Curse of Strahd: Custom/Homebrew Rules

Pirates of the Caribbean was onto something when Barbossa said that the rules of pirates were more like guidelines. I’ve always taken that same approach when playing D&D. You want to follow a good majority of the rules as written but there’s so much room for interpretation. Because of that, I’m sure almost every DM has a set of homebrew or custom rules for their campaigns. I try to tailor my homebrew rules to match the tone and necessity of each campaign. Since I’m currently writing about the Curse of Strahd campaign my players are in, I wanted to share with all of you the custom/homebrew rules I use for Curse of Strahd.

I personally feel like encumbrance is too much micromanaging, so I usually don’t use it in my games. However, let’s keep it realistic. Your character could not plausibly carry 14 short swords.

Short Rests/Long Rests
Long Rests require a minimum of 24 hours to be considered a long rest (rather than 8 hours in the PHB).

We will not be doing Inspiration in this campaign except for our Bard’s ability, Bardic Inspiration. 

Wizard Spellbook Copies
It will cost 2 hours and 50 gold per 1 level of the spell of you’re learning. The 50 gold covers the cost of ink and parchment that it takes to transcribe the spell as well as the components to practice and master the techniques of the spell. 

Character Resurrection
As of right now, there will be no way to do character resurrection outside of a spell/ability that a character might have/gain or a specific magic item that players may receive. This may change based on DM discretion later in the campaign.

Use of Artisan Tools
DM discretion. If you want to craft/do something with artisan tools, DM will inform you of what rolls to make and what the outcome will be. 

Drinking Potions
You are allowed to drink a potion as your bonus action rather than taking a full action to do so. You cannot, however, administer a potion to another player as your bonus action. That takes a full action to accomplish. 

According to the PHB, flanking is when a creature and at least one of its allies are adjacent to an enemy and on opposite sides or corners of the enemy’s space, they flank that enemy, and each of them has advantage on melee attack roll against that enemy.

I personally HATE flanking, so we will not be allowing flanking for the DM or the players. (Trust me, I know how much other DM’s hate that I don’t use flanking, but it’s a personal choice, and my players all agreed to it. However, if I ever have a rogue in the party, or somebody that has ANY kind of effect/spell/feat/otherwise that allows for the flanking bonus, I will always allow it to be used in those situations).

Critical Hits
The player handbook says you get to roll double dice for critical rolls. For example, if you roll a Nat 20 to crit, and you roll 2d4 damage, you now get to roll 4d4 damage or just 2d4 x2. I don’t like this rule because what happens if you roll all four dice and they all have a 1 on them? You just did 4 damage on a critical hit.

Instead, you will get an automatic full die of damage and you get to roll for added damage. For example, let’s use that example above of 2d4 as your damage dice. You automatically get 8 (the max damage of your normal rolls) points of damage and then you get to roll 2d4 to add to it. This ensures that critical hits feel more powerful and satisfying.

This rule applies to the DM as well. 

Potions of Healing
Instead of 2d4+2 for standard healing potions, it will be 2d6+2. All other potions remain their set healing amounts.

Rolling for HP When Leveling Up
When you level up, you roll one hit die for your class and add your CON modifier. You add that number to your total health. If you roll a 1 during this time, you may reroll that die. 

Rolling Nat 1 in Combat
When you roll a Nat 1 while in melee combat with anything, your defenses open, and the creature with which you are engaged receives an Attack of Opportunity against you. This also applies to any enemies played by the DM. 

Armors That Cause Stealth Disadvantage
If your armor causes disadvantage on Stealth, it also applies Disadvantage to Climbing/Swimming/Athletics/Acrobatics checks. 

Monster Manual Weapons/Armor
For weapons in the Monster Manual but not the PHB (such as the Lizardfolk Shield), characters are non-proficient by default. The only way to gain proficiency is with the Weapon Master Feat.

Knocking Out an Enemy
Declare you want to try and incapacitate an enemy instead of killing it. Take -4 to your attack roll. If it drops to 0, it will be unconscious and stable. 

Rolling for Initiative
If you roll a Natural 1 on Initiative, you will suffer disadvantage on your first attack. If you roll a Nat 20, you will gain advantage on your first attack. 

Death Saving Throws
Instead of rolling Death Saving Throws publicly to the whole table, the player will roll Death Saving Throws in private with the DM (since we don’t have a screen for them to roll behind). The player is not allowed to talk about whether they have succeeded or failed the rolls.

Lingering Wounds
I will be introducing something called Lingering Wounds to this campaign. If you get down to 0 HP and survive your Death Saving Rolls or are healed, you will have to roll a CON Saving Throw. Your success will be based on DC10+Proficiency bonus of the enemy that knocked you to 0 HP. If you succeed the roll, all is good. If you fail the roll, you will roll a d20, and based on your roll, you will receive some kind of Lingering Wound that will last either a set amount of time or until healed in a specific way. I have created a table based on the many different types of damage a player can receive. Those damages are (Acid, Poison, Thunder, Cold, Lightning, Fire, Psychic, Necrotic, Radiant, Force, Piercing, Bludgeoning, and Slashing). I am using this table as a way to incite more fear and caution into the campaign and to use as a reminder that this is an unforgiving world filled with terrible atrocities and graphic consequences. 

Power Checks
I can’t give anything away about this rule just yet, but I wanted to let you know that we’ll be doing something called Power Checks throughout this campaign. I will update this rule once you all get to a point where it might happen. This is a system recommended through the Ravenloft Player’s Handbook that I will be tweaking to fit the campaign. 

Milestone/XP Leveling
We are still going to be using Milestone leveling for this campaign, but we’ll be doing it via an XP system because of the sandbox qualities this campaign offers. Instead of just completing one task and being given a level for it, I’ll be awarding a multitude of milestones a point system. Every time you complete the task, you receive a certain number of milestone points. I will not tell you how many points you received for completing a milestone, but this helps alleviate the wonder of “we just beat a really hard mini-BBEG and didn’t level, what gives?”

Example: The party is level 5. In the created chart, let’s assume you need 10 milestone points to get to level 6. You currently have 4 points (although you, as the party, don’t know this). You defeat a mini-BBEG, completing a full chapter of the book. That defeat was worth 5 points. You now have 9 points, which isn’t enough to level the party up to the next level. 

I will be keeping track of the milestone points and none of you will be aware of how many points are needed for each level or what parts of the story give what amounts of points. I just wanted to share this with you all so that you know how I’m doing it on my end.

That covers the custom/homebrew rules I use for Curse of Strahd. We have randomly instituted a few others over time, but they are just small tweaks for flavor and quality of life now that we’ve all learned my DM’ing style and the playstyle of the group.

What are some of your favorite Homebrew/Custom rules that you use in your games?

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