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While thinking about Does stuff strapped to the outside of a Backpack count toward the total weight a backpack can carry? I ended up looking at both the and tag descriptions.

What distinction is being drawn there? Is it that

  • house-rule = a tweak to an existing rule to try to better (as defined by us) serve the purpose of that rule,

while

  • homebrew = a (set of) rule(s) devised to accomplish something not addressed by RAW?

I took a look at Differentiating between House rules, Homebrew and and game design and didn't come away much clearer. (Also, it's been 3.5+ years since that was touched, might the understanding have evolved/matured?)

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I'll take a slightly different tack from Shalvenay:

  • is for non-published content. Feats, classes, abilities, perks, traits, talents, or any other mechanical component not published by the holder of the license, or appropriately authorized third parties, constitutes homebrew, whether it's written by the group in question or some random person on the interwebs.

  • is for new or modified rules. Whether it's creating rules to cover situations that aren't handled by RAW or customizing existing rules ("we don't use the RAW grappling rules, because they're stupid"), house rules modify the framework of the system.

TLDR: House rules modify how the system works, while homebrew adds to (or occasionally modifies) the content available within the system.

Addendum: Now that I've typed this, it seems to me that from our community's perspective, the two are largely interchangeable. Most people looking for non-RAW solutions to their problems don't particularly care whether the solution is a new/modified rule or new/modified content. We currently hold homebrew to a higher standard, but I'm not sure we shouldn't be holding house rules to that same standard. I can see arguments for leaving it as is, cracking down on , or even for making the two synonyms; if anyone has strong feelings about any of those options (for or against), a new question here on meta would be a good place to get some consensus.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Homebrew also tends to be a deliberate, complete package, and is often refined through group collaboration and sometimes tuned and balanced through extensive playtesting. They're often ready to pick up and use in your campaign as-is, and in fact, tweaking them may reopen a loophole that was previously closed through that process. House rules tend to be far more organic, borne of a single play group's unique experiences and personalities, and adopting somebody else's house rule will often mean crafting your own rule based on theirs. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Oct 8 '15 at 13:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanHenderson -- very much yes -- a great example of a deliberate-package homebrew solution that incorporates both content and rules is The Way Words Work, aka the Giant in the Playground community's replacement for the stock 3.5e Truenamer class. \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Dec 9 '15 at 3:33
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Just throwing this out there as a starting point, but:

  • is for situations where the DM has to invent a rule not in the books -- say if a situation isn't addressed at all by RAW, if a rule-as-written doesn't make sense in the context of the campaign, if a rule is buggy, or (overall) if repeated rulings on a situation need to be condensed into one place.

  • is for questions relating to other types of homebrew content, such as character classes/races, dungeons, or entire worlds and settings.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For house-rules, I'd also add "...condensed into one place -- or when the DM (and possibly also the group) decide they don't like the existing rule for some reason -- maybe the RAW are too complex or hard to remember, or they just feel 'this way is more fun'." \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Oct 8 '15 at 13:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanHenderson -- that I feel is addressed by "doesn't make sense in the context of the campaign" \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Oct 9 '15 at 1:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Nearly this. homebrew could be an entirely new system of rules even, though I probably need to go look at the questions FAQ to see if those are allowed. \$\endgroup\$ – user2102 Oct 21 '15 at 12:42
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The two should be considered synonyms.

Rules are also content, and content includes rules.

A new magic item has magic powers and effects which essentially change the rules for the person with the item.

A new rule can create new situations and possible actions, essentially creating new content.

So creating rules is creating content, and creating content is creating rules. Hence, the two are used largely interchangeably, and even making the distinction between rules and content is a subjective decision that will differ from person to person.

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House rules (What rules are in effect at my house) are a deviation from the published rules. Whether the source is homebrew or not doesn't affect the definition. The source can be something made up where the rules are silent or from a published variant (like the variants in the DMG or Unearthed Arcana for 3.5) or something made up that the rules do cover but the GM doesn't like for one reason or another.

Homebrew is a term used for content that doesn't come from a published source.

Redefining the tags for these commonly used terms is only going to lead to confusion.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We have a [optional-rules] tag to cover official variant rules and such. In that light, you might want to tweak this somewhat? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 5 '15 at 23:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ The point is how to use the tags in a way that has question-categorising utility. There is a meaning of “house rules” that just indicates all the rules a certain group uses (including official, core rules!), but that expansive meaning isn't a useful subject for on-topic questions here. (Consider that questions about what rules a specific group uses are almost always off topic.) So, [house-rules] necessarily means something else — something that is relevant to on-topic questions here. The distinction between those and [optional-rules] is similarly a matter of utility. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 6 '15 at 20:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ so can I throw an example or two to see if I understand you? At my 5e table I choose to use Speed Factor Initiative from the 5e DMG=houserule? At my 5e table I choose to use a cool intitiative variant borne from whitebox days, significantly modified=homebrew (creation)+houserule (using it in play)? If that's right, what would be the exemplar for homebrew-but-not-houserule? Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Nov 6 '15 at 22:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Any you aren't using. \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Nov 7 '15 at 13:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you call optional published rules in effect at your table? Table-Rules? \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Nov 7 '15 at 14:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie For optional rules, aren't they published (example, Bard AD&D 1e) material, as distinct from non published material? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 22 '18 at 19:15

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