The Personal Touch of Homebrew and Homebrew Items
Rules and regulations form the balance of any and every game, D&D is no exception. Since the creation and publishing of the first edition in 1974, several players and Dungeon Masters (DMs) have consistently pushed the boundaries and possibilities of the game.
Even until today, in its 5th edition, players and DMs have continued to innovate and add their own bits and pieces of rules and mechanics to their vanilla game. Adding these personal touches that grant the availability of customization is, in essence, what D&D homebrew is all about.
Just about every aspect of a home D&D can be tinkered with and customized at the table’s discretion; everything from monsters, classes, and even the entire world and premise could be a far cry from the original fantasy-themed world that Wizards of the Coast (WoTC) introduced to us decades ago.
That being said, items are no exception. Although WoTC has already provided us with many items, not all of them may perfectly fit what the DM or player may be looking for. That is when the homebrew is introduced into items.
Today several compendiums and lists of custom items can be found across the internet, shared by many enthused DMs and players.
Some of the most famous examples of expanded item compendiums include but are not limited to the books and sources of Griffon Saddle Bag and Matthew Mercer’s Explorer’s Guides, which include the Vestiges of Divergence seen in the Critical Role series.
The DnD Homebrew Weapons ideas will add flare to the story and can even be used as significant plot points for the campaign, infinitely improving the table’s experience when utilized properly.
My Experience with Homebrew Items
I have played in hosted a hand few homebrew one-shots and short and long D&D campaigns in my seven-year stint with D&D. Through this time, the most reliable ways I’ve seen to introduce home brew items are through crafting and campaign or world-specific lore.
While my primary approach to innovating or making my own homebrew items as a player and Dungeon Master is inspired by pop culture, class limitations, and “craftable” loot and parts.
The Art of Crafting & “Craftables”
While the utilization of Lore, world and campaign-specific items are already relatively self-explanatory. As a Dungeon Master who is heavily inspired by the many crafting systems found in games like Monster Hunter, Terraria, Moonlighter, Remnant From The Ashes, and the like.
I’ve always enjoyed utilizing the many fantastical creatures that the ever-expanding bestiary Wizards of the Coast, as well as many other talented DMs in D&D Beyond and DM’s Guild, have published and shared for other DMs such as myself to expand and endlessly add flavor to my campaign.
Outside of adding a near-infinite amount of possible combat encounters, the creatures themselves have also become a treasure trove to the players of my table.
Rather than buying or finding Dragon Slaying blades or Elemental resistant armor, slaying an Adult or Ancient Red could grant the party a fire-resistant armor from its scales and hide, while a fire aspect weapon, focus, or magic item can be born from its heart, blood, and claws.
Lastly, even its eyes could be used for an amulet or transplant that grants the user dark vision, blind fighting, or even true sight for a limited amount of uses.
Although I don’t mean to discount the available crafting system provided by the published books of Wizards of the Coast, I personally found them limiting, if not overbearing or too complex for less seasoned players to swallow.
By expanding, augmenting, and testing the ability to craft or use craftables, homebrew items of all varieties can be introduced to make the at times strict, stringent, and by the books vanilla campaigns more personalized and flavorful for the table we find ourselves in.
It would then be up to the DM and the players to see if they’d want to have such a system in their home campaign, but the crafting system and, by extension, the use of salvaged parts and craftables is one I have as a static system throughout my own.
A more well-known example of the use of expansive and elaborate crafting is in Matthew Mercer’s Critical Role. This is seen mainly through the character of Percival De Rolo, who, under Matt’s approval, tinkered with a plethora of items from the element infused Pepper Box to the Bad News and Diplomacy (C1E24).
Matthew would continue to use crafting in campaign two when the party finally reforge the Star Razor (Dwueth’Var) blade (C2E77) with the use of a home brew crafting material, Iceflex (C2E73).
Since D&D’s inception, there were already several classes and races that were flavored behind the guise of “tinkerer,” “craftsmen,” “artisan,” “inventor,” and the likes. It was only up to us as players and DMs to expand upon the already rich canvas that Wizards of the Coast provided.
Some Personal Rules I Follow
Homebrew is undoubtedly a mixed bag; the fact that there are no limits to homebrew serves as a significant driving force to create and improvise, but also an equal opportunity for one overpowered addition to blow up the carefully kept balance of the original rules and mechanics out of the water.
That being said, here are some rules my table follows.
Nothing should be Set in Stone!
Don’t be afraid to retcon, rollback, and change an item that may be too powerful after testing. As a DM, don’t be paralyzed by fear of ruining the immersion caused by this decision; in the long run, it would be more beneficial to the entire party.
As a player, understand that the power is fun, but the power creep that follows, and the loss of balance that ultimately follows isn’t worth sacrificing what’s left of the campaign.
Test the Item!
Utilize one-shots or mock encounters to check and balance out the numbers and effects of the item before fully implementing it in the campaign.
As both player and DM, it is important to properly digest the information you are giving to each other to settle with what both parties deem to be the most balanced item, nothing so weak or mundane that the players will never use, but nothing so strong that it becomes the be all end all for the group.
This is more towards when a DM or player wants to propose or introduce an entirely new item to the game, something inspired by other pop culture or media (i.e., video games, anime, manga, etc.)
Here it helps to understand and look back to the core mechanics and ask how this item that is at the moment only an idea translates mechanically. How much damage would it do? What other abilities does this weapon have, how would the campaign make sense of these abilities? Etc.
If the Shoe Fits!
Although seemingly obvious, it is important not to get lost in simply introducing and making more and more homebrew items; it pays to stop and ask if these items even make sense in the context of the campaign? Generally, when I make items, I always consult the world it is being born into.
From what, how, and who could make such an item? If I’m unable to answer those simple questions, then it’s likely that it wouldn’t fit within the setting of the campaign.
Arcane/Mystical/Elemental Coating [Uncommon to Rare]
Inspired by the Monster Hunter and Witcher franchise, the use of said coatings will allow the weapon it is applied to the aspect of that coating.
Although coatings are not the most novel ideas seeing as poisons come as the obvious goto when speaking of them, this variety allows early leveled characters to get a glimpse of the more powerful abilities they can wield as they progress.
An example of such coating would be something along the lines of a “vile of flame aspects,” where a red or gold dragon’s blood was enchanted to retain its vigor.
As it coats the weapon, it would give the weapon the same power as a Flame Togue Weapon, adding 2d6 fire damage to the weapon as it sheds light in 40 feet for 10 minutes as the coating is applied.
Other examples could be the ability to temporarily grant the weapon a +1 or 2 as residual arcane energy is manifested in a liquid essence to empower a weapon or three pieces of munition.
This item is meant to be something that can be bought, rewarded, commissioned, or crafted given the right circumstances early on in levels 1-5 (Tier 1) up to levels 6-10 (Tier 2), where it would begin to lose relevance.
Everchanging Weapon [Rare]
Who would say no to a good swiss army knife? Why wouldn’t any self-respecting adventurer want all physical damage types at the tip of their fingertips?
Forged in the workshop of a great Artificer, the Everchanging Weapon, once received, can be set to one slashing, piercing, and bludgeoning weapon of the wielder’s choosing. As an action, the wielder can twist the handle and have it change into the weapon of their choosing.
The wielder may visit an Artificer to reset the weapon, so they may choose a different set of slashing, piercing or bludgeoning weapons. Any enchantment later added to the weapon (i.e., +1, Vicious, Vorpal, etc.) would be applied to each of the three forms.
This weapon is one that has the potential to scale in both power and rarity, depending on its enchantment, and is good for characters from levels 1 to 20 (Tier 1 to Tier 4).
B.I.G. (Barely Innovative Gadget) Claymore [Uncommon]
Inspired by the Manhwa Arcane Sniper, this item was made by a Gunslinger I created. Made from a steel pot, 20 pounds of black powder, shards of scrap metal, flints, and a spool of steel wires worth 20ft, this makeshift semi-remote triggered explosive helped me in a base defense type encounter.
- Item Damage: 5d10 Fire Damage
- Effective Range: 40ft Cone
See also: Gunslinger 5e Guide.
Mask of Many Expressions [Rare]
Said to have been worn by an infamous College of the Whisper’s bard whose name has been erased from history. This mask can serve as a bardic instrument for the intention of casting spells.
- Grant the wearer advantage to deception checks, while those unable to see the wearer’s face have a disadvantage to insight checks on the wearer.
- Grants the wearer the Vicious Mockery cantrip if they do not have it already.
- Allows the wearer to cast Vicious Mockery without the verbal component.
Devouring Grimore [Very Rare/Legendary] [Attunment] [Cursed]
A dark, wretched sentient grimoire fueled by the wizard’s greed (or sorcerer/warlock).
- Consume tomes and scrolls and receive the spell/s within them, adding them to the spells known by the book.
- Each day the wielder will be given free use of a level 1, 2, and 3 spells that the book knows at the base level. The book itself can also function as an arcane focus or wizard tome.
Curse: The owner of the grimoire, consumed by greed, will prioritize pursuing arcane knowledge over anything and everything.
Vagrant Dagger [Dagger] [Very Rare] [Attunement]
Inspired by the Wondering Vagrant from Risk of Rain 2, this dagger was crafted from the feelers of a slain Wondering Vagrant alongside precious gems of sapphire and quarts. Other powerful and ancient lighting and thunder-type creatures could also be used to make the weapon.
- Item Damage: 1d4 Slashing and 2d4 Lighting
- Properties: Finesse
- This weapon is considered a +1 weapon
- At the end of a long rest (LR), the user may choose to be resistant to thunder OR lighting
- On a critical strike, impose a DC 19 Constitution save, or the victim suffers the effects of being deafened
- Allows the user to cast Thunderstep once/LR
Omen of Storms [Short Bow] [Very Rare] [Attunement]
Based on the Storm Boomerang, this bow was crafted from an ancient oak tree that finally fell after a thunderstorm. It was said that as the rain poured, the tree was ravaged by lightning.
When the storm subsided, it was found that the tree retained the power from the lighting that struck it and was later made into a bow.
- Item Damage: 1d6 Piercing
- Effective Range: 80/320 feet
- This weapon is considered a +1 weapon
- When using this weapon, the user may call out a magical phrase imbuing the next shot with lighting. On a successful attack, the weapon will deal an additional 3d4 lightning damage and impose a DC 10 con save. On a failure, the target is stunned until the end of the user’s next turn. This ability can be used equal to the user’s proficiency modifier recharging on a Long Rest.
- During a thunderstorm, the bow regains all its used charges.
Doppelganger Clay [Rare]
Made from the highest quality clay and enchanted by a school Transmutation and Illusion wizard, this item, upon coming into contact with a vial of blood, will take the exact form of the blood’s owner.
The newly created Doppelganger has half the hit points of the original and retains all the original’s abilities but none of their items. The Doppelganger remains active for 24 hours until their hit points are zero, or they meet the owner of the blood they ingested.
Sabre of Woeful Winds [Rapier] [Very Rare] [Attunement]
Based on the Sword of Wounding and Schimitarof speed, this age-old weapon one meant for the finest assassins. Be it a family heirloom passed down from one assassin to the next or a dark, desolate blade that finds its way from one vagrant to the next, this weapon is tailor-made for finesse fighters, if not assassins.
- Item Damage: 1d6 Slashing or Piercing and 1d4 Necrotic
- Properties: Finesse, Light
- This weapon is considered a +2 weapon
- You can use a bonus action to attack again with this weapon on each turn.
- Hit points lost to this weapon can only be regained in a short or long rest.
Dawning Willow [Staff/Hammer] [Legendary] [Attunement]
Be it in the form of a quarter staff or a hammer, this weapon is one of the celestial and draconic origins. Made from celestine gold and steel tempered by an ancient gold dragon’s breath and wood from an ancient stalwart tree, this item can channel the ability of its celestial and draconic heritage.
- Item Damage: 1d10 Bludgeoning & 2d6 Radiant OR Fire
- Properties: Martial
- This weapon is considered a +2 weapon
- This weapon can choose to have Radiant or Fire damage at the beginning of each day
- The weapon is also considered a holy symbol for the sake of spell casting
- Once a day, the item can cast Shield of Faith and Beacon of Hope at base level without consuming a spell slot.
Question: Can I / Should I Introduce a Homebrew Item or Character to a Different Table?
Answer: There is no reason not to; however, be mindful of the item’s context and character, and ask if they’ll fit the table you’re trying to bring them to. When in doubt, you can always talk to the DM about it, and if they say no, then respectfully follow suit.
Question: How do we Know when Something is Campaign-breaking?
Answer: There is no one answer for this, but signs such as one turn killing (OTK) a boss or encounter, rarely missing or a sudden decline or increase in the difficulty of sessions are some of the more obvious signs of a broken item.
On the side of the DM, if you find yourself having to adjust the campaign around or due to the items, then that may also be a reason to bring up specific changes to the table regarding these items.
Question: When should I Introduce Homebrew Items to My Campaign?
Answer: I would suggest doing so if the table you are DMing for, as well as you yourself as a DM, have a good amount of experience with vanilla D&D.
Aside from this; hopefully, the table has an understanding and have a good set of ground rules, and that the table is comfortable and mature enough to share ideas and criticisms with one another. Even then, gradually introduce these ideas and utilize them in moderation till the table is comfortable with them.
When done in moderation, homebrew items can be a wonderful addition to any campaign. It can scratch the itch for players that just aren’t content with what is readily available and overall bring a sense of identity to the table.
There are dozens upon dozens of ways to approach homebrew items, but it is important to know when these additions are beginning to harm the campaign more than help it.
That being said, there is an endless source of ideas and concepts ready to be found and explored; I can only hope that in reading this article, I was able to provide you with some ideas for you to propose to your DM or make for your player to find in an encounter.
The best part is that even these items aren’t set in stone. If certain aspects or details do not fit what you have in mind, just change it! That, at the end of the day, is what makes homebrew, homebrew.