules – my wife is playing an Alchemist in our Pathfinder game, and she wants to start making poisons. She (and I) was disheartened when I read the rules more carefully and determined that it would take her outside two weeks to craft some of the poisons she was interested in. I eventually found an excellent source: “Making Craft Work” by Ladi Fortes, under Spes Magna Games. However, my search brought me to your critique of Pathfinder skills, and I was immediately entranced. Your points were cogent, and in hindsight obvious. I’m now thinking of ways to integrate your ideas into our game – particularly since we have mostly new players, and the Skills system of 3e onward has always been this endless bog of confusion to the newbies.

        In any case, I should be the one thanking you, for having written all these old posts! :P I’ll be sure to keep commenting on the ones for which I have something useful to say.

        1. Spew as much philosophy as you like. I might as well get some use out of the four years I spent majoring in it.

          You are right: the key ingredient in any game is that everyone is having fun. You might say that the only truly cardinal sin of game mastery is to run a game where no one has fun. Everything else is just guidelines towards that end. Having a clear endpoint in mind for the players is, in my experience, one of the biggest mistakes a GM can make. But I can’t pretend to be an authority on what works for everyone. Some people play RPGs as a semi-linear interactive story. I don’t enjoy it, but who am I to judge?

          The nice thing about the critical hit idea is that even if you do look at it from a purely mechanical standpoint, it doesn’t actually change game balance at all. It simply gives every attack roll in the game (both those made by the players, and those made against the players) a 5% chance to deal some extra damage. I’ve actually been thinking about expanding the rule to encompas the entire critical range of a weapon, but I’m holding off on that until I do a little more math.

          Regarding rails, I’ve found that people are only as creative as they think they’re allowed to be. Particularly if they’re not personally familiar with tabletop RPGs. If you provide rails, new players will stay on them. But if you instead provide hooks which they need to choose from (and, perhaps, consequences for choosing one hook over another) then the players will be more likely to explore and try new things. That has been my experience. I’ve actually got a post related to that issue coming up within the next couple days I think.

          I’m really happy I can serve as a resource for you. Over the last year I’ve acquired a modest readership, but it’s still exciting to learn that my work can help another person run their game better.

          By the by, I’ll be sure to check out that crafting system you mentioned. I’ve been working on my own alternative, and it’s always good to know what others are doing.

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