The Ice-Rivan Realm, and indeed all of the world of Mykovnia, is best played in the Old School spirit of high stakes and gritty action. In the spirit of making life generally harder for the heroes, there are a range of “House Rules” recommended for play in this campaign setting.
Ability Scores Are Rolled “Old School”!
Instead of the systems described under “Determine Ability Scores” on pages 12-13 of the Player’s Handbook, you will generate them in the Old School manner.
You generate your character’s six abilities randomly. Roll 3d6 for each ability, and write the total you generate next to the abilities in the order that you roll them.
If you are unhappy with one of your scores, talk to the DM who might allow you to swap two of the values around if you have a particularly compelling character concept in mind. Don’t hold your breath, though, and don’t be surprised if they say, “No.”
Shields Shall Be Splintered!
With thanks to J. Brian Murphy (from his article in “Fight On!” fanzine)
Shields work. They are (along with the helmet) among the poor warrior’s most trusted items. In this setting, however, shields act as a form of ablative armour.
Shields still add +2 to your Armour Class, as per the main rules. In addition, any time that you take damage, you can opt to say that your shield bore the brunt of the blow. The shield then shatters, and must be discarded, but you don’t take any damage from that strike. This works against any damage caused by an attack roll, including spells.
If you have an enchanted shield (such as a +1 or +2 shield), every time you use the shield to absorb damage in this manner, it loses one of its plusses (or other magickal effects). Once reduced to +0, it becomes a mundane shield and will splinter the next time it bears the brunt of a blow as described above. You know, some adventurers whisper that some very talented armourers can repair magickal shields… but whether it’s true or not is up to the DM.
Armour is great! It also gets battered and, from time to time, breaks. Your AC works just as described in the Player’s Handbook, meaning that armour usually makes you harder to hit, but there is an additional rule.
Every time you take damage from a critical hit (usually a natural 20 on the attack roll), your Armour Class is reduced by 1. The armour has been damaged, and it ablates. If the armour’s base value is reduced to 10, then the armour is ruined and must be discarded. Thus, for example, a heroine wearing a chain shirt (13 + Dex modifier) can suffer three critical hits before her armour is ruined. She still gets to add her Dexterity modifier to her AC, but the armour is of no further use.
Armour that is not ruined can be repaired – the GM will decide what the cost of such armoury services might be in the local community – if you can find a suitably trained armourer. Sometimes the costs are very high.
Long Rests Don’t Auto-Heal!
This is a clarified version of the “Slow Natural Healing” rule from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, page 267.
The long rest is still an 8-hour period of extended downtime, as described in the Player’s Handbook on page 186. Characters don’t, however, automatically regain all lost hit points at the end of a long rest. Instead, the hero can spend Hit Dice to heal at the end of a long rest, just like they can during a short rest.
Each character still regains spent Hit Dice (up to a number of dice equal to half their total Hit Dice) at the end of the long rest. If it seems appropriate, the DM can allow this to happen BEFORE they are spent for healing… but it’s really up to the DM to decide.
Sometimes, the DM might be generous and award you a full Hit Point recovery after a long rest – for example, after staying in a completely safe and comfy inn instead of resting on the road – but it’s totally at the DM’s discretion. We’ve found that pestering the DM tends to make this less likely, however.
Wizards Need To Find Spells!
Wizards have a slightly (only an eenie-weenie bit) harder time in the Ice-Riven Realm.
Contrary to the “Learning Spells Of 1st Level And Higher” rule, on page 114 of the Player’s Handbook, the Wizard CAN learn up to two new spells when they gain a Wizard level… but only if they have managed to add those spells to their spellbook through adventuring. In other words, Wizards don’t just learn new spells out of thin air: they have to find them, learn them, research them, or otherwise get hold of them.
If a Wizard has no new spells in their spellbook at the point at which they gain a Wizard level, the DM is within their rights to say you lose that chance to add to your knowledge. It’s up to the DM and whether or not they can be bothered with tracking unclaimed spell learning.
It’s Iron Age Tech!
Just to be clear, the setting’s default technology level is Iron Age. This means that there are no crossbows or rapiers (unless the DM says otherwise), and you cannot learn those proficiencies without specific training. In other words, you can’t be proficient with those weapons at character creation.
Additionally, weapons like the glaive, the halberd, and the lance are extremely rare and generally not available in most towns or villages. This is because the use of these weapons is long out of practice in the setting.
Longbows are still in use (especially by the Nyhi) and have remained present as one of the best hunting weapons in the Realm. We know it’s not strictly speaking an Iron Age weapon – it’s not that the above tech doesn’t exist or isn’t possible, it’s just not in common use… but the longbow is an ever-popular weapon even in these less-enlightened times.
We’ll leave it up to the DM to decide about other specific bits of equipment. Just consider that, while stuff might be available, specialist kit costs a lot of gold.
And There Are Probably Others…
This is just the start of the House Rules section from my “Player’s Guide” to The Ice-Rivan Realm. It’s not all bad, either, and offers a few new play options – most obviously, using a shield to save your life!
Other ideas are bubbling around in my head, but I want to test these changes out in play before I add any further mods to the game. Playtesting remains the best way to check that things work as intended.
Hope you found that useful. May your dice continue to roll sensibly.