RPG Design – Tuesday Tweak: Player-Controlled Dice

lucky-dice by Iron MittenTuesday Tweak: Player-Controlled Dice

The conventional wisdom is to have the GM roll dice in secret for the monsters and NPCs, and even keep some player rolls behind the screen. Rolling dice is fun, but for the GM it quickly becomes a chore, simply generating random numbers to plug into a system. The GM is already running a story, characters, and monster actions, all of which has to change suddenly and unexpectedly in response to the players’ actions. All of this takes time, slowing down gameplay and hindering fun.

The solution: Have players roll all the dice! They can roll against each other for monsters and NPCs, and keep track of these random numbers while the GM tracks other things.

Now, with this tweak, you’re going to lose a lot of potential excitement that comes with the secrecy and mystery of dice behind the screen. But be honest with yourself: when was the last time that was actually exciting, and not just annoyingly random?

I suggest having a separate set of dice called “fate dice” to differentiate and keep things cool, but whenever you have rolls in the open it really helps the players feel that the GM is honestly doing their best.

Let me know how this tweak works out for you!

-Max Porter Zasada

RPG Design – Tuesday Tweak: Savvy Sorcerer

Savvy Sorcerer Tweak: Sorcerers get a bonus equal to their level on Use Magic Device checks involving scrolls and wands.


This rules tweak provides a method for sorcerers to be a little more versatile, a little more useful, and most of all more unique. Few sorcerers that I know of put a large investment into Use Magic Device unless they feel they have to, yet every sorcerer gets it as a class skill. Everyone should be rewarded for exploring their characters fully.

My friend David Finzi holds that sorcerers ought to get Scribe Scroll as a bonus feat, but I don’t really like that idea much. Actually scribing scrolls just feels much more like a wizard activity, while possessing an innate understanding of magic such that you can pull it out of magic items–it just feels like a sorcerer.

Please feel free to disagree in the comments!

– Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design – Tuesday Tweak: Character R&R

Tweak: characters who pick up a habit for rest and relaxation between adventures are rewarded with special rewards in the first encounter of a new adventure. If a character spends at least six hours engaged in a hobby (such as smoking, running a bakery, or playing magical chess), then they are granted one action point which must be used in the next encounter they face, after which it is lost.


Players share as much in the creation of a world as a GM, and can create wonderful little details that bring everything to life. Encourage players to expand their characters and the world in small, awesome ways.

-Max Porter-Zasada

Tuesday Tweak: Creepy Scene Saves | Pathfinder RPG Design

In this Pathfinder RPG design tweak, we’ll explore something for the horror genre and attempt to make your players afraid.

Tweak: Creepy Scene Saves; whenever a player comes upon a scene which the GM rules is frightening, they must make a Will save or become shaken. The DC of this save is 15 plus modifiers as outlined below. This save only needs to be made when first seeing something with the potential to be terrifying, and no additional saves are required when seeing the same event once again. Examples: an execution, a cult ritual, evil extraplanar creatures appearing, inanimate objects coming to life, a terrible disease taking hold, and children under evil influence.

DC modifiers

Multiple frightening enemies: +1 DC per enemy after the first

Darkness, fog, or other obstruction to sight: +2 DC

Sound, smell, or touch creating part of the creepy scene: +4 DC

Mysterious magic plainly at work: +1 DC

Warped humanoids present: +1 DC

Relative danger of  enemies completely unknown to players: +1 DC

Surprised by the scene: +1 DC

Broad daylight: -2 DC

Familiar scene: -1 DC for each previous time the player has seen something similar. Something which is experienced on a daily basis incurs no creepy save at all.

If you’re using some sort of Taint points in your game, failing this save could also inflict a taint point on the player.


This tweak is great for horror campaigns and especially scary scenes! Make sure that you only apply this tweak to especially dramatic moments, when you really want to impress your players with the idea that this is supposed to be scary.


-Max Porter-Zasada

Tuesday Tweak: Role-playing XP

Role-playing in most RPG’s is secondary to the combat, yet absolutely vital to the game. Today’s tweak addresses a common house rule that can be hard to get right. Award too much out-of-combat xp, and the game slows down while everyone tries to be as goofy as possible with as many NPC’s as possible. Award too little XP, and either the players ignore it or the bonus points simply become a way of slapping your favorite players on the back. These dangerous roads can be avoided by using the following technique:

Tweak: Whenever a player learns a major story point from an NPC, convinces someone of something in a significant way, or influences the game’s story through role-playing, award the entire party XP for an encounter of their average party level. Ignore the CR of the NPC’s. This award should usually come no more than once a session.

This tweak encourages the players to engage with the story as a group rather than individually seeking glory and power. You want them to argue among themselves about how to handle  a card sharp on the street, a political dissenter against the king, or any intricate social situation. You want them to become immersed in your world and their characters through role-playing. Therefore, handle the encounters as you would any other; plan for a certain situation to arise, then play it out by ear according to what the players choose to do!


-Max Porter-Zasada

Tuesday Tweak: Expanded Encumbrance

Today’s Pathfinder RPG design targets an often-mocked but rarely solved issue. One thing that’s always bothered me in Pathfinder, DnD, and many other RPGs is the way that carrying capacity and stuff is handled. Not stuff, I mean “STUFF,” an enormous supply of equipment that the players take everywhere they go and keep on a massive list. Most skilled players I know never go anywhere without 200 ft. of rope, a bell, a pole, a ladder (turned into two poles), a series of sacks, a crowbar, and an unknown number of trail rations. It all translates to a couple extra pounds, and is ignored until needed.

This drives me crazy, partly from a realism perspective–how dumb would they look, like armored hobos or backpackers, carrying a fortune in gold as well as a village’s worth of stuff?–but even more from a gameplay perspective. A clever player will immediately realize that if there’s no limitation but weight, then they might as well carry an huge supply of everything they could possibly ever need, plus armor and weaponry. This occasionally makes an encounter lame (the players have exactly the right tool) or tiresome (the players spend an hour looking for the perfect combination of items to beat a straightforward situation). To introduce a bit of forethought, clever packing and decision-making, try the following:

Tweak: All medium characters have a maximum encumbrance limit of 50 points. Small characters have 35. This is a measurement of how much gear and equipment they can physically fit on their person, using straps, belts, pouches, and a backpack. Assign each item an encumbrance value; this is normally equal to half their weight, but many objects have a much higher value due their shape. A ten-foot pole, for instance, is long and thin, difficult to carry without using one’s hands, and has an encumbrance value of 10.

Additionally, each character can only have up to three one-handed or two-handed weapons strapped on and available to be drawn; one on each hip and one on their back, although a character with a backpack loses this slot. Any number of light weapons may be ready to be drawn, strapped to limbs, hidden in boots, or the like.

Of course, you’d want to do away with bags of holding if you’re going to use this tweak. And why not? I hate those things. Constantly begging for players to come up with weird situations. Mine tend to use bags of holding as an ideal way to preserve corpses to be looted later, imprison unconscious enemies, or sneak into towns.

You should give out much more gold and much less item treasure using this tweak, and make your town shops readily available for the players to maximize their space. Encourage your players to make their characters look the way they should, which is cool and badass rather than a weird backpacker.

-Max Porter Zasada

Tuesday Tweak: Expert Flanking

Pathfinder Design again! Well, it’s been a while since the last time, unfortunately. But we’re back now in full force, so please come back and let me know what you think!

Tweak: If you have a Dexterity score of 13 or better, you can flank in a position other than standard. You can flank a creature when in one square offset from the position you’d normally need to be in to be considered flanking.

I’ve played an entire campaign arc using this tweak in DnD 3.5, and it worked out just right. However, that campaign was a rogue-themed story, and all the players were in need of additional flanking rules. You may wish to keep this tweak for a similar situation. However, it’s good for realism under any circumstances.


Max Porter-Zasada