House Rules

Dungeons & Dragons is a fairly complicated game. As a result, new and experienced dungeon masters often improvise rulings to avoid interruptions to the flow of the game. Good dungeon masters will research their rulings, adjust them for the future, and notify their players of the change. That’s what this post is about. As a DM, running regular one-shots for D&D Newbie Sessions, I need to clarify a few things for my players.

1. The Crit 20 Conundrum

I used to play a LOT of Team Fortress 2. I absolutely love that game, but I hated random crits. I understand that they help level the playing field and can be satisfying, but I hated them because it meant there was less skill involved. I want my games to be challenging and rewarding over the long-term by building skill. I don’t want to be rewarded by luck. So I almost exclusively played in servers where crits were disabled.

When I started playing D&D, I saw crits in a similar light. Sudden and drastic increases in potential damage that could swing a fight in one direction. But I didn’t want to remove them entirely because they were exciting for players to roll, so I compromised by running crit 20 attacks as “max damage” attacks. For example, if you were wielding a greataxe with 1d12+4 damage, it meant you automatically hit and did 16 points of damage. No roll was necessary and 16 felt much more stable than 2d12+4 delivering a possible 28 points of damage in a single blow.

I also used this house rule because I don’t understand the logic behind the core ruling. Doubling the damage die has the potential to deliver a lot of extra damage, but it can also deliver less (see below). To me, a critical hit means that you struck with your weapon perfectly. You delivered the maximum potential you, and it, can deliver. In the default ruling, I’m not sure what a critical hit is or represents. How can a critical hit result in less than maximum damage?

Calculating the odds that 2dn+n is higher than 1dn+n maximum damage. Source

My current theory is that it’s not about the weapons potential, but about what actually happened when you rolled. For instance, you roll 1+4 with your greataxe attack, but, instead of delivering 5 points of damage, you get to roll an additional 1d12 and improve the hit that just took place. The crit happens to the specific attack, not to the weapon in general.

After some careful consideration, I realized that most of my players aren’t wielding powerful weapons like greataxes anyway. In most Newbie Sessions, they have weapons that do 1d6 or 1d8 damage and critical hits only marginally increase their total damage output. Not to mention that rolling dice and scoring extra damage is fun. It also could save the party from a dire situation, cuts down on confusion, increases consistency with other DMs, and has minimal impact on my games overall.

As a result, I will continue to keep this ruling reverted and utilize the standard 5e ruling instead.

2. Simplified Spellcasting

Spellcasting consists of known spells, prepared spells, spell components, spell slots, and mechanics around restoring spell slots and learning new spells. For official Newbie Sessions, we have simplified spellcasting since the very beginning. All we require is that players track the number of spell slots they’ve used versus their remaining spell slots.

This house rule will continue for two important reasons:

1. This is often the first game of D&D our players have ever played. There is a LOT to absorb and I don’t feel like these mechanics are critical enough to make the cut. There are simply more important aspects of D&D I want them focused on and plenty to slow down games as-is. Players can opt to use these mechanics if they want, but it’s not required.

2. This system allows players to freely cast any spell they’ve added to their spell sheet. I think it’s valuable for new players to be able to cast the spells they think are cool as opposed to what they have prepared. Newbie Sessions are an opportunity to experience the game and what it has to offer; not be restricted by it.

3. Newbie Friendly Death Saves

When you reach 0 or less hit points, you fall unconscious and start fighting for your life. Each d20 roll inches you closer to life or death. If you happen to get a natural 20, you recover with 1 HP at the beginning of your turn and can still act. If you roll 3 successes without a natural 20, you stabilize, but are still unconscious.

For Newbie Sessions, I have been running games where 3 successes brings you back with 1 HP. This allows parties to recover from dire situations, but is technically a house rule. I’ve done this because I don’t want brand new players to TPK on their very first game and this reduces the odds of that happening. It’s still possible, but exceptionally rare. The other reason is because being stabilized is really boring. I don’t want a brand new player to go down, succeed on their death saves, and then sit around doing nothing.

As it stands, I will continue to use this house rule because I think it positively benefits our player’s experience of the game.

4. Clarifying Surprise

Surprise is a temporary effect applied to an affected target on the first round of combat. Targets lose their ability to act, move, or react when surprised (technically it’s a little more complicated than that) and it is not something that happens outside of combat during a “surprise round” (despite that being common in some circles).

Over the past year, a few players have wanted to attack outside of combat and I’ve allowed it. In the moment, it made narrative sense, but I’ve always regretted it later. Attacking outside of combat makes the transition into combat unnecessarily confusing and opens the floodgates for other players to take advantage of it.

Having experimented with the concept, I can see why the official ruling is in place, despite “surprise rounds” seeming logical at first glance. As a result, I will no longer allow attacks to happen outside of initiative and leverage the surprise effect as it was intended.

5. Critical Failures

When I first started as a DM, I thought it was fun to have consequences befall the players if they rolled a 1 on an ability check. I experimented with weapons breaking, hitting allies, major roleplaying failures, and other effects. It made sense at the time because rolling a critical 20 could result in incredible damage so the opposite should be significant as well. However, in practice, I realized that this wasn’t fair or positive and often seemed overly detrimental. This became even more apparent when I heard the argument that adventurers are good at what they do and shouldn’t be severely penalized just because they fumbled some roll.

Example crit fail/fumble chart from DriveThruRPG. Source

I’m guessing that this concept originated from players wanting to spice up their games. It feels like a party game element which could be really funny with the right audience and storyline, but shouldn’t be applied broadly. This is especially true for Newbie Sessions where we want brand new players to feel like heroes, not bumbling idiots.

Fortunately, I’ve never actually instituted this house rule as part of D&D Newbie Sessions and will continue to avoid it. Critical failures will simply remain as stated in the PHB: the attack misses regardless of any modifiers or the target’s AC.

6. Rolling Dice in Astral

Lastly, this doesn’t technically fall under house rules, but it makes sense to mention it here anyway. Moving forward, I will ask that all players in official Newbie Session games roll digitally inside Astral Tabletop or whatever virtual tabletop the DM is using.

The primary reason I want to do this is because I’ve noticed a significant decrease in the level of excitement when rolls happen “off screen” either physically or via another tool. When rolled in Astral, there are moments when our collective breath is held and we cheer or groan together when we see the result. It’s exciting and dramatic and we lose that when we can’t see the rolls.

The second reason I want people to roll in Astral is more unfortunate. I can’t say for certain, but there have been a tiny minority of players who may have been fudging die rolls outside of Astral. It’s possible they weren’t, but after I did the math, some of the players odds of rolling as well as they did we’re far less than 1%. This behavior results in other players noticing and becoming distracted, it takes the wind out of the sails for me personally, and ultimately distracts me from being able to perform at a high level.

I appreciate your understanding and, as always, thanks for reading!

New Patreon Benefits Explained

Hi everyone, Sam here. I am writing this post to explain the reasoning behind two new Patreon benefits that I’m rolling out. I want to be very transparent about why I’m doing this in case people have concerns.

First, the reason I setup a Patreon account is to collect donations from the community to help cover expenses that I personally incur from ($32.98 per month), website hosting ($7.50 per month), and Astral Pro ($5.83 per month). Patreon funds may also go towards advertising to help our community grow, purchasing D&D equipment or books, purchasing film equipment for creating content, upgrading our MailChimp account once it exceeds the free tier, covering printing costs for in-person events and conventions (this was relevant pre-COVID), upgrading our Discord server, and other miscellaneous expenses as they arise. Website hosting will also increase over time as better hardware is needed for hosting more content (like podcasts) and handling increased traffic demands.

That takes us to the reason why I’m creating new benefits for my Patrons: I want to provide value for the people that contribute. Currently, Patrons get access to behind-the-scenes updates and sneak-peeks at things that I’m working on. They also get an opportunity to contribute ideas and feedback. The addition of these two new benefits will help create a solid benefits package for every Patron.

The first benefit is called “Priority Access” and was rolled out in September. Priority Access posts notify Patrons of events 1-3 days prior to notifications being sent out to the broader community. For example, I will create a new event on but withhold announcing it for 1-3 days except on Patreon. This gives Patrons a chance to RSVP before waves of players get email notifications about the event. I don’t consider this benefit to be unfair or disruptive to the broader community for two main reasons: 1. Patrons make up a tiny minority of the community which means the impact from this benefit is minimal. 2. This primarily applies to one-shots and DM Training events which are only attended once anyway. It’s also important to note that this feature does NOT allow Patrons to go to the front of the line or alter the RSVPs of other players. Events are still first-come, first-serve. This just affects the timing of email notifications. The most valuable aspect of this benefit lies in seasonal events and brand new one-shots. For example, Patrons are able to attend the new “Lost at Sea” one-shot right away and secure their spots in seasonal games like the “Halloween Special”.

The second benefit is “Patron-only Campaigns” which will offer longer-term campaigns for Patrons. This benefit has not been established yet, but will take shape in October. The exact details are still being ironed out, but basically Patrons will have access to play in long-term campaigns hosted by myself. These campaigns may still have openings for the broader community, but priority will go towards Patrons first. I consider this to be a fair benefit because running longer-term campaigns is a time consuming commitment. I’d love to run campaigns for everyone, but it’s just not possible. One important note about this benefit: I cannot guarantee that all Patrons will be able to join a longer-term campaign at any time or remain in a campaign forever. If more people become Patrons we will need to take turns and treat it like the “Community Campaign” events where players go for 4-6 games in a row before another group gets a turn.

So that’s it. I hope that all makes sense and seems reasonable. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m always happy to talk with anyone in the community. I can be reached in our Discord server @Sam or by email at: [email protected]. Thank you so much for reading and being a part of our community!

D&D Newbie Sessions

July was an absolute whirlwind of activity. I launched a new website for D&D Newbie Sessions, ran 13 events, created a new one-shot, documented the fantasy world of Aldrium for the Community Campaign, created a new Dungeon Master Training Series, filmed a Patreon video, among dozens of other tasks. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever worked this hard before! Dungeons & Dragons is just simply the best thing ever.

I want to play Dungeons & Dragons

Great! D&D Newbie Sessions is the group for you. It is basically like D&D on-demand. There are games every week, they’re newbie friendly, they’re incredibly fun, and they’re professional and welcoming. I guarantee you’ll have a good time and, even if you don’t, you’re not committing to anything more than 1 night of D&D. That’s one of the reasons most of our games are one-shots. They work perfectly for new players who want to test D&D before committing to a 9-month long campaign (for example).

Finding a Dungeons & Dragons group

Outside of our one-shots, we also offer ongoing mini-campaigns called “Community Campaigns”. These games generally run 3-5 sessions and your character becomes a permanent, ongoing resident in the world. We are currently documenting it on Notion here. This documentation portal contains discoveries, events, and rumors that real players have discovered. The world is actively being shaped by our player’s actions.

You can also join our Discord and post in the “Looking for Group” (LFG) channels. Other players and dungeon masters can respond and help you form groups. This will become increasingly useful as our community grows.

If neither of those options are enough, I recommend checking out other Meetup groups and D&D Subreddits like /r/lfg. Just keep in mind that many of these tabletop RPG (TTRPG) communities play other editions or platforms.

How to become a Dungeon Master

Besides running games for newbies, the other main feature of D&D Newbie Sessions is our DM Training Series. This hands-on training program teaches you how to become a D&D 5e Dungeon Master (or Game Master). This program runs about 2-3 hours and consists of a mock game of D&D with “player simulations”. It’s a great way to learn how to run D&D in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. You can learn more and find upcoming DM events by joining our Discord server (they get posted in the #upcoming-events channel).

Welcome to Quests DB

Welcome to Quests DB! My name is Sam and I am a fellow D&D player and dungeon master. I created this website because my meetup events have been postponed due to the Great Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020. The goal of the website is to chronicle the world of D&D, share interesting ideas, and keep up-to-date with the latest happenings.

It currently consists of 10 main categories: Encounters, Hooks, Links, Locations, Loot, Mechanics, People, Quests, Questions, and Traps. You can read about them in more detail here.

I am currently looking into building an activity feed on the homepage so users can quickly find the latest content. I was inspired by a COVID-19 Discord server that allowed users to submit news content. This was a fast and efficient way to stay informed. I’m also looking into piping certain types of updates directly into our Discord server as well.

Over time, my hope is that other people will see value in the site and help me populate it with content. If you’re one of those people, let me know! I can create a WordPress user for you and show you how things are setup. Here is what I’m trying to achieve:

  • Curated content – For the most part, we want to focus on notable ideas, people, events, etc.
  • Content should be “generalized” when possible – This means that specific ideas should be rewritten more broadly to be flexible for all users. The goal is to share underlying ideas/concepts, not every single variation.
  • Descriptions should be brief – The goal of most posts is to keep things short and sweet. Long form articles should be a rarity. There are some exceptions like people’s biographies (if they don’t exist elsewhere), complicated mechanics/rules, or Quests which are designed to require long descriptions and lots of detail.
  • The overall goal is to share content in 1-2 well written paragraphs. Since D&D is a creative endeavor, we don’t want to go too deep with specifics since most DMs are probably going to rewrite it to fit their players, campaign, and personal interests.

If you’re unfamiliar with WordPress, no worries! WordPress is really easy to use and learn. I can walk you through it in an hour or less and WordPress is a great tool to learn anyway. It is very possible you may encounter it at some point in the near future. If you’re not interested in learning WordPress, you can still submit ideas on this page.

Thanks for reading!

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