House Rules for D&D 5e

Posted: 2024-02-15
Last Modified: 2024-03-16
Word Count: 2471
Tags: d20 dnd5e rpg

Table of Contents

This page details house rules for any D&D 5e game I run, excluding those using the Nimble modifications to D&D 5e. They are a work in progress.

Other rules may be in effect, for example those for Gridless Combat.

Alignments

My games will use one of two schemes for Alignment:

  1. Alignment doesn’t matter. Players may declare any alignment for their characters that they wish, but it does not affect the rules or world in any respect.

  2. Alignment reflects one’s part in a cosmic struggle. See “D&D Hard Mode Alignment” for details.

The DM will let you know which scheme is in effect before play.

Darkvision

The D&D SRD describes Darkvision thus:

You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

Dim light imposes Disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks involving sight.

Instead of three categories of light – bright light, dim light, and darkness – I’ll use bright light, dim light, near darkness and total darkness.

Near Darkness creates a heavily obscured area to creatures without Darkvision, i.e. they are totally Blinded. Characters may encounter near darkness outdoors on a cloudy moonless night or indoors with minimal light sources like a candle or indirect outside light.

Total Darkness creates a heavily obscured area even to creatures with Darkvision, i.e. they are totally Blinded. Characters face total darkness deep underground1 when no light source, even a candle, is present.

Category Normal vision Darkvision
Bright Light Normal Normal
Dim Light Disadvantage Normal
Near Dark Blinded Disadvantage
Total Dark Blinded Blinded

In other words, even beings with Darkvision require at least a little light to see. Only those with Blindsight can see in the total absence of light by utilizing other senses: echolocation, vibration, heat, etc. One can blind or confuse such creatures if one knows what their primary sense is.

Dice

Both players and DM should roll dice publicly, where everyone can see them.

The DM may bend this rule in two instances:

  1. The DM may keep rolls on a random table secret until the appropriate moment.

  2. The DM (and players!) may make “decision rolls” which function like a coin toss but with more sides to decide among several alternatives. A d6 or d100 is a typical decision die.

Feats

Assume you may not take any Feat unless the DM says otherwise.

Generally I don’t play with Feats. If players want to try some action that’s only “allowed” with a feat (or class or race ability), they may try it, but I may request an ability check and set a high DC if it sounds fiendishly difficult.

I believe players do not need permission from feats, class abilities, etc. to try anything a normal or heroic human(oid) could do. Rather, they’re affordances that suggest or enable extraordinary actions.

As a corollary to the lack of Feats, the Variant human race is not allowed. The standard human race is, on the other hand, encouraged.

Concrete alternatives to feats include:

Initiative

Rather than using the Initiative Rules As Written, I will use the following procedure.

(Most of this comes from Nimble.)

Start of Combat

At the beginning of combat, the players roll a Wisdom check. The result of the roll determines the actions the players’ character may take for the first round only:

Result Actions
< 0 None
0 - 9 Move or Action or Bonus Action
10 - 19 two of Move, Action, Bonus Action
≥ 20 Move, Action, and Bonus Action

If the PCs surprise the NPCs, they make their rolls with Advantage. If the NPCs surprise the PCs, they make their rolls with Disadvantage.

Start of Round

At the beginning of each round, players announce their action for their turn, in any order. The DM also announces actions for all NPCs. Anyone who does not announce an action three minutes after the round starts loses their turn. (They may still take Reactions.)

Players’ Turns

Players act clockwise from the DM’s left2, resolving the action they announced at the top of the round. If their action becomes impossible or redundant (e.g. striking a dead foe), they have three seconds to choose another action or lose their turn.

DM’s Turn

When all players have acted, the DM resolves actions for their NPCs. Then the Round ends.

Languages

“Common” is merely the most widely spoken among human(?) languages. In some cases characters learn two “Common” languages, an ethnic Common reflecting the people who live in the area and a political Common reflecting the dominant culture or political entity. Settings may in fact introduce multiple languages among humanity and other races. Read the setting material closely for details.

Player characters know the common spoken and written forms of all the languages listed on their character sheet.

In rare instances the DM may handle languages completely differently, e.g. through language checks or by categorizing written languages. The setting material and DM will inform you of this before play.

Long Rests

See Rests.

Luck Points

See Luck Points for more detail.

Under D20-based rules, spending a Luck Point has one of the following effects:

  1. If spent before a d20 is rolled, the roll has Advantage.
  2. If spent after a d20 is rolled, the player may add +3 to the total or reroll the die. If they reroll, they must keep the new number unless they spend another Luck Point.
  3. If spent before or after damage is rolled, the player may add 1d6 to the damage total.
  4. The player may add a detail to the scene, e.g. a ladder in the corner.
  5. The player may trigger a Complication on an NPC or place.

The DM will let you know the specific number of Luck Points at the start of each session and whether the optional rules for Complications, Great Luck Points, and/or Bad Luck Points are in effect.

Masterwork Items

Master artisans can produce “masterwork items” that aren’t magical but grant bonuses on attack rolls or skill rolls. If no other rules are in effect, use these:

  1. A “masterwork weapon” adds +1 or +2 to attack rolls and damage rolls. It is non-magical, and has no other effects.

  2. A masterwork tool or set of masterwork tools add +1 or +2 to a skill roll using the tool(s). It is non-magical, and has no other effects.

  3. Armor and shields may be masterwork, but that does not increase their AC, lower the minimum Strength required to wear them, or decrease the penalties to Stealth. Only magic or exotic materials like mithral, adamantine, orichalcum, celestium, or tenebrium provide those properties. (See “Fantasy Metals” for more.)

  4. Masterwork items have Advantage, or impose Disadvantage, on any attack against the item intended to shatter it. Once shattered, however, the item must be reforged from scratch by a master artisan to be considered masterwork once again.

  5. A masterwork item usually costs half again its base price for a +1 bonus (or less), or twice its base price for +2.

Money

Unless stated otherwise, all my worlds are on a silver standard, with gold being much more rare than in the standard D&D setting. See “The Ecstasy of Gold: Money in RPGs” for more more information, including tables of prices in silver. (Hint: simply multiply prices in gp by 10.)

To prevent PCs from carrying around literal pounds of sterling silver, the Merchants’ Guild3 offers “bank notes” accepted by merchants in the same town. Simply deposit a quantity of silver (or gold!) with them in exchange for a bank note (bespoke or standard denominations), give those notes to the merchants, and let the merchants settle with the Guild. Obviously this does not help if the PCs are traveling4 or end up in a small village or hamlet, but at least it makes shopping trips easier.

“Races”

As presented in Ancestries and Cultures, each “race” is divided into an “Ancestry” – their genetic(?) heritage – and a “Culture” – the people among whom they were raised. In my worlds this will be handled in three ways:

  1. Standard Ancestries and Cultures: Players may choose any Ancestry and Culture presented in the supplement. Note that, for example, a Dwarf raised by Dwarves is simply a Dwarf as presented in the Player’s Handbook or SRD.

  2. Custom Ancestries and Cultures: The campaign writeup will list or specify all ancestries and cultures available in the setting.

  3. Humans Only: All players may only choose Human as their ancestry, as presented in the Player’s Handbook. Players may only take the Variant Human option if the DM allows Feats.

The DM will inform you which option is in effect before play.

Rests

These rules define three types of Rests.

  1. Short Rests require an hour of relaxation or light activity and provide the same benefits as in the Rules As Written.

  2. Long Short Rests require sleep (or equivalent) for at least six hours, which must be taken in a warm place while in the wilderness or in a dungeon. Player characters receive the benefits of a Short Rest, but may roll spent Hit Dice with Advantage (i.e. roll two, keep the higher).

  3. Long Rests may only be taken in an inn, at home, or some other secure location, as designated by the DM. They provide the same benefits as in the Rules As Written, but may come with Complications (or Boons) as described on pages 11-12 of Nimble.

Silvered Weapons

The DMG states:

You can silver a single weapon or ten pieces of ammunition for [1000 sp]. This cost represents not only the price of the silver, but the time and expertise needed to add silver to the weapon without making it less effective.

A quick and dirty process uses less silver and skill, but it lasts for only one hit, after which the silver is unrecoverable. Add the original cost of the ammunition or melee weapon to represent this quick-and-dirty process, plus whatever the armorer charges. Weapons made of wood, and Heavy weapons, cannot be so treated.

Mithral weapons, if available, has the same effect on monsters as silver.

Sources

Players may only use content from Players Handbook (PHB), Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, plus free content on D&D Beyond. Some games will use rules from Nimble or classes from Masters of the Mundane.

I may allow races, classes, and backgrounds from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, Monsters of the Multiverse, and the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide if someone asks nicely. Any other sources will require explicit permission and a copy of the text in question.

Content from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual, and other monster, magic item, and assorted other rules from the above sources are considered only advisory. Thus I will change them or ignore them as I see fit.

If “Unearthed Arcana” contradicts or expands on one of the sources above, or if one of my rulings is contradicted by the rules as written, players must tell me explicitly so I can evaluate and approve the change. If I do not approve a rule change explicitly, the old rule or ruling stands.

Appendix A: Rules About Rules

New players should be advised of the following rules of ettiquette and good practice.

  1. As a reminder of the classic Rule Zero: the DM is the final arbiter of what the game rules allow or disallow; their rulings supercede even the rulebooks. Or, stated another way, players may attempt anything and the DM decides whether the attempt succeeds or fails, despite books or dice.

  2. Players may argue a ruling with me, citing the rulebook, and if I have no objection to the rule I will allow it. If I do object to the rule, and have given an alternate ruling, then that’s the new rule going forward. (Unless I change my mind, but in general I believe in stare decisis.)

  3. Rule changes and rulings which affect a character sheet take effect between sessions or after the end of the current adventure, whichever makes the most sense.

  4. Rule changes and rulings which affect the use of spells, class features, and racial and background abilities take effect when the DM states them. They may be appealed after the session ends.

  5. If players have problems with a ruling, or with the content of a session, or anything else, they should feel free to alert the DM privately, between sessions if the issue can wait, and the DM will try to accomodate them.

  6. Arguing insistently with the DM during a game is bad form, and will only annoy the DM.

  7. All the rules in this document are subject to change with at least a session’s notice.

None of these should surprise veteran roleplayers.


  1. Yes, this contradicts the Rules As Written. It’s a house rule↩︎

  2. Over Discord or another online service the DM will call on players alphabetically or any other convenient but fixed order. ↩︎

  3. In the real world goldsmiths’ guilds started offering this service, but in my worlds the Merchants’ Guild pretty much regulates all commerce within limits set by the local rulers. ↩︎

  4. In some worlds the Merchants’ Guild is a kingdom-wide or even continent-wide organization, much like late Medieval and Renaissance banks. A bank note from an affiliated guild is almost worth its face value, less some travel and convenience fees.

    In many of the same worlds, the multi-city Merchant’s Guild and the multi-city Adventurer’s Guild have an arrangement whereby an Adventurer can present their badge much like a credit card, and the merchant may simply settle with the Guilds later on. Usually one must be a high-level Adventurer of good reputation, however. ↩︎