D&D: My Homebrew Rules
One of the best things about a game like D&D is that sure, everything is written out — go here, do this, play that way — but there isn’t a single thing stopping you from saying, “Nah. My way.”
Homebrewing is one of the most fun things to do in D&D, whether that is creating a magic item for your party, a new monster for them to fight, or even a completely new world and place for them to have adventures in. But today, we’re going to talk about homebrew rules — my homebrew rules.
Now it might seem a bit wrong to go in and modify and change rules that a team of writers meticulously wrote out to keep their game balanced, but the truth is, some of the rules sort of suck and some of the rules in the game are very cumbersome and can have some really negative effects on the party and the game as a whole.
So in this article, I’m going to detail every single homebrew rule that I use for my party. If something gets brought up that isn’t in my homebrew set of rules, then we go with the way that rule is written in the Player’s Handbook or Dungeon Master’s Guide.
DISCLAIMER: Most of my rules are centered around the playing party being a group of three. So if some things seem a bit over tuned, that’s usually why.
Let’s jump right in.
Character Creation Rules
Some people will scoff at there being any rules surrounding character creation, but without any, you can have some problems on your hands. It’s always good to lay out some ground rules for your players to ensure that everyone can have a good time.
More times than not, letting a player be a secret character can cause problems with the party. Generally, your playing group wants to be cohesive and make sense, and if somebody isn’t willing to tell everyone what they are can sometimes be an issue.
The general stuff you might see is someone tell the group they’re going to be a rogue, so now nobody else is a rogue and the party thinks they have a real sneaky boy which is good. In reality, this player is just a Bladesinger Wizard with a criminal background and him actually being a wizard will come out later.
The problem with this is that since the party thought they had a rogue, nobody else will choose that. Even worse is someone else may decide that they’ll be a wizard now and the party ultimately now has two wizards — and for a small party, you typically don’t want to double up on classes.
So my general rule with secret characters is they must discuss it with me (DM) first. If I think it works and am not worried about anyone else choosing they’re real class or being mad that this player isn’t what they said they were, then I’ll let it go.
The best example I have of this is a Hexblade Warlock who tells the party they are simply a fighter. In reality, this character is ashamed of their warlock powers and only seems to reveal them when absolutely necessary. That is something I think would work great, barring nobody else wanted to be a warlock.
No Evil Player Characters
Unless one of my players is incredibly experienced, this would be a hard no-go at my table. In my games, I like to make alignment matter to an extent. If you are a Lawful Good, then generally you’re going to avoid anything that would break the laws barring some crazy character transformation.
With that being said, most evil aligned characters are generally just going to use it as an excuse to do bad things and murder everyone in sight because they’re evil. That can cause problems with the party, so I tend to just tell everyone, “No evil alignment,” and leave it at that.
I think the encumbrance rules are bit weird. Based on the rules as written, you either go with strict encumbrance, meaning if you ain’t strong then you can’t carry much of anything or you go variant encumbrance meaning you just become very impaired if you carry to much. You can also go no encumbrance, so the players can just carry anything at all times.
My rule with encumbrance is simple — if it doesn’t make sense for you to be carrying it, ex: you’ve got two swords in your belt and two on your back over your shield — meaning you can’t carry any other weapons — then you can’t take it.
What I use this for is to encourage the party to either find something to carry things in like a Bag of Holding or to essentially use a base of operations as a place for loadouts, only bring what you think you need so you have room to carry back other treasures.
Rolling Ability Scores
Everyone has their own way of generating ability scores. You can use the Standard Array (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) which ensures you’re good at one thing and terrible at another. You can use Point Buy where all stats start at 8 and you have 27 points to assign to your abilities, only being allowed to get a single score to 15 before any racial bonuses come in. Or you can roll for your scores.
I have my party roll. Rolling dice is fun, and the randomness that comes with it is also very fun. The way I lay it out is have everyone role 4 d6 at the same time. Whatever the lowest number is they remove. They will do that 7 times, righting down their totals each time.
Once they finish rolling 7 times, they look at their totals and cross out the lowest number. That leaves them 6 numbers to input into their 6 ability scores.
Fixed HP is stupid and no fun. Every time my party levels up they roll their designated HP dice and if it’s on paper, add your constitution modifier. If we’re using D&D Beyond — we always are — then it adds the modifier automatically.
If anyone rolls a 1, they reroll. The lowest they can roll is a 2. Simple, easy, and works for everyone.
Feats are fun! One of the best things that the sourcebook Xanathar’s Guide to Everything did was introduce Racial Feats. They are optional, but I encourage my players to use them. This allows them to be a bit unique right off the bat and it’s fun.
And if you’re thinking that means that Variant Humans have to choose between a Racial Feat or a regular Feat, nah. If you’re going to play a Variant Human, take your Feat, and we’ll add your racial one on top of it as well, because that’s fun.
Now that we’ve covered my rules when it comes to creating characters, let’s get into the rules that I enforce when actually playing the game. A lot of this stuff is meant to make certain aspects easier to manage, combat more enjoyable, and character skills matter.
So we all know how inspiration works; you role play good, you get rewarded with advantage on any roll you make over the next in-game 24 hours. It’s fine the way it is, but I find it hard to remember that it’s even there. Additionally, advantage is something that is given out in a lot of other situations, so I think inspiration should be different.
At the start of the game every player receives a card face down from a standard deck of 52. This is their inspiration. At any point when making a skill check, saving throw, or attack, they can choose to use their inspiration and flip the card over. If they do not have a card and do something that would typically earn them inspiration, they are rewarded with a new card, face down.
What the values on the card mean are as follows:
- 2–10 is face value
- Kings, Queens, and Jacks are 11
- Ace is a Crit (Natural 20 if not an attack)
I love this because it insures at least some form of value when using inspiration, and when someone turns that ace over and their 4 they rolled turns to a natural 20 it is just pure joy.
Having that card sitting there as well really helps them remember they have inspiration to use, rather than a mark on their character sheet.
Death Saving Throws
If you play D&D you’re either going to love this or hate it…probably depends on if you’re a player or a DM.
The rules as written state when a player drops to 0 HP, they go unconscious. While unconscious, on their turn they will roll a Death Saving Throw — d20 — and if the number is 10 or higher, it’s a success. 9 or lower and it’s a failure. On 3 failures they die, on 3 successes they are stable.
Instead of having my players roll their Death Saves, I do it instead…behind the screen.
Now this may seem cruel and unfair, but what it does is create tension when a player goes down. Without the party knowing what their success/failure rate is, it forces them to try and take care of their downed teammate.
Additionally, I allow Medicine Checks to help or harm. The Medicine check works the same as DST. 10 or high and they get a success, 9 or lower and you are actively making it worse, giving them a failure.
The rules as written state that any one player can help another in any task, like lifting a heavy gate for example. This help either has both players roll the same check, or gives one of them advantage on the roll.
I change this slightly to where you can only help a player if you share the same proficiency in the skill the check is for.
This basically makes things a bit more realistic. It wouldn’t make sense that if in the example I detailed above for the Gnome Wizard to be helping the Goliath Barbarian when lifting something heavy — unless that gnome wizard is proficient in Athletics.
This is my newest homebrew rule and I really like it.
As written, when a player suffers the Frightened condition, they can no longer actively move towards the creature that frightened them and if they attack, it’s with disadvantage. This lasts for the duration, usually 1 minute — that’s 6 rounds of combat.
This blows — especially for a party of three. Taking a party member out of the fight because of this condition is really anticlimactic and drastically changes the flow of the fight.
In my games, when a player becomes frightened, they have a choice: Fight or Flight.
If they choose Flight, they have to actively run away from the creature because of their fear. Simple as that. No attacks, no anything but support based items for their party.
If they choose Fight, all they are allowed to do is attack the creature that caused this and all attacks are with disadvantage. This disadvantage is because their fear is driving them to this, making them a bit reckless.
These options give the players the chance make a choice for themselves and decide what they want to do.
Never heard of the Sprint Action? Did you read the Players Handbook? It’s right there!
Just kidding, this is an action I added into my games.
It’s simple, if you take the Sprint action, you forego all other actions and bonus actions on your turn and move in a straight line 5x your normal movement speed. So if you’re speed is normally 30ft., you now move 150ft. in a single direction.
This is designed to allow the party to run away quickly or get in to the action quickly.
You now what sucks? Spending gold on a good ole health potion for it only heal you a minimum 4 HP. So what did I do about it? I changed it!
Health Potions now cost more than usual, but they always heal MAX HP when used. So if a standard Potion of Healing heals 2d4+4, it now heals 10 HP every time. This means that spending gold on healing potions is worth it, but also takes away the monotonous rolling for healing in the middle of combat when drinking a potion.
Important Note: This is strictly for potions, not spells.
I saved this one for last because I feel it is the most important one. If you were to take just one of my rules in to your game, this is the one I would recommend.
As written, a Natural 20 on an attack — Critical Hit — automatically hits and allows you to roll double the dice for your damage.
Here’s the problem though. Let’s say you’re a Barbarian with a Greataxe, you roll a Nat 20, then roll two d12s for damage , and get 1s on both rolls. WHAT A DISAPPOINTING CRITICAL HIT.
Change this. Please. Now.
The way I have it and the way I think it should work is as follows: When a player rolls a Natural 20 on an attack, they automatically hit. When they roll damage, they do automatic max damage on their damage die + what they now roll.
EX: You roll a Nat 20. Your damage die is a d12. You deal 12 + d12 roll + modifier.
This ensure that you at minimum do max damage on a normal hit roll plus extra damage for it being a crit. This makes Crits way more satisfying when they happen.
Does it break the game in your mind? Well, it’s a Crit!
While we’re on the topic of Natural 20s, this is just a friendly reminder that a Natural 20 DOES NOT MEAN AUTOMATIC SUCCESS. It only means you automatically hit during an attack.
Please players, remember this.
And those are my homebrew rules! I hope you find some of these useful for your own games. Feel free to comment and let me know how bad some of these are or which of your own homebrew rules you might use.