D&D homebrew content allows game masters to craft custom encounters tailored to their players’ interests and personalities, making the game more engaging and immersive for everyone at the table.
In this article, we’ll dive into the world of homebrewing and explore the best practices for creating your own custom content, whether you’re a seasoned GM or just starting out.
Grab your dice and get ready to enhance your game with our crash course in homebrewing!
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
Time to Brew Up Some Adventure!
Why We Use D&D Homebrew
People homebrew for different reasons, but I posit that the majority of game masters want to create custom content for one of the following reasons:
- Premade adventures for our chosen system are too stale, vague, or “samey”
- Our players love a certain type of content, and instead of spending a jillion hours reading other content looking for it, we make it ourselves
- An example of this at my table is my players LOVE extended roleplaying sessions with nobility and lots of political intrigue. So I’ve used Dragon Heist as a shell, and homebrewed pretty much the entire interior.
- We want more flavor, humor, or pizazz in a specific scenario
- We want more challenging puzzles or battles
- We enjoy the creative aspect
- We like the feeling of ownership or control
D&D homebrew is designed to improve the game for our players and for ourselves. It makes the game richer and more fun. Let’s start with an example.
A D&D Homebrew Example
Below is a map I made to replace the lord and lady’s bedroom in the Gralhund estate from the previously mentioned Dragon Heist. If you’re familiar with the cannon, you’ll see lots of issues with the map I made.
I know it’s the wrong shape for the house. I know it doesn’t make architectural sense. I don’t care. This room is what I envisioned in my mind, and my players had a total blast with it. It also had lots of details and puzzles that were not in the official adventure.
Aside to new or nervous GMs: You do not have to stick to the story content in your adventure module. Embellish, elaborate, and have fun with it! You can start with small chunks, like a room or an encounter, and go from there.
The first D&D homebrew content I made was a strange room added to an already existing cultist base. After that went well, I learned from my experience and gained confidence.
New DM Tip: When you start homebrewing, keep the overarching story until you feel confident enough to wiggle around a bit more within the provided structure.
Story and Map Changes
In the D&D homebrew map example below, instead of allowing the story-central item to be stolen from my players as the adventure suggested (which I knew my table would find irritating) they found what they were looking for in a chest that was rigged with Magic Mouth.
This triggered an alarm and two stone defenders came out of the alcove on the north side of the room. The spooky, magically dark room adjacent to it had two succubi and an incubus in it.
I didn’t explain why they were there, but around the bed there are some clothing articles, a mirror, a banana, and some alcohol. My players made their own inferences and thought this was hilarious, and they ended up risking life and limb to get the banana on the bedside table. They almost wiped because of it!
Had I just used the incredibly lame stock map provided in the Dragon Heist adventure module, not only would they have to chase down another NPC with the story-central item, (which was getting so old by now, I assure you) but they would have found basically nothing of interest in this room. What is the point of a heist if they don’t get anything?
GM Aside on Running Dragon Heist
Aside: If you are considering running Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, I have a couple of things for you to consider. First, if your players love the idea of living in a big fantasy city, owning a tavern, and hobnobbing with nobility, this is a great adventure option.
Dragon Heist is not an adventure module I would recommend to first-time DMs, because it is extremely open-ended in nature. I have basically created an entire living city for my players to bounce around in. The module as-is doesn’t provide enough specific content, in my opinion.
Additionally, Dragon Heist does not include any actual heisting. Seriously. You will have to homebrew that yourself or use someone else’s plans. It’s called Dragon Heist because the story references a heist that happened before your players begin their adventure. My players wanted to heist, so I built in several, including this one to the Gralhund estate.
Alternate Dragon Heist Story Help
If you want to run a popular alternate (better) version of Dragon Heist than the printed original, I highly recommend you check out the remix on The Alexandrian.
Make sure you poke around here on Malice Inn & Tavern, too! I’ve got lots of resources to make your game time fun and easy to run.
When You Use D&D Homebrew…
Below I have a few guidelines for implementing D&D homebrew in your own game.
Create (or Find) Original, Engaging Content
That’s the point of D&D hombrew content. If you are having trouble lighting a creative spark, I suggest you head over to Reddit. Pose a few questions in a subreddit for your system and see what others come up with. People can be so clever and often love to help. I have done this plenty of times.
Feel free to also comment below on this site. I’d be happy to give you my opinion and help, if I can.
Customize Content for Your Players and Their Backstories
This is such a cool way to make your players feel like rock stars.
When you incorporate elements of a player’s backstory into the main campaign, they feel remembered, special, and included. Just make sure you try to include each player. I know it can be a little harder if you have a big group, or if some of the backstories aren’t as fleshed out.
Embellish Boring, Tropey, or Predictable Content
This really ties into the first point. One of my favorite ways to incorporate homebrew is to use the story that’s already in my selected adventure.
I like doing this because I get to add more interesting content without having to do an entire overhaul of the story. I only have so much time, and I have to prioritize the changes I make.
Incorporate Your Personality and Sense of Humor
This is so important. You are running this game, and that’s a huge part of what makes it special and different from other games your players may enjoy.
Put in your own weird NPCs. Put your own flair on a location. Incorporate hints from a funny inside joke you have with your group. This gives your game extra life and makes it more engaging for everyone at the table.
Make it Fun for Yourself, Especially
This might be the most important item in this list.
If you don’t like the game you are running, you probably won’t run it for very long. Facilitating a game takes a lot of time and effort, and if it’s not rewarding to you, it’s just not going to last. That means everyone suffers.
Your game should be extremely appealing to you, especially.
Why I Recommend These D&D Homebrew Habits
Great D&D homebrew content will look different to different GMs. If you watch the celebrity games, you might find some similarities to what they do and prefer compared to your own table, but you’ll see a lot of differences, too. That’s okay. Good, even. You don’t want to carbon copy someone else’s game. You want to run the game that is best for you and your players.
At my table, there are no fewer than forty super weird, funny NPCs as of this writing. (Not exaggerating.) I love it. My players love it.
You might not want a lot of humor at your table, though. Maybe you want a serious horror vibe, or something with romantic undertones. Maybe you’re running a gritty, serious sci-fi campaign and the only “jokes” are one-liners before someone gets annihilated. That’s cool, too. You do you.
The “Avoid It” List
There is a dark side to homebrewed content, too. Here are a few pointers of what to avoid, in my opinion.
And as a disclaimer before we begin, there ARE sometimes exceptions to these things. The idea is that the game should be played in the spirit of fun, fairness, and acceptance of others.
If you’re not doing that, or if you’re being blatantly disrespectful to your players, it’s not a good thing. No amount of you trying to defend your actions will change anyone’s mind if you’re simply being a jerk.
Don’t Change Rules in order to Punish Your Players or “Win”
Sorry to break it to you. You, GM, cannot “win.” You are not playing to win or lose. You are playing to facilitate and moderate. This by definition means you should be a neutral party.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. It’s fun to play the villains and use great tactics with monsters to present a challenging and accurate account of how the creatures would behave. That’s the point–to create a challenge for your players. It’s fun for them, too! (Or, it’s supposed to be. Totally different conversation if they’re the ones trying to game the system.)
If you are changing rules to nerf your player’s coolest and most favorite skills, or to make your monsters win more easily, you are not playing neutrally.
Here’s a Quick Fix!
Instead of doing that, how about you study tactics and build more challenging encounters? Then your players get to keep their OP skill that you may dislike, and you get to provide an engaging, genuinely challenging encounter that doesn’t feel like your players can just “cheat” their way through it.
Don’t Alienate Members of Your Table Purposefully
I don’t need to tell you why this is a terrible idea. If you want to kick someone out of your game, have the guts to do it in a civil, straightforward way. Everyone will respect you more for it.
Don’t Create Content Your Players Will Find Offensive
If you’re into things that your players are not, that’s fine. I’m not here to judge you. But you should not force your wants and needs on your players and make them uncomfortable.
Make sure you’ve completed a safety kit or checklist if you or your players have spicy interests you want to bring to the table. MCDM has a good one.
Don’t Roll Around in Your Own Personal Fantasyland… Alone
Please consider your players’ interests, involvement, and backstories when creating D&D homebrew content. You should indulge yourself, too, as I talked about above, but your content shouldn’t be strictly dictated by a party of one.
There are too many cringey stories of Dungeon Masters using their game time as a way to play out their personal fantasies on all sorts of topics. This really isn’t the right venue for that behavior.
Don’t Change Major Story Elements Without Providing Continuity
This is actually more for you than your players. If you are making up crazy stuff all the time and it doesn’t tie into an overarching story, you will find you have tons of loose ends and no real direction. It’s not a good place to be.
Why I Suggest to Steer Clear of These Homebrew Habits
The point of playing a tabletop game with other humans is to have fun with them. If you use your GM powers for evil instead of good, you’ll risk ruining the game experience for your players. This means you could lose them.
And you do, in fact, need them to show up.
My real gripe with this, though, is that if you trash the game experience for your players, there’s a chance you will turn them away from the hobby. In my opinion, part of your duty as a Dungeon Mater is to nurture your players and game time to increase the hobby’s popularity and inclusion. If there’s no interest in the hobby, no one plays. Including you and me.
If you treat your players poorly, you’re tarnishing the hobby for them. Is that really what you want to be remembered for? I think you can do better than that.
Fun Homebrew Resources
Here are some awesome resources to suppliment your D&D homebrew content.
Things to Read
Adventurer’s Guild System | A premade Adventurer’s Guild and a method for keeping it relevant to your players in game
The Field of Triumph | Events and mini-games to run in your session, intended for a colosseum or open space. It’s continually updated, so keep checking back!
Fleemo’s Discount Liquids Cart | An unusual potion vendor NPC with a system to upgrade stock over time based on coin spent.
The Lorekeep | A repository of premade NPCs with images and stories to include in your campaign.
Fantasy Calendar | Great for setting up events or timelines within your campaign. I use this every session.
DnD Speak | Phenomenal resource of D100 lists. I am constantly here. I was also a Patron for a while; check out their Patreon for even more content.
Goblin Punch | Creative blog with loads of fun and funny content to add to your game. Their content on the False Hydra has been enormously impactful in my main game.
Things to Buy
RPG Gamemaster’s Worldbuilding Guide by James D’Amato | Full of prompts and ideas to get you started if you want to build an entire world for your game.
Leuchtturm 1917 | A plain notebook with creamy paper. Comes in lined, dotted, or graph paper style. I have about six of these in different sizes and colors, all organized for different uses. They are great for keeping campaign notes separated and organized by game.
Closing Thoughts on D&D Homebrew Content
Incorporating custom content into your game can be a blast for both players and GMs, and can increase player engagement in ways that pre-written adventures may not. Who doesn’t love to see an Easter egg or subtle reference to an inside joke from the group at the table?
It’s important to remember that D&D homebrew is not just about creating content that you think is cool; it’s about tailoring the game to your players’ interests, too. By taking the time to understand your players and what makes them excited to sit at your table each session, you can create a game that they’ll continually look forward to joining.
Have strong opinions about this? I’d love to read about them in the comments below.
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