A Tome of Heroes Review

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It must be a perilous time to be a third party Dungeons & Dragons company. The One D&D discussion quickly sucked all the air out of the room. Even though the next iteration of D&D is two years away, I’ve seen a few people declare they aren't buying any more D&D books of any kind until they see how the new version turns out. That’s unfortunate, because Kobold Press continues to turn out some excellent support for 5e. It recently came out with Tome of Heroes, its long awaited player’s options book. I received a review copy to see what designers Celeste Conowich, Jeff Lee, Sarah Madsen, Ben McFarland, Kelly Pawlik and Brian Suskind did with races, classes and other essential character elements. Are these options truly heroic? Let’s play to find out.

The book kicks off with a look at races. There are over 20 in the book. Some of them will be familiar to those who already know about the company’s Midgard setting, but they are generally presented as neutral here. The options are built in the traditional manner with specific bonuses assigned to specific stats, but it seems fairly easy to pop those away for tables who prefer the floating bonuses of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. The book presents some fine options, including new takes on cat people and warforged style constructs. I thought the darakhul offered some interesting options, as these eaters of the dead choose a benefit from what they were before they were turned undead. There are also options for the Player’s Handbook races, such as urban halflings or sea dwarves. There are other exotic options such as mushroomfolk or half-humanoid, half-deer that would fit in with a woodsy setting.

Another similarity to Tasha’s comes in the class options. Tasha’s had plenty of class options with a psychic theme while here, the theme is gunpowder. Yes, if you want firearms in your D&D world, Tome of Heroes is an excellent resource. Not only can you play a gunslinger that’s part ranger and part bounty hunter, you can play a sorcerous gun mage that can use mage hand to wield enough pistols to make John Woo cry. There are other fun paths as well, like the circle of bees for druids or the investigator college for bards. Many of these options feel like they would fit right in Eberron, or any world that’s going for a more steampunk aesthetic.

The adventuring gear also leans into more exotic weaponry. Beyond firearms there are high capacity crossbows, double axes and the kind of things that inject a bit of high fantasy into any game. Many of these weapons interact with the combat options outlined in the book which give martial characters a bit more to do than grind through hit points. My favorite things in this section were a few small items that walked the line between Elven technology and small magic items. For example, there’s a leaf that clips onto clothing that can expand into a ghille-suit style camouflage for sneaking around the forest. There isn't much in the way of magic gear in this book. Most of that came out in Vault of Magic which debuted earlier this year.

Backgrounds and feats tend toward highlighting characters who may have fallen into adventuring rather than classic occupations like soldier or sailor. There are some classic fantasy ones, like the character who doesn’t remember their past or the hero who is destined to do something historic.There are also backgrounds like servant or diplomat that bring a bit more weight to social characters with their abilities. I also enjoyed the retired adventurer background for players who want to play that fighter who is three days from retirement, or perhaps bring a character from an earlier edition back to the table for one last adventure.

My favorite part of the book is devoted to downtime activities. There are a lot of ideas in here that stem from all the stuff that players do instead of the usual premise of a D&D game. These include things like creating art, raising a monster farm, running a criminal empire or even building a manor to use as a home base. These activities vary in complexity but it’s nice to see them in print for groups who get into the game beyond just exploring dungeons and battling monsters. These systems also offer a way for players to burn through those gold stockpiles while generating new plots to move the game forward.

Tome of Heroes offers some great options for both players and Dungeon Masters to add to their D&D game.
 

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

Personally, I was a bit less than enthused with this one. I love Kobold Press's setting material, but for me their game mechanical material has consistently been behind it in quality and I think it's stopped being an auto-buy for me at this point.

There's a LOT of reprinted stuff here, and that's a theme through the whole line. Some of it has been given tweaks for the better (the new gnoll subraces for instance), but as someone who buys a lot of KP books, I already own a lot of this - many times in the case of really basic Midgard fundamentals like the minotaur PC race rules. A non-trivial number of the subclasses (Serpent domain, Wind domain, Vermin domain, etc) are reprinted from the Southlands Players Guide, and that book is only about a year old.

The player options I think generally (but not always) trend lower-powered than WotC equivalents. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, just that it's a thing to be aware of. But it really put a dampener on great concepts like the Inner Eye barbarian. A nifty subclass built around a sort of ecstatic prophetic frenzy. They get some clever new reaction options and at higher levels, additional reactions per round to use them in. But they get so few uses per rest of their fancy new options that it all seems like a bit of a letdown. Having said this though, my gripes with this are predominately stylistic or balance quibbles. There's many fewer of the outright rules howlers that messed up the Southlands Players Guide or Deep Magic so badly, so hopefully things are on the improve from an editing/playtesting standpoint. They still forgot to say what sort of action it was for the Wind Domain cleric to use Grasp Not the Wind though. Maybe a copy-paste error from the SPG, which made the same error? The druid Circle of the Wind has a very similar ability usable as a bonus action, I'd probably house-rule it that way.

There's some good stuff here. I did very much like the Animal Lord and Old Wood warlock patrons, the Haunted Warden ranger, and the Shadow Domain (a much more balanced option than WotCs Twilight domain). The College of Echoes bard seems great fun though I'm sad they didn't take the opportunity to beef up the bang for your spell slots that its level 6 ability gave you since its original appearance in Unlikely Heroes. The new backgrounds are excellent and I'd allow them in any game, though it's sad they'll most likely all be made completely obsolete by the upcoming new core books.

In summary - it may or may not work for you. If you've got a lot of KP stuff, then you'd probably be paying for a lot of racial rules in particular, that you already own. And evaluate the rest of the player options on a case by case basis. Some might need beefing up, some might need clarifying, and it's better to have those expectations and questions managed in session zero rather than 10 levels in when you're on single-digit HP and a TPK balances on the outcome of an ambiguously written rule.
 
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Ulfgeir

Hero
On the flip side, we see lots of games still being done with that ruleset, even though they are their own games. Not always those rules are the best fit though.

Question though, will they get complete new versions once the new D&D is out, or will they be stuck with a 5e-compatible system.
 

The player options I think generally (but not always) trend lower-powered than WotC equivalents. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, just that it's a thing to be aware of.
Interesting. I had read/watched other reviews that touched upon the mechanical options being out of balance, but they seemed to imply that they were possibly on the overpowered side of things. Granted, I could have completely misinterpreted what the reviews said.
 

DragonBelow

Adventurer
Interesting. I had read/watched other reviews that touched upon the mechanical options being out of balance, but they seemed to imply that they were possibly on the overpowered side of things. Granted, I could have completely misinterpreted what the reviews said.
Yeah, this has been my experience. Not something to rule out, but definitely something to keep an eye out for.
 
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ScuroNotte

Explorer
Interesting. I had read/watched other reviews that touched upon the mechanical options being out of balance, but they seemed to imply that they were possibly on the overpowered side of things. Granted, I could have completely misinterpreted what the reviews said.
I purchased the product and I must say the subclasses, especially for the Rogue, are overpowered. I was disappointed with this product
 


Interesting. I had read/watched other reviews that touched upon the mechanical options being out of balance, but they seemed to imply that they were possibly on the overpowered side of things. Granted, I could have completely misinterpreted what the reviews said.
There are some subclasses which offer arguably overpowered options, though not as many as in previous KP mechanical products. I think in general there's a fair few more underpowered ones though (disclaimer: I'm not a character optimisation guru).
 



jerryrice4949

Adventurer
Personally, I was a bit less than enthused with this one. I love Kobold Press's setting material, but for me their game mechanical material has consistently been behind it in quality and I think it's stopped being an auto-buy for me at this point.

There's a LOT of reprinted stuff here, and that's a theme through the whole line. Some of it has been given tweaks for the better (the new gnoll subraces for instance), but as someone who buys a lot of KP books, I already own a lot of this - many times in the case of really basic Midgard fundamentals like the minotaur PC race rules. A non-trivial number of the subclasses (Serpent domain, Wind domain, Vermin domain, etc) are reprinted from the Southlands Players Guide, and that book is only about a year old.

The player options I think generally (but not always) trend lower-powered than WotC equivalents. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, just that it's a thing to be aware of. But it really put a dampener on great concepts like the Inner Eye barbarian. A nifty subclass built around a sort of ecstatic prophetic frenzy. They get some clever new reaction options and at higher levels, additional reactions per round to use them in. But they get so few uses per rest of their fancy new options that it all seems like a bit of a letdown. Having said this though, my gripes with this are predominately stylistic or balance quibbles. There's many fewer of the outright rules howlers that messed up the Southlands Players Guide or Deep Magic so badly, so hopefully things are on the improve from an editing/playtesting standpoint. They still forgot to say what sort of action it was for the Wind Domain cleric to use Grasp Not the Wind though. Maybe a copy-paste error from the SPG, which made the same error? The druid Circle of the Wind has a very similar ability usable as a bonus action, I'd probably house-rule it that way.

There's some good stuff here. I did very much like the Animal Lord and Old Wood warlock patrons, the Haunted Warden ranger, and the Shadow Domain (a much more balanced option than WotCs Twilight domain). The College of Echoes bard seems great fun though I'm sad they didn't take the opportunity to beef up the bang for your spell slots that its level 6 ability gave you since its original appearance in Unlikely Heroes. The new backgrounds are excellent and I'd allow them in any game, though it's sad they'll most likely all be made completely obsolete by the upcoming new core books.

In summary - it may or may not work for you. If you've got a lot of KP stuff, then you'd probably be paying for a lot of racial rules in particular, that you already own. And evaluate the rest of the player options on a case by case basis. Some might need beefing up, some might need clarifying, and it's better to have those expectations and questions managed in session zero rather than 10 levels in when you're on single-digit HP and a TPK balances on the outcome of an ambiguously written rule.
Like you read my mind. For some time I have thought KP subclasses tend to be under powered. Cool concepts but definitely weaker than the official WoTC material. Love the setting material books and adventures but the player facing material is definitely a weak area.
 

It's super interesting to see such a dichotomy of opinions on subclasses being over- or underpowered. I'm curious if those who feel that the subclasses are overpowered are DMs while those who think they're underpowered are players...?
 

jerryrice4949

Adventurer
It's super interesting to see such a dichotomy of opinions on subclasses being over- or underpowered. I'm curious if those who feel that the subclasses are overpowered are DMs while those who think they're underpowered are players...?
I am a DM and I think they are under powered (at least all but a couple) and often kind of niche. My players feel the same way.
 

DragonBelow

Adventurer
I am a DM and I think they are under powered (at least all but a couple) and often kind of niche. My players feel the same way.
One example I saw as a DM. I had a player with the dervish subclass, defense fighting style, high dex, and int. I think I hit him twice, even after trying using advantage as much as possible. We stopped at 7th level or so.
 

One example I saw as a DM. I had a player with the dervish subclass, defense fighting style, high dex, and int. I think I hit him twice, even after trying using advantage as much as possible. We stopped at 7th level or so.
It sounds like in your case the subclass did its job pretty well, then...? Maybe a little too well? LOL
 

DragonBelow

Adventurer
I picked a copy of the PDF, and I like it. The subclasses have a lot of flavor. It has several Gunpowder related rules, including many subclasses, this might come up in my Spelljammer campaign. However my favorite are the new downtime activities such as crime enterprises, trade, caring for creatures, managing a manor, and at least 3 more. The ones I mentioned have come up in one, or more, of my current campaigns, where I handled it more narratively, just guided by a few rolls, but I prefer a bit more structure. I'll be using these.
 

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