A few years back I laid out some houserules I was planning to use for an upcoming D&D campaign. That campaign finished up, and I'm thinking about running another, so I've spent some time thinking over what I liked and disliked with what I did, and what I'd tweak further.
I'll start with my current plans, then go over my evaluations and reasoning later.
Carried Over From Last Time
First, Flexibility, Unearthed Arcana, and The Wagon are still in play from my previous post.
The first two are just good sense. We didn't actually use The Wagon much, but that's fine, it just means mundane items didn't end up mattering much, and we didn't need to worry about them. Overall low impact and good for players.
New Rest System
- Short rests take 10 minutes, and are otherwise unchanged.
- "Field rests" are an 8-hour rest (generally sleeping) when you're in a dangerous/stressful place (aka out on an adventure). They're identical to short rests, except you also regain HP equal to your level (without having to spend hit dice), and let you regain one spell slot or one use of a long-rest ability.
- Long rests are as normal, but can only be taken in a safe place where you can properly relax, like a safe inn in a town where you don't have any reason to fear attack. "Magic camping" like Leomund's Tiny Hut or Rope Trick don't count; they give field rests.
Still trying to find the right balance of how people actually play (1-2 encounters a day, usually) versus how the rules assume people play (5-8 encounters a day), which is just nonsense; real-world play effectively gives long-rest classes (aka spellcasters) a massive buff since they can unload all their resources in most battles.
Making short rests shorter just makes them easier to squeeze in, narratively, without significantly impacting how often they can be used. It's actually totally fine for people to short rest between every battle, honestly, if they can swing it, and overusing a "shorter" short rest is better than not using short rests at all because pausing the action for an hour is hard to justify.
Previously my long rests were a downtime activity, aka several days of rest between adventures. This just proved narratively binding, bc I couldn't give my players a long rest where an adventure did expect them to receive one. Limiting to "safety and relaxation" gives a lot more flexibility while still avoiding the major problem of "fully rested between every encounter on the road" that I was trying to fix.
Field rest is me simplifying my previous rest and HP rules. First, using the Wizard's spell-recovery mechanic just turned out to be a little too complex for people who weren't actively playing wizards; switching to a short and sweet "regain one slot" should hopefully fix that up. It then chains nicely with "or one long-rest ability use". The power level of this regained thing can vary wildly, but I'm okay with that. Really I just want to give players some ability to recover from a harsh fight that drained more resources than expected, besides abandoning the dungeon or whatever. Hopefully this hits well.
Group Initiative + Init Rewards
When combat starts, all players roll initiative against the enemy's leader (or any appropriate enemy). If at least half win the opposed roll, the party gets first turn; otherwise enemies do. All party members (or all enemies) can act in any order during their turn.
Additionally, any player who wins their initiative roll gets to apply advantage or disadvantage to all rolls during their first round, whether the party won or lost the group roll.
Fast/slow initiative was okay, but ended up with a few problems. Always letting players go first had a larger impact than I'd hoped, and took a lot of tension out of the start of combat - you were always guaranteed you could get set up on that first turn (barring a legit Surprise). Also, the decision of fast vs slow caused a little more analysis-paralysis than I anticipated. Overall, it was just slightly too much downside for not quite enough benefit.
Group initiative is still a hit, tho. The flexibility is great in setting up combos, and it's just plain easier than the slog of calling out initiatives and figuring out order.
Also, fast/slow made the Init stat completely irrelevant, but there's just enough stuff that interacts with it in the rules that this was a little annoying. Bringing it back in approximately its normal role just means less edits.
But also, Init in RAW is pretty much irrelevant. All a high Init does is slightly predispose you to get your first action before an enemy's first action, but after that first round it has zero effect, and the variability of the d20 combined with how often you roll it (much less than attacks/saves) means in practice it had no real noticeable effect.
Changing it to a group roll with a pass/fail condition rather than individually graded should help a lot with this. You don't feel bad when the -1 Init heavy-armor fighter rolls higher than you; everyone who succeeds gets the same benefit, and helps the entire group. And when your +4 bonus does roll high (as it'ls do 25% more often than the -1), you'll get a noticeable benefit out of it rather than just a trivial scheduling benefit.
Attacks and Cantrips Auto-Hit, + Damage Crits
The biggest change so far: if you take the Attack action, or cast a cantrip, you hit automatically. (Or if a cantrip uses a saving throw, the enemy fails automatically.)
Additional effects on the attack (like a saving throw from a Battlemaster technique) are still rolled as normal. Non-Attack actions and levelled spells also roll as normal.
Instead of crits from rolling 20s, damage dice from an auto-hit explode: any die that rolls max gets rolled again, adding to the result, and this can happen multiple times. This applies to all dice from the attack, including things like Smite or Sneak Attack.
When something additional happens on a crit (orc ability, sword of sharpness, etc), it now triggers if the weapon's damage dice sum to 15 or more (after exploding). This does not include stat bonuses, additional dice, etc., just the core weapon's die. (This is subject to change.)
The Champion's ability to crit on 19-20 becomes that your dice now explode on one additional number - d4 crits on 3 or 4, d12 on 11 or 12, etc. (This is definitely subject to change, I don't think I'm happy with its results.)
A regular complaint from players, especially melee-ers, is that it feels very bad to have a "wasted" turn when your attacks all whiff - especially before 5th level when you've only got one attack, but it continues to happen a good amount of the time at higher levels too. Spellcasters are often hitting multiple people, and dealing half damage even when they fail, so they always feel like they're "contributing", but too often a melee class can feel like they did nothing in a round due to bad rolls.
So hey, let's fix that. The bread and butter of melee classes Just Works now. Not only can you always contribute at least some damage, but your crits feel a bit better too (always sucks to roll a crit and then, like, roll a 1 and a 2 on the damage dice). This also effectively buffs these classes' damage output by 50%-100% relative to spellcasters, which is just as much a good thing here as it is in the Rest rules.
(Cantrips fall into the same "feel bad" camp - when you're spending your turn being conservative with a cantrip rather than using a spell slot, it feels just as bad when you miss that and feel like you did nothing for the round.)
I'll compensate for the buffs on the DM side by putting a little extra HP on monsters, which is extremely easy for me to do on the fly.
The only real problem for me is that exploding-dice massively favor 2d4/2d6 weapons over their 1d8/1d12 equivalents. The math already favors them slightly in the normal rules (2d6 averages 7 damage, while 1d12 averages 6.5), but the gulf widens even more here. I'll see how I feel about this in practice; I know most players don't spend time writing a dice-simulation library to run numbers on these sorts of things, so probably it'll just not matter to them. ^_^