Joe’s 5e House Rules Final Version
Location: We are playing in the Forgotten Realms. Throw out everything you think you know about it from books, playing in it with other campaigns, computer games, novels, etc. Basically make believe I made up my own home brew world from scratch with a map and place names that are remarkably similar to the Forgotten Realms. Most times I’m going to keep it as it is, lots of times I won’t. You never know when until you ask. Separate player knowledge from character knowledge. Your character is a no one from no-where who knows nothing outside of his own little village, basically. Ask questions about stuff, don’t assume you know anything. For example, there are no Harpers, and Khelben, Drizzit, Elminster, Alustriel and her sisters, etc. never existed. The Zhentarim are a merchant and mercenary company with shady rumors about them. Nothing that ever happened in any novels ever happened in my game world---unless I said it did, which you won’t know until you ask, or I tell you ahead of time without you even having to ask or roll because it is common knowledge.
Style: There are no safe spaces in this world! There are ZERO benevolent all knowing wise powerful immune-to-temptation goodly rich and generous wizards or any other individuals of that type. I hate the Gandalf/Elminster/Tenser/Every fantasy novel since Lord of the Rings trope. Likewise, there are no organizations of that type. If you come across a major issue or problem like, hypothetically speaking of course, finding the Eye of Vecna at 5th level, you can do what you want with it, but if you think you can pass it off to an Elminster type character and he will handle shit for you, think again. He’ll be rolling saving throws just like everyone else to not come under its influence. And because he is powerful he has a big ego, so he just may be more susceptible to being convinced he can handle it and use it for good, the Eye whispers into his dreams while he sleeps...
The Gods you worship don’t give a shit about you as an individual. Gods do not intervene in ways large or small, ever. Their way of help is to give their clerics spells. The clerics use those spells to get followers. Their followers worship gives the gods their power. One worshiper out of millions or even billions across the multiverse is meaningless and beneath the Gods attention. On that note, I reserve the right to nerf the hell out of any spells that give some sort of godly intervention. Don’t count on them. If you are a priest of a God not listed in the Forgotten Realms list of gods, then the number of priests it has is exactly ONE. You. You’d better get some followers in order to be able to keep receiving spells.
The world is not black and white, good and evil, where good always triumphs over evil. It is a gray cynical place where good USUALLY DOESN’T triumph over evil. You don’t have a happy ending to every adventure and then go back to the Shire to farm. Stepping outside your village is dangerous. A lot of times even staying in your village is dangerous. Two cloud giant kingdoms may just go to war 3000 feet over your heads, not even noticing the massive collateral damage they are doing to your village, assuming they even noticed your village at all, as massive boulders and dead bodies of giants and wyverns and other monsters land on and destroy your home village. Shit happens. You are born, you live, life is rough and the only certainty is it gets rougher. You try to grow in experience and exert your will on the world, you try to kill shit and shit tries to kill you, you try to accumulate stuff and power.
AND THEN YOU DIE.
Hopefully you took the time to carve out some happy days and good memories along the way. :)
A couple of overarching ideas to keep in mind: (stolen from Matt’s Finch’s excellent Old School Primer—Google it):
D&D isn’t a simulation of what a dwarf raised in a particular society, and having a particular level of intelligence, would do when faced with certain challenges. Old-style play is about keeping your character alive and making him into a legend. The player’s skill is the character’s guardian angel – call it the character’s luck or intuition, or whatever makes sense to you, but don’t hold back on your skill as a player just because the character has a low intelligence. Role-playing is part of the game, but it’s not a suicide pact with your character.
Know when to run. A good GM is impartial: he doesn’t favor the party, and he doesn’t favor the monsters. But he’s not playing a tournament against the players, where he’s restricted by rules and required to offer up well-gauged, well-balanced challenges. Instead, he’s there to be an impartial referee for the characters’ adventures in a fantasy world – NOT in a “game setting.” The old-style campaign is a fantasy world, with all its perils, contradictions, and surprises: it’s not a “game setting” which somehow always produces challenges of just the right difficulty for the party’s level of experience. Even on the first level of a dungeon, there might be challenges too difficult for a first-level party of adventurers. Ask the one-armed guy in the tavern; he may know. If you didn’t think of checking the tavern for one-armed men, consider it a comment on your skill as a player.
The party has no “right” only to encounter monsters they can defeat, no “right” only to encounter traps they can disarm, no “right” to invoke a particular rule from the books, and no “right” to a die roll in every particular circumstance. This sort of situation isn’t a mistake in the rules. Game balance just isn’t terribly important in old-style gaming. It’s not a tournament where the players are against the GM. It’s more like a story with dice: the players describe their actions, the referee describes the results, and the story of the characters, epic or disastrous, grows out of the combined efforts of referee and players. The referee will be just as surprised by the results as the players are.
CHARACTER CREATION AND ADVANCEMENT
Books Used by Players:
PHB: except for as described below
Xanathar’s: ONLY the racial feats, spells, the tools and skills synergy section, and the part on pg. 133 on scribing a spell scroll.
Volo’s: DM only
Mordenkainen’s: DM Only
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide: Only the Arcana Domain for Clerics.
All Other Publications or Resources: DM Only
Ability Scores: Roll three times at 4d6, drop lowest die. Roll two times at 5d6, drop the two lowest. Roll once at 6d6, drop the three lowest. Arrange all scores where you want them to be. If your PC's scores still suck after all this generosity, tough shit.
Character Background vs. Character Backstory: You can choose any background from the PHB as your own and gain the benefits from it. However, your personal backstory, the narrative of where you come from, why you adventure, and your goals in life, etc., cannot be anything that makes you special in any way, or that sets up some quest that you must do---i.e. your wife was kidnapped by orcs and it is your life’s mission to rescue her. You are a blank slate, a nobody from nowhere. Basically, your choice of background shouldn't drag all the other characters along on a boring-ass mission that only matters to you, is what I’m saying here. Backstory is essentially meaningless—what matters is the story going forward. What you do with your life, the victories you achieve, battles won, glory and gold gained, as your fame spreads across the land. Emergent Storytelling, where the story emerges from the play, is how I run the game.
Background Proficiencies: If a background gives you proficiency in a certain tool set, kit, or instrument, then you are assumed to already own it and do not have to purchase it when buying equipment. For example, thieves tools, disguise kit, lyre, pan flute, etc.
Alignment: Alignment doesn’t really matter that much, as long as you play your characters consistently, and if there is an inconsistency, have a good reason for the variation. Evil characters are not allowed, due to the nature of the game I plan to DM. Evil characters just won’t fit this particular campaign. However, at times I will need to ask an alignment for spell purposes or some other reason, so have one written down.
Races Allowed: All races from the PHB are allowed except for Tieflings, Dragonborn or Drow.
Halflings: All Stout Halflings have darkvision out to 60 feet. All other Halfling subraces have it to 30 feet.
Half Elves: Some half-elves in the Realms have a racial trait. Your half-elf character can choose to have Skill Versatility affect only one skill instead of two and in place of the other skill they can instead take the elf trait Keen Senses OR a trait based on your elf parentage as follows:
A half-elf of wood elf descent can choose the wood elf's Elf Weapon Training, Fleet of Foot, or Mask of the Wild.
A half-elf of moon elf or sun elf descent can choose the high elf's Elf Weapon Training or Cantrip.
A half-elf of drow descent can choose the drow's Drow Magic.
A half-elf of aquatic heritage can choose a swimming speed of 30 feet.
Classes: No Warlocks or Sorcerers or Bards. All else from the PHB are allowed.
NOTE: I’m not trying to be a dick with these class and race restrictions. I don’t hate them (except for Bards), and I will be making use of all of them in the game in some way that I hope you think is pretty cool.
Clerics and Druids: It’s been noted that Clerics or Druids starting a new religion in a plane of existence where that god has zero or next to zero influence seem to get some divine assistance by that god’s “agents” at times. Mostly in the form of dreams, or by way of leading them to people/places/things that would help with the spread of the religion in the new place. If a Cleric or Druid who is introducing a new faith to a plane of existence does not get a certain number of followers per level after 5th level, they do not get new cleric or druid spells or abilities as they level. They only go up in basic combat ability. The number needed increases for each level of the character and is only known by the DM
Clerics, Druids, Paladins, and any else who worships a god: You have to choose from the Forgotten Realms god list on pg 294 of the PHB. If you’re a non-human you get to choose a non-human deity from page 296 of the PHB. Any other choices have to be approved by the DM IN ADVANCE.
Rogues: The subclass of assassin is not allowed. Rogues and their subclasses are the only ones who can knock out a restrained human, humanoid, or demihuman type creature with one non lethal blow to the head. It’s a function of sneak attack. All other classes have to whack him down over and over until his hit points are reduced with non lethal damage to zero.
Rangers: As per the PHB, except that Rangers now get the benefits of both Archetypes. Rangers have all the features and abilities of the Hunter and the Beast Master.
Druids: When Druids shapechange into an animal they are able to speak to other animals of that specific type up to the limits of that animals intelligence.
Clerics: Clerics get one more Channel Divinity than the rules state they get. Plus, see new Turning rules under the Combat section. They do not get Divine Intervention at 10th level. They also get the Arcana Domain from the Sword Coast Adventuring Guide.
Paladins and Rangers: Paladins and Rangers have to worship an actual god, not just a principle as it seems to suggest in the PHB. The type of build must also be one in which meshes with the god they chose. Note that they have to follow an established god of the world they live in, as they operate under the guidance of a church hierarchy. Therefore they cannot worship a god who is not on one of the approved lists of established gods.
Multiclassing: is not allowed
Skills: The DM will roll all Search and Stealth rolls after asking the players their modifiers. This is because all characters always think they did the best they can so they assume they searched well and are moving stealthily. Otherwise as it stands now if a player rolls poorly on a search for traps roll, next thing you know every player rolls to search for traps until a high roll is achieved. Everyone still has the right to do search after search for player after player, but keep in mind a thorough search of a 10x10 area of wall or floor or an item like a desk takes a full ten minutes, during which time asshole DM’s like to roll wandering monster checks. BWAHAHAHAHA! Aiding someone in a skill check will give them advantage, but as it says in the PHB, the player aiding has to be able to do that thing themselves, so not everyone can aid in a lockpicking check. Also, you can’t aid in things like stealth because it is an individual action. Lastly, the act of aiding someone makes it take more time, more time makes for more wandering monster checks.
Searching: You don’t just walk into a doorway of a room and say “I search it”, and roll a d20 for a Perception check to determine if you find traps, or anything and everything hidden in the whole room. When searching, a roll is made every five minutes of player time. Five minutes is enough time to search a ten by ten area of wall, floor, or ceiling, or a bed, chest, cabinet, etc. Some things may take longer depending on size and DM discretion. All searching will involve touching, smelling, listening and looking unless you specifically tell me otherwise. Also, tell me exactly what, if anything, you are doing to search other than looking, smelling, listening or touching. Some things will not be found no matter the search roll unless you do something specific while searching, like looking specifically for a false bottom in a chest. Lastly, as I said, while players are searching is a wonderful!!! time for a DM to roll random monster checks. Usually one per every five or ten minutes of searching. Search away, but watch your ass! Lastly, some search checks are based on Intelligence instead of Wisdom, based on the type of thing being searched for.
Shieldmaster does a 1-4 base damage now if you choose to use it as a weapon in lieu of shoving an opponent 5 feet back.
Crossbow Expertise does not allow you to use two two-handed crossbows at once.
The Luck feat does not exist.
Hitpoints: All HP rolls for leveling up must be done in public at the game session. Not because we don’t trust you, but because we want to mock you when you roll a 1. :-) If you do roll a 1, or any score you’re not happy with, you have an option: you can choose to re-roll on a die that is one die category lower than yours. D12 to d10, d10 to d8, d8 to d6, d6 to d4. You’re stuck with the final result, it is a gamble, and you can’t go back to a roll you made before. You can, however, keep going lower, all the way to a d4. A Barbarian can start off rolling a d12, and keep getting crappy rolls and choosing to roll on a lower die, until he ultimately end up rolling a d4 and gets 1 hp.
Resurrection: DOES NOT EXIST! IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM. EVEN THAT CLERIC SPELL THAT BRINGS YOU BACK TO LIFE IF DEAD LESS THAN A MINUTE, OR ANY OTHER TYPE OF BULLSHIT THING. ONCE YOU’RE DEAD YOU’RE DEAD. PERIOD.
Cleric Turning Undead: A cleric now has more options than before. Each action below requires a use of Channel Divinity.
As an action, you present your holy symbol and speak a prayer censuring the undead. Each undead that can see or hear you within 30 feet of you must make a Wisdom saving throw. If the creature fails its saving throw, it is turned for 1 minute or until it takes any damage. A turned creature must spend its turns trying to move as far away from you as it can, and it can't willingly move to a space within 30 feet of you. It also can't take reactions. For its action, it can use only the Dash action or try to escape from an effect that prevents it from moving. If there's nowhere to move, the creature can use the Dodge action. Turned undead, if they are unintelligent, often wander off somewhere else after the minute is up. Intelligent ones most often return to the being that turned them to exact vengeance. Only Good or Neutral Clerics can turn undead.
As an action, you present your holy symbol and speak a prayer commanding the undead. Each undead that can see or hear you within 30 feet of you must make a Wisdom saving throw. If the creature fails its saving throw, it is mentally controlled by the Cleric for 1 minute. A controlled undead creature can be commanded to do simple things for that minute. The cleric must have visual contact with the undead to mentally change its commands. The commands must be simple things like carry, walk, run, guard, kill (with the object(s) of the kill command visualized by the Cleric), etc. It can utilize all the abilities at its disposal in order to carry out its commands. Once the period of control is over, the formerly controlled undead, regardless of their intelligence, make it their purpose in undeath to kill the being that controlled them. Only Evil and Neutral Clerics can control undead.
As an action, a Cleric can send out a burst of holy or unholy energy that effects all undead within 30 feet of him. Evil Clerics can only do unholy bursts, and Good Clerics can only do holy bursts. Holy burst harms all undead in the area of effect with 1d6 dmg per cleric level, no save. Unholy burst heals all undead in the same area for 1d6 per cleric level, no save. Neutral Clerics can choose to do either holy or unholy burst, but they do only 1d3 damage per level. Note, however, that Neutral Clerics are the only ones that can choose to either turn or control undead.
Surprise: A group is surprised on 1-2 on a d6. The result of surprise is the surprised party loses all actions that round. It is rolled by the DM who will impose any situational modifiers he deems appropriate. Tied cancels each other out. Sometimes even having knowledge that an enemy is in the other room can result in a surprise. For example, if that enemy has a well prepared and rehearsed ambush set up to be triggered by the PC’s entering a room, the party will be surprised. In that case, the surprise acts more as a trap without a saving throw than an NPC or monster encounter. This is at the discretion of the DM.
Initiative: By the book. No longer using simple initiative.
Fist-fighting: There is a base damage done per a punch by a creature, depending on its size. This is in addition to any strength modifiers. A tiny creature does zero damage as a base. Small=1, medium=1-2, large=3, huge=4, gargantuan=5. As it stands now the rules say that a storm giant and a halfling do the same base dmg with a punch. Bullshit.
Critical Hits and Misses: A Critical hit is when you roll a natural 20 on a d20 to hit in combat. A critical miss, or fumble as it is also known, is when you roll a natural 1 on a d20 to hit in combat.
Note that a natural 20 or a natural 1 on an attack (or anything really) cannot be negated by advantage or disadvantage or anything else!
Natural 20 = PC has a choice, to be made before he rolls the damage die:
1 Double the damage die roll
2 Roll 2 of the damage die
3 Max the damage die
Natural 1 = PC has a choice:
1 Do nothing the next melee round, or
2 Choose to have the attack against yourself, roll another d20 to see if you hit yourself, and if so roll damage, but you can still attack the next melee round.
Magical Attacks and Crits and Fails:
Caster natural 20 on attack roll
Caster gets a choice of critical
Caster natural 1 on attack roll
DM delights in fucking with the caster
Victim rolls natural 20 to save v damaging spell
If the spell was save or half, or save or suck, then no damage. May be immune to that damage type or spell for a while, DM discretion.
If the spell was save or no damage, then the spells either heals the victim for a d4 per level of the spell, or is reflected back at the caster and he has no save, for the same amount of damage
Victim rolls natural 20 to save v non damaging spell
Spells is reversed or other fun outcome per DM discretion
Victim rolls natural 1 to save v damaging spell
Caster gets a choice of critical
Victim rolls natural 1 to save v non damaging spell
DM delights in fucking with the victim
Caster rolls a natural 20 and the victim a natural 20
Cancels each other out.
Grapple: You can only grapple one target at a time, and to attempt it, or to hold someone in a grapple, takes up all that person’s attacks and movement for that round.
Death Save Land is not a Safe Space!!! Intelligent enemies, especially those who know that any character can have a healing potion and raise someone up from Death Save Land unconsciousness to be a full blown threat again, will often savagely attack a PC a few more times once the PC goes down, just to make sure they never ever ever ever ever get up ever again. They will often coordinate these sorts of attacks.
Mounted combat: If a Character is on a mount, the mount can move double its movement and the character can still get his attacks in. The mount, however, cannot attack that round. If the mount only moved its normal rate it can attack as well as the character.
XP for Creative Spell Use or for NOT BORING THE DM: Players who get creative with spells are awarded with extra xp, as are casters who don’t do the same boring-ass cantrips round after round after round after round after round after round. #tollthedeadboredom. You do not have to cast a spell every round if you are a caster just to feel like you’re worth something. Look around at the surroundings and utilize what you see to improvise something and you’ll get extra xp and maybe other benefits like inspiration dice. Pull a McGyver, basically.
Scrolls and Magic Items: Anyone can read a protection scroll and have it activate. A character can only read and activate a spell off a spell scroll if that spell is in their class’s spell list, regardless of which class the maker of the spell scroll was. As for magic items that have spells or spell-like abilities, in order to be able to use and activate it, all or almost all of those spells must be in your class’s spell list. The DM will make a ruling if there is any question.
Ritual Spells: Contrary to the rules, Clerics and Druids do not need to have a spell that can be cast as a ritual prepared for the day. As long as the spell is of a level that they can cast, they are able to cast it as a ritual. They need to have a Prayer Book with all the ritual spells in it and use that to cast them if of the appropriate level to cast them. They get that at first level for free. Wizards need to have a ritual spell in their spellbook, they do not need to have it prepared. Since it is a ritual it does not burn a spell slot. The exception this rule is it the ritual is of the healing or curative type. In that case it does force you to use a spell slot to cast it, but it does not have to be prepared. The reason for this is obviously so that a healing type of character doesn’t have unlimited healing ability. Some spells that are not designated as rituals but resemble a ritual spell or a ritual in general can be designated as a ritual spell per the DM’s discretion. Ask if you find one with those characteristics. For example, the second level cleric spell Prayer of Healing takes ten minutes to cast. It does not have to be prepared, and is treated as a ritual. When cast it still burns a spell slot, however.
Magic Armor: has no weight or encumbrance hindrances. It magically changes shape to fit its wearer, including making room for wings, tails, horns, etc.
Potions of Healing: More rare than most 5e adventures would have you believe. They are only available for purchase in major cities, rarely in smaller ones. And they cost 500 gp each.
Identifying Magic Items and Potions: Only Wizards can do this, with the identify spell. Sipping doesn’t work with potions. Some healing potions are sweet, some sour, etc. Nothing is consistent. Likewise with smelling. Therefore the only true way to tell what a potion does is to use the Identify spell, or drink it. Identify is a ritual that takes ten minutes to cast now
Location and Encumbrance: Players need to keep careful track of what they are carrying, its weight, location on the body, and the quantities of items like arrows, food, water, etc. There are penalties to carrying too much, running out of food or arrows, etc. Also, what you carry when entering a dungeon affects what you can carry out of the dungeon in terms of loot. What you carry out in terms of loot and make it back to town with affects how much XP you get. Common sense rules will also apply. A big strong fighter cannot carry a big sack of loot, plus have a shield and sword in hand. He would need three arms. The variant encumbrance rules on pg 176 are used.
Darkvision: not reduced by light
Wardogs and Warhorses and other trained animals used in combat: are affected by the three save rule. Other types of dogs or normal animals are not.
Social Encounters: When a PC and NPC meet and converse, there will not always be opposed rolls for insight, deception, persuasion, etc. Basically the DM is at all times taking into consideration the motives, goals, background, and other details related to the NPC, as well as the overall picture of what is going on in the game and campaign. When a PC interacts with that NPC, the DM takes into account all of those factors, the PC’s charisma or other personality modifiers, as well as any magic in effect on each side, and either decides how the social encounter will go, or more often than not, rolls dice to decide, based on all the factors listed above. To constantly do opposed checks for each and every social interaction is tedious in the extreme, and won’t happen. However, there are times when it is appropriate. During those times the DM will advise the player to make a roll, or, if he decides to do so, the DM will make the roll for the player, for much the same reasons as the DM rolls for stealth or perception checks. If the player would like to make an insight, deception, etc. check, they will ask the DM if they can, and give a very specific thing they want to figure out, determine, or achieve. The DM will decide if the player can said check for their character.