What Do I Know About First Impressions? Core Fantasy Roleplaying Playtest Packet #3 (5e SRD)


Man of War, William O’Brien

Okay, time to get back to work, and by work, I mean, looking not only at games, but at potential games. And by potential games, I mean playtests. And by playtest, in this particular instance, I mean the third Tales of the Valiant playtest packet, which is all about monsters this time around.

I was a little surprised to see monsters in the third playtest packet. Not because I didn’t think Kobold Press was going to do some tinkering with monsters, but because I wasn’t sure what the order of operations was going to be with these playtests.


I haven’t had time to playtest any of these rules yet. I’m really, really familiar with D&D 5e, both as a player and a DM. I’m also really familiar with Kobold Press products. So every opinion in this post is based on educated guessing, rather than play at the table. But I think I have at least a semi-solid basis for a lot of those guesses.

What Size is the Monster(ous Playtest)?

This playtest is 41 pages in length. That breaks down to about 9 pages of general information about monsters, with the rest of the document containing almost 60 stat blocks worth of content. This includes a selection of what is traditionally seen as monsters, as well as a section on NPC stat blocks.

What Stays the Same?

Size, type, armor class, speed, challenge rating, actions, bonus actions, reactions, limited usage, legendary actions, and lairs are all largely unchanged, but the rules for them are included in this document as a refresher. Proficiency bonuses are the same, but while they have their own spot in the stat block, the other places they may affect the stat block are a little different.


Tags aren’t new. These are the words that appeared in parentheses behind the creature type to further modify the description of the monster, which could also serve as another means for grouping creatures for rules or effects. One of the most common of these would be shapechanger, because shapechanger isn’t one of the creature types, but a lot of creature types are also shapechangers.

One thing you will notice in these stat blocks is that there is no line for alignment. However, Lawful, Chaotic, Evil, and Good all appear as tags now. Corrupt is a new tag indicating a creature changed by the Void. One of the most intriguing of these tags is Animal, which is a tag that indicates that a creature that is not of the Beast type may react in the same way that a Beast would to some effects like Speak with Animals.

The Outsider tag has also been added, which is a call back to D&D 3rd edition, where multiple creatures from other planes, including both Celestials and Fiends, were actually primarily of the Outsider creature type. It’s basically a tag to denote that something isn’t “of” the Prime Material plane.

In general, I like the avenues that these tags open up. For example, a construct or undead that is mindless, but created by a horrific curse, could have the Evil tag, because they are suffused with supernatural evil, but it avoids the conversation that surrounds “can something that doesn’t think have an alignment?” I like the idea that instead of listing the individual monster types, you could reference a spell that bars entrance to certain creatures or banishes them can reference the “Outsider” type.

That said, introducing too many rules that key on that tag does start to erode backward compatibility since existing D&D 5e spells won’t reference those tags, and D&D 5e monsters won’t have those tags. In many cases, it may not be too hard to use basic logic to apply those tags, but it is a train of thought that occurred to me.

This isn’t so much a criticism, as a statement of where we are, since this system is building on rules that already have an underlying structure, but some of the tags feel “inside out.” For example, because anything that is a real-world animal or could be a real animal even if it doesn’t exist, is called a Beast in the 5e SRD, animals are Beasts, and Beasts will never have the Animal tag. That’s not this playtest’s fault, it’s just an observation.

Hit Points

The stat blocks in this playtest present monsters with a set number of hit points. Instead of presenting the average number of hit points, while also displaying the dice range and any hit point bonuses that the hit points are derived from, you just get the number.

This looks cleaner, but my personal preference is to know the math behind the monster’s hit points. I say this mainly because I have made monsters tougher or weaker by bumping them to the higher or lower end of their range, so I like knowing what that range is. If you are already tinkering with a stat block, you could reverse engineer this if you have D&D 5e rules handy, but that’s depending on an outside source and an additional step you didn’t need to do before.


The stat blocks introduced in this document have a single score that serves as a monster’s stealth score. This is the DC of checks to detect the monster whenever it is attempting to use stealth. Unlike current D&D rules, this score takes size into consideration, although we don’t see the calculations spelled out in this document.

That means as a DM using these monsters, you won’t be rolling monster stealth, but that also means you won’t be rolling a 1 for a creature that’s meant to be extremely stealthy. Not that I know how that feels. I’m a little leery of reintroducing size-based bonuses and penalties, but these are rules specifically for monsters. I have less of a problem with this as long as we aren’t suddenly readjusting stealth proficiency for size for every player character.

Ability Modifiers

These stat blocks no longer list a monster’s ability score, just the monster’s ability bonus. If the monster is likely to have proficiency in skills related to an ability score, or is likely to be proficient in a save relevant to that ability score, that ability bonus will have the score the monster would have from the relevant ability score, plus the proficiency bonus.

I don’t mind this as a time-saving measure, although there are times when I think a monster is going to be proficient in some very specific skills that wouldn’t translate to all the skills associated with that ability score. This is one of those areas where this playtest is cleaning up the stat block by removing the underlying math used to get the number in the stat block, which may be fine if you just want to take the monster and run with it, and may be more of a pain if you want to tinker with the monster and know where these numbers came from, and what should be affecting them.

Immune, Resistant, and Vulnerable

Instead of having a separate section for damage immunities, damage resistance, and condition immunities, these all appear on one line. It’s not a huge change, it’s more of a consolidation of similar rules. I have to admit, there have been a few times when I missed a resistance because my eyes didn’t catch it on the immunities line, and vice versa. I’m a fan of this change, because you are looking for all of this information at the same time when you reference it.


This is a minor one, but I wanted to touch on it. Machine Speech and Void Speech, languages that have appeared in different Kobold Press books, are listed as potential monster languages as well. Machine Speech is often used by sapient constructs, and Void Speech is the creepy language of the Void (the nothingness between planes in Kobold Press’ Midgard Cosmology).

Challenge Rating

There aren’t encounter building rules in this document, but there is a chart, breaking down PCs by “tier,” showing what the lowest CR is likely to be challenging and the highest CR they are likely to be able to handle. In addition to the normal tiers, this table lists 1st level characters separately, and there is a sidebar that basically calls for going really easy on 1st level characters until they level up.


Stat blocks already have a traits section, although it’s not called out as such. These are those special abilities that a monster has that don’t fall into any of the categories listed in the stat block, and doesn’t fall into the category of an attack, action, bonus action, or reaction.

In this case, there is one trait that some of these stat blocks have that is important to call out. Some monsters now have Doom. Doom is a resource that the monster can spend like Inspiration in the 2014 version of D&D, but often, monsters with Doom will also have special attacks that they can only trigger if they spend their Doom to unleash it. There is an optional rule that lets the DM assign additional Doom when PCs roll a natural 1 in combat.

Actions, Bonus Actions, and Reactions

Nothing about these rules change for monsters in this playtest, but I wanted to call them out because several of these stat blocks give monsters that already exist in the 5e SRD actions, bonus actions, or reactions that they don’t currently have. In some cases, these new actions, bonus actions, or reactions are “conditional,” meaning that they aren’t options until a specific thing is true. For example, animated armor, when it drops under a certain hit point threshold, gains a bonus action to gather up parts that got knocked off to heal hit points of damage.

I have always liked monsters having abilities that key off of something else happening in the narrative of the game. For example, Yeth Hounds do additional psychic damage with their melee attacks if their opponent is afraid. I like that these introduce a lot more of this dynamic feel to some stat blocks that were a bit more static.

There is another effect to some of the recording of these rules elements. Some monsters that normally got an attack routine that accounted for all of their attacks have had one of those attacks shunted into bonus action territory. That means, tactically, if you do something that restricts a monster to only using a single action, such as casting Slow on it, some of those creatures that get a “follow up” bonus action attack will be getting fewer attacks than if that attack was rolled into a multiattack routine.


Attacks are now listed as a set number. So instead of rolling 1d6+1, with a note that the average damage is 5 hit points, the monster is now just listed as doing 5 hit points of damage.

When I run D&D face-to-face, I generally use average damage. In the last few years, as I’ve been running almost all of my games on Roll20, I’ve gotten used to rolling for random damage, because it doesn’t slow me down to roll a die and calculate the damage. I say this because I’m not opposed to average damage at all.

There is a charge for using what is now, in this playtest, a variant rule, which tells you what dice to roll for the amount of damage a creature does. So if you go to the line that says “10,” it tells you to roll 2d8+1. Now, having a singular chart like this to look up random damage isn’t always the same as actually reverse engineering what the individual monster would have rolled and added, but it is a way to create a universal source to handle the desire to roll randomly.

One thing I would have appreciated, with this style of damage presentation, would be to add how much damage the attack should do on a critical hit. None of the playtest documentation for Tales of the Valiant has indicated that critical hits are going to change, and with 5e SRD monsters, you would need to roll additional dice for a critical hit, because the entire amount of the averaged damage isn’t derived from dice.

That’s The Big Picture

That’s the long view of the way the rules are changing, or changing in presentation. I’m not going to dive into each individual stat block for commentary, but I did want to take some time to look at some trends I noticed when reading through those stat blocks.

Missing Tags?

This is a playtest, so this isn’t a big deal, but there are some creatures that really seem like they should have had a tag that they don’t have. For example, the Animated Armor has Animated as a tag, but the Flying Sword, which is also an Animated Object, doesn’t have the Animated tag.

The Husk Demon doesn’t have either the Evil tag or the Outsider tag, although I suspect that it isn’t meant to be a creature native to the Prime Material plane. Mechadrons are noted as inhabiting the Outer Planes, but they only have the Lawful tag.

Too Many Tags?

I feel like for tags to have meaning, they should be used purposefully. Since there are alignment-based tags, I feel like it would probably be better to reserve those for singular NPCs or creatures that have a more primordial or conceptual existence. I think even handing out Lawful or Chaotic as tags can undermine what you could do with these tags, rather than just using them in a manner that reignites the same alignment arguments you might have if you just left an alignment entry in the stat block.

As an example, I’m not going to argue that you couldn’t create a story for dragons where they are primordial creatures that are deeply tied to the moral concepts of the universe. But Black, Red, and Void dragons all get the Evil tag, even as hatchlings. Void Dragons weren’t evil in previous products, and while Tales of the Valiant may not want to use Midgard as it’s default setting, it is strange that in the Midgard setting, there is a definite feeling that chromatic and metallic dragons don’t always conform to their traditional alignments from previous editions of D&D.

In keeping with that theme of using the alignment-derived tags sparingly, Orcs, thankfully, don’t get the Evil tag, but they do get the Chaotic tag. I really don’t think anything that is a creature with free will and self-awareness that isn’t tied to some kind of cosmic power should be given an alignment tag. Why is an orc more “cosmically” Chaotic and susceptible to spells that key on that trait than, for example, a bandit?

Conceptually, I could see a Warlock bound in an especially strong way to an archfiend getting the Evil tag, or for mindless undead that arose from a curse to have the Evil tag even though they literally don’t think. I would just much rather these tags be used to express “you are connected to the cosmic force of Good/Evil/Chaos/Law” rather than “you have a particular mindset.”

Old Habits Dying Hard

There are still some very broad, wholly negative traits ascribed to some humanoids, and I think it would be best to just avoid the idea that all or most of a species has negative, destructive, or violent traits. One of the main offenders, in this case, is bugbears loving to cause fear, brutalize others, and being cowardly. Goblins and Hobgoblins entries, while not perfect, frame them in much less negative or overly broad context. Orcs fare better than they have in a lot of RPG texts, even in recent years, but they are still framed as almost universally holding Might Makes Right as a tenant. 

I’m also a little nervous about any physical description that delves too deeply into traits that human beings might have, especially when those traits are portrayed as “coarse” as they are in the orc entry. Having green, gray, or orange skin, or tusks, is all cool and sets them apart from other species, but spending too much time on eyes or noses may end up tripping over some nasty stereotypes.

Final Thoughts

I was a little nervous about a “monster playtest,” because I was worried about the degree of change. While I personally wish there were a few more places that made it easier to reverse engineer the numbers in the stat blocks, I can’t argue with a cleaner presentation or ease of use being a priority.

I love Doom as a mechanic, and it’s a nice “in-between” beyond “is this monster an impediment, or is it a boss monster?” I also think you could get a lot of design mileage out of the concept. Personally, I wouldn’t mind Doom being an alternate means of recharging limited-use abilities.

Where they appear, I like the additional conditional abilities, bonus actions, and reactions. I think you still want to have a good number of very simple stat blocks, but there are also a number of monsters that don’t have much in the way of variety or rules to make them fun for the DM to use, and this kind of design narrows how many monsters fall into that category.

I love the concept of tags, but I want to see some of them used more sparingly, and for some very clear thought and expression to be used when employing them. This could be a great way to expand the rules in new ways, but I think that tags are more valuable when they are rarer and trigger meaningful rules interactions, than if they are only used to be descriptive or end up becoming a new version of something that was removed from the stat block.

The Long Part

I am going to put in this table of monsters that appear in the playtest document, along with notes on what tags they have, if they have bonus actions or reactions, if they have doom, and if they are legendary creatures. Feel free to skip this section, since it’s here largely because I work in data, and I can never quite get away from my day job’s influence. Click the link below for the spreadsheet:

Tales of the Valiant Playtest 3 Monster Summary Table