My home game of Dungeons & Dragons just surpassed session 51 of our campaign (about 6- 8 hours a session), The Skull & the Eye. Part of this campaign was honing in on what house rules we wanted to play with to make the game fun and interesting, while having elements that made the game feel more flavorful. All this was done under my house rule philosophy (which I’ll share). Some of these rules are character generation, some are combat, others are social elements. Dig in!
House Rule Philosophy: house rules must ADD to the rules, not remove them. Furthermore, they should be at most two sentences.
It is shockingly simple, but can be a bit difficult to implement and design for. Generally it is a guideline and not always followed, but always aimed for. I will share how it plays out below.
Character Generation Rules:
27 point buy, bonus feat at 1st level.
Languages: Use dialect system, get extra dialect (see house rules below)
House Ruled Human: +1 to four different abilities, extra language, and tool
House Ruled Half-Elf: only one bonus skill proficiency from Versatility
A lot of these are just re-balancing or making unique 1st level characters. The feat at 1st level made the sorcerers in the party very different. Our house ruled human blends the elements of the standard human and variant human, as a 1st level character with two feats is a bit much (3.5 human fighter had three feats at 1st level and was a beast). Half-elves we reigned in as they are just too popular due to how much they get. This was a minimal adjustment.
Level Up Rules:
For levels 2-5, roll for hit points. If roll is less than standard amount, take the standard amount.
I prefer to roll for hit points, but a few of my players do not. This is a way to kind of hybrid that, while also making characters a bit less mortal off the bat. For higher level starting characters, simply give them the standard hit points per level then add four.
Now for the in-game stuff. Going to begin with character’s social elements and how we handle Inspiration; then move on to more combat styled stuff.
In my game there is no Common, Elven, or Dwarven, among other languages. Instead there are dialects of cultures and nations. Common, for example, is generally the human language, but in my game is divided into at least four different dialects: Oeselian Common, High Oeselian, Dock Talk, and Keele. There may be more than this when the character explore more of the world, but for now they know of these. All these fall under Oeselian, a language, but each serves different purposes: Oeselian Common is spoken among the people, High Oeselian is used among the clergy and royal courts, Dock Talk is a trade language used in markets and on the seas, and Keele is the language of a culturally different landgraf.
Sames goes for Elven: Nylthasu is the High Elf language and Shingnak is the Wood Elf language. Currently Eladrin use Sylvan and my world does not have drow.
Dialects share elements of a language, but have cultural distinctions on word choice and usage. When speaking to someone that speaks a dialect of a shared language, but does not have the shared dialect, you may have disadvantage on Charisma (Deception, Insight, Persuasion). In addition, dialects can be used to identify where someone is from.
The idea here is to make languages feel like they work in the real world. The number of accents in any nation of any language are immense and contribute to their identify. I wanted to translate that to D&D. Think regional slang, for example
I’ve written about this before here. This has been our longest running house rule and our most successful. Players that have come to our table really like it, they also like the little pewter castles.
Flaking an enemy provides a +2 to the attack roll.
That’s it! Simple, clean. This is to not undermine advantage via other manners or abilities that provide it. Also avoids the constant occurrence of “flank trains.”
This is several fold. First the easy part:
Taking damage from a source that you have resistance to does not trigger a concentration check.
Simply put this addresses the issue we have with a spell like stoneskin. If a wizard was fighting a bunch of a goblin, they are bound to fail the check soon or later. This also makes the game more flavorful for things like a forge cleric or tiefling that can tolerate fire and keep themselves in check.
The next addresses the major gripe my players and I have with concentration spells: there are too many of them. The restriction of one spell for concentration is too restrictive, especially for higher level casters. I wanted to figure out a way to scale up concentration over time. Took us about 9 months of game play, but we solidified it as such:
You can concentrate on a number of spells up to your proficiency modifier -1. The spells you are concentrating on cannot exceed a combined level amount greater than the highest level spell slot you can cast. If you fail a concentration check, you lose concentration on the highest level spell you are concentrating on; in case of a tie you lose one at random.
So for example, a 5th level character could concentrate on two spells (proficiency bonus is +3, -1 from that is 2, so two spells). Running with a 5th level character, they could concentrate on the following combinations: a 3rd level spell; a 1st and 2nd level; or two 1st level spells. They could not concentrate on two 2nd level spells or a 3rd level spell and any other spells because they exceed the highest level they can cast, which is 3rd.
In practice, I find most players rarely hit these limits. Our campaign is at 13th level right now. So that means the single class spell casters, like the cleric, druid, and wizard, can concentrate on up to four spells with a combined level of seven. Often they maybe have a 4th or 5th level spell up with a 1st or 2nd level up. As for our multiclass casters, such as our 8th level sorcerer/5th level bard, he can concentrate the same, but tends to have a lot of 2nd and 3rd level spells up.
Death Saving Throws:
This one is pretty easy and combines with Lingering Injuries below.
If the total of your death saving throw is 20 or higher, you regain 1 hit point. Rolling a 1 on the d20 does not count as two failures, instead roll for a lingering injury.
Stuff like bless or a ring of protection provide a universal bonus to all saving throws. That should extend to death saving throws.
This is probably the single house rule we have gone through the most iterations of. A release on the DMs Guild, “I Need Healing!”, really sets up some solid and easy rules for, what it calls, “Impactful Injuries.”
The simple rule here is when you are reduced to 0 hit points, you gain a level of exhaustion. The getting knocked down and back up again routine is not sustainable for a party. These rules also make lesser restoration and greater restoration more useful.
Death saving throws factor into this in that if you fail one by five or more, you have a potential injury based on a Constitution saving throw. These can be pretty mild to being very permanent. It is just one page in “I Need Healing!”, so easy to have printed and on hand.
Another rule I have mentioned, we used the Critical Hit Decks from Nord Games. These things are a blast and make for more interesting encounters and complications. A lot of them do not do more damage, but provide other issues. A throat hit on a spellcaster may mean they cannot speak to use verbal spells for a few rounds.
I really cannot recommend these enough as they create so much flavor. My favorite in game moment was when our samurai, Miyuki, was dueling a flind. Honestly, I thought she was gonna die. But she booted up fighter spirit, went in, got two critical hits in the first round. Using the Critical Hit Decks, one was a cut about the brow, blinding the flind for a d4 rounds and the other was a tendon cut, reducing its speed to half for d6 rounds. She took a few steps back, dismantling this demonic beast, watched it flail around, then came in for a killing blow. It really let the scene unfold in dramatic fashion.
It is important to note that the decks scale. So in the above image, the quadruple damage critical do not come up until players reach level 11 or so. And because the deck expands, those results get rarer.
That is about where we stand. I do not believe we are done with these. Are they perfect? Absolutely not. Do they work? Yes. Many times we forget them, but other times we discuss them. All in all they add to our enjoyment of D&D and that is what matters.
If you like any of these and use them, let me know on Twitter @OnlyPlayWizards