Within 5th Edition there are many variants to play already outlined within the books, plus house rules popping up as quickly as DMs around the world can write them. These variants can be used by DMs to sculpt how their world feels, how the game plays and how simple it is to learn.
One of the advantages of 5th edition is that it cuts back on much of the rules clutter. Every variant added increases some level of complexity. When running episodic/drop-in adventures the greater the use variants decreases simplicity. Enough layers added onto the Basic Rules and you increase the need for a zero session (or a bonus hour+ spent educating the new member of the group).
Here’s the thing. I like many of the variants for narrative purposes and others for simulationist purposes. I’m also busy with real life and gaming is supposed to be fun. Most of these are one-time things that once noted on a character sheet just need to be remembered. For those that drop-in on occasion this helps them. They don’t need to know what all characters can do, just what they can do and how to apply their character’s knowledge.
Variant rules added for Flavor
- Gritty Realism – this changes the pace of the story from video game to more like a novel. Rangers, Barbarians, Druids, Priests of various land gods/goddesses can establish a sanctuary of long rest in the wilderness as an intrinsic class feature. The outlander background also has this ability.
- Mundane Ranger – Since casting only recently returned to Kin there are not partial casting classes or subclasses. Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster do not exist at all. The first custom built subclass is the Liberator (a Rogue). The Shield of Kirtin (spell-less Paladin) and Scholars of the Everflow (spell-less Bard) are still being built using the Mundane Ranger as a guide. Other custom classes will trickle into gameplay as well, at a minimum these will be the Uncommoner, Expert, Factotum, Teknician and Pamphleteer. Players can also build a character that will eventually gain spells, knowing that a second Awakening is coming, but they will not know when it happens.
- Feats – Adding individual variance and the ability to customize creates more unique characters.
- Inspiration – Do awesome role-play stuff and you get an advantage in roll-play stuff.
- Backgrounds – Some fan shared backgrounds are assumed as available. Most notably the Slave by Morrus, since Azsel is what it is. All variant backgrounds listed in the PHB are valid. There are seven backgrounds unique to the Everflow as well.
Variant rules added for Simulation
- Encumbrance – Carrying an unlimited amount of crap is stupid. There are other ways to do this (slots are rather simple), but as someone that was expected to carry a combat load weighing more than I did the idea of encumbrance is part of who I am.
- Dying Sucks – If your character dies your next build will be at half the experience of the character that passed or equal to the lowest PC’s level, whichever is higher. If the character dies in a way that advances the story the player can roll a d4 to add to the attributes on their next build.
- Dropping In – Players that drop into a session start with a character that is of equal level to the lowest level character in the session.
Variant rules added for Speed
- Point Buy or Custom Array – rolling 4d6 is fun, but requires the presence of DM or trust. Using mechanics rather than randomness allows any player to build a character on their own time.
Custom rules added for Flavor
- Cantrip for All – At the Awakening every person on Kin gained a cantrip. This is not an at will spell but something that can be used a number of times based on character level and controlling attribute per short rest. It also uses the controlling attribute as a damage bonus.
- Limited Spellcasting – Arcane casting is risky as there is no education in how to do it. That means all arcane casters are sorcerers with Wild Magic that develops over time. Divine casting is available as rituals. Both the cantrip and limited casting rules are explained here.
- Bonded Companions – Every person of Kin gains an animal companion when they come of age. Most of these are common domesticated animals (canines, avians, equines, lizards and saurs).
Some of these rules are forgotten or ignored during the height of a session. They are more an ideal set towards which we strive. Most notably encumbrance is something which exists, but as long as it isn’t abused I’m not going to fact check each character sheet. Usually in this episodic format the post-session character sheet update can show that a character is at or near their reasonable limit and they can sell off extra goods, convert currency to gems/art/property or just leave things at the base of operations. Or they just buy another mastiff or mule.