The Dungeon Master’s Handbook: Creative Mechanics from Other TTRPGs to Take Your D&D Game to the Next Level

I love experimenting with different rules from other games. Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition is pretty flexible and allows the Dungeon Master to have flexibility regarding the rules. This includes adding in your own homebrew rules as well as rules from other games. Here are five rules I suggest trying out to see if they fit your style of play.

a set of clear polyhedral dice resting on a wooden windowsill
photo by Stephen Hardy

Interludes from Savage Worlds

What I like about Interludes is that it sets a game mechanic to have personal moments between the combats and other story beats. When the players have some downtime between tasks like combat, travel, or research you have a player draw a card. The player is to then tell a tale on a topic determined by the suit of the card. For example, clubs are a tragedy, spades tell a victory, hearts are about love, and diamonds are a story about desire. Even better if they can get other characters involved in the story. Afterward, you award the player with inspiration or another appropriate reward. 

This is similar to a mechanic called Campfire Stories where you have the characters tell a story or discuss a topic during a short or long rest. When discussing adding Interludes or Campfire Stories to your campaigns you could explain them like the personal or emotional scenes in action movies where we learn more about the characters and their past or their hopes for the future. Be sure to let them know that they don’t have to participate if the players don’t want to. Either way, these are two good tactics to encourage role play amongst the players and their characters.

Basic and Special Moves from Dungeon World

Dungeon World has this great mechanic called Moves. These are a group of simple tasks and complex tasks that ANY character can use. They range from Hack and Slash, to Spout Lore, to Parley, or even Last Breath. These universal moves allow all the players to trigger specific actions and outcomes based on their choices. For example, if you are negotiating with a dragon the Parley move could be used with any leverage (something the dragon wants) you have in order to gain assistance or knowledge. 

To use this in 5e I would make a list of possible actions the players could take like the different actions that are available in combat (attack, cast a spell, dash, etc.). Be sure to explain any moves that might be new to the players and allow them to ask any clarifying questions. Another method is to have the players describe their actions in more detail and use that to adjudicate outcomes. If it’s a great description you could have it work with no ability check or give them a bonus to the ability check that you call for. Lastly, you could use moves as an inspiration for a monster or NPC abilities that get triggered by specific player actions.

Escalation Die from 13th Age

Essentially, the escalation die is used to increase the pace and tension during combat. At the beginning of the second round, the DM places a d6 with the 1 side face up. This escalation die increases in value at the top of every round to a maximum of six. When players make an attack role they add the number on the escalation die to the attack roll. This bonus does not apply to monsters or NPCs, it is meant for player characters only. The die increasing in value represents the combat getting more intense and wild over time. 

You can port this over directly to your 5th Edition game by using a d6 at the start of round 2 to communicate an attack bonus that all the PCs can use and increase it at the top of each subsequent round. Be sure to get your players on board before randomly putting a new die on the board. Doing so can help speed up combat and cause players to take risks like using powerful spells or abilities.

Teamwork Feats from 3.5e

The DMG II introduced the concept of Teamwork Benefits that provide more uses of skills, ability or skill check bonuses, or even combat maneuvers. To gain these benefits the PCs must train with each other for a period of time as well as any prerequisites the benefit requires. Any time a team is formed or a new member joins they must train together by practicing the techniques needed for at least two weeks in order to receive the benefit. Some of the Teamwork Benefits listed include Friendly Fire Evasion where you have a limited evasion ability that is limited to spells cast by your teammates only and Spell Barrage where every subsequent spell that requires a DEX save after the first gets an increasing penalty to the DEX save per spell provided they are in the same area of effect as the original spell. 

These can be brought into your 5th edition game by giving the party a group feat as they level up in each tier of play. This way you can get a handle on their play style and give them benefits that will work with them rather than a feat they will have to work around. Some examples include the optional flanking rule or synergy spells where multiple spells that have the same damage type or saving throw can gain a bonus to attack rolls or spell save DCs.

Flashback Mechanic from Blades in the Dark

A common mechanic I see used from Blades in the Dark is called Flashbacks. This allows a PC or adventuring party to go back to a time when they could have prepared for a situation they are currently in. Like if they are in a cave and they need a grappling hook you could flash back to a store in town where they purchase a grappling hook. Or perhaps they are trying to sneak into a guarded building and one of the PCs wants to flashback to last night at the inn and attempt to bribe a guard into helping you. What I like the most about flashbacks is that it’s a great way for players to add depth to their characters and it prevents the need for excessive planning 

When using flashbacks in D&D the key is to establish ground rules, set the scene, and determine the outcome. Make sure the players understand how often they can use a flashback and the limits of what they can achieve. You don’t want them to take long or derail the flow of the session. Quickly describe the flashback and roll any checks required to determine how successful, if at all, their endeavor is. Not all flashbacks will require a roll however so don’t force one.

Do you have any rules you’ve added to your game that have come from somewhere else? Let me know in the comments.

Good luck on your next session, I believe in you! See you in the future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s