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Heroes of Silvermoon, Chapter 1: The Cultist & Chapter 2: Arena Games

I recently switched jobs (from editing to coding! Woo hoo!), and possibly my only disappointment in doing so is leaving the first D&D gr...

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

3 Inspiring Game Design Tips I Learned from Hollow Knight

A few weeks ago I purchased the game Hollow Knight during the Steam Summer Sale, and I can not stop thinking about how perfectly it caters to the human mind's idea of fun, progression, mystery, and challenge. I spend a lot of time compiling resources for being a Dungeon Master for Dungeons & Dragons, and this game was so inspiring, I just have to write a blog post about it. I hope I can do justice to my thoughts about the game in picking apart exactly what is so awesome about it.

There are probably spoilers here, so be warned.

1. Gradually decrease and increase the difficulty

Like any other game, Hollow Knight increases the difficulty of the game gradually. As your power grows, you are able to access more and more dangerous areas. This is important for any game—it feels good as a player to get a new sword (or in this game's case, nail) so that the enemies you've been struggling with are much easier to deal with. But Hollow Knight goes a step farther with this. It makes sure that even early-game challenges don't become totally meaningless to you.

When you first get into the game, you enter a place called the Forgotten Crossroads. It's an area with fairly basic enemies and obstacles that more or less let you practice the gameplay with few resources. You return often to the Crossroads, since it's the central hub of the entire game world. Eventually, especially when you upgrade your nail, the enemies become nuisances and nothing more. They also drop less Geo (money), so they're not even worth fighting, and your mobility abilities you gain allow you to ignore them completely at that point.

At or around the point where the Forgotten Crossroads become, well, forgettable, something happens.

Mmmm-hmm-hmm-hmm-hmmm-mmm, mmmm-mmm-mm-mm....There you are, completing a task in one of the outlying areas and heading back to the Crossroads, when you notice a strange orange bubble you haven't seen before at the area's border. When you enter, you see that the place is now called the Infested Crossroads. The enemies you used to fight are still there, but they're bigger, angrier, and orange-er. When the challenge rating of the Forgotten Crossroads gradually gets down to zero, the game upgrades the area to be a new, infested challenge! The enemies are similar, but more dangerous. Some areas are blocked by infesting vines, making some of the convenient travel points or shops more difficult and time-consuming to access.

Just as the difficulty increases gradually so the game never gets boring, it also lets you overcome difficulties so the game never gets frustrating. When you enter a new area, you don't have a map to look at. So you explore somewhat blindly until you see map scraps on the ground and hear the pleasant humming of Cornifer, the map maker. When you find him, he makes the area much easier to
navigate by selling you a map. Similarly, you may have to brave a dangerous string of challenges to get to a certain point in an area, but once you complete it, there is usually a wooden support you can break that opens the hallway back to the starting point, so you never have to go through that particular challenge again!

In short, Hollow Knight never becomes boring. When you feel like a god, the game smoothly turns the familiar into sinister, and you feel like you are meeting your match once again.

2. Balance long-term progress with short-term progress

Every game has a primary goal that requires lots of steps to reach. In order to save Princess Toadstool, Mario has to jump through Worlds 1-1 to 8-4, possibly skipping areas if the player is good enough. In order to win Uno, you must gradually get rid of your cards and pile cards on others until you can play your last one. Some games need this kind of simplicity, but truly engaging games need something more: side goals.

The storyline in Hollow Knight is vague, but you can tell basically what steps you must take to win the game. What makes the game more fun than the long-term progress, however, are the short-term side goals that break the long progress up. You collect Charms that give you special abilities, and you can see in your player menu how many there are left in the world for you to find; you can collect Mask Shards and Vessel Fragments to increase your health and mana ("Soul"), making it easier to achieve the primary goal over time.

I think what makes this so much fun is that it simulates real life. My primary goal to "win" the game of life is to grow old with my wife having raised strong, independent children and having reached my spiritual potential. But on the way to that goal, I have a myriad of daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly goals that occupy my attention. Even if my side goals of making money and surviving from day to day were met, I don't think I could physically stand to only focus on growing old, raising children, and being spiritual 24/7 for 80 years or however long I live. Having that goal in the background while I try to make a delicious meal for dinner, plan out my productivity at work for the week, or save money for my trip to the Renaissance Faire next month makes it all the more meaningful. It fills my life with memories and grants me skills that make it easier to be happy.

I think every meaningful game needs to have side quests that the player cares about, even if it's just knowing there are 100 hidden items and trying to find every single one. 

3. Let hints speak for themselves

I'm beginning to hate games that hold your hand and tell you exactly how to play and what to do when you first start playing a game. Hollow Knight proves that you don't need to do this, and in fact, letting your player discover how to play by themselves is infinitely more satisfying. Of course the only way to defeat Uumuu is to wait until Quirrel makes it vulnerable and then hit it with your nail. But rather than having Quirrel pop up and say "Its gelatinous shell is too strong for your nail! Wait until I weaken it so you can attack its core!" The game simply starts the boss fight, lets you fight uselessly against Uumuu for a minute or so, and then makes Quirrel appear and hit it, visibly showing that its core is exposed and ready for you to hit it.

Look at it! Doesn't it make you want to comb every corner of the game to free them all?Obviously, hints should be clear enough so that players don't get frustrated or confused, but it's more worthwhile to work on making clear hints than it is to make overly-clear detailed instructions. And this rule goes for secrets in the game as well, not just mandatory quests.

For example, the first area of significance I found in the game was a giant room filled with holes, and
a weeping caterpillar creature poking out of one of the holes at the top of it. He was too far away to talk to, so I had no idea why he was crying. So I just left. Soon afterward, I heard a high-pitched sad sound and discovered a grub trapped inside a glass container. When I broke it, the grub jumped for joy, and then promptly burrowed into the ground out of sight. I sat there for a few moments wondering if I was going to get some kind of reward, but nothing happened, so I moved on.

Later, after freeing some more grubs, I decided to revisit that room to see if I had missed something or could use one of my new abilities to talk to the weeping caterpillar. When I entered the room, I saw all of the grubs I had freed poking out of various holes in the room, waving and cheering with joy. The caterpillar who had once been crying was now leaping for joy, and though I still couldn't talk to him, he threw down handfuls of Geo for me as a reward.

How amazing is this as a way to present a discovery? Hollow Knight's developers could have easily made the caterpillar able to be talked to, with some kind of dialog like "Oh, boo hoo, I just don't know what to do! My poor children have all been captured and locked away throughout the kingdom. Will you find them and free them for me? I will reward you for your efforts!" but instead, they let me discover each step of the side quest without explanation, letting me put together the threads of the story together in my head. Letting these hints speak for themselves makes all the difference in making playing Hollow Knight a satisfying experience.

* * *

There are probably more things I could talk about, like the aesthetics of the game and how the balance of dark, funny, adorable, and epic blend so beautifully; or the challenges of the unique boss fights and how you can customize your Charm combinations to feel in control. And maybe I will. But these tips in particular are the ones that have been most inspiring to me of late. They make me want to implement similar things in my D&D games, like a personal side quest for each player character, clearer hints in dungeon puzzles that make the players feel smarter, and making challenges of lower-CR creatures fresh and challenging in new ways to make them feel more powerful.

At any rate, I can't recommend this game enough. It is well worth the on-sale price I paid for it, and I would have gladly paid twice the normal price for how much fun I've gotten out of it. And I also can't wait to purchase the sequel!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Heroes of Silvermoon, Final Chapter: A New Port of Kings

  1. The Cultist
  2. Arena Games
  3. Phoenix Sorcery
  4. The Half-Moon Crucible
  5. Castle Mistamere
  6. Bringing Back the Dead
  7. The Curse of House Lightwalker
  8. Captured
  9. Far from Home
  10. Through the Underdark
  11. A New Port of Kings

The Tale of the Heroes of Silvermoon

Chapter 11: A New Port of Kings

With the elder brain destroyed, the group attempted to return to the surface, but all of their exits had been blocked in, seemingly on purpose by King Bane, who wanted the adventurers who knew too much, as well as the paladins of the Tree of Life, dead. Luckily, Gorthuk used his divine powers to mold the stone around them into a tunnel, which led them to the Port of Kings dungeons. There, they met Sigil, who revealed himself to be a half-rakshasa, and told them of his father's corruption and deception of the whole of Port of Kings, as well as his intention of expanding endlessly to conquer the world as whole. He revealed that he could disguise himself, and had in fact encountered them as Lore, an old man at the Hinterlands they had met, and even the page boy Bradley Bean. Out of revenge for most of the group, and for preserving the city who had taken Rhogar in as a child, the group stormed the dungeon, freeing captives and fighting King Bane's guards until they reached the throne room for a final showdown.

Rhogar's innate good alignment allowed him to carve through King Bane's true form, and the others, including Laureal Strongborn, kept King Bane's powerful guards at bay. At last, King Bane was struck down and Port of Kings freed from his influence.

With the city freed and without a leader, Gorthuk reached out to his deity, Samedi, and petitioned his divine intervention in assuring that Rhogar would be chosen as the new king of Port of Kings. The heroes parted their separate ways, content to enjoy a well-earned retirement.

...at least, for now.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Heroes of Silvermoon, Chapter 10: Through the Underdark

  1. The Cultist
  2. Arena Games
  3. Phoenix Sorcery
  4. The Half-Moon Crucible
  5. Castle Mistamere
  6. Bringing Back the Dead
  7. The Curse of House Lightwalker
  8. Captured
  9. Far from Home
  10. Through the Underdark
  11. A New Port of Kings

The Tale of the Heroes of Silvermoon

Chapter 10: Through the Underdark

Sigil Bane, the son of King Bane and a world-famous bard, befriended the adventurers and helped them in several of his father's missions. Though Rhogar disliked his chaotic demeanor, the rest of the group, especially Ari, grew close to him as they adventured together. One day, Sigil invited the group to one of his performances that he assured would be very informative. Rhogar came as an official guard for the event, while the others watched from the crowd (with the exception of Gorthuk, who caused some trouble for sneaking around using the gaseous form ability of Azulius's cowl).

On the surface, the play seemed merely entertaining, but Laureal Strongborn, the daughter of General Richard Strongborn and former lover of Sigil, urged the adventures to read between the lines of the play. To some of them, it was clear that the play was actually a veiled history of the kingdom, showing how King Bane had seized power through terrible means and was not the kindly leader he seemed. After the performance, Laureal and Sigil revealed to the group that they were members of a secret paladin order called the Order of the Tree of Life. They asked for the adventurers' oath of confidentiality in helping them root out and expose King Bane's corruption.

The performance angered King Bane, who put his son under house arrest. The shape in the sky was revealed to be an interdimensional ship piloted by githzerai, an alien people who hated mind flayers and were on a rrokma, or hunt that was a rite of passage for young githzerai. With the githzerai's help, King Bane authorized the launch of an invasion against the growing menace of the mind flayers within the caverns. He lent the group some of his most powerful magic items and prepared for war.

The king's soldiers rushed into the caverns, paving the most direct path to the mind flayers' inner sanctum, sealing off all exits into the mountain except one. The adventurers made their way through the caverns, killing mind flayers and their thralls en masse. As they neared the mind flayers' elder brain, they miraculously ran into Nysae, who had in the intervening years apart from the party grown feral with the wilds and had learned druidic magic. She helped them pave a way to the mind flayers' leader, though Luna unfortunately had her brain sucked out by a mind flayer in the process and fell.

With heavy casualties on both sides and through the help of the githzerai, the way to the elder brain finally opened. Rhogar rushed in, hacking away at the elder brain with all his strength, withstanding psychic assaults from all sides. Ari and Gorthuk destroyed many mind flayers as they defended Rhogar and did as much damage to the elder brain as they could when they had a chance. Just when the elder brain was about to shift to another plane as an escape, Rhogar landed the final blow to kill it, rendering the entire mind flayer colony mindless and scattered. Victory was theirs.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Heroes of Silvermoon, Chapter 9: Far from Home

  1. The Cultist
  2. Arena Games
  3. Phoenix Sorcery
  4. The Half-Moon Crucible
  5. Castle Mistamere
  6. Bringing Back the Dead
  7. The Curse of House Lightwalker
  8. Captured
  9. Far from Home
  10. Through the Underdark
  11. A New Port of Kings

The Tale of the Heroes of Silvermoon

Chapter 9: Far from Home

The heroes returned to Silvermoon and rested, with Cristoff gaining permanent membership in the Crown Guard and everyone else settling in to their jobs and new lives. Olwyn went on his way, saying that his lot in life was to wander, and Gorthuk returned to Waterbrink to attempt to teach his clan the art of ale brewing and make honest workers out of them. One day, a messenger page encountered the heroes when they were in Julian's restaurant. He introduced himself as Bradley Bean, and informed the heroes that their reputation had reached the city in the far north called Port of Kings. A banquet was to be held in their honor and they were invited to come.

Port of Kings was a long way away—around a twelve-day journey—so Xilmar arranged to meet with his friend at the Silvermoon lycaeum to arrange teleportation at a discounted price. They soon left, along with a strange half-orc leather belt salesman named Zaxby, who wanted to do business in Port of Kings. Having nearly two weeks to spare before the banquet, they spent some time in Port of Kings while Bradley traveled to Waterbrink to invite Gorthuk. Cristoff decided to stay behind, as his duties had begun to pile up, and Julian was now a full-fledged noble presence in Silvermoon, so he remained as well.

Port of Kings was a thriving town, but one with extremely strict laws, which greatly weighed on Xilmar. Ari also chafed at the rules and longed to break them by doing jobs for the local thieves' guild. There was also a very rigid restrictive system on magic items... all magic items belonged to the king unless officially lent out, and the group's magic items had to be inspected upon arrival.

The leader of Port of Kings, King Verdon Bane, welcomed the heroes and introduced them to General Richard Strongborn. He also assigned them a strange bard named Lore to help them inspect and sabotage the nearby amassing gnoll forces. The group did a few similar jobs for the king in return for gold, and he graciously allowed them to live in a house in the noble district during their stay.

Despite the apparent hospitality, Xilmar and Ari tired of the strict rules in the town, and attempted to help the thieves guild smuggle a boat of contraband to another port town as a way to wind down. Unfortunately, a violent storm prevented them from making it out to sea. The banquet also did not go well when the officials caught Xilmar trying to cheat in a friendly game of dice and patronized him for it, which infuriated him and made him resolve to leave.

After the banquet, the king entrusted the group with secret information regarding special missions he needed trusted people from outside the city to help with. Xilmar, disgusted with the rainy city that stifled the freedom he held so dear, tried to return back to Silvermoon, but was detained and fined by King Bane. Furious with the king's lack of diplomatic immunity and the pushiness of his secrecy that he didn't even care about, Xilmar stormed out of the city, vowing to get his revenge.

In his place, the king offered one of his highly ranked military officers, Sir Dhirktelonis Rhogar the silver dragonborn, to aid the adventurers in their following missions. They helped expose a plot of missing villagers led by an evil oni, and explored some suspicious caverns at the base of the cliffs near the sea. In it, they found signs of a cult taken over by a colony of mind flayers. They also found that General Strongborn had betrayed the city. Gorthuk tortured the general, much to Rhogar's disgust, who still valued him as his former leader, and eventually they threw the general into the dungeons. The group also noticed a strange shape hovering several thousand feet above the city during the day.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

D&D Homebrew: 11 Custom Feats

I don't have a lot of experience homebrewing feats, but I personally thought these ones would be pretty fun to play with in a campaign.

11 Custom D&D Feats

Arcane Purveyor

You have learned the inner workings of how magic items lend their power. You gain the following benefits:
  • You can attune to four, rather than three, magic items at a time.
  • You have advantage on Arcana checks made to identify magic items.


Prerequisite: Proficiency with one type of artisan's tools

You have mastered the art of crafting items with your tools. You gain the following benefits:
  • When you craft a nonmagical or magic item using the artisan’s tools you’re proficient in, it takes you a quarter of the normal time, and it costs you half as much of the usual gold.
  • You have advantage on ability checks made using the tools you’re proficient in.


You have stared death in the face before, and you refuse to succumb to it. You gain the following benefits:
  • You remain conscious and are able to act normally when you are at 0 hit points, as long as you do not have any death saving throw failures.
  • You gain a +1 bonus to death saving throws.


You have specialized in a specific skill. Choose one of your skill proficiencies, or your proficiency with a tool or instrument. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses the chosen proficiency.

Focused Mind

Prerequisite: Spellcasting

Your mind has been trained to divide its focus effectively. You gain the following benefits:
  • Increase your Intelligence score by 1, to a maximum of 20
  • If you lose concentration on a spell, you can choose to maintain concentration and instead take psychic damage equal to twice your level. This damage cannot be reduced or prevented in any way.
  • You can concentrate on two spells at once. If you fail a saving throw to maintain concentration, you lose concentration on both spells.

    Keen Senses

    You’ve trained to hone your senses to perceive things that you cannot see. You gain the following benefits:
    • Increase your Wisdom score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
    • You have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing or smell.
    • You have blindsight out to 10 feet, as long as you are not deafened.


    Prerequisite: Spellcasting, 3rd level

    You have experimented enough with your spells that you know how to twist them to suit your needs. You gain 3 sorcery points and two Metamagic options of your choice from the Sorcerer class. You regain expended sorcery points when you finish a long rest.


    You have mastered the art of chugging drinks quickly. You gain the following benefits:
    • Increase your Constitution score by 1, to a maximum of 20
    • You can drink a potion as a bonus action, rather than an action.You have advantage on Constitution checks and saving throws related to drinking alcohol and avoiding getting inebriated.


    You have learned to be more comfortable in marine environments. You gain the following benefits:
    • Increase your Constitution or Strength score by 1, to a maximum of 20
    • You gain a swimming speed of 30 feet.
    • You can hold your breath for twice as long.


    You have trained your body to have energy even after tremendous exertion and to ignore fatigue. You gain the following benefits:
    • Increase your Constitution score by 1, to a maximum of 20
    • When you have levels of exhaustion, you only suffer the effects of the level below your current level. You still die if you reach 6 levels of exhaustion.
    • If you sleep at night, you only have to sleep for 6 hours to get the benefits of a long rest.


    You've honed a talent for throwing your voice into creatures and objects. You gain the following benefits:
    • Increase your Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
    • You can speak without moving your lips.You can throw your voice when you speak, making it appear to originate from any source that you can see within 20 feet of you. A suspicious creature can use its action to attempt a Wisdom (Insight) check contested by your Charisma (Deception) check. If the creature's check equals or exceeds your own, it determines that you are the true source of the speech.

    Thursday, May 9, 2019

    D&D Homebrew: Carnival Games

    Here are some carnival games you can put into your campaign between adventures or when the characters find a town that happens to be having a festival of some kind. The prizes should be mechanically worthless souvenirs that the party will enjoy roleplaying with but won't really gain any advantage with. This set of rules comes with a bonus rule on getting drunk!

    Carnival Games

    Pie-eating Contest

    One Constitution check for each pie. DC starts at 8, then increases by 2 for each pie. If you fail a check by 10 or more, you throw up and are disqualified. If you roll a 20 or higher, you pull ahead by 1 pie and 1 failure is removed. Otherwise, a loss indicates that you falter. The DC still goes up afterward, and once you reach 2 failures, you just can’t go on and you tap out. Ties are ruled by who got the higher check (and therefore ate just a bit more).

    Drinking Contest

    One Constitution check for each drink. A character can chug a number of drinks equal to their Constitution modifier before they must make a Constitution saving throw against poison with a DC of 10 + the total number of drinks consumed. On a failure, they gain one level of drunkenness (see below).

    Drunkenness Level Effect
    1 Poisoned. Advantage on saving throws against being frightened.
    2 Disadvantage on all ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws (except Constitution). Immune to being frightened.
    3 You can only move half your speed at a time, or you fall prone. You cannot Dash. Standing up costs all your movement.
    4 You vomit, then fall unconscious for 1d4 hours.

    Shell Game

    An NPC makes Sleight of Hand checks with a +7 bonus. A successful contested Perception check allows you to spot the object and win.

    Arm-wrestling Contest

    Opposed Strength checks. If you succeed on two in a row, you slam the other person’s hand down. Natural 1s and 20s grant disadvantage or advantage on your next roll.

    Archery or Darts Tournament

    Make ranged attack rolls with a shortbow. The higher the roll, the closer to the bullseye you hit. A roll of 25 or higher is a perfect bullseye. The first round is at 50 feet away, the next is at 100 feet. Three arrows per round.


    Put any amount of gold on a grid numbered 1 through 6. Roll 3d6. The number of d6s that match the number guessed is the multiplier of the bet. (1x, 2x, 3x, or 0)

    Dragon Chess

    Opposed Intelligence checks. You can make a contested Deception/Insight to grant disadvantage against them, but only once per game. The first person to 3 successes checkmates the other.

    Pit Fighting

    A no-armor, no-magic item fistfight. The first person to knock the other unconscious wins. Half the number of normal hit points for a knockout (for speed’s sake).


    Each player gets a rapier and studded leather armor, then fight. First person to “touch” (score a hit) the other person three times wins.


    Opposed Animal Handling, Dexterity, or Athletics checks. The first person to add up to a total of 30 with their rolls wins the race.

    Music Competition

    Opposed Performance checks. You can only play an instrument you're proficient with. Three rounds, best two out of three gets the crowd’s favor, but high rolls might still win you some gold anyway from fans.


    Roll 2d6. If yours is higher, you win. There are more intricate gambling rules for other games:

    • Pan’s Gambit. 50g buy-in. Each player rolls 1d8, then raises the bet, calls the bet, or folds. When everyone calls the bet, roll 1d6. Do it again. Then roll 1d4 and add the dice together. Highest result takes the pot, or 80% of the pot if in a casino. (Sleight of Hand can let you reroll, Deception can force a fold)
    • Moondancer’s Favor. 25g buy-in. Roll 2d6. If they add up to a 7 or a 12, you win. You can double the bet to add 1d6 to the total.

    Horse Racing Betting

    Five horses are let loose on a track. Roll 1d4 for each horse three times. The horse with the highest total wins. Second place winners get half their bet back, winners get twice their bet as winnings.


    With a handful of knucklebones (4d4), you play a game of chance. There are a few ways to play:

    • Classic Knucklebones. You roll the bones and count the number. Different amounts have different names. (A score of 4 is called “Dog’s Ear” and a score of 16 is called “Fortuna.”) You can reroll 2 (and only 2) of the bones if you double your bet.
    • Odds or Evens. Your opponent says odds or evens and you toss the bones. If the resulting sum is not the one they guessed, you win.

    Gladiatorial Arena

    Pay to play (100 gp buy-in) Teams fight beasts in the arena until only one team remains, declared the winner. The CR of the beasts for the PCs starts at their current level, then goes up by 1 each round. For the opposing teams (generally 2 other teams), they simply make 3 checks with a bonus of the PCs’ proficiency bonus. If at least two meet the DC, they go on. First match is DC 10, then goes up by +5 each match.

    Jousting Tournament

    Pay to play (100 gp buy-in), need to be of the Noble background, a member of a local guild, sponsored, or otherwise with some renown of some kind. First opposed Animal Handling checks, then an attack roll (with advantage if you won the Animal Handling check). After the hit, a Strength saving throw to avoid being knocked off if you were hit (DC 10 or half the amount of damage taken, whichever is higher). The round ends after the best two out of three hits, or one of the knights falls unconscious, falls off the horse, or gives up.

    Tuesday, April 30, 2019

    D&D Homebrew: My 10 Favorite Homebrew Rules

    Ever since I discovered Critical Role, I've been obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons 5e. No other medium or pastime has fully captured all of the aspects of creativity that I enjoy: worldbuilding, epic combat, monstrous creatures, and amazing unexpected story paths. Since then, I've compiled a myriad of lists of homebrew rules, riddles, magic items, custom spells, and random generators to help me with my preferred method of enjoying D&D: Dungeon Mastering.

    I figured now that my YouTube channel, while more active than ever, isn't being focused on in Pretzel Lectern, I should use it to post more D&D content like other D&D blogs I've seen, my most favorite of which are theangrygm.com and blogofholding.com. Today I'll be looking at a few homebrew rules that enhance the D&D experience for me.

    My 5 Favorite Homebrew Rules

    1. Not-Lame Criticals.

    Instead of rolling dice damage twice when you score a critical hit, maximize one of the dice and then roll the rest.

    This will ensure that no matter what, you will at least score a solid hit with a critical hit. I think rolling two 1s on damage dice on a critical completely sucks the fun of rolling a natural 20. Note that you maximize only one of the dice, even on weapons and attacks that use more than one. This means that critting with a greataxe will do 12 + 1d12 damage, but a greatsword will do 6 + 3d6 damage. Otherwise, critting with a 1st-level inflict wounds would be guaranteed to deal 33–60 damage. Also remember that enemies crit with this extra damage as well as the PCs.

    2. Glancing Blows

    On an attack roll that exactly matches the target's AC, the hit is a glancing blow that deals half the damage rolled.

    This rule pairs well with rule #1. Basically, it seemed odd to me when I first learned the rules of D&D that you either hit and did full damage or double damage or didn't hit at all. This rule tapers the edges of these two extremes so that if you just barely hit someone, you'll still deal damage, but you'll only graze them. I think the sensibility of this rule speaks for itself, and it's gone over very well in my games. Remember again that the DMed creatures follow this rule as well.

    3. Targeted Attacks

    A player character can choose to target a specific part of a target creature with an attack roll by declaring it and rolling with disadvantage. On a hit, that part takes the damage from the attack. A body part typically takes up 20%–25% of the creature's maximum hit points, and when it is reduced to 0, maiming, blinding, grounding flying units, and so forth may occur.

    I haven't experimented much with this rule, but I really like the idea of it. If a pesky manticore won't come down and keeps volleying spikes, you should be able to aim for its wings with a spell or ranged attack and blow them off to ground it. If you want to stop a bandit from shooting with a bow or dual wielding, you should be able to hack off its hand or arm. Keep in mind that the damage type of an attack may affect the outcome of a targeted attack—obviously psychic damage can't lop someone's hand off. Unless you want to threaten your players with the possibility of getting lingering injuries rather easily, this rule slightly imbalances the game in favor of PCs. But it most likely amps up the fun factor and moves away from repetitive "I attack that creature" mechanics by adding tactical options. And I like the disadvantage factor better than, say, a -5 to hit with a targeted attack, since it reduces the chance that the player will score a critical hit on the body part.

    4. Burst Concentration

    If you are concentrating on a spell and cast another spell that requires concentration, you can choose to concentrate on both spells at the same time until the end of your turn.

    I think it's lame that rangers have to break their concentration on hunter's mark to be able to use single-shot, "The-next-time-you-hit-a-creature-with-a-weapon-attack-before-this-spell-ends" spells like hail of thorns or ensnaring strike. The concentration mechanic on those spells is there to benefit rangers by allowing them to try again if they miss the first time—it shouldn't discourage them from using other spells that require concentration during a fight. Hence, this rule allows, say, a paladin to use searing smite on a creature while still maintaining concentration on a bless spell. If the searing smite misses, it's their choice whether they want to just let it go and keep their fellow adventurers #Blessed or keep the smite powered up for one more try on their next turn.

    5. Life Diamonds

    If you are a cleric or a paladin, you can donate any amount of gold pieces to a temple of your deity. Afterward, you may spend up to 10 hours in meditation, plus an equal number of spell slot levels (Channel Divinity counts as a 2nd-level spell slot). After this period, your deity provides you with a life diamond worth 100 gp per hour spent in meditation, with a maximum value equal to the amount you donated to the temple.

    Diamonds are commonly used and useful components for holy spells like greater restoration, revivify, and resurrection. This allows characters to create these components if they don't already have any by sacrificing time, money, and their divine powers. I haven't had a chance to test this mechanic out yet, but I like the lore behind it.

    I also would allow druids to bury gold in the ground and meditate, receiving afterwards life diamonds or the components for the reincarnate spell.

    6. Battle Fatigue

    If you are brought to 0 hit points, you gain a level of exhaustion. Levels of exhaustion gained in this way go away after your hit points are brought to their maximum or you take a short rest.

    I like 5e's combat system, but it bugs me that a creature can be damaged so severely they get knocked unconscious, and then get up and be completely fine when a paladin Lays on Hands for 1 hit point. This rule ensures that players value being alive and conscious, rather than treating 0 hit points like a minor inconvenience ("I'll just let them knock me down. It's the healer's turn next anyway"). That's just not realistic. It also increases the stakes in battle once they've been knocked down a couple of times and start moving more slowly and having disadvantage on saving throws. Exhaustion is a powerful mechanic and I think this is a great chance to make using it count.

    7. Death Susceptibility

    When your character dies and is brought back to life, you must permanently fill in one of your death saving throw failures. If your character dies with three death saving throw failures filled in, that character cannot be brought back to life. A wish spell can remove a permanent death saving throw failure.

    Another problem I see with D&D is that death is merely an inconvenience if holy magic is available. Sure, it costs money to raise the dead, but it should also be more taxing on the player's character in the long run. This rule makes it so that player characters only have at most three lives, and each time they die, they are more susceptible to dying again. Death should be feared and respected in the game. Optionally, I also describe a permanent scar the player has from the ordeal of their death, based on the thing that killed them, to remind them of the time or times they have had a brush with death.

    8. Last Stand

    If an allied player character dies, all of the rest of the player characters gain advantage on their next ability check, attack roll, or saving throw before the next round.

    Another way to make death more profound of a thing in the game is to add this rule, which inspires all other players to action in the moment that one of their friends dies. Advantage is a powerful mechanic to gift, but obviously this benefit is limited to a very crucial moment that won't happen very often and that the players dread.

    9. Maiming Blows

    If a creature deals a critical hit to a player character that brings that character to 0 hit points, that player character receives a lingering injury (see DMG, p. 273). If a player character brings a creature to 1 hit point, it maims the creature, inflicting 3 levels of exhaustion on it.

    This is mainly a mechanic to add lingering injury to the game, because I think it's fun for players to have challenges they have to work around and overcome over time. It's also a way to clue players in and give them a boon for being so close to finishing off a target enemy creature but not quite enough to kill it.

    10. Inspiration and Setbacks

    (Replaces the existing Inspiration mechanic) When you gain a level, you gain one Inspired Action. You can use this action at any time to grant yourself advantage on any one attack roll, ability check, or saving throw. Alternatively, you can grant an ally within 30 feet of you this advantage if doing so relates to one of your character's ideals, bonds, or personality traits. You can only have one Inspired Action at a time. Any time after expending this Inspired Action, you may declare a Setback, imposing disadvantage on an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw. This Setback must be significant (DM's discretion) and related to one of your character's flaws. After doing so, you gain one Inspired Action.

    I never remembered to give Inspiration during play to my characters, so I give this mechanic to them to let them take control of when they gain it instead. It also helps them make better roleplaying choices with their flaws, which can really add to the story of a game.

    I'd love to know other DMs' opinions on these rules. I have about a hundred others I gather over time as options, but they're more complicated and nitpicky. I think these are the most significant 10 I have implemented in my games, and I like them a lot.

    Stay tuned for more regular D&D-related posts!