This is not a suggestions question.

I'm not looking for someone to suggest how I should balance ability X. I want to know the "rules" or customs for balancing. I am also not looking for rules on class/class-option creation, only ways to create replacements for certain class-specialization abilities based on level.

With that in mind, carry on.

I am thinking of trying to home-brew an alternate Pact of the Old One 14th Level Pact Boon which is not Create Thrall. But before I present it to my DM, I want to make sure it's balanced. And this is where I'm having difficulty, because I have no context within which to balance a 14th-level Pact Boon which is on-par with the others (Dark Delirium, Create Thrall,...) while not broken.

Is there any guidance on creating abilities like this? I understand the DMG has guidance on creating spells, but I'm not sure what level spell a Pact Ability (which is effectively the same as an 18th-level feature for a Fighter) would be most similar to, or even if it would be similar at all, since abilities often do things that spells can't, or beyond the power of a spell.

Is there any official guidance on creating class options? If there is no official guidance, are there any tested DM conventions?

For an answer to be "good", it should include something besides "Ask your GM", because I want a balanced plan before presenting the idea to the GM. Also, the GM is new (to being a GM, not new to the system), so I don't want to overload them with research.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I think the base question is: Is there guidance for customizing class options? That said, you would do well to trim the fluff off this question. \$\endgroup\$
    – lucasvw
    Jul 16, 2018 at 0:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ As it stands, this is a very broad question. With many attempts within the text to define the scope, and then broaden that scope again. Your emphasised (tl:dr for the lack of tl;dr) at the end alone has 3 separate questions that would have vastly different answers. I think you need to define a clearer question before this can be answered. \$\endgroup\$
    – Luke
    Jul 16, 2018 at 0:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Luke Updated. Limited to Official and Tried-and-Tested convention should Official content not exist. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 16, 2018 at 1:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ The emphasised part seems much clearer, however I still think the overall text has a lot of fluff that confuses matters. Like lucasvw suggested above, this question would be much easier to understand if the fluff wasn't there. \$\endgroup\$
    – Luke
    Jul 16, 2018 at 2:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was also slightly confused by your statement that you wanted a 14th level ability " which is on-par with the others." I understand why you would want a boon that is on par with the current version (so you don't lose overall power). But your question seems to imply that all 14th level pact abilities are equally powerful. Is that your intention? I also didn't understand what "17th level ability for a Fighter" you are referring to. At 17th level, fighters just get to use Action Surge and Indomitable more often. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 16, 2018 at 3:58

1 Answer 1


There are a few official sources for this.

The Dungeon Master's Guide has a section in Chapter 9 on "Creating New Character Options" (DnDBeyond link).

There is also a very useful Unearthed Arcana column on modifying classes which has some "under the hood" information about the mechanical design of each class.

Finally, Mike Mearls (lead designer for 5e) does a weekly livestream on the D&D Twitch channel (YouTube playlist here) called "The Mike Mearls Happy Fun Hour" where he spends a lot of time working through designs of new classes and subclasses. Buried in that is lots of information about how character abilities are defined and balanced, and in the very first episode he works on a new warlock pact.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Does he talk about how one would "swap" one ability from a certain pact with a custom ability? I'm not really invested in making an entirely "new" Pact, but creating an alternate ability would be good. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 16, 2018 at 13:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ I haven't watched all 23+ hours of the Mearls stream, so I can't say what specific things he has or hasn't covered. I do know he gives some general guidelines for (for example) damage or healing output for a given level. I'd recommend turning on the automated captions (in YouTube) and skimming a few at 2x speed and see if you can find what you're looking for. \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Jul 16, 2018 at 15:48

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