How do you handle banning or restrictions to certain rules, races, and classes in DnD 5e? This is a question that we see pop up online from time to time and think it’s important to address. Banning or restricting rules in DnD can very seriously change the way a game is played and has a lot of repercussions.
Bigger still might be the question of if you should restrict things at all. As a DM it is your responsibility to maintain the game, so it is really up to you. But over restricting your players can hinder their creative freedom. Let’s look at the right way to handle these kinds of rulings.
Why Restrict Rules in DnD 5e?
This is the core question we first need to tackle. Why would you make a class, race, or rule set unavailable to your players? There are three common cases for this:
- Story Elements
- Game Balance
- Game Management
While these are the three prime reasons for rule restrictions, people might come up with other valid ones. However, the more you stray from these reasons, the less valid they may seem to your players. Let’s look at each of these in turn and give examples for where you might use these restrictions.
Story Element Restrictions
Story elements are the most reasonable reasons to restrict a rule set. If you have a campaign setting where the Elves went extinct, then it makes sense to say no one can play elves. There’s not more to this restriction than that. The one thing that can backfire when restricting based on story elements is by making the restrictions too many and the story too narrow. It’s fine to restrict a race or class for thematic story reasons. But when you start tightening that to ultra narrow specifications you run the risk of having a game that’s unbalanced or a campaign with little creative freedom for your players.
Game Balance Restrictions
Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition is a very well balanced and maintained system. With this in mind, when do we restrict rules for game balance? Typically restrictions for game balance are put in place to correct for something that unbalances it.
As an example, if you add in a homebrew rule set on foraging and wilderness survival, you might want to restrict Ranger abilities that reduce the need to forage and make wilderness survival less meaningful. You’re balancing the game around all the content, not just the core rules now.
Another example might be the inclusion of additional spells or classes from outside the core rule book. It’s completely reasonable to restrict the scope of those rules to maintain the balance in the game. You might not want to include everything from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything in your game because you’re not prepared to keep up with new additions.
Game Maintenance Restrictions
This one is a bit more contentious than the other reasons for restricting rules. If you’re running a game and everyone wants to get familiars, pets, or sidekicks, you might want to put a restriction down.
Because keeping track of all of that as a DM is a lot of work, and it can be hard to maintain a game where every combat has more than 10 participants on just one side. In this same vain I played many games where my DMs at the time restricted the number of players who could choose the same class. This isn’t just for sake of story or balance, it’s also for management. Overlapping some classes, like Druid for example, can come with a lot of additional rule maintenance.
While this is a valid reason to add some restrictions to the game, you have to be upfront about why you’re doing it. Let your players know when they do certain things that it makes the game hard for you to run. A good group will respond to that better than seemingly arbitrary restrictions on what can and cannot be used in game.
Bad Reasons to Restrict Rules
There are just as many, if not more, bad reasons to restrict rules from the core DnD rules. The absolute worst is, “I don’t like this.” That’s not a reason, it’s a preference. When you’re the DM, at least give your players a legitimate reason for restricting something from the core rules. If you don’t like something, look up the alternatives in the DMG or have a more concrete definition of why you don’t want something in the game.
Another bad reason to restrict things is because you think something is overpowered. As I mentioned before, the core rules are very balanced in DnD 5e. If you think something is too powerful, you can often balance your game around it without restricting rules.
It’s very easy to make high level spell components rare, expensive, or hard to find. When it comes to class features and abilities, there are few that would put balanced game play in danger anyway. Even if someone is Min/Maxing their character, the worst this will do is give them a slightly higher early power curve while pigeonholing them into a build that only excels at one thing.
How to Ban or Restrict Rules the Right Way
If you’re going to restrict rules, you have to do it right. Players don’t want arbitrary decisions coming down mid-campaign that change the trajectory of their character builds. Be kind and do things upfront and right away.
Set Rule Scope
The first step in rule restriction is to let your players know what content is and is not in the campaign. For example, you might be using only the core rules books. Alternatively, you could be using all the official DnD rule books, or maybe you have a certain set of 3rd party splat books you’ve added to your game. No matter what rule set you are using, tell your players before the first session what that scope is and where they can pull classes, races, and other rules from.
Restrictions Start Before Session One, Not After
If you are going to restrict something from your rules or even introduce an alternative rule from the books, you have to do it before the game starts. Don’t make your players go back and change all their planning because you didn’t tell them that you were restricting something. If you’re using extra books, you need to let players know if they can use certain playable races, class options, or anything else right away so they can start planning their characters.
Tell Your Players Why
If you’re restricting a rule, let your players know why. If you don’t tell them why then it can seem arbitrary and set a bad tone for a game. Usually this is no big deal, but it can lead to tension if someone had an idea before the game that they now can’t use.
I recently started a campaign where I expanded playable races a lot, but I restricted players from choosing goblins. One player was bummed out about this, but I explained the story reasons for why the goblins were not playable while other monster races where. This made it much easier for the player to move on to their next idea rather than dwelling on my seemingly arbitrary ruling. Furthermore, when I did open goblins up as playable alternative characters later in the game, it acted more as a reward because they unlocked the restriction I had set in place.
Restrictions the Right Way
Restricting rules and banning content can be constructive if done properly, but disastrous if done poorly. The main take away here is that you need to be fair, upfront, and reasonable when restricting content. As long as you keep to these simple methods, you should have no problem when starting up a new campaign. If you have any horror stories about rules restrictions or propblems you’ve run into, we’d love to hear them. Share with us on twitter, or send an email!