The Complete Idiot’s Guide to D&D 5E

Let’s face it. D&D’s a great game, but it can get a bit overly complicated at times. I know not everyone agrees, but I like my game sessions to be fast-paced and relatively simple. And, as a GM, I prefer to spend as little of my prep time as possible flipping through rulebooks. If you feel the same way I do, this rant is for you. Here are all the cuts and edits I’ve made to D&D’s core rules in order to keep my gaming nights moving and the headaches at a minimum.

Combat

Ah, combat. The focal point of D&D’s mechanics and yet arguably the part of the game that needs the most work. Where to begin?

Special Attacks. I think there are several separate mechanics here that can be combined. You can replace a normal attack action with any of the following actions.

  • Disarm. Make your attack roll, but instead of rolling against the opponent’s armor class, the opponent sets the DC with an Acrobatics or Athletics roll. If the opponent is wielding a two-handed weapon, make your attack roll with disadvantage.
    • Note: One of my house rules is that a creature gains advantage on an Athletics roll when facing off against a smaller opponent. And if the creature is larger by 2 sizes or more, the larger creature wins the contest automatically.
  • Grapple, Throw, or Trip. To attempt any of these moves, roll Acrobatics or Athletics (your choice). The opponent resists by rolling Acrobatics or Athletics as well (their choice). If you throw a creature, you can move it up to 5 feet away and deal 1d4 damage.
  • Overrun or Shove. If you want to force your way past an enemy creature or push it to an adjacent space, make a contested Athletics roll with it.

Climb a Creature. As an action, you can climb on top of a creature larger than you. Make a contested Acrobatics roll with the creature.

Dash. As an action, you can double your total movement for the turn. You gain a point of exhaustion if you dash for a number of consecutive turns equal to 3 + your Constitution modifier.

Search. This isn’t specified as an action in D&D, but in my opinion it should be. As an action, you can make a Perception roll to check the area around you for hidden creatures and objects. The DC for detecting a hidden creature is 10 + its Stealth bonus.

Opportunity Attack. When a creature within reach of your weapon moves out of your reach or takes a non-combat action, you can use your reaction to make an immediate attack against them, even if it’s not your turn. Only one adjacent creature can make an opportunity attack for each space the target creature moves through (otherwise you get into ridiculous situations where 7 enemies stab you all at the same time as soon as you take a step in the wrong direction). You can’t make an opportunity attack if you used the Dash action on your last turn.

Mobs. For something that comes up all the time, D&D has a really convoluted way of handling a violent mob trying to attack the same target at once. I think it’s fair to say simply that, when a large group of creatures gang up on a single target, the DM can forego making attack rolls to save time and just assume that they get 1 hit in for every 3 attackers or so. This also serves to make large groups of enemies more threatening to the PCs. If you play by the rules as written, you may find that a PC with heavy armor can essentially wade through a sea of smaller enemies without getting scratched.

Cover. In D&D 5E, they came up with this brilliant advantage/disadvantage mechanic so the players wouldn’t have to keep track of a whole bunch of circumstantial plus and minus modifiers to rolls. But for some reason they decided hiding behind cover in combat needed its own special mechanic. Bollocks, I say! If you have cover, attacks against you have disadvantage.

Underwater Combat. This one doesn’t come up too often, but D&D has some overly complex rules here, too. The following simplified mechanics should work just fine.

  • Bludgeoning and Slashing Attacks. Unless you have a swim speed, you attack with disadvantage when using a bludgeoning or slashing weapon underwater.
  • Ranged Attacks. All ranged attacks have disadvantage at normal range and miss automatically at long range.
  • Fire Attacks. All creatures have resistance to fire damage while underwater.

Movement

Counting spaces during a battle isn’t usually so bad, but there can be a lot to keep track of once you start getting into nitty-gritty stuff, like difficult terrain. The following rules are based on the actual D&D mechanics, but with some of the details removed to make them easier to remember and apply during play.

Slow Move. Each time you move 1 space (5 feet), count 1 extra space from your movement total if any of these factors apply: climbing, crawling, difficult terrain, or moving through an occupied or tight space.

Half Move. It costs half of your movement total to do any of the following: dismount an animal, mount an animal, stand up.

Encumbrance. If you’re pushing or pulling something heavier or larger than what you can normally carry, your total speed is reduced to 1 space (5 feet) per turn and you have disadvantage on all rolls you make.

Jump. Roll Acrobatics or Athletics. For a long jump, the result of the roll is equal to the number of feet you can cover (a roll of 15 means you can jump a distance of 15 feet). For a high jump, divide the result by 3 (a roll of 15 means you can jump up to 5 feet). If you can’t get a running start, roll with disadvantage.

Tumble. If you want to dodge around an enemy creature blocking your path, you can use a bonus action (not a normal action), to make a contested Acrobatics roll with the creature. You don’t need to roll if the creature is larger than you by 2 sizes or more (i.e., if you’re medium and it’s huge).

Conditions

Is it just me, or are the D&D conditions largely redundant? After some tinkering, I managed to smush the similar ones together to make for a more streamlined, easier to remember list. (The conditions that I didn’t change aren’t included here.)

Disadvantaged (Frightened, Poisoned)

  • You have disadvantage on attacks and ability rolls.
  • If you’re frightened, you can’t approach the object of your fear or take any offensive action against it.

Hindered (Grappled, Prone, Restrained)

  • You have disadvantage on attacks and Dexterity saves.
  • Melee attacks against you have advantage.
  • Ranged attacks against you have disadvantage.
  • If grappled or restrained, your speed is reduced to 0. You can roll Acrobatics or Athletics to escape.

Immobilized (Incapacitated, Paralyzed, Petrified, Stunned, Unconscious)

  • You can’t move, speak, or take actions of any kind.
  • Attacks against you automatically hit.
  • You automatically fail all saving throws.
  • If you’re petrified, you have resistance to all damage and any poison or disease in your system stops affecting you (it starts affecting you again as soon as you stop being petrified).

Exhaustion

The rules for how much exhaustion you gain due to lack of water, sleep, and food are convoluted and make little sense. Here’s a simpler system, which is also closer to the real-world effects of dehydration, sleep deprivation, and starvation:

  • Gain 1 level of exhaustion after 1 day with no water.
  • Gain 1 level of exhaustion after 2 days with no sleep.
  • Gain 1 level of exhaustion after 3 days with no food.

Exhaustion gained in this way does not “stack.” For example, if you’re already gaining exhaustion due to lack of water, you can ignore any exhaustion you would gain from lack of sleep or food.

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