3.5 Eberron Game: House Rules

Posted on July 14, 2009


Late last year, some former co-workers and I got back in touch. They wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons(R), and needed a Dungeon Master. Now, if you don’t know what that means, you should probably stop reading now – because this is only going to get geekier.

When I worked at Wizards of the Coast, I discovered that many of the people responsible for marketing the game didn’t really know anything about it. So I started running a session in order to get them up to speed. It was so popular that I wound up running two sessions a week, one for Marketing and one for Book Editing. One of those former co-workers was in the very first group, so she was used to me being the DM.

The first thing I wanted to establish was what edition of the game they wanted to play. I could run 3.5 or 4.0. They wanted 3.5 Eberron. They believed that 4E was too much like playing video games. I, on the other hand, thought 4E was about reducing bookkeeping and finding the fun. My experience playtesting 4E was that we spent more time playing and less time number-crunching. Eberron was a non-issue, since I love that setting. I don’t think it’s the DM’s place to dictate things, though, so I accepted their desire to play 3.5…

…and then I asked them their opinions of some house rules I wrote up. I cribbed several straight from 4E. Yep, that’s my big reveal if my players read this: They’ve been playing a 3.5/4.0 hybrid all these months.

Here are my house rules:

Character Creation

  • Use this array for ability scores: 16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10
  • Human characters can add +2 to any one ability score.
  • Half-elf characters can add +2 to either Dex or Cha.

I didn’t like 4E character creation at first. I missed rolling dice. Then I realized that it eliminated the disparity between the character that rolled well for stats and the character that rolled poorly.

Hit Points

When you level up, you roll your hit dice normally. If you roll less than half, you have the option of taking half. You cannot roll again. Whether you choose to take half or not, your hit points are modified by your Constitution normally.

For example, Rachel is playing a rogue. Rogues have d6 for hit dice. When Rachel’s character reaches 4th level, she rolls 1d6 for her additional hit points. She rolls a 2. Rachel has the option of choosing to gain 3 hit points (plus any Constitution modifier) instead.

This is an old house rule and fairly common among groups in which I’ve played. Where 4E doesn’t require you to roll at all, this keeps any character from falling too far behind in hit points.

Action Points

I don’t like the random nature of action points as used in Eberron. The additional 1d6 added to the result of the d20 roll can be meaningless. It’s also tricky to play, since you have to announce the use of an action point after you know what you rolled but before the DM announces the result. I’d like us to try something more like 4E.

I still don’t know what that is. Suggestions?


These are changes to skill roles.

Knowledge Checks

Any Knowledge skill can be used untrained, provided the DC of the check is less than 25. If the DC is 25 or greater, a hero cannot succeed on the check – even if he or she rolls a 20 – unless he or she has at least one rank in the skill.

Listen and Spot

I’m eliminating Listen as a skill. Spot becomes the all-purpose perception skill.

Clerics, Paladins, Sorcerers, and Wizards don’t have either skill so they’re unaffected. If they want to buy a cross-class skill, they can buy Spot.

Any time Listen is a prerequisite (for a feat, a prestige class, etc.), substitute Spot for that prerequisite.

3.5 has several skills that are split for no particular reason. Listen and Spot really should just be Perception. Hide and Move Silently really should just be Stealth. I recently had a discussion with the DM of a 4.0 game in which I play about Acrobatics and Athletics. He thinks they should be the same skill. While I see his point, it is the only “split pair” that uses two different ability scores – Str and Dex, respectively.

Use Rope

We will make Use Rope checks if anyone attempts to use the skill during combat. Outside of combat, I won’t bother you with it.

Speeds up play and frees up skill points.


Diagonal movement does not cost any extra.

Straight out of 4.0.


These are changes to combat rules.


You must charge in a straight line, but you do not have to charge to the nearest space adjacent to a target. You can charge through ally-occupied squares, but you cannot end your charge in an occupied square.

Pretty simple stuff.


Role for any miss chance before making your attack roll. Any ability that has to be activated before making an attack roll (e.g., a paladin’s smite evil ability) must be activated before rolling the miss chance.

I’ve seen too many Eberron sessions where someone decided to spend an action point and then rolled the miss chance, only to discover they had wasted an action point. This is just kinder to the players.

Critical Hit

A critical hit automatically does maximum weapon damage. By “automatically,” I mean that you do not roll to confirm. Roll any additional damage for weapon powers or character abilities (e.g., a rogue’s sneak attack) normally.

A weapon with a x3 critical multiplier does 1.5x maximum damage on a critical hit.

A weapon with an x4 critical multiplier does 2x maximum damage on a critical hit. So watch out for opponents wielding picks or scythes.

This speeds up play, and eliminates the heartbreak of rolling a 1 for your extra damage., or a 1 to confirm A critical hit feels like a critical hit now.


The rules say that a disabled character (one with 0 hit points, or with negative current hit points but stable and conscious) suffers 1 point of damage after completing a “strenuous” action, but leaves the definition of “strenuous” up to the DM. Here’s how I define it: An action that requires a d20 check or roll is strenuous. Moving more than half speed is strenuous. Taking more than a single standard or move action in a round is strenuous.

Yes, I know that means a disabled  character can move at normal speed, drink a cure potion, suffer 2 points of damage (1 for moving at full speed, 1 for taking two actions in a round), and still be in better shape at the end of the round than at the beginning thanks to the cure potion. So what! Big deal!

This is a pretty common definition of “strenuous” in rules terms, at least in my experience.


A frightened creature does not flee. The frightened condition imposes a -4 penalty on attack rolls, saving throws, skill checks, and ability checks (as opposed to the -2 penalty imposed by the shaken condition). A frightened creature subjected to another fear effect (but not the same effect) becomes panicked instead.


Turning is a great ability that results in a pain in the butt. Turned undead run for 10 rounds and then come back for more. If they can’t run (e.g. because the party cornered them), they cower and the character that turned them can’t approach within 30 feet.

Instead, turned undead take a -4 penalty on attack rolls, saving throws, skill checks, and ability checks for 10 rounds. If some other effect turns those creatures (e.g. another cleric), they act as if panicked (they flee, among other things).

I took both of these from a sidebar, written by the great Chris Sims,  in the D&D Rules Compendium. So far my players love it.


There are a couple of magic effects that slow down or confuse game play. I’ve tried listing them here, along with what I’d like us to do about them.

Changing Shape

If your character has a shapechanging ability or spell, you are responsible for knowing how it changes your character. I recommend creating another character sheet for each form the character uses. It doesn’t have to be a complete character sheet, but it should contain all the information you need to run the character in the new form.

Don’t slow down the game by making everyone else wait for you to figure it out! If you don’t know, then I’m going to rule that the spell or effect fizzles.


If your character can summon other creatures, you need to have all the information for me when you use the summoning spell or effect. That can mean keeping a character sheet and an initiative card for each creature you want to summon.

Be prepared and don’t slow down the game!

I played 3.5 adventure path with a friend who loved shapechange spells. I ran a 3.5 Eberron game that included a cleric who loved summoning fiendish giant insects. He rarely had his stats ready for his shapechange. She always had stats ready for her summonings. The difference in game play was enormous. Seriously: If you’re using 3.5 and intend to use a spell that falls into one of these categories, you need to take responsibility for keeping the game moving.

So there you have it. Feel free to use any of these, if you don’t already, and by all means leave comments.