Earlier in the week I posted some rules for Gritty Healing & Survival in 5e. These work for group looking for that kind of long-term resource management and play. However, it leaves a bit of a gap when it comes to healing spells and magic. In fact, most gritty mechanics suffer from the problem of setting up a system for persistent injuries, then introduce magic that lets you skip past it. Also, it suffers from the problem of turning the cleric into the heal-bot for a party, making sit out of the action during encounters to heal everyone later. So having some way to align the leaning mechanic with the core idea of recovery as a central design principle is important. Without it, you end up with the same effect as healing overnight but force the healing PC to burn all their resources and sit most encounters out.
The heroic playstyle of 5e D&D is a lot of fun, but it’s focused on the encounter for resource management and pacing. Sometimes players want to break things up with more of a gritty or survivalist style. This means adding gameplay elements that focus on attrition, strategic resource management, mitigation, and lean into the fragile nature of health. In other words, it extends gameplay into longer term campaign elements, rather than containing it to individual encounters. As a result of Matt Colville’s recent twitch hangout, I was inspired to write down my own thoughts on gritty rules for 5e.
Like most 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons DMs, I’m constantly tinkering with the rules in hopes of improving the experience at the table. But it takes a bit of time and testing before I consider an idea worthy of officially adding to my game. As such, I’ve been testing out some ideas on Twitter for feedback. These are the various rules I’ve thrown out for feedback during up through the end of April 2021. After a time, if they seem worthwhile I’ll officially add them to my own house rules list.
Handling failure is something people seem to struggle with in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. When to fail, what happens when you do, and how to keep the game moving are constant topics of discussions. In my view, Progressive Failure and Rising Tension is a very useful technique, but it’s just one of many in the DMs toolbox. As a discussion topic, people often seem to misunderstand the role of failure in RPGs. Worse, a small sub-population has begun to take terms like ‘failing-forward’ to mean failure shouldn’t be possible. So taking a moment to consider the options and tools available can make even failure a fun experience in TTRPGs.
Failing to Fail
Few things are more iconic than the image of someone charging into battle on horseback. Yet, 5e doesn’t have satisfying rules to make mounted combat a fun part of play. So I created these rules to provide thrilling options for mounted combat by players, while maintaining balance with existing rules and abilities. As with all rules, these are guidelines and the DM should do what is fun and fast, using what adds to the game, and ignore the rest.
It’s a weakness of experience based advancement in 5e D&D that it directly addresses only one of the three pillars of play, combat. This forces DMs to either ignore advancement through social interaction and exploration, or create some way to include it. Ignoring it seems a bad option for a ‘pillar’ of play and creates a sense of wasted time. Likewise, a poorly crafted experience system for these pillars messes with pacing and play balance. Therefore, a simple, clear, and consistent method for including all pillars helps diversify play without sacrificing progress. In this post, I’m going to talk about how I do that with the social interaction pillar. So this is how I award experience for roleplaying in my campaigns.
Creating your own potions and magic items can be a satisfying element of gameplay in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. General guidelines for crafting different rarity items are provided in the core books, but many gaps exist. Specifically, the details of how to learn to craft items, and how to collect ingredients is left vague. While I don’t think crafting needs to have a fully gamified system, having some central methodologies can keep things consistent. Notably, a set of rules that create proactive options for players can enhance their engagement with the setting. While, an understandable set of guidelines for item crafting can develop character goals and drive roleplay. Taken together, players who want to craft items can use gathering rules as a fun gameplay hook.
I get questions frequently about what house rules I’m using in my own 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons game so I wanted to post them for everyone. I hope you’ll find something useful here and tag me on twitter if you have a question or want to share a rule of your own.
By and large, I stay fairly houserule light. This is because I don’t think most house rules add anything to a game. More often than not, people are compensating for some cognitive disconnect but it doesn’t bring much to a group at play. So more or less, I use rules as is with the exception of the one’s I’ve listed below.
There’s been a lot of contentious talk in my feed about building skills challenges in 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. Firstly, we need to develop a common understanding of what a skill challenge is in 5e. Secondly, we must get past the issues people have with 4th edition that make them so polarized. Thirdly, we need to focus on how different ways of resolving skills affect pace and tension. Moreover, we need to define some meaningful circumstances that let players drive the use of skills in creative ways. In these ways, we provide creative opportunities to do more than fight, and develop richer games in the process.
The development of safety tools has been one of the more useful advancements in Tabletop Roleplaying Games in the modern era. At their heart, these tools help groups normalize expectations, level set, and understand the range of issues a particular gaming group might experience. Firstly, these tools help people understand if a game is the right one for them. Secondly, it helps shape the conversation and understanding of how to deal with different topics in a way that honors the experiences and context of everyone at the table.