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Kobold Press: adapting DnD 5e is a “challenging line to toe”

Kobold Press is creating its own DnD 5e with Tales of the Valiant, but deciding how close to stick to the source material was a big source of debate.

Tales of the Valiant adapting DnD - Kobold Press art of a humanoid/dragon Warlock

Kobold Press’ new tabletop RPG, Tales of the Valiant, has had a successful first few days. The Kickstarter campaign for the DnD 5e rival has already raised over five times its initial target, and it’s dominated the front page of the crowdfunding website. Things haven’t all been plain sailing, though. Lead designer Celeste Conowitch tells Wargamer that revising 5e has been “a really challenging line to toe as a game designer”, with fans and creators alike disagreeing on what shape the RPG should take.

While Kobold Press was already working on Tales of the Valiant at the time, the DnD OGL controversy in early 2023 was a defining moment for the game. At a time when Wizards of the Coast was proposing more restrictive rules for third-party D&D creators, Kobold Press announced it was creating its own version of fifth edition. The current version of the game uses D&D content found under a Creative Commons licence, and lead designer Celeste Conowitch says this is a version of 5e “with teeth”.

The “balancing act” Conowitch describes comes from deciding how closely to adapt fifth edition. Stay too faithful, and Tales of the Valiant may seem unoriginal and unnecessary; stray too much, and the game could become unrecognisable to D&D lovers – and incompatible with Kobold Press’ existing third-party DnD books.

Tales of the Valiant books from Kobold Press

“[Tales of the Valiant] is meant to be very familiar”, Kobold Press founder Wolfgang Baur tells Wargamer, “and someone who’s got a fifth edition adventure from Kobold Press sitting on the shelf can run it with Tales of the Valiant without a hitch – so we don’t want to say it’s an entirely new system”.

“As it’s a familiar and compatible system, we have people asking ‘Why don’t you just republish fifth edition as it is now?’”. “Others are saying things like ‘Well, we’ve been playing it for a few years, and we see there are some areas that could be improved’”, he adds. “Finding that sweet spot in between has been a constant discussion”.

These debates haven’t just been happening in the Kobold Press fanbase, either. “We have different perspectives on this, Celeste and I”, Baur tells Wargamer. “I’m usually the one saying ‘no, no, just keep it the way it is – we don’t need to change those things’.”

Meanwhile, Conowitch says she was more pro-change. “I’m usually the one going ‘Oh, no, let’s change it’”, she tells Wargamer. “We make a great team that way.”

Monster stats from Kobold Press' Tales of the Valiant

In the end, Kobold Press has chosen not to pick sides; Tales of the Valiant shoots right down the centre of the ‘to D&D or not to D&D’ debate. “We’re probably right in the middle of where we want to be because we have to make everything feel familiar”, Conowitch tells Wargamer. “We have to make it work, but there are certainly issues within the [5e] system that we have all wanted to address for a while.” “That balancing act, making it similar but a little bit different, is a really challenging line to toe as a game designer.”

If things weren’t complex enough, Wizards of the Coast is developing its own revised version of 5e at the same time in the form of One DnD. In general, Kobold Press designers have apparently been keeping a close eye on Wizards’ design choices.

“It’s good to pay attention to what the competition’s doing”, says Baur. “The public reaction to some of [Wizards’] changes can inform us what the audience as a whole want.” “It’s important to keep an eye on that stuff because we’re making our game for kind of the same people in the community”, Conowitch tells Wargamer. “If something comes out in a D&D playtest and people are like ‘God, I hate this’, that’s really useful feedback for us.”

Tales of the Valiant adapting DnD - Kobold Press art of a screaming Lich

Baur says this simultaneous reworking of fifth edition is “a strange space” to design in. “For a long time, I assumed One D&D was meant to be completely different, completely reworked. And now it feels like it might still be completely reworked, but it’s still fifth edition.” “I’m waiting to see what their final version looks like”, he adds, “but in the meantime, we’re building our own game and optimising it for the kind of games we want to play”.

For more tabletop RPG news, here’s an early exclusive look at the upcoming Pathfinder book, Howl of the Wild. And for all things D&D, here are our guides to choosing DnD classes and DnD races for your next DnD character build.