D&D 5e: My House Rules


I’m introducing a lot of new players to my 5e Aurikesh campaign all at once, so I had to sit down and write out all of the house rules that have accreted in the three-years-and-change that we’ve been playing. This post, then, is to discuss why they exist; if you’ve read this blog exhaustively, then you’re awesome, but a lot of this will be a rehash of things I’ve talked about before.

House Rules

1. Character Generation: 4d6 drop lowest for one column. Roll 2d6 for a safety-net column. Pick either one, and arrange stats to taste.

Safety Net Stats (2d6)

2: 15, 14, 13, 12, 12, 11

3: 15, 15, 13, 12, 11, 10

4: 16, 15, 12, 11, 11, 10

5: 16, 14, 14, 12, 11, 8

6: 16, 16, 12, 10, 10, 10

7: 17, 15, 12, 11, 10, 8

8: 17, 14, 12, 11, 10, 10

9: 18, 13, 13, 10, 10, 8

10-11: 18, 14, 11, 10, 10, 8

12: 18, 12, 12, 10, 10, 10

I like variety in characters, but I need a very serious floor on how bad is is possible for characters to be. There’s no cap on how good character stats can be, except for simple probability. This has worked well and been pretty popular with my players; about half of all characters use a safety-net stat block.

2. +5 hit points at 1st level, in addition to max hit points at 1st level.

One of the things I loved in 4e was that first-level characters could take a few hits and keep fighting. Characters dropping in a single, non-critical hit from low-level monsters doesn’t feel great to me, because there’s no room for tension to increase. It showed me that the most important increase in character power, in the entire span of D&D’s level progression, is the hit points you gain going from 1st level to 2nd.

3. New characters start at 1st level.

Most longer-term players in Aurikesh have multiple characters, and switch between them based on story needs (such as “this character is really involved in city politics, so I’m not sending her on the months-long mission to the frozen north – I’ll just make a second character for that adventure”), mood, or whatever. Turns out, 1st-level characters with 5 extra hit points can hang with 3rd- and 4th-level characters without much problem. (Those 1st-level characters usually advance to 2nd after their first significant conflict.)

4. Give Ground: when you take damage from a melee attack, you may spend your reaction to reduce the damage by 1d6 and move 5′ away from the attacker. The attacker may immediately follow you into the space you just left.

Having some defensive way to spend your reaction is good, and if I were to rework 5e from the ground up, every character would have some kind of defensive reaction option as well as the offensive option of opportunity attacks. Several classes get something that supersedes Give Ground, but to my mind that only proves the need for this option for everyone else.

5. Agonizing Blast and Repelling Blast are banned. The Warlock class has a few other changes going on.

I wrote Problems in the Warlock Design in March of last year. My most recent new comment on it was yesterday. It is, hands down, the most contentious thing I’ve ever written in this blog, and it’s still the hill I die on. The one warlock in my campaign has been much happier with the class since I put these changes in place. (She also picked up some of the other cantrips I’ve created, because she’s a tome ‘lock.)

I also created the horn of the long night to give Archfey warlocks a workaround for the huge number of charmed- and frightened-immune creatures in the MM. The horn only solves for undead, but they’re a common enemy type. I’ve decided that the Highlords (my setting’s name for Archfey) made a fair number of these horns, and also created other items that solve these problems – because if you were a nigh-godlike being, wouldn’t you work out a way for your pact-holders to carry out your goals against creatures immune to the customary application of your power?
If I ever had a blade ‘lock hit 5th level, it’s very likely that Thirsting Blade would get folded into the function of the pact, rather than costing an invocation. It’s such an essential function that it’s an invocation tax, and that’s not right to me.

6. All cantrips for all spellcasters deal a flat +2 damage, unless you have a feature that would grant a greater bonus.

…because rolling a 1 on damage with a cantrip for the first four levels of play just sucks. With eldritch blast, at 5th level and higher, you apply this damage bonus to any one blast.

7. When you gain a level, you do not roll a hit die. You gain hit points equal to the die’s average value, rounded up (so a d10 grants 6 hit points) plus your Con modifier.

It took me years to figure it out and be really sure of it, but I dislike bad hit point rolls upon leveling up both as a player and as a DM (because I don’t ever want players to feel disappointed in the leveling-up process). For a good long time we rolled a hit die with a floor value of half the die’s maximum value (and I know a lot of games that do this), but when you’re rolling a d6 with a floor of 3, that’s really collapsing the available values enough that… what the hell, let’s just make it a fixed number for each class and have done with it.

In principle, but not yet in practice, I’m good with handing out a permanent hit point increase as one kind of reward, as long as you’re not exceeding the maximum value of all of your hit dice.

8. At 8th level, clerics gain both +Wis to damaging cantrips and +d8 (of appropriate damage type) to weapon attacks, rather than each domain granting one or the other.

Because they can’t be applied simultaneously (unless and until you’re using greenflame blade or booming blade, I guess… but those aren’t currently legal in Aurikesh), there’s no reason to grant only one or the other by Domain. If you want to play a Life cleric who hangs back and fights enemies with cantrips, that’s fine with me. If you want to play a Knowledge cleric that beats people to death with a staff, also good, and I don’t think it should cost you your class’s expected effectiveness. I may need to specify damage types for some Domains, but I’m comfortable doing that on the fly.

9. PC classes that would grant immunities (mainly paladin and monk) instead grant advantage and +d6 on any relevant saving throw. If this benefit is not applicable, I create an ad-hoc ruling. You will not be immune to things.

If you take nothing else away from this blog, take this: PC immunities are a bad idea. An alternate implementation that I thought about last night was replacing PC immunity with a limited usage of Legendary Resistance. For example, once per day when you fail a saving throw against the charmed condition, you pass it instead.

10. Upkeep: I call for upkeep when appropriate. Sometimes you get a few free days. Especially if a character hasn’t been active in a long while, you may get free weeks or months.

I have my own Upkeep chart, paid weekly and priced in silver. I created mechanical effects for each grade of upkeep, because I don’t think PCs feel the differences between purely descriptive upkeep values, and they all live together in the barracks of their mercenary company, so I don’t have a lot of room to describe their individual dwelling-places.

Weekly Upkeep Effect
0 -2 hit dice per day of healing available (minimum 0)
10 -1 hit die per day of healing available
50 No modifier
100 Minimum roll on all hit dice for healing is half the die’s maximum value
250 +1 virtual HD per day of healing available, and minimum roll on all HD for healing is half the die’s maximum value
500 Gain advantage on all saving throws against disease effects, and as above
1000 Gain proficiency in Charisma (High Society) as long as you maintain this status, and as above
5000 +2 virtual hit dice per day of healing available, and as above
10000 Once per week, perform the Recuperate downtime action in a single long rest, and as above
50000 Gain one Trait of the Noble or Knight backgrounds

11. If two character abilities conflict in absolute statements in a way that isn’t readily resolvable, flip a coin; the winner of the coin toss gets to apply their rule in this one case. If it comes up again in a later round, flip the coin again.
This is a weird rule, but there are a lot of corner-case applications and intersections of various class features that can be resolved with a highly technical reading that, as often as not, I find unsatisfying. When a common or highly-useful feature trumps a rare or infrequently-useful feature, that irritates me. This rule is an attempt to gloss over the process of researching the technical ruling in a generally equitable way.

12. If there’s an exploration montage, expect a mix of normal D&D rules and borrowed rules from other games.
This refers to my post comparing the overland-exploration mechanics of 5e, Dungeon World, and The One Ring. I felt like each system had things to recommend it. I don’t think any of my players are likely to be exhaustively versed in the exploration mechanics, but I wanted my list of house rules to include even things they might play without noticing.

13. This is not so much a rule as guidance to players: I’m comfortable with spot rulings for cool stunts. The important thing is to keep it fresh and not keep using the same trick.
Without a formal stunt system, I want players to know that I like stunts and I want to work with them to make cinematic action happen, but I won’t get locked into “you let this work last time, so it’s just an unlisted class feature now.” As a result, it hasn’t been a problem.

14. The friends cantrip is somewhat altered.
Once I hung a major subclass mechanic on the friends cantrip as a source of royal awe, I started to see the things that really don’t work in that spell. I created an alternate mechanism for targets figuring out that magic has been used… not on them, but in their proximity, and I changed “automatic hostility” to “hostility is one outcome, but if used judiciously this spell doesn’t offend people.”

Closing Commentary

Who knows, maybe I’ll find more things I care about house-ruling (or remember that I have house-ruled) as we play. Further tweaks to the warlock, or changes to the ranger, are top candidates. I don’t think of home-brewed content as “house rules,” even if those pieces of content are rules not found anywhere but my own table. (Blogging is persuasive writing, so I’m at least trying to get people to use my content!)

At what point do “a few house rules” become “a heavily house-ruled and idiosyncratic version, scarcely intelligible to other speakers of the same language” – possibly even “a fantasy heartbreaker”?

One more house rule that a friend suggested to me last night, and I am seriously considering: characters have two Concentration slots, one of which is limited to offensive spells, and the other of which is limited to defensive spells. I think the Concentration mechanic is a net improvement to the system, but it’s a bit too restrictive. Alternately, I’ve thought about creating a steep, probably per-round cost for a second Concentration slot – maybe costing hit dice or spell slots to sustain. I would be surprised if WotC didn’t create something along these lines in the next few years of 5e’s content cycle.
I’m always interested in hearing about other folks’ house rules, especially with commentary on why they have put them in place!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *