In the intro the author stress that the dungeon master isn't limited by the rules in the PHB, the guidelines in the DMG, or the monsters in the MM. They stress that when you add something new you should consider.
- Will the Rules improve my Game?
- Will my players like it?
Good Advice in my opinion.
After this the chapter starts off with Ability Options.
Proficiency Dice is the first one. Instead of a fixed bonus per level you can roll a proficiency dice. The average will be slightly higher than the bonus (2.5 for 1d4 at 1st level). But there also a lot less certainty what proficiency will actually give you.
Next is Skill Variants
Instead of Skill Proficiencies you have ability check proficiencies. Each character is proficient in one ability because of his class and proficient in another because of his background.
The next skill variant is Background Proficiency. There are no skill or tool proficiency instead you gain your proficiency bonus to any check that is reasonable tied to your background. For example if you are a noble you can get proficiency bonus to a Persuasion check when talking to courtier but not when you are talking to a street thug.
The next skill variant is Personality Trait Proficiency. Here you gain your proficiency bonus to any ability check related to the character's personality.
I doubt I will use any of these variant but it is nice that 5e is flexible enough to accommodate three wildly varying intrepetations of skills and ability checks. It will undoubtly be useful for referee trying to come up with sub systems or mini-games within the 5e rules.
The next option is Hero Points. You get so many hero points when you level (including starting out). When you spend one you get to roll a d6 and add it to your d20 roll. Only 1 point per roll. When you level you lose any unspent point and reset at a slightly higher hero point total.
Honor and Sanity are presented as two new attributes. The authors discuss how to integrate them into point buy and when to use Honor and Sanity Check. They are not tied together so one or the other can be added. The Sanity Attributes uses the Madness rules from the previous chapter.
Moving from Ability Options we get into Adventuring Options.
First is a section on options for Fear and Horror. The the consequences of fear mechanics revolve around whether the character gains the frightened condition. Horror in contrast involves gaining madness as detailed in the previous chapter. For those who need a refresher frightened mean you have disadvantage on ability checks, and you can't move closer to the source of fear.
Next are options for healing, options to make the game more heroic and option to make the game more gritter.
The first one is Healer's Kit dependency, you can't spend Hit dice during a short rest until somebody expends one use of a healer's kit on your wounds. Next one is a heroic option, you can use your hit dice in a manner similar to 4th edition's healing surges. Finally there is slow natural healing where you don't get all your hit point back with a long rest, instead you have to spend hit dice. Remember you regain half of your hit dice during a long rest. I can see this options being used in varying way by fans of classic D&D and 4e to tweak 5th edition to be more of they like.
Now we get into Rest variants where options are presented on how long Short Rest and Long rest are. Epic Heroism shortens the rest to allow combat to occur more often during a game day. While Gritty Realism lengthens rest times.
Firearms are presented next with information on proficiency, properties, Explosives, bombs, gunpowder, dynamite, and grenades. The section winds up with a selection of weapons drawn from the renaissance, modern era, and the future. After Firearms is a section on ALien technology, holy Barriar Peaks Zelligar!. This option includes mechanics on figure out high tech or alien devices.
THe next section is on Plot Points. Basically players have a plot point that they can use to make up something during the game. When every player has spent their plot point everybody get another point. There are there option on how to use this during a session. They are labeled What a Twist!, The Plot Thickens, and The Gods must be Crazy. They differ in how involved the players are in the running of plot with The Gods must be Crazy a DMless variant.
After adventuring options are combat options.
We have three initiative variants, a fixed initiative score, rolling once for each side of a combat, and using Speed Factors. Note that Speed Factor involves the player declaring their action before initiative. This declaration is what determines their bonus (or minus) to initiative.
Next are the Action Options. These include Climb onto a bigger creature, Disarm, Mark, Overrun, Shove Aside, and Tumble. Mark is no where near as gamey as its 4e counterpart. Instead it is a way to gain advantage on oppourtunity attacks against a single target. I see alot people adopting overrun and shove aside as they both make sense when trying to go through a occupied space. Not sure why they are not in the main rules. The next combat options are, Hitting Cover, and Cleaving through Creatures/
After this is and option on lingering injuries. THis is a table where various bad things can happen to a character like Lose a Foot or a horrible scar. The author give some suggestions for the condition under which a linger injury can occur, critical hit, hitting zero hit points, or failing a death save by 5. I might use this with a failed death save by 5 being the only thing to force a roll on this table. After this is a massive damage option with a table with various detriment effect that can occur if the target takes more than half of their maximum hit points in damage. After this is Morale, if certain conditions are met then the opposing side needs to make DC 10 Wisdom save or run away!
And this ends the rules options.
Next the authors get into Creating a Monster. It is a lengthy section. The first thing you need to understand that it is not an exact process. But it is more than "Make something up that looks good." The heart of the process is the Monster Statistics by Challenge Rating. You stat out your monster the way you want and use this table to figure out its challenge rating. There is another table to help you judge the effect of special abilities on the Challenge Ratings. The author present a quick method and a detailed method of creating monsters.
After monsters are NPC Stat Blocks, advice on how to use the NPC stat block from the back of the Monster Manual. There are suggestions for when you make NPCs from Scratch and finally what to do when you want to have Monsters with Class. This section has a table listing all the races including some monster races and the stats you need to use them with the NPC templates.
After this is advice on Creating a Spell. It is not as detailed as the Monster section but give some guidelines for figuring out the level of a new spell. Then the authors get into creating a magic item, focusing on how to figure out the rarity of a new magic item. After this is a section on creating a race or subrace. It gets into Cosmetic Alterations, Cultural Alterations, Creating a New Subrace, and Creating a New Race. It give Eladrin as an example of a new subrace and Assimar as an example of a new Race.
After this the author talk about Modifying a Class including Changing proficiencies, changing spell lists, restricting class access, substituting class features, and creating new class options. This section also presents spell points as a variant. The authors then get into the creation of new backgrounds. They recommend the following
- Root it in your world
- Suggest Personal characteristics
- Assign proficiencies or languages
- Include starting equipment
- Settle on a background feature
And that wraps up Chapter 9 and the DMG proper.
After this are four appendices.
The first is Appendix A Random Dungeon. It is a updated cleaned up version of the original AD&D 1st random dungeon generator. Probably the best use of this section is in the secondary tables like dungeon dressing and randomg traps. Helpful when you are trying to figure what goes into the last dozen or so rooms of the level you created.
Appendix B are various monster lists. The first set are Monsters by Environment, monster for various types of terrain are listed and sorted by CR. After this is Monster by Challenger Rating that many felt was missing from the Monster Manual.
New to D&D editions is Appendix C Maps. Six pages of beautifully drawn and useful maps. In order they are
- A Windmill cutaway
- A two story building
- A updated map of the original sample dungeon found in 1st edition ADnD.
- Another dungeon map with both dungeon and cavern sections.
- A seaside town next to a estuary and a large bridge.
- A town built in and around a river delta. The delta is not marshy but comprised of a series of rocky pinnacles. Much of the town is built on the sides of the pinnacles.
- A small cavern
- The upper and lower deck of a large sailing ship
- A dungeons built alongside a crevasse.
Finally there is Appendix D; Dungeon Master Inspiration a list of works that can be read to inspire your refereeing of a fantasy campaign.
Finally there is a index in very small print like the PHB.
Next are concluding thoughts
Link to all parts of the Review