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Category Archives: D&D 5e

D&D 5e House Rules: Shields


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Featured Image from i33 the earliest known martial art treatise from the middle ages. The image shows each with an arming sword and a boss held buckler.

There are lots of different shields in history and they are used a lot more like a weapon than depicted in movies and television where shields just passively sit on your arm like a piece of armor rather than an active participant in the battle.

Rather than making a whole lot of distinctions between bucklers, bucklers with sharp points on them, rotellas, targes, targas, rotellas, tower shields, kite shields, and Viking shields I’m just going to make a few categories for them to fall into.

One thing to consider is that the difference between a small buckler and a tower shield is greater than the difference between a dagger and a greatsword. It seems a bit strange to have them be treated as effectively the same.

For roleplaying purposes, there are two major splits with shields. Those held in a boss grip and those held with a strap. Below is a buckler or what I categorize as a “Dueling Shield” from a site called Steel Master. Underneath that is a reproduction of a boss held Viking Shield by the merchant Armstreet and a plate from Capo Ferro with fighters holding strapped shields of a type I categorize as “war shields”.

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Those held with a strap can allow you to hold something in your hand like a torch or a backup weapon to throw at an enemy before melee starts. It was a standard thing to hold onto anything from a spear or a javelin or a throwing axe in your shield hand so you could transfer it to your main hand before your enemy reached you.

The strap based shields are good on horseback allowing you to hold the reins in your shield hand. The negatives are that it is harder to be active and to use the shield like a weapon though you can hold the straps in your hand like a boss shield to get more control unfortunately that takes away from the advantage of being able to have something in your hand.

Boss shields are held in a grip at the center of the shield. Most shields until the late middle ages are of this design from small bucklers to large Viking shields. Shields of this design could get quite large in history.

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This is another large shield I categorize as a “Body Shield” which is wielded with two hands shown in Talhoffer below:

talhoffer-hook_shield

As you can see there are a lot of different types of shields and they are used in different ways but they are a weapon not a piece of armor and knowing a bit more about them can allow you to be more entertaining in battle descriptions and even add a bit of fluff to your roleplaying. Is your shield round or teardrop shaped? Is it a rectangular buckler and does it have a spike or dagger sticking out to add damage? Is it concave or convex?

Another thing is to consider the materials the shield is made of. Viking shields usually had a metal center or boss attached to wood and bound with leather. Some shields have metal edges. Some shields are made entirely of metal. If so when they get hit they can make quite a sound…which can be a great explanation for why the knight botched their stealth roll by clinging their shield like a bell against something metal. Wood shields were often used to trap blades in them as the blade would get stuck and then disarmed which can be a tool for a DM to use to explain terrible rolls or for a player to use when the DM says the Barbarian is making wild swings so they can use their action to interpose the shield to purposefully disarm the “Buffel” relying on strength rather than proficiency.

For game flavor, you can even impose repairs during the night or stops in towns to replace shields. Good use of the mending cantrip for roleplaying so the Paladin can grudgingly appreciate the value of the meddling wizard.

Game Mechanics:

I had a lot of feedback about my original rules being overcomplicated so I’ve endeavored to fix that. I have split shields into three general categories called Dueling Shield, War Shield, and Body Shield with a game mechanic section and a bit on the social use of carrying a shield of that type in daily life. I’ve entered in a few suggestions on how to apply certain feats to the new rules and a new mechanic for shield warriors working together.

Handling proficiency with shields I recommend that rogues, barbarians, and bards have dueling shield proficiency since dueling shields particularly spiked bucklers were famously used by thieves and street bandits to the point where they often became illegal in some city-states. Fighters and Paladins should have all three types of shields. As a general rule think of bucklers as ubiquitous in almost every city in the Old World from India to Egypt to London for centuries by almost every combat trained nobleman or wannabe street tough. For flavor, at the end of this post, I have an optional rule to regard a “parrying dagger” as if it was mechanically identical to a spiked buckler as they are basically interchangeable. Most historical fencing tournaments today allow you the choice of parrying dagger or buckler and they are used in much the same fashion with different masters suggest different methods of using both depending on the century and locale. This lets you roleplay as a quite standard fighter of the renaissance with a sidesword and dagger without losing the AC and benefits from Dueling Fighting style.

War and Body Shields are martial tools used in war primarily with a bit of guard duty thrown in for the War Shields. Body Shields are a war or ceremonial item that normal people aren’t going to want to carry around unless they want to impress or they want to kill and not be killed.

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Shields as Weapons:

Shields can be used to attack for 1d4 blunt damage or if spiked or otherwise weaponized may do 1d4 piercing damage instead. If used as an off-hand weapon the warrior can use a bonus action to make an attack. If you want to allow Two-Weapon Fighting to apply that can open up some interesting options though it does make the shield the dominant off-hand “weapon”. This is the case in history in almost all places and all times outside of Japan and in Northern Italy during the Renaissance when the sidesword/rapier and dagger became popular for civilian and dueling uses.

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Shield Wall:

Warriors with the Protection fighting style can when using a War Shield or Body Shield provide to any adjacent warrior within five feet who also has a War or Body Shield to allow those adjacent warriors to use the Protection fighting style themselves should they not already have the fighting style as long as the target of the enemy is an adjacent warrior to them with a War or Body Shield.

This means that a trained fighter in a column can greatly fortify their comrades in arms. This can provide an in-game mechanic for how Greek phalanxes or Roman legions defeated enemies who on paper far surpassed them. Later on, Pike Squares would devastate cavalries in a similar united fashion.

Optional Feat Changes:

Shield Master increases the d4 for damage to d6. Keep in mind that with different types of shields the bonuses this feat provides will differ depending on the type of shield.

A Sentinel who is part of a Shield Wall formation may give the benefits of Sentinel to the warriors immediately adjacent to them who meet the same requirements as sharing the Protection fighting style.

This combined with Protection fighting style can make even a low-level group of fighters incredibly dangerous when fighting together. An elite fighter backed with two moderately proficient shield mates presents a new type of problem with this rule demanding new tactical approaches especially in an enclosed environment like a long hallway or a bridge or an Underdark tunnel.

Dueling Shield:

A boss held dueling buckler is small, quick, and active in battle. It is mostly used to trap swords, deflect attacks, bind weapons, to hide the movements of your other hand, close down lines of attack, protect the sword hand, and as a weapon to strike the throat, smash the face, and smack your opponent’s sword hand out of line to make it easier for your sword to strike or even disarm your opponent. Some versions have spikes and even stranger adaptions that were probably not martially savvy but intimidating or stylish.

These are the shields that civilians use because of convenience and ease of transport. You put a strap on the shield and hang it over your sword hilt so it doesn’t take up much space and it doesn’t interfere with your daily life. Some versions have a connection so you can hook it to your belt directly which is also very convenient. The buckler is a daily part of life carried by peoples all over the world from Ireland to India for thousands of years and no one is going to bat an eye at someone carrying one when doing their shopping at the market or watching an opera.

A Dueling Shield is 2 to 6 pounds on average depending on the material and is usually between about 10 inches to 18 inches in diameter. A dueling shield provides a + 1 to AC. If the warrior is proficient with Shields they can use a bonus action move the shield to cover the center line. This action grants a bonus to AC equal to half your Proficiency bonus from attacks coming from that specific opponent. Later you can spend another bonus action to move the shield to cover the line of attacks from a different opponent.

Has the “light” weapon property.

War Shield:

This is a martial weapon for war, defense, or threat of war. Most people aren’t going to want to carry with their hand a boss held Viking shield all day and even a strap shield on your arm can get exhausting after a few hours. Depending on size and shape you might have your shield strapped to your back, on the side of a wagon or boat, or carried by a squire or auxiliary. In daily life, you are most likely to see Medium Sized Shields carried by town guards, bodyguards, mercenaries, hunters going after large dangerous game, people in ceremonies, and soldiers.

A War Shield is 5 to 12 pounds depending on the material and two to three feet in diameter with many shapes and sizes. A War Shield provides +2 to AC. As a reaction, the warrior can “duck under cover” and counts as half cover against ranged attacks until the start of your next turn.

Body Shield:

This is a martial weapon designed to be used in war while in a formation. It is heavy and bulky making it dangerous to run with and for most non-warriors, it will quickly cause exhaustion just carrying it let alone using it. It is slow and bulky making it a liability to a warrior by themselves or when flanked compared to a War Shield which is more nimble.

Socially, someone walking around with a Body Shield outside of a war zone or as part of their duty would be looked at askance and have Disadvantage on social tests not involving Intimidation. Carrying a body shield around to buy a chicken at the market would be the equivalent of going to Target with a SWAT Riot Shield in your hand. If you’re not a police officer or a Hollywood extra on a movie shoot you’re likely to scare people or make people very uncomfortable unless you can spin why you have it out into a good story. You’re also likely to bump people or knock over things in crowded spaces carrying a shield larger than some people.

A Body Shield is more than 10 pounds depending on material with many being over 20 pounds and at least four feet in length on one dimension. A Body Shield provides +3 to AC. Because of its size and bulk carrying a Body Shield halves movement speed. It is also quite heavy which can affect encumbrance as well further slowing down a weak character and also has the “heavy” weapon property. 

When carrying a Body Shield in front of them a warrior benefits from half-cover against ranged attacks. As a reaction, the warrior can “duck under cover” and counts as three-quarter cover against ranged attacks until the start of your next turn.

Because holding a Body Shield blocks vision unless it is made of a material like Glassteel and opaque to sight it gives you disadvantage on Perception and Investigation checks.

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Optional Rule: Parrying Dagger

Since Parrying Daggers are basically dueling shields with spikes as far as game mechanics you can use a Parrying Dagger instead of a Dueling Shield with no change other than roleplaying or mechanically for fighting styles via Dueling or Two-Weapon Fighting depending on how you rule that. You can’t throw a Parrying Dagger effectively but you can be very effective dealing piercing damage or blunt damage with a hammer strike with the pommel or a punch with a quillon or with the Nagel, ring, or sail. A large parrying dagger is 19 inches long and a large buckler or dueling shield is about 18 inches long so even the size is basically the same. An advantage of seeing a parrying dagger as mechanically a shield is that you can then easily use a rapier or sidesword and parrying dagger together without issues and with the same effectiveness as with a dueling shield.

The above image is a Parrying Dagger made by Marco Danelli.

For more information about real combat check out the freely provided treatises of the historical masters at Wiktenauer.

If you’re interested in HEMA or Historical European Martial Arts please check out my other blog: A Novice’s Guide to HEMA.

D&D House Rules:

Combat Overhaul

Shields

Character Creation Backgrounds

Crafting, Magic Items, and Economics

Familiarity, Proficiency, and Expertise

Character Focus

Tactics of Mistake

Counterattacking

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D&D 5e House Rules: Combat Overhaul using the OODA Loop


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Featured image of OODA Loop By Patrick Edwin Moran – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3904554

<Edit> I just found a really unique to me house rule called Variant Shared Turn Combat on Reddit on the Unearthed Arcana subreddit and I’m amazed at the production value and quality ideas.</Edit>

The above diagram is a depiction of the OODA Loop which is a tool for understanding how people make decisions. Many of the ideas I will be presenting use this framework and come from my homebrew game I’ve been designing and redesigning for years that works very well when transferred to D&D 5e.

With the OODA Loop you have four steps: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.

The general structure of combat in the PHB 5e on page 189 is as follows:

  1. Determine Surprise
  2. Establish Positions
  3. Roll Initiative
  4. Take turns
  5. Begin the next round.

There are many ways the DM can handle showing combat whether with miniatures, physical or virtual maps or overlays, or purely via imagination and description.

I prefer if possible to use the fog of war during the initial setup and not let players know things they can’t perceive if possible. Having a second map or description available just to the DM can make it easier to show the movement of NPC’s in the fog of war for the DM that the PC’s do not know about. It can be fun to flank the PC’s and get the PC’s to think about flanking especially with mounts or vehicles in play.

I also would like to say that D&D is not supposed to be simulationist and works just fine as is. I offer my system to people who like a little more complexity and options in their battles and to add a bit of tactical confusion and surprise. There are some changes that can make things very different in your game as it shifts priority away from Dexterity towards Wisdom but I think that is actually more balanced.

I have not playtested this at all with D&D so if you’re interested in trying it out and letting me know what you think that would be awesome. Please just leave a comment about your experience. If I forgot something obvious please let me know as well. It is easy to make mistakes on this kind of thing.

 

My System:

  1. Determine Surprise (Keep in mind the fog of war for step 2)
  2. Observe (Explain what each PC perceives and Establish Positions)
  3. Orient (Roll Initiative)
  4. Decide (Based on Initiative and what the PC/NPC perceives then declare actions)
  5. Act (Take Turns.)
  6. Next Round

1. Determine Surprise:

Nothing changed in this step.

2. Observe:

It is important at this point to go over what each PC perceives prior to Initiative so that they can form an idea of what is going on based on their personal perspective not that of a Player who can see much more. So, if an ooze is slinking behind the wizard and the wizard doesn’t know they obviously won’t be casting a spell at it. This encourages a bit of roleplaying so the very perceptive Rogue who sees the ooze approaching his ally can take a free action to yell “Behind you Mage!” after stabbing the Orc in front of her which might confuse the Orc while alerting the wizard so they may change their mind and cast burning hands in front of them rather in front.

The DM also needs to keep in mind what the NPC’s perceive and how they react. Experienced soldiers used to working in tandem with each other are going to be much more difficult to deal with than expert duelists used to working one on one or a mob of amateurs.

3. Orient:

Here things start to depart from the PHB 5e rules.

A big change here is that in my system Initiative is how well you observe your environment and process information rather than in the PHB which focuses on how fast you can move your body. After all, why would Dexterity have anything to do with how fast and well you can observe a combat, make a decision, and say “Shazaam!”? It makes a lot more sense to use Wisdom here to represent a combination of perception, common sense decision making, intuition, and actions and reactions especially those actions that don’t have any real physical component.

D20 + (Wisdom Modifier) + Proficiency Modifier/Die

For diceless Initiative just use the PC/NPC’s Proficiency Modifier and have an automatic 20 for the roll. For more variable Initiative use the optional rule for Proficiency Dice in the DMG on Page 263 which replaces, for example, the +2 Proficiency Modifier with a +1D4.

One could even use both in a game depending on the situation. Use the variable Initiative when surprise, “boss” battles, or unusual combat is happening and for the more normal lineup of good guys here and bad guys here just use the diceless version instead.

The reasoning behind using Wisdom here instead of Dexterity I provided above and my reasoning for using the proficiency bonus is that handling and reacting to combat is a matter of experience.

For example, take a reasonably healthy and elderly Special Forces combat veteran and mentally they will be able to process a combat situation faster and in a more capable fashion than a novice character with world-class Dexterity. Leveraging that experience to process the OODA Loop is a big part of improving decision making and thus performance in combat be it social, mental, or physical and you can substitute talent only so far when competing against old age and treachery.

Once you have everyone’s Initiative totals you can either post them for all to see or you can keep them to yourself.

The highest Initiative total provides the number of Combat Phases in this Combat Turn.

For example:

Rogue: 30, Ooze: 23, Wizard 22, Orc 22.

Thus, there are 30 Phases in this turn.

If two characters are acting the turn or movement during the same phase both actions take place at the same time. Thus, you can have both characters stab each other in the heart and this happened quite commonly in history or characters charging each other would meet at some point in between the two warriors rather than one warrior charging across the battlefield while the other sits there.

Any action that would take place at 0 Phase or when the combat phase is in the negatives all happen at the same time. Thus, a character who used their entire move before swinging a sword would have their action take place on the 0 phase along with any other characters.

4. Decide:

At this point starting with this highest phase the DM has the characters decide what they are going to do in a descending fashion phase by phase allowing the characters to have started their round and have their action/s take place during or after their phase depending on the type of action.

Each action, maneuver, spell, or movement takes place during or after the round/phase the character scored in the Orient step of Combat.

Remember you still have only the actions you can do just like in the PHB even if you still have leftover Initiative after you attack or cast a spell. If you don’t use it up with actions or movement you lose it. So, if you attack during phase 15 and don’t want to move you don’t get more attacks to do later unless you have the extra attacks feature.

I am going to introduce a term called tempo which has various definitions depending on the martial tradition or master but in this case, tempo means how long it takes to complete an action. Each action has a tempo cost which tells you how much later the action actually takes place in since your Initiative score is simply how fast you were able to process the combat situation not the time it takes to perform an action.

Some martial masters have used the idea of hand, body, foot, and feet to describe combat, reaction, and initiative. This means that the tempo of moving your hand is fast, moving your body is a bit slower, moving one foot is slower than that, and moving both feet is the slowest. In other words, swinging a sword at an opponent in measure is faster than moving your torso/body back to dodge or forward on an attack. Moving a foot forward or back takes even longer and moving both feet is the slowest. In other words, it is faster to thrust a blade with just an arm movement vs an arm movement plus moving the body forward with the arm vs the arm, the body, and a foot forward such as when lunging vs the arm, body, and both feet in a shuffling strike.

To put this in perspective it takes longer for a warrior to walk 30 feet and swing a two-handed warsword than it does for the rogue to move 5 feet and backstab with a sgian dubh knife even if the warrior rolled a higher Initiative score which is how things stand now.

A character can under this system postpone their action or be indecisive. For example, a pikeman could see cavaliers and their horses charging towards him and plant her pike and ready themselves for the charge postponing their attack until the cavalier comes in range. Should the cavalier stop rather than coming into range the pikeman could charge forward instead or drop the pike and draw the loaded crossbow at their side and fire thus allowing more flexibility than the current system at the cost of more complexity for the DM and players to handle.

Actions and their Tempo:

Attacks:

For a second attack, the action takes place after the first one and any movement has subtracted from the initial Initiative. Starting Initiative of 10 and a heavy strike for on phase 7 and a second heavy strike for -3 for an attack on phase 4.

If the character is not Familiar, Proficient, or Expert with the weapon then add +2 to the Initiative Cost.

Heavy and Light Weapons have that trait listed with all others without that trait being regarded as Medium below.

Heavy Weapon Attack (Melee or Ranged): 3 Initiative Cost.

Medium Weapon Attack (Melee or Ranged): 2 Initiative Cost.

Light Weapon Attack (Melee or Ranged: 1 Initiative Cost. (Most Unarmed Strikes)

Loading a Weapon: 5 Initiative Cost.

Magic:

Cantrip: 1 Initiative Cost.

Spells: (1 + Spell level) Initiative Cost.

Innate Spellcasting, Legendary Actions, and Special Abilities: 1 to 5. (DM should quickly decide based on the complexity and potency of the ability or power or the complexity of the situation.)

While the spellcaster is making magic they are vulnerable just as if they are Concentrating on a spell…because they are concentrating on the spell they are casting. This means not only does it take awhile to drop a major spell and thus adds difficulty to the tactical landscape it also means it is even more important to protect the big guns because if they take damage and lose concentration it can be the difference between an easy encounter and a deadly one.

For example, the Cleric has an Initiative of 15 and is casting a 6th level spell so their spell begins on Phase 15 and ends on Phase 8. If they get hit with a barrage of arrows and Magic Missiles they could lose Concentration and have their spell fizzle out. The spellcaster doesn’t lose the spell slot if they lose Concentration because they weren’t able to marshall the magic before getting distracted.

This can give a quick character a chance to use Arcana to recognize the spell the big baddie is casting and yell for the Archer to shoot the Wizard before they drop a Meteor Swarm on them. It also makes Counterspelling a bit more fun which counts as a Reaction below so it only has a 0 IC.

Skills, grappling, and non-combat actions like help, search, ): DM may add or subtract depending on the complexity of the skill use. This represents the simple automatic speed that develops from increased competency at a task. Picking a lock when you’re an expert and under pressure in combat is much faster than if you’re not an expert.

Unfamiliar: 4 Initiative Cost

Familiar: 3 Initiative Cost. (Jack of All Trades, Remarkable Athlete, or my house rule linked above.)

Proficient: 2 Initiative Cost.

Expert: 1 Initiative Cost.

Movement:

Walking (base movement): 3 Initiative Cost per 5 feet

Dash: 2 Initiative Cost per 5 feet.

Sprint: 1 Initiative Cost per 5 feet. (Dash without gear, weapons, or any substantial encumbrance such as dropping everything and running for your life from the greek fire armory that a mage dropped a delayed blast fireball inside.)

Breaking up your move:

Walk 15 feet for a 15 Initiative Cost then cast a spell and use the remaining X (15) feet to get back undercover on the 0 Phase.

Use Object: 1 to 5 Initiative Cost based on the complexity of the object. Opening a stuck door may take longer than pressing a button.

Mounting: 10 – Dexterity Modifier

Dropping Prone: 1 Initiative Cost.

Standing up from “Prone”: 10 – Dexterity Modifier

Disengage: 1 Initiative Cost.

Dodge: 0 Initiative Cost.

Free actions: 1 Initiative Cost.

Quick Look Around: 1 Initiative Cost. Let’s the character get a quick scan of the environment for obvious things that don’t require a roll. Since things change dynamically during the round this can be important.

Reactions like Opportunity Attacks: Usually have a 0 Initiative Cost and take place at effectively the same time as the action that caused the reaction such as a Shield spell blocking an arrow.

Bonus Actions: Can take place before, after, or at the same time. For example, a Shield Master could do a shove before they do their attack or after. A Two-Weapon fighter could thrust forward with both daggers in simultaneously on the same phase or one after the other.

5. Act

Using the earlier example: Rogue: 30, Ooze: 23, Wizard 22, Orc 22. Thus, there are 30 Combat Phases.

Starting with the highest Initiative Score have the highest scorer decide what they want to do. So, the Rogue at Phase 30 would say I am probably moving 5 feet forward to stab the Orc after a quick look around. On Phase 29 the DM would tell the Rogue that an Ooze is slouching towards the Wizard but about 30 feet away. The Rogue has to decide whether to tell the Wizard and alert the orc or move forward and backstab the orc. She decides he should be fine and walks toward the orc and sneak attacks. So, the DM would go through Phase 28, 27, 26 (sneak attack with sgian dubh a light weapon -1 IC) and on Phase 25 rolls for damage and kills the orc. Now on phase 24, she yells at the wizard “Behind you!”.

On phase 23 the Ooze starts sliming up to the Wizard but is 30 feet away. It will have closed five feet by phase 20. The Wizard on phase 22 panics and flings a firebolt cantrip at the Ooze without thinking and hits without killing the ooze. The cantrip had a cost of 1 IC so on phase 21 the Wizard turns and walks toward the Rogue keeping an eye on the ooze. Both the Wizard and Rogue move back to keep their distance from the creepy looking Ooze which decides to Dash on its remaining move to close the distance.

The DM would map out the movement as the phases would drop one by one. Any remaining movement would be used during Phase 0 for all three creatures.

Next Round:

The next round would start with either a new roll if the DM thinks the situation is very different like new creatures enter the combat arena or dynamically in a different “scene” or if the situation is relatively static just reuse the same totals from the previous rounds.

Hope this gives you some ideas on how to spice up your combat! Keep in mind that this system does penalize movement and powerful spellcasting the most. It does encourage more active protection of your spellcasters when they are casting spells and makes it a bit harder to unleash the big guns when not protected by the tanks/front line.

 

D&D House Rules:

Combat Overhaul

Shields

Character Creation Backgrounds

Crafting, Magic Items, and Economics

Familiarity vs Proficiency

Character Focus

Tactics of Mistake

Counterattacking

 

 

 

D&D 5e House Rules: Seizing the Initiative and Counterattacking


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A counter attack is different from a parry and a riposte in that the defender seizes the moment/initiative away from the initial attacker as if they hadn’t even attacked versus defending and then attacking back. The German grandmaster Liechtenauer used the concept of Indes and the Italians used mezzo tempo or contra tempo to illustrate how to decisively and ‘instantly’ to feel out and orient their observations to take action and advantage of a moment in time during combat.

Counterattack: An offensive action executed into an opponent’s attack. A fencer might choose to counterattack if they believe their opponent’s attack will miss, or they might combine the counterattack with an evasive action (such as ducking beneath the opponent’s attack) or simultaneously using their blade to deflect their opponent’s attack during the counterattack (called a counterattack “in opposition”).

Parry and Riposte: uses the strength of one’s own blade to avoid the opponent’s blade. After performing it, the fencer then counters the attack with a combined attack which would force the opponent to parry, allow you to counter parry the opponent’s blade, and allow you to penetrate their next parry to win.

So for D&D purposes a great way to add this to the game is to allow proficient defenders to Counterattack weak attackers as an opportunity attack reaction.

This works great for any type of attack even a non-combat attack.

An NPC tries to use Intimidate on a character proficient with Insight and/or Intimidate. The intimidator fails badly so the defender could see the attack coming and before the NPC had even gotten the insult out the defender already had a comeback out and zinging.

Mechanics:

When a defender who is proficient in the skill, game, tool, or weapon is targeted by an attack or skill check in which the roll is a 1 or the total was less then the defender’s ‘To Hit’ total with their equipped and proficient weapon or appropriate skill total than they can react as if the attacker had provoked an attack of opportunity with their failed action.

Exempli Gratia:

The orc raises his battle axe over his head and telegraphs his attack with bunched muscles and a roar and rolls a 2 with a ‘To Hit’ bonus of +3 for a total of 5 missing by a mile. The skilled Knight seeing this responds with a thrust to the orc’s exposed throat before the axe even has a chance to come down.

The Knight had a ‘To Hit’ of +6 which is higher than the 5 rolled by the orc and thus the Knight has a chance to use her reaction to take a free shot at the orc with an opportunity attack.

Effects of House Rule:

This makes proficiency a much bigger deal which is very important at low levels and not very reflected by a +2 modifier. It adds a bit of spice to social combat as well providing a useful mechanic. When a low skilled character takes on a high skilled character by making a poor attack it really has a penalty now which should factor into a character’s cost benefit analysis and opportunity costs when dealing with a skilled or better enemy.

It also becomes interesting at high levels when a character is faced with a large number of incompetent enemies who leave themselves open every time they attack.

D&D House Rules:

Combat Overhaul

Shields

Character Creation Backgrounds

Crafting, Magic Items, and Economics

Familiarity vs Proficiency

Character Focus

Tactics of Mistake

Counterattacking

D&D 5e House Rules: Tactics of Mistake


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So, basically what I’ve done is take the concept of having to make a tactical or style decision prior to physical, social, or mental combat from my own game and applied it to D&D 5e.

This house rule can be used for any type of conflict and while presented here in a very simplistic form can be easily adapted to provide greater flexibility. Given that 5e has moved to an aesthetic of simplicity and clean lines I will endeavor to provide a rule in line with the style of the gaming system.

I have done no playtesting of this house rule within the game system of D&D 5e so it might not be perfect and it is an adaption from my own rpg game so it doesn’t fit as perfectly and I’m not as expert in 5e as I am in my own game. Thus, there may be weaknesses or errors that I have not thought out yet. Let me know your thoughts.

I wanted to bring to 5e something simple that also provided both mechanistically interesting choices and allowed for a more rewarding framework for roleplaying your character.

With this house rule there is a real difference between a bold dashing swashbuckler with a rapier who takes wild risks relying on their skill and bravery versus a cold calculating assassin laden with a lifetime of dirty tricks with a rapier vs a brilliantly fast tournament champion with a rapier et cetera both in how they roleplay an encounter and how they would fight in the encounter.

Also, this provides a framework for social combat like the viking flyting or the rap battles of today or backstabbing courtiers trying to undermine a rival. For mental combat like a game of dragon chess this makes things more interesting than just rolling a die and checking for proficiency.

For mental combat like a game of dragon chess this makes things more interesting than just rolling a die and checking for proficiency. It also would work really well for some type of astral combat or dream combat.

The tactics can have a big effect but since your opponent also is able to take advantage of a tactic it balances out.

A side benefit is that this lessens the negative effect of not min/maxing a character. Having a fighter with a high wisdom can now be pretty damn awesome versus mainly useless.

It also spreads out the gaps between ratings on Attributes. Getting hit with an axe by the actor who plays the Mountain is literally going to be double or triple the newtons applied by a very strong trained Olympic athlete with a mere Strenght mod of 2 or 3. The effect is going to be a much bigger difference than 2 points of damage on a blow.

Speaking of the Mountain in Game of Thrones his fight with the Red Viper is a perfectly could comparison between a strength and constitution based fighter versus a smart and agile fighter. They would be switching based on the situation between those two tactics in most duels.

Mechanics:

In this version, there are six tactics with one tactic attached to each attribute. Based on your proficiency bonus you get that many additional tactical points to spend in total on those six tactics. Each tactic uses the linked attribute modifier as its base along with the tactical points from proficiency.

An optional rule would be to replace the ‘Strength’ saving throw with the ‘Potency and Might’ saving throw regardless of what tactic is chosen in a round. This has the side effect of making it easier for everyone to make their saving throws including monsters but does provide an extra point of differentiation between different characters.

For one versus many opponents, the many may add together when working as a unit their total tactical points and apply that to the leader’s roll. If working as a unit than all must be using the same tactic just for ease of use. If not acting as a unit than just handle as normal for a one on one duel.

Potency and Might: (Strength)

Roleplaying:

With this tactic the character relies on their power so in physical combat they might grapple or bind or shove their opponent to clear the way for a strike while in a game of dragon chess they rely on clear and simple but capable strategies and in a social battle they would strike out in a forceful and straightforward way to achieve their goal.

Mechanics: 

Compare the difference between the attacker’s Tactical Rating in this Tactic and their opponent. Apply the difference to the attacker’s ‘to hit’ roll and either bump up, leave alone, or drop down the weapon’s damage by x steps as well. For a +1 difference a d6 goes to d8, a 2d6 goes to 2d8. A -2 would take a d8 to a d4. Below a d4 the damage is simply 1. Using this tactic is a bad idea for a human against a giant! Stops at d20 for bumps increasing damage.

For non-physical conflict apply the difference on any Checks or Saving Throws.

Vigor and Fortitude: (Constitution)

Roleplaying:

With this tactic the character relies on their toughness, stubbornness, and will to keep going. In physical combat they roll with the hits thus diminishing and spreading out the force from enemy strikes and simply rely on greater conditioning and toughness to win out over their enemies. In a game of dragon chess they would castle early and play a defensive point based game hoping for their enemy to grow weary in trying to assault their defenses. In a social duel they would simply weather any attacks on their character or manipulations with pure stubbornness and force of will.

Mechanics:

Apply the Tactical rating to the character’s Armor Class against the following damage types: bludgeoning, force, necrotic, thunder, cold, and lighting. Slashing if the character is wearing armor or using a shield.

Apply the Tactical rating to social and mental saving throws used to provide defense in social, magical, psychic, or mental combat.

Celerity and Agility: (Dexterity)

Roleplaying:

With this tactic the character relies on speed and grace to avoid and defeat their enemies in any arena. In physical combat they evade strikes, riposte, and place hits with precision and finesse.In a social duel they can lay down the right turn of phrase to shut down or invalidate an opponent’s argument and in a game of dragon chess they prefer an open style of game with many options and ways to shift their defense and strike at many points of weakness.

Mechanics:

Compare the difference between the attacker’s Tactical Rating in this Tactic and their opponent. Apply the difference to the attacker’s ‘to hit’ roll and their AC and any Dexterity saving throws in physical combat. In social and mental settings apply ‘to hit’, Checks, and to any appropriate ‘saving throws’ to for defense including mental attacks. Think of the defender having a slippery mind against psychic assaults for example.

For non-physical conflict apply the difference on any Checks or Saving Throws.

Guile and Artifice: (Intelligence)

Roleplaying:

The dirty street fighter or wily gladiator. This tactic is epitomized by the meme of ‘Old Age and Treachery beat Youth and Skill every time’. Throwing a bit of sand in your enemy’e eyes or dosing a rival bard with laxatives before a battle of the bands competition before the baron are all examples of using guile and artifice to defeat your enemy. A favorite of mine is from Roger Zelazny’s Amber when Corwin defeats Lord Borel with a dirty trick and Corwin retorts that this is a fight to the death, not the Olympic games. Guile can be thwarted by a near equal intelligence and sneakiness or common sense, perceptiveness, or wisdom. Casting a charm spell after dosing a target with a drug that makes them more trusting or open in order to ply for information would be an example of using this tactic in a non-combat situation. A rogue wizard with no moral compunctions and time to plot can be a much more dangerous enemy than a rampaging demon lord.

Mechanics:

Compare the difference between the attacker’s Tactical Rating in this Tactic and their opponent’s Tactical Rating in this Tactic or their Prudence and Sense Tactical Rating whichever is higher. Apply this score to ‘to hit’, any Checks, and bump the damage or DC of any spells cast just like in the Potency and Might tactic. A +1 difference boosts a d6 damage die to d8. Max of d20 and min of 1.

Prudence and Sense: (Wisdom)

Roleplaying:

Cautious and opportunistic. This tactic is for the person concerned primarily over there continued life and wish to be careful in conflict. Reserved and perceptive the martial artist or fighter using this tactic waits for their opponent to make a mistake or reveal a weakness. The primary goal is to stay alive and defeat your enemy. This is a good tactic to take against a better-skilled enemy or when trying to hold a line when you’re more wise than tough. This is also a good tactic to take against the unskilled enemy as they are unable to evade your strikes and you have improved defenses against everyone. It is easy to evade strikes when you know what the enemy is going to do before they do.

Mechanics:

Add Tactical Rating to the character’s AC and all Saving Throws.If your opponent is not proficient or familiar with their weapon you automatically hit them without the need to roll as long as you are proficient.

Same goes for social and mental conflict. If you are proficient at Dragon Chess and your enemy is not you automatically win by simply not taking risks and knowing how to avoid basic mistakes and exploit incompetence by being careful. In the social arena an expert intimidator can fairly easily turn the tables on someone trying to intimidate them who has no clue how to properly intimidate.

Audacity and Courage: (Charisma)

Roleplaying:

With this tactic the character relies on boldness and bravery to win the day. The sudden strike or the barbarian charging in a frenzy or the swashbuckler leaping toward the hanging rope to ride the chandelier down are examples of this tactic. Force of personality can really win the day and intimidate or amaze your opponents giving you the psychological edge. The berserker charging a waiting nest of pikemen knowing that they will get hit but hoping to take down some before they go. The Paladin raising their singing Vorpal blade before leaping into the Abyss after the falling undead lord would be a great example of this tactic in use. Sometimes being brave can be stupid but if you really are much better than your opponents you can more easily defeat them with this tactic and do so in style. Also, by being bold and on the offense you can seize the initiative away from someone not fighting in the moment.

Mechanics:

Apply the Tactical rating to the character’s ‘To hit’ or Ability Check and subtract the rating from their ‘AC’ and ‘Saving Throws’. The secondary ability of this tactic is to seize initiative by being in the moment and following their skill or intuition. Add Tactical rating to Initiative score and if this raises their Initiative above their opponent they may preempt their action and take their spot.

Exempli Gratia:

The Giant has a Potency and Might of 5 and a Celerity and Agility of 0.

The Knight has a Potency and Might of 0 and Celerity and Agility of 5.

The giant choosing the Potency and Might tactic with a difference of 5 points would strike with their club gaining a +5 to Hit and damage upgraded to d20. So, if the giant had a Proficiency bonus of +2 and a Strength Modifier of +4 he would roll a +11 to Hit and d20 + 9 for damage.

The nimble knight choosing the Celerity and Agility tactic with a difference of 5 points would strike with their club with a +5 to Hit and +5 to AC. So, if the knight had a Proficiency bonus of +2 and a Dexterity Modifier of +4 and was using a finesse weapon he would have a +11 to Hit and a +5 to AC to evade the giant’s strikes.

In a fight between more similar opponents the tactics would be less effective making a more well-rounded character more useful against someone who is a one trick pony. Thus, allowing those extra Tactical points from a character’s proficiency bonus. This lets a PC who is weak in one area mechanically make up for it with an unexpected tactic in battle.

If you spend a lot of time fighting orcs who are completely untrained in using martial weapons it would make a lot of sense to get better at Prudence and Sense to avoid their wild but powerful swings as you watch them telegraph their every move.

D&D House Rules:

Combat Overhaul

Shields

Character Creation Backgrounds

Crafting, Magic Items, and Economics

Familiarity vs Proficiency

Character Focus

Tactics of Mistake

Counterattacking

D&D 5e House Rules: Crafting, Materials, Magic Items and Economics


This is my first draft and there is likely to be some minor changes going forth.

The basic rules for crafting make sense when dealing with simple crafting but quickly breakdown as unrealistic when dealing with let’s say a goldsmith crafting a gold ring with a large emerald setting. At 5 g.p.’s a day the ring would take months to craft while a silver ring could take weeks or at least several days even if plain and unadorned.

So, in the rules that follow I will cover how each item has a complexity of design, a material that can modify the difficulty in successful crafting, a level of quality which can modify the value and/or functionality, and how long it takes to craft plus some basic economics on running a business or being an employee for those characters who focus on being a business owner or guildmember or master in their downtime. The more skillful the smith the less raw material is wasted or lost in the smithing process.

A common material could be a malachite stone, copper, bronze, iron, oak wood, beaver fur, cow leather, or granite. Common materials have a base minimum value of 1 g.p. a day for determining amount of work done and cost of materials though this could be modified by local conditions, prosperity of the region, and supply and demand. The base time to craft is the basic cost for the item as listed in the PHB such as 10 g.p.’s for a battle axe.

Uncommon materials could be a garnet or agate, dwarven steel, common mithril, silver, electrum, Fey-bronze, iron-oak, mink fur, wyvern leather, or marble. These have a base minimum value of 20 g.p. a day for determining amount of work done and cost of materials though depending on the material the costs can far exceed that starting value. The crafting time using most uncommon materials is twice as long as the value listed in the PHB such as 20 g.p.’s for a dwarven steel battle axe though some uncommon materials may be harder to work and have an higher multiplier.

Rare materials could be a ruby or emerald, noble mithril, admantine, gold, platinum, Ebon Ash wood, Holy Willow, fur from a Feywild Polar Bear, Shadow touched stone, and Dragon teeth or scales. They have a base minimum value of 100 g.p. a day for determining work done and cost of material. The crafting time using rare materials is usually five times that of the basic cost for the item though gold is easier and only has double the normal time when used for jewelry.

Very Rare materials could be a star ruby, royal mithril, primal gold, fur from a Primal Cave bear, a claw from an ancient dragon, marble carved from Mount Meru, and other such potent or valuable material. They have a base value of 500 g.p. a day for determining work done and cost of material. Crafting time is usually five times that of the basic cost fro the item.

Legendary materials might be a gem grown from the heart of an elder tree in the sacred grove of the first elven nation that holds an echo from that ancient time, a scale from Tiamat, iron ingots mined by undead dwarven masters in Hades and smelted by Hephaestus himself, locket of hair from the Freya, or Hide from a slain Nemean Lion.

Overhead per day of crafting is typically around 1 g.p. and covers everything from sales and property taxes, bribes, expendables such as wood or coal to burn at a smithy, and paperwork.

Labor and Lifestyle costs are based partly on the prosperity, trade, and urbanity of the locale but commonly sit at 5 s.p. a day worth of lifestyle and 1 g.p. a week for wages for apprentices and at least 1 g.p. in pay or lifestyle for a journeyman, and 5 g.p.’s a day or more for a master.

The Labor “Retail Value” equals Proficiency/Familiarity bonus + Ability Score Modifier + Tool Quality Modifier

For example:

A human Journeyman smith crafting a warhammer with iron has a Strength Modifier of +1 and a Proficiency of +2 with average “apprentice” tools that provide no bonus would do 3 g.p.’s of labor a day. This would add to the 1 g.p. in material and 1 g.p. in overhead so the total retail value of labor would be 5 g.p. a day. The smith would complete the warhammer in 3 days since the cost in the PHB is 15 g.p. There would be 6 g.p. worth of material and overhead involved and if the smith sold the warhammer to a merchant for 9 g.p. then he would have made 3 g.p. for 3 days of work if working for himself and probably less if an employee with a typical employee making a basic lifestyle for the 3 days and maybe half a gold in wages. If the smith was lucky and an adventurer commissioned the warhammer for retail price then the smith would’ve made 9 g.p. for 3 days of work or 3 g.p. a day.

A dwarven master smith crafting a dwarven warhammer made of royal mithril for his king. She has a Strength Modifier of +5 and a Proficiency of +5 with rare crafting tools providing a +3 bonus would do 13 g.p. of labor a day. Each day of labor would use 500 g.p. worth of material as royal mithril is treasured for its ability to attract legend and thus magic making it highly likely to become enchanted through use over time. The dwarven smith completes the royal warhammer in five days (65/13 = 5) using 2500 g.p. worth of material and 5 g.p. in overhead. The royal commission paid 5000 g.p. so she made close to an hefty 500 g.p. a day profit though if the GM used my optional rule requiring a DC check after completion of the item and failed then that is risk of wasting a lot of expensive materials!

Optional Rule: Crafting Failure

Each item has a DC to craft as a base item which can be modified by the type of material. Difficult to work materials place the craftsman with a Disadvantage on their roll. Easy to work materials give Advantage on their DC check. Simple products lower the DC category by one while complex products can greatly increase the DC like a master poisoner’s secret recipe of instant death or the careful and precise grinding and glasswork necessary for a quality spyglass or building a massive cathedral. Failure means the item is unusable or if the roll was close has an hidden or obvious flaw such as a sword that works fine until it gets below freezing when it becomes brittle or in the case of art just doesn’t show the emotion intended or just isn’t any good.

The base DC (common) for most weapons, most small objects of art, simple housing, is the number of days spent crafting times 5 which creates a weapon or item at the level of quality of the materials.

The base DC (uncommon) for longbows, most armor, most medium objects of art, basic housing is the number of weeks spent crafting times 5.

The base DC (rare) for advanced tailored armors, vehicles, fortifications, and most large objects of art is the number of months spent crafting times 5.

The base DC (very rare) for advanced and large sea vessels or mansions, keeps, and cathedrals is the number of seasons spent crafting times 5.

The base DC (legendary) for flying citadels, planar ships, 1000 foot bronze statues, great Pyramids, and other world class projects is the number of years spent crafting times five.

Optional Rule: Exceptional Success

When you double the base DC on your crafting roll the Quality of the item goes up by 1 category. A common item that would be limited to a common enchantment now counts as an uncommon item. If you triple the base DC than it goes up by 2 categories et cetera.

Optional Rule: Item Quality and Enchanting

A quality crafted item like all things that exhibit excellence and develop interesting stories tend to attract and collect magic. A knowledgeable and powerful character can take advantage of this and craft items with the potential to become magical over time or even weave magic into the crafting of the item at the beginning. As is often the case items with minor magics at creation can achieve Legendary status when wielded by great heroes or villains or as the case of the Moonblades of the Elves of Toril when wielded by generations of heroes.

The quality of the item must match or exceed the level of the enchantment. A Legendary Quality sword could accept any level of enchantment while a common blade would be limited to a common enchantment. A common quality blade could develop into a Legendary Artifact but wouldn’t be crafted it would be earned by the blade.

When enchanting an already crafted item or when enchanting while crafting the artificer rolls either Arcana, Alchemy (potions), Nature, or Religion depending on the type of character and the type of enchantment. Any character with a Class can enchant an item though those that require a spell require a spellcaster to make who knows and can cast the spell.

An alternative rule is to replace the 25 gp in labor for enchanting with the ability modifier + proficiency + tools (Enchanting Lab or Zen garden or Sacred Grove or Cathedral Chapel) times 5=X g.p.

A cleric of a charismatic religion could focus his passion of his zeal to create an holy avenger while a monk could spend her day dwelling on the riddle of the wolf while raking sand and trimming bonsai trees and would use Wisdom and Nature and a druid could craft a magical staff while carving in the tranquility of the sacred grove.

If the character is crafting and artificing at the same time the total time crafting is doubled as long as the enchantment matches the material quality and the artificing. This increases the material cost spent on the item as it will take longer to craft. The artificing DC matches the crafting DC.

Crafting magical potion batches has a DC of 5 plus 5 for per level of the spell and requires common materials for a 1st level spell and one tier better for each level after that. For each level of material surpassing the requirement the DC is lowered by 5. The base cost used for how long it takes to craft the potion is the DC of the Alchemy task. Legendary ingredients allows up to 9th level potions though few would try to attempt that. Each batch has 1d6 potions of the type crafted.

If adding an enchantment to an existing item the time for artificing and the DC for artificing is the same as shown on the optional rule for Crafting Failure with the number of days, weeks, months, seasons, or years determined by the DM based on the item and what the enchantment is. A common enchantment has a DC of 5, uncommon 10, rare 15, very rare 20, and 25 for Legendary.

For example:

An elven smith Leiwand is crafting and artificing a Longbow which has a base retail price of 50 g.p. He and his adventuring party had gone deep into the Feywild and in the course of battle a treant was slain by a fire giant and some of the wood was still good so he harvested it. Using leather from a young adult red dragon he slew a few years ago for the grip and gut sinew from a fey saber tooth tiger he begins his crafting of a rare magical item. It will have a +1 to attack and damage and sets the arrows on fire as they get fired adding 2 points of fire damage to each arrow plus an extra +3d6 of damage towards Giants and Giantkin. The adjusted retail cost is 250 g.p. and the smith has a proficiency of +5 plus Expertise and a Dexterity of +4 and rare tools to provide a +3 bonus and a total of +17 and 15 days to make. This rounds up to 3 weeks which is doubled for a total of  6 weeks because of artificing. The DC for crafting is 15 and for artificing is Nature + Wisdom against a DC of 15. He rolls a 14 for a total of 31 and that doubles his craft dc so the quality goes from Rare to Very Rare. The artificer roll succeeds as well. The Quality level is Very Rare but the enchantment is Rare so the item has room to grow.

Chilldeath

Marekanos the Barbaric’s Battle-Axe Chilldeath had been a favorite of his father and had at the time he claimed it a common enchantment but after slaying the Crimson Necromancer and the Demi-Lich of Kora it became far mightier by absorbing both the Legend and a share of the magical energies that were expelled at their destruction. After slaying and bathing in the blood of the tyrant Dragon-King Torenus who was an ancient white dragon the Battle-Axe earned its final name as it protects the wielder from the cold and cold magic while also dealing chilling and necrotic damage alongside every strike. So, a minor magical weapon became an artifact of incredible power during the century of adventuring the Half-Elven barbarian survived and continued its adventures in the hands of first his half elven daughter Tiana from an human mother as Chillend rejected the other daughters who didn’t express any elven features and after her death by her half sister the half elven Alrekanos born of an elven mother as Chillend rejected those kin who expressed only elven traits.

D&D House Rules:

Combat Overhaul

Shields

Character Creation Backgrounds

Crafting, Magic Items, and Economics

Familiarity vs Proficiency

Character Focus

Tactics of Mistake

Counterattacking

D&D 5e House Rules: Skill Familiarity, Proficiency, and Expertise


<Edit: I made this post a long time ago and I think it is still useful as a mechanic for looking at Skills and their use. Xanathar’s and the DMG provided some similar ideas. Think of skill use with four plateaus: Ignorant, Familiar, Proficient, and Expert. Or using numbers 0, +1/2 Proficiency bonus, +full Proficiency bonus, + double bonus.>

With this rule, I am blending the Jack of All Trades Feature idea from Bards and the Background optional rule from the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Familiarity with a Skill, or Tool grants the character a bonus equal to half their Proficiency bonus.

Familiarity with a Weapon, Armor, or Language gives the ability to communicate and comprehend basic everyday concepts or the ability to use or wear weapons and armor without the benefit of bonuses from Strength and Dexterity Ability Score Modifiers and with Stealth Disadvantage as well as a higher risk of exhaustion.

Familiarity represents a basic knowledge or ability that would be gained with an apprenticeship, training, or heavy exposure and use of a Skill. It basically represents the completion of an apprenticeship within the purview of the Background.

A Bard with the Jack of All Trades feature can be regarded as having Familiarity with all skills, tools, languages, weapons, armor, and ability checks that the Bard can reasonably explain that they might have been exposed to during their journeys. A Bard would not be familiar with a gunpowder weapon if it was foreign to their travels but would quickly pick up the basics of a flintlock after seeing it in action or given a quick tutorial.

Each Background in the Player’s Handbook or created by the DM now only provides Proficiency in one Skill or Tool but instead provides Familiarity with any tasks that the Player can reasonably explain via their character’s history.

Gaining Familiarity in gameplay is relatively easy if during the game the PC is often engaged in activities surrounding the topic such as a Rogue impersonating a low ranking janitorial employee of a Fugger bank for a few seasons would pick up a lot of the jargon and concepts of the banking world just by exposure and overhearing conversations. The player just makes a good argument to the DM or other players depending on your style of play for why she should be familiar with a given process or tool.

For example:

A merchant’s daughter who accompanied her mother on her monthly journey to the Elven trading outpost at the borders of Qualinesti might reasonably have picked up proficiency in Elven customs, language, and writing system along with an understanding of appraisal, markup, accounting, paying tariffs, and general rules of trade. Maybe she played in the forest with elven children and learned a little about surviving in the forest or practiced with an elven composite shortbow enough to not embarrass herself with the other kids.

A squire to a knight who paid for his living by traveling from one tourney to the next across the many lands and city states of the Marches might be Familiar with Martial Weapons and Light, Medium, and Heavy Armors while picking up an understanding of how to gamble and place bets, analyze other warriors for strengths and weaknesses, a smidgeon of an half dozen languages and more dialects, a fairly comprehensive list of the Heraldry of prominent champions, fighting houses, martial orders or tourney hosts, and how to behave without embarrassing yourself around knights and lesser nobility.

With Armor, the character with Familiarity must make a Constitution Saving Throw equal to the AC rating of the armor after every full minute of constant battle or 8 hours of wear while active.

D&D House Rules:

Combat Overhaul

Shields

Character Creation Backgrounds

Crafting, Magic Items, and Economics

Familiarity vs Proficiency

Character Focus

Tactics of Mistake

Counterattacking

D&D 5e House Rules: Character Focus


The idea for this House Rule grew out of my original idea to develop Half-Elves as more of unique and variable race given their hybrid status. An Half-Elf raised among rural Humans is going to be culturally different than one raised in a cosmopolitan planar city like Sigil or raised among the Fey Lords in the Feywild or in the forests of Silvanesti. That is just the cultural differences which wouldn’t take into account variations in biology. A Liger is very different than a Tigon despite both being half lion and half tiger. I also remember a version of D&D that had a whole lot of options at character creation using a GURPS style point system. Anyway, before I digress any further here is my idea. The addition of Character Focus below is not enough to make the pc’s substantially more dangerous and can be easily countered by having important NPC’s partake as well. It is really for flavor, roleplaying, and differentiation between PC’s. Using these traits as a guide it should be fairly easy for a player and a gm to invent their own character foci too.

Before I go into Focus I just wanted to highlight a character trait that should actually have a big impact on pc’s in your game.

Advantage of the Majority: This trait is free to all members of the dominant race, sex, religion, or caste in a given region. The character is more likely to blend in and not attract attention and enjoys many privileges from having easy access to foods, gear, weapons, and armor for their size and shape to having the right to vote or wield certain weapons or wear certain clothes or colors. The character’s advantages may be invisible to them and should the character go into an area in which they no longer have this background applied to them they may find things to be very strange and have a hard time adapting. In most worlds this applies to human PC’s.

Character Focus:

Each PC gets access to one Character Focus that shows a key part of who they are and what they spend their down time doing. A Rogue who is well connected in a legal merchant guild is going to roleplay differently than a Rogue who is a Savant with thieves tools. A Paladin carrying his father’s shield blessed by Brennan the demigod of protecting children is going to have a different feel than the Paladin Weapon Specialist.

Well Connected: Based on your character’s background you have a wide range of contacts giving you an “in” and respectability within that field or organization and a constant source of general information that can be turned towards specific information at a price. A guild member will know the gossip in the guild and a secret or two and easily find themselves well ensconced in a new city and probably find a few leads on guild and adventure work. A criminal knows the major players in the shadows and recent critical events from the point of view of the underworld. A noble knows that Baron Schwine has the finest hawks in the Marches and recently decided that he would pay a fortune to the noble adventurer who brings him a griffin egg. A travelling Sage who was well connected would be welcomed upon arrival at Candlekeep. At GM discretion the PC can have advantage on certain social or investigative rolls involving their social circle and can use the group’s influence in certain social interactions with outsiders. A lowly street gang member is easier to intimidate by a made thief of the Guild than a random no name thief. It is wise for the Well Connected PC to share time, knowledge, and money on her contacts even if it is just a drink or lunch or an hunch. The more lubricated the contacts the better the gossip flows back. The difference between a well connected Noble and a Noble with just the background would be that the Noble knows the daughter of the Duke and has maybe exchanged words once or twice but can’t get invited to her party while the well connected Noble who had never met the daughter of the Duke could in an afternoon of conversation at a local Baron’s luncheon find themselves with an invitation upon arrival back home. The DM is encouraged to have random NPC’s recognize the PC and to have heard stories about them throughout the game. The PC just knows people who know people.

Wealthy: The PC starts with an additional 100 gold pieces or adventuring equipment worth an equivalent amount, or tradeable goods worth at least 250 gold pieces that would need to be sold a sizable distance away and includes an hireling and a mule and wagon for overland travel or part of a cargo hold for overseas travel. The Wealthy PC would of course be wise to hire protection on such a journey. Wealthy PC’s tend to attract wealth but need to spend it as well and don’t take well to modest lifestyles. A Wealthy PC knows how to act and dress higher status and knows the best inn in Waterdeep before she had ever been there. If the PC’s want to sell a minor magical item legally the wealthy PC might know who would be interested and who would be able to afford it. The DM is encouraged to have money flow in the direction of this PC and the PC is encouraged to spend freely and often.

Heirloom: The PC has one very expensive and valuable piece of property that they inherited and treasure. They would never sell the item or allow the item to be taken from them. It could be a mastercrafted sword or a suit of half plate worn by a famous Paladin ancestor that inspired the PC to take on the adventuring life or even a minor magical item passed on by a loved one when they died. It should be an item that would grow in power with the PC and their legend. One cannot picture Raistlin Majere without the Staff of Magius even if the only magic he could do with the staff was a light spell at 3rd level. Torvald’s father’s battleaxe soaked in the acidic blood and soul of the adult black dragon he had slain and from that day dealt acidic damage on his foes and later slew a demi-lich forming a strong antipathic resonance against the undead. The DM should find some sort of excuse or work with the player to make the heirloom scale and remain a key part of the PC as they become more legendary. Torvald after all had passed up on some pretty looking axes with heavy enchantments on them when they arrived in Sigil.

Weapon Specialist: The warrior has a favored weapon that they spend inordinate amounts of time mastering to the exclusion of a vast chunk of their social life. With a specific weapon type the PC has a +X added to their attack with X representing the number of normal attacks they can do in a round. At first level this would be a +1 bonus but a fifth level fighter would be +2 because they have two attacks. When the PC increases their bonus they gain an additional favored weapon.

Acrobatic Defender: +1 bonus to AC as long as the character has freedom of movement.

Shield Specialist: The character adds their Proficiency +1 to their AC when using a Shield instead of the +2 to AC a Shield normally provides. Whenever an attacker misses the Shield Specialist by more than 10 they open themselves up to a bonus action called a shield bash which is an attack that uses the shield and does 1d4 + Strength damage. A Magical Shield provides the AC bonus to the attack and damage rolls just as if the Shield was a magical weapon.

Elemental Affinity: PC is resistant to a type of energy damage like acid, fire, cold, or thunder. The PC gains a +1 bonus to Skill rolls involving the element and +1 damage when using weapons or magic involving the element. For example a PC with a fire affinity would have a talent for starting the camp fire, wielding a flaming sword, or casting a fireball. More exotic resistances are possible with DM approval and PC background such as being a Fire Priest’s acolyte or being a distant descendant of a race resistant to that type of energy.

Magical Prodigy: The PC is extremely talented with a school of magic and gains an extra cantrip and an extra level 1 spell slot for that school. For those without a spellcasting class they gain just a cantrip. Should the Prodigy ever get trained in a spellcasting class and gain a level they would then gain access to the extra level 1 spell slot.

Studious Spellcaster: The PC has worked very hard to learn how her magic works and how to stretch her capabilities. Her Spell save DC has a bonus of +1 and she learns 1 additional spell at character creation.

Battlemage: The PC is talented with combat spells and cantrips. The PC adds their Dexterity Modifier to their Spell Attack Modifer for combat magic that needs a spell attack roll.

Savant: Character is extremely proficient at the basics of a skill or tool or instrument. The Savant counts a roll of 7 or less as a 7 with any tasks involving that skill.

Attractive: The attractive PC has advantage on social rolls with someone who finds them attractive at the DM’s discretion based on the social situation at that time. The PC spends an inordinate amount of time focused on highlighting their beauty or handsomeness at least from the point of view of the Weapon Specialist. The PC might be reluctant to undertake tasks that might diminish their attractiveness like crawl around in a sewer. A troubadour, artist, or actor can really leverage their attractiveness when performing and often earn more pay than other entertainers of greater skill.

Gifted Healer: Any use of a Healer’s kit or Herbalist’s kit or magic to provide aid to an injured or otherwise hurt individual gains the injured character a bonus hit point per die rolled.

Fleet Footed: Speed increases by 10 feet. The PC spends much of their spare time running or swimming and can also run longer distances as well compared to less focused characters.

Green Thumb: The PC has a special knack with plants and has advantage with all rolls using an herbalism kit or Nature rolls involving growing or tending plants. Plants just seem to be brighter and healthier around them. Sentient and semi sentient plants react positively to the PC who has Advantage on any social rolls involving plant creatures.

Tough: Has an extra 2 Hit Points at character creation and an additional 2 HP per level afterwards.

Sentinel: +5 bonus to passive Perception rolls. Pick one sense and have advantage on all rolls using it.

Well Traveled: Familiar and comfortable with different cultures and races the PC has a very cosmopolitan view of the world. The PC is unlikely to make a  faux pas when interacting with exotic beings, foreigners, nobles, and rustic folks and counts a 5 or lower as a 5 with all skills they are proficient in that involve interacting socially or involving academic knowledge of them and their traditions. Common among traveling sages who can become quite valuable to leaders and merchants hoping to begin diplomacy or trade with little known peoples. Well traveled PC’s gain an extra language and have an easier time learning new languages as they can learn without the need of an instructor if they are immersed in an area with the language and culture. Their training time is also cut in half.

Darkvision: A PC of a race that doesn’t have this trait gains Darkvision of 60′. It may be as a result of pact with infernal or fey beings or as a result of an ancestor from another race or from exposure to wild magic or even an experimental potion.

D&D House Rules:

Combat Overhaul

Shields

Character Creation Backgrounds

Crafting, Magic Items, and Economics

Familiarity vs Proficiency

Character Focus

Tactics of Mistake

Counterattacking

D&D 5e House Rules: Half-Elf Variants


My phone and tablet broke so I haven’t been able to update this and I’ve been too tired to get on my pc for those few moments it isn’t in use. I am scrapping much of the core ideas involved with this for some new ideas. I will be back. 
When growing up most Half-Elves learn how to diffuse social problems around them and come to grips with their mixed race heritage and the problems it can cause. Another path is to simply acknowledge the difference and rather than dive into the social sea and master it these Half-Elven pursue mastery  in whatever drives their passion. From their human parent they gain drive and ambition with a focus on the short term and attention to detail with a long term view from their elven parent allowing them to excel far beyond their peers. This pursuit of excellence provides some social protection or at least gets the Half-Elf out of the mainstream and thus out of the attentions of those who might cause harm social or otherwise.
Most Half-Elven Savants come from backgrounds involving libraries, temples devoted to gods of knowledge, universities, and master craftsmen or artists. Exposure to books or people with a love in what they do touches and influences both sides of their nature turning them from studying the people around them and their differences as most Half-Elves do and towards finding that kind of love of knowledge or passion in their own lives. As a consequence they learn to disarm or avoid difficult social situations with their intelligence and excellence.
Some Half Elven Savants fall in love with languages and often end up as a diplomats or go betweens as a result of their learning rather than their charisma and social skills.
There is a small drawback for these Half-Elven which is a tendency to slip into Reverie and day dream when pondering particularly complex ideas, solving subtle puzzles or riddles, creating masterpieces of art or war, or researching a topic pushing the bounds of current knowledge. This can be inconvenient when time is an issue. It is a drawback of their elven blood and their tendency to ignore time constraints and a drawback of their human blood and their tendency for vibrant and powerful imaginations and dreams.
Half Elf Savant Traits
Your half-elf character shares some qualities with its parents and some that are unique to them whether they are Savants or other variants.
Age: Half-Elves mature at the same rate as humans do but age slower because of their elven blood sometimes approaching their second century.
Alignment: Savants tend to be of a less chaotic bent and more influenced by the human traditions if raised amongst humans or mastery of an art or form if raised amongst elves. This greater discipline and patience can be advantageous when dealing with finicky and eccentric sages, artists, and master craftsmen. They might chafe and resent rules or demands but cast that aside as unimportant while in pursuit of their passion or goals. As a result Savants are more reliable and predictable than their more common cousins.
Size: Half-Elves tend to inherit their height from their human parentage while tending to inherit the lean and wiry frame of their elven parentage. This is just a tendency though and half elves have a great range in how they express their unique ancestry both in their physicality and in their minds. Your size is medium.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision: Thanks to your elven blood you gain the ability to see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light and in darkness as if it was dim light. Color can’t be discerned in darkness only shades of gray.
Fey Ancestry: Thanks to your elven blood you gain advantage on saving throws against being charmed and magically induced sleep. The powerful dreams of the savant weaken their resistance to sleep magic.
Life Long Learning: Starting at first level the Half-Elven Savant gains proficiency and expertise in one skill or tool or starts with 5 extra languages. Whenever the Savant has an Ability Score Improvement they also gain proficiency in a new skill or tool or they can gain 3 more languages. At 11th level they can gain Expertise in a second skill or tool.
Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common, Elvish, and one extra language of your choice.
Reverie: When undergoing a task with a skill or tool they have Expertise in with a Difficulty Class of Hard (20) or greater the Savant must make a Wisdom (10 + DC greater than 20) saving throw to avoid spending twice as long on the task as strictly necessary.  A task with a DC of (25) would require a Wisdom saving throw of (15) for example. During this time the Savant can be irritable upon interruption or less perceptive to outside and extraneous details as a flaw should the player decide to roleplay this. Savants tend to enjoy dreaming and can sometimes solve difficult problems while sleeping allowing a 1d4 to be added to a task roll if the Savant takes a short rest and a nap before attempting it or after a long rest if the Savant consciously decides to focus on a problem before bed. Savants tend to sleep deeply as a consequence and are difficult to awaken and have disadvantage on any tasks rolled on their turn immediately after awakening or for being woken up.

Hiatus, Good reads, and D&D 5e


I haven’t had the time lately to keep up with posting on Shadowrun especially on Magic or go through and modify my house rules to take into account the new Magic book. I do have a whole section of a notebook with half finished or rough draft house rules to post plus some scribbles saved in evernote so if I can get some days off without any special events we will see.

Besides life and work I have been distracted with D&D fifth edition and I do have some house rules in rough draft form that I will post sometime soon. No fiction lately sorry. I have just finished the excellent Magician’s Land the third book in Lev Grossman’s Magicians Trilogy which I highly recommend. For Harry Potter fans definitely check it out and http://hpmor.com/ for Eli’s famous fanfic of Harry Potter who has a scientific background before going to Hogwarts. You can easily lose sleep because of these stories!

 

D&D House Rules:

Combat Overhaul

Shields

Character Creation Backgrounds

Crafting, Magic Items, and Economics

Familiarity vs Proficiency

Character Focus

Tactics of Mistake

Counterattacking