For more than forty years, gamers across the world have been playing Dungeons & Dragons. With the release of 5th Edition and the rising popularity of live-play streams and podcasts such as Critical Role and The Adventure Zone, the game has reached unprecedented levels of mainstream recognition. A far cry from the days of Satanic Panic and the stigma surrounding the hobby.
It’s easy to see why gamers love D&D and other tabletop games. No other medium gives so much control to the players. You can be nearly any kind of character you want, and do anything you want. The game’s only limit is the collective imagination of its players.
Of course, there are rules, as with any game. The wonderful thing about tabletop RPGs, though, is that you are not beholden to the rules as written. The game is malleable, adaptable, and that means that the DM can alter it to fit the needs of their table at any time.
Let’s take a look at five homebrew rules you should consider for your game.
Many dungeon masters seem terrified of small, early-game power boosts for player characters, but I am here to assure you that letting your players feel a little more powerful is not going to break your game.
One way to give your players a little something extra is to allow every character to start at level one with a feat.
Yes, this is usually reserved for Humans, but by allowing it for all characters regardless of race, the players are able to start immediately developing their character build without having to choose between the feat and an ability score improvement.
In the end, feats aren’t all that powerful (and let’s be honest, there really aren’t that many of them), but that little extra boost can make your players all the more excited to play their characters and get invested from the get-go.
An Inspiration to All
Inspiration is a wonderful mechanic, and one of the little things that makes 5e so great. Unfortunately, the question of when a player gets inspiration has no clear answer. Sure, there are suggestions, like as a reward for good RP, but the threshold for earning inspiration is subjective at best.
When I first started DMing Fifth Edition, I found that I’d often get too wrapped up in running the game, and I would rarely give out inspiration, even when it was absolutely warranted. In the midst of everything else, it simply wouldn’t cross my mind. After trying lots of little things to try and remind myself to give it out more often, I finally just settled on a different solution entirely.
Everybody gets inspiration.
At the beginning of every session, I hand every player a single inspiration token. These tokens are only good for that session and don’t carry over to the next. Essentially, everybody gets one “Get Out Of Crit-Fail Free” card and it’s up to them to decide if and how they want to use it during the game.
I now use this method for all of my tables, and my players all love it.
Grittier Rest Rules
If you want you game’s world to be a little more treacherous with a higher focus on survival, changing up the rules for rests is a simple way to get the effect you’re after.
There are two kinds of rests in Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition: the short rest, and the long rest. Normally, a short rest is 30 minutes to an hour of in-game time, and allows the players to use hit die to regain hit points and the use of some class abilities. Long rests require 8 full hours and reset hit points, abilities, spell slots, and most status effects.
For that grittier feel, simply change the required downtime. A short rest now takes 8 hours, and a long rest requires a full 24. No more stopping in the middle of a dungeon to take a quick breather, and no more healing from grievous injuries with a nap. If the wizard wants those spell slots back, they’d better make sure they’re somewhere safe.
Make Monsters More Witcher-Like
One of my favorite things about playing The Witcher was the emphasis on researching and preparing for each new monster encounter. On harder difficulties, many monster fights can be seemingly impossible if you haven’t done your due dilligence and researched how best to approach the encounter, which oils to coat your weapons with, and which spells are most effective.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across this Youtube video that details how to give D&D monsters more of a Witcher feel. It’s not a long video, but I recommend giving it a watch. I’ve been using the method in my games, and it’s been a lot of fun.
The basic gist is to take any given monster statblock, reduce the monster’s hit points, then load it up with resistances and immunities. Finally, give it just one or two damage vulnerabilities. You now have a monster that doesn’t have a bullet-sponge HP bar, but is still difficult to take down without the right knowledge of how to do so.
This not only makes combat a little more puzzle-like, but also encourages the players to be more proactive in their information gathering.
The Natural 20. The Critical Hit. The roll that can turn the tide of a battle.
Rolling a natural 20 is statistically no less likely than rolling any other number on a standard d20, but it just feels good. The paladin lands a critical hit with divine smite on the big bad, promising biblical amounts of damage. The time comes to roll that damage, and… ones across the board.
Nothing feels worse than landing a critical hit just for the damage dice gods to laugh and say “hold my beer”. In the official rules, when you land a critical hit, you double your damage dice for the attack and then add bonuses. As you can see, this still leaves room for some pretty lackluster attacks.
If you want to make criticals feel like the exciting displays of power they should be, the fix is simple. When a character rolls that natural 20, instead of doubling damage dice, maximize the original damage dice, and THEN roll for the extra damage. This guarantees that no matter what you roll on those extra dice, a critical hit always does more damage than your best standard attack.
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