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Homebrew rules

One of the great strengths of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (and role-playing games in general) is that it encourages imaginative play. To foster this, while D&D consists of core game mechanics and numerous hardcover rule books, the Dungeon Master (DM) is the final arbitrator of what rules to use as written, to modify, or to discard in their specific game.

This page collects those house rules (aka “homebrew”) that we may use at our table. I’ve posted it as an archive/resource for our game, as well as to give anyone else some inspiration for their own homebrew rules. Not all of these rules are necessarily ones we want to use, or will use, all the time. Ultimately, whatever assists the flow of the game, and whatever is fun, is what will get used.

House Rules

Healer’s Kit + Medicine Proficiency

If a character has proficiency in the Medicine skill and uses a healer’s kit, they can do the following:

  • When one use of a kit is spent to stabilize a dying creature, that creature also regains 1 hit point.
  • As an action, the character can spend one use of the kit to restore 1d6+4 hit points, plus one hit point for each of the creature’s hit dice. The medicine kit can’t be used to tend to the wounds of the same creature this way until the creature finishes a short or long rest.

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Revised class features

Below are some class feature alternatives that players can choose to use.

Revised Warlock Hexblade 6th level otherworldly patron feature

Shadow of Hexes
Starting at 6th level, you can manifest your Hexblade’s Curse as a spectral shadow that attacks the object of your hex. The statistics for this spectral shadow are identical to that of the Specter in the Monster Manual with the following differences: when the shadow appears, it gains temporary hit points equal to half your warlock level, it does cold instead of necrotic damage, it cannot life drain, and it gains a special bonus to its attack rolls equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum of +0). Roll initiative for the shadow of hexes, which has its own turns. It obeys your verbal commands.

The Shadow of Hexes lasts until it dies or your Hexblade Curse ends. Once you use this feature, you can’t use the feature again until you finish a long rest.

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Revised Wizard Order of Scribes 10th level Arcane Tradition

Master Scrivener
Whenever you finish a long rest, you can create one magic scroll by touching your Wizardly Quill either to your skin or to a blank piece of paper or parchment and causing one spell from your Awakened Spellbook to be copied onto the scroll.

The spellbook must be within 5 feet of you when you make the scroll.The chosen spell must be of 1st or 2nd level and must have a casting time of 1 action. Once in the scroll or on your skin, the spell’s power is enhanced, counting as one level higher than normal. You can cast the spell from your skin or from the scroll by reading it as an action. The scroll is unintelligible to anyone else, and the spell vanishes from your skin or the scroll when you cast it or when you finish your next long rest.

You are also adept at crafting spell scrolls, which are described in chapter 7 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The gold and time you must spend to make such a scroll are halved if you use your Wizardly Quill.

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Revised Rogue Phantom 3rd level archetype feature

Whispers of the Dead
Echoes of those who have died cling to you. Whenever you finish a short or long rest, you can choose one skill or tool proficiency that you lack and gain it, as a ghostly presence shares its knowledge with you. You lose this proficiency when you use this feature to choose a different proficiency that you lack.

In addition, any saving throws to resist being frightened by ghosts and similar undead spirits are made with advantage.

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Proficient characters can determine the DC of a check

If a skill check is required for a particular action and a character is proficient in that skill, the character may ask what the DC is, representing that the character’s proficiency would allow them an idea of how difficult the task is. This doesn’t apply to skill checks when a character does not know in advance why the check is being asked for (for example, being told to make a perception check but the character doesn’t know why). Obviously, circumstances may prevent a character from knowing the DC even if they otherwise might.

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Leveling up and ability score increases

Adventurers are heroes who are constantly training, refining their skills, learning, gaining presence and poise, and so on, beyond the scope of the average, sedentary person. As such, they get extra opportunities to raise their ability scores:

When a character gains a level: Roll an unmodified d20 against your class’s main attribute score or scores, as listed in the Player’s Handbook. If you roll higher than your ability score, that ability increases by one point.

When a character reaches an ASI level: Roll an unmodified d20 against all your ability scores. If you roll higher than that ability score, the ability score increases by one point. This does not replace your ASI or feat.

This replaces the Ability Score Increase feature, however one can still take a feat whenever they reach an ASI level.

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Swapping initiative

Once per combat at the top of a new round, two characters that are not suffering any condition (charmed, poisoned, paralyzed, exhausted, unconscious, etc.), may choose to swap initiative positions with each other. Once two characters swap initiative, they cannot swap their initiatives again (with each other or any other character) for the rest of the combat.

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Familiars in initiative

For the purposes of initiative order, you do not need to roll initiative separately for familiars. Instead, characters with familiars roll for initiative for themselves normally, and their familiar takes its turn directly before they take their turn.

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Cinematic advantage on one Attack action

These ideas are adapted from the Sly Flourish article Replace Flanking with Cinematic Advantage. To paraphrase: role-playing games offer more than just rolling dice, they’re collective storytelling; so let’s make combat, even though it is dice-driven, as narrative as possible. Try something crazy and heroic: Leap off a balcony or parkour off the side of a cavern wall! Slide underneath your enemy! Draw holy energy from the defiled dead! Let’s make the narrative of our game’s combat truly exciting! See the linked article above for more suggestions of the kind of actions that might give cinematic advantage.

Once per combat, you can describe what cinematic action your character will take in order to gain advantage on an Attack action. We’ll discuss what skill check your action calls for, and as DM I’ll assign a DC between 10 and 30 (depending on the environment, how intricate the action, how likely/unlikely it is to succeed given the tension and intensity of the moment, etc). If the skill check succeeds, you get advantage on each attack that is part of that Attack action (so if you have multiple attacks when you take the attack action, you will have advantage on all of them). If the skill check fails, your cinematic action doesn’t grant you advantage, and the attack proceeds as normal.

A natural 20 is a heroic success; your character executed the maneuver so perfectly they get super advantage (rolling three d20s instead of two) on the Attack action. A natural 1 is a fumble; your attempted cinematic maneuver fails, you landed off-balance, etc. and that ends your turn. Once you declare that you are going to take the Attack action and attempt to get cinematic advantage, you cannot change your mind and not take the attack action if the cinematic maneuver fails.

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Choose how many dice to roll for Magic Missile damage

Casters can choose whether to roll one damage die for all Magic Missiles, or to roll separately for each missile.

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Falling damage

Since the earliest days of D&D, falling damage has been very poorly handled: 1d6 (4) bludgeoning damage per 10 feet fallen, max 20d6 (80) at 200 feet. This is so little damage as to be silly. In the current rules, an 8th level character who needs to get down quickly from the top of a 100 foot cliff as fast as possible could consider jumping off the cliff the “easy way down,” since the fall is only 10d6 (average 40 hp, max 60 hp damage), which is an amount of hit points nearly all 8th level characters have.

There have been many complex attempts to make falling damage either extremely deadly or add “realism” but I think these two simple rules are a decent combination of the two:

  • Characters take a cumulative 1d6 per 10 feet fallen. So 1d6 at 10 feet, 3d6 at 20 feet, 6d6 at 30 feet, etc.
  • For every 40 feet a character falls, a character must make a constitution saving throw or suffer a level of exhaustion.

This way, in our example above, if a character jumps off a 100 foot cliff, they’ll be taking 55d6 damage (220hp average, 330 max damage), and they’ll have to make two saving throws vs. exhaustion. It’s safe to say that the character won’t consider jumping off the cliff as the “easy way down.”

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Critically wounded

Any character with 10% or less of their hit points remaining is considered critically wounded: all attack rolls, saving throws, skill checks, and damage rolls from melee weapons are made at disadvantage. Characters will rarely have a number of hit points that divides evenly by 10, so for purposes of being critically wounded round to the nearest whole number.

For example, a character with 7 hit points will be critically wounded when reduced to 1 hit point, and a character with 13 hit points is also critically wounded when reduced to 1 hit point, etc.

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Death and Exhaustion

When a character is revived after dropping below zero hit points, they gain a level of exhaustion due to the stress put on their body.

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Dread and Insanity

(These rules are adaptions of the Cthulhu Mythos for 5e Dread and Insanity rules)


The world is grim, violent, and filled with magic and death. Adventurers are trained to expect blood, gore, and powerful, terrible creatures. However, sometimes even the hardiest adventurer will stumble upon an aberration so intensely horrifying, it will shake them to their core. Capturing that shocked, creeped out feeling when you’re having a great time in a comfortable, climate-controlled game room with your favorite snacks requires some game mechanics; I have leaned on Sandy Petersen’s concepts his Cthulhu Mythos for 5e into a form that fits the style and mechanics of this campaign.

In game terms, the frightened condition covers “routine” fear—things that are enough to rattle the character until they make a saving throw, but that don’t leave lasting scars on the character’s psyche. The dread condition refers to an otherworldly sense of terror triggered by an aberration or experience far beyond what an adventurer would expect to find, even in a world filled with magic and monsters. Dread is usually more lasting than the frightened condition, and can lead to madness or possibly insanity.

There are 6 levels of Dread, listed below. When a character encounters something that would cause dread, the character must make a save vs. the dread’s DC or the character advances up the dread table by the amount of dread specified. Spellcasters may use their spellcasting ability score for their save; all other characters make a wisdom saving throw. Warlocks with either the Great Old One or Fathomless patron, Aberrant Mind sorcerers, Shadar-kai, Dhampir, Hexbloods, and the Reborn make their saves with advantage.

The dread condition itself only lasts for 1d4 minutes; however, dread can be cumulative. If a character fails their saving throw and suffers one level of dread for 3 minutes due to witnessing a grotesque sacrificial ceremony to an eldritch horror, and then a minute later suffers 3 levels of dread when the eldritch horror claws its way out of the sacrificed body, the character will be at dread level 4. The more levels of dread a character suffers, the more likely that the character will suffer a short-term or long-term madness effect from pages 259-260 in the DMG. These will last minutes, up to days. At dread level 6, the character suffers an indefinite madness from the DMG. Beyond dread level 6, the character suffers an insanity.

Level of dread
1 Spooked. Cannot approach the source of the dread. Disadvantage on ability checks while the source of dread is within line of sight.
2 Afraid. Disadvantage on all attack rolls while the source of dread is within line of sight. Character suffers a short-term madness from the DMG, which begins when the dread condition has ended.
3 Staggered. Drop all held items. Disadvantage on all saving throws, skill checks, and attack rolls. Can’t take bonus actions or reactions. Character suffers a short-term madness from the DMG, which begins when the dread condition has ended.
4 Panicked. Must take the Dash action and move away from the dread’s source by the safest possible route on each turn the character is still under the effect of the dread. Character suffers a long-term madness from the DMG, which begins when the dread condition has ended.
5 Paralyzed. Character is paralyzed with fear as long as the dread lasts. Character suffers a long-term madness from the DMG, which begins when the dread condition has ended.
6 Faint. Character falls unconscious from shock for as long as the dread condition lasts. Character may be roused by the Spare the Dying cantrip or a successful medicine skill check. If the character is awakened before the dread condition is over, the character is paralyzed until the end of the dread. Character suffers both a long-term and an indefinite madness from the DMG, which begins when the dread condition has ended.

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When a character’s dread level is pushed above 6, either by cumulative events/creatures causing dread, or a single creature (such as Cthulhu) causing more than 6 points of dread itself, the character suffers the effects of Level 6 dread, and also suffers an insanity. Unlike dread, insanity is not necessarily obvious immediately. Unlike a temporary madness that will go away in time, or an indefinite madness that is more of an attitude change than actual game handicap, insanities can fundamentally change who a character is, and make them far less effective adventurers than they were before.

Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Mythos for 5e has a d20 table to roll for an insanity starting on p.77, along with descriptions of each insanity and the game mechanics of how it affects the character. Since this is a role-playing game we are playing for fun, and not an attempt to accurately depict emotional trauma (and really, what would the “real” emotional impact be on a gnome who saw Cthulhu?) if a player wants to pick their insanity, that’s fine. If a player wants to stretch by playing a random insanity from the table, that’s fine too. Whatever is more fun.

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Recoveries and cures

Time heals all wounds that don’t kill your character, even dread, madness, and insanity. So can some spells. But first let’s talk about recovering naturally over time.

Dread and short-term madness don’t last very long and usually have to run their course.

However, a character can attempt to recover from long-term madness early by convalescing. If a character suffering from a long-term madness spends a full 24-hours doing nothing other than sleeping and eating, at the end of the 24-hours they can make a wisdom saving throw (DC 15); success means that they were able to recover after their rest. If a character fails the saving throw, they can extend their convalescence for a second day, spending a full 48-hours doing nothing other than sleeping and eating. At the end of the 48-hours, they can make a second saving throw, this time with advantage. If both saving throws have been failed, the character will have to ride out the long-term madness until it goes away (which, depending the initial roll for the duration of the long-term madness, would be anywhere from 2 more hours, to 52 more hours.)

A character can also try to convalesce to get over an indefinite madness or insanity. However, this requires more than simply recuperating for a full day or two. In order to attempt to recover from an indefinite madness or insanity, the character must be in a location where they can be cared for and guided in meditative healing. This doesn’t need to be a sanatorium or hospital, it could be a temple, the home of an ally willing to be a caretaker, etc. After a week of doing nothing save convalescing, the character can make a wisdom saving throw (DC 18); success indicates that they are over their indefinite madness or insanity. If the character fails the saving throw, they can extend their convalescence for another week. At the end of that week, they make another wisdom saving throw, however the DC drops by 2. So for example, a cleric who goes insane from seeing an Elder God is dropped off at a temple so that the acolytes can take care of him. After a week of doing nothing but convalescing, the cleric gets a wisdom saving throw, DC 18, and fails. So the cleric convalesces for a second week, and at the end of the week gets a second wisdom saving throw, DC 16, and succeeds.

Of course, characters can also use magic to cure these conditions. Lesser restoration can end the effects of dread and short-term madness immediately. Greater restoration can end the effects of long-term and indefinite madness immediately. Greater restoration gives a character who has received an insanity through dread a wisdom saving throw (DC 18); if the saving throw fails, the insanity remains and greater restoration cannot be used again for 24-hours. When using repeated greater restoration castings to attempt to remove insanity, the DC remains 18 regardless of how many casting attempts have been made.

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