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Organized play currently limits players to PHB+1 (in a comment, @Molot posted a link to an in-depth history thereof, but basically you can use PHB and one other published source to make your character).

Obviously everyone's home campaign is different, but it seems like if there are balance reasons for limiting options during Adventurers League, those some reasons might well apply to a home game, especially one using published adventures. I understand that even in the AL there's been some push back; with calls to expand the rule to PHB+2 or even do away with it entirely.

What can I do to help figure out what (if any) restrictions to place for my home game? Are there known exploits from creating characters via a bunch of sources that PHB+1 prevents?

Are there Adventure Paths that are particularly suited or unsuited to characters from a certain book or subset of books? For example, I could see a Dragonborn being problematic in Tyranny of Dragons, or a Cleric in Curse of Strahd. Is there a list of restricted character options for each of the published adventure paths? Or even just suggested restrictions?

At the moment I'm specifically interested in Tyranny of Dragons, but it would be nice if the answer could address determining restrictions for any published adventure path.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why? Are you asking about limits in the adventure itself? Burden of DMing? Balance issues? What caused you to think that you may need to limit anything? \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Oct 24 '19 at 13:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ How experienced are your players ? \$\endgroup\$ – Pierre Cathé Oct 24 '19 at 13:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @aslum "What should I take into consideration when limiting character creation options" might actually be good as a generic dnd-5e or specific adventure path question! But ultimately, decision will always belong to DM and his group. If we knew your reasons, we could help with actual limits. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Oct 24 '19 at 14:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nice edit ! And a Cleric isn't problematic in Curse of Strahd, it's almost mandatory ! \$\endgroup\$ – Pierre Cathé Oct 24 '19 at 15:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @aslum Ah no that rule disappeared, and several crucial things in the game require "a lawful good cleric or paladin" \$\endgroup\$ – Pierre Cathé Oct 24 '19 at 15:51
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I have often reduced the options available to my players in my D&D campaigns of every edition I've been playing, from 3e to 4e, and I am currently playing in a 5e game where I'm limited to the PHB only.

So, what am I trying to achieve when I impose these limitations? Well, it's several things and maybe not all at once.

  1. Inexperienced players might find it hard to build a character with all sources available. Especially in editions where all your material had to be taken from books, finding all the optimal pieces is hard. Reducing options makes it easier.
  2. At the same time, the previous point makes it easier to build a character that is on par with the character of the guy that just loves finding out wacky comboes across all manuals. Reducing options makes it fair.
  3. Since manuals are usually written by different people, the chances of some material interacting in unpredicted ways goes up wit the number of sources. Authors tend to build upon the common source, the core manuals, without really coordinating with each other. Reducing options reduces power.
  4. Sometimes, some material is just too OP on its own, or it doesn't fit the campaign's power level. Reducing options might be necessary to make the game playable.
  5. Some material might not fit with the theme of your game, for example I've only allowed core races plus tieflings for my adventure set in a town, and my dwarven-warband party won't be allowed to take swashbuckler levels (this was Pathfinder but I'm sure a 5e equivalent exists). Reducing options sometimes just helps drive the setting home.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can I suggest an alternative version of point #3? "Reducing options redudes unexpected synergies. I think it fits your point, but makes it more different from #2 & #4. (The answer is spot on otherwise) \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Oct 25 '19 at 12:01
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Limits Make Special Sense for Adventurers League

Adventurers League has several unique challenges:

  • Adventurers League DMs may have different players with different characters dropping in for each session, so they don't want to encourage too many of the abilities of those characters to come from outside core materials which everyone is presumably more familiar with. It minimizes the number of unfamiliar things that have to be ruled on (and without making up house rules, because this is AL).
  • They also have to have adventures that work and are balanced for whatever characters they allow to show up. The Aarakocra race is off-limits because it can fly, which can trivialize certain challenges they might want to include in the game, and disproportionately reward players who solved them due to this character feature.
  • They also have several campaign settings and limit certain materials to the campaign setting it was designed for primarily for reasons of lore (no Warforged in Faerun, etc.).
  • Finally, AL games are open to all experience levels, and new players are often intimidated enough by just the PHB options.

In this context PHB+1 makes a fair amount of sense, but it is what we might categorize as a "big dumb rule" implemented to minimize having a long list of specific rules on character design for players to navigate and DMs to remember.

Limits May Make Sense for You, But Not Necessarily Those of Adventurer's League

As alluded to above, it is unlikely that you have a drop in drop out system for players (though I play in a non-AL campaign that is run that way subsidized by a game store). It is also unlikely that you are bound to do an adventure in a set way that does not adjust to the characters people have actually brought to your table. There are a few people who would do it this way, but they are a distinct minority.

Player characters being balanced with their party seems to be a concern of Adventurers League. Many home tables could not care less about this, or at least will happily tolerate a modest imbalance. You also may or may not have a wide variation in experience among players.

So yes, it is possible that the AL reasons for limiting options apply equally to your home game, but many of them probably do not for most non-AL games. Putting your game in a box designed for Adventurer's League may or may not be a good fit.

Placing Limits is Potentially Far More Trouble than it is Worth

There are several excellent answers pointing out the advantages of placing limits on options and I don't think I can really improve on them, but for a well rounded discussion we should also address the drawbacks and advise caution.

Don't break your players' hearts if you don't need to. Especially if you are just meeting with the person for the first time "you can't do X because I don't want to deal with learning about it" may make for a bad first impression. Even worse is if they get several levels in not knowing you will not allow the subclass or feat they have been planning for, or a signature spell they are building around. Also they may have just dropped $50 on a book that gives them these options and not be able to use it.

Perhaps more importantly, you are potentially creating more work for yourself in terms of knowing all content available if you try to actually tailor what is allowed to your particular preferences. Even going for PHB+1 doesn't really narrow what you potentially need to know much as long as that +1 is anything and up to the player.

The simplest solution (other than "big dumb rule" limiting options) and least contentious (other than just allowing everything) is to just ask players who do want to bring something from supplementary materials to let you look over it and make sure it doesn't have something that will obviously break your campaign, seems overpowered, etc. For example, I might not allow a changeling in a campaign that was all urban intrigue; at level one they get an at-will shapeshifting ability that is a mostly better version of a late game at-will alter self casting option for druids and warlocks, and in such a campaign being a different person instantly with little possibility of detection might be huge. But the changeling I play in another campaign set in wilderness is at level four and has had no occasion to use the ability except for flavor.

Many players bring in characters built using D&D Beyond and don't actually know what resource the options came from (even if they meant to only use PHB options). This is especially common with new players. Trying to suss out where they got what can require a lot of googling or an encyclopedic knowledge, and can put a player on the spot to pick something else they haven't really thought about.

Also, remember that letting a player steamroll an occasional encounter because of the awesome ability they have is not the end of the world. It can make them feel awesome, and characters should be allowed to just be awesome sometimes. Keep in mind that they have basically always passed up some other options (and hence made sacrifices) to have that ability, and thus been weaker in other situations. The cool multiclass they have might have involved a slog of being underpowered for 4 levels or whatever, in which case they bought what they've got. Everything has an opportunity cost. Aarakocra flight is probably the most cited "overpowered" or "gamebreaking" option, but the race doesn't get a whole lot else and when you knock them out of the sky that falling damage is going to hurt.

There is no option available to my knowledge that will be useful in every situation, and few at most that a DM can't nullify for many or most situations.

Probably the least contentious situation for limiting options is races (or less often classes or spells) that are incompatible with the setting. Not a lot of players expect to play a Tabaxi cat person Monk in Middle-earth, and limits may help a lot to get away from the "kitchen sink fantasy" approach of default D&D, which many people hate. Note further that even published materials that are for particular settings (e.g. Ravnica) are often not intended by Wizards of the Coast to necessarily be used in other settings. Limiting things to the more general supplements (the main ones for player options being Volo's for races and Xanathar's for subclasses, feats, and spells), seems to usually be less disappointing to players.

Finally, if you have a player with the knowledge to exploit supplementary materials for some sort of overpowered monstrosity, they are probably even better versed in how to make comparable powergamey monstrosities from the more familiar PHB materials. Beyond this, many if not most supposedly "broken" combos come from feats and multiclassing which, despite many people's expectations, are themselves optional rules you don't have to allow.

Personally I find the prospect of trying to enforce limits beyond "run it by me" more daunting than a free for all, but other people's mileage will vary.

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Source material restraints are placed on character creation to ensure the resulting characters work well

This is true for every edition of D&D, though for many editions the restraints are more likely to be piecemeal than book-by-book. Generally, in my experience, the specifics are something like one of the following:

  • The GM doesn't have access to or doesn't like a particular source, so it's banned
  • A particular source is badly balanced (e.g. Barbarians in Dragon #67 for AD&D, Celerity in PHBII for 3.5) or just all-around bad (e.g. Complete Psionics, Book of Exalted Deeds, Serpent Kingdoms for 3.5)
  • Options are limited because a particular campaign with its own milieu has already been decided on (E.g. you are playing in Dark Sun, or Greyhawk, or Planescape, etc) so options not present in that milieu (e.g. at-will create water in Dark Sun, plane shift in Ravenloft) are banned
  • Options are limited because the play group is building to a certain power level (e.g. 'T3 party' in 3.5., 'people who brought food and torches and aren't too incompetent to exist' in OD&D) and options (e.g. monk or wizard in 3.5, 'dude who charges all threats immediately with greatsword that is his only piece of equipment' in OD&D) that are too powerful or too weak for that tier are disallowed on that basis.
  • Options are limited because the GM or players think, wrongly, that more official material is or is more likely to be better material. For example, they might think that UA material in 5e is less likely to be good than PHB material, and that 3rd party material is even less likely to be good than that. This is, again, wrongheaded.
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm a little confused by your last bullet point... could you clarify it please? \$\endgroup\$ – aslum Oct 25 '19 at 12:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @aslum I'm going to guess at what TDW means. But I think his comment is aimed at the belief some people might have that books from non-WotC sources (or UA) are inherently inferior. Either because they are "not cannon to dnd" or that WotC has a secret touch for dnd books or that 3rd parties put less efforta than WotC. TDW just assumes that its obvious those assumption are false or unfounded. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Oct 25 '19 at 22:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ And to be fair I think there is no reason why WotC would make automagically better material than another equally skilled publisher. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Oct 25 '19 at 22:41
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Personally, while DM-ing D&D 5e the last 4 years, I don't make any limits other than no Evil alignments, and no C-N.

I allow all classes, races, etc. from all published books, and most of unearthed Arcana.

I allow all mixing, matching etc.

I do have a rule that if you use a feature, you need to know what it is and where it is if I ask. If you can't remember, and show me (e.g. you need to have the book), then I can't check.

Our goals are to have fun. Sometimes I will give an "interpretation" of a feature, spell, etc. that reduces it or enhances it based on level.

I allow upcasting just about anything.

I allow down-casting (at full spell level) anything. Want a fireball with 15' radius? Sure.

When a spell has a limit that I interpret as "party", such as "you and up to 6 others", if the party has 8 people, it covers them all. (Sometimes we have a large group.)

It is a game to keep us from delving into current issues like politics, racism, sexism, religion, and such. Places like Waterdeep or Baldur's Gate are big, and have lots of variety.

I believe that D&D is a game of expanding imagination, unlimited imagination, and fantasy.

One time, we banned humans. Why? The BBEG was hunting humans. This was covered in session 0, and agreed as interesting by the players.

RoA, RoF >> RaW. YMMV.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Only the very end of your answer seems to address the OP's question directly, by providing an argument for why not to do it. The rest of your answer simply seems to describe your experience. I'd suggest reorganizing your answer to more directly address OP's question, and then using your experience to support that. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 25 '19 at 10:22

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