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Alternative Rule Compendium

Alternative Rule Compendium

This compendium offers various alternative rules for D&D 5E

Combat . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

On Death's Door . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Big Bad Vodoo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5

Initiative . . . . . . . . . . .6

Initiative Deck . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7

Inspiration . . . . . . . . . 8

Fate Tokens . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

Character Creation . 10

Progressive Ability Scores . . . . . . . . . 11

This compendium is a work in progress. The goal is to create a nice little compendium with some of the most interesting alternative rules for D&D 5E. If you have any interesting material that could suit this project, feel free to notify kyllebylle on reddit.

All copyrights reserved for WotC and various artists.



On Death's Door

This alternative rule replaces the unconscious condition which is triggered from dropping to 0 hit points. Instead, characters make one last stand and gains the condition On Death's Door. This variant rule allows players to continue controlling their characters while at 0 hit points but they run a great risk doing so, and they still roll for death saving throws!

The standard rules as described on page 197-198 in the PHB still apply unless stated otherwise.

Dropping to 0 Hit Points

If a you drop to 0 hit points and isn't killed outright, you enter the On Death's Door condition.

Instant death

Unchanged, use the standard rules as descibed in the PHB.

Falling Unconscious

This rule has been removed, instead players who drop to 0 hit points gain the On Death's Door condition.

Condition: On Death's Door

  • Being at 0 hit points doesn't cause you to fall unconscious.
  • You cannot maintain concentration.
  • The condition ends if the you gain at least one hit point.
  • You gain three temporary levels of exhaustion while the condition persists.
  • Death saving throws are not affected by the disadvantage imposed from exhaustion.

Fight. At the cost of a death saving throw you may attempt an ability check, use an item, take the attack action, casts a spell or use a bonus action.

Flight. A creature affected by this condition is able to move and take the dash, disengage and dodge actions without having to make a death saving throw.

Level Effect
1 Disadvantage on ability checks
2 Speed halved
3 Disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws
4 Hit point maximum halved
5 Speed reduced to 0
6 Death

Death Saving Throws

Unchanged, use the standard rules as descibed in the PHB.

Stabilizing a Creature

The best way to save a creature with 0 hit points is to heal it. If healing is unavailable, the creature can at least be stabilized so that it isn't killed by a failed death saving throw.

You can use your action to administer first aid to a creature on death's door and attempt to stabilize it, which requires a successful DC 15 Wisdom (Medicine) check.

A stable creature gains 1 hit point.

Variant: Hard Core

Using this variant, players gain one level of exhaustion once they recover from the on death's door condition. This means that a character will die instantly if they already have three levels of exhaustion when they are reduced to 0 hit points.

The levels of exhaustion represent a character being mortally wounded from being brought back from 0 hit points. The design of this mechanic is aimed to make death feel more real than playing a game o 0 hp whack-a-mole.

To make this mechanic more flexible a GM might allow for players to recover two levels of exhaustion from a long rest instead of one.

Monsters and Death

Most DMs have a monster die the instant it drops to 0 hit points, rather than having it gain the On Death's Door condition and make death saving throws.

Mighty villains and special nonplayer characters are common exceptions; the DM might have them follow the same rules as player characters.

Knocking a Creature Out

When a melee attack would normally cause a monster to die you may instead choose to knock them unconscious for 1d4 hours.

Big Bad Vodoo

A bite from a dragon or a ten foot long ballista bolt might occasionally cause a character to lose more than half of their hit points in one turn. If you want to make big bad monsters even scarier, then say no more! These alternative rules build off the Massive Damage ruleset from the DMG p. 273.

Massive Damage

This optional rule makes it easier for a creature to be felled by massive damage. When a creature takes damage equal to or greater than half its hit point maximum during one turn without being reduced to 0 hit points must attempt a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. A creature who fails suffer a random effect determined by a roll on the System Shock table.

For example, a creature that has a hit point maximum of 30 must make that Constitution save if it takes 15 damage or more in one turn.

System Shock Table
d4 Effect
1 Frightened
2 Blinded
3 Deafened
4 Prone
The Natural 20: Battle Frenzy

Succesfully escaping system shock table by rolling a natural 20 on the Con Save triggers a state of Battle Frenzy:

No Pain No Gain – The pain triggered a rush of adrenaline which fills your veins with ferocity, you gain temporary hit points equal to twice your level plus your constitution modifier (minimum 1).

Natural 1: Staggering Blow.

A critical failure makes the character unable to take bonus actions or reactions until the effect ends.


Most GM's want to rule that the system shock condition ends after the players next turn. If a GM wants to enforce an even harsher variant he or she may instead have the players repeat the DC 15 Constitution save at the end of their turn until they succeed or an ally helps them.

Help. A player may help another character to recover early. As an action they may administer remedy by attempting a DC 15 Medicine (Wis) ability to end the condition.



Initiative Deck

Instead of determining where you go in combat using die, you can create more dynamic combat by using a deck. This is a fun and easy way to make combat more interesting. Most importantly, it speeds up the initiative segment of combat a lot while players also get to keep rolling for initiative. Everybody wins.


To get started you need only a few things:

  • Standard size playing cards.
  • Plastic sleeves of the same size.
  • Pen & Paper
Roll For Initiative

In this variant rule, turn order isn't determined by a die, but the initiative score remains - you still roll for initiative!

The standard initiative roll is replaced with a with a variable DC check. Players who pass the initiative check gains advantage to their first attack during the first round of combat. The DC is determined by the difficulty of the initial combat situation.

Difficulty DC
Easy - A Walk in the park. 5
Medium - Work Work! 10
Hard - Getting Serious... 15
Very Hard - Oh Shit! 20
Insane - Dear God Help Us. 25

There was much rejoicing.


Creating Your Initiative Deck

All you need to do is to sleeve one card per player and one card per monster. If you use group initiative for all monsters of the same type you only need one card per monster group. You might also want to sleeve a couple of generic monster cards for random encounters.

Now, insert a piece of paper with the character or monster name inside the sleeve on the face-up side of the card. The DM can now collect all cards and put them behind the DM-screen. How much information you add to the note is up to you, AC or resistances for instance might be handy to add.

The next level. But wait, there is more! The DM can also use this system to mark conditions or triggers as a reminder, all that is needed is a wet-marker. Since the cards are sleeved the wet-marker comes off easily with the swipe of a finger if the note is no longer relevant.

Using Your Initiative Deck

Once all monsters and players have a card representing their creature you have a created a little initiative deck. Once combat initates simply shuffle the deck (face down) so that a random initiative order is established.

Draw the top card from the pile and declare it as the active player (or monster) but also declare what card is now showing on the top of the deck, this gives the players information about the next turn too. When a player or monster has taken its turn you put their card in the discard pile face down.

Continue drawing cards until the deck is empty, at which point you shuffle the deck again and simply repeat the process, starting a new combat round.



Fate Tokens

Fate can be a cruel mistress in a d20 oriented world. The system we all know and love is based on chance, and that's part of it's charm! Sometimes, however, a clutch moment might deserve a slightly bigger chance of success than another. This system gives the players a chance to alter fate in their favor by using Fate tokens.

Getting Started

These rules replace the standard rules for inspiration with a token system. Once players finish a long rest the may take a number of tokens from the based on their proficiency bonus.

All you need is a set of poker chips, if the colors are different feel free to change or remove tokens as needed.

Gaining Fate Tokens

A player may purchase tokens for a total value equal to their proficiency bonus once they finish a long rest. Players may not save up tokens, once a long rest is finished, they must return tokens until their total value of tokens does not exceed their proficiency bonus.

Using Fate Tokens

Every fate token grants a unique ability which the players may consume at will as a free action. When a token is consumed a rush of energy flows through the character's veins, emitting a feint glow of the tokens color around the character.

A player has to declare that they consume the token before any relevant roll has been made. For example; a player cannot roll for a attack, notice that it missed the target and then retroactively consume a green mana token to gain advantage.

Different Types of Rest

These rules replace the standard rules for resting.

Take a Breather: 10 minutes. You take a breather, eat a sandwich, and bandage a wound. During a Breather, you may spend Hit Dice to restore HP.

Short Rest: 8 hours. You gain the benefits of a short rest.

Long Rest: 12 hours in a secure location. You spend some downtime unwinding from the journey and battle. You gain the benefits of a long rest. Fate tokens are replenished.

Using this in your Campaign

The fate token mechanic does two things, it rewards long rests and it gives players a unique chance to influence their character more. A long rest isn't always possible, it should be a nice relief after a long and weary journey.

These rules are best aimed for a despair themed or gritty campaign where being out on the road is truly dangerous and resources are scarce.

Fate Token Table
Token Cost Ability
Ruby (Power) 2 Before you roll for damage, you may consume the mana to gain the possibility to re-roll any damage or healing die associated with this attack or spell.
Emerald (Focus) 2 Before you roll for any attack roll using a d20, you may consume the mana to gain advantage on the roll.
Azure (Awareness) 2 Before you roll for a saving throw you may consume the mana to gain advantage on the roll.
White (Skill) 1 Before you roll for any skill check you may consume the mana to gain advantage on the roll.
Black (Death) 1 Before you roll for a death saving throw, you may consume the mana to succeed without having to roll.


Character Creation

Progressive Ability Scores

These rules offer a deeper alternative to the custom ability score as described on p. 13 in the PHB. In this build characters start off weaker to put more emphasis progress. This emulates a steadier growth of ability scores like in games such as Skyrim or Dark Souls.

25 points to spend

This variant to the point buy system is better suited for campaigns where you want to experience the whole journey from being a weak novice to rising up as a hero. As such, the variant starts off sparingly and attribute points should later on be rewarded as the character's progress. Every GM can tailor the amount of points to suit their campaign.

Base Ability Scores

All ability scores start off at 6, which equals a modifier of negative two.

Progression is Key

This system isn't built to hamstring its players. The GM should hand out more points to spend at a steady pace. How you do this is up to every GM, one route is awarding 2-8 points as a reward for major quests. A perhaps better route is to remove ASI and simply hand out points at every even level equal to their level.

Level Points rewarded
2 2
4 4
6 6
8 8
10 10
12 12
14 14
16 16
18 18
20 20

Progressive Cost

The higher the attribute score, the costlier it is to progress even further.

Ability Score Progressive Cost
Interval Cost per attribute
7-10 1
11-14 2
15-17 3
18-20 4
Ability Score Point Cost (Level 1)
Score Cost
7 1
8 2
9 3
10 4
11 6
12 8
13 10
Score Cost
14 12
15 15
16 18
17 21
18 25
19 29
20 33
Example Level 1
Attribute Base Chosen Cost
Strength 6 14 12
Dexterity 6 9 3
Constitution 6 10 4
Intelligence 6 8 2
Wisdom 6 10 4
Charisma 6 6 0
Total: 25



Cover art copyright Zenimax from the elder scrolls online.

On Death's Door

Credits to cheatisnotdead on reddit for a truly amazing concept and brilliant execution.

Art Credit: Unknown. If you know the artist, please contact me!

Character Creation

Beautiful cover art by vladgheneli at DeviantArt.

Big Bad Vodoo

Vuk Kostic (aka Chevsy on DeviantArt) for absolutely stunning artwork.


Beautiful cover art by onestepart at DeviantArt.


Beautiful cover art by Isdira at DeviantArt.

Progressive Ability Scores

FUNKYMONKEY1945 at DeviantArt.

Alternative Rule Compendium

This compendium is a work in progress. The goal is to create a nice little compendium with some of the most interesting alternative rules for D&D 5E. All copyrights reserved for WotC and various artists.

If you have any interesting material that could suit this project, feel free to share it.

Contact: kyllebylle at reddit

Version 0.8

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