Few things in TTRPG design are as interesting (or nerve-wracking) as the playtest. Though there are quite a few knobs and levers to adjust in 5E mechanics, the largest and most complex are found in the bestiary. There, the rules governing PCs can be bent or outright broken to facilitate a certain style of play. For ToV, the design goal for Playtest Packet #3 and the Kickstarter preview has always been: create high fantasy.
While retooling creatures for ToV, I wanted to capture the unique power some of the linchpin threats might possess in a fantasy world and give them enough survivability to use them. If you could see some of the hit point totals I gave monsters in early playtests, you’d probably lose your capacity for rational thought!
But when running 4+ combats against these creatures, it highlighted that most didn’t have abilities in their toolbox to shock, surprise, or frighten a party. They mostly relied on damage or multiattack. So instead of compounding damage numbers or inflating hit points, I focused on two design options: conditions and gated features.
My favorite redesign in the Playtest Packet #3 has to be the zombie, who has become nightmarishly dangerous in groups or swarms thanks to their ability to grapple on a successful hit, which might lead to a savage Festering Bite on the same turn! The zombie’s favorite condition (grapple) is now a signal whistle for players to stay far away from these creatures, made easier by the zombie’s meager 20-foot speed.
The threat of dangerous conditions makes even unassuming monsters feel more harrowing. But it also makes spells and features that prevent or undo such conditions more powerful, capturing those moments of heroic perseverance.
My apartment has two pools that in the complex, we call, “policed by the geese.” About twenty Canadian geese vacation here each year. While walking around pondering, “what makes dinosaurs cool?” I watched, in horror, as a goose snapped up a large fence lizard in its beak and hurl it at least 8 feet (seemingly unhurt, by the way) into a rosemary bush . . . what I’m saying is, t. rexes in ToV are very large geese.
In testing, I found that GMs play creatures in highly specific and interesting ways so that they can use features that demand specific circumstances (like the t. rex’s Fling action).
Once players pick up on what the GM is doing, a new sub-game arises where the players try to stop the bears and ogre zombies from smashing through a creature’s space or prevent the purple worm from swallowing and dissolving a target in acid, while GMs try desperately to use them. Emergent fun!
There’s More Coming!
Familiar creatures with new toys and tools; heightened stakes with combat styles baked in; and making creatures memorable, regardless of how many rounds they survive, is going to permeate the ToV monster book. We can’t wait to show you more!
The Preview Is Up!
As part of the kickstarter, we shared a free 64-page preview of the Tales of the Valiant game, showing off sample pages from the Player’s Guide and the Monster Vault! If you haven’t checked it out already, go download it.
Note: Changes you see in the preview packet are not guaranteed to be the final versions that appear in the game. Playtesting, development, and refining will continue until the books go to final editing.