Welcome once again to the Nerdarchy Newsletter. Today’s topic is D&D house rules. Before getting into it, we’ve made a small change to our Patreon-only Live Chat and our Weekly Live Chat. Recently we streamed our first Patreon-only Live Chat. Just login to Patreon and you’ll be able to find the post to it. It’s recorded and you can watch it even if you can’t be there live. We haven’t decided 100% on the format and right now we are doing live Q&As. In future we might do them more as live content creation videos. Our weekly Live Chats will be on Tuesday nights. They will be live on YouTube for anyone that wants to come hang out with us. Both happen 8 p.m. eastern time.
Delving Dave’s Dungeon
All right, D&D house rules. That is where the rubber meets the road in Dungeons & Dragons in my opinion. Everyone’s game used to evolve in a bubble when I first started playing the game. You only really had your group to compare anything to.
It’s much different today. Pop on your favorite social media site or even website and there are a ton of people sharing how they play D&D. The game really isn’t yours until you get in there and start tinkering around. Not that there’s anything wrong with playing RAW (rules as written), but I feel like when we get in there as a group and as Dungeon Masters and start tweaking the rules it begins to transform the experience.
This is especially true if you visit other groups and see how they do things differently. It begins to create these customized experiences. Each D&D gaming group becomes like it’s own specialized D&D ecosystem. This makes me want to go around and experience the game in as many different ways as possible.
One of the things I’d love to see is for people to stop asking the designers on social media for permission to play the game the way they want. It’s really not important what the designers intended. If you have way you want things to work in your D&D group and there is a consensus among everyone, then play the game that way. It’s the job of the group and the individuals to find their fun. Homebrewing the D&D experience at the table is a great way of doing that.
Something that happens a lot in fifth edition D&D combat is the whack-a-mole scenario. Once a character goes down, someone heals them. They pop right back up. Wash, rinse, repeat. No one ever heals that person beyond getting back up because the game part dictates it’s bad action economy. But what if when you popped back up it was with a level of exhaustion? I’ve heard Dan Dillon talk about characters getting back up with max HP as a house rule. I kind of want to combine the two house rules for a grittier kind of game without restricting access to abilities. Getting dropped once a day isnot so bad, but more than that and it gets dangerous. Just something I’m mulling over.
The great thing about house rules is if they don’t work out you can always ditch them and try something else.
From Ted’s Head
House rules are, in my opinion, super important to any game. Most game designers understand people are different and have different styles. While a set of rules can be tested and considered balanced within the defined playstyle of those who play the game, there is no guarantee that all styles of play are factored into those play tests.
Here is where we add house rules. Is a rule too complicated? Simplify it. If a rule is too simple for your game, make it more complicated. Here at Nerdarchy we have a few house rules we think help balance out the few oversights for our table. Dragonborn are too weak in compared to the other races in the fifth edition Player’s Handbook. We made their breath weapon a bonus action to use. That is just one house rule, but it makes it more fun and enjoyable to play with. Over the many episodes of Critical Role I have observed a few house rules. Originally, Dungeon Master Matt Mercer allowed characters to cast two spells a round as long as one of them was 2nd level or lower. This wound up going away later. In addition they allow potions to be used on yourself as a bonus action. I have adopted this house rule into my own table as well.
More than just making the game your own, house rules establish a playstyle that truly matches how you want the game to play. Do you want to have games be gritter and more harsh? There are some options in the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. A short rest could be 8 hours and a long rest is a week, for example. That is pretty harsh and makes it harder to get those spell slots and hit points back, but what if we went into that even harder? What if failed death saves remained until you finished a long rest? You could linger at death’s door for longer because you dropped to 0 hit points. I think this style of game would really make people think, “Should I really enter into combat? Is this really worth risking my life on?”
On the other side you could make the game easier by using weaker monsters than what the party level would call for, or better yet use the minion rules from fourth edition D&D. This could elevate the characters to gods on the battlefield as they mow down enemies by the score. This could mirror the playstyle of certain video games and draw the players in, should that be a draw to them.
In the end you have to know what you and your players want, or you and your DM depending on what you want. Regardless of what seat you occupy at the table if there is something you are not truly happy with bring it up to the group and see if you can all agree on house rules that solve the issue.
From the Nerditor’s Desk
Another outlet to share my favorite house rules!
Are you ready?
My gaming group has our own house rules like everyone else. This one (my favorite) has been live with us for a couple of years now. Whenever I see or hear someone ask other to share their house rules, this is my go-to and everyone seems to dig it.
Oddly enough though, the players in my group rarely use it. I can’t fathom why — maybe they forget — especially since the few times its been invoked has had a big impact and become a memorable moment.
A cleric who found himself shunted off to the Nine Hells after the party slew a void dragon (watch out for that Collapsing Star trait!) used it to put a geas on a devilish fiend. A fighter used it to keep their paladin companion from getting hit and possibly paralyzed by a chuul — a second time — when the party was on the ropes trying to save what they discovered was an awakened dolphin. The wizard used it to to hold someone in Port Nyanzaru in their Hypnotic Gaze and maintain a long con without blowing their cover.
“A player can use their Inspiration to give the Dungeon Master disadvantage.”
Let that slip into your house rules and see if your group likes it. Of course, if your group doesn’t use Inspiration all that much YMMV. On the other hand, maybe this house rule is just the thing your group needs to make Inspiration more present in your games.
In my fifth edition D&D experience, Inspiration gets awarded for much broader reasons than the rules as written. If I’m honest, I rarely see it awarded for that specific purpose at all. It’s meant to be a tool for a Dungeon Master to award for playing your character in a way that’s true to their personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw. But Inspiration has developed into something like house rules for a lot of groups itself. Very often Inspiration is awarded for, well, inspiring play. When I’m the DM I love when players do things to inspire me, and I’m more than happy to make it rain Inspiration. The players in my group enjoy sharing their Inspiration with each other too. It’s pretty cool.
With so many new people coming to the hobby and reaching out to other players for tips, advice and insights into the rules, it’s important to us here at Nerdarchy to be advocates for discovering your own ways to play. House rules are an integral part of this. It’s certainly worthwhile to gain a solid understanding of D&D mechanics, but as your journey with the game progresses, finding your own house rules is a great tradition of the game.
I love swapping house rules with other D&D players and I can’t wait to hear some of yours.