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So I'm a totally inexperienced DM and I want to make my own subclass. I checked the DMG and the instructions were okay but I really don't know what to do still. I need a fairly basic set of steps to build my own subclass.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Why are you making a subclass? Is there a mechanical limitation to the system at the moment? Is this a lore aspect you want to explore? What problem do you have that a new subclass would solve? \$\endgroup\$
    – StuperUser
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 17:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @EliM If you're looking to brainstorm, hop on into our very own Role-playing Games Chat! \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 19:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch: It may not be opinion-based, but I think it'd still be closed as unclear. It's a very broad/generic request for help. We can't provide more detailed guidance without knowing what the querent is confused about or what part of the process of homebrewing a subclass they're having trouble with specifically. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 1:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree that this is opinion-based or needs more details. I think the two existing answers are both supported and reasonable. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 15:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu They said they were looking for a 'fairly basic set of steps' to build the subclass. We don't need the details of what they're building, they're looking for a general basic approach to begin their process. I'd fully expect more questions if they pursue, but right now it seems like they want a basic initial approach in order to begin. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 13:42

3 Answers 3

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Speaking as an avid (and award-winning) homebrewer and published third-party author,1 here’s “the list” so to speak:

  1. Pick a class.

  2. Read a subclass for that class, and note at which levels it gives a feature.

  3. Write your own subclass, giving features at the same levels as the subclass you read in step 2. Try to make the features parallel the example subclass’s—they should be balanced against the other subclass, and should be the same “sort” of feature in most cases.

And that’s “it,” those are the simple steps. Of course, all the difficulty comes in step 3, where you have to actually design features—and there’s no simple step-by-step approach to doing that. It takes reading all the options, knowing the environment very well, having the appropriate experience—in short, it takes judgment. Which isn’t something that can be simplified, you just have to immerse yourself in the subject matter, try things out, and learn. Which brings us to the last and most important step:

  1. Test it mercilessly, and don’t be afraid to start over from scratch to get it right. Most designs will take many iterations before they really work well in the game.

All of which is daunting for anybody, and particularly someone new to the game. But the only way to get better at it is by trying, so I would say go for it—just don’t expect your initial attempts to work well in game, and maybe avoid trying to actually use them for campaigns you’re DMing right now. You need to get practice first—which means you need to actually practice, but also means that you maybe shouldn’t be subjecting players to your trial and error (or maybe you should, if they’re on board with that kind of thing—but you can’t really do both a serious, longterm campaign and a trial run for your homebrew at the same time very well).

  1. The vast majority of my homebrewing—and everything I’ve actually had published—has been for D&D 3.5e/Pathfinder, and Rule of Cool’s Legend, not D&D 5e. Still, the basics all remain the same—a D&D 5e subclass is in some sense a simplified/streamlined PF archetype.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Upvoting for an excellent quick summary on how to approach homebrew along with really good things to look out for. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 18:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Where can I find your published content? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 18:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I don’t know if Rule of Cool’s Legend is even still available, but I contributed to that. Other than that, you want to look at some of Dreamscarred Press’s Pathfinder offerings, especially Psionics Augmented: Occult. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 18:32
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If you're inexperienced, I'd recommend holding off on homebrew

I'm going to present a challenge to your question rather than exactly what you're looking for.

Homebrewing isn't easy. It's not to say you shouldn't do it, but that having a good grasp for the rules and their interactions as well as a strong understanding of the existing base classes and subclasses will help you immensely in your attempts.

Understanding how things work and what you like/don't like/want to make are going to be the first real step in being able to create something new.

I very strongly believe that before you begun homebrewing content that you get a strong foundation in the system.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Eh. Not going to downvote or anything, but ultimately—if homebrewing is what you want to do, then do it. You aren’t going to be good at it at first no matter what you do, you need practice, but the best practice for anything is always going to be trying to do that thing. Trying (and failing) to homebrew is also a fantastic way to get to know the game very well. That’s how I started. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 17:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I agree, it's why I said "It's to say you shouldn't do it". But it's akin to saying "i'd like to build a house" before you learn carpentry. Yeah, you can do it...but it'd be a whole lot easier and better if you did that first. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 17:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch plus your first house might be functional, without first having to build 20 that collapse on their own ^^ \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 19:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I tend to agree with NautArch. Having a strong foundation in the system at hand is critical. Yeah, anyone can throw something together and just hurl it at the wall to see if it sticks, but your chances of making something useful are low, and more to the point, you often won't have the background to understand why it failed -- especially for the more obscure failure modes, like "the player using the subclass likes it fine but the rest of the table hates it" or "it just isn't fun to play". \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 20:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym I’m speaking from experience—I learned 3.5e almost entirely from trying to homebrew it. I read a ton, I discussed a ton, but it was all for the sake of trying to get the homebrew to work. I had literally created only one character—and played that character only a very little bit—when I wrote some of my first homebrew. Homebrewing can in and of itself be a way to get the strong foundation, and it’s a very effective one because you have to dig into the material very deeply to get your stuff working correctly. Anyway, comments aren’t the place to argue this. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 22:13
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  1. Pick a class.
  2. Read a couple of subclasses that are based on that class.
  3. Use the balance of those subclasses to make your own subclass.

I was making a Firebender (with serial numbers like lightning-bending filed off) monk subclass at one point that violated the precedent set in the "Way of the Four Elements" for how much ki a spell/level costs. Take the precedent set of other subclasses in order to make your own subclass.

I hope that advice, and my own experiences, help you make your own subclass.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Other than the brief mention of your Firebender homebrew experience, you don't really provide any new information here or real data about your experience to pass on. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 18:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to answering on the stack, though! Please take the tour to learn more about how we operate and you can also visit the help center for more information about what our answer expectations are. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 18:35

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