Optional Rules

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Rules of a game that players can choose to use or not.

All games consist of a core of rules which identify them as specific games compared to others. However, many games also have a set of associated Optional Rules. These can be ones that groups of players simply use to make the game better in their view, so-called house rules, regardless of what any official source says. They can also be rules created by game designers that players can choose to use before gameplay begins as options or ones they can start using after buying expansions.

Since the gaming rules[1] of any game is decided by the players, all games in one sense have Optional Rules.


Tabletop Roleplaying Games can easily be modified by the game masters and players themselves so they have rules that suit their needs and wishes. In addition, many of them include various Optional Rules that can be added if more options or detailed outcomes are wanted, as one example GURPS provide many Optional Rules for actions and modifiers in combat situations. Yet another way to provide Optional Rules is through additional rule books, e.g. Low-Tech[2], High-Tech[3], Ultra-Tech[4], and Bio-Tech[5] for GURPS and Player's Handbook 2[6], Player's Handbook 3[7], and the various power books for Dungeons & Dragons (arcane[8], divine[9], martial[10], and primal[11]).

The expansion Settlers of Catan Event Cards offers players a way to modify the gameplay of Settlers of Catan - by using cards instead of dice the distribution of resources can become less random so the outcome depends less on players' luck. Besides being optional themselves, expansion to board game often include Optional Rules. One example of this can be found in the exodus expansion to Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game which provides the Cylon Fleet, Conflicted Loyalties, and Ionian Nebula options that can either be added individually or be combined depending on how players wish to change the gameplay.

The Civilization series allows players to set options before gameplay begins to, among other things, control how barbarians behave, if leader personalities should be randomized, and which victory conditions should be used. The hardcore mode in the Diablo series and Torchlight is an option players can use which makes character deaths permanent - instead of being able to respawn one must complete the whole game without dying a single time.

Experienced players of NetHack and other similar games sometimes make the game more difficult by adding self-imposed limitations, e.g. following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Using the pattern

Any rule can be made an Optional Rule by simply stating so. However, for Computer Games these need to be coded and for any game diegetic content may need to be created so it may be ineffective and confusing to provide too many Optional Rules in any single game. Expansions (e.g. exodus for Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game or Low-Tech, High-Tech, and Ultra-Tech for GURPS) is one way of postponing the required production until it has been deemed worthwhile. In contrast Handicap Achievements can be seen as providing Optional Rules within the closed design of a game, letting players choose if they wish to follow these in order to receive the specific Achievements. When Difficulty Levels not only change numerical values within the game system but also add rules, they are also examples of how Optional Rules can be provided to players. In contrast, letting players choose to use Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, Friendly Fire, or Player/System Action Composites as Optional Rules are ways of creating Difficulty Levels.

The Optional Rules do not necessary need to be created as part of the main design of a game. This since Self-Facilitated Games or those with Game Masters can create Optional Rules before gameplay begins to tailor the rule set to their wishes, and may even do so during gameplay.

Diegetic Aspects

For Tabletop Roleplaying Games, Optional Rules are often created and inserted to fulfill the need of players or Game Masters for Thematic Consistency. If this really is Thematic Consistency or a want to make the game system behave more like they perceive the real world to behave can however be discussed.


Optional Rules provides Freedom of Choice to players on a rules level and, as long as the decisions on which to use are in their hands instead of a |Game Master's, a Player Decided Rule Setup. If they are added during gameplay they either create Varying Rule Sets or Evolving Rule Sets depending on if they can be removed or not later.

Quite naturally, adding Optional Rules can create more Complex Gameplay since there are more rules. Adding rules to any game can add Excise to it, so the addition of Optional Rules can do this but with the possible extra burden of keeping track of which Optional Rules are being used.


Can Instantiate

Complex Gameplay, Excise, Freedom of Choice, Evolving Rule Sets, Player Decided Rule Setup, Varying Rule Sets

with Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, Friendly Fire, or Player/System Action Composites

Difficulty Levels

Can Modulate

Player/System Action Composites, Thematic Consistency

Can Be Instantiated By

Difficulty Levels, Expansions, Game Masters, Handicap Achievements, Self-Facilitated Games

Can Be Modulated By


Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



New pattern created in this wiki.


  1. Sjöblom, B. (2008). The Relevance of Rules: Negotiations and Accounts in Co-operative and Co-located Computer Gaming. Proceedings of the [player] conference, IT University of Copenhagen, August 26-29, 2008, pp. 335-378.
  2. Official page for the Low-Tech sourcebook for GURPS.
  3. Official page for the High-Tech sourcebook for GURPS.
  4. Official page for the Ultra-Tech sourcebook for GURPS.
  5. Official page for the Bio-Tech sourcebook for GURPS.
  6. Official page for the Player's Handbook 2 book for Dungeons & Dragons.
  7. Official page for the Player's Handbook 3 book for Dungeons & Dragons.
  8. Official page for the Arcane Power book for Dungeons & Dragons.
  9. Official page for the Divine Power book for Dungeons & Dragons.
  10. Official page for the Martial Power book for Dungeons & Dragons.
  11. Official page for the Primal Power book for Dungeons & Dragons.