tome of heroes

Kobold Press’s Tome of Heroes – A Review

Review in Summary

Kobold Press’s upcoming Tome of Heroes is an ambitious and meaty supplement packed with over 300 pages of character options for 5e. For players hungry for additional options for building a character, this is an absolute treasure trove.

Tome of Heroes is written by lead authors Kelly Pawlik, Ben McFarland, and Brian Suskind. Included are new races, subraces for existing races, nearly 100 pages of new subclasses, new backgrounds, new feats, new gear, new spells, and a few fun new mechanics like downtime activities and a new gunpowder mechanic for firearms. The amount of player-focused content here dwarfs anything we’ve seen from WotC, including big supplements like Xanathar’s and Tasha’s.

Not everything will be a perfect fit for every game, but there is enough here to experiment with to keep you busy for a very long time. Dropping in small bits of content like a few races or a few subclasses is a great way to explore the book without opening the floodgates to new, unofficial content. That also lets you trickle in bits of new content for a long time, allowing you to keep Tome of Heroes fresh and exciting long after your group has acclimated to other source books.

As we’ve come to expect from Kobold Press, the art is stellar, easily rivaling anything we’ve seen in official source books. The quantity and quality of character is impressive and provides rich fodder for the imagination.

Tome of Heroes is an exciting book with a lot of very fun ideas, but definitely take your time with it. There are a few rough edges in some of the content, so be sure that your group is comfortable both with exploring 3rd-party content and with making homebrew fixes if things aren’t to your liking. With those guidelines in place, Tome of Heroes is an excellent supplement that any group will enjoy.

Peoples Both Familiar and Foreign

Tome of Heroes lists 15 races, some of which are core races like the Dwarf and the Eself which receive new subrace options, while others are new. Some races have appeared in previous Kobold Press supplements, such as the Midgard Heroes’ Handbook, while others have received playable stats for the first time.

Some races are Kobold Press’s take on existing official races, such as the Catfolk and the Gearforged, some races like the Derro have appeared in previous editions, and some races are new and unique to Kobold Press’s work.

Among the new races are the ghoul-like Darakhul, the Mushroomfolk, the plane-travelling Satarre, and the not-quite-undead Shade. At a glance, the new race options fit right alongside existing races in the core rulebook. Most of these races could fit into your home game as easily as a githyanki or a goblin.

For people who have already picked up recent official supplements like Monsters of the Multiverse, it’s interesting to note that Tome of Heroes still uses the classic rules for racial traits with fixed ability score increases. Both the custom origin rules and the new standardized ability score increases aren’t in the SRD yet, so third-party publishers like Kobold Press likely aren’t allowed to use them. You’re free to apply them in your own games, of course. The fun police have assured me that they won’t interfere.

Black Powder, Draconic Magic, and Portals

The plurality of the book’s pages are dedicated to subclass options, including options for every class except the Artificer (which wouldn’t be legal because the Artificer isn’t published under the Open Gaming License). Each covered class receives no fewer than 5 new subclasses, each of which includes character art. They vary widely in complexity and customizability, which ensures that there really is something here for everyone. While some of these are reprints from previous Kobold Press supplements including the Midgard Heroes Handbook, many of them are new.

Many of the new subclasses draw inspiration from shared sources. Many of the options are dragon themed, primordial nature themed, firearm themed, portal themed, etc. Whole parties can be built around these shared themes, and doesn’t even touch the “Group Themes” mechanic introduced later in the book.

Among some of my personal favorites are the Circle of Bees Druid, which focuses on bees and teamwork; the Haunted Warden Ranger, which gets a magical ghost as a pet; the Black Powder Sorcerer, which uses mage hand(s) in order to hold a fire a collection of pistols, and the Familiar Master Wizard, which turns your familiar into a useful combat pet which goes far beyond Pact of the Chain.

As with any of the official source books, there is some variation in effectiveness between the new options. Consider everything carefully, and discuss things with your group before you consider allowing new options at your table. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, but breaking your game isn’t fun for anyone.

Backgrounds and Feats

Tomes of Heroes includes a collection of new backgrounds. Backgrounds have always been a sort of “soft” mechanic because the Player’s Handbook allows you to customize them, but new options are a wonderful source of inspiration for characters, and these are no exception. Some are close to official options, like Diplomat, but there are some novel ideas like Former Adventurer and Innkeeper, as well as a few extremely novel options like Monstrous Adoptee.

The new feats offer a lot of fun ideas, and they seem to hit a happy balance point which should make them easy to bring into your game. Among the more novel options are Boundless Reserves and Sorcerous Vigor, which attempt to address the Monk and Sorcerer’s problematically limited resource pools by eating your hit dice. I’m excited to try both of these in play.

Gears and Gunpowder

One of the kickstarter stretch goals for Tome of Heroes added firearm rules and related subclasses. Far beyond the Gunner feat introduced in Tasha’s, Kobold Press set out to make firearms feel more unique than “crossbows, but loud”. The Gunpowder property adds an exploding dice mechanic which allows for unpredictable spikes in damage output. The related subclasses, such as the Black Powder Domain Cleric, interact with these weapons and related items in fun ways like adding the Gunpowder property to weapons that probably shouldn’t have it.

The exploding dice mechanic does add some complexity, but the authors reigned in potential abuse cases by capping how many dice can explode per attack based on your proficiency bonus. This prevents issues like rogues constantly exploding their pile of Sneak Attack dice.

But beyond new options for firearms, Kobold Press has also updated many weapons which existed in prior versions of DnD but which haven’t made their way into 5th edition. If you lament 5e’s lack of diversity in weapon options, 

Kobold also reintroduces the two-headed property and offers some additional weapon options tailor made for two-weapon fighting. Considering TWF’s mechanical challenges in 5e, these weapons hold a lot of appeal for making TWF a viable combat tactic.

Between the new armor options and new weapon options there are a few things which are clear improvements over existing official options, often only limited by a higher gold price. These won’t necessarily cause problems in your game, but be sure to consider the mechanical implications of introducing these items.

New Mechanics

The Adventuring Rules section introduces some new downtime activities which range from simple novelties like crafting a masterpiece to entire standalone simulation mini-games, such as managing a trading company.

The Group Themes option adds a theme to bind the party together at character creation and offers some teamwork benefits, but since it’s strictly an improvement you’ll want to consider balance implications.

Finally, the Weapon Options section offers some new tactical options to spice up weapon attacks, such as leashing an enemy with a whip or pinning them to a wall with an arrow. If you looked at the Action Options section of the DMG and thought “there isn’t enough here”, this section is absolutely for you. Keep in mind that some of the options will replicate class features in a few places, which might make some character options feel less special, such as the Battle Master Fighter which has long been the option for characters who want a martial character whose attacks do more than damage.

Magic of Various Sorts

Tomes of Heroes introduces two new magic systems with draconic runes and hedge magic. Both systems are only accessible by one of the new feats introduced in the book, but they look like fun additions for players who want a bit more complexity on their spellcaster.

Kobold also gave us 30+ pages of new spells for every class (again, excluding the Artificer for legal reasons) at almost every spell level. Many of the included spells are very interesting, but a handful them are more powerful than similar official options, so be mindful of balance implications.

Finally, the book concludes with a collection of magic items. Some of them are bland but extremely necessary (I can’t believe WotC still hasn’t given us something like the Cestus, which is a +X handwrap for monks), but most of them are more novel like the Campaign Field Tent or the Cloak of Tentacles.

I promise they don’t all start with the letter “C”, those just happened to be some of my favorite examples.

Pain Points

While the concepts behind the content are all exciting and fun, there are some rough edges in the mechanics. Many of the new options have clear abuse cases which your group will need to watch for and patch with house rules.

We’re planning to cover some of our favorite Tome of Heroes options here on, and we’ll be sure to provide suggested patches wherever they’re needed just as with official content which we consider problematic.

The wording on many of the newly-introduced spells has some consistent issues, such as not requiring the caster to be able to see the target of the spell. As written, this would allow casters to cause all sorts of trouble from behind a solid wall, and I don’t think that’s intentional.

Tome of Heroes notably lacks an index. It’s a minor omission, but it can make it difficult to locate specific things like an individual subclass or item. Subclasses are omitted from the table of contents, further compounding this issue.

Conclusion and summary of personal opinions

This is a great supplement, and it was an absolute joy to read. There is a lot of fun to be had in this book, and I would welcome much of this content at my own table, provided that I have time to look for balance issues and issues in the rules text. Kobold Press does issue errata documents when they do new print runs (the same way that WotC and Paizo do), and I have every reason to believe that they’ll maintain this book with errata for a long time.

For a 3rd-party supplement Kobold Press has once again set a very high standard of quality, and much like Tome of Beasts, I suspect that many enthusiastic players will add this to their list of recommendations for people who have collected the official core rules expansions.

Tome of Heroes is available now in both physical and digital copies:

Capies are also available through the Kobold Press Store.

Kobold Press provided advanced review materials for this review.