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Kobold press’ “5E clone” aims to end “monopoly on D&D”

Kobold Press’ Project Black Flag looks like a D&D clone, but the publisher says this is the best way to end Wizards of the Coast’s DnD monopoly

DnD Kobold Press 5e clone - Wizards of the Coast art of a Tiefling child pointing a wooden word at two human children

The initial playtest for Kobold Press’ upcoming RPG system, Project Black Flag, has seen some critique for how closely it replicates D&D 5e’s rules – critique the publisher has addressed head-on in a blog post from February 17. Kobold Press acknowledges its new system resembles a “5E clone”, but it claims this move will help de-monopolise Dungeons and Dragons.

Project Black Flag was announced not long after leaks showed Wizards of the Coast planned to overhaul its DnD OGL. While Wizards of the Coast cancelled its plans and released more of D&D’s content under a Creative Commons Licence, Kobold Press pushed forward with its system’s development, sharing the first playtest on February 13. The publisher is accepting feedback on the playtest until February 27.

“In the hustle and bustle of an exciting new project, we have heard that you want to know the point of it all”, writes Celeste Conowitch, a senior game designer at Kobold Press who is spearheading Project Black Flag. “Why make a 5E clone? Why not tear up all the previous 5E projects and start from scratch?” Conowitch’s answer to this big question is this: “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”, says Conowitch. “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.’”

“I am not ready to give it up or let its future be controlled by a single company”, Conowitch adds. “We know many of you feel the same way.” “That’s why we are keeping all the good of 5E alive”, she says. “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.”

DnD Kobold Press 5e clone - Project Black Flag logo

Conowitch also criticises One D&D in the blog post, saying, “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 fulfil the promise of true backward compatibility”, she adds.

Backwards compatibility seems to be a big priority for Project Black Flag. “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”, Conowitch says. “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.”

After exploring why Project Black Flag currently looks like D&D in a wig, Conowitch turns to what the system plans to do going forward. This includes “alternative” subclass options for DnD classes that aren’t in Wizards’ System Reference Document (SRD), tweaked 5E feats also missing from the SRD, and extra lore for the DnD monsters that are in the SRD.

Conowitch lists plenty of other big-picture goals for Project Black Flag (which you can read in the full blog post). These include “make the rules easier to read and understand”, “provide tools to reduce GM burden”, and “provide opportunities for PCs to make meaningful choices at higher levels”. Conowitch also says Project Black Flag aims to “rebalance a whole lotta existing junk” and “make spellcasting feel cooler”.