After a successful Kickstarter and a flurry of writing, Tome of Heroes is here! Editor Meagan Maricle gives us background about the thinking behind Tome of Heroes and chats with some of the designers for insights.
When we set out to create Tome of Heroes, we wanted to create an all-in-one player resource as handy as the core player book of any TTRPG. First and foremost, we wanted to give players something fun. We wanted a book where every page flip leads to at least one person in the room pointing and saying, “Ooooo, I want to play that!”
We also wanted to make sure the book offered something for the Game Master, as GMs with established worlds would need ways to integrate this myriad of new options into their worlds. To that end, we landed on our next core concept for the book: flavorful. The options presented in the book needed to be vibrant and alive with plenty of storytelling options and flexible enough for GMs to find ways to fit the options into a variety of settings.
All the fun and flavor in the world means nothing if the players can’t actually use the material, which led to our final core concept of the book: usability. We wanted each option’s rules to be solid enough that even if a GM re-flavored an option, it could still be useful to the players and the characters in that world.
So, we set out to create a book filled with options that were fun, flavorful, and usable. Fortunately, a lot of wonderful Kobold writers were up to the task! Several were kind enough to answer questions about design processes and challenges behind some of the new options in Tome of Heroes.
New Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, and Halfling Subraces by Jeff Lee
What was it like to expand on these iconic races?
Expanding on established, iconic fantasy races produces both exuberance and hesitation. They’re foundational to the game, so you want to do them justice and not produce something silly or overly niche. I wanted to keep a certain spirit I felt was present in each race, but explore new possibilities that would have players rediscover these races again.
These races, especially dwarves and elves, have been around for quite some time and are icons in their own ways. What challenges did you face in keeping that flavor intact while bringing something new and fresh to the table?
The challenge is to present something players instantly recognize as a dwarf, elf, or what have you, but at the same time, to produce something players see and say “Hey, that’s cool. I want to play as one of those.” For the dwarves, I went in two different directions. With the fireforged, I took the dwarven trope of smithing and leaned into it, displaying an old trait in an entirely different way. I went the opposite direction with the spindrift dwarves. They adapted to an entirely different lifestyle and environment, yet still display dwarven martial prowess and crafting skill, with different weapons and tools.
What is likely to make players fall in love with these new subraces over the current subraces available?
I think it’s the fun abilities these subraces bring to the table. Who wouldn’t want to play a gnome with prescient ability that can change a die roll to an entirely different number or a jungle-dwelling halfling perfect for a bold, strong martial character? Unexpected, unusual, and just plain fun traits await players who choose these subraces.
Backgrounds by Ben McFarland and Brian Suskind
What were some of your goals when putting together new backgrounds?
BEN: We talk a lot when we work on a project together, and in this case, after brainstorming, we wanted to cover new ground, while easily creating story hooks. We thought there was room for a few slightly more mundane and fantastic options.
BRIAN: Sometimes backgrounds tend to be things that players look at once, but never really get into once they decide what little mechanical benefit they want out of it. For this book, we wanted to create some backgrounds that players could use throughout their character’s adventuring life.
What kinds of flavor and storytelling options did you seek to add?
BEN: We liked the idea of characters showing up with pasts, that they’d already seen some experience. Even if it didn’t translate into class mechanics, we wanted it to give players an easier time making someone who wasn’t just fresh into the world. We wanted characters with a little more mileage on them, because that gave room for anecdotes and references, like “That one time in Zobeck. . . .”
BRIAN: One of my pet peeves is that the Features and Personality Characteristics of some backgrounds aren’t things that you can (or want) to actually use in a game. So for these new backgrounds, we tried to give players material that we felt they would actually use. The Innkeeper, for example, has a suggested personality trait “I insist on doing all the cooking.” While not earth-shattering, it is something a player can use as a roleplaying quirk when interacting with NPCs or other characters.
With some of the backgrounds you created, such as the Former Adventurer or Innkeeper, you encourage players to make characters who had an adulthood prior to the start of the campaign. What were some of the challenges and thought processes behind creating backgrounds geared toward older characters?
BEN: We thought these needed to be people who lived “player-character adjacent.” They had seen adventurers, maybe even been scorned or affected by some, and decided—through desire, anger, or frustration—to try it for themselves.
BRIAN: For older characters, the tone of the background became important. When you have a young adventurer, the background traits tend to be eager, hopeful, and perhaps a bit naive. But a more seasoned character has room for deeper emotions. A resigned sense of duty, for example, or a world-weary weight to carry. Additionally, it also allowed us to bring in interesting hooks for the GM. The Former Adventurer background has a feature called “Old Friends and Enemies” that is tailor-made to bring in NPCs from the character’s past.
Hedge Magic by Sebastian Rombach
What was it like to create a whole new magic subsystem? Were you inspired by anything in particular?
When I was approached for hedge magic, I was settling into a new day job role at a florist. The marriage of my two work lives felt so perfectly kismet! I knew I wanted to touch on magic that couldn’t be found in a wizard’s school. Victorian flower language was a reference point throughout the design process.
What was the core goal or aim of designing this magic subsystem?
It took a few iterations, but after some discussion with Meagan and Thomas, we found that we wanted to approach the design from an herbalist’s perspective, to stay away from harmful evocations, and to design something more akin to rune magic than a magic school like illusion or alkemancy.
Considering the way 5E magic works right now, what were challenges you faced in bringing something new and unique into the game without stepping on the toes of the way magic currently works?
Vancian magic is so formulaic and standardized that I sometimes miss the majesty that comes from great fantasy storytelling. I wanted to create effects that you couldn’t find on a spell list. The other notable challenge was in making each magic effect appropriate to leveled gameplay.
Want to see for yourself? Tome of Heroes is on sale now in the Kobold store!