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Controversial [House Rules] Modifications to the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Cantrips Core Rules

by admin published Jun 02, 2015 01:35 AM, last modified Aug 17, 2015 07:50 PM
Posted by Hawke at Oct 14, 2014 08:45 PM - Filed under: DnD, 5th Edition, game system, rules, Home brew, Dungeons & Dragons, rpg, D&D - One of my most controversial house rules for D&D 5th edition, is my overhaul of the cantrips.

I have received many an upset email, PM, yotube channel comment, forum posting, and in-person discussion regarding my changes. At the same time, I receive about an equal number from those very much supporting/appreciating the changes I suggest. That seems a good sign! :-) My attitude is that the 3rd, 4th, and worst of all 5th edition D&D cantrips are just too powerful for zero level spells, let alone be considered cantrips. Maybe I'm just an "old timer" "stuck in 1st edition", but I would like to believe that I just have more emphasis on R-O-L-E-Playing over R-O-L-L-Playing. I have had some great discussions with players voicing their protestations against my changes, and I welcome the input. How do you feel about this?

Controversial [House Rules] Modifications to the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Cantrips Core Rules


In setting up a new D&D 5th edition group through a local group, I've had a number of players protest my changes to the 5th edition core rules. Up front, before we even meet, I am letting them now about my House Rules. The first session (making characters) will be October 22nd. Meanwhile a LOT of dialogue in the forum underway (more than 100 postings so far).


I have (as expected) had a few players decide not to come to the first session since I wasn't willing to get rid of the rules regarding cantrips. Mission accomplished, it helps filter out players in advance that would not be happy with my DM style.



"I finally read up on spell casting and cantrips.
From what i can see all they did with cantrips was give casters a way to stay in combat and be as useful as the melee classes throughout multiple encounters in a day.
A warrior, paladin, barbarian, monk or ranger can hit every turn with a big weapon or dual wielding.
Barbarians can rage for more damage, monks can spend ki, warriors have fighting styles and so on. while the warlock, sorcerer and wizard have a couple spells then they are done for the day or they can swing a stick for pathetic damage.
With the way they have cantrips now it allows the caster to be able to "swing" his sword every round and do damage like everyone else.
I am VERY rusty on the rules, but don't people get saves versus spells? which means even though they are "swinging" their sword every round their targets get to save for less damage.
Even if they don't get a save, it's an attack that can do a d8, d10 or maybe even a d12 in damage versus a warriors battle axe (versatile) of 1d10 + str + great weapon fighting allowing the re-roll of a 1 or 2 on the damage roll or dueling which gives +2 to damage + the chance for the hit to be a crit further increasing the damage, or a greatsword or maul that does 2d6.
I don't see how this is over powered but i do see how it allows the casters to feel useful in more than one encounter a day.
The melee classes get multiple attacks at higher level while the casters are still limited to 1 spell per round generally.
I just see this as a MUCH needed boost to arcane casters at all levels that doesn't give them too much power as they are single die damage attacks that don't get bonuses to damage.
I don't know if they can crit or not.
Even if you are trying to run people down/out of spells the melee guys can still attack and it will only be the casters who become dead weight and can not do anything.
If you say yes but i impose penalties on the melee for being tired you can do the same to the casters.
I know me personally, I would much rather be casting a spell for damage every round than trying to poke someone with a weapon. It sucks to cast your 2 spells in the first encounter in a day and be done. OK guys, time for a long rest so I can recover my spells.
Plus with cantrips the way they are it allows for casters to load things other than combat spells.
Well I want to be able to fight and I can only have 2 spells so magic missile it is.
Honestly if you are going out to fight/in a dungeon who is ever going to mem spells like comprehend languages or detect evil?
No one, they are going to do the combat spells to stay alive/kill the bad things but now hey i have a 1d10 attack every round i can be more versatile with my spell load out.
Yay for variety!
I would VERY much like to keep cantrips the way they are in 5th edition.
Oh yeah, I am going to be either a sorcerer or a warlock.


Hawke's Response:

Hey there!. That is quite the lengthy message! :-) To quote Kirk: "Don't mince words Bones, tell me what you really think!" :-)
Without digging through every aspect of your statements, some corrections about the rules (we can work that out later as needed), your arguments are at least generally correct about combat and spell casters, and beautifully illustrates _exactly_ the reason for my house rules regarding cantrips for D&D 5e.


My philosophy, for what it is worth, regarding party balance, is that the party is balanced by the variety of character personalities, backgrounds, skills, equipment, etc. allowing opportunities for at least one PC to have some exceptional ability for different circumstances. Of course players can choose what they like, I generally do not restrict the choices the players make, I just try to encourage a lot more of a ROLE-playing approach than a lot of D20 players these days seem to consider.

In some situations some characters will have a chance to shine, while others will have to hold back. I don't want players and scenarios to be limited to cliche's and archetypes, but I'll use a few to illustrate some points...

  • When in the High Elven royal court, the barbarian half-orc should probably remain silent while the party's Elven Cleric or Diplomat or other characters with similar negotiation skills does most of the talking.
  • When confronted with complex trap-puzzles, the rogue-types and/or thinkers should probably step up rather than the hack and slashers.
  • When trying to sneak in and steal the Prince Kadakithis's royal sceptre, the stealthiest and quietest members would be best engaged in the activity, and the other party members will have to either act as back up or stand down and wait
  • When someone needs to wade through ancient tomes of forgotten lore, finding key clues that will change the course of the party's goals, maybe even impact the future of the entire kingdom, what backgrounds, connections, abilities, and skills do you want brought to bear in such a situation? Though there might be combat solutions, that is probably not the optimal approach. :-)

What the 3rd, 4th, and 5th edition successive increases in combat use of cantrips does is completely change the attitudes of spell casters, especially novice players, to use less creative and thoughtful approaches, and act more like a hack and slasher. Which, for hack and slash players is just fine. That just isn't my style.


The original use of the "role-playing spells" known as cantrips, in 5th edition become just another bashing combat tool, diverting that much further away from the desired R-O-L-E-playing and focusing more on R-O-L-L-playing's emphasis on combat capabilities rather than much more varies non-combat capabilities.

If you want a lot of combat and action in your campaigns, and are bored with complex character interaction, lots of dialogue, diplomacy, politics, puzzles, riddles, avoiding combat whenever possible, etc, then you will be bored with what I have lined up in most of my campaigns.

There are lots of opportunities to get into fights, but that will likely be suicide in either in the short term or longer term if that is the approach you want to take (looking for trouble).

There _is_ combat, but that is probably only about 10-20%% of my campaigns at most. So for every 10 hours of gaming, there would only be about 1-2 hours of combat (about one combat per game session with game sessions averaging about 4-5 hours each).

This varies of course, but seems to hold up in general.

The "spellcasters" have the visible powers of their great magics, but should also have many other abilities based on their Intellect, Wisdom, Charisma, including persuasion, herbalism, knowledge, professions, lore, lore, and more lore.

PC's aren't limited to this approach, but neither are they limited to just being spell-casting hack-and-slashers.

They don't have to become "dead weight" just because they are out of combat spells. Quite the contrary, many of the greatest solutions to challenges come from ideas, not brute approaches or even necessarily magic approaches, and typically spell casters have either superior intellect, wisdom/intuition, or charisma/persuasiveness on their side beyond their spell casting to help come up with creative solutions to stay "in the action". :-)

I recently played a spell caster, and I went with zero combat spells, and I was more actively engaged in helping the party, then ever the other spell casters were that used combat-focused spells. They "ran out" of blasting spells, and didn't have much to fall back on due to that mentality. I was able to keep constantly contributing to the good of the party, some with magic, but often through other abilities, ideas, and actions.

All of the above said, I don't usually require the party to have any "required" archetypes, I've had groups of all Elf-rangers, or a gang of rogues, or a band of warriors, though each had distinctive backgrounds that gave them some unique history/abilities/perspectives that would be of use. How they ROLE-play is more important than their mechanics. :-)

I totally understand those who do not agree with my approach, and there is nothing wrong with the differences they have for those DM's and players that prefer to implement the D&D rules as written, and don't mind generally more hack and slash approaches to RPG.

Personally, after playing 3 groups through 5e, the cantrips issue totally changed the dynamics in (my view, for what it is worth) a negative way, encouraging spell casters to become "blasters" rather than "thinkers" or "intuiters" or "persuaders".

I hope this helps explain in an effective way to you why I take the proposed approach with the house rules.

My goal is to encourage as much ROLE-play as possible, without using a completely different system.

There is no problem with disagreeing, I welcome it (as long as in-game it doesn't interfere with game-play) :-) and I do intend to make additional "tweaks" to the house rules (Especially the combat crits) as game play sessions provide additional information to help guide the process.

What do you think?

Happy Gaming!


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