How I run a D&D game, Part 2: House Rules

Most home D&D games have at least one house rule, a rule that’s not present or contradicts a rule in the official rulebooks. I’m hardly different there, although most of mine have arisen from a relative lack of familiarity with 5th Edition’s rules compared to previous ones. A situation will arise, and I will think I know the rules around it, and then I’ll find later that 5th edition changed that rule for a reason that doesn’t exactly make sense to me.

So today I’m going to present you with 4 simple house rules that I use.

The Bloodied Status

If you don’t remember (or never new), a monster was “bloodied” when it was at or below half it’s max HP. It didn’t confer any special bonuses or penalties. It was just a way to let the players know that they were at least halfway through the monster’s health, and it gave the DM a chance to describe what the monster looked like at that state.

I honestly don’t know why this didn’t come over from 4e. It’s hardly game breaking and it gives the players a sense of how they’re doing in a fight. The rules for describing monster health levels have never really been codified, with most DMs using vague descriptions of “well he looks REAL hurt”. I always liked the Bloodied status for this reason. It’s definitive and unambiguous without outright stating the actual HP value of the monster, or the players for that matter.

Flanking

The rules for flanking in 3rd and 4th editions were pretty simple. If you and another allied character were in melee range of your opponent and on an opposite edge or corner of the opponent’s space, you get a +2 bonus to attack rolls against that opponent. If you’re a rogue, it also enables the use of your sneak attack feature

4th edition referred to this bonus as having “combat advantage”, which could be gained in a myriad of other ways, such as being surprised or having the opponent stunned. Most of these have transitioned over to 5e’s “advantage” mechanic, which allows you to roll twice and take the better result. Generally speaking, this is a much better bonus than a simple +2. Flanking, however, was not one of these conditions. 5th Edition also removed any ties flanking had to the rogue as well; now you only need have another opponent engaged in melee, regardless of its position.

I get why they made this change, I really do. It’s a much better and a more reliable means to get Sneak Attack to activate, but why did the maneuver go away entirely, especially when the rules for cover still exist? Personally, I feel like Flanking should essentially be an inverse of those, and should cover the opposite value. If being in half cover increases your defense by 2, being flanked should increase the chance you get hit by 2. It’s not exactly the Advantage status, but it is a slight advantage.

Improved Critical Hits

Critical Hits in 5th Edition are honestly weird. They feel like the absolute least effective the mechanic has ever been. Lacking the crit multiplier present in weapons in 3.5 or the straight up maximized damage dice of 4th edition, it’s honestly probable and even likely that your crit will just feel like a regular hit thanks to bad rolling. That’s hardly ideal, or fun, and I have a simple compromise I like to use.

When you crit in 5th edition’s rules as written, you roll the damage die twice, and add your modifier after that. Under my rule, the second damage die is automatically maximized. This maximization does not apply to features like the rogue’s Sneak Attack, which is doubled under a crit, but most be rolled normally per the rules. Only the extra die of the weapon’s damage is automatically maxed.

This ensures that a crit will have some actual oomph to it by always hitting for at least the averaged damage amount, and therefore make crits feel more incredible to get, especially for non rogues.

HDYWTDT?

Simply put, HDYWTDT (or How Do You Want To Do This) is the rule popularized by the Critical Role webcast that if you land the killing blow on a foe, you get to describe how that looks to everyone. You can go for a crazy cinematic shot, something more subdued or comedic, or even straight up horrifyingly gory, however you and your character would like to see yourselves end your foes.

Honestly, I love this little rule, I’m glad it’s become far more prevalent across D&D, and I think it should become a standard rule. It’s a fun way to add some extra roleplaying and cathartic relief after tough encounters.

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