- When creating a homebrew subclass for Dungeons & Dragons, ensure that it fills a unique role in terms of game mechanics and complements the existing subclasses.
- Consider interesting character concepts that tie into the lore of the game’s setting, such as a cleric’s deity or a paladin’s oath, but also be creative with classes that have more flexibility, like fighters and bards.
- Avoid creating subclasses that are too similar to existing ones and take the time to research and gather feedback on your ideas. Instead of giving martial classes magic abilities, focus on enhancing their unique strengths and abilities to level the playing field. Stick to thematic spells and abilities that fit the subclass’s theme and avoid adding in unrelated ones.
- Playtest your homebrew subclasses with an open mind to make necessary adjustments.
Creating the perfect Dungeons and Dragons campaign is always a daunting task. Homebrewing monsters, magic items, and entire worlds is a common activity for Dungeon Masters, but classes and subclasses are more of a challenge. Class features are a mechanic players will use all the time, and DMs can’t easily change things if they feel the need to.
However, there’s no need to feel intimidated. If a particular subclass fits a character concept your player wants to try, go for it! If it fits into your homebrew world’s lore, all the better! There are just a few things to keep in mind.
8 Ensure The Subclass Fills A Niche
Most DMs will start brainstorming ideas for new subclasses by thinking of character concepts first. This is a thought process that considers what tropes might be interesting to see in a D&D character. If you homebrewed your own setting, you might also consider how a homebrew subclass might be informed by the setting’s lore.
Inversely, adapting the unique features of one subclass to another can make for an interesting new perspective on familiar mechanics. One example is the Wild Magic barbarian subclass being an adaption of the Wild Magic sorcerer subclass.
That’s all well and good, but also consider what niche your homebrew subclass would fill in terms of game mechanics. Think about what roles official subclasses fill. For instance, while life clerics are dedicated party healers, tempest clerics have a build that’s more suited to crowd control. Figure out what you want your subclass to do and build their abilities around that.
7 Think About Interesting Character Concepts
Think about what makes each class unique, then use that as the catalyst to brainstorm your concepts for a subclass. Most classes have their subclasses defined by a character’s background or motivations. For example, clerics and warlocks are defined by what deity or patron they serve, sorcerers are defined by their ancestry, and paladins are defined by their oath. This gives the subclass a tangible tie to the setting’s lore.
At the same time, some classes are more flexible with their story options. Fighters are defined by their style of combat, while bards are defined by their approach to their art. These classes may require some more work to create a subclass that’s unique and has a clear character archetype in mind. At the same time, they’re also more versatile, as these classes can be applied to a wider variety of character concepts.
6 Avoid Stepping On The Toes Of Other Classes Or Subclasses
There are tons of unique subclasses already available through official D&D books. It can be easy to accidentally make a subclass that’s similar to an official one. It’s much easier to make one or two tweaks to an existing subclass than it is to homebrew one from whole cloth, so you want to make sure you aren’t wasting your effort.
It’s best to thoroughly research the class you want to homebrew for before you start. You can also post your ideas on gaming forums and Discord servers. Other users might know something you don’t, so if your idea has been done before, you’ll find out quickly enough. Having someone else’s input will help you narrow down your list of homebrew pitches.
5 Martial Classes Don’t Necessarily Need Magic
It can be difficult to ensure that martial classes are adequately balanced against spellcasters. High-level spells can bend reality on the whim of the caster, making high-level martial abilities seem less spectacular in comparison. While it can be tempting to give martial characters some spellcasting abilities, you should think twice about doing this.
If you really want to give martial class magic, consider using existing subclasses that provide magic, as recommended in our Use Official Subclasses As A Template entry below.
To start off, plenty of official subclasses already give martial characters some magical capabilities. Doing this also comes at the cost of giving a martial character cool abilities that would be unique to them and their class. Instead of trying to turn martial characters into spellcasters, level the playing field by enhancing what makes martial classes special in the first place.
4 Choose Thematic Spells And Abilities
Let’s say you’re homebrewing a spooky, death-themed paladin subclass. Their divine smites deal necrotic damage instead of radiant damage. What’s more, they gain necromancy-related oath spells such as Animate Dead, Speak With Dead, and False Life. Already, you have a solid theme that’s reinforced through the subclass’ spells and abilities.
Resist the urge to add in spells or abilities that don’t fit the theme for the subclass. A death paladin doesn’t need access to Fireball, for instance. Even if it might make the subclass more powerful, it will still feel unbalanced and out of place. There will always be other characters in the party, so stick to one idea and let other characters make the party more diverse.
3 Use Official Subclasses As A Template
Every class has a template its respective subclasses are expected to follow. For instance, clerics gain special subclass abilities at their first, sixth, and seventeenth levels. They also receive two domain spells for every odd-numbered class level from one to nine and a unique Channel Divinity ability at level two. Finally, at eighth level, a cleric gains either Divine Strike or Potent Spellcasting.
Learn the template for each class and follow it. Adding in more features than are provided by other subclasses risks overpowering your homebrew build. At the same time, messing with the order in which a character gains new features can also leave them at a disadvantage.
2 Think About The Lore
Plenty of DMs homebrew their own campaign setting. If you’re doing this, making your own subclass is a perfect way to blend story and gameplay. For instance, a kingdom where necromancy is legal and socially accepted might have an order of necromancy-themed paladins, who swear allegiance to their oath in both life and death.
If your setting has homebrewed deities, for example, then you could have a Cleric subclass for them specifically.
Even if you’re using a previously published campaign setting, you can still make the setting feel more alive by homebrewing a subclass. Think about what questions have gone unanswered in the official lore. Maybe there’s a god of the hearth, but no clerics to that god in any official adventures. Now you’ve got the makings of a hearth cleric and can start brainstorming domain spells.
1 Playtest With An Open Mind
You are going to make mistakes. Not only is that the human condition, it’s also an inevitability that every DM will face. Don’t stress yourself out by fretting over whether or not a subclass is properly balanced before you have your players try it out. The only way to properly balance a subclass is to playtest it.
At the start of a new campaign, let your players choose your homebrew subclasses if they feel so inclined. Give them a heads-up that the subclass is still being fleshed out and that they’ll be playtesting it. If any issues come up, your players can always talk to you during the campaign about how to tweak the subclass to be more balanced.
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