Yesterday, Kobold Press launched their Kickstarter campaign forTales of the brave(formerly "Project Black Flag"), an update of Kobold Press and a direct competitor to the existing 5e rules.
We've seen Tales of the Valiant since its release on and offOGL controversies, throughthe playtest process, and toleading up to the Kickstarter launch, and I'm excited to finally see it live. As of this writing, we are running toward six times our initial funding goal.
In addition to the launch of the campaign and some amazing artwork, Kobold also shared a 63-page rules preview. Some of this has been updated from previous playtest documents for Tales of the Valiant, but we also have some exciting new rules content.
In this article, we will look at the system problem based on the rule sample document. It's not a full game yet, but it's a window into Tales of the Valiant as it develops.
If you're new to RPGBOT, we're known for character optimization, criticality, and digging deep into game mechanics, and I'm approaching the ToV rules preview with just that perspective.
Build skill scores
We welcomed Celeste Conowitch (senior designer) and Wolfgang Baur (manager at Kobold)RPGBOT.Podcastrecently, and part of that discussion was a fun exchange about different ways to create skill scores. Among other things, we all learned that everyone in the discussion had different preferences for how it should be done.
Tales of the Valiant has gone back to the bottom 4d6 drop as "default" but also gives you a +2 and a +1 to increase scores up to 16. This makes it pretty certain that your character will have at least one ability scores that start at or above 16. It also replaces the need for racial ability score increases that 5e has moved away from in recent years.
The method of buying points and a standard table are also presented. The default array score is slightly higher than 5e to reflect the lack of racial skill score increases, and buying points allows you to go up to 18 with the starting skill score, although the cost is significant.
Regardless of the method, it's clear that you're expected to start with 16 or more on your class' primary skill score. This basic assumption has been incorporated intobasic mathematicsof 5e for years, and while Tales of the Valiant makes it more possible to start up to 18, 16 still seems to be the case, and interestingly, it's more clear than in the 5e rules. I've seen many new players come into DnD, start with low scores in key stats, and wonder out loud why their characters aren't performing as they should.
The rules preview only includes 4 classes: the iconic priest, fighter, rogue, and mage. While these are arguably the least complex of the 13 5e classes, they are also the baseline against which other classes are measured, so getting their mechanics right is an important foundation for the rest of the game.
Tales of the Valiant promises to include 13 classes in the core rules. 5e includes 12 in the core rules, with Artificer added in later supplements. We couldn't get Celeste and Wolfgang to tell us which classes will be included in the core ToV rules, but we're getting the 12 core 5e classes plus Mechanist according to the Kickstarter page.
The included classes only go up to 5th level, so unfortunately we have no insight into how things go beyond that point.
Among other changes, all included classes now have their subclass at level 3, which matches the design changes in One D&D.
The new Manifestation of Faith mode allows players to choose between a casting-focused priest and a frontline war priest regardless of subclass. The combat option provides a replacement for Divine Strikes right from level 1, giving low-level clerics a way to compete with the damage output of classes like the fighter. The caster option allows you to take a cantrip from any spell circle list, allowing for some very interesting combos, and also adds +PB to cleric cantrip damage, making your cantrips an easy source of damage.
The two included subdomains, Life and War, are updated by the 5e rules. Spelling domain lists are good and fit their topics well without feeling like someone is reading usspell clergy list analysisand I just selected blue rated options. The Life Domain attributes saw very little change, but the War Domain attributes have a much greater impact. The two stand next to each other as good examples of two very different pastors, but neither is much better off than the other.
Several of the features included bonus applications based on the Proficiency Bonus per rest, which is a trend we first saw in 5e with the release of Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. This led to widespread opportunities for multiclass abuse of low-level moves like Peace Domain's Emboldening Bond and Hexblade's Curse. I'm nervous about these recurring issues in Tales of the Valiant, but we haven't seen the multiclass rules yet either.
The cleric's spellcasting remains largely unchanged, with the exception of how rituals work, which we'll discuss below.
Fighters see some changes in functionality and design that make them a bit more attractive and less "class battle on cruise control".
Second Wind has been replaced with Last Stand, which uses your dice as a resource in battle and immediately offers interesting tactical decisions. Using the last rack allows you to use one or more dice, but you only add your CON once each time you use the feature. Are you using more dice now? Or are you betting you'll need the extra dice to keep fighting? Or do you save your reaction and hope to make an attack of opportunity? This kind of meaningful tactical decision-making has been sorely lacking in fighters in 5e, so it's exciting to see what's a fairly minor feature in a class that offers so much choice.
Fighter also shows us "Martial Actions", Tales of the Valiant, replacing the Combat Style mode. These trigger as a bonus action and not passive bonuses or reactions. I'm not sure how I feel about this change yet, but I think with most of the included options it seems to work.
The Quick Strike option feels sluggish alongside the other options as it does exactly what the core two-weapon combat rules do in 5e, and two-weapon combat is almost universally a bad option in 5e, so locking a bad choice behind a category feature feels like a bad idea. But we haven't seen potential updates to other rules either, so there's room for me to be wrong here.
The sample document includes two subclasses: Spell Blade (ToV's Eldritch Knight equivalent) and Weapon Master (ToV's Battle Master equivalent).
Spell Blade is mostly an upgrade over Eldritch Knight, updating the mostly cosmetic Weapon Bond to also grant +1 to attack and damage. Spell Blade also limits you to exactly one spell outside of Abjuration/Evocation, while 5e Eldritch Knight gives you one of each spell level.
Weapon Master is very similar to Battle Master, but with some updates that I'm excited about. First, Weapon Master adds the ability to choose three preferred weapon types and reset damage with them once per turn. Rerolling a single damage die adds very little math, but it's very rewarding and ensures that your subclass still matters after you've used up your Stunts pool.
Stunts are no longer dice based, so no more "add Superiority Die roll to X". We only get 8 stunt options in the playtest, but the options included are good, and the text specifically says "You gain access to new stunt options at higher levels", so we know there are more to come. One of the long-standing criticisms of Battle Master has been that you get all the good maneuvers at level 3 and then pick from the scraps for the rest of your career. It's good to see Kobold Press taking up this challenge in a rightfully popular subcategory.
Rogues have inexplicably become proficient with longswords. Considering you can't use them with Sneak Attack, I have no idea why this would happen. Other than that, I didn't detect any major changes to the core features of the Rogue class.
We have two subclass options for Rogue: Enforcer and Thief.
Enforcer is apparently the replacement for 5e's Assassin, replacing the Assassinate move with Ambush. Ambush provides advantage on your first attack of an encounter in addition to the critical hit effect against surprised creatures. 5e's Assassinate applies to any number of attacks, but it requires you to hit your enemies with initiative to even work, and with 5e's flat probability curves, that's never a guarantee. I think Ambush will be more reliable, but also less likelymulticlass abuse.
Enforcer also adds the ability to make an extra attack when you reduce a target to 0 HP and access to the Martial talent list, allowing you to create a rogue that's a little closer to a fighter.
The Thief saw fans of Second-Story Work, but was otherwise unchanged. One DnD is reworking Fast Hands because the Use an Object action is so poorly defined so I hope to see Use an Object clarified soFast handsit can still be fun.
I still maintain that wizards are the best class, and a lot of that has to do with the wizard's ability to solve almost any problem with a spell, whether it's some off the shelf item or a painstakingly collected ritual. Well, Tales of the Valiant expects players to lean hard into that fantasy because wizards are no longer short on weapons. No more freerunning on light crossbows until your cantrips are upgraded to level 5.
Arcane Recovery moved to 1st level, new Magic Sense ability added to 2nd level, your subclass is delayed to 3rd level along with every other class. At 5th level, wizards gain the new Rote Memorization ability, which slightly expands the prepared spell list. The spellcasting ritual has also changed, but we'll discuss that below as much as I'm tempted to talk about it now.
The rules preview includes the Battle Mage and Cantrip Adept subclasses. Battle Mage sits somewhere between 5e War Mage and 5e Evoker, while Cantrip Adept is informed by Kobold Press's Tome of Heroes, partly as proof of the ease of moving 5e content into Tales of the Valiant.
Battle Mage offers access to the Martial Talent list, which can provide some interesting build options. I don't see much to be gained with the limited playtest talent pool, but it will expand over time. Tactical Ward works like School of Evocation's Sculpt Spells, though it has a PB/day usage limit, so you can't rely on holding your party as a sole tactic.
Spell Ward is the Battle Mage's signature ability, making your mage incredibly durable for up to a minute at a time. You are required to cast a non-cantrip spell every turn to maintain the effect, so expect to use Arcane Recovery to recover cheap low-level spells to keep Spell Ward in combat.
Cantrip The adept receives two cantrips from any spell cycle list and may take a cantrip as a bonus action PB/day. There isn't a ton of nuance here.
I'm surprised mages don't get a cantrip damage boost feature. Clerics can get one at first level, which puts their cantrip damage ahead of mages. Such mods come online around level 6 of the 5e rules, so that might be the answer, but it still seems strange that priests can do so much more damage for the first 5 levels of the game.
Lines and inheritance
Tales of the Valiant replaces 5e's race and subrace with Lineage (your biology) and Heritage (your culture). DnD has long had a problem with tightly bound race and culture and has gradually moved away from that philosophy. Tales of the Valiant has completely abandoned this, allowing you to freely mix and match your lineage and heritage.
The playtest document contains genealogies for animals, dwarves, elves, and humans. I predict a lot of raptor characters because flight is so good, and worryingly few elves because elf traits don't have much impact. The design ideas here are solid, but work still needs to be done to balance the different options.
Included are some legacies that are different enough to give you a sense of what Kobold Press wants to do with them. They offer a diverse set of features that allow you to create some really interesting and effective characters. Only one of the legacies offers innate spellcasting, and notably it does not allow you to recast the leveled spell using spell slots.
5e's background has been a low point in game design for a long time, and WotC has been trying to fix it for years. Background traits are essentially irrelevant, and the trait/ideal/bond/error system is almost completely ignored. Kobold Press has set out to change that in a few different ways.
First, the rules for customizing your background, which in 5e allows you to take any two skills and any two tools/languages, are not in the rules preview document. It was in the playtest document that originally contained a background, but it is not clear what the final version will look like. For now I guess players are expected to use backgrounds while typing.
Second, backgrounds offer the choice of a talent (a feat) from a list of 3 options. This option allows you to ignore the limitations on the magic/war/technique list, and this alone makes your background choice potentially very impactful for your build.
Finally, instead of the traits/ideals/bonds/flaws system, backgrounds offer a matrix of motivations for adventure. This defines your character's personality less, but gives more information about that background, which seems appropriate.
Backgrounds still offers a collection of starting gear, specifically each of the featured options includes 10gp. The variation in starting gear for backgrounds in 5e had ambitious character optimizations to take the starting gear from the Noble background to a bigger pile of starting gold.
Talents (a better name for "feats" since most people don't use the term "feat" in everyday life) are divided into three lists: Magic, Martial, and Technical. Each class provides access to one of three lists, and you may be able to traverse lists depending on your subclass. For example: Spell Blade Fighter can choose from both the Magic list and the Martial list.
The options presented include options similar to those in the 5e Player's Handbook, but several have been updated to address pain points. Some are confused, some are annoyed, but most of the options are roughly equivalent in effect. I see some options as an Artillery, which I think will rarely be used.
Talents are awarded by your lineage (humans), your history, and when you receive an "Improve" trait from your class. When you gain an enhancement, you add +1 to an ability score, essentially making each feat a hybrid feat similar to many of the 5e feats. In addition, you can choose a talent that gives you another +1 increase, so you can opt out of talent complexity if you choose.
Incantations and incantations
As we've previously seen in the playtest docs, Tales of the Valiant has moved away from "spell leveling", which has been confusing for as long as DnD has had levels (which it always has). Instead, magic uses "circles" both to represent their spell list and to represent their power.
Wizards draw their spells from the "Mystic Circle", which includes options such as the 1st circle spell Magic Missile and the 3rd circle spell Fireball. A spellcaster with 3rd circle spell slots could cast Fireball or another spell.
I think if the spell lists (Arcane, Divine, Primal, Wyrd) used the term "Circle" in addition to using Circle to represent a spell level, it would get confusing, but not as bad as saying "you get 2. spell level at 3rd level” for a first-time guide.
Despite attempts to address pain points in the spelling rules, a few things still slipped through.
The rules for Somatic Components still seem to have the lingering pain point of not being able to cast Somatic Components with hand focus unless the spell also requires a material component. Combat Casting includes the text "as normal, you may use the same hand(s) holding this focus to cast somatic spells", but this seems to contradict the actual rules text for Somatic Components.
The rules for roller effect areas still require the drum to be placed on the ground for no apparent reason at all. I just want to blow something up and I don't see why that's not allowed.
Clerics and wizards are both ritual casters as they were in 5e. In 5e, only wizards could cast ritual spells they hadn't prepared that day by casting any ritual from their book. This was one of Wizards signature traits and in Tales of the Valiant they lost this signature ability.
Clerics and wizards now learn rituals as a separate spell pool from their normal spellcasting. You only learn one ritual each time you gain access to a new spell wheel, meaning you only know 9 at level 20 (possibly 10 if they do rituals every other level). You can perform these rituals when you have time for it.
This means that any ritualist has the mage's versatility with rituals, albeit with a limited number of rituals known and potentially no ritual in the cleric/druid/whatever list. The wizard spellbook rules also do not address the ability to add additional rituals to the spellbook, which I hope will be fixed so that wizards can once again become masters of ritual casting.
Spells and spell descriptions
Tales of the Valiant has made a small but significant change to the format of spells: the flavor text sentence at the beginning of most spells has been separated from the rules text, making it clear that it has no rules implications.
The included Cleric and Mage spells include many of the iconic spells you'll recognize from the 5e Core Rules, as well as some interesting new options with names like Gear Barrage. Unfortunately, these spells are not included, but we do see some SRD spells reprinted with the updated rules formatting and terminology.
Many 5e monsters are basically a bag of hit points with teeth, meaning that multi-creature encounters can immediately turn into itchy battles of attrition unless someone adds some complexity to the situation. Kobold Press's Tome of Beasts books are widely regarded as an improvement on 5e's monster design, and Tales of the Valiant continued in that vein, introducing some new mechanics to some iconic monsters like goblins and hellhounds. None of the creatures presented here fall under the category of "a point bag with teeth".
While most of the creatures featured are either standard fantasy monsters (goblins, harpies, dogs) or Kobold Press's own creations (bark demons), the preview document also features black dragons. Color/gem/metal dragons have long been staples of DnD canon, and it's notable that Kobold Press continues to use them now that SRD is being released to the creative commons. Paizo is moving away from the color/metal dragons, and while neither answer is right or wrong in my opinion, it's interesting to see the two companies go in different directions.
The latest playtest document introduced the "Doom" mechanic. Doom gives certain monsters a pool of resources they can use to trigger specific abilities, attack with Advantage, or force a creature to make a Disadvantage save. This is meant to give these creatures a bit more threat compared to their other options. In the playtest document, these creatures gained additional Doom tokens when a player hit a physical 1 in combat, but that rule seems to have been abandoned. The community immediately noticed that it penalized combat figures who typically roll more d20s in a round than spellcasters.
I'm personally not sold on the Doom mechanic. Aside from abilities that recharge on a dice roll or rest, legendary actions, spell slots, etc., the Doom mechanic feels redundant. The same functions could work once per short break. The choice to attack with Advantage or Ford Disadvantage is nice, but I worry that Doom-powered abilities will always be more interesting and impressive, so the Advantage/Disadvantage option will be overlooked.
Tales of the Valiant has also made some structural changes to the way stat blocks are presented. Creatures no longer list ability scores because they only mattered to players. Status Vulnerabilities/Resists/Immunities are listed on the same line as Status Vulnerabilities/Resists/Immunities, which seems like an obvious improvement. Each creature now has a Perception score, which is basically the creature's Passive Perception.
Skill abilities have also been removed from creatures, instead using simple ability checks. I'm less excited about this change than the improvements to the stat block structure. Many creatures in 5e just don't have skills, but removing the option means we can't have NPCs that are good at specific skills. We can't have goblins that are too sneaky beyond high Dexterity. It's not a tool that every state bloc needs, but I don't think it's a tool we should give up.
One of the early playtest documents featured Tales of the Valiants' "fail-forward" luck system. Each PC has a luck pool that can be used to improve a d20 roll or reroll it, and you gain luck points by failing rolls or in situations where in 5e you can gain Inspiration. Overfilling your pool depletes it (you can keep 1d4 points), so you're encouraged to use it quickly rather than hoard it like you would with a valuable resource like Inspiration.
We made a podcast episodecurrenciesearly in the life of RPGBOT.Podcast and I really like this one compared to the others I know. Coin hoarding is an ongoing problem and I think Kobold Press has found an elegant way to deal with it without penalizing players.
I think soTales of the braveit has room for improvement, but based on the small amount of content we've seen, it delivers what it set out to deliver: an evolution to DnD 5e that's natural and familiar, that's compatible with existing content without too much work, and it doesn't throw out assumptions about how the game works that date back to 2014. We're still a long way from the expected April 2024 delivery date for Kickstarter copies, and I'm excited to see what the kobolds create in that time.