Project Black Flag

What You Need To Know

What is Project Black Flag?

Project Black Flag is a code name for a larger series of efforts by Kobold Press to update, streamline, and publish a core fantasy RPG based on 5E Dungeons & Dragons SRD 5.1.

This includes the new Core Fantasy Roleplay rules released and available to all under an open, perpetual, and irrevocable license. It also includes two core books coming to Kickstarter in 2023.

Project Black Flag maintains core compatibility with the 5E products you already know and love, but with a Kobold spin. The new books aim to embrace 5E and expand upon it. 

Our goal is to keep 5E products vibrant and available, both in print and on our VTT partner platforms. Project Black Flag is one step in making this a reality.

What are “Core Fantasy Roleplaying” Rules?

Core Fantasy Roleplaying rules will be a baseline set of rules, sort of like our own System Reference Document (SRD). It’s the groundwork that Kobold Press is laying down for our own sake and as a gift to the roleplaying community.

As we’ve said elsewhere, the SRD 5.1 that Wizards of the Coast released into Creative Commons is incomplete. If Kobold Press, or you, or anyone else, wants to publish game material based on the SRD 5.1, there’s more work that needs to be done: character creation, a more complete subclass class list, more monsters, and other additions.

So we’re doing that work, and we’re calling it the Core Fantasy Roleplaying (CFR) rules.

When the CFR rules are complete, they won’t be the roleplaying game that Kobold Press ultimately produces as our flagship RPG. But when we release that flagship RPG, it will use Core Fantasy Roleplaying as a, well… core.

You can use CFR, too! When you do, put the CFR logo on the product where the rules appear so your customers know what they’re getting. We’ll include the logo on our products as well!

Why publish Core Fantasy Roleplay rules?


Some ask, why bother to publish 5E-centric core rules? The SRD 5.1 is out there in the Creative Commons, and it can be reprinted by anyone. What more could we possibly want or need? Glad you asked.

The Core Fantasy Roleplay system is built on the bones of 5E D&D, but there are three primary reasons to go further.

 1) 5th Edition Core Rulebooks are going away. The 5E Monster Manual, Player’s Handbook, and Dungeon Master’s Guide will not stay in print. New players must either use purely digital rulebooks (which works for some people) or find a new version.

We aim to keep the spirit of tabletop alive by producing beautiful, inviting versions of the core rulebooks for those who prefer to play face-to-face and those who don’t want to pay a monthly subscription to play. 

We want to keep 5E vibrant and strong at the heart of a community of players and publishers. Your investment in 5E will be supported by Project Black Flag because it is compatible with the game you already know.

2) The SRD is incomplete. Anyone who has worked in publishing with the SRD knows that it is a fantastic baseline. We’ve been at it for 8 years—starting before 5E D&D even launched!

However, key elements are missing from the SRD. For example, the SRD includes only 1 feat and 1 cleric domain. A few monsters are conspicuously absent. Character generation has quirks and flaws. The power curve of challenge and encounter-building tools need improvement. Not to mention, it’s time to put a little dragonfire back in the combat engine. 

Kobold Press has been tuning up 5E since the Tome of Beasts design work started in 2015, so we’ve got ideas to fill in the gaps.

These ideas provide fun new mechanical options, delightful weirdness, and frankly remarkable flavor that would never come from a Fortune 500 company. Instead, we stay close to the community with extensive playtests for our books to keep strange and eldritch in our fantasy gaming. And speaking of community…

3) The community is crucial. Project Black Flag is the greatest Open Design effort that Kobold Press has ever attempted. The vital part of Open Design has always been the community. Our existence is literally not possible without community: fans, content creators, other publishers, the old guard, freeform new kids, and everyone in between. We’re all in this together.

Design for Project Black Flag is led by Senior Game Designer Celeste Conowitch and a trusted team. But they do not work alone! We count on the tabletop fans who love D&D 5E to keep its spirit and substance alive far beyond any wizard’s ivory tower, part of the culture we forge. 

And when it’s done, Project Black Flag will remain free from any single corporate enterprise—even ours!—in the commons and deep in the dungeons.

So Project Black Flag isn’t a new game?

In July 2022 the Kobold Press team started work on Project Black Flag. Then, In January 2023, as our biggest fears were coming true, Kobold Press knew that Project Black Flag’s timeline had to change. Quickly. 

In our initial announcements, it was necessary for Project Black Flag to be a new Core Fantasy Roleplay system. However, once SRD 5.1 was released into Creative Commons, it was suddenly clear that we could build on the same foundation that so many people already know and love. As a bonus, Project Black Flag can streamline the new building while ensuring a thriving future for 5th Edition.

What do you mean by “streamline?”

We’re doing 5E, but changing stuff that needs to be changed. And we’re trying to do it in a way that keeps current 5E books and games useful. This is what we mean when we say the mystic words, “backward compatible.”

We will change things. When we do, we will include clear instructions to help you keep using existing 5E resources that might no longer be a perfect fit. And, we’ll try hard to do it in a way that won’t make players or GMs want to cry in frustration.

In general, Kobold Press wants to use more straightforward language, reduce complexity, and organize information in a more user-friendly way than the 5E core books currently do. This presentation style uses examples and standout advice to help onboard new players.

Here are the big-picture streamlining goals we are working toward:

  • Make the rules easier to read and understand.
  • Provide tools to reduce GM burden (encounter building tools, exploration encounter tools, social encounter tools, and more).
  • Rebalance a whole lotta existing elements (especially feats).
  • Provide opportunities for PCs to make meaningful choices at higher levels.
  • Make spellcasting cooler.
  • Keep combat interesting.

Wait… you said two core books?!

Yes! One for GMs, and one for players. It’s tradition. We might do a third one, someday. These books will be available to back on our Kickstarter campaign coming May 2023.


What is the Playtesting process for Project Black Flag?

Here’s an overview of the 3-step playtest process:

1. We ask you to test the waters and provide feedback. This will take place over several months. A new Playtest Packet releases each month leading up to the Kickstarter.

2. The internal development and editorial team reviews your feedback and makes changes where needed. 

3. The game undergoes a consultation and review process before returning to the editors for final changes.

In other words, the public is at the sharp edge of the development process. Your feedback matters—you help Kobold Press provide the best game possible!

After each Playtest Packet release, you will have approximately 10 days to submit your feedback via a short, 5 to 8 question online form. (If you don’t send feedback, we assume you loved it, and you’re ready for the next chunk.) 

Thank you for your patience and support during this process.

What is the Playtest timeline?

Our timeline for Project Black Flag is always updating based on public response and internal review, but here’s a look at the current timeline we have for playtesting from now until August 2023. This timeline might change as we confirm further dates and details.

  • February 13, 2023 – Playtest Packet # 1: Character Building
  • March 2023 – Playtest Packet #2 – Spells, Luck, & Classes
  • April 2023 – Monster Vault Preview
  • May 2023 – Kickstarter (2 Books)
  • June 2023 – Playtest Packet #4 – Clerics & Rogues
  • August 2023 – GenCon live community playtesting

Can I playtest Project Black Flag?

Of course! Everyone is welcome to join open playtesting. To gain first access to playtest packets over the next few months,  sign up using our online form. 

Playtest Packet #1 is already available to the public now.

Take some time to review Playtest Packet #1. We look forward to your feedback which closes on February 27th at 11:59 pm PT.

Where do I submit my feedback for playtesting?

  • Playtest Packet # 1 feedback form – Heritage and Talents (CLOSED)
    Points collected from Playtest Packet #1 feedback:
    • Develop existing talents to build out the full talent catalog
    • Streamline the organization of heritage options
    • Revisit Lineage and Heritage options to improve balance
    • Eliminate the forced choice of either ability score increase OR gaining a new talent for class milestones
    • Clarify mechanical language
  • Playtest Packet # 2 feedback form – Coming March 2023
  • Playtest Packet #3 feedback form – Coming April 2023

Playtest Packet #1 Design Notes 

Lineage and Heritage

During character creation, a player chooses their character’s lineage. This grants a character biological features called lineage traits. Lineage traits include things like special senses, size, and movement speed.

Next, a player chooses their character’s heritage. Ths grants a character learned features called heritage traits. Heritage traits include things like language and equipment proficiencies.

While heritage options are nested under the lineage option they commonly go with, a player can choose any heritage for their character (even those nested under a different lineage). This ability to mix and match allows characters to create custom backstories, like having parents of different lineages or being raised in an adoptive society.

The choice of lineage, heritage, background, disposition, profession, etc., no longer influences starting ability scores. Instead, a player determines their character’s starting ability scores during the Determine Ability Scores step of character creation. We cut the additional step of raising or lowering them after choosing an entirely different part of your character.

Talents vs Feats

Feats were eliminated in favor of the new Talent system. This makes it easy to create and improve versions of feats that are not in the SRD (which is all of them except Grappler). We made some global improvements as well.

To summarize 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. Players who choose a Talent for their character’s Improvement must choose from the list that matches their class Talent list.
  • Every background grants a Talent during character creation.

Reworking Backgrounds

We removed the lengthy and redundant traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws tables from backgrounds. They are 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!

Getting Involved With Project Black Flag

How can I support Project Black Flag now?

There are so many ways you can help support our efforts to bring Project Black Flag to life including: 

Most importantly, the Kickstarter coming 2023 will be a key support system as Project Black Flag goes through editing to print.

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