Our Best Homebrew Changes for D&D 5E

Personally I love 5E Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a system that certainly has its flaws, but it’s beginner-friendly, easy to create a game for, and introduced me into world of TTRPG. This not only led to great stories and campaigns but also introduced me to multiple people who became incredibly good friends over the years. 5E has a lot going for it.

But it is a flawed system and some of its decisions are…baffling at best.

Fortunately, the books are very clear that 5th Ed is meant to be a malleable system. The rules are guides but at the end of the day what the DM says goes. I mean, there were multiple things we were going to homebrew even if it wasn’t written that way, but there’s no reason to feel guilty about shifting, changing rules, or altering how things work for your campaign.

More than any other DnD edition, 5E is mean to be adaptable. So with that in mind, here are our group’s favorite rule changes, and homebrew adjustments.

homebrew cauldron on fire
Got some good homebrew coming right up!

Our 7 Best Homebrew Rules/Changes for 5E DnD

These aren’t going to be for everyone, and depending on the type of campaign being run some may apply more than others. That said, these are the seven favorite custom home rules we’ve found from nearly 8 years of playing 5th Edition D&D.

4 Attuned Magic Items Instead of 3

Homebrew Rule: All player characters can have four magically attuned items at any one time, as opposed to the book rule of three.

To my last day on this planet I’ll never understand the logic when releasing 5E as a “low magic” system. I think so many of the complaints, gripes, necessary revisions & addendums have all been as a result of the limitations to magic and magic items that were setup with the 5E system. The official rule is that characters can only have 3 attuned magic items at a time. I’ve never played a single game where we actually enforced this rule.

I understand wanting to prevent an extreme amount of power creep, especially in a system that just wasn’t designed to deal with it, but three? Really?

Three just isn’t enough. It really isn’t. I get scarcity, and honestly with 4 players feel like they can power up at high levels and frequently at the table decisions were still being made between one item and another. If you introduce artifacts in epic level campaigns then the artifact is a no-brainer however that still means a really good magic item has to be unattuned to make room and watching players struggle to make these decisions told me it worked well.

They got to feel like powerful heroes, they still had to make tough decisions.

Trust us, your want to go with 4 attuned magic items instead of 3. It’s a small adjustment that makes an awesome difference and a better game, in our experience.

Zombies Cause Infection

Homebrew Rule: Just like in real life, zombie bites cause infection and if you don’t have that remove curse and those medicine checks fail…

Zombies seem to be cool almost everywhere but 5E. While the chance for them to save throw to 1 HP can make a group of them threatening at low level, it also mechanically can become a grind. Do you know what can make them more terrifying? If they cause infection. The type that requires a remove curse or something similar to avoid the player from turning undead.

You’re away from civilization, you’re low level, thus still dealing with zombies, and a bite occurs. Since zombie bursts don’t happen fortified cities you may have to use that remove curse scroll you found. What if no one is high enough for remove curse?

The race to civilization begins as you are now on a counting clock!

This is fantastic because there are so, SO many ways to play it.

  • Medicine checks from members of the party skilled in it buy you time, but can’t cure or stabilize it
  • Start playing with levels of exhaustion as the party must rush to a place where a high enough cleric can cure him
  • Finding rare plants along the way to buy more time becomes an adventure for the ranger trying to help you
  • The afflicted player gets weaker as they continue to move through territories that still have danger

There is tension. There is a race against time. The players have some ability to tilt things in their favor but there is serious tension. Dice (chance) still come into play.

A “simple” zombie infestation in D&D 5E becomes something to be massively feared once again and puts on more of that feeling of dread and terror that the horror genre gets from them but DnD tends not to.

I Know A Guy…

Homebrew Rule: Players can work with the DM to pull the “I know a guy” card, helping explain who their contact is, how he/she was met, and painting some backstory with the DM’s guidance to help paint the world all of them in. This not only gives them direction when floundering and

This is one that I found interesting and it makes perfect sense though outside of a very collaborative system where it’s actually sort of built into the rules, I have never heard this homebrewed into an established system before. But I like it. “I Know A Guy” refers to the party running into an obstacle or needing some help and a player can play the “I know a guy…” card.

They say they know a guy who can help them, and then are responsible for fleshing out an entertaining backstory right then and there. The DM can help, guide, or make suggestions if one part of a story is clashing with another, or if changing a minor detail really plays into the story. This allows players to not only get the help they need during particularly challenging parts of the session but also to contribute to creating this world, introducing NPC characters and backgrounds, and be invested in the story.

You never know when a mission, a story, an NPC created by a player can create an awesome experience that not only adds depth to the world but creates something the DM can really work with to create cool places, backstory, or side quests along the main quest.

Additional Proficiencies for Intelligence Points

Homebrew Rule: Intelligence is an important skill. For each intelligence point bonus (or for every +2 over 10) the player gets to learn another language or pick a tool skill proficiency.

This is a rule borrowed from Pathfinder and it makes a lot of sense. Intelligence is an important trait in real life, and while a couple of really good skills are attached to it in 5E, unless you’re a wizard (and now also an artificer) it just feels weak. Obvious dump stat for more than just the barbarian.

However, this rule states that for every additional bonus point of intelligence (in other words when you have an even number above 10 so you have an Int bonus) for each of those points a player gets to learn another language, or pick up a tool proficiency. These are little things, but they make perfect sense with what Intelligence is while rewarding intelligent players in a way that is useful but not even close to game breaking.

This is a good rule that rewards intelligent players playing the roll of scholar and for the bard or the rogue who have extra stats to spare, getting this little bonus for tools and language can make the plyer more useful in their rolls, give more skills, or allow them to listen into more conversations.

Depending on the table this could be adjusted for non-proficient Int stats or more. There are plenty of options here and regardless of how you go, it makes a lot of sense and makes Intelligence a more important stat without busting the game – which it honestly should be.

Exchanging Athletics and Acrobatics Checks

Homebrew Rule: An athletics check can switch to acrobatics for Dex-based characters if they can describe how to do it, with the same applying to acrobatics checks to athletics for Str-based characters.

This is one that I use all the time. Some athletic characters are strength based and want to use an athletics check. There are other times when a heavy DEX-based character in great shape wants to use acrobatics. Truth be told, I allowed this to be an either/or so often as DM that I often forget this is actually technically a homebrew rule.

Most of the time these can be somewhat interchangeable, and I love letting my players succeed by pitching the case for their skill and describing how to tackle the current obstacle requiring a check in a unique way. When they give a great pitch and then fail it’s just funny for the whole table. No downside to this one.

Every so often I will rule that something is clearly a strength-based check or a dexterity-based check so it has to be one or the other. However, I’ve found that well over 90% of the time that acrobatics and athletics checks can be treated interchangeably.

This lets characters thrive, keeps the game running fast and smooth, and really doesn’t have a downside.

Black Curtain

Homebrew Rule: When hitting a situation or scene that could be uncomfortable or unpleasant to describe, just pull out the “and scene” curtain.

There are a few situations where this could come up. So why describe a grisly death? Just say curtain. Especially if you have a combat veteran or EMT at the table trying to get away from that stuff. Village destroyed by goblins? There’s no reason for details about children dying, or the more gruesome aspects of a place being razed. Just black curtain the details.

Different people have different triggers or this can be as simple as avoiding awkwardness when the table just doesn’t need details. “I’m going to the brothel.” “Cool, black curtain, spend X gold if you go cheap, Y gold expensive. Roll for drink cost.” That’s it. World immersion, character independence, no too much details moment.

Another reason for this is out of control players who need to be reigned in. In fairness there are some cases where just one player is ignorant of something that affects how another player views things. There are also just problem players and having the black curtain rule lets you put down your foot while setting expectations.

As much as anything this is more a sign of good conscientious DM’ing than an actual homebrew rule but it’s important enough that this is a good way to let the table know, hey, when I say black curtain or and scene, there’s no more discussion, we’re moving on.

This is also a rule that may come up more with other settings like Vampire the Masquerade or Call of Cthulhu where depending on the campaign there are more adult themes that can cause more instances of discomfort, dark themes, or other similar situations. However, having this rule in place for all campaigns is just good practice.

Rule of Cool

Homebrew Rule: If it’s really really cool, give the player a chance to pull it off even if you need to bend the rules just a little bit.

We can’t have a homebrew rule list without the rule of cool. Explaining this can be hard to do, but if you’ve been around the table long enough you know when something potentially awesome is going to happen and a good DM knows to sometimes bend the rules just a little to allow the player a chance to pull this off.

After all, you’re looking for those memorable moments in game. These need to be done within reason, but if the player can paint a scene and give a reason why, take a look at making it work. Or at least giving them a chance. I’ve even used the line “I’m going to allow you to try because of the rule of cool but if you fail, I am going to totally F with you.”

This is also a good rule for new players coming in. When I ran a one-shot for Phil’s wife during her first D&D session she was a dual wielding ranger and described a move where one axe was to disarm and enemy of his shield and bring the second in. That was NOT the time to ask if she had the dual wielding feat, what the math was, or point out that was two actions.

I wanted a new player, who was bonding with something her husband loved, to enjoy herself. So I ad-libbed using the rule of cool. Dex check to see how cleanly the disarm took place, then one die for the attack.

That went smoothly, gave her a chance to experience something cool, and gave the best experience for a memorable one shot. Mission accomplished!

In Conclusion

That’s a great array of homebrew rules that honestly cover quite a variety of situations. Are there ones that your table uses or that we missed that you think would be great? Talk to us on Facebook or join our amazing community on Patreon that includes a Patrons-only Discord and whose feedback helped create this article.

Above all a game should be a fun group story-telling experience and if these home rules create a better experience, then we’re all for adding them to help provide that for everyone involved!

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