House rules can be tempting things, they can be a panacea to any problem you may have with a game. Sure this game may be fun but if we just alter this one element then wouldn’t it be even better? My thinking on this can be split into three broad categories: 1. it’s a bad game and you should just do something else that’s inherently good 2. The game is fine, and your experience is insignificant and biased 3. The game is actually good and you have a keen understanding of what the problem is and how to fix it. The underlying assumption throughout all of this is that these games were made with care and by intelligent who knew what they were doing.
Before continuing, it’s important to note that this is all about non-rpgs. Mainly in that my opinion on the rules of rpgs is that they only exist to facilitate the game and serve as an arbiter, change them however you want as long as everyone knows about it.
Some games are just bad, they might have certain things going for them but overall they are not fun to play. Given the abundance of good games, I’d rather play one of those instead of sitting through more sessions of this now modified game in order to see if the game actually works now. Life is too short for that.
This second category is far more important. A well designed game will have all the pieces matter and messing with them can have unforeseen consequences. Playing a game once or twice and having a negative experience shouldn’t prompt a response of ‘Oh, we’ll just house rule that” cause the game is either bad, in which case see the above point, or it’s good and your experience is biased and based upon faulty information. Unless you can clearly articulate what the problem is and how your rule is going to fix it and how it interacts with the other parts of the game, then don’t do it.
So if I oppose house rules so much, why do I play heavily house ruled BSG almost exclusively at this point? Cause the rules I play with are by and large well thought out and fix actual problems with the game. Even the most well designed games can have problems, whether’s it’s a predominant strategy or an imperfect balance that only become apparent after multiple plays. A perfect example of this is Twilight Struggle. The game with no modifications has a 55/45 Soviet/US winrate. There are any number of variants that exist in order to balance this out: optional cards, Chinese Civil War, bidding. These rules help clean up a game and allow it to reach it’s full potential.
Overall house rules are something that I’d approach with caution but aren’t inherently opposed to, only the kneejerk reaction of implementing them. Until next time.