Since this is an opinion piece, I figure it’s relevant to mention a bit about me: I’ve been playing TTRPG’s for around 6 years, and been heavily invested for around 3 years. I’m what many would call a forever-GM, but rest assured, I enjoy every minute of it, and wouldn’t have it any other way. I lean quite heavily on the rules, but as this article shows, I’m not afraid to adjust them to suit the campaign I want to run!
But again, keep in mind that everything here is my personal opinion and reasoning, if you do not believe that these rules would be a good fit for your campaign, by all means, do it however you want! These are simply a starting point suggestion!
Starting at Level 3
This is pretty straight forward. Unless your players are completely new, in which case I would definitely recommend starting at Level 1, I would highly recommend starting your characters at Level 3! This serves multiple purposes. The primary reason is simply that it grants immediate access to some of the more fun parts of a player’s class and subclass right from the start! This allows for both more interesting gameplay right away, but also allows a little more flexibility with regards to player backstories!
The secondary reason is an aspect that for some is fun, but for me is just annoying, and that is how incredibly squishy player characters are at 1st and 2nd Level. Let’s run the maths for a second – A Giant Rat, a fairly common and stereotypical enemy, deals 1d4+2 damage on an attack. Just this alone, if it rolls maximum damage, would be able to down a 1st Level Wizard or Sorcerer in one single attack, assuming no CON modifiers. If that same Giant Rat then crits… Well, that’s a minimum of 6 damage, all the way up to 12. 12 damage is enough to down any 1st Level character bar some martial characters with high CON modifiers. And dying to a Giant Rat at 1st Level is just… Anticlimactic. Therefore, I recommend starting at 3rd Level, as this is when players start being able to take a few hits in combat.
Rolling for Stats… Or not.
So, I actually don’t enjoy rolling for stats, not as a player or as a GM. I like the balance and design intention behind either the Standard Array or Point Buy system. If my players insist on rolling for stats, I will allow it, but make them aware of the risks – Such as one player being a lot stronger (or weaker) than everyone else, which can result in imbalance both in combat and roleplay. But my personal choice is the Point Buy system, to promote customizability, but still ensuring balanced characters, where no-one is significantly stronger than the others.
Rolling for HP - with Advantage
Rules as written, upon a level up, you can choose to either take the average roll of your hit die, plus your CON modifier, or you can roll your hit die, and take the result (also plus your CON modifier).
However, if you like rolling dice, but perhaps are a little averse to the risk of rolling a 1 on your hit die, I like to allow rolling the hit die with Advantage. This generally gives your players a little more sturdiness… Which also allows you as GM to throw some more fun encounters at them! Plus, as a player, it’s just fun to be a little beefier. There is, however of course still the risk of rolling double 1’s even with Advantage… But such is life under the Dice Gods.
ASI’s AND Feats? Surely not?
Full disclaimer, this is not an optional rule I have actually had the chance to play with yet. Therefore, it’s mostly based on theorycrafting, and may not actually be balanced.
Basically, I quite enjoy playing and GM’ing heroic campaigns, where the players are powerful heroes, moreso than Grimdark campaigns where every day is a struggle for survival. Therefore, in my next campaign I want to run a game where every time a player gets an ASI, I will let them take both an ASI AND a Feat. This optional rule serves two, or even three, purposes. The first is quite simply to up the power level of the players, making them feel stronger. Similarly to the above point, this also lets you as GM throw some stronger and more interesting encounters at your players!
The second point is that in DnD 5e, there is a distinct gulf in efficiency between martials and spellcasters, especially at higher levels. However, a lot of martials are dependent on multiple stats (such as Barbarians which ideally need STR, DEX and CON), which more ASI’s help alleviate. Similarly, many Feats are targeted towards Martial characters, granting them a small boost of power.
Lastly, there is a certain… Meta, concerning feats. The most well known of these are of course the Lucky feat, the Polearm Master/Sentinel combination, or Great Weapon Master. Since these feats are much stronger than others, when the players forego an ASI, they of course want to take a strong feat. By allowing them to take both, my hope is that they will opt for feats that perhaps fulfill the roleplaying fantasy of their character better, rather than just make them stronger. Of course, some players may exploit this to just make their characters utter powerhouses, but… That’s up to you as GM to judge your players. And if worst comes to worst, just keep in mind… You can’t be a nuisance if you’re mind-controlling!
Consider Limiting Available Player Races & Classes
This not a specific homebrew rule per se, but something to consider during your campaign. Most of my campaigns are set in the world of Exandria, from Critical Role. Therefore, there are certain races and classes that have certain tie-ins to the lore. For example, Bugbears, Drow, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Minotaurs and Orcs are inherently considered evil in the primary society of Wildemount, the Dwendalian Empire. They aren’t actually evil, but that’s the prevailing view, depending on what area of the world you start in. Therefore, it might be ill-advised for your players to start as one of these races, lest you make them fully and comprehensively aware of the roleplaying consequences of their choice. The other players should also agree with these consequences.
The same thing applies to classes. On a general scale, I dislike Artificers in High Fantasy settings. I don’t think they fit in most settings, except perhaps the Alchemist subclass. But in certain settings, such as Exandria, some classes and subclasses have specific tie-ins. For example, Monk of the Cobalt Soul has a fixed role in Exandrian lore, and the player should be aware of this when choosing the subclass. You as GM are of course more than welcome to say they may choose it anyways, but it’s certainly something to consider.
The above list has mostly been rules affecting character customization, and those are the primary ones – But I do have a few affecting actual gameplay as well.
The first one is a fairly common one – Quite simply, you may use a potion on yourself as a bonus action instead of a full action, like it says in the rules. However, giving a potion to someone else, for example giving a health potion to a downed ally, is still a full action.
Alongside this, personally, I find it quite annoying when player characters assist each other to grant Advantage, even when there is no coherent reason as to why the Barbarian would be able to assist the Wizard in an Arcana check. Therefore, I personally like to rule that you can only grant Advantage via assisting if you are proficient in a skill. The exception being Perception checks, since keeping an eye out just requires a pair of eyes.