This year's D&D Live event showcased some intriguing Dungeons & Dragons homebrew/variant rules that spiced up sessions for both players and the audience. Last weekend, Dungeons & Dragons hosted hundreds of fans at D&D Live 2019: The Descent, its now-yearly live event that showcases the game's upcoming storyline. This year's event previewed Descent Into Avernus, a new storycase that drags players to hell...literally. As part of the event, D&D hosted several live shows played out in front of an audience that served to preview story elements of Descent Into Avernus as well as show off different storytelling and play styles. As part of the event, both Deborah Ann Woll and Chris Perkins added some intriguing rules for their games that reminded fans how every DM can make D&D into their own game.
Woll showed off her homebrew rule of having players assist each other with different ability checks in her Relics & Rarities show, which opened the D&D Live event. While the Player's Handbook notes that working together with another party member usually grants a player advantage on a skill check, Woll's home rule allows a player to add their ability modifier to another player's roll. This adds some importance to which character assists with an ability check, as a player with a low modifier won't be as much help as someone more proficient with the check. This rule keeps players thinking about how and when their character should help instead of simply trying to team up characters and make every throw with advantage.
Perkins, the lead story designer for Dungeons & Dragons, came up with some more....sadistic rules for his session, which was set in Avernus. Before the session started, he gave each player a "mercy coin" that allowed a player to ask him for mercy as he put them through a hellfire-tinged gauntlet. The session featured players surviving an Infernal War Machine crash, climbing out of a steep crevice, and then finding a machine to help them escape Avernus, so the players were instantly put at a disadvantage...meaning that using their mercy coin wisely often made the difference between life or death during critical moments.
As if to emphasize just how difficult Hell is, Perkins also spontaneously imposed "double disadvantage" on one of his players during a critical moment of his session. Instead of rolling two twenty-sided dice and taking the lower result, Perkins had the player roll three dice instead. Luckily for the player (comics writer Jim Zub, who was playing as the iconic character Minsc), he passed both double disadvantage skill checks, somehow defying the odds and beating Perkins at his own game.
None of these particular rules were "official" additions to the Dungeons & Dragons rules, but they did show how homebrew rules can completely change the tone of a session. Woll's homebrew rule made a collaborative rule less tempting to abuse and more strategic, while Perkins' rules demonstrated how rules could impact the tone of a game to match its setting.
Descent Into Avernus will be released on September 17th.