I’ve been playing D&D for a long time, including almost 3 years of 5th edition rules. In every edition, I’ve been tinkering and tailoring the rules to better suit my style as a Dungeon Master, along with the themes of the campaigns, and the types of players in my group. Included here are a handful of house rules which you may elect to use yourself.
1) Combat Attrition
Rule: Whenever you fall unconscious, you also gain one point of exhaustion, in addition to the normal effects.
I am currently running a dark-world campaign, and implementing this rule has really had a positive impact on my campaign. I’m not a fan of the fact that a hero can drop to 0 hp ten times a day, but after a goodberry they are up and ready for action in an instant. This rule adds an extra penalty for hitting 0 hit points. It also uses the exhaustion mechanics, which are otherwise barely touched by most dungeon masters. The only way to recover exhaustion is to eat, so rations come back into the fray too!
This starts to put a heavy weight on PCs who have sustained debilitating injuries in combat, which may impact their willingness and effectiveness for future combats before resting. Characters now worry about hitting 0 hp, even with some heals to get them back into the action, and this has made combat feel more thrilling and dangerous for my players.
2) Random Character Creation
Rule: Instead of choosing standard array, roll your stats IN ORDER. Then make your character based off where your good scores are.
This is an interesting setup that reminds me of the old days before D&D was even referred to by an edition number. With fixed stats stats, you might find yourself playing an interesting combination - salvaging what scores you rolled to build some unique race/class combinations.
Another variation of this rule with a similar result is to roll dice to determine race and class.
Rule: There is no longer a maximum number of spells that you can cast on your turn, provided that you have the required actions to cast them.
I know a lot of DM’s and players who didn’t even realise that there was a limit, but in my opinion this is one of those rules that just gets in the way, so I remove it. Remember, whenever a DM changes or removes a rule that causes the PC’s to have a higher amount of potential power, you may have to increase the difficulty of encounters to match! If I had a dollar for every time I hear the phrase “I’ve house ruled my game, but my level 5 party keeps beating my CR 5 encounters easily,” I’d be able to retire. Just keep in mind what you’re changing, rules-wise, and who it benefits. Then balance the scales accordingly.
4) Reverse Armour Class
Rule: Instead of the DM’s rolling to hit, the Players roll a “defence” roll, based on their armour class. They have to roll d20, and add their armour class to it. The DC is 20+ the monster’s attack bonus. So the players need to “beat” the monster’s attack threat DC in order to defend against the attack.
For example, if the monster has an attack bonus of +7, it’s attack DC would be a 27. A PC with a 15 AC would need to roll a 12+ to avoid the attack, while a PC with a 19 AC would only need an 8+. If the player rolls a 1, the monster gets a critical hit.
I personally don’t like this variant rule. However, I have heard that some groups enjoy it. For starters, it puts the players in a dice-rolling alertness during combat, and they really feel like they are getting attacked, even if they successfully defend against it. The physical act of rolling dice outside of the player’s turn can increase engagement in combat and decrease distractions. Finally, it also removes some of the work the Dungeon Master has to do.
Honestly I don’t mind rolling attacks for my players. But I appreciate that D&D groups do whatever they like in order to create the most fun game possible for their respective group.
5) Deadly World
Rule: All death saving throws are DC:15 instead of DC:10
This rule makes hitting 0 hp far less forgiving without magical/medical means at the ready. Under the standard rules, when a character falls unconscious there is roughly a 55% chance that the character can pull through. However, when you up the DC to 15 (succeeding on a 15-20 is a 30% success chance) a character has a much greater chance of bleeding out without medical or clerical assistance!
6) Modified Flanking Rules
Rule: Flanking no longer provides advantage, but instead provides +1d6 to hit, AND +1d6 to damage.
I mainly altered this rule so that flanking stacked with advantage - as there are at least 50 abilities or spells that confer advantage in D&D. Using this has made my combats much more fluid, and they rarely grind to a crawl now. It also makes swarms of enemies more dangerous. Goblin hordes will try and get into flanking positions, to get those juicy bonuses on to-hit rolls and damage. Being outnumbered is a very serious and realistic threat in medieval-themed combat (or any combat) and I find that this rule correctly illustrates this!
Just remember, as a DM, when you alter rules in favour of the enemies, take that into account when creating and balancing encounters.
7) Less-Swingy Initiative
Rule: Initiative rolls use a d10 instead of a d20.
Not a rule I use, but one that I’m interested in. A d20 has a large variation of numbers, meaning that even having a +5 bonus to initiative could have you going last a few combats in a row. By dropping it down to d10, it makes any flat bonuses more consistent, allowing the faster characters to be going first more often.
8) If You Miss The Table, You Fail.
Rule: If you roll your dice and it misses the table (and lands on the floor) then you count as rolling the lowest possible result.
Was it an attack roll? Counts as a 1. Rolling 2d6 damage and one dice falls off the table? That dice counts as a 1. I don’t mind this rule. Sure it’s a little silly, but I mean, how hard can it be? After all, if you can’t hit a huge table with a little dice from a 3-6 inch distance, what hope does your character have!?
Have you got any house rules that you use for your RPGs? Post them below in the comments.
Peter is an avid dungeon master, role-player, and story teller. When he's not running homebrew campaigns, he is creating new worlds, or he is reading and writing fantasy stories, forever immersing himself in the gaping black-hole known as the fantasy genre.
Image is courtesy of JESHIELDS: https://www.patreon.com/jeshields/posts
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.