D&D Homebrew Explained: What Does Homebrew Mean?

Dungeons and Dragons is one of the most popular tabletop games in the world, boasting an estimated 13.7 million players worldwide. First released in 1974, the game has gone through many iterations, with ruleset changes ranging from tweaks to redesigns in order to make the game easier and more fun to play.

While D&D is one of the world’s first mainstream TTRPGs, the game differs from many others in the genre by the sheer freedom it offers players. 

While Dungeons and Dragons has always had an official setting, called the Forgotten Realms, as well as officially published races, classes, backgrounds, and other character creation material to choose from, the rules of D&D have never limited players to just published materials.

Under the framework of the D&D ruleset, players are able to play with game material that they’ve created themselves. In the D&D fan community, fan-made game material is referred to as “homebrew.” Homebrew can include material such as:

  • Campaigns
  • Settings
  • Races
  • Classes
  • Backgrounds
  • Feats

Some of the best D&D campaigns have featured homebrew rules, and the ability to create your own material is one of the reasons why D&D has remained the most popular tabletop role-playing game in the world since its release. 

So, whether you’re an experienced D&D fanatic or a beginner just starting to enter the world of Dungeons and Dragons, here’s everything you need to know about homebrew.

History of D&D Homebrew

D&D Homebrew

Outside of D&D, the term “homebrew” is an English word that typically refers to alcoholic beverages, usually beer, that are brewed at home rather than by a professional brewery. Homebrew drinks allowed amateur brewers to add their own preferred twists and flavors to their alcohol, rather than having to choose from the limited options at the store. 

Since 2003, D&D fans have been using the term “homebrew” to refer to homemade game material. The first use of the term in this context is most often attributed to an online user by the username of “kexizzoc87.” This user described his custom D&D campaign as his “homebrew campaign” on a web forum to distinguish it from official campaign materials. 

By 2005, Wizards of the Coast (the company which acquired Dungeons and Dragons in 1997 from founding company TSR) had begun using the term in articles on its official website. While the term “homebrew” may have only been used since 2003, homemade content has been used in Dungeons and Dragons since the inception of the game in 1974. 

In fact, the game has actually required player-made game material since the very first official release, with the Men and Magic source booklet, published with the original release of the game, stating that “…the referee must draw out a minimum of half a dozen maps…” when explaining the rules of a particular campaign for the game.

While initially Dungeons and Dragons only officially encouraged players to make their own game materials for published source material, that didn’t stop players from making their own content right off the bat. 

However, while the game was under the purview of TSR, the company retained trademark rights over the source material of the game and so players were precluded from using homebrew material that borrowed from the official source material in any official setting.

This changed upon the acquisition of D&D by Wizards of the Coast. With the release of the third edition of the game, WoTC released their trademark rights to a significant portion of the game under an Open Gaming License, which allowed fans to create and even sell homemade D&D material without needing permission from WoTC or paying royalties. 

By 2017, WoTC had released the website D&D Beyond, which functioned as an official online database for players to submit and share homebrew material with the rest of the fanbase.

Differences Between Homebrew and Unearthed Arcana

Differences Between Homebrew and Unearthed Arcana

When talking about any unofficial D&D source material, there are two different categories that must be distinguished from one another:

  1. Homebrew
  2. Unearthed Arcana 

First, there’s homebrew, which refers to any fan-made D&D source material. Then there’s what WoTC calls “Unearthed Arcana,” which refers to D&D source material released by WoTC for the purposes of playtesting in preparation for an official release. 

In essence, Unearthed Arcana is material that has been created by Wizards of the Coast, but is not ready to be officially published in a sourcebook and therefore not official D&D source material yet. 

Unearthed Arcana has not undergone the rigorous playtesting that WoTC uses to ensure published materials are fair, non-gamebreaking, and balanced. This playtesting occurs at official D&D events, but the material is released online for everyone to try out in the meantime.

Some notable recent Unearthed Arcana releases for D&D 5E include:

Homebrew, on the other hand is entirely created by players, and will never be officially tested or produced by WoTC themselves. This means that homebrew is usually less mature compared to both Unearthed Arcana and any officially published materials. That does not mean that homebrew is inherently worse than official materials, though. 

While homebrew usually doesn’t have the advantage of being played by millions of people with professionals analyzing how the material interacts with all the other material published for the game, creators of homebrew are often extremely dedicated and take great pains to ensure their homemade content is fun and as balanced as possible.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Homebrew

Advantages of Homebrew

Of course, as popular as homebrew is, there are some pros and cons of using it. Let’s go ahead and weigh some of those now.

The Advantages of Homebrew

  • Homebrew game material allows players to achieve their wildest dreams in the world of Dungeons and Dragons, ranging from flavored races with some tweaks to completely new class ideas. 
  • If you wanted to play a vampire necromancer or a half-Celestial detective, you can create those character options under the D&D ruleset and play out whatever your imagination can think up. 

The Disadvantages of Homebrew

  • Creating completely untested game material without guidelines or limitations can obviously have significant problems if you want to have a balanced campaign with actual dangers and limitations. Most Dungeon Masters require players to submit homebrew well in advance for campaigns for approval, if they even allow homebrew material at all. 
  • Creating any kind of original balanced homebrew presents immense challenges. D&D under any edition involves a huge and complicated set of rules, and determining how character features and new rules interact with every other published rule is near impossible to do for a single person. 
  • Even WoTC depends on data from millions of actual players playtesting new material to see how new classes and races change the balance of the game.
  • An amateur creating homebrew material can accidentally end up creating vastly overpowered or underpowered characters, disrupting the balance of the game and making it less fun for themselves or other players. 

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t use homebrew, or that you need to be a D&D expert to create your own homebrew.

What you do need to keep in mind though, is that any homebrew material must be approved by your DM. They might choose to make changes to your homebrew rules in order to increase or decrease your character’s power level, or remove your homebrew from the game entirely if they think it’s affecting the enjoyment of others.

How to Create Your Own Homebrew

How to Create Your Own Homebrew

So, how can you create homebrew with a better chance of avoiding the pitfalls mentioned earlier? That depends on what kind of material you’re trying to create. 

Homebrew campaign settings or lore don’t actually usually affect the dynamics of the game, as they’re just additional flavor for the players to exist in. Rather, a homebrew campaign requires a bit more attention, since you’ll need to be mindful of the power levels of different leveled characters and change the power levels of the enemies in the campaign accordingly.

By not doing that, you run the risk of your players slaughtering their way through your carefully constructed campaign effortlessly, or, conversely, dying in a total party kill in the first twenty minutes. 

Classes and races are the most difficult to create, since they directly affect the power level of characters. Nonetheless, no matter what kind of homebrew material you’re trying to make, you should follow these three guidelines:

  1. Be familiar with the D&D Ruleset for the edition you’re playing
  2. Identify patterns in how published playtest material is designed
  3. Understand how strengths and weaknesses are balanced

First, you should have a good knowledge of the rules of D&D. This doesn’t mean you need to memorize every sourcebook. However, a general knowledge of published classes and races, as well as published campaigns (and enemies), are very helpful to use as a sort of guideline.

Next, you’ll need to understand how published material is balanced. When we talk about balance, we’re talking about finding the ideal point when combining strengths and weaknesses for your character or the campaign, where the game is functioning as intended. Your character isn’t too strong or too weak, and the campaign isn’t too hard or too easy.

While balancing a world for your characters usually just involves decreasing or increasing the stats of the enemies your players encounter, balancing races, or even worse, classes, can be much more tricky. Races and classes affect character features in two main ways: by either raising ability scores, or providing various powers.

In order to create a balanced race or class, you need to consider how your new character features interact with published character features (ie. other races and classes, as well as feats and magical items) and how they compare with the power levels of other races and/or classes.

Additionally, if you’re making a new class, you’ll have to consider how that class’s power level increases as the character levels up. Ideally, you want a homebrewed race or class to be similar in power level to other published races or classes. You can achieve this by controlling the traits granted by your homebrew. 

For races, D&D 5E typically has an established pattern for how races grant bonuses. Usually, you gain +1 or +2 to one, two, or three stats, sometimes pre-selected and sometimes up to the player’s choice, as well as proficiency in one language and some racial features such as darkvision and trance. 

Races also give additional bonuses such as walking, swimming, or flying speeds. It’s important that you try to balance these traits so that your race isn’t more or less powerful than other races. For example, the published elf race has lots of racial features, such as trance and darkvision, but only one racial ability score increase, +2 to Charisma. 

When designing a new class, you should also try to keep the power level of your new class similar to other published classes. Classes rarely actually impose negative effects on characters. Rather, you should be careful to tweak the relative strength of abilities your homebrew class grants. 

For example, you might choose to grant one high-power ability at 1st Level, followed by two low-power abilities at 2nd Level, or two high-power abilities at 1st level and one low-power ability at the second level. 

Of course, the relative strength of abilities is difficult to gauge in isolation, and how your new rules interact with other rules published in the game is very difficult to determine on your own without active playtesting. 

An easier way to create homebrew is to tweak or reskin existing abilities, rather than creating brand new ones. This way, you get to create the unique flavor of whatever you want to play, while still leaning on existing material and abilities to prevent yourself from accidentally creating something overpowered/underpowered.

At the end of the day, creating homebrew should be about creativity and adding flavor and uniqueness to the game, rather than trying to create powerful new classes to sneak past your DM. 

As always, remember that all homebrew material needs to be approved by your DM before you can use it. Some DMs may disallow homebrew entirely! By creating homebrew materially responsibly, you can help ensure homebrew continues to be allowed at your local table or game.

The Very Best of Homebrew

The Very Best of Homebrew

As is always the case with player-created material, the quality of homebrew you’ll find online will vary drastically. Some homebrew creations have become incredibly popular among the D&D community, and have been used in a large variety of campaigns and games with player-feedback. 

Other homebrew material might have been haphazardly tossed together by some kid on a power trip that renders characters utterly unplayable. There are a variety of websites where you can find online homebrew material that people all around the world have shared. 

These include the following: 

While you can probably find all sorts of homebrew material on various fan forums and communities, homebrew found on a reputable source like the websites above tend to have more thought put into them, and are therefore more likely balanced and playable. 

While some homebrew on reputable sites is shared with the community for free, others can require purchase to use. Homebrew material is still technically someone else’s intellectual property, and you shouldn’t use someone else’s work without permission.

While all homebrew can be imaginative and inspirational, here are some of our favorite works of D&D homebrew for Fifth Edition that you can add to your campaign.

Homebrew Campaigns

Homebrew Campaigns

Campaign settings and adventure material provide a world and/or storyline for your characters to play within. All officially published campaign material occurs inside the Forgotten Realms, usually on the continent of Faerun, with legendary locations such as the Sword Coast. 

Three of the more popular homebrew campaigns include:

  • Call from the Deep
  • Into Wonderland: A Feywild Setting Book
  • Eyes Unclouded

Some of the more seasoned D&D veterans know that sometimes playing in the same old places with the same old high-fantasy flavor gets a little old. Here’s a closer look at the three homebrew campaign books that will take your players on adventures beyond their wildest dreams… with unimaginable dangers also.

Call From the Deep

Written by popular Dungeon Master’s Guild contributor JVC Parry, Call from the Deep is a completely new adventure book that takes players on a fantastical adventure through the familiar and iconic Sword Coast, albeit with some very unfamiliar visitors. 

An ethereal ship, otherworldly pirates, and other eldritch horrors await your players in a unique and exciting story. The adventure book is filled with unique and beautiful art and maps, as well as high-quality homebrewed monsters, magic items, and character options, as well as brand new encounters and locations. 

Your players will be sure to embark on a voyage they’ll never forget when they hear the Call from the Deep.

Into Wonderland: A Feywild Setting Book

One of our favorite settings in the published world of D&D is the feywild. There’s something about the beauty and wonder of the place, not to mention the horrors it contains, that has always spoken to me. 

Trouble is, there’s scarcely a published campaign that actually lets players travel to the Feywild! That is, until now. Experienced homebrew author William Rotor finally brings players into the world of the Feywild in his campaign setting book, Into Wonderland

The book takes players into the terrible majesty of the unknown, where magic fills every crevice in a world where fairy tales come to life. 

The book contains a fully homebrewed city setting for players, new rules to add to the game and new storylines and enemies, as well as new races, subclasses, backgrounds, feats, and spells, all carefully homebrewed for a DM to start a campaign with or add to an existing game.

Eyes Unclouded

Japanese animation is world-renowned for producing some of the greatest animation works in the world, with studios such as Studio Ghibli producing fan-favorites that have won the hearts of millions. 

If you’re a fan of classic Japanese animation, you’ll find no better homebrew campaign book than Eyes Unclouded, a brilliant anthology of adventures for D&D 5E inspired by works of classic Japanese animation. From fortresses in the sky to an ancient curse-afflicted forest, Eyes Unclouded is one of the most creative adventure modules ever made. 

The book contains 11 original adventures designed to bring players from 1st to 14th Level, with original art, storylines, and encounters. There are even 8 custom recipes in the back inspired by the adventure book that fans can make at home to snack on during late-night D&D sessions.

Homebrew Races

Homebrew Races

Races are one of the most commonly homebrewed game elements and can add a ton of flavor into the game. Homebrew races allow players to enact all sorts of different character ideas and backstories. 

These homebrew races include:

  • Abomination
  • Animated Armor
  • Fairy

A good homebrew race should be balanced in terms of bonuses, offer plenty of flavor and possibility for character creation, and be well developed and fleshed out. Here are some of the best player-made races on D&D Beyond.

Abomination

Fans of the work of H.P Lovecraft and other classic pieces of existential horror may have often dreamed of playing a character with a truly harrowing backstory, the Abomination offers the perfect chance to do so. 

Abominations are members of other races that have gone through such unspeakable trauma that they’ve had their previous racial traits stripped from them and turned into living monsters.

While some abominations might struggle against their transformation and others might embrace it, there’s no denying the inherent hunger and malice in the Abomination. This homebrew race offers a huge variety of possible backstories and personality traits, all overtly dark and disturbing of course.

The race also includes some fun racial traits, such as shapechanger and eldritch blood, which both offer fun flavor and mechanics for characters. The race is also decently balanced, albeit on the stronger side, with an ability score increase of +1 in strength, dexterity, and intelligence as well as a variety of features.

Animated Armor

If you’ve ever wanted to play a living suit of armor, you’ll be happy to know that someone’s created a full-fledged D&D race to do so! Animated Armors are magical beings, capable of being created in any shape or size. 

Although they may not have sensory organs in the conventional sense, they can experience the world around them through magic just as well as your average adventurer of flesh and blood.  

Although animated suits of armor may seem a tad scary, a fact that the creator of this homebrew did not fail to include in its racial traits, playing as a suit of armor offers some unique advantages, including the ability to lie dormant for hundreds of years and superhuman (well, really non-human) durability. 

This means that your Animated Armor character can have all sorts of fantastic backstories. The racial traits of the Animated Armor are jam-packed with flavor, and with +1 in Constitution and +1 in Strength/Dexterity and a variety of subraces, the race offers a lot of options for character creation.

Fairy

Whether you’ve always dreamed of being a fairy prince/princess, a mischievous trickster (or simply an otherworld spirit), this homebrew fairy class is just the thing for you! 

With a well-developed history, plenty of flavor in its features such as invisibility, shrink and tiny hands, as well as some very playable ability score increase options like +2 in dexterity and +1 in Constitution/Charisma/Strength /Wisdom, this homebrew fairy race is the offers a huge range of backstory and character options.

The entire race is also centered around a nature theme, very fitting for fairies, with interesting and unique subraces. You can choose to be a beautiful butterfly fairy, a fantastical dragonfly fairy, an elegant moth fairy, or a hardy beetle fairy. 

This homebrew fairy race is a perfect blend of flavor, playfulness, and just enough silliness to really nail the esthetic of being a classic fantasy fairy.

Homebrew Classes

Homebrew Classes

Probably the most iconic kind of homebrew material, homebrew classes make up the vast majority of homebrew content on the internet. Classes affect a D&D character the most of all the parts of character creation. 

Furthermore, they can unlock abilities through the entirety of an adventure as a player levels up, meaning they’re exceptionally difficult to create and balance. Fortunately, that also means people spend the most effort creating homebrew classes, leading to some fantastic options, detailed below.

The Blood Hunter

Perhaps the most well-known piece of homebrew content in the entirety of D&D 5E, the Blood Hunter class, created by famous D&D streamer Matthew Mercer, is one of the most well-crafted and balanced homebrew classes ever made, so much so that the class is featured on D&D’s official website, despite remaining outside the official release of the game. 

With a completely unique class ability and mechanics, a huge amount of flavor and potential for backstories — as well as amazing balancing and complexity for a homebrew class — you’ll scarcely find a better option if you want to play a class outside the traditional D&D roundup. 

The Doctor

Another incredibly unique class idea, the Doctor, written by Reddit user EarlGrey, a popular D&D homebrew content creator, the class adds the niche of a non-magical healer to the D&D class roster. 

The class is incredibly well thought up, with plenty of flavor woven into its abilities, which are all impressively playable without being overpowered. The class also features some unique mechanics and abilities that all come together into a highly well thought-up and entertaining class to play.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Where can I Find good D&D Homebrew?

Answer: You can find tons of great homebrew material that other passionate players have made on online platforms, such as Reddit, Twitter, Pinterest, Imgur, and others, as well as D&D’s own homebrew sharing platform, D&D Beyond

If you’re willing to pay for homebrew material, the DM’s Guild and Kobald Print sites are highly reputable sources for quality homebrew material.

Question: What Tools can I Use to Make Homebrew?

Answer: There are all sorts of online tools you can use to write and format homebrew material, including D&D Beyond and The Homebrewery, an open-source tool that helps you to create homebrew that looks incredible and professional. 

As for actually writing D&D homebrew content, having access to published sourcebooks helps a lot, as well as asking online community forums on platforms such as Reddit for advice or feedback.

Question: Should I Play with Homebrew in my Game?

Answer: It depends. If you’re new to playing D&D, or are a new DM, it can be difficult to gauge whether or not any given piece of homebrew material is balanced enough to play as written, or how to tweak homebrew to balance it. 

Homebrew can also be a bit more complicated to play, so beginners to the game should probably stay away. If you really want to play with something new and are okay with potential gamebreaking risks, however, then absolutely! Just be sure you okay any homebrew material with the DM beforehand. 

Question: Is Homebrew Material Allowed for Official D&D Events?

Answer: No, homebrewed content is not part of the official release of the game and therefore is not permitted at D&D Adventurers League events or other official events unless otherwise stated by event organizers.

Question: How Long does it Take to Write Homebrew Material?

Answer: The time it takes to write homebrew can vary wildly between authors based on experience, complexity and just how smoothly the creative process goes for any given project. 

Like all creative endeavors, some homebrew projects can take years to finish, while others are written in a matter of days. It all depends on the individual author and how complex the homebrew is.

Our Final Thoughts

Homebrew is one of the reasons why D&D continues to persist as one of the most popular TTRPGs in the world, and why the game remains so fresh and vibrant even after nearly fifty years since its first publication. 

With D&D homebrew, the characters and stories you can play out are only limited by your imagination, so go out there and start making your wildest dreams come to life right on the board! 

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