House rules in D&D get a bad reputation. They can be completely terrible and ruin games, so why do we make them and what makes a good house rule?
House rules in D&D have existed forever. They allow players to add to the game, account for problems, and enhance the game if done correctly.
We will go over some house rules later, but my goal is to help you understand house rules so that you can make, and find, good house rules while being able to tell which ones are bad.
Making good house rules
House rules in D&D can be good, bad, or terrible. There is a reason why most DMs do not allow any house rules in their game, and why only house rules that the DM comes up with or adapts are allowed. Players are not able to implement house rules, and this is for a very good reason.
When players try coming up with house rules most of the time they are flawed. Not to say that DM’s are flawless when it comes to house rules, but they are more likely to come up with a good house rule. Players come from the perspective that they want to do more, be more powerful, or have more cool options.
DMs look at the system, and think of the big picture. They think of how mechanically a house rule can affect the game and if it is worth adding that house rule to the game or not. These house rules can fix glaring issues that the DM sees in the system or in their own game. When done poorly though, it can destroy campaigns and make players have a weapon against the DM that ends with everything being lit to flame.
A great example of this is allowing players to go for specific body parts when striking for a small -4 to hit. If you implement this rule, expect your monsters to be blinded, dismembered, and the entire game balance to be thrown into whack.
For some DMs, this is fine. For others, it spells doom for the entire campaign. That is why there are a 5 rules that you should follow when making house rules.
- Find out how far this rule can be taken.
- Decide if you can deal with the ramifications.
- Evaluate if it is worth it to add this rule.
- Consider game balance.
- State what problem it addresses.
We will go over these rules in a little bit of detail, and then go over a few rules that I have implemented in the past that have worked, and some that have not worked.
How far can this go?
The most terrifying thing to consider when thinking of house rules in D&D is what can happen. Giving someone a new race might seem cool at first, but what happens down the line?
Player A decides to be a new race and you let it slide. The player made this race, says it is balanced, and you gave it a glance. Seems fine right? It did. It seemed fine until level 6 when they gained a new racial ability that lets them go invisible 2x per day. The player is a rogue, and now has the ability to use a get out of jail free card.
When a player suggests a house rule, race, or anything! Check what they are playing and how the player could possibly interact with the house rule. Take careful time to consider all the ramifications, and only allow it when you are sure it will not be a problem.
For your own house rules, consider how far the players will take things. We can never consider every option that players have, but plan for every house rule like your players are powergamers. Good ones exist, and read our article about them here, but good powergamers will use what is given to them.
If your players encounter a challenging obstacle, they will become powergamers even if temporarily. This is when the game can be broken by your house rule, so consider the most ridiculous scenarios that the players can use this house rule in. If you honestly can’t find a problem, then it should most of the time be okay.
House rules in D&D can change how the game is played. If you allowed the house rule that allows targeted body parts, it will completely change the game.
We briefly discussed above how this is a problem rule, but consider why. If players can target limbs, why not do that every time? Start to focus on buffing attack to make that -4 not an issue, and now players are becoming more focused on powergaming and numbers than roleplay. It changes that aspect and will change combat as well.
Players will now focus on sneak attacks or almost always using this rule to gain an advantage. It only makes sense to fight an enemy with disadvantage, so why not always go for the shot? In fact, why not go for the shot before combat starts?
The other ramifications are that enemies might be able to use these house rules. In fact, enemies should use house rules if it can be applied to them. In this case, it only makes sense that some enemies will try to target player body parts. When this happens, you might have a level 3 fighter missing an eye soon and it can completely kill a character!
These are the ramifications of just adding the ability to target a body part. Any rule that you add can change the game, how it is played, and possibly destroy your campaign!
Carefully consider what the rule will do to your game, and if there is no negative change then implement the house rule after looking at the 5 rules before adding a house rule.
Is it worth it?
While the ability to attack a body part is one of the more interesting house rules in D&D, you have to consider if it is worth it. Is it worth it to completely change combat? If you are bored of normal combat and just want a change, it might be after you consider the other 5 rules.
For other house rules, it can just complicate maters and add unnecessary steps. Your players may not like it, or just never use it. So, is your house rule even worth it to add to the game?
You know your game better than anyone, and the best answer to this question is your gut feeling. If you hear a rule and think it is bad, then it will be bad for you and your group. If you you hear it and think it is a cool idea, then it might be worth it after considering the 5 rules.
You know the answer to this question, so there isn’t too much to cover.
The ever elusive game balance. We strive to make the game fun, entertaining, and balanced. D&D 5e mostly does this for us by making the character so good and a pre-stated set of monsters for different levels, but anything can unbalance the game.
Adding extra magic items, abilities, or even just certain situations can unbalance the game. We already tow this line a lot, but when adding house rules in D&D the game’s balance can be destroyed.
House rules, if taken into account, can become as deadly to a game as a forgotten item. There have been many times when DMs have given players an item and forgotten about it until much later when the players change the entire campaign by bringing out this forgotten item.
If you don’t forget about house rules, you need to consider who this will benefit. The example of hitting body parts enhances martial classes and doesn’t help magic users nearly as much. If you make it harder to target a body part with ranged attacks, it only further disrupts the balance of the game by making melee classes that much better.
House rules should not make any 1 class more powerful or give them more of the spotlight. You need to consider how balanced the rule is and who it helps, or if it can break the game later on for just existing.
What does it help?
You wanted a house rule for a reason. To make things cool, use the rule of cool as we describe here. Do not use house rules for this. If you try to use house rules to make something cool, it most likely is violating one of the other 5 rules to consider before making house rules in D&D.
House rules in D&D are made to address a problem. No system is perfect, and D&D has some flaws. 1 flaw might be that combat is not realistic. To fix this, you might come up with a solution that involves targeting body parts. We have talked about why this is bad at length, but it was considered for a reason.
You want to address these problems and make amendments to the game, so house rules in D&D are the easiest and possibly best way to do this. These reasons are why house rules exist, and can be a good thing.
To illustrate the point, I will give you some examples of house rules that I have made which are good.
House rule idea #1
You now know how to identify if a house rules in D&D are going to be good or bad for your game. If they do not violate the 5 rules on making good house rules, then they will be fine. Note that if a house rule is good for you, it might not be good for others and vice versa.
To give an example of a few good house rules, let me tell you what I have done in the past or am currently still doing in my games.
Changes to party checks:
Have you ever been in a situation where 1 person asks to make a check and then the rest of the party slowly starts to make the check? How about when 1 person fails a check, and only because that person rolled a 5 total other players want to use metagame knowledge to roll their own checks?
I have. A lot.
This is why I made a new house rule.
If the party is to do a skill check, they can only make 2 rolls, or have a player with advantage help someone else. This applies to the first 2 rolls made.
This way if the party is deciphering arcane runes only 2 people can roll and if 2 people are proficient 1 can roll with advantage or both can roll separately. It solves the problem and rewards party size, teamwork, and lets there be safety net if 1 fails, but not large enough for the whole party.
This rule adds some tension to skill checks and makes them more meaningful. There are some flaws, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives in my games. Use this if you want in your games.
House rule idea #2
This rule has been used in many systems aside from D&D, but how I have used fate points is thus:
Each player gains 1 fate point per session. Fate points do not stack, and they can be used to gain an extra turn, turn a di into it’s highest number before it is rolled, or automatically resist an effect after you have failed.
When using this rule, it makes the players feel more powerful and lets them do more. That of course means that the game will be harder, but the fact that players can’t save up fate points will mean that your boss won’t have to fight 4 players with 4 turns each in the first round and probably die.
In addition, it works for everyone! Anyone can use it and it does not favor a specific class. Since players only get 1 a session, they will most likely consider this mechanic and won’t just save it up and forget about it. You might have to remind your players a little bit at first to use this fate point system, but once they remember they will most likely love it.
This is for experienced DMs who can handle this uncertainty and possibly overpowered ability for your party, so it is up to you if you want to implement this system or not.
Inn house rules
Drinking games are fun, but there are many other house rules in D&D that apply to Inns and taverns. For these house rules, I suggest looking at our article on taverns for more information.
There are a ton of house rules, games, and other things that you can take from the tavern article so look there if you want some interesting house rules for Inns/taverns.
You now should know how to identify if house rules in D&D will benefit your game or not.
House rules in D&D can be good or bad. It depends if they are right for you and your group, but also if they adhere to the 5 rules. If your house rule passes those 5 rules without any issue, then it is great!
Most house rules will have some problems, and it is up to you to weight the pros and cons. Is a house rule worth it in your game? The answer is up to you, but I have given you enough tools and examples to let you consider yourself an expert in the topic.
Also, if you liked the house rules that you saw feel free to steal them and use them for your game.
I would love to hear about your best house rules, and if any of these house rules I have recommended make it into your game!
Until next time this has been Wizo and keep rolling!