D&D 5eReviews

UA: Revised Subclasses Breakdown

This, my friends, is the first week of the rest of our lives. (I mean, that’s never not true.) We’ve left the weekly UA schedule and returned to the monthly, but naturally it’s the first of a new month, so here we are with revised subclasses, and with WotC showing a little more of their work in iterative development. The Ancestor barbarian, Swords bard, Arcane Archer fighter, Kensei monk, and Favored Soul sorcerer all get another pass.

Path of the Ancestral Guardian

The theme here hasn’t changed one bit, but there’s a lot of tweaking to the action economy.

  • Ancestral Protectors no longer requires a bonus action, but automagically takes effect on the first target that you hit on your turn, and lasts until the start of your next turn, or until the rage ends. Instead of slowing targets that Disengage, a creature your ancestors are bothering finds that any target but you has resistance to its attacks, on top of the disadvantage on the attack roll that they already had. (And, well, you’re still a barbarian, so if it’s bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage, you have resistance too! Sweet.)
    • There’s no explicit handling for what happens if there are two Ancestral Guardian barbarians in a party together attacking the same target, the way there is with the Sentinel feat. Still, this is a solid change by any reasonable measure, fixing the serious action economy issues of the original and staying more on theme. I’m a little concerned about just how good of a marking power (to use the 4e terminology) this is, though it does nothing at all if you’re fighting someone who forces saving throws rather than making attacks.
  • Ancestral Shield became Spirit Shield, and grants a random (2d8, 3d8, or 4d8, scaling by level) damage reduction rather than resistance. It still costs your reaction, but it doesn’t also involve sacrificing your resistance to protect your ally.
    • This may be stopping an excessively high percentage of damage in some solitary boss fights; even worse if it’s stacked with the resistance of Ancestral Protectors. It’s a very convincing requirement that the enemy kill the tank before moving on. It doesn’t scale in any regard with an increasing number of enemies on the field, though. As with Ancestral Protectors, I’m intrigued and would like to see it in action for awhile. My campaign has two barbarian PCs right now, one an Eagle Totem and one a homebrewed subclass called Demon-scarred, so I’m getting a lot of chances to see how small differences in features and approach to combat play out.
  • Consult the Spirits switched from a largely-useless advantage on some Int and Wis checks (which many barbarians still wouldn’t be able to pass) to a per-short-rest clairvoyance You don’t see a long of melee brute classes and subclasses getting magical scouting effects, but this one tells its story really well. Great change here.
  • Vengeful Ancestors switched from a reaction that made you choose between a tiny bit of retributive damage or using Ancestral Shield to now automatically dealing retributive damage whenever Spirit Shield does its thing. This is really, really powerful, but other than some mild questions about tuning the damage mitigation and reflection values, it’s a great change.

By the time you get this feature, the Ancestral Guardian barbarian is playing like a 4e shielding swordmage that forgot how to teleport, which is still outlandishly powerful. To be fair, though, the barbarian Paths of the Player’s Handbook are heavy hitters, so Ancestral Guardian needs to do a lot just to keep up. It’s far more field-ready than the first draft, and it makes the barbarian’s player think a bit harder about target selection than normal. After all, once you have Spirit Shield, you want enemies to attack your buddies… just weaker enemies, please, ones that might see all of their damage output wiped away with a few d8s. The barbarian class overall needs more tactical engagement, so I’m keen to see this play out.

 

College of Swords

This one takes us back to Kits of Old, and makes some changes to a highly technical area of 5e parlance.

  • Bonus Proficiencies are mostly unchanged, except that the bard also gains the ability to use any melee weapon they’re proficient with as a spellcasting focus. It’s hard to imagine a bard that would seriously pursue this College, but also prefer Strength and medium armor over Dex and light armor, unless their main attack stat is 14 or less. To be fair, I’ve seen that happen in other classes.
  • Fighting Style now allows the bard to choose either Duelist or Two-Weapon Fighting, rather than simply assigning the latter. As I’m about to explain, Two-Weapon Fighting is simply an incorrect choice.
  • Blade Flourish is no longer part of an Attack action. It is its own kind of action: a Blade Flourish action. A Blade Flourish action lets you make one attack, increase your speed by 10, and spend Bardic Inspiration on one of three options. (When you run out of Bardic Inspiration dice, you can keep using Blade Flourish for the speed boost and, eventually, an extra attack.) Notably, the original Blade Flourish went out of its way to support ranged attacks; this one specifically bars them.
    • This is a huge deal, and confirmed in Jeremy Crawford’s tweets. Two-Weapon Fighting (Player’s Handbook, p. 195) only works when you take the Attack action. This means that your core subclass function locks out TWF. Sure, you could Attack normally and use Two-Weapon Fighting… but that looks like a dodgy idea right out the gate, and gets a lot worse in just a minute.
    • Of your three Flourishes, the first is unchanged (add your Bardic Inspiration die to AC), the second is just weird (attack a target, and if you hit, ignore your weapon damage and ability modifiers. Instead, splash your Bardic Inspiration die result on every target but your main target within 5 feet of you), and a push that moves your target a number of feet that is probably not divisible by 5, but also lets you spend your reaction to follow them. The second Flourish has its place if you’re ever surrounded, but its effect doesn’t make a ton of sense for what’s going on. The third Flourish needs to at least suggest a handling for what happens when you push someone less than one full space.
  • Cunning Flourish replaces Extra Attack, and only works when you make a Blade Flourish attack. At this point, a Dueling blade is in every way better than a Two-Weapon Fighting blade, including not needing to spend a bonus action. You still can’t use your Flourishes more than once per turn.
  • Master’s Flourish replaces the bog-standard Battle Magic of the original. When you don’t spend a Bardic Inspiration die but still want to do something fancy and possibly also schmantzy, you always have a d6 to fall back on. Worth using for Defensive Flourish, pretty much a waste of time for Slashing Flourish (unless they intend for your original weapon die to still damage the initial target… which you’d have to bend our poor language around pretty far to get out of that rules text), and just a free 5-ft push that sometimes becomes a 10-ft push for Mobile Flourish.
    • As Colin has pointed out to me, the Valor bard already has some issues around being a full-progression caster that wants to be swinging weapons. This leaves them without a lot of chances to use both sides of their power set until they pick up Battle Magic at 14th. Without that, the College of Swords is trying to use a fighter’s gameplay loop, and getting much less throughput out of all those spells. Leaving your bonus action open for healing word spam is another great reason for blades to favor Dueling over TWF.

This subclass is simply terrible. You’re much better off trying to do more or less the same thing with the College of Valor. It may be a bit of going around your elbow to get to your nose, but this is just a mess. I’m also sorely disappointed that they’ve cut all support for knife-throwing blades – that’s thematically central to the original kit as well as the flavor text in the document.

 

Arcane Archer Archetype

This one gets a pretty deep revamp.

  • Arcane Arrow has been retooled into Magic Arrow and Arcane Shot. Magic Arrow makes all of your arrows fired from a shortbow or longbow magical +1 arrows. Which is fine, even if it means that this feature gets overwritten if you ever get a +whatever bow. It also means you have a freebie +1 to hit until that happy day. Arcane Shot no longer dishes out plain force damage, but you still get two uses of your Arcane Shot options per short rest, learn two types of Arcane Shots, and unlock more as you go (eventually gaining 6 out of 8).
    • This change amounts to an action economy fix, since the 2d6 force damage got farmed out and retyped in each individual shot. It’s not the main design goal, but this also happens to be a far clearer way to store this information in the rules.
    • EDIT: Yeah, so, I was super-duper wrong about this, as Jeremy Crawford has clarified in Sage Advice. Your +whatever bow stacks with your +1 arrows just fine. I… basically get why this ruling is here, and it’s harder to mass-enchant arrows than it is in 3.x, but it’s still thumbing its nose at bounded accuracy by double-dipping on attack bonuses.
  • Arcane Archer’s Lore got narrowed way down to just one of Arcana or Nature. I’m not sure why this was important, but the original made you a pretty broad skill machine.
  • You are no longer a conjuror of arrows or cheap tricks; now you can turn a miss into a Curving Shot in mid-flight to target someone else, for the low low cost of a bonus action. Presumably this would determine cover from the location of the person you missed, letting you fire around corners.
  • Ever-Ready Arrow’s one-minute timer is gone, replaced with Ever-Ready Shot that works a lot more like the Battle Master’s Relentless feature. That is, it’s triggered by rolling initiative. Relatively speaking, one Arcane Shot is worth more than one Combat Superiority die, but sure.
  • Deadly Arrow is gone, and now all of your Arcane Shots improve a little at 18th level (but there’s no specific feature name).
  • There are a lot of little tweaks to the Arcane Shots.
    • Beguiling Arrow is now Mind-Scrambling Arrow. It carries a 2d6 psychic damage kicker and is no longer stopped by charm immunity.
    • Brute-Bane Arrow now deals 2d6 necrotic damage, and is otherwise the same.
    • Bursting Arrow just got rephrased to clarify the 2d6 damage. It’s still force damage. It now scales to 4d6 appropriately at 18th
    • The underwhelming Defending Arrow is now Banishing Arrow. The baseline Banishing Arrow doesn’t get a 2d6 damage kicker, because it’s some serious (if short-term) crowd control. Only at 18th level does it go up to 2d6 extra damage. Anyway, if the arrow hits and the target fails a Cha save, it’s banished to the Feywild for a bit. Way more impressive!
    • Grasping Arrow stayed mostly the same, except that the Strength DC to get out is now based on your Arcane Shot save DC, and you can’t have two Grasping Arrows out at the same time. Good change.
    • Piercing Arrow no longer uses attack rolls, but turns your arrow into a line AoE that forces a Dex save, and deals your weapon damage +1d6 on a failed save, or half on a success. It also now ignores cover entirely, which it should, based on the expressed theme. Good change.
    • Seeking Arrow works mostly the same, but it’s now a Dex save rather than an attack roll, and it can be fired as part of any old shot rather than requiring its own action to use. The first part is nice because, by the shot’s concept, armor probably shouldn’t help; the second part is a needed fix.
    • Shadow Arrow now reduces your target’s range of vision to 5 feet rather than 30 feet on a failed save, and deals psychic damage. It’s more useful, but with a secondary chance to be resisted.

Overall, I would say that the changes to the Arcane Archer are great improvements. I’m not thrilled about the Magic Arrow feature, but then a lot of strike-as-magic features get outdated in the course of play. I’m not sure why Magic Arrow doesn’t just, you know, make the arrows strike as magic, rather than also granting +1 to attack and damage, but there it is. Considering how much clearer and more useful the rest of the subclass is, I won’t pitch a fit over it.

 

Way of the Kensei

The earlier Kensei earned some harsh words for being deeply confusing and requiring a J.D. in D&D’s formal rules language just to understand what should happen. (Note to WotC: if you know you have something a bit dense to explain, it really is okay to present examples. You could save yourself a lot of grief this way, I think.)

  • Path of the Kensei got taken down to studs, which is good because it was the source of all the issues.
    • The first bullet of the feature now grants proficiency in one melee and one ranged weapon, gradually scaling to four melee and four ranged weapons. These weapons also become kensei weapons for you, and all kensei weapons are monk weapons. Weapons with the Heavy or Special tags are specifically locked out, while the longbow is explicitly allowed. It’s weird that they would lock out glaives, as the most obvious cognates of naginatas… a weapon that history and D&D put into the hands of sōhei. Blocking off the greatsword is the most obvious aim here – the largest blade they want you using is a longsword, which of course you wield in its Versatile form. Keep in mind that the Martial Arts feature lets you use all monk weapons with Dexterity instead of Strength.
    • If you make an unarmed attack while holding a melee kensei weapon, you gain +2 AC. This part is unchanged from before.
    • There was a +1d4 damage kicker before, as part of a bonus action. It didn’t make any sense, so now there’s a +1d4 damage kicker as part of a bonus action that only applies to ranged weapons. It’s interesting how far out of their way they’re going to support Zen archery monks. Anyway, the new version is much clearer.
  • One with the Blade still consists of Magic Weapons (essentially unchanged) and Precise Strike. Precise Strike is now largely a misnomer, at least in the sense that D&D usually uses the word precise (eg., the Battle Master’s Precision Attack), as it now lets you burn ki for extra damage die when you hit a target. Compared to the previous version that made the decision tree for your bonus action horrifically complicated and competed with Path of the Kensei, this is a good change.
  • Sharpen the Blade is unchanged except to note that it only works on kensei weapons. It still takes a bonus action that is part of revving up for a fight. I’m… actually not 100% sure if this stacks with +whatever bonuses from just having a magic weapon. It’s obvious enough that bounded accuracy wants the answer to be a firm No, but it would not be the most surprising thing to see a Yes ruling here.
  • Unerring Accuracy got rephrased, with no change to function.

Overall, Nu!Kensei is infinitely clearer in its function than the earlier one. It’s also a good bit more restrictive; unsurprisingly there’s rhetoric about how no Heavy weapons means that WotC hates kitties and puppies and joy. I’m great with blocking off the path to Dex-wielded greatswords, personally. That was always the ultra-risky design choice of the first version. Beyond the greatsword-qua-greatsword, this is about blocking off Great Weapon Master and the reach applications of Polearm Master. I think my one remaining complaint about the Kensei and most monk subclasses is that there’s no support at all for the exploration and interaction pillars – they are purely combat-focused. That seems a wasted opportunity.

 

Favored Soul Origin

This is the, uh, third iteration(?) of the Favored Soul, which tells us that it is the perfect intersection of fan interest and designer interest. It also means we have more points on its trendline than any other UA playtest material. The most important thing here is that Favored Souls got their wings back. Attaboy, Clarence.

That’s right, an It’s a Wonderful Life reference.

Because that’s how I roll.

  • Divine Magic got just one change, but it’s a good one. (The feature was nearly perfect before, but it’s the crux of the Favored Soul-as-sorcerer concept and not actually complicated.) Now you learn cure wounds for free, which is great because you skip the tax associated with the most obvious and gameplay-changing thing for the Favored Soul to want. I also would have accepted healing word, but the sorcerer can pick up Distant Spell to cover that base if they want.
  • Supernatural Resilience went away. It didn’t have a strong hold on the core concept anyway.
  • Favored by the Gods stuck around unchanged. 2d4 is a big boost for a save or attack roll, but I accept it as an expression of that whole Favored This is a solid Chosen of Mystara subclass for Forgotten Realms at this point, and that’s fascinating all by itself. (Underpowered compared to what we see of the Chosen in the text, but ffs, let the PCs be the important ones.)
  • Empowered Healing remembers that this is a sorcerer subclass and the sorcerer has their own toys to play with. This is the Empowered Spell metamagic, but for healing. I’m sure there are people out there complaining that this pushes their Favored Soul toward healing when they really just wanted bless and spirit guardians, but that was never WotC’s design goal.
  • Divine Purity died a lonely and unmourned death, as befits all PC immunities.
  • Angelic Form is the new version of Blessed Countenance, kicked from 6th to 14th It still changes your appearance to beautiful, youthful, kind, or imposing, though that no longer has any mechanical underpinning. It also gives you a can of Red Bull, which you drink as a bonus action. Drinking Red Bull Flying with angel wings was a core part of the 3.x Favored Soul, so I’m glad to see it here.
  • Unearthly Recovery is unchanged.

Honestly, I think this version of the Favored Soul is ready to go into official text. The gameplay here looks like a fun balance of exploding things and healing things, like a remixed Light domain cleric with metamagic. Watching the twists and turns of the Favored Soul’s path to this point should reassure everyone who loves the concept of any piece of UA content, but finds fault with implementation. Just as with D&D Next, they seem to get things almost deliberately wrong in the second draft, but the final tends to be a solid piece of work – miraculously, without feeling over-engineered. In this way the College of Swords may yet become something playable. For the document as a whole, I see four hits and one miss, which even Rogers Hornsby thinks is a pretty solid batting average. (Ty Cobb could not be reached for comment.)

Next week, I should be back to publishing my articles on Thursdays for a bit. I’ll be continuing with design critique, as I’ve been asked to get into the guts of a third-party-published class and give commentary.

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  • Colin McLaughlin

    Ty Cobb was too busy punching College of Swords bards in the nuts and laughing about it.

    I like Favored Soul a lot, irrespective of my inner glee at WotC releasing arcane casters who get access to divine spells.

  • Craig Cormier

    I’m a little surprised that you don’t read the College of Swords flourishes as all happening in addition to the normal effects of your attack.

    True the Slashing Flourish doesn’t say that your original target takes damage as normal from the attack, but neither do either of the other 2 Flourishes. I can’t imagine that the intention is to give up your normal damage whenever you decide to use a Flourish, especially since they cost a Bardic Inspiration die.

    • To explain my reading:

      1. Defensive Flourish is entirely separate from the attacks you make in your Blade Flourish action. It doesn’t intersect with attack rolls, hits landed, or anything else.
      2. Slashing Flourish says: “…cause the weapon to damage each creature of your choice, other than the target, that you can see within 5 feet of you.” There’s no mention of the weapon’s damage to the initial target, and other than the target strongly implies that the weapon’s damage doesn’t go to the initial target.
      3. Mobile Flourish at least does not explicitly say something that implies the initial target doesn’t take damage.

      It’s possible they intended your reading to be correct. We have playtest documents so as to find bugs like this. =)

    • Craig Cormier

      Fair enough. I guess I would allow my reading of the text at my table simply to give the subclass more playability.

      I can see where there would be confusion on the issue though.

    • I support anything from generous reading to outright rules hacking to get things working well at the table, of course, but that’s a different matter from critiquing the document.

      I realize you’ve already agreed with me, so I’m not trying to beat a dead horse here, but the reason it’s important to critique the document rather than just fix it at your own table(s) is that no one wants a player joining a new group to be in for a nasty surprise when the new group has a stricter reading of the text.

  • Manos Ti

    Thanks for the brakedown Brandes, once again!

    College of Swords is lame. Just lame. Plus, to my humble opinion at least, spreads all of the theme behind Bards pretty thin.

    I don’t like the Curving Shot feature of the Arcane Archer. First of all, a ranged attack that misses does not necessarily mean that the projectile has MISSED the target, it might also mean that the target’s armor has deflected/absorbed the attack. I guess a houserule could define that. Also, I find the said power too powerful against grouped foes. And also you can use it EVERY TIME (i.e. there is no limit to it).

    Thumbs up for the Favored Soul, the Kensei and the Ancestral Guardian.

    • No limit other than your bonus action, anyway. If you miss twice in a round, that second miss is sticking with you. It’s super crazy good, in any case.

  • Luis Arturo Fabre Ortiz

    error in the kensei
    “When you reach 6th, 11th, and 17th level in this class, you can choose another type of weapon melee or ranged — to be a kensei weapon for you”
    you chose only one in total not oan melee and ones ranged

  • Brandes, This is a little off topic but give what you and Colin have said about the issues with the Valor and Swords Bard College, I’m wondering how you feel about the Bladesinger Arcane Archetype?

    • I haven’t gone deep on studying it, personally – I’ve still only skimmed SCAG so far. When I have some time, I’ll try to amend that. Won’t try to speak for Colin here. =)

    • Colin McLaughlin

      All of the arcane-hybrid archetypes they have released have their own issues. This is part of the problem with this concept being spread around as much as it had been.

      Bladesinger has some issues such as only wanting you to use finesse weapons – though hiding that somewhat with the bonuses of Bladesong. Still, you really just want to be all in with Dex as a secondary, especially given the way you can compensate for your Con with the Bladesong and the huge lifting of Song of Defense.

      It also doesn’t really do much with the weapon attacks. Two attacks that deal 1d8+10 (Dex+Int) average out to 29 damage per attack action, but really you will just be using Booming Blade or Greenflame Blade. Booming Blade would be dealing 3d8+10+possibly 3d8. Beyond the Int to damage and a second attack, there isn’t really synergy in the kit. You are either attacking or casting. Really, even when you are attacking you are using those cantrips as a stop-gap.

      There is also the completely awful waste of theme that could have existed with the bladesinging styles in the sidebar that offer no impact to the archetype. Which is a real shame.

    • crimfan

      I’ve seen it in play at the low/medium levels. It does a credible job of the old fighter/mage, which was definitely one of my favorite character types.

      You can use melee (or melee cantrips) credibly though you won’t be damaging or have the ability to take a beating the way a barbarian or properly spec-ed fighter can. You can also use spells when that makes more sense. You’re not as good as someone who is focused but you have some really nice flexibility.

      It is an amazing multiclass for an eldritch knight. Five levels of bladesinger takes care of a lot of the issues the EK has, though it does slow down their acquisition of the third attack if they take them lower in levels. Contrariwise, a few levels of EK gives a bladesinger some really good stuff, most notably action surge.

      I agree about the waste of theme in the sidebar, which is just useless. I also think that while bladesinger is written for elves, they should have opened it up more. There are other races that might have a bladesong tradition. A creative DM can manage of course, but still.

      I do wish there were more attack buff spells than just stuff for paladins, as that would fit the bladesinger and EK really nicely. For instance, a spell that made your weapon burn.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      Multiclassing implementation in 5e is highly problematic – in my opinion. However, the fact that you are suggesting two arcane hybrid archetypes to shore up the issues of the other in order to creature a more well-rounded arcane hybrid archetype speaks volumes to my issues with the implementation of “every caster and martial type gets their own version of arcane hybrid.”

      There are some neat mechanics within the archetype, but it’s still hinging on the underpinnings of wizard, and combines them less elegantly than say Eldritch Knight or College of Valor bard. Both paladin and ranger are implementations of “fighter and,” so why should the arcane variant be any less of a fully-formed idea? The reliance on those bridge cantrips – which any arcane caster can use – is covering a lot of the conceptual space, as is multiclassing.

      Everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinions, of course.

    • crimfan

      I agree with you that I would welcome a real hybrid arcane class. I also have issues with MCing in 5E.

      There are some classes that are really not amazing as one moves up the levels and need to be shored up by strategic multiclassing or, vice versa, can be used to shore up another class’s glaring weakness. The warlock comes to mind as one. It’s not fantastic all the way up due to the really choked off access to spells but it does an amazing job of giving a bard a credible offense just by taking a few levels of it.

      There are a number of ways to make a Valor bard more playable all the way up, most notably having some more melee-oriented cantrips or a “burn spells for X” mechanic. The paladin burns spells for damage. The Valor bard, who should be doing a lot of attacking, could burn spells for something else.

    • Unexpected Dave

      Considering the prevalence of the “spellsword” archetype in fantasy fiction, it’s surprising that D&D hasn’t created a distinct and iconic fighter/mage hybrid class. The valor bard and the eldritch knight come close, but they both carry a little too much baggage from their base classes. I guess what I want is similar to an Eldritch knight, but with stronger magical abilities at the expense of a lot of their non-magical combat prowess.

    • crimfan

      The 4E bladesinger, which came relatively late in the 4E lifecycle, was pretty decent, but they’ve struggled with this for a long time.

      I do think that the “burn spells for X” mechanic is a pretty good one. It works for the paladin, who has to choose between actually casting spells and burning them for smites and would work for the valor bard, too.

      The EK isn’t bad, but I think it’s maybe too much fighter and not enough caster for what people want. As I said upthread a little bit of wizard multiclassing helps but my general feeling is that a class should be playable all the way up, which classes like the warlock sadly really aren’t for many games, especially where you have a substantial number of “we want long rests” type characters.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      I might get some hate, but I loved the core idea behind the Swordmage in 4e. Classically trained scholars who received officers training from a military perspective.

    • crimfan

      I played a swordmage for a bit. I’d really wanted something more like the bladesinger ended up being, and I was a defender in a group that had a warden and didn’t really need another or really understand tactically what a defender did but it had its moments.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      That’s what Assault Swordmage was for 😀

    • The Assault swordmage gameplay loop sure looked like a hell of a lot of fun, from the other side of the screen. I can’t say I miss the all-teleport-all-the-time thing, aesthetically, but that was just part of the texture of 4e.

    • I’m personally having a lot of fun playing a Bladesinger in 5e. It gives you ton of flexibility, at low levels especially, so thats fun. We’re only at level 6 (we started at 3) but I can see some gaps/missed opportunities in the class on the horizon. I agree that there should be a dedicated arcane hybrid class. The Bladesinger and the Eldritch Knight are both almost there, but are held back by their core class. I feel like most of us are just looking for something that is a hair closer to the 5e paladin, with their smite powers, etc. I’m working on an archetype for the UA Artificer that I feel is much closer to the arcane-Paladin I was looking for.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      Honestly, even top end Valor Bard is pretty close – it’s just a shame it takes until 14th level to fully express the concept.

    • Unexpected Dave

      I’ve decided to take the plunge and homebrew something. I’m thinking of making them half-casters using the Wizard spell list, with the signature ability to “Quicken” a spell once per short rest (unlimited times at level 14). I’ll give them an always-on variation of mage armor that starts at a flat 16 AC and scales up as they level. (I want to encourage them to use strength-based melee weapons but no armor, so tying their AC to Dex would make them too MAD).

      For subclasses, I’m going to try an Elemental Blademaster, who can infuse their weapons with elemental attributes, and maybe something with an affinity for “magical beasts” (i.e. unaligned Monstrosities)

      The biggest design problem I’m facing at the brainstorming stage is that making them half-casters doesn’t give them enough arcane flavor at first level (when they’ll have no spells). I could give them one free spell at first level that they can cast once per rest without using a spell slot, though that would make things needlessly complicated. Alternatively, I could just give them a free cantrip or two. (Or both?)

    • Colin McLaughlin

      I…have thought about this a lot, myself:

      https://standsinthefire.com/2017/03/14/building-the-arcane-hybrid/

      I’m still a little ways away from the full class write-up, but this (and the comments) lays out my general plan.

    • I’m very interested. I’ll take a look!

    • The new elemental sorcerers from the previous UAs are edging toward the elemental arcane/martial concept themselves!

    • crimfan

      Yes it was definitely part of 4E. At higher levels it wasn’t that hard to end up with a move of Teleport 10 in the right class, though that wasn’t quite as awesome as all that. In 5E if you want to play a teleporter play an eladrin Eldritch Knight. They get a good number of teleports.

    • Unexpected Dave

      I really like War Magic and Battle Magic, and my ideal spellsword would be something that is built around a similar mechanic from the get-go. (Make them half-casters who can Quicken a spell once per short rest, maybe?) And as they level up, have them learn unique abilities that synergize weapons and spellcasting in more interesting ways. (e.g.: An ability that lets them infuse their weapon attacks with elemental effects [a hit with electricity would make the target unable to use reactions, cold hurts movement, fire causes extra damage, thunder knocks back, necrotic prevents healing, etc.] )

      Mechanically, you can get most of the way there by multiclassing fighter and sorceror, but it’s not the same as having a true fighter/mage hybrid class.

  • Cuix

    Minor issue: Magical bonuses from ammunition and enchanted weapons stack. So, +1 arrow from a +1 bow is a +2 to hit and damage. Yeesh.

    You know, I’d been looking at the College of Swords just in terms of “do these flourishes seem neat”, which made it seem fairly alright, but after your breakdown my opinion has changed. I think the main issue, for me, is that “just cast a spell instead” seems like it’s almost always the better choice, and that’s an issue with D&D spanning every edition (except 4th, but everyone hates 4th, blegh). So, like, when I think about weapon/martial classes, I really want them to differentiate themselves and have powerful options. That’s why I like the Battlemaster and the Paladin so much; they’re super diverse and interesting.

    • Yeah, I saw the Sage Advice clarification on magical bows and ammo. =/ So yeah, you were right, that feature is just unnecessary.

      Compared to vicious mockery, much less any spells of 1st level or higher, Blade Flourish looks like a value-neutral idea at best, and a mistake a lot of the time. It’s not like you don’t have other strong ways to spend Bardic Inspiration dice, you know?

  • Trampas Whiteman

    What’s neat for Dragonlance fans is that the favored soul closely resembles DL’s mystic class of 3.5.

  • Sporelord0179

    Nice to see the ancestral guardian get a clean up. I think the ancestral spirits thing is a perfect theme for the barbarian – on par with berserker and totem warrior. I’ve made my own one (must resist urge to shill) but it’s extremely pleasing to see it get some love from WotC.
    On the flip side, the college of swords upsets me. It’s competing for the valor bard’s niche and failing. I don’t really want an archetype that’s both mechanically and fluff(ily) similar to another. Say what you want about some of the stuff the UA’s put out over the last surge, at least it was distinct – especially the ranger stuff, who doesn’t want to polymorph into an angry ent?
    Arcane archer got the much needed overhaul and I like the new one. The whole +1 bonus to arrows is annoying, repent for thy sins against bounded accuracy, but the rework for the arcane shots is nice. Curved shot may be a bit odd to resolve but I love the idea behind it. Fits the idea of “fighters are the supreme weapon users” that 5E wants to put over.
    I’m just as happy for Way of the Kensei. I almost played one of those in a game then the game fell through.
    Favoured soul makes me the most happy over all. Fills a niche none of the other sorceres comes close to, has solid fluff, mechanics are fun, tidy and not OP. Favoured soul is my favoured option here.

    All in all, this is one of the best things to come out of the UA surge (ignoring college of swords, grumble grumble.) If the favoured soul is typical of what we’re getting in the big book o’ crunch 2: arcane boogaloo then my opinion of it’s done an almost 180.

    If you’re doing third-party/homebrew stuff, how do we send submissions? Or are you more stringent with these things and only willing to take a check at successful sellers?

    • You have my email address. =) This isn’t a New Policy, though – he asked, and I decided that it was something I was willing to do. I have enough available topics that I cam afford to be arbitrary.

      Also, as a design critique, I’m not telling people whether or not it’s worth purchasing, and I have no idea or particular interest in how his sales are doing. Instead, I’m breaking down the text and talking about what works and what doesn’t, just as I’ve been doing with UA and the History of the Classes articles. If it gets him some extra sales as a result, of course, that’s great for him.

      More broadly, I have an obvious vested interest in persuading the broader 5e community (outside of the Adventurer’s League) to learn to examine content critically, so that they’ll accept the best third-party content into their own games – rather than rejecting all third-party content out of hand, which (from reading online conversations) a LOT of DMs are doing at this point.

    • Sporelord0179

      What e-mail address should I send it to?

    • My first name dot my last name at Google’s infamous email service.

  • I really like the concept of the College of Sword Blade Flourishes, but this is terrible implementation. The Valor Bard is mechanically solid, but boring. I’ve always felt that was a missed opportunity to do something akin to a carnival performer, who specialized in sword swallowing, elaborate duels, knife throwing, etc.The first draft of College of Swords was basically this, though not technically solid. So I’m a bit torn. If they duo end up keeping this they will need to find a way to re-flavor it so it doesn’t step on the Valor Bard’s toes.

    As an aside I hope whatever our PHB2 book in the fall will be includes sections that elaborate more on roleplaying the PHB classes. This would including ways of flavoring them, etc. Possibly even alternative level features? Perhaps we would see the distinction between the Bards there.

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