Monday, May 27, 2024

Let's have a look at Tales of the Valiant, an alternative to D&D 5e

The rules of Tales of the Valiant are backwards-compatible with 5e, but include several improvements both in pure mechanics and in presentation of information

If the repeated blunders from Wizards of the Coast got you tired of Dungeons & Dragons, there are compatible options to pick from. On May 7th, news came out that Kobold Press had released the Reference Document for its upcoming TTRPG Tales of the Valiant (ToV), a backwards-compatible clone that aims to replace D&D 5e. Kobold Press has been working on this project since early last year, after the official D&D publisher, Wizards of the Coast, fired multiple shots at its own foot in its ill-advised attempt to change its licensing terms to gain more control over third-party creations. One consequence of that disaster was the drafting, at Paizo's initiative, of the Open RPG Creative (ORC) license, which is much less aggressive than Wizards of the Coast's own Open Game License (OGL). Another consequence is the ongoing emergence of 5e-compatible game materials by independent publishers. Kobold Press is just the latest publisher to launch its alternative to 5e, so this is a good moment to compare editions and see what new ideas are to be found in ToV and other similar games. As can be expected from a Reference Document, the one just published by Kobold Press contains only the minimal rules to play ToV. But it's detailed enough for the reader to get an idea of what the game is like.

The core mechanic has undergone no change from D&D: characters have the usual six ability scores and modifiers. Rolls can be improved by Luck, which is this game's version of D&D's Inspiration mechanic. In addition to PCs earning Luck points for good ideas or good roleplaying, they also gain a Luck point on any turn in which they fail an attack or save roll. While D&D only lets PCs have one Inspiration at a time, ToV lets PCs accumulate up to 5 Luck points. In D&D, a PC spends their Inspiration to gain advantage on a roll. In ToV, that effect costs 3 Luck points. ToV also lets PCs use fewer (or more) Luck points to instead add a bonus to their roll equal to the number of Luck points spent.

For character creation, ToV introduces a system of Lineages and Heritages instead of D&D's races and subraces. According to the ToV conversion guide, a Lineage refers to biological traits (such as size, speed, and senses) and a Heritage refers to cultural learning (such as languages and proficiencies). In addition to this system, ToV has Backgrounds, which, as in D&D, correspond roughly to the occupation that the PC had before taking up the adventuring life.

  • The Lineages listed in the ToV Reference Document are: Beastkin, Dwarf, Elf, Human, Orc, and Halfling Smallfolk. Alignments no longer exist, and choice of Lineage has no effect on starting ability scores.
  • The Heritages, which, again, must be understood as the circumstances of a character's upbringing, include: Cosmopolitan, Cottage, Diaspora, Grove, Nomadic, Slayer, Stone, Supplicant, and Wildlands.
  • The Reference Document only lists Criminal, Scholar, and Soldier among the available Backgrounds.

Character classes are the area where changes from D&D are most noticeable. Subclass features now have a uniform progression: all characters get them at 3rd, 7th, 11th, and 15th levels.

  • Barbarians get proficiency with herbalism tools. Barbarian Unarmored Defense gives an AC of 13 + Con regardless of Dex. The Fast Movement feature lets Barbarians automatically move up to half their speed upon rolling initiative. Feral Instinct has been moved from 7th to 6th level. Brutal Critical also applies to a natural 19 on the attack roll. Relentless Rage has been moved from 11th to 14th level and is a little riskier to use. Persistent Rage has been moved from 15th to 10th level as an optional feature; 10th-level Barbarians can choose to instead rage instantly when rolling initiative. Indomitable Might has been replaced with a feature that improves Str and Con saves and grants extra damage against objects and structures. In the Berserker subclass, Frenzy no longer causes exhaustion; in fact, 7th-level Berserkers can ignore any exhaustion while raging. Berserkers get proficiency with Intimidation for free. Intimidating Presence is now a bonus action and is harder to resist; it also grants extra damage against frightened enemies. Retaliation can now be used in response to any type of attack, regardless of distance, and even if the enemy misses.
  • Bards lose proficiency with hand crossbows and gain it with all Finesse martial weapons. Tool proficiency has become a little more flexible. Starting equipment no longer includes the option of a longsword, but has wider tool options. Bards know one more cantrip than D&D Bards of equivalent level. The Bardic Inspiration die now increases to a d12 at 14th level instead of 15th. Bard Expertise has been moved from 3rd to 2nd level, and its expansion to more Skills has been moved from 10th to 6th level. The Song of Rest Celebrate Life ability can be used at any time as an action, but heals fewer hit points and has a limit of daily uses. Cutting Words is now a standard feature of all Bards, while Jack of All Trades is exclusive to the Lore subclass. The Countercharm Clarity of Thought ability grants temporary immunity to becoming charmed, but has a limit of daily uses. Font of Inspiration has a new power that lets Bards grant an Inspiration die as a reaction to a failed roll. Magical Secrets has been moved from 10th to 9th level and from 14th to 13th level. At 10th level, Bards get the option to let allies either recycle a failed Inspiration die for later use or apply their Inspiration die to alter damage dealt or received. At 20th level, Bards can regain a few more uses of Bardic Inspiration than in D&D, and this ability can be used on any turn. In the Lore subclass, Bards can grant allies advantage on specific ability checks, have a wider selection of Feats Talents, learn more Rituals and can cast them faster, and keep successful Inspiration die from Peerless Skill.
  • Clerics get the choice at 1st level to either gain one more weapon proficiency or learn one more cantrip; either choice deals extra damage. Channel Divinity gets one extra use at 13th level. Turn Undead Turn the Profane now works against Fiends too. The chance of success of Divine Intervention now progresses more slowly per level. At 10th level, Clerics get the option to get either immunity to disease and poison or resistance to radiant or necrotic damage. At 20th level, Divine Intervention can be used once per day instead of once per week. The list of domain spells for the Life subclass is now even more focused on healing effects. Divine Strike has been removed, but the Life subclass has a new power at 11th level that lets the Preserve Life ability remove diseases, poisons, and some conditions. The War subclass also has a more focused domain spell list. It offers a wider selection of Feats Talents and, instead of adding bonuses to attack rolls, as in D&D, it has powers that give advantage on attacks and increase rolled damage.
  • Druids are no longer forbidden from wearing metal, and their weapon proficiency is expanded to all simple weapons. They know one more cantrip than D&D Druids of equivalent level. They also get a 1st-level healing power and, at 10th level, the choice to either speak with animals permanently or regain a use of Wild Shape once per day. Timeless Body Nature's Grace has been moved from 18th to 17th level and lets Druids survive without food or water. Druids start with fewer uses of Wild Shape than in D&D, but go on to gradually get many more. Wild Shape is limited to a number of known animal forms equal to the Druid's proficiency bonus, and the progression of allowed animal CRs is slower, but at 14th level, animals with a CR of 2 become available. Wild Shape also lets Druids regain expended spell slots instead of transforming. There's no direct analogue to D&D's Moon subclass, but the new Shifter subclass lets Druids choose stronger forms at earlier levels, speak while transformed, make extra unarmed attacks, and gain some elemental powers.
  • Fighters get Second Wind Last Stand at 1st level instead of 2nd. It heals more hit points and can be used more often, but only as a reaction. Fighting Style has been removed. The new Martial Action ability gives Fighters a bonus action in every turn to execute one from a list of combat maneuvers. Action Surge gets more uses at a faster rate than in D&D. Fighters get a third attack at 9th level instead of 11th, and a fourth attack at 17th level instead of 20th. The Indomitable Defiant ability has been moved from 9th to 10th level and no longer needs a reroll; 10th-level Fighters can choose between having this ability or being able to end a condition on themselves. At 20th level, Fighters gain a power that increases damage once per turn. There's no direct analogue to the Battle Master subclass, but the new Weapon Master subclass lets Fighters reroll damage once per turn, execute specialized maneuvers, and score critical hits on natural 19 rolls.
  • Mechanists are a new, non-spellcasting class that resembles the D&D 5e Artificer and the PF 2e Inventor. They get 10 hit points per level (more than either Artificers or Inventors), proficiency with medium armor and martial weapons, and Con and Int saves. They can learn an object's magical properties by touch. With the Shard of Creation ability, they can craft a permanent, transformable piece of magical matter that can turn into a weapon, a shield, or any object of comparable size (the allowed size increases at higher levels). Similar to the D&D Artificer's Infuse Item ability, the Mechanist's Augment ability can be used to add magical effects to objects. Mechanists know fewer effects than Artificers of equivalent level, but can have more enchanted objects at a time. At 10th level, Mechanists get the choice to either make a touched target vulnerable to all damage or heal a touched target; either ability is usable once per day. Similar to the PF Inventor's Armor subclass, the Mechanist's Metallurgist subclass grants the power to create a unique suit of armor with enhanced properties.
  • Monks lose the option of a shortsword as part of their starting equipment, but gain the option of a sling. Unlike Barbarians, Monk Unarmored Defense remains unchanged from D&D. Deflect Missiles has been moved from 3rd to 1st level. Monks start with more Ki Technique Points than in D&D, but the progression slows down to become identical after 9th level. Flurry of Blows allows one attack with a monk weapon in addition to the usual choice of two unarmed attacks. Slow Fall has been moved from 4th to 9th level. Evasion has been moved from 7th to 6th level. Stillness Purity of Mind is now a bonus action and has been moved from 7th to 10th level; Monks can choose between this ability or the standard Purity of Body. Tongue of the Sun and Moon Astral Teachings now costs Ki Technique Points to use. Perfect Self Boundless Technique can now restore Ki Technique Points in any turn. In the Open Hand subclass, the new Focus Intent ability lets Monks alter rolls made by creatures nearby. Wholeness of Body heals fewer hit points, but can be used more often. Tranquility Tranquil Soul now costs Ki Technique Points to use. Quivering Palm costs 4 Ki Technique Points instead of 3 and is less lethal.
  • Paladins no longer prepare spells; now they have a repertoire of known spells with the same progression as Rangers. Divine Sense can be activated more often, without spending any action, and lasts for one minute instead of one round. Lay on Hands is a bonus action if the Paladin uses it on themself. Fighting Style has been removed, but Paladins get a smaller version of Fighters' Martial Action ability. Channel Divinity can be used more often at higher levels. Aura of Courage has been moved from 10th to 9th level. The expansion of Paladin auras has been moved from 18th to 17th level. The Improved Divine Smite Radiant Strikes ability has been moved from 11th to 10th level; Paladins can choose between this ability or using Lay on Hands to let an ally spend a hit dice. At 20th level, Paladins gain a 30-ft aura, usable once per day, that grants resistance to nonmagical damage and automatic success on death saves. In the Devotion subclass, Turn the Unholy Sanctifying Light also works against Aberrations and Fey, is resisted with Charisma instead of Wisdom, and causes blindness instead of fear. The oath spells of this subclass are more focused on protective effects and fewer in number than in D&D. Purity of Spirit has been moved from 15th to 11th level. Holy Nimbus has been moved from 20th to 15th level, now grants advantage on all saves, and deals more damage.
  • Rangers get an option of tool proficiency. Instead of the Favored Enemy, Natural Explorer, and Land's Stride abilities, 1st-level Rangers gain a mode of movement (climbing or swimming) and advantage on all checks to track, and unreduced speed in difficult terrain. Similar to the PF 2e version, ToV Rangers get a 1st-level power that increases damage against an enemy that the Ranger has magically marked as their prey. Fighting Style has been removed, but Rangers get a smaller version of Fighters' Martial Action ability. Primeval Awareness Empowered Mark has been moved from 3rd to 6th level, no longer costs a spell slot to use, has a range of only 60 feet, and can only be used against a marked enemy, but now reveals the enemy's exact location. Instead of an improved mundane hiding ability, Rangers can turn invisible. Feral Senses Keensense has been moved from 18th to 14th level.
  • Rogues have their weapon proficiency redefined as all simple weapons and martial Finesse weapons. At 10th level, Rogues have the choice to either receive even less damage on saves or get a wider selection of Feats Talents. Critical damage increases at 13th and 17th levels. Slippery Mind has been removed. In the Thief subclass, the Supreme Sneak ability has been replaced with Appraising Eye, which lets the Rogue discern the properties of magical items at a glance. With the new Trap Specialist ability, 11th-level Rogues can attempt to disarm a trap (even a magical trap) as a reaction when it's activated.
  • Sorcerers have their weapon proficiency expanded to all simple weapons. They know one fewer cantrip than D&D Sorcerers of equivalent level, but end up with one more spell slot for 6th- and 7th-level spells. Font of Magic has been moved from 2nd to 1st level. Sorcerers learn one more Metamagic option. Careful Spell can now protect more targets. Distant Spell has a longer range. Twinned Spell costs 1 more Sorcery Point. New Metamagic options let the Sorcerer increase a spell's area of effect, change a spell's damage type, cause half damage on a successful save, improve a spell attack roll, avoid losing concentration, or gain temporary hit points. Sorcerous Restoration Sorcerous Renewal has been moved from 20th to 5th level as a scaling ability. At 10th level, Sorcerers get the choice to either add a bonus to ability checks or learn a spell from another spell list. A 14th-level power lets Sorcerers absorb the energy from incoming spell attacks to regain Sorcery Points. At 20th level, Sorcerers can share the effect of ongoing spells with another creature. In the Draconic subclass, a few combat spells are added to the Sorcerer's repertoire depending on the selected lineage. Dragon Wings has been moved from 14th to 11th level. Draconic Presence has been replaced with Draconian Vengeance, a power that makes a target vulnerable to one type of energy damage.
  • Warlocks gain proficiency with medium armor and shields. Warlocks now have a repertoire of known spells with the same progression as Rangers, and regain their spell slots only with a long rest. All Warlocks get Eldritch Blast by default, and its damage progression is faster. The progression of known Invocations is also faster at higher levels. Attack and damage rolls made with Pact of the Blade can use the Warlock's Charisma. The options for Pact of the Chain replace the sprite with the blink dog. At 3rd level, the redesigned Pact Magic ability lets the Warlock cast a few spells per day without expending spell slots. Later abilities include choices to add more known spells beyond the standard number. Mystic Arcanum is now an Invocation that must be selected. Eldritch Master can now be used during a turn of combat without expending an action. In the Fiend subclass, the extra known spells are mostly fire-themed. Dark One's Blessing grants more temporary hit points.
  • Wizards have their weapon proficiency expanded to all simple weapons. Arcane Recovery no longer restricts higher spell slots. The new Magic Sense ability detects magical creatures, items, and effects within 30 feet. Signature Spells Rote Spells has been moved from 20th to 5th level. At 6th level, Wizards can swap some prepared spells with other spells from their spellbook. At 10th level, they can choose to learn either Rituals from other spell lists or spells from other spell lists. The new Spellguard ability grants advantage on saves against spells and resistance against spell damage. Spell Mastery can now be used only once per short rest, and only works with the spells selected as Rote Spells. The new Archmage ability gives Wizards a way to regain expended spell slots. Wizard subclasses don't seem to be tied to the traditional eight schools of magic. The one listed in the Reference Document is the Battle Mage tradition, which is similar to the way the Remaster version of PF 2e themes its Wizard subclasses. However, whereas the PF Battle Magic school just grants some extra known spells per level, the ToV Battle Mage offers a wider selection of Feats Talents, a power to create a magical shield around the Wizard, the option to exclude allies from the area of damaging spells, an ability that redirects the Wizard's failed spell attacks, and improved damage with spells.

ToV has taken several cues from how magic works in Pathfinder 2e. There are now just four spell lists: Arcane (Bards, Sorcerers, Wizards), Divine (Clerics, Paladins), Primordial (Druids, Rangers), and Wyrd (Warlocks). To avoid confusion between character levels and spell levels, the latter have been renamed spell circles. Rituals are now their own category of magic, counted separately from a PC's known spells.

An interesting new system in ToV is Weapon Options. These are combat maneuvers that can be performed with certain weapons. For example, the Hamstring maneuver is available with the sickle and the handaxe, while the Ricochet Shot maneuver is available with the sling. Many of these maneuvers exist in D&D 5e as class options for Fighters, but in ToV they're open to all characters.

Other noteworthy changes from D&D 5e include:

  • The options for light armor add brigandine, described as made of metal-reinforced cloth. Armors are tagged with properties, such as Noisy, which gives Disadvantage on Stealth rolls, or Cumbersome, which require a minimum Strength to wear.
  • The list of tools has been condensed. For example, what D&D classifies as carpenter's tools, mason's tools and woodcarver's tools is handled in ToV as a single set of construction tools.
  • The limit of magic items that can be attuned to a character is now their proficiency bonus instead of a fixed number.
  • ToV adds meticulously detailed rules for PCs who want to socialize, craft, research, train, or work. These rules are more generous than the much briefer ones in D&D 5e; for example, crafting progresses at a rate of 10 instead of 5 gold pieces per day, and training costs 1 gold piece per week instead of per day.

The last area where ToV improves upon D&D is in graphic design. The Conversion Guide mentions monster entries as a topic where special care was put into ease of readability, but the change can be felt all through the Reference Document. Even in the sections where the mechanics of the game remain the same as in D&D, the rules have been reworded for clarity and precision, the formatting of the text helps the eye catch the dependencies between sections and subsections, and the order in which topics are presented follows a more logical criterion of relevance. This is in marked contrast with D&D 5e's notoriously convoluted prose.

As I said above, Tales of the Valiant is not the only creation born from this movement to break away from the restraints of both the official Dungeons & Dragons rules and the licensing ambitions of Wizards of the Coast. Other 5e clones worth checking out are Level Up: Advanced 5e by EN Publishing, Iskandar by M.T. Black Games, and the upcoming project codenamed C7d20 by Cubicle Seven.

POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie/Miraculer, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.