I spend a lot of time brewing up house rules. I try to make whatever game that we happen to be playing fit both my own and the player’s sensibilities about what will be fun and interesting. But then I got thinking about something that I’ve been doing without really considering it too much. The rules need to match up to the setting as well. Whenever I start a campaign, I like to look at the big picture first and then drill down to the details.
With that in mind, I generally start with Gods & Magic. These are the two big things that I think really define any fantasy setting. What gods are predominant? How the different sects, orders, cults, and temples interact? What’s the relation if any to arcane magic? Are wizards hunted down and burned at the stake? Tolerated or what? What about arcane magic? What’s the source of power? Is it by bloodline? Maybe a demonic pact has to be made? Made it’s just studying book. Or combination of all of them. All good questions to ask. This sets the tone not only for the world but also what roleplaying challenges certain classes may face and what exactly the DM may want to change about a specific class.
Then I look at races. It’s perfectly OK for a DM to say, “No, there any magic hamsters in my world.” First, does the race even exist? If it does, is it for player characters? And how do those races interact with each other? It’s OK to have some rivalry or tension. Just don’t set up things so party members want to kill each other on sight. Whatever races a DM uses and their relations and origins can be linked back to Gods & Magic. Sure you may allow Tieflings but the Church hunts them down as abominations or maybe they’ve banded together and created their own kingdom? More food for thought. Can Elves be clerics? Or heck will you only do Race as Class?
Then I look at Classes. It’s more than what’s allowed and what isn’t. It time to really start doing some house ruling. When I was running The Blight with Swords & Wizardry, I completely redid Paladins. They weren’t the wholesome knight in shining armor. They were grim Witch Hunters and Slayers of Undead and Demons. Does a class even fit into the world? There’s a lot of DM’s who kick out Monks because they just don’t fit the setting.
Start of with this trinity; Gods & Magic, Races, and Classes. Look at the synergies and the points of friction. What’s crazy over powered? What just plain doesn’t make sense. What rules need to be altered in order for it to work? Heck, maybe even you’re using the wrong rules. Maybe a different game that you were intending doesn’t work as well as another game.
And here’s the most important part. Be upfront with the players. Let them know well ahead of time about what’s allowed and what isn’t. Let them read those preliminary notes and there’s a good chance they may notice something that you missed. So take their feedback. Remember, the players are stakeholders in the campaign too. If they aren’t having fun then DM isn’t going to have fun either. And it’s all about the fun.