This week in Unearthed Arcana we have three new subclasses: two for the ranger, one for the rogue, and one for the little boy who lives down the lane. They’ve drawn themes from a 3.5e prestige class, a 2e kit, and… well, the scout is such a universal concept that pointing to the 3.5 class (or the 2e kit? I think there was a 2e kit?) as its origin is just incorrect. Maybe we point to Lord Baden-Powell and salute the irony of a rogue that is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
First up is the Horizon Walker ranger archetype. To my knowledge, the first Horizon Walker was a ranger-oriented prestige class in the 3.5 DMG, but I’m not doing the legwork to be sure of that right now. Anyway, the original was all about taking Favored Terrain to its logical high-level extension. I haven’t heard about it becoming terribly popular with the fanbase, but feel free to add your stories in the comments. What does the 5e subclass offer?
- Much like the Deep Stalker, they have an expanded spell list – a new bonus spell known at 3rd, 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th. Alter self is the odd man out thematically, and I’m not totally sold on the idea that rangers needed to be yet another source of the fabulously OP banishment, but it’s basically okay.
- Planar Warrior lets you spend your bonus action to ignore damage resistances and gain +1d6 force damage to your next attack that hits this turn.
- Well, this does horrible things to the ranger’s action economy, for starters. This is an every-round drain on the ranger’s bonus actions, in fights where it matters. If you’re not sure whether you’re dealing with damage resistances or not – the first round of a fight with an unfamiliar critter, say – you probably still like that extra d6 of damage and never having to worry about damage resistance (though damage immunity is still a problem). So, you know, this is a huge push toward great-weapon, archer, or weapon-and-shield rangers.
- On the other hand, unless you’ve taken steps to deal damage other than B/P/S flavors with your weapons (not unknown, but not universal either), we’re talking about damage resistances that are nearly always ignored by magic weapons. Say what you want about “the game never assumes you have magic weapons,” subclass features that mostly do something if you don’t have a magic weapon are off-putting at best. Sure, there’s a 1d6 damage kicker… or you could be casting hunter’s mark or ensnaring strike or…
- In the balance, then, this is a weird feature that is either amazing or nearly worthless, depending on the weapon in your hand.
- Portal Lore gives you information on every planar portal within 1,000 feet: distance, direction, and destination. It’s neat to see that this is 1/short rest, or you can re-use it by spending a 2nd-level spell slot.
- For the love of God, do not activate this in Sigil. Either your DM’s head will explode, or your DM will slap you on fire. 1,000 feet? In Sigil? That’s like 1,000 portals. (Or the DM could rule that they are all obscured with magic, and make this feature worthless. Yay! This is a micro-scale version of the Primeval Awareness problem.)
- Granting this at 3rd level is also kind of awkward. This is the kind of feature that is probably a ribbon for your first five, eight, or ten levels, and then nearly overpowered if you’re running that kind of high-level game. Though Colin will (quite rightly) point out that you don’t have to be high-level to play in Sigil, most campaigns don’t shift to planar play until higher levels.
- Ethereal Step gives you one round of etherealness, as the spell, once per short or long rest. I’m pretty sure this is going to prove to be super obnoxious in the longer term, with the ranger simply bypassing tons of challenges by passing through walls, floors, or ceilings – and just coming right back if they see something on the other side that they can’t handle solo. Also, conventional prisons are meaningless.
- Distant Strike lets you teleport 10 feet as part of each attack an in Attack action. Oh, and if you attack two separate creatures, you get a third attack. This feature has no action cost or use limit. It is one feature that is better for two-weapon rangers than other rangers. It’s also hugely boosted by swift quiver.
- This is really stylish video-game-y teleporting all over the map. Tactical teleports are just insanely powerful, what with ignoring opportunity attacks and stretching out your movement options. I guess my only real problem with it, though, is that it’s such massive showboating that no one else’s class or subclass features really keep up. If some characters have to worry about enemies’ conventional features and some characters can ignore them with impunity, that feels really bad at the table.
- Spectral Defense is Uncanny Dodge without all of those pesky restrictions: no “you can see,” no “with an attack,” just “when you take damage.” For a 15th-level feature, it’s fine.
So, wow. The Horizon Walker is one of the flashiest subclasses I have yet seen, which is a welcome change from the very low flashiness of the Player’s Handbook archetypes, and still outpaces the Unearthed Arcana variant ranger’s three subclasses by a fair margin. It has all the mobility, but it doesn’t have a lot of special offense or defense powers until 11th and 15th level. There needs to be a huge neon sign on this archetype that reads “Not Suited For Some Campaigns.” Because seriously, if you want to be able to put people in prison (without it being Azkaban) or avoid planar content, the Horizon Walker is not going to work for you. It’s also just weird to see such a high-magic ranger, in general. I don’t hate the Horizon Walker, but it’s an odd duck and I expect a deeply negative fanbase reaction.
If you have been looking for a ranger archetype that is a serious defender, look no further. Maybe you loved the Warden class from 4e (I didn’t see it in play that much, but it had interesting things to say), the Greenwood Ranger kit in 2e, or this guy. The Primeval Guardian riffs on the ideas of the Oath of the Ancients paladin, as well: transformation to defend the forest as a force of nature.
- By this point, an expanded spell list is no surprise. Primeval Guardians get classic druid spells – entangle, conjure animals, giant insect, insect plague. (The last of these hints at a darker spin on the archetype that isn’t deeply explored here.)
- Guardian Soul at 3rd level is your big transformation. You can transform as often as you want, but it has one major drawback, so a lot of fights may be seriously inappropriate for using this feature. Your size becomes Large, which is great against some Huge or Gargantuan creatures. Your speed drops to 5 feet, which is the drawback. Your reach increases by 5 feet, and you gain a healthy pool of temporary hit points at the start of each of your turns (half your ranger level). This is a very big deal, but you need to already be in the position you pretty much plan to stay in when you transform.
- Piercing Thorns adds 1d6 damage to one attack you make that hits per turn. Sure, it’s a fairly standard damage kicker.
- Ancient Fortitude boosts your current and maximum hit points by 2 per ranger level while you’re in guardian form, and it carefully avoids taking away current hit points when your maximum hit points return to normal.
- This feature accomplishes two things: it reflects the huge hit point total of the 4e warden, and it patches the fact that rangers need Strength or Dex and Wisdom, so they probably can’t spare one of their best ability scores for Con without totally failing at other core functions.
- Sometime after the UA article went live, they edited the PDF so that Ancient Fortitude is a once-per-short-rest boost. Now that is rapid iteration.
- Rooted Defense makes you radiate difficult terrain, with a 30-foot radius, that only affects your enemies.
- I foresee this being a huge pain in the ass at the table, with a lot of stop-and-go changes in the DM’s narrative as the DM forgets to calculate a huge area of difficult terrain around the ranger (since the PCs get to ignore it, and marking auras on the map is more trouble than it’s worth). That was my experience of a similar feature in 4e’s warden, anyway.
- Guardian Aura makes you radiate healing equal to half your ranger level to allies within 30 feet, but only works if they’re bloodied. (Goddammit, guys, just admit that you need Bloodied to be a technical rules term in 5e, because it’s just. So. Useful.) Between this
So yeah, it’s warden-y as all hell. Piercing Thorns is the only feature that isn’t central to the 4e warden design. It’s interesting that even on the day of release, Mearls says that Ancient Fortitude will probably see changes in playtesting, but hey, good to be up-front with internal expectations. It might deflate some of the fanbase’s tendency to get overheated with criticism. Or, you know, not. In general I like what I see here, though as with the Horizon Walker, it is unbelievably flashy compared to other ranger archetypes. It might be power-balance-neutral with the rest of the archetypes (hard to judge, and I’m not getting into it here), but it’s absolutely more rockstar to play, and that gives an impression that it is better.
This is the roguish archetype that is just a ranger in disguise, so we really have three ranger archetypes today. It’s one of the only times we’ve seen the same archetype name reused in a different class, since the fighter version of a non-spellcasting ranger was also called the Scout. I dunno, this is one of the places where there’s a small-but-vocal portion of the fanbase that will reject everything about the ranger until the class is rewritten from the ground up to not include spellcasting, but Mearls has made it superabundantly clear that that’s just not the direction they’re going. WotC tried it twice, didn’t like it, moved on.
Anyway, the rogue-Scout:
- Survivalist grants proficiency and expertise in Nature and Survival. No real surprises here; this puts them on even footing with a ranger in their Natural Explorer terrain, aside from ability score differences.
- Skirmisher means you don’t need to spend your precious bonus actions to Disengage nearly as often – you can spend your reaction doing some of that instead. The first creature to rush at you gets to attack, but the others have to rush to wherever you went with this movement instead. Which might be out of their maximum move distance.
- Superior Mobility is a simple 10-foot speed boost, which also makes Skirmisher better.
- Ambush Master draws somewhat on the ambush-related powers we’ve seen in the various UA rangers. Its function is really weird, and reminds me that initiative is one of Mearls’s least favorite rules that they didn’t change in 5e.
- Anyway, if any of your foes are surprised, no matter when you go in the turn, you can spend your bonus action to move your allies’ initiative up by 5, though not higher than your roll. Because one enemy wasn’t paying attention, your allies go faster, possibly going faster than all of your enemies. Three-way fights aren’t nearly as common in gaming as they should be (because they’re cool), but this rule’s internal logic finishes breaking apart in a three-sided combat.
- This also grants a brief speed boost to all of your allies. I have a hard time seeing how one enemy not paying attention makes everyone move faster, but I need to back off of the simulationism here.
- Sudden Strike lets you spend your bonus action to make a second attack, and to use your Sneak Attack a second time in a turn as long as you’re attacking a different target.
- Balance-wise, this is about on par with how an Assassin turns Sneak Attack hits into crits against surprised targets, but this feature’s situation is so much easier to establish than Assassinate or Death Strike. All you need is to be a bow rogue with two different enemies engaging your allies in melee. This could put you up to 22d6 + twice your Dex modifier. So, you know, whoa.
I don’t like Ambush Master, because I don’t like dicking around with the initiative order after the start of combat. Other than that, the Scout is so simple and stripped-down that it feels like not much happens. It holds back on the really interesting stuff until higher level, but the rogue combat script is one of the most tightly established of all the classes. It’s tough to add much more than passive bonuses without breaking something.
On a more personal note, my long-awaited son was born on the 11th, so please welcome Avicenna Stoddard. (If you don’t know why Avicenna is a boy’s name, you’re missing out on one of history’s great real-life D&D characters.)