5 Official Alternate Rules to Better your Game

For a game that puts such a strong emphasis on imagination, Dungeons and Dragons has quite a few rules that both DMs and players must keep up with. Let’s take a look at some of the alternatives.

Let’s start of this article by reminding ourselves that Dungeons and Dragons is one of the few games that places a lot of emphasis on using our imaginations. As such, pretty much everyone behind our favorite game has always made a point of saying that any and all rules found in the official books and supplements aren’t set in stone and can be changed by a group of players as the see fit. Here at the Lair we strongly support this sentiment, but for today’s article we will be focusing solely on alternate or optional rules that can be often overlooked but can definitely be found in the official material.


Cleaving Through Creatures

If your player characters regularly fight hordes of lower-level monsters, consider using this optional rule to help speed up such fights. When a melee attack reduces an undamaged creature to 0 hit points, any excess damage from that attack might carry over to another creature nearby. The attacker targets another creature within reach and, if the original attack roll can hit it, applies any remaining damage to it. If that creature was undamaged and is likewise reduced to 0 hit points, repeat this process, carrying over the remaining damage until there are no valid targets, or until the damage carried over fails to reduce an undamaged creature to 0 hit points.
Source: DMG, page 272

This rule’s true potential lies on large scale combat and I would definitely not recommend it for standard encounters. That said, what could possibly feel more heroic than having your character carve through several enemies with a single attack? Granted, chances are that if you’re using this ruling your party will most likely be fighting goblins, skeletons, or pretty much any low threat monsters. Not only will your players feel like the true heroes that they are, but, as stated in the book, it should also serve to speed up combat quite a bit.


Crafting a Magic Item

Magic items are the DM’s purview, so you decide how they fall into the party’s possession. As an option, you can allow player characters to craft magic items. The creation of a magic item is a lengthy, expensive task. To start, a character must have a formula that describes the construction of the item. The character must also be a spellcaster with spell slots and must be able to cast any spells that the item can produce. Moreover, the character must meet a level minimum determined by the item’s rarity, as shown in the Crafting Magic Items table. For example, a 3rd-level character could create a wand of magic missiles (an uncommon item), as long as the character has spell slots and can cast magic missile. That same character could make a +1 weapon (another uncommon item), no particular spell required. You can decide that certain items also require special materials or locations to be created. For example, a character might need alchemist’s supplies to brew a particular potion, or the formula for a flame tongue might require that the weapon be forged with lava.
Source: DMG, page 128

This is definitely an optional rule every Dungeon Master should at least consider adding to their campaign. Let’s go through the positives and negatives: For starters, your players will have a little more agency and input on the items they acquire for their characters, but it’s also a great addition for DMs as well; this rule opens many doors for side quests and extra content for your players to explore. Got some downtime? Why not work on some items? Sure, you run into the possibility of having too many magic items, but that’s why the collection of ingredients, blueprints, and what not is extremely crucial.


Alternate Healing

These optional rules make it easier or harder for adventurers to recover from injury, either increasing or reducing the amount of time your players can spend adventuring before rest is required. Healer’s Kit Dependency: A character can’t spend any Hit Dice after finishing a short rest until someone expends one use of a healer’s kit to bandage and treat the character’s wounds. Healing Surges: This optional rule allows characters to heal up in the thick of combat and works well for parties that feature few or no characters with healing magic, or for campaigns in which magical healing is rare. As an action, a character can use a healing surge and spend up to half his or her Hit Dice. For each Hit Die spent in this way, the player rolls the die and adds the character’s Constitution modifier. The character regains hit points equal to the total. The player can decide to spend an additional Hit Die after each roll. A character who uses a healing surge can’t do so again until he or she finishes a short or long rest. Under this optional rule, a character regains all spent Hit Dice at the end of a long rest. With a short rest, a character regains Hit Dice equal to his or her level divided by four (minimum of one dice). For a more superheroic feel, you can let a character use a healing surge as a bonus action, rather than as an action. Slow Natural Healing: Characters don’t regain hit points at the end of a long rest. Instead, a character can spend Hit Dice to heal at the end of a long rest, just as with a short rest. This optional rule prolongs the amount of time that characters need to recover from their wounds without the benefits of magical healing and works well for grittier, more realistic campaigns.
Source: DMG, page 266

You know, sometimes you don’t really think about stuff until someone presents it to you. I must say that the Healing Kit alternate ruling makes complete sense to me. Not to mention that it also turns what’s usually a “meh” item into something that you need and will seek out; a good investment too.

As for Healing Surges, I feel like there are other ways in which you could provide a healer-less party with adequate amounts of healing, but this is certainly one way to go about it. My one comment is that doing this will render the Fighter’s Second Wind a tad less useful.

Last but not least, Slow Natural Healing is probably a great idea for those of you looking to run a more challenging campaign. Might be a good idea to test it out in a one shot before jumping the gun, though.


Initiative Variants

This section offers different ways to handle initiative. Initiative Score: With this optional rule, creatures don’t roll initiative at the start of combat. Instead, each creature has an initiative score, which is a passive Dexterity check: 10 + Dexterity modifier. By cutting down on die rolls, math done on the fly, and the process of asking for and recording totals, you can speed your game up considerably—at the cost of an initiative order that is often predictable.
Source: DMG, page 270

This is one to consider if you’re running a game for a big group, or even a particular encounter that involves many moving pieces. The beauty of it is that it lets you plan ahead to a certain extent and frees up plenty of game time. The downside is that, depending on your group, your players might find ways to cheese it, or simply grow bored with the repetitiveness.


More Difficult Identification

If you prefer magic items to have a greater mystique, consider removing the ability to identify the properties of a magic item during a short rest, and require the Identify spell, experimentation, or both to reveal what a magic item does.
Source: DMG, page 136

This is actually a rule I have been using for my own games for the longest time. There’s a certain charm that comes with the unknown and I find it’s better to let your players wonder just a little longer.


I could write on this topic for quite a bit, and definitely do expect a follow-up part two with some other rules I had to cut out, but for now… thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article and don’t want to miss out on any of our future ones, make sure follow us on our social media to be informed whenever we post new articles. We write new content every day!

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