My D&D 5E House Rules

Updated a bit, so this is a re-post. Yay!

I’ve written up a ton of hacks and house rules, and I’ve been given some thought to what house rules I would use if I could use any I like. (Alas, I have to take players’ tolerances into account)

Hard Rest

This is similar to the system for rest used in Adventures in Middle-Earth. Long rest is only available when in civilization, or at least resting someplace safe and comfortable. Ever gotten great sleep on the ground out in the weather? Yeah, me neither.

I also like the system whereby during a long rest, rather than recovering all of your hit points automatically, you are able to roll all of your remaining hit dice to recover hit points. This will recover a lot of hit points, but not necessarily all.

This house rule does give somewhat of an advantage to classes that can partially recover their abilities with a short rest, like Warlocks or Monks. I would have to playtest this house rule to figure out whether it is too unbalancing.

No Cash

Half of my players can’t even be bothered to track their own coinage (my wife in particular) and I never particularly enjoy making sure every monster they defeat erupts into the correct amount of coins, gems and art objects when they die. Instead, I’d like to just use rolls against set difficulties, using the character’s proficiency bonus. If the character is flush with cash, say just back from a dungeon delve, then they roll with advantage. When they are in debt or broke according to the fiction, they roll with disadvantage. Since my players love to haggle, successful haggling doubles your proficiency bonus for the roll, while failed haggling makes you just roll a straight d20. (Maybe the haggling DCs are just the buying DCs, +2)

When you want to buy something, here are the DCs:

  • Something simple and inexpensive, like adventuring gear: DC 8
  • Something mundane but expensive, or a common magic item, like a longbow or a healing potion: DC 10
  • Something very expensive, like plate armor, or an uncommon magic item: DC 12
  • A rare magic item: DC 15
  • A very rare magic item: DC 18
  • A legendary magic item: DC 20

Of course, PCs have to put in the work finding rare or expensive (or magical) items before they can make the roll to see if they can afford them. The DM has an option of saying that a character who fails the roll still buys the item, but is strapped for cash. Most of the time, when returning from an adventure, the characters will be flush with cash, and that’ll be the time they want to buy things anyway. So a mid-level character (level 9+) returning from an adventure will have just shy of a 50/50 chance of affording a legendary magic item, and better than 50/50 of affording a very rare magic item. The limitation there will be based on the setting, with this being plausible in Eberron and less likely in another setting, based on availability of magic items overall.

Update: Modified Cash

Taking an idea from Torchbearer, but being much less punishing about it, I thought you could use dice to represent treasure in the abstract. So some silver pieces might be a d4, and some gold pieces a d6; gems or art objects could be a d8. An artifact might be a d10 or d12 – same with magic items. You can roll the die when you appraise the items, or when you try to use them to boost your d20 roll to buy something, in addition to your proficiency bonus. If you gain debt, it can be measured in dice, or it can simply grant disadvantage on rolls to purchase things until you roll as success, as above.

Modified Firearms

I think that the payoff of using historical firearms, rather than a weapon like a longbow, is that it as a slower rate of fire and does a lot more damage. At least, that’s what I’d like to house-rule firearms to do. So as a house rule, I have black powder pistols require two rounds to reload, and black powder rifles require three, and their damage dice are doubled. In essence, they will function as powerful first-shot weapons, and I think that this fits their historical use pretty well.

10th Level Spells

10th level spells exist, and as one  would expect they are available through scrolls (which are of course artifacts) and for 19th level spellcasters. Such spells can be world-changing, but can only be cast once each by a given spellcaster. The heading is a link to my full post on 10th level spells.

Deeper Backgrounds, and Backgrounds as Level 0

When a player selects a background, they should also flesh out the background with all of the NPCs who might be connected, including their immediate family, rivals, mentors and the like. As a rule of thumb, at least a couple of interesting NPCs who might get caught up in the story per background. I also linked my post about treating Backgrounds as 0-level classes, adding a bit of survive-ability to first-level characters.

Alignment Redefined

I like using alignment, but alignment as written in D&D includes a lot of nonsense and argument-fodder. So what I do is I replace “Good” with another descriptor that defines what “good” will mean in this setting. For example, in my Twilight of the Gods setting, good becomes “Generous.” I replace “Lawful” with an order-oriented, pro-social term from the setting that is morally neutral if possible. In Twilight of the Gods, that becomes “Civilized.” I replace “Chaotic” with a pro-freedom, or maybe individualistic, term; in Twilight of the Gods, that term is “Wild.” And then for “Evil” I do the same as I did for “Good” – choose a more specific or helpful term. In Twilight of the Gods, that term is “Treacherous.” So instead of Chaotic Evil, a character would be Wild and Treacherous. Instead of Lawful Good, a character would be Generous and Civilized. See? Better. Also, a result of this is that “evil” characters are much more viable. One can play a “Selfish” character in Twilight of the Gods more easily than an “Evil” character in a standard D&D setting.

Discount Adventuring Gear

In a game that is using currency, this is just an option to buy adventuring gear at a 50% discount. The associated cost is that with any failed roll, and almost certainly on a roll of “1”, the gear breaks, and can probably only be repaired with the appropriate tool proficiency.

With the above system of going cash-less, maybe a failed roll allows a PC to buy a discount version of what they wanted. So they get what they were after…kind of.

Simplified Paralysis Effect

For any effect that paralyzes, such as hold person or a ghast’s claws, a paralyzed character is shaken free of paralysis the first time an automatic critical hit is scored against them.

…Or Resist Paralysis at Cost

As another option for PCs who are paralyzed, they can choose to take 10 psychic damage for each level of the spell used to paralyze them (or an amount the DM thinks is appropriate for monster abilites that aren’t spells) in order to take an action to break free. So they still lose at least one action, and take the damage, but aren’t standing there doing nothing for round after round. Probably need a house rule that for species that are resistant to psychic damage, like kalashtar, they need to take the full damage to break free. Their resistance doesn’t help them in this one instance.

Bards Rock

Bards have never really gained a bonus, or any kind of benefit, for using their musical instrument in combat. I like the idea of a bard being able to use their abilities more effectively if they focus on their music alone (much like bards in Everquest, honestly). I would want to work out specifics with the bard player, assuming they were interested, but here are the options I’d have in mind:

  1. The bard counts as two levels higher than normal, and has access to more powerful spells
  2. The bard’s spells are power potent, adding 1 or 2 to their spell attack bonus and to the DC for saves against their magic
  3. They don’t lose spell slots – they can keep casting indefinitely, or maybe they have one extra spell slot per level that can only be used when they are using their instrument in combat (since indefinite spells is pretty powerful)
  4. There is an ongoing bonus effect – an aura of courage like a paladin has, or an aura of bonus hit points for her comrades, or something similar
  5. Her other bardic inspiration dice go up one die type, so from d6 to d8 and so on

Area of Effect

The heading is a link to the full table that I posted a while back, but for theater of the mind I like a system where you roll randomly to see how many creatures are caught in an area of effect spell. Just assume that the character is doing all they can to maximize the spell’s effectiveness and avoid hitting their friends. I would have to adjust this system for an evocation specialist wizard who could sculpt their spells to hit their foes and avoid their friends, but that’s easy enough to hand-wave (add a bonus to the AoE roll or something).

Prestidigitation and Animate Object

I just personally dislike Prestidigitation as it works in 5E – it takes me out of what’s going on every time to have someone doing magical laundry every day. House rule is that it allows you to perform sleight of hand tricks like a stage magician and that’s pretty much it. Still can be used creatively, but isn’t the cure-all for discomfort.

In the case of Animate Object, it’s simply broken if used to animate 10 daggers, so I would say that you have to animate objects one at a time. Otherwise you get a ‘cloud of daggers’ effect that deals a potential 10d4 +40 damage every round.

Dungeons and Masquerades

Yeah, I actually spent time on my day off thinking about hacking D&D 5E to run Vampire the Masquerade. This is the kind of thing I do for fun, though, so there it is. You know me by now.

Vampire

A vampire was once human, until given the Embrace. A vampire drains them of all of their blood and then feeds them vampire blood. There is no guarantee, but often, this results in a new vampire. The transformation takes hours, or possibly even nights, as the person’s organs wither and die and their body chemistry changes so that it runs entirely on blood.

Deathless Hunger

Vampires, more commonly known as kindred, will live forever as long as they avoid fire and sunlight and continue to consume blood. For the blood to provide sustenance, it must come from a living humanoid.

Fear of Fire and Sunlight

Vampires all fear two things – fire and sunlight. During the day, a vampire struggles to remain conscious, and must make a Constitution save in order to remain awake. If they do remain awake during the day, when night falls again they suffer a level of exhaustion.

Vampire Traits

Ability Score Increase. You gain a bonus of 1 point to two ability scores of your choice.

Age. Vampires do not visibly age from the moment they are Embraced and made into one of the undead.

Alignment. Though there are vampires of every alignment, needing to prey on human beings for sustenance means that over time vampires will tend toward evil alignments.

Blood drinking. If a vampire bites a victim and latches on, she can immediately drain 2d4 hit points from her victim

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack, reach 5 ft., one willing creature, or a creature that is grappled by the vampire, incapacitated, or restrained. Hit: 3 (1d6) piercing damage plus 7 (2d6) necrotic damage. The target’s hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the necrotic damage taken, and the vampire regains hit points equal to that amount. The reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0.

Hardened flesh. You are resistant to piercing damage from non-magical sources.

Hunger. Vampires hunger for blood. Following each day a vampire goes without feeding, her maximum hit points are reduced by five. If her maximum hit points fall to zero, she enters torpor.

Stake to the Heart. If a piercing weapon made of wood is driven into the vampire’s heart, the vampire is paralyzed until the stake is removed. To pierce a resisting vampire’s heart, the attacker must succeed on an attack roll with disadvantage and deal more than 10 points of damage (remembering that the vampire is resistant to piercing damage from non-magical sources).

Undead. A vampire is immune to poison damage and the poisoned condition, and they do not require air, food, or water.

Vulnerable to fire. Vampires are vulnerable to fire damage.

Vulnerable to sunlight. When any part of their body is in full sunlight, vampires take 10 radiant damage per turn.

Size. Your size is Medium.

Speed. Your base speed is 30 feet.

Languages. You can speak, read and write one language based on your ethnicity or cultural background, as well as English if that language is not English.

Advancement

Level 1 vampire: you get the ability to…how should healing work? Maybe you just have slow regeneration – every minute you are not in direct sunlight you regain one hit point, up to your current maximum.

Level 2 vampire: There should be some way to use blood to boost your physical abilities. Once per long rest, you can call upon the blood to boost a physical ability score.

 

Other Dungeon the Masquerade Thoughts: after choosing vampire as your race, you choose clan which serves as your class. Then, at level 3, you choose a specialization that is based around Discipline powers. Those Discipline powers are socketed into the various Clan lines.

D&D 5E: Grab-Bag of Ideas

Here I’m just tossing out a handful of ideas as a way to go through the backlog of my game and setting design doc. These didn’t fit with an overall theme, so I called it a grab-bag. Feel free to grab and use!

New Spell: Duplication

  • Transmutation; V, S, M
  • 2nd Level
  • Casting Time 10 minutes
  • Range/Area Touch
  • Components V, S, M
  • Duration Instantaneous
  • You touch an object as large as a sword or shield and create a duplicate of it. The new item is made of non-magical, mundane material, meaning for example that a duplicate of an adamantine sword would be made of steel. For objects smaller than a sword or a shield, this spell can duplicate multiple objects at once. Five arrows or crossbow bolts can be duplicated at a time, for example, or two daggers. DMs can use these examples as guidelines for determining how many items can be duplicated. Note that duplicates of gold coins will be made of steel.

‘Monstrous’ Player-Characters

I would like rules allowing a player to play a character who starts with a ‘monster’ stat-block who can then level up according to their class. I would like to be able to playtest this with an interested player, but my rule of thumb for this is to take a creature’s CR and double it, and use this as their equivalent level. So, for example, an ogre would be the equivalent of a 4th level player-character. I would like to see a party composed of 4th level PCs and one ogre and see how that worked, but at a glance I think it could make sense. The ogre would have lots of hit points but fewer abilities – and maybe an ogre is a bad example. Maybe look at a gargoyle, or an adult faerie dragon for something more comparable.

Granted, the CR system in 5E is pretty broken, but I think it could maybe be a good starting-point. I don’t know if this idea would scale up, and as I said I would like to play-test it sometime. But this is what I would use as a starting-point.

Horde of the Dead God

This would work for any game, including Call of Cthulhu. But the idea is that there is a dead, mad god bound in an ancient crypt or corrupted sacred site, but the bonds are breaking and some of the god’s essence is leaking out. The result of this is that anyone who dies near the location is re-animated with a fragment of the god’s intelligence, becoming a hive-mind hoard of zombies.

For an interesting twist to use with Call of Cthulhu, imagine the ancient sacred site of a people wiped out by Conquistadors. Now backpackers and White explorers have reached the place which indigenous people know to avoid, and there have been mysterious disappearances. The investigators get involved, maybe studying the lost civilization, and have to find a way to partition the place off, killing all of the zombies, or raise the dead god back to life and deal with those consequences.

Shadow-Stealing Mirror

Somewhat inspired by A Wizard of Earthsea. A stone or mirror that steals your shadow and then animates a shadowy version of you that goes out into the world, acting out your worst impulses. The hint is that your shadow is gone, or at most tenuously visible in strong direct light. You have to go find your shadow and vanquish it, and then make amends for all that it did, before you get it back. Otherwise it just keeps re-animating and causing trouble. The Mirror was first created and given to an impulsive Prince or Princess in order to teach them humility and to deal with their own dark side.

Radiant Desert

I like the idea that deep in a desert, particularly a supernatural one like much of Dark Sun, the sun deals radiant damage during the day. Maybe you get advantage on Constitution saves against the damage if you are well-prepared with proper clothing, water, and some kind of protection against the sun. But for anyone who has ever had a bad sunburn, it is clear that the sun deals a kind of damage you don’t encounter many other places.

Non-Lethal Beatdown

I’ve already laid out how you could run D&D with non-lethal combats. I had a further thought, that players might want to incapacitate someone at the end of a combat, and so I figured that further damage could inflict levels of exhaustion on their foe. So, kind of midway between non-lethal and lethal violence.

D&D 5E: Reworking the Spell: Animate Objects

Animate Objects is one of those ridiculous 5E spells. If you want to deal tons of damage and can cast a 5th level spell, it’s hard to justify not taking it. Using a single casting, you can regularly deal 40+ damage each round with a bonus action by animating a swarm of darts of daggers (or, with the RAW, any tiny objects). I feel like someone didn’t check the math when they designed this spell, because it’s just not comparable to other spells. So what I’d like to do is to rework it so that it makes a bit more sense, at least to me. I’d like to redesign it so that the various size options all have advantages, but there isn’t an obvious best choice. I also decided to replace the attack roll with a spell attack roll, as that just makes a lot more sense to me.

Size HP AC Str Dex Attack
Up to 10 tiny objects 10 each 18 -4 +4 Spell attack, 1d4 (up to 10d4 or 25 avg)
Up to 5 small objects 20 each 16 +0 +2 Spell attack, 1d6+2 (up to 5d6+10 or 26 avg)
Up to 3 medium objects 30 each 13 +1 +1 Spell attack, 2d6+1 (up to 6d6+6 or 27 avg)
Up to 2 large objects 50 each 10 +2 +0 Spell attack, 2d8+2 (up to 4d8+4 or 22 avg)
1 huge object 80 8 +4 -2 Spell attack, 3d10+4 (or 21 avg)

For simplicity’s sake, no mixing and matching sizes – you choose the size objects when you cast the spell.

A huge object does the least damage on average, but it has way more hit points. 2 large objects might be the best option, as they have the second least damage but they can flank (if you use that rule) and are very tough. This is still an incredibly powerful spell, it just isn’t crazy broken in this version.

Insight Checks in D&D 5E

Insight checks in D&D are one of the sticky wickets of 5th Edition, at least in my opinion. (Others include when to use Acrobatics vs Athletics, and when to use Investigation vs Perception). Usually it is used by players as a lie-detector, and since most of the time players roll their own dice, it is a highly reliable lie detector (in contrast to a polygraph for example, which is famously unreliable). One problem with this lie-detection function is that it is swerving into Zone of Truth’s lane, honestly. Also, simple lie-detection is incredibly difficult, even for real-world experts. All you can really figure out is perhaps what emotion a person is trying to hide, and then speculate from there.

So, I turn to the broad mechanics of PbtA to modify the use of Insight checks in D&D. Roll Wisdom (Insight), and if you succeed you may ask 2 of the following questions. +1 question for every 5 over the DC. Also, I’d hold to my house rule that other PCs can help, but only one PC rolls for the proficiency check, and usually it’s the first person to mention it unless the players have planned ahead or have time to plan.

  • What’s my gut feeling? (How many ways do our alignments align? No alignment might not mean you dislike the person, only that they give off a vibe of being very different from you)
  • Do they mean me direct harm?
  • What emotion are they feeling, primarily?
  • What emotion are they trying to hide?
  • Are they keeping a secret? (This could be an unrelated secret, but seeing the hint of one could be a reason for the PCs to keep asking questions and show interest)
  • Are they executing a sneaky plan right now? (Not a lie-detector, but this is just finding out if the creature is ‘up to something’)

There are ways these questions can overlap, of course, and I’m happy to see suggestions for better ones, but I like this way of handling this proficiency check in 5E.