House Rules Master List
Return to Ravenloft is designed to be a narrative-focused game, with an emphasis on player Choice and Consequence vs the forces of Fate and Fortune. Some of these house rules are intended to soften or otherwise mitigate the more random and “wrench-tossing” elements of D&D. Other rules play up the tension of the unknown, or provide realism that better fits the dark fantasy genre of this campaign. As a note, several older house rules have also been tweaked to reflect lessons learned in past campaigns. Player feedback was instrumental in drafting the rules below, particularly from hiccups experienced during Curse of Strahd. If you’re down for whatever and prefer to go with the flow, you don’t need to read any further (though I still encourage you to skim at least). On the other hand, if you are a player who prefers to have a very grounded understanding of the boundaries of the game, I encourage you to read these rules in their entirety so that you are better prepared for how this campaign may differ from others.
The DM Has the Final Say
As always in our games, the DM is the final arbiter of the rules. It is the responsibility of the DM not to abuse those rules out of favoritism or just to undermine player efforts for the hell of it. If you don’t believe the DM is being a fair referee, the entire group can discuss it together and find a resolution.
Players should accept any decision made by the DM at the table during a session. Any requests for in-depth clarification or corrections should be made after / between sessions, NOT at the table. Mistakes happen, and neither the DM nor the players are expected to be a walking encyclopedia, but amendments to a decision can always be implemented going forward.
While it can be disappointing when a rules-decision negates something a player was attempting to do in the moment, there is no individual rule so vital to the enjoyment of the game that it must be hashed out right there and then. More often than not, mid-session rules lawyering doesn’t achieve anything other than derailed pacing and emotional fatigue.
Note of Clarification: This rule doesn't mean you can't ask questions about how a rule works. Players are encouraged to ask for initial clarification on anything they don't understand. They are also encouraged to point out something they think the DM might have made a mistake on. The request here is just not to argue the point once the DM has responded, at least not during the session. Rules lawyering debates are welcome in group chat or direct message after the game.
Through Fortune, Left to Fate
After a player rolls a natural 1, they may voluntarily use this rule to get an instant re-roll. For short hand, a player may say they "want another chance" or that they "want to tempt fate".
If a player wants to utilize this rule, they must declare their intentions after they roll the natural 1, but before the results of that critical failure have played out. This is to prevent players from invoking the rule based on how bad the natural 1 ended up being for them. Players will be granted up to 30 seconds to consider whether they want to keep the roll or tempt fate.
When a player does this, a token gets added to the hidden Something Terrible Is About to Happen meter visible only to the DM. The max token capacity of this meter changes randomly every time it goes off. One time the party might get 10 rerolls out of it, one time they might only get 2 rerolls.
‘Something Terrible’ could be a terrifying foe catching up with the party, rats getting into the group’s rations during a rest, enemy factions out in the world acquiring a powerful artifact- could be big, could be small, will always be terrible.
The Dark Powers
When something bad happens that the players wish to prevent or undo, they may strike a bargain with the Dark Powers to turn back time or avert the disaster as required. The bargains will have varying conditions, but will be tied to the narrative and will have more RP consequences than mechanical consequences. Consequences might be cryptic and abstract, or they may be plainly stated and specific.
The more significant of an event you are trying to wish away, the more gut-wrenching the bargain that must be struck.
Normally, Inspiration points grant players the chance to make a future roll at advantage as a reward for doing something cool. While this means players get Inspiration fairly often, it can mean that Inspiration points don’t feel special. At least within this group, players tend to get advantage with reliable frequency anyway.
Instead, this house rule turns Inspiration into something that’s both rare and cool, as well as something attainable even by quiet characters and shy players. At the DM’s discretion, players are granted Inspiration when their character does something very true to their nature, especially (but not only) if that action goes against their best interests.
For example, a player’s character has a flaw of kleptomania. During a very tense social encounter the party is having in a magistrate’s office, the character sees a gorgeous, gem-studded glass animal on display. Even though the consequences could be disastrous if they’re caught, the player decides to try and steal the glass animal anyway. For this, the DM grants them a point of Inspiration.Inspiration points can be cashed in for one ‘Rule of Cool’ moment at a time of the player’s choosing. Your character could use their inspiration point to befriend a hostile animal in the wilderness, or maybe to automatically succeed all three of their death saving throws and get back into the action at half-health. It is a step below a successful Divine Intervention spell from a cleric, in that the moment must still be feasible for the situation. Cashing in an Inspiration Point can’t perform a deus ex machina by making angels appear to kill the ancient red dragon, but it could be used for the character in question to parkour up the dragon’s back and stab it in the eye. There are very rare, limited circumstances that don’t allow for Inspiration points to be cashed in. It’s hard to list out every nuanced situation before it happens, but generally players can’t use Inspiration to: defy fantasy-physics, usurp a domain’s Darklord, learn new spells, or turn back time.
If you don’t want to kill an enemy combatant, you can announce that you want to deal non-lethal damage.
You must be able to give an example of how you are doing non-lethal damage if it involves a normally lethal weapon. For instance, if you are using a warhammer, you should be able to specify that you’re trying to break their arm or hitting them in the leg. If you’re making an unarmed attack, you do not need to specify where or how you're striking them.
Non-lethal damage will not reduce an NPC below zero hit points, but may cause them to pass out or otherwise lose consciousness. Your intention to deal non-lethal damage must be declared before you roll your attack and damage.
Taken from TikTok, Chaos Dice allow players to make harmless, silly, or inconsequential wishes.
When they make the wish, they roll a flat 1d20 with no modifiers:
- On a natural 20, the wish comes true.
- On a natural 1, the wish backfires like the curse of a monkey’s paw.
- Any result of 2 through 19 results in nothing happening.
Examples of wishes that could be made with Chaos Dice:If the DM believes your wish will grant the group genuine long-term advantages, you'll be granted the floor to make your case. The entire party will get to vote on if they think your wish goes against the spirit of the rules. The DM will honor the party vote, in a rare case of player authority so use this wisely!
- An elevator appears at the end of dungeons. When used, it plays easy listening music or light jazz, and conveniently takes the group back to the start of the dungeon.
- A delicious sandwich falls from the sky for your character to eat.
- Players and NPCs all have mobile phones which are only capable of sending and receiving memes.
- Eye of the Tiger canonically plays every time the group encounters a rakshasa or weretiger, even if they’re in disguise.
- When a character rolls natural 20’s in the future, all NPCs not actively engaged in combat stop what they’re doing and golf clap.
- Eggplants now ripen into hard-boiled eggs instead of aubergines.
Per standard rules, critical successes and failures (Nat 1s, Nat 20s) only apply to attack rolls. The Dramatic Criticals house rule expands this to apply to other rolls such as: skill checks, general ability checks, death saves, and saving throws.
Under this rule, a natural 20 does not inherently equal an automatic success; it means that your character does the best that they possibly can under the circumstances. There can be, and will often be, an additional positive factor at the DM’s discretion.
Under this rule, a natural 1 does not inherently equal an automatic failure; it means that your character is unable to perform at their best, possibly due to the circumstances. There can be, and will often be, an additional negative consequence at the DM’s discretion.
Example of a Nat 20: Jorvek the Half-Orc Barbarian sticks to the back of the group as they enter a new room. The group is ambushed by goblins and a trap springs that shuts the steel door, as well as locking it before Jorvek can get into the room. He rolls a Strength check to try and ram the door down so that he can defend his party. He gets a natural 20, and succeeds in breaking down the door. As an extra bonus for his natural 20, the door falls on one of the enemy goblins closing in on the group, crushing that enemy instantly.
Example of a Nat 1: Shesar the Drow Rogue is on a balcony with his lady love during a masquerade when ne’er-do-wells show up to accost them. He uses his grappling hook gun and rolls an acrobatic check to swing from a rope onto a massive chandelier, with one arm wrapped around his beloved’s waist. Unfortunately, he rolls a natural 1. While his swing is still successful, one of the brigands gets in a jab beforehand and Shesar takes 2 points of piercing damage. As an additional consequence for his failure, his lady love’s perfumed wig catches fire due to the candles on the chandelier.Sometimes a natural 20 will end in the traditional spectacular success. Sometimes a natural 1 will end in traditional crushing failure. The DM will take into account character skills, experiences, and circumstantial factors, which can lead to unpredictable and varying results. Expect the unexpected and pay attention when the dice are rolling.
Fifth Edition standard encumbrance is so ridiculously scaled as to be meaningless. Under standard rules (carrying capacity is strength score x15, push/drag/lift is strength score x30), a character who is barely strong enough to open heavy doors can still have a long-term equipment haul of 120 lbs. and a push/drag capacity to rival a donkey.
Alternative Encumbrance does away with the math and the herculean carrying capacity. Under this house rule, real-world carrying capacity is used as the standard. Stronger characters will eventually enter the leagues of fiction, of course, but characters with a strength of 12 or less will be subject to the rules of reality.Length of time expected to carry something is also taken into account using a character’s constitution. Someone might be able to carry a great deal of weight for a short period, but hauling it on their back while walking on foot across the mountains will be a different story. The specifics are nebulous to prevent the need for calculators, and will be largely ignored unless the DM suspects whatever a player is attempting is entering the realm of absurdity for their character. This is not a rule that will be enforced super strictly, but it is on the table to encourage players to think about what it would actually mean for their characters to be hauling around all of their possessions at all times. Encumbrance can make the difference between your character making it across the rickety rope bridge and falling into the ravine below. Invest in Bags of Holding when you get the chance.
Gear is Real
Generally speaking, in fifth edition characters are accepted as having all of their stuff, but not really looking that way. Characters are visualized as just in their bad-ass outfits, as though their backpacks materialize from thin air only when needed. This isn’t the case under the Gear is Real house rule.
Under this house rule, if your character has a backpack bursting with five outfits, as well as two bedrolls, six sacks of gold, and four different weapons strapped to various parts of their body, an NPC will respond accordingly. Your attempted actions may also be affected. Try to visualize what all of the objects on your inventory sheet look like when they're actually worn on your character.
In short, your gear is real. Players are encouraged to store their wealth and goods in safe, fixed locations when they don’t reasonably suspect they’ll have need of it.
- If you are trying to squeeze through a gap in the wall, your gear may get in the way and have to be left behind.
- If you’re trying to balance on slippery ground, the less secure your equipment is, the more it will penalize your dexterity saving throw.
- If you want to be the sleek, debonair assassin with a dash of James Bond, you’ll find that bulky equipment is neither inconspicuous nor fashionable.
Equipment Accessibility and Vulnerability
By standard rules, anything you have on you is usually accessible with a single action, even if it’s buried at the bottom of a pouch inside a sack inside a backpack inside a chest that you tied to the barbarian’s back with ropes. A healing potion also takes an action to drink even if it’s already in your hand. This rule makes multi-pronged adjustments to this situation for purposes of immersion, not necessarily realism.
- The more accessible an item is, the less time you need to use it. Potions on a bandolier across your chest will be usable with a bonus action; and if you happen to already have one in your hand at the start of your turn, then you can drink it as a free action.
- The more accessible an item is, the more vulnerable it is. Glass potion bottles on your chest are great for ease of access, but if you fall into a trap hole, you may be asked to roll to see if the potions break on impact with the ground. The DM, depending on the circumstance, may just decide they break without even calling for the roll.
- Storing items away protects them, but costs time. Keeping with the potion examples, if you fall into a trap hole, the potions that you carefully wrapped in blankets the night before and tucked into your backpack are far, far less likely to be destroyed. The trade off is that when you need them most in combat, it might take multiple rounds to dig them out while the clock is ticking.
Generally, players’ carried equipment will fall under the following categories:When you first receive an item, you’ll be asked how you want to store it. When you finish a long or short rest, or you’re setting out on an adventure, you’ll be asked if there are any changes to how you’re storing your stuff that the DM should be aware of. In the event that the DM forgets to ask you, and you forget to declare otherwise, it will be assumed that you put an item into the Packed state, such as simply dropping it into your backpack or shoving it into your pocket: whatever's most reasonable for the item in question.
At Hand, e.g. a weapon carried in a scabbard that isn’t peace-tied, a spell component pouch on one’s belt, a dagger strapped to one’s thigh, etc. At hand is the most accessible and the most vulnerable storing method. Packed, e.g. a book near the top of a backpack, an item in a bag of holding, an object you’re holding that has a lock/latch to open, etc. This method of storage has a decent mix of accessibility and protection. Secured, e.g. a precious family heirloom tucked into an inner pocket on one’s backpack, the contents of a heavy locked chest, a tiny scroll tucked into the secret compartment of one’s boot. Being secured is the least vulnerable storing method, but also the least accessible.
Actions are Turn-Based, Words Are Not
By default rules, combat is seen as happening in slow motion, one single action after one single action. You really shouldn’t say more than a few words at a time on your turn, since all turns in a round happen simultaneously within 6 seconds. This house rule changes that to flow better and allow for player interactions across everyone’s turns.
Under this rule, combat is alive and flowing similar to real time. As a matter of fairness, noteworthy actions remain turn-based. That is, you can only roll an actual attack (capable of doing damage) on your turn.You’re not frozen in place on someone else’s turn, you’re just not dealing damage or running around. Your sorcerer’s cantrip spells are simply considered to be missing their targets (or being deflected by the enemy) when it’s someone else’s turn. The same is true for enemy combatants. Flavor-wise, they’re always trying to attack you, they just aren’t capable of succeeding and doing damage except on their turns. What’s the point of this change? Mostly immersion and player interactions no matter whose turn it is. The currently active player can ask you a question, and you can respond (and so can the enemy!) without the group having to wait for it to get all the way back to your turn for you to be able to say something. The group can have full-on conversations, the villains can monologue over other people’s turns, you can add inconsequential but fun emotes in response to other players actions, etc. Combat under this rule feels more fluid and engaging, more like a movie fight scene than a turn-based video game.
An example: Ro the Changeling-Genasi Druid is going toe-to-toe with an enemy warlock. On her turn, she rolls an attack and deals 6 damage. Her fellow party members get the chance to cheer her on while entangled with their own opponents, and over the course of someone else’s turn, a party member gets serious wounded. Then, it’s Annie the Aasimar Fighter’s turn. Annie uses her turn to dig through Ro’s backpack looking for a healing potion, all the while asking Ro questions about where in the hell the potion *is* within the backpack. Ro can actually reply to Annie in real-time between describing ‘flavor’ attacks against her enemy that have no rolls and deal no damage, if she wishes. Under normal rules, Annie would only have been able to ask Ro where the potion bottle was, and maybe Ro could’ve used a ‘free action’ with the DM’s permission to reply, but the constraints of ‘simultaneous turns’ prevent the two players from saying anything more than that. Annie would have to finish the rest of her turn without getting to engage further, and might feel bored or like her turn was wasted. Under this house rule, Annie and Ro get a chance to roleplay their characters under pressure, maybe with a non-serious argument about why Ro has so many dog treats, and why they’re packed closer to the top than the healing potions. The DM is also able to throw in some details about how Ro dodging out of the way of the enemy’s Eldritch Blast spell causes the dog treats to spill out into the backpack and now Annie has to fish through them. Annie gets to RP being more frustrated, maybe throwing out an insult to the enemy warlock. When she gets the potion she tells the wounded party member that they owe her one, and the wounded party member gets to express their gratitude. This way, Annie finishes her turn not having actually accomplished much more in this scenario, but because of the roleplaying and interactions, she feels a lot better about her turn and is having more fun. The other players also remained engaged with what was happening even though all Annie was functionally doing was digging through a backpack for an action.This rule might sound complicated, but it basically just means players get to do more flavor stuff and can talk to each other more freely in combat. Spell durations are not affected by this, and remain based on standard ‘round = 6 seconds’. This is because functional combat remains action/turn-based, and that’s what spell durations are balanced for.
Secret Death Rolls
Fifth Edition introduced death saving throws, which are usually rolled in front of the whole group. Watching a downed player succeed on two death saves in a row tends to deflate the tension, and often affects player strategies. The pressure to rescue someone who is one success from being back on their feet is not as strong as when you have no idea whether they’re two rolls deep into success or failure. The player making the rolls may even accidentally meta-game by telling people not to worry about them.
Under the Secret Death Rolls house rule, only the DM knows the results of the roll. Players may opt to have the DM roll for them, or they may use the tools of the platform to make a blind roll that only the DM sees the results of.As a subsection of this rule, players may opt to describe a flashback their character is having before they roll their death save. Alternatively, they can RP out their character's potentially final-moments through thoughts, emotions, or dialogue with other characters. In exchange for either method of engagement, the player gets to roll percentile dice. With a roll of 80 or higher, the player gets to make their hidden death saving throw at advantage.
Meaningful Stealth Rolls
In the past, we have rolled for stealth at the beginning of a stealthy action. Meaningful Stealth Rolls is a house rule that instead has the player roll for stealth only at the moment that characters might actually be detected. If the person or creature that might detect the characters is also hidden and is not spotted by the group's passive perception, the DM will roll the relevant checks in secret.
Maximum Critical Damage
In normal rules, players double their rolled damage. Sometimes this can result in players getting a critical roll and then only doing 2 damage, which is very anticlimactic.
Under the Maximum Critical Damage house rule, players roll their dice and get an additional maximum damage die added on instead of doubling. This applies to enemy criticals against players as well.
Hit Points =/= Health; Hit Points = Will to Fight
Rather than thinking of hit points as life points, players should think of their hit points as being a pool of their will to keep fighting and stay conscious. Certain spells may not do much physical damage to the characters, but drain them of their will and vitality temporarily. On the other hand, a serious injury might not take out much of a character’s fighting spirit, but could cause other problems and complications for them (see: Lingering Wounds). Wounds of all types left unattended will eventually drain one’s vitality even outside of combat.
Short Rest, Long Rest, and Full Rest
- A short rest is between 1-4 hours long and allows you to spend hit dice to recover some HP.
- If you only have one level of exhaustion, a short rest can remove that level.
- To benefit from a short rest, your character cannot be doing anything more strenuous or involved than eating, drinking, reading, or bandaging wounds.
- You cannot spend hit dice during a short rest if you have a Lingering Wound.
- A long rest must be at least 4 hours long if you are an elf or similar species. For all other species, a long rest must be at least 8 hours long.
- No more than 2 of these hours can be spent on eating, drinking, reading, or bandaging wounds.
- A long rest allows you to recover spent hit dice and heal to full HP.
- If you eat and drink during a long rest, you may remove up to two levels of exhaustion.
- If you cannot eat or drink during your long rest, you gain one level of exhaustion.
- You can only benefit from a long rest once per day.
- A full rest is an extended period of downtime, usually one week or more.
- A full rest can only be taken in a safe location, which is defined as a place where the group does not feel the need to set up a rotational watch.
- You must be able to eat and drink on each day of your full rest in order to benefit from it.
- A successfully completed full rest heals Lingering Wounds on a successful Constitution check, brings you to full HP, removes up to three levels of exhaustion, and recovers all hit dice.
- On any days of your rest that you cannot eat, the rest ends and you gain a level of exhaustion.
- Combat or any activity equatable to combat in terms of physical stress will also end a full rest. This rule will not be used to cheat players out of a full rest, but rather is there to clarify to players that they can't pepper some street fights into their downtime and still call it 'resting'.
In Return to Ravenloft, combat is shorter, but also more threatening. Player characters don’t just face imminent death in combat, they also have to contend with the chance for Lingering Wounds. A Lingering Wound that does not receive medical attention (magical or otherwise) can develop complications or infection, which result in stacking levels of exhaustion. In rare circumstances, untreated injuries can result in permanent disability.
A short rest with a Lingering Wound will prevent the players from rolling hit dice during that rest. However, the player characters are still champions. A long rest allows them to roll hit dice even if they have a Lingering Wound. A full rest heals Lingering Wounds with a successful constitution check, even in the absence of medical attention. Refer to the resting house rules if you're unfamiliar with the differences between these rests.
The nature of a Lingering Wound depends on what caused it. If an enemy spellcaster got a critical spell attack against you that does radiant damage, there is a chance that your character gains the Lingering Wound: Sun Spots, causing partial blindness until the wound is treated. Left untreated and deprived of a full rest for too long, the partial blindness could become permanent.
Lingering Wounds can be treated through the following means:
- A successful Medicine check during a long rest.
- A successful Constitution check during a full rest.
- A healing potion or healing spell.
Per standard rules, you are allowed to help another player with a skill check if you also share a proficiency in that skill, granting the first player advantage. This has unfortunately lead to the mechanic being abused, with the party stopping to have out of character conversations about who should help who in order to maximize proficiency bonuses- all very meta and immersion-breaking.
Under the Cooperation Roll house rule, players being assisted aren’t granted advantage, but they do still receive a bonus.
For example, Onyxus the Dragonborn Paladin sees that a stone door is sliding closed due to a spring trap, and half of his party is about to be separated within the twisting maze of halls they’ve found themselves in. He attempts to hold the door, knowing he has a +5 strength modifier. Tonuk the Human Ranger, who is also already through the doorway, sees this and attempts to help with his +2 strength modifier. Thanks to the help, the initial-acting character, Onyxus, gets to make a cooperation roll that has their combined modifiers, for a total +7 modifier.
I Already Checked Under the Pillow
When making an Investigation check, players must say what they’re investigating, which can be broader or narrower depending on how much time the group is willing to spend in a location. Thoroughly investigating an entire room (of average size) takes an hour of in-game time, while searching a desk takes a few minutes.
If multiple players want to investigate the same location, they all have to state where they’re searching. It wouldn't make much sense for all five characters to do a full sweep of the same room, as if they don’t trust anyone else in the party to have actually looked.
However… the Dark Powers want their secrets to be known.
Under this house rule, if the party searches an area that contains a secret (door, compartment, hidden object, etc), they find it automatically during their roll. A ‘failed’ roll in this case simply results in finding that secret in a negative way. Maybe they find the secret rotating door by being rotated onto the other side without their party noticing right away. Maybe they find the hidden tax ledger in the baron’s desk by accidentally ripping the cover off while hastily pulling things out of the drawer.A ‘critical failure’ in this case might result in triggering a trap or alarm, or accidentally knocking over an inkwell that spills on the aforementioned tax ledger.
Spell Components Are Consumable, Wands Are Forever
The rules in the Player’s Handbook state that spell components are not consumed unless that consumption is specified by the spell text.
Under this House Rule, spell components are consumed by all spells higher level than Cantrip. Just as a ranger has to buy or make arrows, a spellcaster must forage or purchase spell components. That said, spell components without a GP cost listed by them are considered to be just as plentiful as arrows and can be refilled easily for comparable prices even in a small village.A spellcasting focus negates the need for spell components that don't have a GP cost listed next to them, and are a very good investment for any up and coming caster. Spellcasting foci must generally be held in the caster’s hand during the spell, though rarer foci without such limitations do exist within the campaign setting. Any spell component with a GP cost listed next to it must be specifically acquired for that spell, and is consumed if the spell is cast successfully. A spell that fails for any reason, such as concentration being disrupted or being cast in an Anti-magic zone, does not consume spell components.
Clarification Note: Melee characters already have equipment durability and maintenance via standard rules, which is covered by their lifestyle expenses during downtime and DM judgment during combat/adventures. Melee characters have to worry about weapons being broken by enemy combatants, or not having enough money to get repairs made to their equipment during downtime. Because that's already baked into the standard rules via Lifestyle Expenses and Object HP, it just didn't need its own house rule to mention it. This rule is not meant to unfairly target spellcasters and ranged attackers, but rather to bring all three in line together.