Although I ended my 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons game recently, I have had some interest in some of the houserules and various changes I was using in that game. I’ve decided to put them all up here on the guild so others can see what I was doing. Note that this list isn’t entirely comprehensive and some of these rules require some DM finesse to implement well. For example the way I was using “Vitality” was as a way of making certain named antagonists and other very powerful creatures more dangerous over regular “Jobbers”. Enemies that damage or threaten vitality were exceptionally rare and even if they could, only on certain circumstances like critical hits or very specific abilities.
This is a list of the current houserules and changes used in Curse of the Black Pearls. Anything in this document is a rule that is currently in effect.
1 COMBAT CHANGES
1.1 BLOODIED (CONDITION)
A creature that is bloodied is on half of its total hit points and has suffered an extremely debilitating wound or injury bringing it closer to death. Bloodied creatures may gain new attacks, interactions, benefit from escalation die in some manner or behave differently – fighting ever more desperately.
1.2 CLIMBING ONTO BIGGER CREATURES
If you are smaller than a creature you are facing, you can choose to climb onto it as an action and make a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check against the target, which is opposed by the targets Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. If the smaller creature wins the contest, it moves into the larger creatures space and moves with the target when it moves, with all attacks from the smaller creature having advantage until they are thrown off. The smaller creature can choose to move around the larger creature’s space and treats the squares occupied by the creature as difficult terrain.
If the climbed creature can attack the smaller one is up to my discretion and the larger creature can dislodge the smaller one in three ways. Either as a part of a move action where the larger creature has moved more than half of its movement, requiring a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to remain on the larger creature. Failure results in the smaller creature falling off and can choose what space along the targets movement they fall prone into.
Alternatively the creature can take an action to shake them off, by making a Strength (Athletics) check opposed by the smaller creatures Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. Failure results in the smaller creature falling off and being knocked prone in an unoccupied space next to the larger one. Finally if the larger creature attacks the smaller one successfully, they must make a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check with a DC equal to half the damage dealt (rounding fractions up) or 10 (whichever is higher). Failing this check has the same result as the shaking off action.
The DC for these checks varies by the size of the creature and how easy to grapple onto it the monster is. Very scaly or hairy is easier to grab!
1.3 DAMAGE BONUSES
As adventurers improve and get stronger, so does the amount of damage they do with their weapons. At level 8 you double your ability modifier to damage. At level 16 you triple your ability modifier to the damage you deal.
Escalation is basically the idea that as a fight goes on, the heroes (I use that term loosely in some ways ;)) gain momentum and desperation, striking at the monsters with ever more accuracy and damage. Beginning on round 2, a D6 die is put onto the battlemap (or somewhere you can see). This die is the escalation die and it starts at 1. Every round afterwards, it increases by 1 so on the 3rd round of combat, it becomes +2 etc, up to a maximum of +6.
This adds a straight bonus to all attack and damage rolls performed by player characters. Summoned monsters, or your allies do *not* gain this bonus – only player characters. Escalation only increases when you are meaningfully engaging enemies in a round – so if nobody attacks (for whatever reason) escalation decreases by 1 (or potentially more). Escalation only stays as long as there is a battle – as soon as a fight ends the die goes away.
Monsters in general do not benefit from escalation except in certain circumstances where they may interact with it. Some can gain only the bonus to damage, others may gain both the hit and damage bonus (making them *exceptional* threats) and others still may decrease the escalation die, prevent it from increasing or any number of other effects.
1.5 FLANKING DAMVANTAGE
When you and an ally are flanking an enemy, which is when you’re on opposite sides of the opponent, you can choose to reroll one of the damage dice that you rolled and must keep the second result.
Note: Have changed this from being able to reroll all of the dice to just reroll the one.
1.6 HEROIC DEATH
Player characters are not instantly killed if their HP drops to their absolute negative maximum value (EG you have 17 HP, if you were reduced to -17 you would be instantly dead). Instead this accrues an instant failed death save and you suffer a Lasting Injury.
Occasionally a character will pull off an amazing feat of daring, put themselves at immense risk for another or negotiate a seemingly impossible deal. These particularly notable events against all odds award Inspiration, which can be used to automatically succeed at any d20 roll attempted or to improve the feeling of a faction towards the party at the Privateers Court.
1.8 LAST GASP
Some effects in 5E would ordinarily kill a character instantly, such as being petrified, soul ripped out by a banshee or some other unpleasant effect. Instead of being instantly killed, you get a last gasp at life and can continue to fight. When you fail the first save against such an effect, you are considered to be on a “Last Gasp” and begin dying. On your next round you have a single action and then need to make another save, at the original DC +5. If this fails you are incapacitated and can take no further actions except continue to make saving throws.
If you fail two further saves (again, against the DC +5), you are dead, petrified or whatever terrible fate it was befalls you. Time to make a new character!
1.9 LASTING INJURIES
Whenever you are dropped to 0 HP the third time or more in a fight, your character suffers a lasting injury that could be a scar, a permanent slight twitch, some kind of minor limp or similar. These battle scars are a permanent record of your encounters with deadly creatures, terrible spells and near death experiences. When you suffer a Lasting Injury, your maximum number of hit die are reduced by 1 until your next Long Rest in a safe environment (see Resting in Dangerous Areas). Should you somehow survive to pick up more than five of these injuries, they can potentially confer advantage on intimidation checks.
When you successfully hit an enemy with a melee attack you can choose to mark that enemy. A marked enemy grants advantage on opportunity attacks you make against it until the beginning of your next turn.
1.11 SECOND WIND
When badly hurt in combat, heroes can often find a resurgence of determination and hidden reserves from nowhere to keep fighting – even in the direst circumstances. This is represented by the second wind action. When you use your second wind, all attacks against you have disadvantage until the beginning of your next turn and you can spend up to half of your level in hit die (minimum of 1 die), regaining the rolled hit points plus your constitution modifier immediately. You may only perform this action once during an encounter and it refreshes whenever you take a short or long rest.
1.12 SUMMONING PAIN
When creatures that have been summoned die, their death deals the summoner 1d6 damage for every summoned creature that was killed in the attack. The combined damage total triggers concentration checks and cannot be mitigated or negated in any way.
1.13 HEROIC ACTION
An heroic action is a special award given for defeating particularly notable opponents, a special act of heroism or similar. You can only have a single heroic action point at a time and when spent you can use it in the following ways:
Regain all HP
Prevent yourself from falling below 0 HP from an enemies attack
Turn a critical hit you suffered into a regular blow
Automatically critically hit on your next attack
Gain an extra action this turn
Have a second attempt at a failed skill check with advantage
And any other potential use with the DMs permission
Vitality represents a characters core resilience to the most grievous or substantial of injuries. All characters have vitality equal to 4 plus their constitution modifier. During combat a character can spend vitality to avoid dropping below 0 HP, but Vitality can be damaged in other ways: Named antagonists, especially powerful monsters and similar may be able to damage vitality with their attacks. A character whose vitality reaches 0 is instantly killed, regardless of how many HP they currently had. Vitality restores as a rate of 1+constitution modifier (minimum 1) every long rest.
2 RESTING AND ADVENTURING
2.1 ADVENTURING GEAR
Whenever you are out in dungeons and similar, instead of buying individual uses of basic adventuring items like torches, oil, rope, thieves tools, blankets, healers kits, tents and whatever other miscellaneous items you might need you purchase adventuring gear. Adventuring gear is worth 20gp and provides 5 uses, with any use providing the item that you need. For example, you come across a sheer cliff face and need climbing gear, using 1 charge of adventuring gear you can dig out some rope. Another use may provide some sharp climbing boots and similar to help assist in addition. You can only carry 1 pack of adventuring gear at a time.
Additionally while you are adventuring in hostile wilderness regions you can expend a use of adventuring gear to avoid the penalty to hit die normally incurred (see “Resting In Dangerous Places” below).
2.2 LIGHT INJURIES
Whenever you take a short rest and do not spend any hit die during it to heal, if you are not at your maximum number of hit die you can regain 1d3 hit die up to your maximum.
2.3 RESTING IN DANGEROUS PLACES
Far from the warm confines of civilization or the comforts of your ship, resting in rough areas such as marshes, ice floes, dank dungeons and potentially worse places takes a toll upon the bodies of anyone. Whenever you take a Long Rest in a dangerous region, your maximum number of hit die are lowered until you rest in a civilized region once again (or your ship). The number of hit die you lose depends on the relative danger of the region. For example, a forest is a fairly easy place to survive and resting in the middle of one may reduce your maximum number of hit die by 1. Resting in the middle of an enchanted swamp routinely patrolled by hostile lizardmen and other terrible monsters may have a penalty as high as 3.
3 UNDERWATER COMBAT
Fighting underwater presents unique challenges and problems for an adventuring party and has some unique rules.
Fighting Underwater is performed at three depths: Surface, Pelagic (Middle) and Bottom. Creatures in one zone cannot target other creatures in the zones directly above and below them with melee attacks. Ranged attacks work as long as the target is still within range and the attacker has line of effect. Some combats may only have a Surface and Bottom zone if the depth of the water is less than 60ft, or may have no Surface if the depth is far enough below or there is some obstruction (such as a flooded room). Finally some combats may only have the Bottom region, in cases where there isn’t more than 30 feet of water minimum. Moving between a layer takes your entire turn and once you arrive you can place yourself in any unoccupied space in the new layer. Regardless of what layers are available, all combats follow the same rules.
3.2 DROWNING AND SUFFOCATION
Creatures without the ability to breathe underwater can hold their breath for 1 minute plus an additional number of minutes equal to their constitution modifier. Once a creature runs out of breath it begins drowning, needing to make a constitution check every round at a DC equal to 10 + 1 for every round the target is without air. Failure indicates the target becomes immediately unconscious and begins dying, failing death saving throws automatically every round until they are either stabilized or die.
3.3 ELEMENTAL EFFECTS
Water affects certain kinds of spells and makes them more or less difficult to use.
Fire spells have disadvantage on attack rolls and enemies fully immersed in water have resistance.
Lightning spells have advantage on attack rolls and reroll all rolled 1s for damage.
Thunder spells double the distance on their range and effects while underwater
New Move Action: Tread Water. When swimming in the Pelagic or Surface zones in water if you do not move during your turn, you automatically take this action. It ensures you stay in place. If you cannot take this action on your turn and you don’t move, then you automatically sink one depth lower if you are wearing heavy armor.
Underwater a creature without a swim speed can move up to its speed easily without needing to make a check as long as the water is Calm. Turbulent water requires a Strength (Athletics) check to move up to your speed normally. On a failure, the creature cannot move at all and automatically drops one depth (if applicable). Creatures with a swim speed do not need to take the tread water move action to remain where they are and don’t need to make checks to move normally in turbulent water (but strong currents can still affect them).
Other terrain effects such as whirlpools, strong currents and similar may be present that alter or effect these conditions.
3.5 WEAPON EFFECTS
Underwater some weapons are at a considerable disadvantage over others. Slashing and Bludgeoning weapons have disadvantage on attack rolls underwater, while Piercing weapons work entirely normally. Ranged weapons such as bows cannot be fired more than once per turn underwater, due to the difficulty in pulling back the drawstring and loading the arrow submerged. Crossbows and thrown weapons, such as spears, nets or javelins work normally and suffer no penalties for their use in underwater environments. Ranged attacks against targets over the weapons normal range automatically miss underwater.