#RPGaDay2015: Favourite House Rule

 Posted by on August 24, 2015  Filed as: Editorial  Add comments  Topic(s):
Aug 242015

Day 24 of RPGaDay asks, what is my favourite house rule?


I’ve experimented with various ways to determine initiative over the years, including not using initiative at all (as per the Apocalypse Engine), but my preferred method is dealing cards as per Savage Worlds. It changes things up every round, so that sometimes someone gets to go twice in a row and predictability is out the window, but at the same time it’s fast enough to keep the action moving. It’s easy to look at the cards and count down as the turn progresses. As an added bonus, I try to find card decks that reflect the theme of the game, to further add some atmosphere.

In the standard Savage Worlds, a joker counts as the highest possible card (possibly in relation to their logo – Smilin’ Jack) and you gain +2 to all rolls you make that action. It’s a nice way of reflecting a sudden surge in the middle of combat. But, in Deadlands (the original), where most of Savage Worlds rules come from, there was a differentiation between red and black jokers. Red jokers had the above effect, but if you drew a black joker, you went last and suffered -2 to all actions.


I’m not sure why this rule was dropped for Savage Worlds, perhaps to simplify things, but I really like the red/black distinction for jokers because it means on every draw, there is as much a chance that you rock it as that you trip or stumble. Also, it doesn’t mean that you have two chances of drawing something awesome, only one and one chance of drawing something that sucks. A nice balance.

So my favourite house rule is that whenever we use the card deck to determine initiative, there is the red and the black joker effect, balancing each other out.

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Justin Schmid

Justin started tabletop gaming in 1983 with Basic D&D (red box) and never looked back. He runs and plays in a wide variety of games, including Savage Worlds, Dungeon World, Trail of Cthulhu and many, many more. He also writes professionally for role-playing games, including writing and creating Night's Edge an Alternate Reality Universe for Cyberpunk 2020. He went on to write eight more adventures and sourcebooks in the Night's Edge line, adding vampires and other supernatural perils to the already dangerous world of Cyberpunk. As a freelance writer, he wrote The Bermuda Triangle for Call of Cthulhu, Shadows of the Mind, and Psi Wars for Conspiracy X and contributed to Last Unicorn's Star Trek RPG, as well as to Cybergeneration sourcebooks, and many other games. When he's not creating imaginary worlds for his daughter, he's running games for his friends and writing new adventures or designing new game systems. He currently lives in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

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