Guest Post by Ted, Chief Adventurer at SkullSplitter Dice
Some campaigns prefer to use the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition rules exactly as printed. But every campaign is different. And for many campaigns, creating “house rules” can allow the game to be more fun and more interesting. Below, we’ve compiled the most popular “homebrewed rules” used by Dungeons and Dragons players and DMs. If you’re looking for optional rules to make your adventures a little more interesting, try some of these. They may be just what you are looking for.
1.The Critical Hit Max Roll Rule
Standard Dungeons and Dragons rules state that a natural 20 results in a “critical hit.” If this happens, the player rolls twice the normal damage dice but does not double the bonus. For example, if your weapon does 1d6 + 1 damage, a critical hit under the standard rules does 2d6 + 1 damage.
The idea behind this rule is to recognize that a fighter may score an especially lucky blow, causing massive damage.
While this rule works for many campaigns, it also has some disadvantages. It’s possible for a player to roll very poorly on his damage roll. In this case, a “critical hit” may do less than average damage. For example, if a sword does 1d6 + 1 damage, a “critical hit” may result in 3 points of damage if the player happens to roll two 1s on the 2d6 damage roll.
To avoid this strange result, many DMs and players adopt the “critical hit max roll rule.” Under this rule, a critical hit results in maximum damage from the weapon’s normal damage dice. For example, a sword that does 1d6 + 1 damage under normal circumstances does 7 damage on a critical hit.
This prevents critical hits from doing unusually low amounts of damage. However, because the weapon’s damage dice is not doubled, it also prevents crits from being overpowered.
2. Advantage/Disadvantage on Initiative
Under the standard rules, players and NPCs roll for initiative when a fight begins. Whichever player or NPC has the highest roll goes first.
In some cases, a player may roll a natural 20 on initiative. This implies that he was especially alert and quick. But there is no special effect that occurs when this happens. The player just goes first. That is the only reward he gets for rolling a natural 20 on initiative.
To some players, this doesn’t seem reasonable. After all, if a player rolls a natural 20 on an attack roll, he gets a critical hit that doubles the damage dice (or automatically rolls maximum damage if you are using the first rule in this list). Because of this, some players believe that something special should also happen if a natural 20 is rolled on initiative.
To solve this problem, many DMs have adopted the “advantage/disadvantage on initiative rolls” rule. Under this rule, if a player rolls a natural 1 on initiative, he suffers from disadvantage on their first action. If he rolls a natural 20, he gains advantage on their first action.
This allows for the idea of natural 20s on initiative being special, but without giving the players huge bonuses that would make them overpowered.
3. Hidden death saving throws
In Dungeons and Dragons, a PC who has zero hit points must make a “death saving throw” once per turn, with a DC of 10. Three failures will result in the character dying. Three successes will result in the character being stabilized.
Under this standard set of rules, a character has a 55% chance of surviving its hit points going to zero. Because of the high probability that the character will survive, going to zero HP may come to seem like a trivial issue.
One way of solving this problem would be to raise the DC of death saving throws to 15. This would reduce the probability of surviving to just 30%. However, many players would be unhappy with this change because it would be regarded as overly punishing.
But there is another way to make zero HP more significant without causing the opposite problem: hidden death saving throws. Under this rule, a player must make their death saving throw from behind the DM screen. The other party members are not allowed to see if their friend failed a roll or even if he is still alive.
The player is also instructed to keep their roll a secret and try their best not to reveal it through their facial expressions or tone. This way, the other players are kept wondering if their ally is alive. This often makes the circumstance of zero HP seem more significant than it otherwise would, but without resulting in more character deaths.
4. Using consumables as a bonus action
On page 153 of the Player’s Handbook, we are told that “drinking or administering a potion requires an action.” But on page 190, we are also told that characters can “drink all the ale in a flagon” as a bonus action. To some DMs, this apparent contradiction just can’t be tolerated.
As a result, these DMs adopt the “consumables as a bonus action” rule. According to this rule, a character can consume a potion without using up an action. However, he or she cannot “administer” a potion to someone else without using an action.
So if I have a healing potion, I can use a bonus action to quaff it myself. Or if you are hurt, I can use a bonus action to hand the potion to you (assuming you are standing next to me). But if you are so hurt that you need help drinking the potion, I will have to use my action to administer it to you.
To many DMs, this homebrewed rule allows for more consistency between the rules for different consumables.
5. HP gain when leveling
Another popular set of homebrewed rules changes the way HP gain happens when characters level-up. In the standard rules, players roll a certain number of hit dice whenever they level. For example, a wizard character will roll 1d6 each level and add their Con modifier. This number will be added to their maximum HP.
Under 5th edition rules, players also have the option of taking an average number instead of rolling. For example, instead of rolling 1d6, a wizard could just add 4 to their Con modifier.
While this rule system works for many players, some DMs feel that it often results in overly weak characters and encourages players to just take average rolls to avoid this from happening.
One solution to this problem is to let players first make a roll. If the roll is below the average, give them the option of taking the average or rolling again. However, warn them that if they take the second roll, they must accept whatever it ends up being.
Another solution is to just let players take the average if they roll below it. In this case, they are not allowed a second roll.
6. Rolling abilities in order
Under standard D&D rules, players roll six ability scores when they first create characters. They then choose which of the scores goes to which abilities. This allows players to build the type of characters they want. For example, a player that wants to play a fighter can put their highest roll into Str, while a player who wants to play a wizard can put their highest roll into Intelligence.
The idea behind this rule is to allow players to play whatever type of character they want.
However, some players may enjoy more of a challenge. If your players are experienced role-players, you may want to adopt the rule that players must roll their ability scores in order.
For example, a player rolls 4 six-sided dice and records the total of the highest three dice. This number is automatically the character’s Str. The player then rolls another four dice and does the same. This number is now the character’s Dexterity, etc.
This forces players to play a character they may not be used to, and it may be considered more realistic. For example, some people in real-life may be born without much natural strength but with high intelligence. Such a person might become an engineer instead of a boxer. In D&D, your character may have wanted be a fighter but had no natural aptitude for fighting. So he decided to become a wizard instead.
Although this homebrew rule limits player choice, some players may enjoy the challenge and realism of it.
7. “Defence” rolls
Another popular homebrewed rule is to use “defense rolls.”
Under the standard rules, the DM rolls for attacks made by enemies. This can be boring for the players. So some DMs have the players roll to defend against attacks instead of the enemies rolling to attack.
If an enemy attacks, it automatically hits unless the player successfully defends. To defend, the player rolls 1d20 and adds their AC to it. The DC to succeed is 20 plus the enemy’s attack bonus.
Some players find this rule to be more fun than having the DM constantly make rolls. And many DMs like it as well, since it frees them up to handle other issues instead of having to constantly roll attacks for monsters.
We’ve given you a list of the most popular homebrewed rules for D&D 5E. If your campaign is in need of something new to make your adventures more interesting, discuss these rules with your players. If everyone agrees that they want to try these rules, use them for one or two play sessions. They may be just what you need to keep the game exciting and fun.
About the Author:
Ted is Chief Adventurer at SkullSplitter Dice, veteran owned gaming company that helps get kids into D&D through their Buy One Give One Program which supports D&D Clubs around the US.