Burst of Insight—Clever and Often Inspiring Rules, Part One

Today I thought it would be fun to look back over several editions of Pathfinder and D&D and talk about some of the rules and concepts that inspire me. Some of these are core mechanics and others are house rules or published add ons.

I hope you find this article helpful whether you play Pathfinder 1, 2, D&D 5e, or an OSR clone.

Chainmail, D&D, and AD&D: I started gaming in 1983 with the Frank Mentzer Basic D&D set. I was drawn into the game by the tramendous art of Larry Elmore but I stayed because D&D was like no game I’d ever played and no other game compared. The old school games shaped the hobby and laid the foundation for everything that has come since and it certainly set my imagination a flame but there is something else that really warrants talking about that era of game and why they really make my list.

House Rules. There was a culture of house rules DM’s would sometimes have binders longer than rulebooks full to over flowing with campaign notes and house rules. Oh we loved house rules. sometimes they were our own creation and others they’d be culled from the pages of Dragon magazine Xeroxed and three-hole-punched. In my memory, “Rules-As-Written” wasn’t as important as the DM themself. That sense of freedom and creative mindset led me to a great many design mistakes to be sure but it also lead me to constantly observe how other games handle problems and to ask, “Could I use that in my game?”

Kits, Second Edition D&D: Kits were sort of the proto-prestige class or achetype. Kits were archetypical fantasy concepts more specific than the base classes they were designed for. While they introduced some power-creep into the system we found that these completely optional rules added a lot of character diversity to our games without disrupting play too much. The elven blade singer is still a favorite concept of mine despite it being a bit over the top in the power creep department. I think its my love of those early kits that fuels my love of all the class options available in First Edition Pathfinder even if not every class is perfectly balanced.

Three-Actions, Pathfinder Second Edition: One of my hands down favorite things about Second Edition Pathfinder and a topic that has been written and talked about to death so I’ll keep it brief. Even after playing for a while now I’m still very fond of  Pathfinder’s new action economy. There’s more moving around the battle space, casting spells and comanding companions while limiting some options by restricting the character’s actions open new choices.

I know there have been a number of videos and discussions about the illusion of choice in Pathfinder but I think its all in how you play and I’m still finding I have plenty of real choices in combat.

Perram’s Snow Flake Cards, House Rule, Know Direction: Perram sets the rules for character creation at the onset of his game then allows players to draw cards from a special deck. Each card has a feature that will make each character stand out. It may allow the player to play an otherwise off limits race or it might be a special ability tied into the plot of the campaign. I recently began playing in a Rime of the Frost Maiden campaign and we each drew two cards from a very similar deck in secret. We had to use one of the cards but could use both if we chose. the secrets tied us into the campaign and will also set us apart as the secrets become known. Since I first heard about it years ago I’ve been thinking about implementing something similar in my own campaign. Now that Rime has primed my players for the experience I’ll be adding it to my very next campaign where I’ll be taking my first crack at 5e with the newly revised Ptolus.Burst of Insight


Andrew Marlowe

placed in the Top 16 of RPG Superstar in 2012 and 2014, one of the few contestants to get that far in the competition twice. Since then, he has contributed to many Paizo and third party Pathfinder products, including one of the network’s favourite releases in the Pathfinder Player Companion line, the Dirty Tactics Toolbox. Every other Tuesday, he will be sharing his Burst of Insight, with design tips for would-be game designers from a decorated freelancer.