Playtest Packet #1 for Project Black Flag has been available since Monday. There are lots of questions, so we asked our Senior Game Designer, Celeste Conowitch, to reveal her thoughts in a new design diary. Look for this as a monthly feature during playtesting.
Design Diary- Playtest Packet #1: What Are We Doing Here
Greetings maties! My name is Celeste Conowitch. I am Kobold Press’s Senior Game Designer, and I wanted to give y’all some frank updates on what’s happening with the design of Project Black Flag.
What is the point?
In the hustle and bustle of an exciting new project, we have heard that you want to know the point of it all. Why make a 5E clone? Why not tear up all the previous 5E projects and start from scratch? Why?
So, let’s start there.
It’s Time for the Monopoly on D&D to End
This is a wildly exciting time to make TTRPGs as we stare down the possibility of an RPG future not ruled by one master game under the control of one master company (The Lord of the Rings taught us this is bad).
One of our wise team members said something that I think about almost daily, “This game has meant too much to us for too long to let it remain owned by just one company.”
And they are right. I love D&D. I’ve played every edition, bought hundreds of books, and my fondest memories are built on this game. I would go so far as to say if not for D&D, I don’t know if I would be here today.
I am not ready to give it up or let its future be controlled by a single company. We know many of you feel the same way.
That’s why we are keeping all the good of 5E alive. And to make it better. That’s why we are raising the flag to declare that we will be here to keep the candle burning, no matter what shareholders plan in some distant tower.
We Want 5.5E, Not One D&D
5E rocks. It’s the best edition of the game ever made. Though, as with any game, there is room for improvement! 5E has been going for a long time (in the life cycle of RPGs), and it’s time to make some corrections. But I don’t want to toss the baby out with the bathwater.
I don’t feel great about what I have seen and speculated about One D&D thus far. I seriously doubt that One D&D can fulfill the promise of true backward compatibility.
I could be wrong, of course. I hope I’m wrong. But it’s safe to say the community has learned a lot this year that would be foolish to forget.
Rather than wait for an uncertain future to unfold, why not make the upgrades we all want to see? Kobold Press doesn’t want to wait.
This project is taking on the issues we can fix without invalidating the thousands of dollars we’ve all spent on some really killer 5E products.
Is that an extremely difficult needle to thread? Yes.
Will it be perfect? Probably not.
Is it worth trying anyway? Hell yeah.
Wait, What Are You Changing?
You heard me. We’re changing stuff that needs to be changed, and doing it in a way that respects your current 5E library and keeps it useful. That’s what we mean when we say the mystic words backward compatible.
Our goal is to change stuff and then give you clear instructions to help you keep using your current 5E material that might no longer be a perfect fit with the (well-needed) changes.
We’re also trying to do that in a way that won’t make PCs or GMs want to cry in frustration.
Those are all some big asks, but we’re trying to do it all anyway. Because YOU, a fellow D&D lover, deserve to have it all.
How Black Flag Gives 5E Power to the People
We’ve heard people say, “But why? The SRD is in Creative Commons now!” We invite you to re-look at the SRD and note just how much beloved 5E stuff is NOT in it.
Do you want to just play a Champion Fighter until the end of time? Neither do we.
Here’s a list of a few things other Kobold designers and I are creating as replacements for the great core rulebooks bits that we all wish were in the SRD:
● Alternatives for the Player’s Handbook subclasses missing from the SRD
● Reimaging the feats missing from the SRD as talents (spoiler alert: it’s all of them, except Grappler)
● Lore text for every monster in the SRD (only stat blocks are in the SRD)
Playtest Packet #1: Here’s What We Did
All right, let’s get to it. Here are some of the changes Kobold Press focused on in Playtest Packet #1 and will continue to develop in our quest to make 5E even more/better/shinier.
Streamline Presentation of Information
Generally, the Core Fantasy Roleplaying approach is to use more straightforward language, reduce complexity, and organize information in a more user-friendly way than the 5E core books do. This style of presentation favors the use of examples and standout advice to help new players.
Lineage/Heritage No Longer Grants an Ability Score Increase (ASI)
A PC’s choice of lineage, heritage, background, personal proclivities, profession, etc., no longer influences starting ability scores. A PC determines their starting ability scores during the Determine Ability Scores step of character creation. We’ve cut the unnecessary additional task of raising or lowering them during two, other, entirely different steps of character creation.
PCs Now Choose a Lineage AND a Heritage
During character creation, a player chooses their character’s lineage, which grants biological features. Lineage traits include things like special senses, size, and movement speed.
They also choose their character’s heritage, which grants learned features called heritage traits. Heritage traits include things like languages and equipment proficiencies.
While heritage options are nested under the lineage option they are most commonly paired with, a player can choose any heritage for their character, even from those nested under a different lineage. This ability to mix and match allows characters to create custom backstories, such as having parents of different lineages or being raised in an adoptive society.
Introducing the Talent System
Feats have been eliminated in favor of the new talent system. On top of allowing us to recreate (better) versions of all the feats that are not in the SRD (which, again, is all of them except Grappler), we have some global improvements, as well.
Here are how talents work versus how feats work:
● Talents are not an optional rule. They are a core part of the game (this was not true of 5E).
● Talents are divided into three categories: Martial, Magic, and Technical. Each class is tied to one of the three talent categories. Characters that gain a talent for their Improvement must choose it from the list that matches their class talent list.
● Every background grants a talent during character creation.
The traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws tables have been removed from backgrounds. They have been replaced with a single Adventuring Motivation table that encourages players to look forward instead of backward when creating character narratives. Let’s reclaim all that page space eaten up by lackluster tables, shall we?
Looking Forward: What is the Kobold Design Team Working On?
If we’ve heard anything loud and clear from Playtest Packet #1 feedback so far, it’s this: WE WANT MORE, AND WE WANT IT NOW!
That’s awesome! We want to give it all to you right now! But we can’t. We have to be sad, just like you, and roll it out in bite-sized playtest pieces. I think we all can agree that this is another instance of why being a non-variant human is the worst.
BUT! We can give you a list of big-picture goals we are working towards to make this game even better:
● Make the rules easier to read and understand.
● Provide tools to reduce GM burden (encounter building tools, exploration encounter tools, social encounter tools, etc.).
● Rebalance a whole lotta existing junk (especially feats and classes).
● Provide opportunities for PCs to make meaningful choices at higher levels.
● Make spellcasting feel cooler.
So, there you have it! A design diary full of hope, big dreams, and frank explanations. Before I sign off here, I want to say thank you. In the midst of this major undertaking, you have reminded us that we needed to stop for a minute and explain where the heck we’re going. We heard you, and you are so right. Again, you deserve it all, so I can’t wait to share more with you when that next packet drops.
Until then, happy rolling!
—Celeste Conowitch, Senior Game Deisgner
Have more questions? Check out our new living Project Black Flag FAQ page. We’ll update this page weekly to provide a more transparent view of our process.
Playtesting for Packet #1 ends on February 27th at 11:59 p.m. PST, so submit your playtest feedback in the next few days!
51 thoughts on “Project Black Flag Friday: Design Diary #1”
This is very exciting. I’m very happy to see your design goals laid out. I can’t help but wish One D&D would have done the same.
You talk about making spellcasting cooler. I hope you’ve also got ways in mind for non casters to have more cool things to do in and out of combat, in addition to casting ‘sword’ and ‘fist.’
I’m in the same boat. I want more interesting universal options for martials. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but it needs to be better than the current bevy of basic maneuvers (trip/shove/etc)—preferably a streamlined resolution system for making up “basic” maneuvers on the spot and applying them in place of attacks.
Agreed, Spellcasting being cooler is curious but I’m pretty surprised that there were no mentions of martials given how frequently people have complained about them lacking that grandness as things progress. Though that could be potentially included in their “Rebalancing of the classes.”
We did a playtest this weekend, and all of my players said the same thing: the rules as they are now seem to make the martial/caster divide from 5e *worse*. The only way to be an equally effective martial character, even at level 5, was to take some spellcasting talents. (Yes, we’ve filled out feedback, no worries). I hope this turns around, because sometimes a player just wants to feel powerful without spells. Sure, maybe a magic weapon or armor to add +1 or +2 or a flaming sword, but generally not having to cast spells to keep up with the sorcerer or warlock.
Hard agree with the Martial stance. I played a Ranger in Pathfinder 2e and it was great being able to do cool things without spells. Having options and an actual niche. Spellcasting is already very cool in 5e and it is not difficult to build a spellcaster that does everything a martial can do, but more. Especially the longer the game lasts. Making spellcasting cooler is fun, but making martials cooler and more competitive is much more important.
Also curious how multiclassing will turn out and how it influences talent choice. Can a warlock with a dip in paladin get heavy armor and martial feats? Right now a lot of advantages of martials come through level one proficiencies and “ressourceless” abilities, allowing casters a minor dip for a big power increase, while caster powers rises exponentially, requiring a mich bigger invest for martials to gain the same benefits from a caster dip.
Let’s see how they implement the feedback. I really want to like Project Black flag, but right, I don’t…
Please alter proficiency, binary proficiency with no skill points is IMO the worst thing about 5th edition,
a wizard who took divinity 101 and wizard University should not have a better knowledge: religion score than the cleric (same proficiency Bonus – the wizard will have a better Int), but the wizard should have something to represent that learning
Only way I imagine this changing is via class benefits like the Sacred Oath option from OneDnD clerics or a free expertise, or pushing things in a direction where skills and the assigned stats are changed or encouraged to be changed around. The latter might be nice, since I know STR+Intimidation Prof are a pretty common rule for some.
I agree, tentatively, because in the same way, I want the wizard who studied theology to still be able to have a higher religion score than a cleric who hasn’t seriously studied.
I would love to see something more in like with PF2, where you can level proficiency up, +2,+4,+6, +8 with level requirements for each increase, then when they got more skill points they could keep leveling something up or learn something new. Much of this choice would represent what they did off screen. If they took religion, then before bed, and such they likely studied off-screen as to say.
I hate the pick your skills and you are always just as good with all of them, there’s no way to really specialize outside of feats, and no way to dabble at all. Perhaps mechanically good, thematically it has always drove me crazy.
I also loved the Proficiency for weapons and armor, which means a small martial dip would only give you a dabbler level while full martial would keep progressing.
I like the design goals, but the playtest packet seems very imbalanced so far. I think The Rules Lawyer made a good video on things he hopes PBF fixes that I hope gets noticed. Treantmonk made a pretty brutal review, that I think does highlight a lot of balance issues. Hopefully the feedback works them out.
Just read the playtest. Aside for the litany of typos and errors, only some of which have been corrected (surely we’re not getting to choose a 3rd level spell at level 5 as a heritage feature) this was not anywhere near ready for an open test.
Open playtesting should be about finding bugs and determining preferences. This has massive and obvious balance issues. Why would anyone choose the Grove heritage over the Cloud? The magic talents are way better than the martial talents which are way better than the technical talents which aren’t worth choosing at all. I’m supposed to give up a 2 point boost to an ability score so I can open a business? Couldn’t I do that anyway? And does choosing this talent limit my potential income? It kinda seems to.
What little new content we’ve gotten here is riddled with problems. Honestly, this reminds me of scrolling through the shared homebrew on D&D Beyond. You can see what they were going for, but the potential side effects haven’t been taken into consideration at all. I have to admit that I’m a bit disappointed.
Agreed that the talents could be improved. Also, this post says that you’re stuck with whichever category you pick in the very beginning. What about magic wielding fighters (like monks and paladins? Maybe ninja or samurai type classes?)? Or clerics who learn to fight?
I must also add, that I don’t like removing bonds, flaws, and ideals. We’re making characters here! Characters are people, all if whom have bonds, flaws, and ideals. Getting rid of those for the sake of “looking forward” sounds like “this character just popped out of thin air and went on an adventure”. Everyone came from somewhere, everyone has good and bad traits. Our characters came from somewhere, and are “looking forward” to an adventure.
Yeah, the only being limited to one talent list, seems like it will be unnecessarily limiting. Are Warlocks going to be able to take the Martial, or the Magic talents? What about Eldritch Knights? How are they handled? Or my personal favorite, Bladesinger Wizards. Will they not be able to take Martial talents like Mobile, or Slasher, or Fighting Initiate: Two Weapon Fighting?
Then there are Heritages. Using our Bladesinger again, If we took the Cloud Heritage, and picked conjuration, then we can learn Spirit Guardians. Are we sure we want Bladesingers misty stepping around with Spirit Guardians?
Thank you, Celeste!! So exciting!
This is a good start. Moving forward it would be very useful to see the design motivation before the playtest packet so we knew what to evaluate.
The playtest material released is frankly embarrassingly unprofessional. The whole thing is riddled with typos and it really feels like no thought has been put into the overall balance of Talents or Heritage/Lineages. If Kobold Press is looking to compete against WotC and their One DnD project you need to seriously step up your game. As a DM there is almost nothing in your document that I’d be willing to put into my games, with the exception of the herritage/lineage system. Here’s a prime example of the playtest fundamentally not understanding 5e rules, which it should if you’re looking to create 5.5e
Through regular practice wrestling, boxing, or engaging in some
other form of martial arts, you have mastered techniques that
allow you to efficiently fight without the use of weapons. You gain
the following benefits:
** • You are proficient with your unarmed strikes. **
• Your unarmed strikes deal bludgeoning damage equal to 1d6 +
• You have advantage on ability checks made to initiate or escape
Hand to Hand, first bullet point is redundant, since by the core rules of 5e everyone is proficient with unarmed strikes. There is literally no reason this should be here. Also the way that School Specialization currently reads is that you can just keep stacking DCs and other bonuses which is hilariously busted.
I’d be all for 5.5e but as it stands this is not up to par. If over half the document is just a rehash of SRD rules and we have… being generous, roughly 3-4 pages of actual content, what exactly are we supposed to playtest? We have so little to give feedback on it’s genuinely not worth the effort.
“You heard me. We’re changing stuff that needs to be changed, and doing it in a way that respects your current 5E library and keeps it useful. That’s what we mean when we say the mystic words backward compatible.”
You need to Define exactly what you mean by: Backward Compatible.
Does it mean everything will be fully backwards compatible? Including additional rules crunch like subclasses, Spells, and feats?
Does it mean just adventures, and monster stats?
Does it mean something in-between? Please; Spell. It. Out.
Which one? Because that decision will impact how much you can really fix and adjust systematically to fix some of 5e’s known issues.
“Talents are not an optional rule. They are a core part of the game (this was not true of 5E).”
At face value; this adds complication to the game.
Or are subclasses going to be adjusted to account for this? Subclasses are basically curated feat trees. Adding more feats on top of that will add more fiddly ability tracking for players.
“That’s awesome! We want to give it all to you right now! But we can’t. We have to be sad, just like you, and roll it out in bite-sized playtest pieces. ”
We don’t need “everything”
What we do need:
Character creation for humans and 1 or 2 alt races.
A short list of backgrounds and talents.
Short list of spells – levels 1-3.
2-3 playable classes with short list of subclasses.
We need enough to see how all these parts will work together. i.e. A truncated Alpha build.
Rolling out “bit-sized” chunks is a preview, not a playtest.
I mean, on the one hand: yes, I agree! This really isn’t a full playtest. It’s really preliminary (and omg typos!).
But also, it was pretty good for my players to really focus on *only* the character stats, lineage, heritage, and feat options in the playtest, compared with how they’d do a full 5e character. It allowed them the opportunity to drill down their thoughts more in depth, since the rest of character creation and rules were familiar, than if they were going through everything at once.
I hate to say it, but I wasn’t impressed with the first packet. I’ve been using much of the new 1DD playtest material in my new campaign, and I was looking forward to trying PBF material instead – but talents are not balanced, races still have racial weapons, and other racial traits are highly situational. It feels dated compared to the 1DD material, which while I don’t use 100% feels very balanced. The attribute system encourages min-maxing.
I’m hoping the next packet is a marked improvement. I rooting for PBF to succeed – but that means it needs to be good.
Thanks for sharing your views and plans. I am not a 5e player, I prefer old school versions of the game, but I like what I’ve seen from PBF so far. Keep up the good work! 👍
Very exciting stuff and really looking forward to what you guys produce.
Here is one piece of my 2 cents feedback that you may or may not (probably!) find useful:
Will you think of making all the Subclass choices for all the classes happen at level 3?
Imo this is one of the BEST innovations that has been talked about for OneDnD, as it standardises the general game system and makes everybody.
On top of that it is not that hard to do! Wizards just choose their speciality a bit later, Priests still choose their deity at level 1 and then their ‘speciality’ at level 3 (The main thing would be getting access to heavy armour a bit later), and Sorcerers can identify their specific blood line at level 3 as opposed to level 1.
It’s a very easy fix!
Anyway just a thought. best guys!
Please switch over to Spell Points!
Sad to see there is no mention to one of 5e’s biggest issues: monster’s CR.
CR can go /get replaced by a different system like say “Encounter level” balanced more around “if you have party of 4-5 at level x or party of 2-3 at level x+1 this would suit them”
Love that you are raising the flag, but I think you could do different than 1DD in the playtest, it doesnt have to be a copy of chunks. As someone said above, maybe all the steps for 1st-3rd level character, then later grow on levels would be so much more fun to playtest.
And my wish list :
– Make sorcerers uses a magic system that distinguishes them from wizards, they are a water-down version of wizards.
– Make skills more flexible instead of the binary system of 5ed, I know that the current is easy to learn but doesnt let you customize.
– Make martials great again
– Keep up the good work
I saw a suggestion somewhere on the interwebs that Sorcerers use CON for their casting ability instead of CHA. I know Adriano suggested a greater overhaul (and I agree), but we need to break up the Charisma Club.
What about the martials? I ask because one big thing about 5e is as the books and support materials have grown , the support martial options got shrunk drastically in favor of reflavored half caster /quarter caster options …and you then made the point to highlight spellcasting more cooler
Awesome. You just keep saying everything I want to hear. Thank you.
Nothing but disappointment.
You have some of the best names and brains in the hobby, with dozens and dozens of interesting ideas and creators and your *big brilliant idea* is … ‘it’s just dnd but more complicated in ways we like.’
Like, yes, 5e is great. It is the greatest version of DND. And if you only ever want to play the same game with the same ideas and the same spells and the same classes and the same EVERYTHING, then this is fine.
But ‘this is a dnd clone except a few minor changes’ seems like such a middle finger to the many many years of experience coming from the designers at MCG, Chaosium, Green Ronin and those many others who have been brave enough to split with WotC and actually try to improve the game rather than just rehashing one more cowardly sequal to something popular.
This is only reinforcing the idea that “all TTRPGs must look one way” and that is just not true.
I am just so disappointed.
I really appreciate your stated intentions here, and it’s encouraged me to give things another chance. The main concern I have is whether your mechanics design can actually do what you intend, which is improve 5e.
I’m unfortunately in the camp with some other folks that the first playtest looked like a disappointing mess that mixed some interesting ideas with very inconsistent mechanics. I also don’t really think that including a lengthy “What are RPGs?” section in a playtest that’s only really comprehensible by experienced gamers was a great idea.
I’d rather you focus on just showing us streamlined versions of the new concepts and mechanics and demonstrate that you have the mechanical skills to back up the goals you’ve laid out.
When it comes to the goals, by the way, I’d really ask you to reconsider making talents specific to class categories except when absolutely necessary for balance reasons. One of the best things about 5e feats was using them to make more broadly competent characters without having to deal with the multiclass rules, and both your approach and One D&D’s seem to be stripping out that option for what seems to be absolutely no reason.
I have to say I fully agree with what you say, Talents tied to class sounds horrible and would be the very first thing we would house rule out. More freedom has always made things more enjoyable. I am not a fan of even skills being tied to a class. Simply add prerequisites to some feats, like must be able to cast a spell to take magic based feats, but keep feats like magic adept which allows you to gains some spells.
I think this move is a step in the wrong direction.
Looks great so far.
You seem to have lots of complaints from people who want something different but 5.5e is exactly what I want out of this.
I particularly like the seperation of lineage and heritage and just rolling the old racial stat bonuses into basic stats.
Keep on keeping on becasue you’re killing it.
Thanks for the post, more transparency is always the answer.
I have to say, though, I just don’t really see the point of the version of the product as its shown in the playtest and described here. I can see how it makes sense for KP, so that you have a system to release products for, but I can’t see why anyone would go to the effort of switching from 5e to something almost identical to 5e in all but a small number of ways.
Considering how much 5e has changed since the SRD was written, it actually feels like a step back in time in some ways. The Lineage/Heritage system is fine, and a good change from SRD 5e, but its hardly a big “wow” feature, and others have done it better (pf2, for example).
If you’re expecting people to make the change to your system, then you have to offer them something. Inhad high hopes for this project, but at the moment, I’m not convinced.
I am interested in this project. Specially because one point: proficiencies are in the heritage, not in the class. I say this for one reason: people misinterpret the problems of broken multiclass combos as subclasses being very frontloaded. 5e followed the general feeling and delayed the subclasses. This screws over the character creation, heavily reducing options, punishing some combinations that are already weaker (because most multiclass options are subpar), and they do not even solve the problem. It only delays it.
The real problem comes mainly from proficiencies. Those are the ones that differentiate and balance classes, so wizards are powerful bit frail, while martials takes their benefits as passive abilities from the equipment. Multiclassing allows for cheap proficiencies with little sacrifices. It’s heavily aggravated by new subclasses that, since they play very differently than the base class (which is a good thing) they require proficiencies to work properly. The solution of WOTC was to give the required proficiencies for free, making those subclasses specially optimal for multiclassing (hence, also harming multiclass options). The high quantity of “free proficiencies” choices is so high that it looks like multiclass and subclass systems are broken. But they are not. The proof is the high quantity of suboptimal combinations. The problem lies in the proficiencies.
You have the key. You have moved the proficiencies out of the classes. You have made the first step right. Now, you need the second stage: ensure that casters need different proficiencies so, when deciding which proficiencies to take, they have to give up on something equally powerful. Do you want to create a tanky wizard? Great. No one should forbid that concept. But you may be giving up on other very important things, like, IDK, proficiency with spellcasting. You are in the right track. Don’t screw it.
We have no clue what they’re doing with classes and I have no clue why you think they’ll change that aspect. They’ve added a few proficiencies to the races but obviously not enough to cover everything. This isn’t anything new, wotc has done the same thing. Classes will almost certainly include various proficiencies
I agree with folks who say this is more of a preview than a playtest packet. I’m hoping your next release will be that low-level cross-section that’s been suggested.
I don’t get folks who are disappointed or angry about this, literally the first release of an alpha version of BF. The line you’re walking is a delicate one: enough like 5e to have the same attraction and compatibility, but better enough to merit a switchover. It would be easier in some ways just to create a whole new system.
I think the key, as some have said, is balance. 5e seems pretty carefully balanced once you understand bounded accuracy. Most of the OP homebrews are that way because they break bounded accuracy. But it puts some pretty strict limits on modifiers, which are the low-hanging fruit of redesign. And that makes the job harder. I’m very curious how this will turn out.
And let me put in a pitch for… non-optimization? Sub-optimization? Not tying talents too closely to class. What I’d like to see is a way to customize my character that expands my options rather than restricts. Multiclassing in 5e penalizes in most cases (delayed ASIs/feats mainly) and, if optimized, often leads to builds which are cool mechanically but make no damn sense backstory-wise.
An ideal talent system would be able to reward the specialist player who stacks related talents to take advantage of synergy and become “the best sword-wielder of their age.” But also reward the generalist player who started as a fighter but is really interested in magical secrets, or the rogue who has a couple of eldritch tricks up their sleeve (that are not enchantment or illusion), or the mage who realized that they needed to know how to sneak better to confound the minions of the Golem God who can detect all spells nearby.
(Disclosure: I kind of think characters ought to evolve to suit the campaign, rather than have a plan for high-level power that they don’t attain till endgame. But I know not everyone feels that way.)
Thank you for the update. It’s good to read about the direction and get an idea of the plan going forward. I’m looking forward to providing good usable feedback on the design.
I would like to add that every new product development or iteration on a current design can end up with errors if a quality system isn’t used to vet the design ideas early. In my mind you’re taking the position of system engineer, which put you as the lead in quality control of the system design. Will you be using quality systems similar to Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA), 5 – Why, Fishbone diagrams, and After Action Reports? If the answer is yes, then I have 100% confidence this game will stand out as a leader among similar 5e compatible systems.
Nope. It’s just an open survey that you can answer as many times as you like without ever having read the material let alone tested it. You don’t even need to understand it, every uninformed opinion is welcome…
Ok, my thoughts so far. I can forgive typos if this is a rush job. You did kind of imply it wasn’t that rushed though, so mind the editing.
Please make humans a unique species, not the ‘baseline in-between of all other species.’ Rather than trying to throw talents at them to balance them with elves and dwarves, give them uniqueness. Dwarves are resistant to poison. Elves are hard to enchant with sleep and charm, maybe humans are more resistant to electrical damage, or thunder or what ever (except necrotic) than their pointy-eared friends.
Divine interest: Despite the enormous scope of the wold, humanity seems to be the focus for the divine powers gathering of souls. You can, once per long rest, re-roll a failed save, attack, or ability check, taking the second result even if lower.
Or something that makes humans more than night blind Elves with less magical powers.
Next, I will second the ‘levels of proficiency’ idea. An expert armorer shouldn’t improve their skills by beating up goblins. It should be possible to be a pretty good blacksmith without slaying dragons. So, allow levels of proficiency. Also, it would be fun if you could allow characters starting out to have some reasonably high level of talent in something that won’t break the game. “I was a pretty good painter in the northlands before I was commissioned to paint the Duchess of Frost Ridge. I ended up leaving in some haste and made a living forging papers for the thieve’s guild in Freeport.” Painting probably won’t come up in combat that often, but it would be fun to be better at it than most people without giving up important combat skills for it.
As I have said before, please give martial classes some tactical tricks so that they are making decisions and using resources rather than just “I attempt to slash it again.”
And finally, make it possible to play subtle magic. NOT low magic, but casters who have less obvious affects on the world. Instead of burning hands, they cast haste or slow or bless or curse or mark. The casters make a difference by making the martial classes better, not by hiding behind them and outshining them all game long.
So, we can look at something like D&D 5e and all of its elements, and pick out the things we like about it, but can we actually say that D&D 5e is actually any good? Before you dismiss me as one of those “play some other game” type, you’ve made a very bold statement by saying D&D 5e was the “best” version of the game when players don’t have the agency to customize their skills like previous versions of the game had. It is definitely the most “popular” version of the game, but I think most of us understand that was from marketing, shows like Critical Role and Stranger Things.
I honestly think because you have a team, you can do better. You can make the next actual evolution to the D&D “Gamey Style” of gameplay and not just some “d20 clone” where players have to jump through hoops to design the characters they want. You actively have the chance to take the D&D style game and design a completly better one instead of salvage the monstrosity that is D&D 5e.
“Best” is obviously a purely subjective evaluation when dealing with something like a roleplaying system, but popularity is the closest thing to an objective measure of how good a system is. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean that the only reason others do is because of “marketing”. I’ve played Pathfinder 1e, D&D 2e and 4e, and 5e (and numerous non-D&D-based systems) and of the D&D editions, I can easily pick 5e as my favorite, and the other veterans in my group agree. The short reason is because it’s so streamlined, we get a lot more storytelling done in a session instead of digging up rules or tallying up modifiers. To that end, Proficiencies (and Expertise) instead of skill points is a welcome feature in my book. So are fewer, more impactful feats instead of the min-maxable pile of tiny bonuses carefully picked out from a list of thousands of options from 3.x.
Not everyone gets most of their joy in TTRPGs from the detailed mechanical design and optimization of their characters and testing them against challenges to see if they succeed (not that there’s anything wrong with it). Pathfinder is still an actively-developed option for that crowd. No need to try to make D&D more similar to that instead of being a distinct option that caters more to the storytelling-focused players who want a more rules-light and freewheeling system.
Where do we stand with the martial arts? I wonder because one of the most notable aspects of 5e is that, as the number of books and supplemental materials has increased, the number of support martial choices has been substantially reduced in favor of reflavored half caster and quarter caster options… You then made the effort to emphasize how wonderful spellcasting is, which I appreciate.
Thank you for the clarity this post provides. I’m excited to try building characters with the new rules you’ve already made accessible. It’s a perfect design for one of my quirky human characters who grew up around dwarves thanks to having a distant relative willing to take care of her.
● Talents are not an optional rule. They are a core part of the game (this was not true of 5E).
Ugh. “Let’s take D&D5e and turn it into Pathfinder 1e.”
I’d like to remind the designers that PF1e was THE KING when 5e was released, in every metric. But 5e took back the crown almost immediately. Why? Because it was simpler. It was more “old school.”
More rules = less fun.
The secret sauce to your project should be to *simplify* not add more core rules.
I doubt there are many groups who play 5e without feats (which it sounds like “talents” are just a renaming of), apart from maybe those with first-time and very young players. One D&D seems to also be making feats part of the core game instead of optional. That said, I do agree with the basic idea that a TTRPG system should generally strive for less complexity so the rules can get out of the way of gameplay.
One way to ease the burden on GMs is to get rid of “natural language” in monster statblocks. It’s too hard to scan that kind of writing for the pertinent information.
If there was one thing I would like to see in a new alternate version of 5e is that the mechanics make sense in context of world building. 0e, 1e, B/X, 2e all lended themselves to making believable, coherent worlds. 5e does not. When a character needs 300 XP to advance to 2nd level, a goblin is worth 50 XP, and nearly all XP is earned through combat…it leads to a world that doesn’t make any sense. How aren’t armies filled with soldiers that aren’t several levels higher than first? How aren’t Wizards going around fighting everything in order to gain power? How are high HD creatures not trying to kill everyone so as to prevent civilizations and societies from becoming productive enough to produce armies capable to killing them with ease? I hope you keep this in mind going forward.
● Make the rules easier to read and understand.
● Provide tools to reduce GM burden (encounter building tools, exploration encounter tools, social encounter tools, etc.).
These are the 2 most crucial things for me if I will be the GM of a campaign. I need aid when comes these sort of things. I also hope that when you buy adventure packages that they help guide more inexperience GMs in conducting the adventure, than just throwing them into it and just watch them flounder.
I also hope to see if there tips and guidelines, to help new people in the game system to have simplify rules to start off, and then as people get more comfortable, then they can incorporate the full rules seamlessly .
I have.. a lot of thoughts about this that would echo criticisms already posted by others. Not least how the twelve page package we have seen is too incomplete to really playtest anything, the Heritages feel unbalanced in how situational some are compared to others, and how I do not believe you can say that Talents are a core feature and then be “oh, just use some 5E classes at this point of the playtest”, which are not designed with that in mind.
But what has me most worried is that what made 5E so popular was the low barrier to entry – anyone who wanted to give it a try after seeing a D&D streaming show could create a character and play in a few simple linear steps, without too much worries about having to understand interactions between a lot of systems. It was a reasonably streamlined process. Compared to that experience, when I see in just these few pages of material that I can now get, for example, armor proficiencies from a character’s Heritage, and also get the same armor proficiency from the character’s Class, and also get some armor proficiency through a Talent you get to choose while going through the Background… you are introducing more “moments of regret” where, on getting to the next part of character creation, the new player realizes that one of their choices in a previous step now ends up ‘wasting’ value in non-synergizing overlap.
It is my belief that it only takes a few of such moments of regret or disappointment before a player will feel that “this is actually difficult to get right” — and that is not where you want to be with a 5E derived system, because then you have neither the appeal of simplicity, nor the strengths on which you’d have to compete in the market for ‘perceived as difficult’ TTRPG systems such as PF2.
The inclusion of night vision is not needed. Darkvision represents a simplification of various different night vision / infravision types from past editions.
While about 70% of the D&D 5e core rules feats need some major or minor tweaking, the adjustments presented in the this play test greatly make me question the designer’s aptitude for balancing game mechanics.