This last Monday, as some of you may or may not know, was Halloween. Halloween…the legendary night of spooks, monsters, and copious amounts of candy. While this fall holiday caught me admittedly by surprise this year (I didn’t even have a proper costume!), it did get me thinking back on a certain tabletop RPG chock full of monsters and magic and how, through the concept of homebrew, it can be tailor made to fit any festivity!
Homebrew, at least in D&D, can be loosely defined as, “any campaign in which the DM has cobbled together what he wants in his game. This can be a mix of published material and custom-created material,” according to en.world.org. Simply put, to homebrew something is to bend the official rules of the game in order to create something new, often to fit a particular situation. For instance, there are homebrew monsters created just for Halloween…like this Pumpkin King posted on dnd-5e-homebrew.tumblr.com this last monday which inspired this post!
The Great Pumpkin is real, Charlie Brown! Sorry…couldn’t resist. But, this monster and others like the Timekeeper or Evil Doll (Dungeons & Dragons Memes) are just a few examples of the amazing things that can come from the mind of a creative DM. Homebrew monsters can make a stagnant campaign lively once more by giving the players something new they’ve never encountered before or keep veteran players who have slain every creature in the Monster Manual on their toes by throwing them up against a foe only the DM knows the strengths and weaknesses of. Like in the case of a Halloween campaign like the Pumpkin King was designed for, homebrew can provide a unique experience separate from your usual dragon-slaying and damsel-saving.
Homebrew doesn’t just apply to monsters, though. DMs can homebrew classes and races as well. A famous homebrew class (in my opinion) is that of the Witch Hunter, created by Matthew Mercer (geekandsundry.com). Mercer is a well-loved voice actor and DM of the popular D&D YouTube show, Critical Roll, by Geek&Sundry. For a Halloween special of their weekly Thursday session featuring guest star, Vin Diesel, Mercer homebrewed the Witch Hunter class for Diesel in honor of his latest movie, The Last Witch Hunter (geekandsundry.com). You can watch the special here (I highly recommend it!)
This class offered a unique combination of melee fighting with crossbows and spellcasting with blood magic, a homebrew style of magic drawing power from the caster’s own body. After the special, Mercer shared this new class online so other DMs around the world could add it to their own campaigns as an option for their players to play.
This brings me to the darker side of homebrew (to carry on with the creepy Halloween vibe I’ve got going). As homebrew deliberately breaks the rules, there aren’t any true restrictions to prevent imbalance. A certain homebrew monster might be near impossible to defeat by even the most skilled PCs or a homebrew class might get twice as many skills, proficiencies, and spells as any other class. While usually not intended in malicious spirit, these can tilt the campaign wildly in or out of the PCs’ favor, sometimes even “breaking” the session and spoiling the whole group’s fun. This is why most homebrew material is thoroughly play-tested by experienced D&D players before it is released online, in order to make sure the content is balanced and find out what must be changed if it isn’t. Some untested homebrew material is uploaded on online wikis or reddit with merely a warning to use at your own risk.
Sadly, in my experience with D&D 5e, there is a LOT of homebrew material out there…much of it poorly written or unbalanced. However, that should not discourage DMs and PCs, both newbie and veteran, from looking into homebrew material for their campaigns. Homebrew adds something wild and new to spice up a session, but like any spice, it should be used in moderation. After all, all those D&D rulebooks and supplements were made with the intention that players actually use them. Still whether it be a Halloween Pumpkin King or a Christmas St. Nick Demon (they DO exist), D&D homebrew is sure to give an interesting twist to any game.