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Musing on some variant and homebrewed rules: feedback and insight wanted


Thinking out loud here, and I’d love to have your feedback. (for a TL;DR version, skip to the second post)

I have a new campaign in mind for D&D 5e. It's been cooking for years. For that campaign, I mean to put a bit more emphasis on the mundane and introduce a bit of realism. Before you all get your torches and pitchforks, let me explain what I mean by that.

[sblock=realism in D&D]
First, I don’t mean to make a realistic game out of D&D. I just want to take the high-magic fantasy “knob” of D&D that is currently on 9 (where 3e was a 10), and dial it down to, let’s say, a 6 or 7. I like to see “realism” as a standard to compare to the game world and a meter to relate to our character. I know what my hungry character feels because I know what hungry is. I know how scary jumping down 20 feet is because I know how falling down 20 feet hurts. I bet you saw that one coming…

Second, I want to play D&D. I’m not aiming at modding the :):):):) out of it to a point where it doesn’t feel or resemble D&D anymore. Players will (99% likely) wield magic, and the world around them needs to able to cope with that. I struggle to find the right balance between enough and too much magic.

[sblock=Whoa, a spoiler in a spoiler!]
The very definition of magic is to defy reality. I’d like to have magic stand out as, well, magical in this campaign, and for that I need realistic elements to contrast with. A magic healing potion isn’t that extraordinary when it does less than a good night of sleep. If it could spare me 2 months of physio, I wish I could drink one when I fell 20 feet…

If I learned something about houseruling D&D in the past, is that houserules work best when focused on one aspect of the game. Houserules shouldn’t change the game, they should give that particular campaign a particular colour. Hum, this may sound paternalistic. Let’s just say I want to give this particular campaign a particular colour.

So for this campaign, I want to bring out the mundane, heroism more than super-heroism, survival and the hazards of nature and wilderness, camaraderie and friendship between characters, and I aim to add or modify rules to support that.

I think a good place to start is the “gritty realism” variant rest from the DMG. Fewer resources mean less instant recoveries. Longer long rests means, among other things, less spell spamming, both from the players and from the world around them. Paranoid high-level wizards may actually make sense when a good fight makes them defenseless for a whole week, because they know other high-level wizards are waiting for that exact opportunity. I’m more of a slow-pace DM when it comes to encounters anyway, so this shouldn’t throw balance out of the window. But there is only so much dragging a DM can do before losing the interest of its players in this high-action movies era. Again, I struggle to find the balance between a slower attrition and too little resources.

Ignoring the higher levels would also go far in that direction. However, players like to level up and I understand that. The PHB shines a whole bunch of beautiful class features in your face, and I understand the frustration of ignoring what seems to be half the game, or more. It’s like looking at the hardware store mag with $10 on my VISA. Needless to say, I struggle to find the right balance here too.

Thoughts, theories and experiences are welcome.

Thanks in advance


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Things I want:

To make a slower-paced campaign emphasizing on the ordinary and mundane aspect of the world, making heroism extraordinary in courageous acts rather than powerful magic.

To make wilderness travel still dangerous and significant past 3rd level. Ideally for the whole length of the campaign.

To bring a mechanical aspect to the bonding and friendship of the characters. Even if our game session focus on the most conflicting situations, a lot happens around the campfire or a mug of ale at the tavern.

Things I might fiddle with:

Inspiration. A common pool? I did that once. There is something to do around inspiration.

Exhaustion levels. There’s a condition/health track baked in the game. Good material. Potentially over-penalizing.

Rests. Longer rests put a break on spell spamming and make martial shine (a bit more).

Maximum character levels. Insane amount of hp is the main culprit, but there is a point where class features become overwhelming for that type of campaign. Yet, I don’t mind – I even like – the odd use of a powerful feature. A wish spell a day keeps the DM away, but I wouldn’t be against a wish as a once-in-a-lifetime magical achievement.
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Jewel of the North
May I suggest you use the playbooks from Beyond the Wall, but with the 5e rules instead of its own system? It would give your players the chance to start from a concept and generate a character (stats, background etc) and have them all bound by a shared youth in a small village with a max level of 10, yet the playbook may give some small bonus to your PC (extra weapon prof, +1 or 2 on Ini rolls, more known spells etc) . It would require a little tweaking, but I think its well worth it.

For a free example: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/121971/Beyond-the-Wall--The-Village

As for the rules themselves, I'd go with
-slow healing OR Long rest restricted to village and inns.
-Silver standard
- look at the travel rules for the Adventures in Middle-Earth for 5e
- Try to keep ''adventures'' spaced with a lot of downtime (I usually go for 1 adventure per year)


Have you checked out Adventures in Middle-Earth? It does a lot of what you're looking for--journeying, in particular, is a big part of it--and you can always divorce it from the specific Middle-Earth setting. (Although, given your name, I'm guessing a dash of Middle-Earth might fit your taste!)


Have you checked out Adventures in Middle-Earth? It does a lot of what you're looking for--journeying, in particular, is a big part of it--and you can always divorce it from the specific Middle-Earth setting. (Although, given your name, I'm guessing a dash of Middle-Earth might fit your taste!)

I am somewhat familiar with AiME, but far more familiar with its parent game The One Ring. AiME does a lot of things, including removing magic almost entirely, and that's not the way I want to go. It does serves as inspiration however.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I completely agree about mechanics not just allowing but actively enforcing a setting gives you a strong feel. Thank you for taking the time to be as clear about what you are trying to do, it's a boon for responding.

You already mentioned playing with long rests, and [MENTION=6702445]jayoungr[/MENTION] already mentioned AiME, I'd like to reinforce where those line up - lack of long rests during "the journey". During the days/weeks/months long passage to wherever there will be a variety of challenges. However, long rests are not available via default at all during this. It's things like Elrond's Last Homely House and other rare and location-bound sanctuaries that would allow a long rest. Places you may not be welcome at until it's the reward from something you did.

Along the same lines, inter-class balance betweent he primary at-will, short rest, and long-rest recharge classes varies on how often your short and long rests are. Using the slow variations in the DMG (or a similar option) means that it is easier for the DM to control the number of encounters between rests to adjust to where they want it.

An interesting side effect of this is that players may be less likely to play primary long-rest recharge classes if they know you are aiming at 6-8, and are just as likely to have 12 encounters between long rests as you are to have 2 (+/4 from standard). Since full casters (sans warlock) are all long rest recovery classes, there is some natural pressure away from them, potentially (depending on table) leading to less of a "mostly caster" party, like often happens.

I don't know if you find cantrips as breaking the "too magical". I happen to think that they serve an important design purpose and would recommend reskinning instead of removing or reducing them, but there are strong ideas out there if you want to go that route.

One thing that help me personally get away from the high fantasy is downtime. I know, say what? But thinking that characters have gone from 1st to 8th in less than two months game time is a perceptual thing that break it for me. So I'd include the idea of not just long travels, but also of weeks or months of downtime between adventures. If you need, adjust the downtime charts in the books, but really if you have a character that has learned a language or tool over time and uses it to comes up with a mundane solution instead of a magical one to a problem, you're already golden.

You mention exhaustion. I'm not a fan of applying it often as written because even a single level of it apply disadvantage on all skill checks - so basically everything that isn't combat. And with long rests delayed that will really impact the character. That gets right in the way of skilled over magic, because the magical solution is not hindered by exhaustion. You may want to adjust it.

On the other hand, there is another resource not regained fully on a long rest - Hit Dice. With lesser magical healing and more HD spent per long rest (because of the above), you can still have attrition going in that only half a character's HD come back every long rest.

Good luck!


Oooooh, I had forgotten about hit dice [MENTION=20564]Blue[/MENTION]

There’s is also a possibility to expand on the hit dice mechanics, like spending a hit dice to heal an exhaustion level on a short rest.

I’m not looking for extra HD use for the sake of extra HD use only, but there is wiggle room in the system there IMO if I need it.

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