D&D 5eReviews

Xanathar’s Guide Breakdown, Part Two

The next piece of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is… more subclasses. Let’s be real, there are 53 pages of subclasses in this book, we’re going to be doing this for a bit. Today I’ll be talking about clerics, druids, and fighters, with seven new subclasses between them.

Bards and Barbarians | Clerics, Druids, and Fighters

 

Clerics

The three new distinguishing features of clerics are pretty great – the temple where you completed your novitiate, a keepsake that is pretty much a class-specific trinket, and a dark secret that tests the cleric’s faith. It’s possible that I’m just reading these more charitably, but these don’t point players toward obnoxious behavior nearly as much as the barbarian’s superstitions do. Also, a DM that doesn’t have the keepsake eventually unlock something special – magical powers, access to a high priest’s tomb, whatever – is leaving money on the table.

 

Forge Domain

Mechanically, this domain has changed little if at all from its original UA presentation. Thinking back… I was no great fan of it then, and I have the same problems with it now.

  • Okay, the domain spells are fine.
    • I think there are valid arguments around protecting the uniqueness of the paladin spell list by not proliferating smite spells hither, thither, and yon. WotC has clearly abandoned that position, though. These spells are a decent mix of direct combat, battlefield control, defense, and utility.
  • Bonus Proficiencies in heavy armor and smith’s tools are fine.
  • The Blessing of the Forge is a short-term enchantment, which means that this feature’s usefulness probably falls off a cliff at a certain point in the campaign, depending on how much treasure gets handed out. Considering that a later chapter of this book offers check DC guidance for things you can do with tools, I’d suggest that letting the Blessing of the Forge affect a tool kit is a good way to give it longer-term use.
  • Channel Divinity: Artisan’s Blessing is my first major bone to pick with the Forge Domain. Now, we’re getting into my own crafting-is-cool idiosyncrasies here, and I get that. Basically, this feature is about spending a Channel Divinity to fix the unbearably slow mundane crafting system, except that you have to sacrifice coinage equal to the full value of the item, rather than half. It boils two weeks of work down to an hour, in exchange for paying twice as much.
    • I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Channel Divinity that was this close to being a ribbon. I think Blessing of the Forge should have been tweaked into being a Channel Divinity (changing its function to balance that out), while Artisan’s Blessing should just double your mundane and magical crafting speeds. Any situation where you want CD: Artisan’s Blessing for its current function is probably overshadowed completely by fabricate and creation.
  • Soul of the Forge is fine. I think requiring heavy armor for that AC boost is not super necessary – medium armor would have been fine here too – but that’s because medium armor is just not as good for most possible proficiency and stat arrangements.
  • Divine Strike does what Divine Strike does. There’s no implementation of Divine Strike that wouldn’t be cooler if it also carried Potent Spellcasting, and vice versa. Your 8th-level feature should not be the deciding factor of whether you are a melee or cantrip cleric, and sacred flame is certainly on message for the Forge Domain.
  • Saint of Forge and Fire is the natural elaboration of Soul of the Forge. If you’ve read literally any of my breakdowns before, you know that I have no patience for always-on immunity of any kind. Immunity to the most common energy type? Not better. On the other hand, this feature does a lot to support the image of an aggressive melee cleric that is constantly seething flames, so that part is solid. I think I would have gone with “you can set yourself on fire, and not take damage from fire effects that you create with spells or items.” This is Avatar of Battle plus upgrading resistance to immunity, so… wow.

Overall, I think the Forge Domain is a mix of fine, functional ideas and big wastes of time. It wouldn’t take much to rewrite it into something I did like. As it happens, I’ve written and sold a similarly-themed domain, and once it is published, I’ll share it here. Not that I would let this bias me in any way. Er… yeah. I’m sure you all believe that. Right?

 

Grave Domain

Even as a fan of non-evil death clerics, I’m sort of surprised at how popular the non-evil death cleric concept is. But, you know, psychopomps are cool, and clerics of same are great by me.

  • The domain spells are a mix of restoration of the dead, necromantic curses and attacks, and defenses.
  • Circle of Mortality is a situational healing kicker and an improvement to spare the dying. Now, the standard-issue spare the dying is no better than five silver pieces out of a healer’s kit, so this upgrade goes a long way.
    • The interesting thing about making a healing kicker so situational is that it is a good inducement to cast cure wounds with the highest-level slot you can spare, unless you can cast heal or better.
  • Eyes of the Grave detects undead, but with a limited number of uses per day so that this doesn’t become a standard scan in any new area (that would, in turn, spoil a lot of mysteries). I’m fine with this, but it’s one of two class features with uses per day based on your Wisdom modifier. Having a bunch of separate currency pools is a little excessive to track. This one comes up rarely enough (probably) that it’s not a real problem.
  • Channel Divinity: Path to the Grave is a powerful (if short-lived) curse, setting up an ally to make a big, devastating attack.
    • Its short duration and the fact that it must be expended with the next successful attack (not damage from a failed or successful save) suggests that you’ll get into situations where the initiative order makes this a lot harder to use. For example, if you act immediately after the rogue, you probably want the fighter who acts after you to hold off and let the rogue take their best shot (assuming you didn’t pre-arrange for the rogue to Ready an Action). Still, there aren’t that many ways to impose vulnerability, so I like this.
  • Sentinel at Death’s Door turns crits into regular hits, which… is fine, but I’m not wild about it.
    • A class feature that just waits for rare crit rolls to negate them just kinda bugs me. This would also be such a bummer if NPCs used it. Meh. Anyway, this is the other feature with the stat-linked uses per day. I figure most days, you won’t get anywhere near expending all of your uses. (My players may find cause to disagree, admittedly. My dice like bloodshed, what can I say?)
  • Potent Spellcasting does what Potent Spellcasting does.
  • Keeper of Souls is a little more opportunistic and sinister than the rest of the domain suggests, as it converts an enemy’s death into healing.
    • The real surprise, though, is the use of an NPC’s number of Hit Dice as the determining factor of literally anything. Remember that, in 5e, NPC Hit Dice are set to whatever number grants the desired number of hit points (after modification for the also-arbitrary Con modifier), so you’ll often see creatures of even quite modest CR with huge numbers of HD. All the more so, if the creature is Tiny or Small. In any case, when you’re talking about creatures that a 17th level cleric is likely to fight, this should be a hugely potent healing effect, you can do it every round, and it doesn’t cost any kind of action.
    • All told, this is probably one of the most potent top-end domain features I think I’ve seen. I can only guess at how this would change the dynamic of late-game fights – a huge healing effect every time a target dies makes the latter half of each fight much less threatening.

If it weren’t for some serious concerns about the effects of the final feature, I would be basically fine with this domain. It’s a little strange that it’s one of the more healing-focused domains. Like I said, though, I have concerns about how Keeper of Souls tilts late-game play to make PCs well-nigh untouchable. Looking ahead to the druid Circles, I think we’re seeing a metagame shift toward strong healing output, across multiple classes. I’ll be looking for more signs of this as I continue through XGTE. This may be a counterbalance to the increased potency-per-CR of creatures presented in Volo’s Guide to Monsters.

 

Druids

Okay, let’s shift the shape of our text to talk about druid subclasses. Unlike the other classes I’ve covered so far, I’ve gotten to see the UA versions of these two Circles in play at the table, although only at 2nd and 3rd level. I won’t be going point for point with changes from UA, but I was generally impressed with what I saw out of them. This section also has optional rules for Learning Beast Shapes. The character backstory elements are great here; the Mentors are especially mysterious and evocative. I would consider buying a book that was nothing but expanding these backstory seeds into d20 or d100 tables. (Or I’d try to write one myself, daunting though that is.)

 

Circle of Dreams

These are the fey-empowered druids. It calls to mind the fey interaction features that show up in earlier-edition druids – in vestigial form now, in the Circle of the Land’s Nature’s Ward feature and the fey-conjuring spells. Since it came up in conversation a couple of weeks ago, I also think that the largely unprecedented appearance of charm person on the druid spell list is best justified as a nod to fey connections.

  • Balm of the Summer Court is a significant data point in my argument about the healing metagame. It averages 3.5 hit points healed + 1 temporary hit point per druid level. Call it an average of 4.5 hit points, so half a point less than a paladin’s Lay on Hands. The range and action economy are a whole lot better than Lay on Hands, though it’s limited to half your pool at a time, where a paladin can dump the whole pool at once if they want. It also doesn’t touch disease or poison. Considering that the druid is otherwise a full casting class, this is a clear contender for the party’s healing healer who heals.
  • Hearth of Moonlight and Shadow is Leomund’s tiny hut without some of the more troublesome combat-breaking elements. So, you know, camping buff. Good times. Also, you can use it for every short or long rest, if you want. The description of its visual appearance seems like a strange choice to me, but I feel the same way about 5e’s tiny hut.
  • Hidden Paths is a multi-use short-range teleport. It’s a pretty amazing tool for circumventing a lot of exploration challenges and covering a lot of ground in combat. This looks like a lot of fun; at worst, I might question whether it’s a bit much. Probably fine.
  • Walker in Dreams is further utility, offering three spells: communication, scouting, and travel (one per long rest). The first spell is one druids don’t normally get. The second is otherwise part of their spell list, but possibly not prepared all that often. The third spell is nominally one they don’t get, but it’s different enough from its own normal function that no one exactly gets this spell. I like what goes on here, anyway.

I am a definite fan of the Circle of Dreams. It’s an amazing healing-and-utility subclass, stacked onto a healing-and-control class. It doesn’t have some of the breadth and depth of spellcasting that the Circle of the Land does. Balm of the Summer Court often saves you more spell slot levels than Natural Recovery replaces, at least on days that you’re doing a lot of fighting and worrying about the full depth of your spellcasting. I’ve never played a druid as a PC before, and this one has a little more draw for me than others.

 

Circle of the Shepherd

Radagast the Brown is probably my favorite fictional model for this subclass’s core themes. On the other hand, I’ve never been wild about summoners in tabletop gameplay, and that’s a huge part of the Shepherd. It’s an action economy and game slowdown problem. I haven’t seen it yet in 5e – the Shepherd in our group is not yet high enough level – so maybe I’ll change my mind.

  • Speech of the Woods opens up social interaction in situations that… are already social interactions for druids with some effort, but this makes it easier. I’m not looking it up right now, but I don’t think many fey are unable to speak Common. This feature seems fine.
  • Spirit Totem is the feature that raised alarm bells for me when I first saw it in UA. Having seen it in play just a couple of times, I’m prepared to say that it’s very likely to turn tough fights in your favor. With that recharge, the game expects you to use this every other fight, roughly speaking. So… wow.
    • The Bear Spirit is the one our druid has mostly used. At 2nd and 3rd level with hard-hitting enemies, 7 or 8 temporary hit points to the whole team kept us standing long enough to take down one or two enemies. There were also grapple effects at stake, so that benefit was a big deal as well.
    • The Hawk Spirit more or less lets the druid Help at long range as a reaction. (It’s an interesting parallel to the Mastermind rogue’s Help-as-a-bonus-action feature.) I haven’t seen this one in use yet, but it doesn’t look as immediately potent as Bear and Unicorn. As characters pick up more ways to gain or grant advantage on attacks as they advance, I’m guessing that this one also ages poorly, out of the three.
    • The Unicorn Spirit has been shockingly good since its first appearance. It grants a bonus to detect creatures in its area, yeah, woo. Every healing spell you cast while this aura is active also heals your allies within the aura, potentially including the initial target. This is a case where your best bet is casting a bunch of low-level healing spells – maybe healing word while you also use attack cantrips. I’m just saying, the bonus healing rapidly dwarfs the spell’s healing output.
  • Mighty Summoner is here to strongly encourage Conjure spells, with a hit point boost. This is another rule that touches on the creature’s Hit Dice, though it’s about their hit point total. Other than using the spell slot level of the summon (which wouldn’t be a great fit because of the differing CRs), there aren’t that many other ways they could do it. The creatures also strike as magic, preventing them from slipping into irrelevance for fights against resistant or immune creatures.
  • Guardian Spirit is another Conjure-linked feature, offering decent passive healing to your summoned creatures inside your Spirit Totem area. At any given level, it’s probably only healing enough for one hit, if enemies are focusing fire on them, but in combination with Mighty Summoner, this is extra durability that is starting to really matter.
  • Faithful Summons is still just a weird idea to me. So you’re taken out of the fight by whatever means, and you get a bunch of CR 2 creatures to help you out. Not to save your life; heavens no, they’re still animals and have no way to roll a Medicine check. Just to fight your enemies and stop your enemies from finishing you off. But, well, you’re 14th level or higher at this point, so , four CR 2 creatures are not that much of a speed bump, with or without the extra health of Mighty Summoner. (Spirit Totem must be down for you to trigger Faithful Summons, so Guardian Spirit is out of the question as well.) An automatic stabilization or a bonus to your death saves or something would really help sell this as saving the druid’s life. As it is, when this helps, it probably doesn’t help enough, but at least you have something fun to do while your actual PC bleeds to death.

I am, to put it gently, not thrilled with this class. Its first feature is just crazy good, while its other three features are all about a playstyle that I don’t think works all that great at the table. I don’t mean that it isn’t effective – I mean that it slows down play by enormously expanding one player’s turn. Also, the whole dynamic of conjure woodland beings and trying to get your DM to fuck up and decide that you summoned a bazillion pixies rather than… literally anything else is just not a great situation. (I’m way more into the three new summons in XGTE, but we’ll get to that… quite some time from now.) In short, I think this subclass could be great with some retooling of existing conjure options and creature stats, but being no other than as it is, I do not like it. (But, to the Shepherd druid who is a fellow PC, I still think you’re awesome. Wemics, y’all.)

The section on druids continues into light-touch rules for learning beast shapes. Their solution is a page and a half of beasts by terrain type and CR and “whatever feels reasonable.” I would personally enjoy a system that involved more sense of searching and adding things to your personal repertoire. But then I would also be here for a wider variety of beasts between CR 3 and 6. This is guidance, not a rule as such.

 

Fighters

Moving on into fighters, the flavor text is a series of odd assertions about the Themeless Class. The tables for further characterization – Heraldic Sign, Instructor, and Signature Style – don’t really fire my imagination with ways to tell stories. You’d think it would be impossible for the list of Instructor NPCs to lack story hooks, but here we are. Fortunately, the new Archetypes have a lot more going on.

 

Arcane Archer Archetype

Since it doesn’t look like I’ll ever get the archer-paladin that I want, I’ll be happy with the Arcane Archer and writing my own additional Arcane Shot options and variants. If you’re looking for a collection of magic bows, I’m here for you.

  • Arcane Archer Lore supports both arcane (wizardly) and nature-based (druidic or ranger-y) styles in this feature. Later features don’t stick to that idea quite as firmly, but it’s well in evidence here and I dig it. It makes me wish that the Arcane Shot Options had at least allowed Wisdom in place of Intelligence for determining saving throw DCs.
  • Arcane Shot is the core of the class, of course. Two options from the list (more as you advance), and two uses per short rest. In overall effect it compares just fine with an archer Battle Master, but I can’t help but like the Battle Master getting to choose interesting things a little more often. If that sacrifices some burst potential, well, okay I guess. Just don’t approach this subclass with the idea that you’re doing the Special Stuff early and often.
    • As a reminder, the text is in error when it mentions that you need to use a magic arrow for an Arcane Shot, as Jeremy Crawford clarified in Twitter.
  • Magic Arrow solves for the game never assuming you’ll have a magic weapon by letting you treat your nonmagical arrows as magic for purposes of damage resistance and immunity. This is a noted step down from the comparable feature in the UA version, which granted +1 arrows and thus impinged on bounded accuracy.
  • Curving Shot is sort of the scene from either Walt Disney’s Robin Hood or Mel Brooks’s Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Your arrow misses, and you do something unspecified to redirect it at another target. This is kind of a weird feature, but sure, curving or redirecting a shot with magic sounds cool. It would be downright required if you had to declare Arcane Shots before the attack roll.
  • Ever-Ready Shot is your currency fixer, exactly like the Battle Master’s Relentless feature, and also at 15th level. Regaining one of your two shots is, well, half of your nominal power, so that’s pretty strong, but it’s also a long time to wait if you’ve been having problems with Arcane Shot availability.
  • There are eight Arcane Shot options – one for each school of magic. They all improve in some way at 18th level.
    • Banishing Arrow is a short-term crowd control, with no effect on a successful save. Its 18th level feature is a little bit of damage. One of the best pieces of this is that a failed save includes incapacitating the target, so if an enemy caster is ruining your day with a Concentration effect, this is a good bet. Trying to just pile on the damage is also good, but it takes a right solid hit to push the Concentration save DC up at all. (Also, if you’re fighting a high-level Shepherd druid for some reason, this is a really funny way to trigger Faithful Summons in the Feywild… leaving the creatures with no way to follow the druid back to Prime in the following round.)
    • Beguiling Arrow offers psychic damage and a proxy charm. Gain maximum benefit from this by remembering that a creature cannot attack a creature it is charmed to. For example, if a single skirmisher has outflanked your shield-wall and is about to paste your isolated wizard buddy, this is ideal for making the enemy go find a new target. Or use it to get the target to expose itself to an opportunity attack, since they won’t attack the party’s tank. What I’m saying is, this one is surprisingly versatile aggro manipulation, in a game that doesn’t have aggro or threat mechanics.
    • Bursting Arrow is evocation and does exactly what you would think evocation would do. Everybody loves exploding arrows, though the damage output never gets all that impressive. There is, at least, no saving throw against this damage.
    • Enfeebling Arrow deals necrotic damage and reduces the target’s weapon damage output. Reducing incoming damage is always handy, though this is especially good for panic-button situations, or once your rogue buddy picks up Uncanny Dodge. (Because of how 5e handles rounding, halving a number twice often picks up additional marginal benefit – 7, halved twice in 5e, becomes 1.)
    • Grasping Arrow deals poison damage and imposes a damaging snare. Uh, have fun using this to completely screw over any flying creature that cannot hover. In my view, this is one of the most powerful Arcane Shot options, because it can deal damage over time, and there are some opponents that must Also, no saving throw! Oh, sure, they could take a turn to break out… yeah, that’s gonna happen mid-air.
    • Piercing Arrow converts your shot into a line AoE. As with any AoE, its usefulness is situational. One nice thing is that some magic bows might confer +dX energy damage to arrows they fire. That damage adds to this Arcane Shot, because of the clause “as if it were hit by the arrow”. The damage scaling at 18th level is a paltry d6, so I wonder if they’re specifically counting on that.
    • Seeking Arrow is more about utility than head-on combat usage. Since you’ll definitely be in the situation of needing to chase down runners or invisible creatures at some point in your career, this should be among your earlier purchases. For that matter, there’s no suggestion that the Seeking Arrow can be fooled by disguises, so you can probably solve other common problems with clever use of this Shot.
    • Shadow Arrow is another great way to screw over spellcasters or enemy archers for a short time. Anyone who counts on hanging back and firing off spells is going to be real miffed to have their range of vision cut down to 5 feet – also giving your melee buddies time to get up in their business.

I want to like this a little more than I do. Mainly, it feels like Arcane Shots should get either get more common or get better sometime before 15th and 18th level. Most of your shots and most of combat rounds aren’t expressing anything about being an Arcane Archer that is different from the core of the fighter class. Curving Shot is kind of their best bet for that on a once-per-round basis. I guess I’m looking for something more cantrip-scale as an add-on or alternative to archery. Maybe shooting fire bolts and chill touches from the bow?

 

Cavalier Archetype

Nothing has a longer history of being laughably overpowered in D&D than the cavalier. The flavor text touches on how they’ve expanded the concept to support the social connections and obligations of a cavalier. Just to be clear, we’re talking about heavily armored defenders, not Prince Rupert of the Rhine and others like him in the English Civil War. (Many thanks to Mike Duncan for teaching me about the latter.)

  • Their bonus proficiency comes from a list representing the upper nobility. Or you could learn a language. (The language is always the wrong answer. You could learn a language with the Training action.)
  • Born to the Saddle is the one extended nod to the horse part of being a cavalier. They went way out of their way to make sure the subclass could function on foot, because first D might as well stand for Dismount. It’s a feat-like batch of little benefits.
  • Unwavering Mark starts establishing the class as “superior defender play,” with a 4e-style mark that lets you retaliate particularly hard against people who violate your mark, using a bonus action on the following round. This means it stacks with the Sentinel feat. Have fun with that. That said, the retaliation attack is limited to a few times per long rest.
    • Much like the 4e fighter, you passively apply the mark when you hit with an attack, so you can mark a crowd by spreading your attacks around. This is… really, really potent.
    • The retaliation attack cares about dealing damage, rather than making an attack, and doesn’t have 4e’s “unless it also includes you” clause. Enemies that focus on imposing conditions without dealing damage (hold person, a Shove to set up advantage for a non-marked ally, grappling, power word kill…) don’t trigger this effect.
  • Warding Maneuver is their solution to not building the Cavalier as an alternate Battle Master: you spend your reaction to boost AC for yourself (interesting to see a defender that can protect themselves… Ancestral Guardian barbarian, I’m looking at you), your mount, or an adjacent ally. This is also the action economy that stops Sentinel from being a 110% necessary purchase. Anyway, this reaction is also limited to a small number of uses per day.
  • Hold the Line improves stickiness in a big way. It overlaps the first feature of Sentinel and marginally improves the second. For the next 8 levels, this feature is in an ugly tension with Warding Maneuver for your reaction usage. We’ll get to that in a minute. Anyway, this is another major defender feature. This feature by itself would be convincing defender play.
  • Ferocious Charger can knock targets prone if you charge first. I am not crazy about the “10 feet in a straight line” bit, because the situation where you spend some movement to back up a few feet so you can charge just seems to miss some of the point. Anyway, this is another strong feature, but it’s about getting you to move around a bit more, rather than locking down one part of a fight and trying to get the enemies to come to you.
  • Vigilant Defender is staggeringly huge, because it leaves the action economy of other fighter-types in the cold. This lets you potentially make a huge number of opportunity attacks, which improves both your Hold the Line feature and the Sentinel feat. This is just incredible, if you can get enemies clustered around the Cavalier. You won’t necessarily have a way to gather them up – you’ll need the rest of the team to figure out how to arrange that.

This is a tanking subclass for people who like to tank. It behaves like a gravity well on the map and pulls the enemy’s battle plan to shreds. It’s hard to say whether or not it’s too powerful. Before 10th level, it probably doesn’t match up well against the Battle Master in adventuring days with more than one short rest. After 10th level, more passive abilities come online for the Cavalier, but the action economy starts treading on its own toes a bit. There’s nothing in any other fighter subclass that honestly competes with the show-stopping extra reactions of Vigilant Defender.

 

Samurai Archetype

Since I’ve been writing about 1e and 3e samurai a good bit lately, I’ll save myself some time and just link it. The key features of this subclass draw heavily on the kiai shout features, renaming them Fighting Spirit. Even more than the monk, it’s hard to see how to fit this one cleanly into any setting that isn’t explicitly Japanese. On the other hand, you could use these features without a hint of a change to represent a spirited, roaring warrior in any culture – Porthos springs to mind. (Maybe not the Elegant Courtier part…)

  • The Samurai’s bonus proficiency options are a lot like the Cavalier’s, lacking only Animal Handling.
  • Fighting Spirit turns the Strength boost of the 1e kiai shout into advantage and scaling temporary hit points. Its 3-per-day limit seems weird; it really pushes the tension of the length of an adventuring day. This seems like it would have been an ideal candidate for refreshing on short rest. The fact that it grants advantage becomes a hook for a later feature.
  • Elegant Courtier grants a probably-small bonus to Charisma (Persuasion) rolls, with some push to put a better score in Wisdom. Proficiency in Wisdom saves is a big deal, bit of a nod to the 3.0 samurai’s good Will progression, maybe. I’m always happy to see fighter subclasses give benefits that aren’t about the class’s primary combat function.
  • Tireless Spirit is the big currency fixer, so you can burn all of your Fighting Spirit in the first encounter and then one per encounter thereafter. This puts quite a different cast on the choice to go with per-long-rest, but it’s also a lot of feature real estate to make this happen. It’s different from what we mostly see in other subclasses, and maybe that’s the justification in itself. It’s also not common to see the currency fixer this early.
  • Rapid Strike is a surprising feature that lets you trade advantage for another whole attack. Which is why Fighting Spirit grants advantage in the first place. Depending on how good your team is at setting you up with something that grants advantage, this could be a sometimes food or an almost-always-on Extra Attack.
  • Strength Before Death calls the Zealot’s Rage Beyond Death to mind, but it’s more about one final chance to lay waste and turn the fight than surviving when you have no business being alive. This is cool when it works, but like all “when you are reduced to 0 hit points” features, you don’t want your cool thing to happen often.

The total absence of a feature directly connected to the katana, the wakizashi, or two-weapon fighting is straight-up shocking. I think I’m proud of them. I’m positively inclined toward what goes on here, which surprises me a good bit. Where the cavalier is a defender, the samurai is a striker, and plays in a self-contained way.

Again treating Battle Master as a baseline: well, they don’t keep up on the damage output or on the availability of temporary hit points or on generating advantage until Rapid Strike comes along. Rapid Strike is all right if your team does nothing to help, but stellar if your team builds their tactics around it. Waiting until 15th level to catch up to Battle Master is not at all a mark in its favor. I like the subclass and what it does, but unless you’re really sure that most of the campaign’s run is going to be 15th level and up, just play a Battle Master. (They are super fun and unmistakably written to support samurai concepts.)

Thanks for coming with me for this sprawling article. We’ve covered 13 of 31 subclasses in XGTE so far. Next time, monks and paladins!

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  • I, too, was quite surprised that the samurai wasn’t festooned in daisho-worship to the point where a high level samurai’s katana could cut God Himself. Unless, you know, you get a certain swordsmith to make one of those.

    Cavalier did have the unfortunate side effect of making my Sunday game’s level 17 battle master fighter, who has been working towards being the party’s tank since their creation, extremely envious. It looks like it will be really, really strong in play, and good defender mechanics are always nice to have.

    I wonder, though, if the existence of marking mechanics and forcing enemy behaviors (or at least highly encouraging them) is a good thing in this edition. 5E has thrived in its relative simplicity compared to its predecessors.

    Come to that, though I know you’re not completely through it yet, do you get a sense that XGtE is introducing too much power creep? It’s a common complaint I’ve heard, but I’m not really sure how I feel about it yet.

    • The problem for your party’s fighter is that – as I harped on incessantly – Cavalier is not really as convincing at lower levels. If that player just needs more defender-focused maneuvers within Battle Master, I humbly submit the following: http://www.brandesstoddard.com/2016/08/dd-5e-warrior-orders-and-maneuvers/

      I’m still resisting the urge to draw an overall conclusion about power creep, albeit with some difficulty. The Cavalier’s power creep is not really in raw math – they’re good but not outshining what’s already out there. Their power creep is in the much-harder-to-quantify situational control. Now, what I mean is already obvious to you because… well, I’ve met you, but for everyone else: imagine two sorcerers, one who tosses off fireballs that deal +2d6 damage, and the other that tosses normal fireballs, but also gets to rearrange friendly deployment once per battle, so that each member of their team is facing the optimal foe for them, personally. The first sorcerer is has more obvious power, but the second turns losing fights into easy victories. What I’m seeing in XGTE is some specific cases of bigger numbers, but a broad trend toward situational control.

      And seriously, a hell of a lot more healing output. They’ve heard complaints that in-combat healing isn’t worth it, and they’ve attacked that idea with main force.

    • I am less enthused about the healing output increase than most. I quite *liked* the idea that in-combat healing is a patch for getting walloped more than you wanted to, and you do your real recovery between battles.

      Getting hit really hard because you were in a tactically disadvantageous position or got crit *should* be a setback, not a one-round inconvenience until the cleric or druid barfs out a 50 point heal as a bonus action (I exaggerate for emphasis, but my point remains).

    • Dave(s) 4 Goombella

      What I hate is getting caught in a “healing loop” where you heal a character who is at 0 HP, only for them to get knocked unconscious again the very next round, because you couldn’t heal them enough. I don’t mind that happening during particularly deadly encounters, but when it becomes the norm, your Cleric/Druid/Bard is going to give up on in-combat healing altogether.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      It’s the Chumbawamba of game play, certainly.

    • Sporelord0179

      If that’s the case, you should be trying to break the loop in another way. Find a way to pull that character – either metaphorically or literally – out of the situation.

      I can’t personally think of that happening without either using a very deadly monster/mob of monsters or just the DM wanting to annoy you.

    • Enemy spellcasters with AoEs spring to mind. Fireball don’t care that you just got a cure wounds for Xd8+5. An NPC spellcaster deciding to cast fireball immediately after you got healed is not the DM being a jerk, it’s just the course of the fight and NPCs working toward their apparent goals. (Let’s take it as read that you’re of a level where an NPC casting a 3rd-level spell is not weird.) Be glad that you got healed and didn’t take a failed death save, I guess.

    • Sporelord0179

      That’s a fair point, I guess the last of proper spell-casters in the MM made me forget that’s actually a thing. Still, a good roll for a level 3 fireball is CR 6 damage (According to page 274 in the DMG). 6th level players should have ways of avoiding getting trapped in a loop.

      Personal opinion ahead but I think that healing, getting knocked down and having back up again isn’t a loop, more of a loss of a single resource, and it’s not that bad if the enemy does it with it’s strongest, resource using attack.
      The real issue would be if a monster can do that with average rolls with a regular at-will attack. The only creature I can think of that can use fireball at-will (or at least 3+ times in a fight) is the Pit Fiend, which is something that should be able to do that kind of hurt.

    • Dave(s) 4 Goombella

      We’re jumping ahead, but I think the spell “Healing Spirit” went a step too far. It’s fine for in-combat healing, but if used out of combat it becomes ludicrous. For one second-level slot, it effectively provides 10d6 points of healing to every party member. (It can potentially do the exact same thing during combat, healing 1d6 per round over the course of one minute, but it requires the caster’s concentration, and some fancy footwork from the PCs who want to benefit from the healing field.)

    • Here’s Jeremy Crawford’s unofficial alternative, which I like all right: https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/935992604080013312

      And here’s some more relevant commentary, which I have a really hard time accepting as written: https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/935995896637964290

    • Dave(s) 4 Goombella

      In his follow-up replies, he says that “balancing the game” is distinct from how the adventuring day feels. I think it’s one of those cases where a tweet (even a super-sized 280 character tweet) can’t accurately convey the nuances of his design process and nomenclature, and leads to misunderstandings.

  • Dave(s) 4 Goombella

    I agree heartily with you on the pitfalls of summoning in 5e. It leads to certain players taking disproportionately long turns. I’m also not a fan of the stress that most summon spells place on the DM to choose the precise creatures that get summoned. (Although that problem can be remedied by home-brewing some random summoning tables.)

    And pet classes have their own set of pitfalls, but that’s a rant I’ll save for the next UA article on the Revised Ranger or the Artificer…

  • Derrick Allen

    Wasn’t a fan of the shepherd’s spirit totem ability in the UA and am still not completely 100% w/ it. Thematically i see the shepherd as one w/ beasts ie mogli from the jungle book, having at least one real creature. Fine w/ the boosts to conjuring other creatures.

    Thinking about building a druid w/ totem spirit replaced w/ the (revised) beastmaster’s animal companion ability but that also means figuring out a replacement for guardian spirit. Another ability i’m thinking of is one to charm beasts.

    Faithful Summons to me is similar to a defensive version of the spell less ranger’s call natural allies ability. maybe replace it w/ said feature, removing favored terrain requirement and keep faithful summons trigger

    thanks for the reminder that arcane shot req. magic arrows is a mistake

  • Sporelord0179

    “I think we’re seeing a metagame shift toward strong healing output, across multiple classes. I’ll be looking for more signs of this as I continue through XGTE. This may be a counterbalance to the increased potency-per-CR of creatures presented in Volo’s Guide to Monsters.”

    I really hope this is a sign of WotC learning the ins and outs of the 5E system (which is actually really different to previous systems) and realising how they can pushing things without breaking the game.
    Cause if it isn’t, it’s a sign of power creep, and I don’t want that rearing it’s ugly head again.

    From what I’ve seen, XGtE isn’t strictly power creep, it’s newer and different options as opposed to objectively better options. I hope that isn’t my rose tinted glasses though.

    • Dave(s) 4 Goombella

      That’s my hope, too. Xanathar’s subclasses are certainly flashier, and they give more classes access to certain features without the need for multi-classing or feats. Conversely, they also have subclasses that sacrifice some versatility for greater focus on a core feature (like a Hexblade who takes Path of the Blade).

      For every feature that seems overpowered, a player is going to have to give something up, sooner or later. Of course, if what they’re giving up is an unimpressive situational feature that they never would have used anyway, then that could be seen as a sort of power creep.

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