Making with the House Rules

Although I hope some day to finish a fully workable gaming system of my own, campaigns set in the world of Shankhar are currently being run using a house-ruled version of the Pathfinder system, a.k.a. “Dungeons and Dragons edition 3.75.”  The changes I will be using are outlined here.


Rather than the standard D&D cosmology, the setting comprises four major realms: the mortal world, Shadow, Faerie, and Dream.

The mortal world is like ours, but animistic – the land is sprinkled liberally with gods and spirits.  These “gods of earth” interact with humanity directly, as opposed to the more distant and abstract gods of Dream.  Inspiration: Mononoke-hime, real-world ancient history.  The setting is home to a mix of cultures roughly analogous to Earth from “stone” to “early steel” in their technology.

The Shadow is the metaphysical reflection of the mortal world; all things take their true forms there, and auras are tangible.  It is not malevolent, but it can be unsettling or dangerous.  The Shadow is visible in properly-prepared mirrors.  Many forms of non-divine magic depend on the Shadow.  One’s doppelganger lives there.

Dream is the realm of gods and mystery.  All mortals visit its outer islands in their sleep, and its agents walk invisible among us, but in its depths the gods themselves and far stranger beings dwell.  Things from the deeper Dreaming that come to the mortal world are fearsome aberrant monsters.  Inspirations include Lovecraft’s “dream cycle” stories and various Dunsany works, such as Time and the Gods.  Gods of earth may ascend to Dream if they abandon their earthly forms.

Faerie is the land of the elves (who possess power on the scale of Tolkien’s innately magical immortals) and other fae peoples, of fell beasts and strange magic.  If there is a great duality to this world’s cosmology, it isn’t shiny versus nasty, nor stick-up-ass versus crazy*, but rather Dream and Faerie, although these poles of mystery and wonder are not necessarily at war over their differences.  Inspirations for Faerie include Gaiman’s Stardust, Dunsany’s The King of Elf-Land’s Daughter, and (for the elves themselves) Arthurian romance.


Most sentient inhabitants of the mortal realm are human, in myriad shapes and colors.  Most of the rest are “orcs” – which in this world are not brutish monsters (although many humans think of them as such).  They are, however, a xenophobic species on uneasy terms with humanity.  Orcs themselves are split – into two broad racial groups, hairy “mountain orcs” and near-hairless “forest orcs” – and into countless clans.  Orcish characters use the stats for half-elves.  Due to some genetic incompatibility, unions between orc and human almost never produce offspring.  In most lands outside of their clan holdings, orcish characters will face open bigotry… even from other orcs, who view them with some distrust.

Players who wish a more exotic, challenging experience may play fae-blooded or Dream-touched characters, using the elf and halfling stats respectively.  Be aware that Faerie blood and Dream taint are immediately obvious to all but the most naïve observer, and those who bear them tend to be viewed and treated with fear, hatred, or derision by humans, orcs, faeries and dreams alike.


Clerics are priests of the gods of Dream.  A given cleric may be devoted to all or part of a given community’s pantheon, to a single patron deity, or even to a family god, ancestor spirit, or personal totem that they carry.

Druids are priests of the gods of earth, and act as intermediaries between their communities and the local spirit population.  Some druids stay in one place and attend to a single god or bound spirit; others, called “mendicants,” travel from place to place.

Monks are practitioners of the Southern school of “physical magic.”  Magical energy flows through all things, including us.  Instead of turning their power outward like mages, to manipulate the world, they turn it inward to control their bodies.

Barbarians, on the other hand, are physical mages of the Northern school, who learn to unleash their power through their emotions.  Their art is less pure and abstracted than that of the “monk,” allowing them to use it in conjunction with weapons and armor, but also making them vulnerable to fatigue and bloodlust.

Wizards: Many mages are “hedge-wizards,” adepts trained by the Order of Magi and sent to various communities to aid people there.  Full wizards of the Order are specialists or academicians; non-Order wizards are the inheritors of some other magical tradition.  The Order tolerates them as long as they seem benign, but anyone caught using war magic, enchantment, or necromancy is hunted down like any other supernatural threat to the peace.  Wizards must consult their notes regularly in order to adjust their magic to account for the motions of the stars, the cycles of elemental nodes and ley lines, and other environmental factors.

Sorcerers are mages who become specialists in particular spells.  This allows them to intuitively make the adjustments to their magical rituals that wizards meticulously calculate each day, and make more efficient use of their magical reserves, but limits the number of spells they can master.

Paladins are warriors who follow the idealized chivalric lifestyle of the elves.  The life of a paladin is devoted to questing for glory and honor, and they are rewarded by learning snippets of fae magic.  Many are motivated by the desire to protect civilization against monster and disaster, but evil paladins can and do exist, caring for nothing but victory in battle and the prestige it brings.


In an effort to encourage a decreased emphasis on combat and a greater emphasis on skill use, for this campaign I will be expanding and tweaking the list of skills.  To compensate in part for this increase, add one to the number of skill points a given class receives each level.  In addition, each character will receive a background bonus, as outlined below.  For skills or skill groups marked with a star * or circle º please see below for notes.

-Sixth Sense

-Dream Lore*º
-Fae Lore*º
-Geography – (choose a region)
-History – (choose an area, time period, or theme)º
-Language – (choose a language)*º
-Local – (choose a local area; this skill combines the geography, history, and other useful trivia about a limited area, usually a county, a city, or one borough of a metropolis)
-etc. (some knowledge may be modeled as coming with a profession or other skill, Knowledge skills are for more abstract branches of learning; please consult with the DM)

-Escape Artist

-Sense Motive

-Craft – (choose a specific craft)
-Disable Device
-Handle Animal
-Move Silently*
-Perform – (choose a specific art)
-Profession – (choose a specific profession)
-Sleight of Hand
-Survival – (choose a specific terrain from the list below)*

-Hearing is used to notice things unseen, catch the details of conversations from across the room, judge music, and oppose Move Silent checks.

-Scent replaces the “Scent” ability; anything listed as possessing Scent instead gains a +10 inherent bonus to scent checks.  It is used to detect the presence and determine the direction of creatures, track by scent, identify species (DC 15), individuals (DC 20), poisons and chemicals (varies; default equal to save DC), and so on.  Also covers sense of taste.

-Sight is used to spot visual clues, search areas, judge lengths and distances (DC 10 for 70% accuracy, for each point by which the roll beats this, add 2%), catch forgeries, and oppose Hide checks.

-Sixth Sense is used to detect otherworldly and magical phenomena (DC 25 minus the phenomenon’s caster level).  Concentrating for a minute allows phenomena to be identified as fae, Dream, or Shadow, and naturally-occurring or artificial (DC 10 plus the phenomenon’s level).

-Touch can be used to feel one’s way in darkness as if able to see one space when moving at 1/4 speed (DC 15), 1/2 speed (DC 20) or full speed (DC 25).  Cannot be used when running, and a humanoid moving at half or full speed must have a cane or other object to maintain contact with the ground.  Touch also covers tremorsense (DC 10 to notice creatures in one’s space, +5 for each 5 feet of intervening space, +5 to pinpoint creature’s location).  Creatures with tremorsense have an inherent +10 bonus to this skill, take no range penalties within their listed range, and may always take 10 on checks.

+All classes may choose one sense other than Sixth as a class skill.  Any class with Perception listed as a class skill in the book may also choose one more, either Sight or Hearing.  In addition, Sixth Sense is a class skill for all magic users, and Touch is a class skill for monks.

-Arcana covers all supernatural effects and creatures not derived from Faerie or Dream.  This includes effects of the Shadow and elemental magics native to the mortal realm itself.

-Dream Lore is knowledge of the realm of dreams, and its major deities and other denizens that have frequent commerce with the mortal realm.  Can be used in place of Survival for those bold and foolish enough to venture into the deeper Dreaming.  This is a class skill for clerics.

-Fae Lore is, similarly, knowledge of the faerie realm, of the elves and its other important denizens, and of fae magics and moods.  It can be used in place of Survival for those brash enough to venture into Faerie.  This is a class skill for paladins.

-For Language, one rank indicates basic ability, two, normal fluency, and four, the ability to read and write adequately.  Higher ranks may be taken and indicate ability in rhetoric and creative language use.  Use a Language skill to write a poem, craft a persuasive essay, or explain something clearly.  This skill does not allow unknown scripts to be deciphered, although it can be used to decipher an archaic, coded, or fragmented sample of a known language.  A linguistic masterpiece (DC 20 to create) gives +2 bonuses to appropriate Perform or Social skills in front of a receptive audience for anyone who uses it; a Language skill of 5 or greater confers a +2 synergy bonus to appropriate Perform or Social skills.

+All non-infant creatures with Intelligence greater than 3 have an automatic skill point invested in one language, and all classes but commoner and barbarian treat their first language as a class skill.  (These two classes merely gain +1 if their intelligence is above 8.)  Replace “bonus languages from intelligence” with an equal number of skill points that can only be spent on Language skills.

-Religion is distinct from Dream Lore; it covers the names, natures, and cultic practices of various gods and spirits revered by mortals, past and present.

+Bards count all Knowledge skills as class skills; arcane casters count all Knowledge skills marked with a circle º.

-Diplomacy will be handled according to Rich Burlew’s negotiation rules.

-Hide is used to conceal oneself, or some other relatively large creature or object, from sight.  (Small items use Sleight of Hand.)

-Move Silently is used to avoid betraying one’s presence with sound.
Both Hide and Move Silently are class skills for bards, monks, rangers, rogues, and any other class with Stealth as a class skill in the standard rules.

Survival becomes a skill family, with each given terrain type (forest, mountains, underground, urban, tundra, plains, desert, sea, swamp, etc.) counting as a separate skill.  Note that tracking falls under Hunt.

-Hunt covers tracking, independent of terrain.  Also roll a Hunt check to identify a known animal by its tracks (DC 10), learn about its health and behavior when it left those tracks (DC 20), set a simple trap (trap DC), or dress and preserve game (DC 10).  A Hunt check, DC 10, gives a +2 bonus when foraging for food with Survival.  Hunt is a class skill for barbarians, rangers and, because they are trained to track down and slay monsters, for paladins.

+Background bonus: Each background has a correlated skill group.  You may either make one non-class skill from this group into a class skill, or you may choose two class skills from this group and apply a +1 bonus to each.  If and only if there is only one skill in the group that is a class skill for you, you may add +2 to that skill instead.  The backgrounds are as follows.

Academic – This includes scholars, children from academic families, Order or non-Order magical apprentices of any spellcasting class.  They may choose among the Knowledge skills.
Military/Adventuring – This includes anyone who has had military training or who has traveled extensively through rough terrain.  They may choose among the Physical skills.
Social – This includes children from wealthy families and similar, who have had enough leisure to focus on their interpersonal skills, or those who make their livings with their words.  They may choose among the Social skills or Perform.
Working-class – This includes anyone who has learned a trade, whether that be barrel-making or pocket-picking.  They may choose among the Trade skills.
None of the Above – This includes anyone who doesn’t really fit into one of the above categories, or who just lives off of their wits from day to day.  They may choose among the Perception skills.


-Alertness: Choose two skills from the following list: Sense Motive or any Perception skill.  You get a +2 bonus on each of these skills, or +4 if you have 10 or more ranks in that skill.  You can take this feat multiple times; each time, choose two new skills.

-Catch Off-Guard: Replace “Unarmed opponents are flat-footed against any attacks you make with an improvised melee weapon” with “Enemies who have not seen you use it before or otherwise believe you not to be effectively armed are flat-footed against your first attack with bare hands or an improvised or hidden melee weapon.”

-Linguistics: Treat all Language skills as class skills.

-Skilled: Choose any two skills, explain to the GM how they’re related to each other and to your character’s background, and (if approved) apply a +2(/+4) bonus to them as with Alertness, Stealthy, and similar feats.  Alternately, add one to your list of class skills.  This feat can only be taken once, when creating a new character

-Stealthy: You get the +2(/+4) bonus to all Hide and Move Silently skill checks.

Conclusion (for the time being)

Further house-ruling may be performed as I feel it necessary, depending on the situation and specific setting.  If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to leave a comment or consult me directly.  I’m especially open to any help with balancing some of the numbers for the house-ruling; I winged most of them and only changed the ones that didn’t make sense upon second viewing.

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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6 Responses to Making with the House Rules

  1. Pingback: RPG system-building: Statement of Intent | landofnudotcom

  2. Paul Spooner says:

    Excellent post on house rules! I like the flavor of the world you’ve set up. I notice from your author blurb that you are/were in Japan. Where at? I’m going to be working in Nagoya for six months this summer, could be fun to meet up.

    I found it comical that “scent” includes taste as well, especially since there’s a “sixth sense” when it’s actually the fifth skill.
    Did you consider adding a Thermal sense? Some snakes can sense infrared with a fair precision. And of course humans can “feel heat” from the sun and other heat sources, even if they are blindfolded. You can also sense “cold” because of the radiation shadow, even if you are insulated by warm air. It’s a “sense” that seems often overlooked. I suppose you could roll it into “touch” since that’s usually the way it is percieved, but other creatures might have specialized organs for sensing heat.
    Echo-location has a similarity to “tremorsense” or “darkvision” or something, but might be considered its own sense as well. Humans have a rough ability to sense the size of the room, voids, and particularly soft objects by the reflections they produce, even without other senses. Again, this could be rolled into “hearing”, as long as there was a racial bonus for creatures specially equipped for it.

    I hadn’t read Burlew’s negotiation rules before. His theory is, as always, excellent. Thanks for the link! Is there an index of Burlew’s rule articles? I have read (a while ago) all his articles posted in the “gaming” section on Giant in the Playground, but it’s evident that I missed a few somewhere.

    • Confanity says:

      Thanks for the comment! I’m afraid that in the interim I’ve moved backed to the US and started grad school. At the time I was in Nagasaki.

      I combined scent and taste because they’re both essentially chemical in nature, and very closely tied. I hadn’t thought of a thermal sense, but as you suggest it can logically be folded into Touch, since for both the sensing organ is the skin. Hearing (echolocation) is definitely related to tremorsense – what is sound but tremors in the air, after all? – but the organ for the latter is the skin, while the former uses a specialized apparatus (ears). I totally agree with you that echolocation would be a good high-level skill use… perhaps combining high-DC skill checks with feats? An Echolocation feat to use it for feeling out the shape of a space; Blind-Fighting to have it be useful in hand-to-hand combat?

      I too read the gaming articles way back when they came out; I think anything related is going to be on the site forums now.

      Thanks again for your thoughts! I’m busy with grad studies these days, but I’ll try to put up more content when I can. 8^)

  3. locksleyu says:

    Since I liked your kotowaza-posts, I decided to check out the first post of your blog. Turns out it wasn’t what I expected. Reminds me of when I used to play D&D in high school though (:

    • Confanity says:

      I’m kind of curious now about what it was that you expected. Yes, this blog started out as an info-dump for my players when I decided to buckle down and force myself to grow as a person by trying the DM role in a campaign. 8^)

  4. Pingback: Magic Monday – Bigger than baby steps | landofnudotcom

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