This week, Project Black Flag has entered the first stage of playtesting, with its rules being made available on the Kobold Press Website.
Who is Kobold Press?
Kobold Press is a company that creates and publishes supplemental content for Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons. You can buy these as PDFs or physical books from their website, as content packs on various virtual tabletops, and oftentimes even in game stores (physical books there, of course).
They’ve historically had a very close relationship with Wizards of the Coast, too. They designed the Tyranny of Dragons official modules’ Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat. And they also have a history of hiring WotC staff (and former staff) to help create their publications.
They’re probably one of the most polished third-party publishers out there, with tons of artwork, a concrete brand design, and tons of well-received releases under their belt. All of that also makes them one of the most popular.
What is Project Black Flag?
Last month, when the mess with the OGL was still in full swing, third-party publishers were starting to get pretty worried about their profit and publication models if the changes went through. In response, Paizo (who publish Pathfinder, which was originally created using the 3/3.5e SRD) announced that they’d be funding the creation of an ORC document. This document would basically act as an OGL that smaller TTRPGs could use for their own products if they so chose.
Kobold Press, one of the biggest third-party publishers for 5e supplements, jumped onto that idea as quickly as they could. Understandably, the sketchy manner in which WotC went about changing the OGL, and the threat that they’d start having to pay royalties, made making 5e supplements pretty risky. They quickly announced that they’d be developing a game of their own, which they code-named Project Black Flag.
Eventually, the changes to the OGL were revoked, and the SRD announced to be put in Creative Commons, but the Project Black Flag is still going strong!
Where Can I Playtest Black Flag?
You can easily playtest Project Black Flag with your home groups by downloading Playtest Packet 1 from their blog post on the Kobold Press website here: https://koboldpress.com/playtest-packet-1-is-here-for-project-black-flag/ . The post also contains a link to a feedback survey which will be open until February 27 – which gives you two weeks to take a look, test things out, and share your opinion on it!
What does Playtest Packet 1 Contain?
Playtest Packet 1 contains a very brief overview of character creation for Project Black Flag.
Its sections include a brief introduction and overview of the dice and materials that you’ll need to play, a short explanation of proficiencies, ability scores, and modifiers, and a few race (using the terminology ‘lineage’), subrace (using the terminology ‘heritage’), and background options.
The rules here are completely compatible with 5e materials, and can generally be assumed to use the same dice system. You’re even instructed to use a 5e character sheet when making such a character. The document does establish that characters made with Project Black Flag will be slightly more powerful than a standard 5e character, but not so much that they could not be used at the same table.
Thoughts on the Project Black Flag Playtest Packet 1
I have to admit, this launch was something of a letdown.
Kobold Press have pretty clearly taken advantage of the fact that the OGL remained unchanged, and the SRD now Creative Commons, and instead of making a new game have gone the route of simply creating a set of alternate rules for DnD 5e. It’s not just in appearance (although they even used the 5e font) – some of the wording for racial features is taken word-for-word from 5e Player's Handbook.
The system is completely the same, the way that it approaches gameplay is completely the same, and even the race-subrace system, despite the name change that they gave it. As such, it keeps pretty much all the same problems that DnD 5e has, even in the small amount of content that we’re seeing here.
It also galls slightly that Project Black Flag, so-named because the company was ‘refusing to wave the white flag to Hasbro and the OGL changes’ and making an even better game that WotC can’t touch, by making itself fully and intentionally 5e-compatible, would probably count as copyright infringement under the previous OGL! It’s fine now, with the SRD fully in Creative Commons, but a year ago I’d have been convinced that Hasbro would sue, and probably win. Not for the rules being used (which have always been legal if you're careful) but taking the wording wholesale in some cases, and admitting in the document that it's intended to be so!
This simply isn’t a new game at all – just another set of 5e supplemental rules.
Should I Play Project Black Flag?
I personally won’t be playing it.
I’ve never been much of a fan of Kobold Press products. They tend to have problems with everything that irritates me about 5e in particular (I couldn’t finish DMing Hoard of the Dragon Queen due to frustrations with the module, and generally find their own published stuff to be uninspired). I was excited to see what kind of new system they might make, how it might fit with their campaign and content perspective, but I can’t be bothered to put in the time, and likely eventually money, for a 5e re-skin.
That being said, If you’re a devoted fan of the 5e system, enjoy Kobold Press products, and are still set on finding an alternative game, this is a great option for you. In fact, it’s the perfect option for you! All the polish of a Kobold Press release, the familiar rules and system, and none of the worry about shady business decisions. I’m sure that players of the final product will have a ton of fun with it.
Have you taken a look at the Playtest Packet yet? Do you intend to? What did you think about it? Let us know in the comments below!