• Justin Handlin

D&D: 5 Homebrew House Rules That Can Make Game More Memorable

Sorceress casting a spell from a spellbook.

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Is being a Dungeon Master tough on you? Do you sometimes wonder if you’re “doing it right?" Well, continue reading. I want to share with you some of the changes I’ve done to make my Dungeons & Dragons game more memorable. With these 5 simple changes, you can run games with the best of them.

Being a Dungeon Master in D&D is often a lot of work regardless of whether you’re a new DM or a veteran of the hobby. There is no denying that as you use a system more and more you start to learn tips and tricks to make the game run smoother and enhance the overall experience for everyone in a positive way.

When it comes to Dungeons & Dragons there is a lot that makes the game fun and enjoyable. For some, it's exploring the variety of fantastic vistas or the complex interactions with the non-player characters. Then there is, of course, the combat at character-building aspect. Whatever part of the game tickles your dice, there is always room for improvement. Here are five tips that I truly think make the game of D&D more memorable.

Range Band

Theater of the mind play is becoming more and more popular. Not only is it faster to run (less staring at a board in contemplation) but setup and tear down is non-existent. This allows us to focus more time playing the game. Which, I’m sure we all love.

Theater of the mind opens up the combat area and its details to our imagination, far beyond the limitation of a battle grid. Specifically opening the game up to areas outside the battle map. This becomes more important at higher levels due to flight and underwater 3-dimensional combat and higher mobility. I’ve found that having a simple description of the range from a particular target is a great way to handle it.

The combat takes place in a band. Each band represents an approximate number of feet. Keep in mind, this isn’t meant to be perfect, but allow combat to flow freely within a theater of the mind parameter.

The bands are as follows:

  • Engaged: When your distance is engaged, you are essentially in melee range. It's simple. A player can easily track how many monsters they are engaged with.

  • Short: This distance represents that the enemy is within 30 feet. So they can conceivably reach the target in one move under normal circumstances.

  • Medium: This distance represents the 30 - 60 foot range. Typically two movements away. If you have faster characters, you can offer simple Athletics checks to allow them to potentially close this distance in a single round. I start at 10 and then increase the DC for every check after the fact for that encounter. This ensures characters with speed bonuses don’t feel their speed is wasted.

  • Long: This distance represents the 60-120 foot range. Typically three movements away.

  • Extreme: These distances are out beyond the reach of most spells and powers and are handled on a turn-by-turn basis. For most options except special cases and the longbow. These are rare and are often not an issue.

Related Article: How to Make your D&D Combat more Dynamic with One Simple Technique

It’s worth noting that spells and features that do AoE damage within a range of these metrics, assume the following. A cone will hit typically 2-4 targets within this range, while a line will hit 1-3. You can increase or decrease these recommendations as the DM based on favorable or unfavorable conditions. This concept is taken from the Star Wars RPG article by C. Steven Ross.

Transitional Narration

When the DM narrates combat before, during, and after the dice roll. The flavor and emotion kinda drop off. The pauses in between can pull away from the mood and the tension. While there is no real wrong way to do it. If we can handle it all at once AND use it as a transitional point to the next creature/character's turn during the combat, why not include both and increase the engagement and review the situation all at the same time?

With transitional narration, we can do just that. As DM we ask the players to describe the actions their characters want to take, answer any questions they may have, and then let them make all their roles. Once they are done, THEN we narrate the action. As we do this, we can include the character whose turn it is. Describe the scene, and the current situation, then ask the next player what action their character takes. We’ve now created a seamless and engaging transition. If a character takes out an enemy, before the narration. Or, if another situation that arises that changes the actions the characters are going to take in some way. Just tell them as they arise. Then narrate it all at once. I highly recommend this episode of the show where we discuss making combat flow with D&D Youtuber Zipperon Disney.

One Step Ahead

As someone who has played many different editions of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s clear to see why so many people feel that it has less character customization. But this is something that can easily be adjusted. More options can be given to the players so they can better customize their characters right from first level. To do this, simply allow the players access to a free feat at level 1. Feats are meant to provide more customizable play. The game inherently makes you choose between Ability Stat Improvement or feats at certain levels. This can be a very tough decision. But, if we want a specific type of character build or concept, it's a necessary sacrifice, but it doesn’t have to be.

Feats and 5e are more than they were in previous editions. They are character-defining attributes. Simply adding this as an option everyone gets at first level helps the players realize their concepts earlier. The only real risk is that they might be a little bit stronger. But it's super simple to adjust combat difficulty on the fly as a DM. If you really wanna balance it out…give the monsters feats too. ;)

I promise that bringing this option to the table will fill your players with glee and excitement. If you want even more customization for your player characters you can pick up Fantastic Feats to add 55 new options the players and monsters have.

Related Article: Bloodied and Bruised: Dynamic Combat Monster Manual Options!

Monstrous Loot

The life of adventurers is a dangerous life. Monsters, villains, bandits and so much more wander the land threatening them. Whether it's on the road while delving into a dungeon or taking on a quest through an emerald forest. Our heroes battle these dangers in the hopes of great rewards. As DMs, we often put these rewards at the end of the adventures, but sometimes in the battle with bandits our heroes want to loot the corpse. It's easy to toss a coin purse on a bandit or cult member. What about when they fight monsters such as an owlbear?

As Dungeon Masters we often overlook monsters and the viable loot they may have. Some of it is more obviously useful than others. When designing encounters the characters face, consider what the monster may have that the characters can make use of. Let’s use the owlbear as an example. In most cases, the characters will defeat it and be on their way. We can make this a bit more interesting by adding some simple monstrous loot.

Owlbear Loot:

With a successful Survival check, a character can harvest the following. The roll determines how much the character is able to salvage. The higher the roll, the more loot they can obtain. Everything else is lost due to poor harvesting.

  • DC 10: 2d6 Rations

  • DC 15: 1d6 Owlbear Claws. 4 can be used to craft a single +1 dagger.

  • DC 19: 2d6 Owlbear Feathers. Two feathers can be used as fletching on an arrow or a crossbow bolt. Ranged attacks that use ammunition made from these feathers deal an additional 2 (1d4) damage on a hit. After the ammunition has been fired, it loses this property.

Keep in mind, not everything needs to be magical to be a benefit such as the dagger. It could be just as interesting wielding unique owlbear claw blades. It can certainly add to the uniqueness of a character, or perhaps have a higher sell value than mundane daggers.

If you’re busy like me and don’t have the time to create these sorts of lists on your own. One of my favorite tools I’ve added to my DM Toolbox is Monster Loot Collection that has all the hard work already done for you.

Superior Initiative

At the beginning of every game and at the end of every combat, each character rolls initiative by making a Dexterity check. Initiative determines the order of creatures' turns in combat. This varies from the traditional format that is usually at the start of combat. It started when I wanted to make the transition between social and combat situations to be seamless. When a character or NPC takes an action that instigates combat for the first round they are at the top of the initiative for the first round, as their action led to combat. Everyone else then follows through the round in their normally rolled initiative position. At the start of the second round the character that initiated combat moves back to their regular order in initiative.

Because the initiative is already rolled for, this is a powerful tool for the DM to use as a way to jump between characters during non-combat encounters. Ensuring that everyone gets a bit of the spotlight. The best part is this naturally leads to the players not assuming that combat is the only solution to an encounter. When a goblin walks around the corner and the DM shouts “Roll Initiative” the mindset of the players' changes instantly. This simple adjustment immediately removes that “battle mode active” mentality. In this previous example. Let’s consider for a second that instead of saying “Roll Initiative”. The DM turns to the player at the top of the initiative OR the player of the character who spotted the goblin first and says, “What does Hawkins do?”.

This approach instantly removes the feeling of, “I must attack.” to “What would Hawkins do here?”. Now it may very well still be attacked. But that is going to come down to the player's decision based on their character. Not the already established “Roll Initiative cause you're now in combat”. This makes for a seamless transition and creates a more memorable cinematic moment. More importantly, it significantly reduces the slow down generated by the rolling of initiative and getting everyone in the correct order.

While these options are for every table. I can promise that it will only make your game more memorable for you and the players at the table.

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