Alternate Systems – a quick update

I’m sure if you’re reading this blog you have been aware of Wizards of the Coast’s OGL public relations disaster. You have maybe also heard that they have completely reversed tack, have promised the OGL 1.0a will not be revoked, and also taken the further step of also publishing the 5.1 SRD under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY-4.0) licence.

Kyle Brink, Executive Producer for D&D, has given a couple of in-depth interviews about the OGL, the fallout, and the future for D&D, one with 3 Black Halflings, and one with Alphastream. He comes across to me as very reasonable and believable, and gives me hope for the future. But he admits the only way to re-earn our trust is through time and keeping their promises. So time will tell…

Whatever happens, it’s clear that this has been a big boost to other related systems. There are no physical Pathfinder books left for sale in the UK (I tried), and apparently they sold eight months of stock of books in two weeks! And many other publishers have reported similar surges. So I will continue my reviews of alternative fantasy systems which I started with Castles and Crusades.

In the meantime, this is just a quick roundup of some projects I’m aware of which you might be interested in.

Paizo Pathfinder/Pathfinder 2

This is one of the biggest alternatives out there (in terms of market share). Pathfinder was based off the 3.5 rules when 4.0 came along and moved away from D&D’s stylistic roots. Some people liked the more mechanistic 4.0 rules, but it really didn’t work for others, so Pathfinder filled the gap. (So I’ve heard – this happened between my two D&D eras).

Pathfinder 2 came out in 2019 and is a revision of the Pathfinder rules. It is published by Paizo, and is definitely on my list to review. As I mention above, expect a wait if you want the physical books. If you’re happy with digital versions, they have put up a massive Humble Bundle which includes:

The core Pathfinder 2 rulebooks:

  • Second Edition Beginner Box
  • Second Edition Core Rulebook
  • Second Edition Bestiary

Many of the original Pathfinder rulebooks:

  • Secrets of Magic
  • Gamemastery Guide
  • Bestiary 2
  • Lost Omens

And more:

  • Multiple Pathfinder Society books
  • Multiple map packs
  • Multiple pawns collections
  • Adventure Path Abomination Vaults, including Foundry VTT module
  • Several adventures

All of this, a claimed $422 of value, for $25, although you can pay more and give greater support to Paizo and the chosen charity Code for America. The bundle is open until the 23rd February.

Kobold Press Project Black Flag

Kobold Press were apparently already working on a new system when the OGL news broke, and it encouraged them to go public. They are calling it Project Black Flag, and you can sign up for the playtests now.

They describe it as follows:

Project Black Flag is the code name for an upcoming Kobold Press new core fantasy RPG system, available to any publisher or creator who accepts the terms of the soon-to-be-released Open RPG Creative License (ORC). This new open, perpetual, and irrevocable Open RPG Creative License (ORC) was announced on January 12, 2023, and will be shared with the community soon.

Kobold Press expects to support both print and digital formats for Project Black Flag’s final release, and Deep Magic (both volumes) will be forward-compatible with the Project Black Flag rule system.

Celeste Conowitch, our Senior Game Designer, is the lead on game design for this new fantasy RPG. She has been working on Project Black Flag behind the scenes since the summer of 2022. Additional designers and developers are currently engaged with the project, as well as several partners from the community. We will have more announcements on the creative team and project partners soon.

They aim to release the first playtest packets this month (February 2023), building towards a Kickstarter later in the year.

Their latest update gave more details:

Some Things Stay the Same…

Project Black Flag will be compatible with 5E. But there’s more! Kobold plans to revise and sharpen familiar mechanics while offering new, streamlined options for a core tabletop game.

… Project Black Flag will use the beloved, time-tested set of Platonic solids, d4 to d20 (and also the d10, which, okay, sure, isn’t a Platonic solid, but everyone loves it so much, no one brings it up.)

… You can expect a Project Black Flag core book of 400 monsters, fully illustrated! It will include some of your favorite classic fantasy monsters and all new ones to bedevil players.

…And Some Things Change

… The first playtest packet in February contains rules and mechanics that focus on character creation.

Talents & Backgrounds: A new talent system helps players customize their characters with potent Magic, Martial, or Technical advantages.

Lineage & Heritage System: Not every dwarf was raised among dwarves, so we’ve split those aspects to help refine character concepts. During character creation, choose a lineage, which represents a character’s biology, and a heritage to represent upbringing in a particular group or society. Choose a standard match of race and heritage for a more traditional character or mix ‘n’ match to craft a unique origin!

The lineage and heritage sounds very much like what The Angry GM suggested a long time ago, which I discussed here – promising! I’ve signed up for the playtest, and I will share as much as I can here.

DM Dave’s Helkara

DM Dave, who I first discovered through his blog (though sadly that seems to be taking a back seat at the moment), is working on a new system he is calling Helkara, and is playtesting this with his Patrons. To be honest, there’s been such a deluge of information and polls and everything I haven’t been able to keep up, but I have downloaded the rules so far and do intend to find some time to look at them.

It seems to be both a ruleset and a world. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to reveal, but here’s the very basic high level from the first draft of the basic rules:

Helkara [is] a dark and perilous world where danger lurks around every corner and death is always just a blade’s edge away. Here, the strong survive, and the weak fall prey to the many dangers that threaten to consume them.

… Before you begin a Helkara campaign, here are some things that you should know about the world, its people, and events.

  1. Helkara is a brutal, grim grim world
  2. The gods are dangerous, alien entities
  3. Sorcerers, necromancer and priests are usually evil tyrants
  4. Magic is rare, deadly, and often leads to catastrophe
  5. Humans are the only humanoid race
  6. Monsters are rare and extremely dangerous
  7. The lines between good and evil are blurred
  8. Technology is relatively simple
  9. Hope does still exist in the world
  10. Players must work together (and with others) to succeed

I like fairly gritty and stripped back, but this is maybe sounding a bit too far for me. But if you want to know more and follow along, join DMDave’s Patreon.


So, a few things to follow. And there are many other systems out there, which I will continue to review. Grab that Pathfinder bundle before it’s too late!

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