House Rules for Phaemorea Suggested rule alterations for Classic D&D

The original D&D books were written over 40 years ago now. While the system can and has stood the test of time, there are a few small alterations which are used in the creation of material for the world of Phaemorea.

As with all House Rules, these are entirely optional, and the inclusion or exclusion of these rules will have little impact on the usability of Phaemorea or any adventures set within it. It is the role of any GM to work out for themselves how they want their game to run.

General Skills

The system for General Skills was a simplistic set of rules tacked onto the system to add a little spice and background to characters. However, skill systems are now a much larger stable of RPGs, and the system presented in the Rule Cyclodedia is highly dependent on having high attributes, rather than allowing characters to develop in a more organic manner. Also, becoming more competent in a skill was fairly pointless, as each skill slot only allowed +1 to the roll.


The GM sets a target number based on the difficulty of the task. For an average skill test, the target would be 10. This difficulty can be set anywhere from 5 for a simple task, through to 20+ for a highly complex task.

A player looking to make a skill roll rolls 1d20. Halve this number if the character does not have the proficiency. Add the applicable attribute bonus for the skill being used. If the total is equal to or greater than the target, the action succeeds.
For every five points the target number is beaten by, the skill might be allowed to produce additional results. This wouldn’t apply to things like Wrestling or Quickdraw, but it could be an excellent way to reward players for focusing on knowledge and craft skills. Any additional information is entirely subject to the whim of the GM.

Improving Skills

General Skills are now calculated using the same bonuses as Weapon Mastery, and are recorded in the same manner. Use the following table to calculate the bonuses based on the number of slots used:

Slots Proficiency Bonus
0 Unskilled Halve Roll
1 Basic 0
2 Skilled +2
3 Expert +4
4 Master +6
5 Grand Master +8

Example 1 Kendra tracks some orcs
Kendra is Skilled in Tracking and has an Intelligence of 14 (+1). She has come upon the scene of a recent attack on a wagon and she uses her tracking skill to determine what has taken place. The ground is soft enough and the tracks are fresh so the GM applies a difficulty of 10. Kendra rolls the die getting a 13. She adds +2 to the roll for being Skilled, and +1 for her Intelligence, for a  total result of 16. The GM tells her that it looks like the wagon was attacked by a band of a half dozen humanoids within the last few hours, and that they headed east after the attack. Because Kendra made the target by five or more the GM also gives her some additional information to reflect her skill at reading the tracks. He adds that judging by the types of boots, the stride and the weight of the attackers, there is a very good chance they were orcs. One of the orcs also seems like he was carrying a heavier burden than the rest of them.

Example 2 The orcs get clever (or not)
Kendra is hot on the trail of the orcs now. However, before the orcs turned onto the trail that leads to their lair, one of the orcs also proficient in tracking attempts to hide the trail. The GM rolls for the orc who has a -1 Intelligence penalty and only basic knowledge of tracking. The GM rolls an 8 for the orc, minus one for his stupidity for a net result of 7. When Kendra reaches that point she rolls again to find which way the orcs have gone. Her target number has been set by the orc at 7. Kendra easily beats the difficulty and can plainly see the orc’s rough attempts to brush the trail clear only on a side path, clearly indicating which direction they travelled.

Critical Success and Failure

On a natural roll of 1 a skill test is considered a critical failure. A natural roll of 20 is a critical Success. The degree of success or failure is ultimately up to the GM to adjudicate, but it should reflect the level of mastery the character has in the skill.
A critical success for someone unskilled might indicate a simple success against the odds, such as dumb luck or a sudden insight. However, a critical success rolled by a Grand Master should represent a feat of legendary standards. Likewise, a critical failure for a Grand Master might indicate a simple failure due to unforeseen circumstances, such as a broken tool. For an unskilled person, a critical failure would result in an action of unfathomable stupidity.

Thief Skills

There is some crossover between thief skills and General Skills. For example, Stealth (Urban) could be used in many situations Move Silent and Hide in Shadows can also be used. In all such cases Thief skills are considered special knowledge beyond the ability of General Skills. A thief doesn’t just know how to pick a lock as a locksmith might, he also knows how to bypass locks using specialised cracking methods such as the use of acids and knowledge of weaknesses in certain designs. These special tools are available in a set of Thieves Tools.

A successful roll for a Thief skill automatically produces results superior to a General Skill. On a failed roll, the thief may make an additional roll on a General Skill in order to try to gain a level of success typical to a normal skill result. She is only entitled to this secondary roll if she has the applicable General Skill.
For example, a thief is moving in for a backstab. She makes a Move Silent roll and fails, however she also has Stealth (urban). The GM gives her a second chance with the Stealth (urban) roll setting the DC at 20. She makes the roll and is still allowed to gain the benefit of the Backstab attack.

This change should give low level thieves a greater chance of performing the key skills of the class, as well as preventing other characters from outshining them by using common General Skills. Thieves already suffer from terrible HP, so this change should give a low level thief some additional value in a low level party, where traditionally, they need to be carried more than a Magic User. Like a Magic User, at higher levels the combination of thief-like General skills with their Class skills should make them more than just a trap detector and lock picker.


“Your character’s hit point score represents his ability to survive injury.” (pg 7 Rules Cyclopedia). The concept of HP is foundational, not just to D&D, but to many games. The logic behind why a Magic User gets less HP than a Fighter isn’t just a question of game balance, there is also a certain logic to it. A Fighter learns to roll with the hits and to deflect the worse of the damage. It will take more than a good stab with a dagger to end the life of a Fighter because he’s experienced enough in the art of combat that you’ll never land a clean blow. All good logical sense and it provides a simple system to track character damage.

However, why is a Fighter is harder to heal than a Cleric? Certainly the cleric should have faith enough in the healing powers of his god? Yet if the fighter is on 1 HP, and the cleric is on 1 HP, it will take more healing spells to get the Fighter to full health then it will take for the Cleric. Why? There is no logic to it, and it leads to a lot of downtime in games as the Fighter generally takes a lot of damage, yet healing spells are technically less effective against him than they are for a Magic User. It’s silly.

Therefore, I use a simple system of Healing that is based on the Hit Die type of the creature receiving the healing. Instead of a Cure Light Wounds healing 1d6+1, it heals 1 Hit Die +1. So for a Magic User it heals 1d4+1, while for a Fighter it will heal 1d10+1. While this is less favourable for Magic Users and Thieves, it’s equal too or better for all other classes. Better still, it means everyone recovers roughly the same amount percentage wise. This method reduces down time and creates greater balance. It also means that a party with enough Potions of Healing does not require a Cleric to learn only healing magic. This leaves the Cleric to perform in a role other than just healer, giving them the ability to use their other superb support spells.

Here’s a breakdown of the effected healing effects:

Cure Light Wounds – 1HD+1
Cure Serious Wound – 2HD+2
Cure Critical Wound – 3HD+3
Cureall – As per normal rules
Potions, Staves and Rods of healing take their healing rates from the equivalent spells.

Reversed Spells

The reverse versions of the spells also work the same way, by being connected to the HD type of the target. For monster types this usually means a D8.
Optional Constitution Mod
If you want to further reduce downtime and give a bonus for characters with a high Constitution then you may allow positive constitution modifiers to be added to the amount healed. Treat any negative modifiers as zero, as a reduction for a low constitution can be devastating to a character who already has a low HD type.

The Healing General Skill

The General skill called Healing normally heals 1D3. Under these house rules the Healing skill can be used in one of two optional ways:

Option 1 – A difficulty 10 check will heal a 1/2HD using the same guidelines as listed in the book i.e. usable once per set of wounds. The amount healed cannot exceed the damage taken prior to the last healing test.

Option 2 – The skill can be used on each person only once per day and the amount of healing gained is dependent on the result of the skill check. At a difficulty 10 a full HD is healed. An additional HD is healed for each additional 5 points made on the skill roll. That’s 1HD for 10, 2HD for 15, 3HD for 20 etc.
Option 1 creates a more smoothed out result but more book keeping, as the wounds taken between each heal check must be tracked. Option 2 makes for easy book keeping, but as with curing spells it also requires resource management to choose the right time to have your injuries tended.

Whichever option is chosen, once a set of wounds is tended by someone they cannot be redone, unless the base DC of 10 is failed. On a failed roll it is obvious that the wounds have not been treated correctly, and another character can attempt a Healing test instead.

Energy Drain

Few abilities are as fearsome as energy drain, and that’s exactly as it should be. However, energy drain can be more devastating to a party than effects that Save vs Death. At least when you simply die, a Raise Dead or similar spell can restore you. However, there is no way to recover from extensive energy drain other than re-earning the XP. This can lead to serious level division in a party, effectively retiring a character because they are no longer able to journey with their companions and hope to survive. I want Energy Drain to be a devastating effect, but I want there to be an expensive yet viable way to recover.

This alteration looks to the 7th level Restore spell for guidance on the issue. First of all, I recommend removing the limit of only one level being able to be restored, changing it to one level per use of the Restore spell. Therefore, multiple castings of Restore can repair multiple level losses. However, Restore can only return you to your highest level prior to the level loss. XP earned after the level loss up to the Restore point is effectively lost. Second change to the Restore spell is that the Cleric no longer suffers the temporary level loss.

The other change to energy drain is that the loss can recover on its own. Again, borrowing from the Restore spell, untreated Energy Drain will recover naturally at a rate of one level every 2-20 days. Unless of course you were reduced to zero levels, where you still end up dead and usually as a minion to the creature who slew you.

These changes still make Energy Drain devastating, as recovery is a very long process and a party might be forced to withdraw from a dungeon for months to recover from an encounter with a Wraith. However, it doesn’t mean a character must be retired. It also means those with the financial means can have their levels restored faster with magic, but multiple level 7 spells are a heavy resource load. It also doesn’t take away from the fact that level drain does not allow a save and can kill a character outright. I also like the idea of a vampire stalking some poor wretch, trying to complete their conversion into a vampire before they can recover.

In addition, it’s worth clarifying that Protection From Evil will protect characters from most creatures that cause Energy Drain. For example, even though Wraiths and Wights can be hurt by both silvered and magic weapons, they should still qualify as Enchanted creatures and thus be warded away by a Protection from Evil spell. Just remember that if the person under the protection spells attacks the undead, then the undead can attack back using their energy drain attacks. If you want to get soft on players then allow Protection from Evil to prevent all energy drain, but I personally think that’s going too easy. However, I like the imagery of a party using a Protection from Evil 10’ radius to avoid an encounter to a pack of wraiths. It makes for good story telling and rewards players for spell choices that are not just Healing and Combat related.

The Metric System

I’m a traditionalist and I have no problem personally with playing D&D using the old imperial measures. However, the metric system is now the international standard of measure, with very little exception. Metric is no longer the sole providence of the scientific community, it is taught as the only system of measure in the vast majority of the modern world. The old D&D rules are in imperial measure, which might make it difficult for the younger generation to visualise. Therefore, Phaemorea is written using the Metric System.

For ease of calculation the following are used for general conversion:

3 feet = 1 meter
2 lbs = 1 kg
1 mile = 1.5km

These measures are rounded simply for ease of calculation. So a spell range of 60’ is easily converted to 20m, and a 160lb statue can be easily calculated as 80kg. It is recommended that if for some reason a measure must be more precise, that the GM use an actual conversion table, however most play can easily be resolved with these approximate values.

When using any of the normal D&D maps each Hex is usually 8 or 24 miles. Daily movement rates for long distance travel are calculated to work easily with these hexes. For ease of calculation while maintaining reasonable accuracy, interpret the base travel rate of 24 miles a day as 40km. This value is easy to halve and quarter without requiring a calculator, so it should be easy to calculate the travel time for large overland journeys.

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