It's been a great weekend. I spent nearly ten hours driving South to visit my mom for her birthday. There have been some fantastically detailed posts about old school rules in some of my favorite blogs (see list below, right) and the drive was a great chance to mull them over. I'm currently working on bringing elements of Cthulhu in to a red box game with a few house rules. I have Shane and JB to thank for the inspiration. It's OK that I can't afford a first or second edition of Deities & Demigods at the moment since I want to create the rules anyway. Combat and Horror are the two arenas for house rule creation. Halloween is around the corner, so I'm starting with Horror and am putting aside Call of Cthulhu (CoC) for the moment to see what other publications have to offer.
I generally agree with New Fish in that we gamers should try to understand and use rules before we ignore or modify. There are plenty of reasons to do this, but the big one is that planning games and reading gaming books, while immensely fun, is an abstract process. Even the most seasoned referee, in reading a new set of rules, won't be able to fully understand the mechanics and affects on game play until it is played. Play testing is a critical part of any game. House rule creation, an honored tradition amongst most old school gamers, is best done after several sessions of full or nearly-full rule implementation. In this case, I'm fairly familiar with Basic rules, which are fairly light anyway. Which leads me to...
Rule complexity is another issue. I don't see rule complexity and general fun as antagonistic or extremes on opposing sides of the same dimension. There are cases where complexity for some games and some gamers heightens enjoyment. Complex rules can allow for more strategy in a game and often reward knowledgeable players in important, but intangible ways. Conversely, overly simplified games often miss player accountability, which is an important part of immersion. Horror, in any game featuring monsters, magic, or violence, is a large enough component to warrant its own mechanic. (Rolling multiple concepts in to a singe roll is a great topic for another day, see the D6 damage discussion.)
This concept of immersion, to me, is critical in house rule design and implementation. I take it in to account before fun and relative realism. Complex rules and simplified rules can take a player out of immersion and its the referees goal to dip back in that pool of imaginative game play. Simplified game play may be easier to pick and play, but may not provide enough limited interactivity with the game world to sustain campaigns (and campaigns are my ultimate goal).
What is terror? How does a referee handle the horror genre? These are tough questions and, I have to give Erik Wujcik credit for his attempt in "A Game Master's Guide to Beyond the Supernatural". In this treatise, Wujcik covers familiar story telling ground, but also asserts that the horror story in a RPG is an advanced skill. He creates some interesting "Rules of Horror and the Art of Role-Playing" with some specific examples of storytelling.
In terms of mechanics, Siembieda, in BtS, likens his horror factor to a "mental parry" (p.47). A failed roll results in a temporary stun. This means they lose a turn and perform all action last. After a turn, they regain their senses and function "as normal". I like using a d20 to do a "mental parry", but think characters shouldn't automatically resume normalcy after a turn. There should a possibility of this happening, but an automatic recover removes some of the potency of the Old Ones. Palladium includes an insanity table, but it doesn't appear easily compatible to a D&D system. Dark Heresy tracks a character's Insanity and offers a similar random table that the player must roll at various sums of accumulation. I like having both an immediate effect of horror, and an on-going accumulation that ends with insanity. Is a d20 mental parry, random insanity table, and a cumulative insanity stat what I'm looking for?