So you want to homebrew? Luckily for you, it isn’t that hard. In fact, if you’ve ever DM’d before, you’ve probably already done it! Even so, there are a few things to keep in mind when starting your foray into homebrewing, and hopefully this will help with those.
As a homebrewer, you gain the following features…
To begin, I’d like to get a few general things out of the way.
Firstly, go over and check out /r/UnearthedArcana and /r/dndhomebrew as both are great places to read other homebrew and see the whole process. There are also FAQs on both subreddits that can be of great use.
Secondly, when getting into homebrew it is imperative to remember that some kinds of ‘brew are harder than others. In my mind, the hierarchy generally goes like this:
Minor Character Options (Feats, Eldritch Invocations, Combat Maneuvers)
Items and Up to 2nd Level Spells (including cantrips)
Subclasses and Subraces (for existing classes and races)
3rd – 8th Level Spells
Races and Monsters
9th Level Spells and Epic Boons
Adventures, Cities, and Bosses (monsters with legendary actions)
Lastly, always remember: the best source of anything in homebrewing is the official product! Be as current as you can with Unearthed Arcana articles, keep up with errata, and even consider looking at past editions for inspiration.
Now, let’s get to the main event!
In my own homebrewing process, I begin with a simple idea. This idea is either a theme or a mechanic, or sometimes a combination of both. From there I work out a concept, then a rough draft, and lastly a final draft.
Personally, I generally start out with a theme. That is to say I start out with the narrative half of a homebrew, and I work out the mechanics from there. Each type of homebrew (class, race, spell, feat, etc.) has different requirements for theme, but they all need it.
On the other hand, you can also start with a mechanic idea, rather than a theme. Generally, this would be something that isn’t currently doable in 5e, or isn’t functional/fun. You come up with the mechanical concepts first, and then decide what the theme and narrative behind the numbers is.
Once you have your starting idea, the next step is to supply the other half of the concept. If you have a theme, you need a mechanic; if you have a mechanic, then you need a theme. This is the make-or-break point for me. If I can’t figure out at least one mechanical implementation of a theme, I’m through. And if I can’t find a good narrative for a mechanic, I’m equally screwed.
Solidifying a Concept
Once you’ve got a concept, the next step is to flesh it out. Different types of homebrew require different levels of fleshing out – for a feat or an item, you might be able to skip right to the end! But for most other things, you need to figure out a few basics first.
For a subclass, the best thing to do is plot out which levels said class gets subclass features. That way, you can fit your original feature ideas in where they most make sense, and simultaneously understand what general power level any other features would need to be.
Classes are much the same, only in reverse. When you have a class concept, you need to first figure out which levels you want various class features (including subclass features) to come at – deciding on at least two subclasses is also a good idea. Skills, proficiencies, and starting equipment are other good choices for early preparations.
Both races and subraces are fairly easy. If your original concept didn’t include which ability score the race gets a bonus to, then that’s a good place to start. Also, writing out the physical description of the race can be a huge help to envisioning what other features they should have. Unlike classes, races don’t require subclasses… but if you want some, getting a vague idea of them now is good.
Spells are the most formulaic of all. After your general concept, you just need to figure out the casting specifics. What’s the cast time? The duration? Range, components, school of magic? It’s also good to figure out whether or not the spell will have additional effects when cast at higher levels.
After deciding the basics, I like to draft up a skeleton view of the creation so I can visually assess what’s needed to continue. Plot out the things you don’t have, and put anything you do have, no matter how vague, into the framework. From there, you can begin to finish up the ‘brew.
Balance the Books
Let’s have a short aside and talk about balance. Ultimately, it’s the most important part of any homebrew creation.
For right now, though, it’s probably the last thing you need to work on. Balance is a finicky and sensitive business, and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To really balance things, you need to have more sets of eyes looking it over. And to get multiple sets of eyes on it… you need to have a finished product.
That being said, my rule of thumb for rough draft balance is to go weak whenever possible. It’s easier to make something stronger than it is to make it weaker.
Once you’ve got a concept, the next step is to choose a way to make it. There are plenty of options – almost any robust image editor could be used, and you can use a plain old Word document if you want.
The most popular options seem to be Photoshop, the Homebrewery, and GM Binder. These all allow you to make prettier homebrew, featuring images and backgrounds, which is nice but not necessary. The Homebrewery and GM Binder are also really easy to use with minimal photo editing skills, which is good for people who haven’t ever messed around with Photoshop before.
Personally, I use the Homebrewery. I’ve been using it since it was first released, and I’m quite fond of it. That being said, it appears to have fallen out of development, so there’s no telling how long it’ll remain usable.
My advice is to go with what you’re comfortable with. If you have experience with Photoshop and feel confident in your abilities with it, by all means – use it. Photoshop can make things look extremely good if you know what you’re doing.
Otherwise, I’d use the Homebrewery or GM Binder. For now, since the Homebrewery’s fate is uncertain, I’d stick with GM Binder. Better to learn something that’s still under active development than to put all that work into a dying system.
And that wraps it up for today’s post! It may seem a bit basic, but there’s always someone out there who just needs to read through the most basic parts to get an idea of what they have to do. I’ve tried to include things that seem obvious to me now (after doing this for about two years), but I may have forgotten something. If so, let me know! It’s all a learning process, and it can sometimes be very hard to go back and actually actively remember what you’ve learned. Hence why finals suck so much.
Next week I’ll start looking into different types of homebrew, starting with subclasses. They’re some of the most common homebrew you’ll see on the character side of the game, so they’re a really great place to start.
See you then!