How Many Versions of “D&D 5X” Are On The Way?
I wanted to pull together some information on all the different versions of D&D 5e that are currently in production. And by D&D 5e, I mean, obviously, games that use the 5e OGL as their basis, since nobody but WotC gets to put out an “official” version of the game.
In the process of pulling this together, hoo goodness, has the topic of backward compatibility been all over the place online. I’m going to point out that outside of the first game on this list, we don’t know the final form that any of these games will take, but I think it’s fair to assume that most of these games want the game to be generally like the 5e OGL for the following reasons:
- The system is familiar to people currently playing Dungeons & Dragons
- While everyone will certainly be selling 100% compatible brand-new supplements, most of these companies want to be able to use existing D&D 5e material until they can build up a new set of products to sell
- There is a large pool of freelancers available that are familiar with producing material for D&D 5e, who should be able to adapt to the number of changes made to the new core system
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume some 5e products are going to have longer legs, and those products are likely the kind of supplements that may take longer to fully utilize. For example, most people probably still have adventures they want to play through, and there are so many monsters available for D&D 5e.
Spells and magic items may be the next “tier” of things that people will want to still get some use from, especially if you’ve been picking up 3rd party supplements that lean more heavily into dedicated magic content supplements. I know people are going to want to play with some of their favorite subclasses, but I do feel like those may fall into the last tier of compatibility concerns. I could be wrong.
My point is, there is a benefit to making a version of D&D that may not be 100% the game presented by the 5e OGL, that at least eases the transition from the 2014 version of the rules to whatever version of the rules that people may be adopting. Or whatever version of the rules that people stitch together from elements of the 2024 official rules, and the games we’re about to look at.
Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition
Kudos to EN Publishing for being on the leading edge of this trend, and by this trend, I mean having a set of self-contained books that lets you play a game derived from the 5e SRD without using any of the WotC books. Unlike the other games on this list, this one is available now. We don’t have to guess at what it does, because we’ve got finished products.
The design goal for A5e was to create a version of D&D 5e that added in more options and drew some inspiration from the granularity of D&D 3rd edition, without throwing out all the assumptions of D&D 5e. While there are more books available, the “core” experience of A5e is the Core Rulebook and the Monstrous Menagerie.
The 2024 playtest may have a different way of presenting species, but there is still a trend toward species being a single distinct choice, with some examples of “lineage” functioning in a similar manner to subraces. A5e goes all in on increasing the options in the “origin” phase of character creation. Characters get traits from heritage, culture, background, and destiny.
While there are a lot of little widgets here and there . . . okay, I’m going to say something that may not be popular, but even in core D&D, not every species option feels perfectly balanced against one another, which means you can easily use a character with a standard background and species. On the flip side, you can slot these origin options into a D&D game that isn’t using the rest of these rules easily as well.
|Heritage||Culture||Culture (Heritage Related)||Background||Destinies|
|Dwarf||Circusfolk||Deep Gnome||Artisan||Coming of Age|
|Mixed Heritage||Godbound||Kithbain Halfling||Farmer||Revenge|
|Imperial||Mountain Dwarf||Folk Hero||Underdog|
|Lone Wanderer||Shadow Elf||Guard|
I’m not going to go into everything about the game, but I do want to touch on the classes, since we get the familiar as well as some that we didn’t get in the core D&D 5e rules:
- Adept (Monks from D&D 5e)
- Berserker (Barbarian from D&D 5e)
- Herald (Paladin from D&D 5e)
For what it’s worth, I do kind of like the class renaming that went on here. While race is probably the biggest legacy aspect that D&D needs to deal with, there are a lot of charged elements with framing martial artists specifically as a very specific type of monk native to Asian cultures, barbarian has its own connotative issues, and, hey, herald works for paladin? I guess if you really want to signal that the concept isn’t hard framed to ideals of knighthood in the Holy Roman Empire, shifting the name to something less specific to that period is a good move.
One thing that these rules do is to redefine Expertise from double proficiency bonus to an extra die that you can roll to add to certain skills. If you’ve read any of my various analysis of other classes or subclasses, you know I’m a much bigger fan of giving someone an extra die for their skill that permanently hard coding the range of possible results by increasing the proficiency bonus.
What’s interesting is that even though we get a lot of redesigned classes and subclasses in this book, A5e keeps the same subclass levels that D&D 5e has. Does that mean you can use subclasses from D&D 5e with these classes? Maybe? The thing is, some of these classes have new features, options, and even player currencies, so the subclasses may work, but may not synergize as well as a subclass designed expressly for this version of the class.
All of that said, you could easily have someone at the table play one of these classes with everyone else playing classes from the 2014 rules. Internally, these classes do the opposite of some of the design that we’ve seen in the 2024 playtest rules so far. What I mean by this is that instead of redesigning classes with fewer choices, these classes all have aspects with choice points that expand their ability to be specialized. Want an example? Several of the abilities that monks get at various levels are grouped together into Focus Features, and instead of having set abilities that you get, like Deflect Missiles, now Deflect Missiles is one of 30+ options you can pick when you get a focus feature. For example, you could learn Powerful Blow, where, instead of making multiple attacks, you can spend your resources to do extra dice of damage on a single hit.
The rules add another level of weapon classification, basically reintroducing exotic weapons as rare weapons. That means we get double weapons, mercurial weapons, and black powder weapons added into this category, with nobody getting “rare” weapons as a proficiency. If you’re going to learn these, that usually falls back to your class options, background, or feats.
Anyway, spent a lot of time here, so I just wanted to touch on the Monster Menagerie, mainly to point out that while some of the monsters are given new abilities, monsters, overall, work the same way they always have. Some traditional 5e OGL monsters get a few tricks that might use their bonus action or reactions, as an example. The biggest change is in the general presentation, where each monster gets a late D&D 3.5 Monster Manual style table showing what different knowledge skills let you know about the monster, as well as example encounters, signs of their presence, and behaviors.
- Can be used as an alternate ruleset with existing 5e products
- Can be used modularly, only introducing some aspects of the rules
- May miss out on a little broad appeal because of the intentional granularity for people not as engaged with having lots of options
I’m sure I can bring these other summaries home much more succinctly.
As of the time of this writing, we’re still calling Kobold Press’ rules Project Black Flag, but by the end of the week, we’ll have the official name for this game. But I’m writing this now, so we’re going with Project Black Flag.
Kobold Press indicated that they started working on these rules last summer, meaning that around the time that WotC was announcing the 2024 rules, Kobold Press decided they needed to have their own set of rules that they controlled. When the new Deep Magic Kickstarter was running, since the books will be introducing two new classes, the Thaumaturge and the Witch, they pointed out that these classes should work both for D&D 5e and the final Kobold Press rules.
Obviously, Kobold Press has a back catalog they want to be able to sell, and they’ve made a lot of their reputation on monster books, so making sure you can still use three Tome of Beasts and the Creature Codex is going to be a priority.
The stated design goals are to not stray too far from D&D 5e, while still addressing some elements of the game, like updating race. They also want to add in a few more “active” things for martial classes to do, so some of the design space revolves around giving more classes bonus action options. What has been interesting to me is that while Kobold Press isn’t running parallel with the WotC playtest, they do adopt some commonality, such as meta-spell lists, feats (talents) attached to backgrounds, and maybe standardizing subclass levels, but that’s hard to tell from the two classes we’ve seen so far.
What have we seen? Well, I’ve got other articles on the site for that, if you want to take a look:
- What Do I Know About First Impressions? Black Flag Playtest Packet #1: Heritage and Talents
- What Do I Know About First Impressions? Project Black Flag Playtest Packet #2, Part One
- What Do I Know about First Impressions? Project Black Flag Playtest Packet #2, Part Two
One of the things that I wanted to bring up here is not what Kobold Press is doing, but with our indication of who else may be adopting this ruleset as their baseline version of the 5e SRD derived game. Kobold Press announced these publishing partners:
- Ghostfire Gaming
- Steamforged Games
- Nord Games
- Frog God Games
- The Griffon’s Sadlebag
- Hitpoint Press
- The Vineyard RPG
- The Word Refinery
- Dungeon Scribe
- Mage Hand Press
While I could misunderstand this news, I’m assuming this means that these publishing partners are both not going to put out their own 5e SRD-derived fantasy game, and that they will be assuming the Kobold Press rules as their “base” in designing material.
Cubicle 7 has also announced that they will be working on their own version of core rules for a fantasy game derived from the 5e SRD. I’m going to go ahead and say that Project Black Flag would be easier to use long-term than C7d20, so I’ll be interested to see how long this project goes without getting an official name.
Cubicle 7 has several d20 adaptations floating around, from the no longer published Adventures in Middle-earth, Doctors and Daleks, and an advertised 5e update to Victoriana (via an ad in Uncharted Journeys) as well as a few projects more directly compatible with D&D 5e. While the hardcover for Uncharted Journeys isn’t coming until later in the year, the PDF is available now, and if you want to see a review for that, you can find one, from me, right here!
Uncharted Journeys adapts and expands the Journey system that Cubicle 7 developed for overland travel in Adventures in Middle-earth, and it’s interesting that Cubicle 7 mentions that they want a lot of their focus to be filling in the details of the campaign that don’t currently have as much material, such as travel and downtime.
Their stated design goals are to create a more modernized version of the 5e SRD rules in its own ruleset. They want to be distinct, but familiar, and play with elements like new classes, lifepath rules, and resources for modular optional rules. I’m just going to say I’m an easy mark for a big chunky book of optional rules. Even if I don’t use them, I love to ponder the possibilities of mixing and matching them, and digging into what those options say about the campaign in which they are used.
So far, Cubicle 7 has announced the following for the C7d20 line:
- Player’s Guide
- Gamemaster’s Guide
- Uncharted Journeys
- Broken Weave
In addition to these named titles, they mention three more supplements “well into development.” If you’re wondering what Broken Weave is, that’s Cubicle 7’s recently crowdfunded high magic post-apocalyptic campaign setting. I think it’s interesting that they consider Uncharted Journeys part of this product line, which I think is an indication of how compatible they expect the game to be with current assumptions. If you haven’t read the review I linked above (go do it, do it now), assuming compatibility with Uncharted Journeys means they are counting on similar skills, hit dice that reset on a long rest, and class and species abilities that recharge on short or long rests.
I’m very intrigued by what new classes might be on the way, and I’m always interested in downtime activities. I enjoyed what Uncharted Journeys did with skills and overland travel, so I’m on board to see where this goes. It does feel like Cubicle 7 has lots of irons in the fire, especially if you look at what they have going on outside of their 5e SRD efforts, so I hope everything lines up the way they are expecting.
The Great Beyond
There are other fairly well-known RPG publishers that have started to engage with adapting material to the 5e SRD rules. Some of them already appear as publishing partners for Kobold Press, but this does make me wonder about companies like Edge Studios, with their Adventures in Rokugan and Midnight campaign setting lines, and Free League, with their 5e adaptation of Sybaroum, the Ruins of Symbaroum line. I’m wondering if those lines are going to continue, and if so, what baseline are they going to assume for their development?
None of the above books are fully self-contained, meaning you need to use the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and maybe a few monsters from the Monster Manual, in order to play. Most of these books do have the advantage of already designing their own classes and species for play, tailored for the individual settings, but there are going to be some baseline assumptions that shift in 2024, so I’m going to be interested to see if these lines continue, or if the 2024 rules came along at just the right time to scuttle the long term health of these lines.
I’m trying to keep on top of as much 5e SRD-related news as I can, but I know I’ve got to be missing something. If you know of some other company that happens to be making its own self-contained version of 5e, please feel free to let me know. I’m kind of fascinated by tracking how these different projects diverge and converge in different ways, intentionally or not.
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