When to use house rules and when to play another game

When to use house rules and when to play another game

Some Dungeon Masters starting one Dungeons and dragons the campaign makes use of house rules, but many heavily house-ruled games would often be better off using a different tabletop RPG system. The rules for DnD has always aimed to capture a very specific style of fantasy adventure. The earliest editions focused singularly on exploring dungeons, hence the game’s name, and though DnD has expanded its scope, many of the rules are still skewed towards the original dungeon crawl design. The skills and systems around detecting and disarming traps, or finding secret doors all support a dungeon-centric style. Just like every classic dungeon has several combat encounters between areas where it is safe to rest, DnD assumes there will be multiple matches each day, challenging players through exhaustion rather than overwhelming power.


There are some DnD house rules each group should consider, such as starting at level three, where subclasses make characters more unique. House rules designed to change the basic paradigm of DnD is a terrible idea though. Although DnD adventures may feature urban intrigue or travel the planes of existence, they still follow the original dungeon crawl structure and stay firmly rooted in combat-focused heroic fantasy. Guiding the game to make it something other than a heroic fantasy adventure is not a solution. There are certainly tabletop RPGs that provide gritty, highly lethal combat systems, unlike DnD model where battles are designed to drain resources.

Related: D&D: How to start a high-level campaign without all the headaches

Homebrew making D&D more gruesome and brutal makes it a different game

Artwork for the Deadlands TTRPG, showing a skeleton man riding a horse.

A potential DM would be better off looking at alternatives rather than trying to change DnD into something it is not. As early as mid-level, players have access to resurrection magic, meaning death is a setback similar to a status effect. Home brewed content, like critical role’s resurrection rules, do DnD death matters more, and these rules are simply a variant of Advanced dungeons and dragons‘ stricter resurrection rules. The current 5e rules are a balance between 4e DnDits focus on ideally crafted gameplay, along with nods to the game’s history, such as the return of Vancian Magic and enchanted belts that grant specific power points. The 5e rules are more forgiving than early editions of DnD by design, but so DMs who want to remove resurrection from their campaigns should simply run a different game.

Like the last 5e Ravenloft book shows, DnD can go outside the genre occasionally, as it often contains elements of horror. Ultimately, DnD is a game where the heroes overcome enemies in battle. DnD is not meant to be one Call of Cthulhu style games, where the main part of the adventure is research and investigation, and the true enemies are all unimaginably powerful. The DnD House rules that DMs should absolutely avoid include inherently flawed concepts like Critical Failures on attack rolls, along with thematically inappropriate rules like Dungeon Master’s Guide system for Sanity Scores.

It is a tabletop RPG that provides rules for permanent damage, where characters in 5e DnD regain all hit points after a long rest. Adventurers can find themselves taxed over many battles in a single day DnD, but they usually start fresh the next day without any lingering mental or physical wounds. The systems of DnD don’t aim to capture the horrible feeling of A song of ice and fireor even the very specific mood of Lord of the Rings, despite serving as a major inspiration for the game. Both of these fictional worlds have dedicated tabletop RPGs designed to embody their unique characteristics, but DnD has its own identity that conflicts with these settings.

Changing the genre or tone of D&D with house rules is a bad idea

Promo art for Legend of the Five Rings, a TTRPG influenced by Eastern fantasy.

What a post-apocalyptic game Fall out tabletop RPG is better than homebrew DnD rules. A DM should not add hacking systems or cybernetics to it DnD when Shadow run already has a system that integrates cyberpunk and fantasy. A game that focuses on Eastern fantasy rather than Occidental fantasy would be better suited with The Legend of the Five Ringsand Deadlands makes for a better Weird West game than a gunslinger focused one DnD campaign. Instead of homebrew one DnD class based on The Witcher, the official tabletop RPG based on the novels is ideal. Having a session or two that goes outside of the heroic fantasy mold is nice to change things up, and formatively DnD adventure borrowed heavily from science fiction along with fantasy. If a DM wants to run a game where there is no magic whatsoever, DnD is off the table, and a game that Numenera able to deliver what they need.

Related: Sorry DMs, you can’t avoid power creep in your 5e D&D campaign

The main goal of TTRPGs is for everyone involved to have fun, and some DM homebrews make 5e DnD easier for new players. Some players are reluctant to learn new systems, especially if they have invested time in mastering thoroughly DnD. Applying layers of homebrew to transform DnD into a gritty, magic-less game does them no favors, however, as they have to forgo just as much of their skill set as they can use in such a game. The same guidelines apply to core removal DnD rules such as adding house rules. If a DM wants to run a game without healing spells or magic items, they should never use them DnDsince many other tabletop RPG systems already provide exactly that.

To run DnD, the DM must accept that the game will have multiple encounters in a day to challenge the players. Magic heals the wounded and restores the dead, and heroes collect enchanted weapons and magical items to enhance their strength. If any of these do not fit the tone of the campaign, the decision whether to use DnD rules for homebrew campaigns or any other system should be carefully considered. If the DM wants to explore a genre other than heroic fantasy, or a hybrid genre game, they should always consider whether DnD rules really deliver what they want, or if another tabletop RPG might be a perfect fit. There are dozens of quality RPGs, and experimenting with different systems can also make players appreciate the specific style of play DnD excels at. Dungeons and dragons is a fairly flexible system, but it has its own identity, and it was never meant to be a universal ruleset for any kind of tabletop RPG campaign.

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