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Unearthed Arcana: Warlock and Wizard Breakdown

Today’s Unearthed Arcana might qualify as the bombshell of the whole run through the classes, with the exception of the time they released a new base class. There are two new warlock patrons, twenty-five new warlock invocations, and one new wizard tradition. That’s a pile of content to discuss, so I’m going to jump right in.

The Hexblade

Up until reading this document, I would have said that the Blade Pact was the stand-in for the 3.5 hexblade base class and 4e hexblade warlock build. Mearls and Crawford have other plans, apparently, as this subclass treats a cosmically-mighty presumably-evil sentient weapon as the warlock’s patron. Which isn’t to say that the warlock receives one of these weapons, just that they’re bound to it.

  • The Expanded Spell list is very melee-friendly, shoring up a lot of the warlock’s general issues – like needing to multiclass to gain access to shield, and oh look a bunch of paladin smiting spells.
  • Hex Warrior grants proficiency in martial weapons, shields, and medium armor, and if you’re using a weapon that does not have the two-handed property, you can use Cha for attack and damage rolls rather than Strength or Dex.
    • This is like checking all the boxes on the critiques I’ve seen of the bladelock. My only real issue is locking out two-handed weapons from using Cha, because that would be the best possible model for how the most famous fictional source of the Hexblade works.
  • Hexblade’s Curse is a once-per-short-rest feature that gets you out of having to burn all of your precious Pact Magic slots on hex (or stacks with hex, depending on how vindictive you feel). It adds your proficiency bonus to your damage rolls, makes your attacks crit on a 19 or 20, and heals you for a tidy pile of damage when the cursed target dies. It’s not a spell and doesn’t require Concentration, though.
  • Shadow Hound is super weird and is mostly a way to stop one enemy from escaping you or benefiting from half or three-quarters cover. This is a whole lot of rules text for that effect. I guess it’s neat, but its usefulness is strictly situational, and those cases aren’t super common.
    • Compared to other Otherworldly Patrons, though, the Hexblade has so much going on at 1st level that a really light 6th level is probably fine.
  • Armor of Hexes is, uh, wow. When the target of your Hexblade’s Curse hits you with an attack, it’s 50% likely to be a miss instead. Once this works a couple of times, the target will try to attack someone else, so buy Sentinel to maximize the punishment. This is super buff and more than covers for the hexblade’s lack of heavy armor.
  • Master of Hexes makes your Hexblade’s Curse at-will, but only one target at a time – a totally reasonable top-end feature.

In principle, you can pair the Hexblade Patron with any Pact you like. Hex Warrior doesn’t do anything remotely useful for the tome-lock or chain-lock playstyles, aside from boosting AC, and your Expanded Spells list is a firm nudge toward the blade pact, but still. Stylistically, though, I just have no idea what you’re doing if you choose anything other than the blade pact. Also, the blade pact is required for Lifedrinker and Thirsting Blade, and you need those if you’re going to be serious about melee. I assume Lifedrinker’s damage kicker stacks with Hex Warrior, anyway.

The mechanics here are compelling, but given my long history with the problems of the warlock class, for me this looks like a band-aid approach to a tourniquet problem. Everything that the Hexblade patron does right needs to be mapped backward to the other Patrons, and everything this does to fix the blade pact needs to still work for blade pacts made with other Patrons.

Farewell, friend, I was a thousand times more evil than thou!

 

The Raven Queen

This is a surprising inclusion in the document: a straightforward reference to the 4e Points of Light setting, nominally functional for every setting that has a Shadowfell. But then I don’t think it’s a stretch to call the Raven Queen the most popular piece of setting lore introduced in 4e, by a fair margin. Anyway, here she’s presented as a warlock patron of questionably deific status.

  • The Expanded Spell List is necromancy on the rocks with a divinatory twist – a pile of necromantic spells, some cold-based AoEs, and a decent showing of divinations.
    • Also if you are a mixologist, I will need you to teach me to make a Necromancy on the Rocks with a Divinatory Twist, pronto.
  • Sentinel Raven is a raven familiar that is a subclass feature rather than the result of a find familiar Much as Hex Warrior exists to fix the bladelock, Sentinel Raven is a lot like a chain pact familiar, but with an improved “passive mode” function.
    • In passive mode, it can’t be targeted or injured, you gain darkvision, and you gain your Cha bonus to your Perception modifier.
    • In active mode, you can use it as a scout to a distance of 100 feet. You can nominally use it in combat, but its best feature is that you gain advantage on all attacks for 24 hours against anyone who kills it.
    • It also wakes you up from a dead sleep if enemies approach or it’s 6:30 in the frickin’ morning and it thinks breakfast should be now and it is starving. Okay, I added a bit there. But I have a newborn and the cats are the real reason I am sleep deprived.
  • Soul of the Raven lets you assume raven form, more or less. I’m not really sure how often this feature is useful, except that you can go on longer flying reconnaissance missions. It is good creepy ravens-and-warlocks content, so I approve of the theme highly.
  • Raven’s Shield is here because WotC doesn’t want anyone to not be immune to the frightened condition, apparently. Staaaaahp. It also grants advantage on death saves and resistance to necrotic damage, which are fine, but all three functions make this a mega-feature. As with any unconditional immunity, I hate it.
  • Queen’s Right Hand gives you one “free” casting of finger of death per day, so it’s sort of a workaround to your Mystic Arcana limits.

Thematically, this patron has got it going on. Everything here makes sense and suits what I’d expect from a death warlock. Mechanically, you’ve got to understand that (like the chain pact in general) this is minimal on combat throughput, and hyper-focused on the exploration pillar of gameplay. Plan to hang back and be a fairly conventional spellcaster, or get all the joy you can from being a trickster in social situations. Also, still play a chain pact warlock and get the imp familiar for the magic resistance trait.

 

New Eldritch Invocations

I’m going to keep this fairly rapid-fire, because twenty-five invocations ain’t a joke. For the first time, we have a heavy use of invocations that are locked to particular patrons. Which pleases me, indirectly, since I did a lot of that in my series on the fey.

  • Aspect of the Moon name-checks the Maiden of the Moon as an Archfey (who now?), and makes you 100% immune to all forms of sleep. That’s narrow enough that I guess I don’t really care?
  • Burning Hex sounds like a personal problem to me. Hexblades can deal their Cha modifier in fire damage to their cursed target, as a bonus action. 3-5 fire damage that can’t miss? It’s okay, I guess, but it’s okay to skip it too.
  • Caiphon’s Beacon brings the malevolent stars of 4e back into Great Old One warlock theme, since the references in the Player’s Handbook are available to all warlocks. This is mostly similar to Beguiling Influence, but it replaces Persuasion with Stealth and adds advantage on attack rolls against charmed creatures (which is a huge boon to crown of madness and other charms that don’t pop the first time a creature gets hit). But I call it crown of badness for a reason, because it can’t be your crown of madness casting.
  • Chilling Hex splashes cold damage on targets adjacent to your Hexblade’s Curse target, again equal to your Cha modifier.
  • Chronicle of the Raven Queen is here to make sure that Raven Queen warlocks feel some love for going tome pact rather than chain. It’s basically speak with dead, but only one question, only within 1 minute of death (phrased so that if you start after a battle, you only get one question from the whole collection of dead foes), and without any chance for deception. There are still huge mystery-breaking potential problems with “ask any one question and get an answer to the best of the target’s knowledge.” This invocation has no per-whatever-rest usage limit.
  • Claw of Acamar is for Great Old One blade-pact warlocks. It creates a flail weapon with reach that smites the crap out of your target when you expend spell slots and reduces their speed to 0. A one-handed reach weapon is a pretty good deal all by itself, and if you qualify for this invocation, it’s totally worth getting. If you multiclass for more spell slots, it’s OP as anything.
  • Cloak of Baalzebul is for Fiend warlocks, since it’s name-checking the D&D variant of the Lord of the Flies. If you are phobic about even imagining swarming flies, skip the rest of this bullet point. Seriously. Last warning. Your cloak of swarming flies grants advantage on Intimidation, disadvantage on other Cha checks, and causes you to radiate poison damage equal to your Cha modifier to all creatures that start their turns within 5 feet of you. Sorry, allies. Anyway, this is potent but potentially party-griefing.
  • Curse Bringer is for people who do the obvious and go all in for the Hexbladebladepact. Hexblade2pact? –bladeblade-? Whatever. You create “totally not Stormbringer, Mournblade, or Frostmourne” and when you kill your cursed target, you can shift your curse to another creature. You’re still counting down the same 1-minute duration. You can also spend spell slots to pseudo-smite (guys, warlocks seriously did not need more incentive to multiclass, I swear to whom it may concern), dealing 2d8 per slot level and reducing the target’s speed to 0. So… better than paladin smiting, which means it breaks like an egg off a wall when you pick up a conventional caster class. Fix this. (Also interesting to note that it creates a weapon with the two-handed property, so it doesn’t hook into the last bit of Hex Warrior.)
  • Kiss of Mephistopheles is for Fiend warlocks who picked up eldritch blast, so approximately 100% of them by my calculation. They don’t need to spend a Spell Known slot on fireball, as that isn’t a prerequisite for this invocation – it grants both the knowledge of the spell (implicitly) and the ability to cast it as a bonus action if you’ve already hit the target you want to center the fireball on in this round. This is pretty buff, but at least it costs a warlock spell slot, not just any old spell slot.
  • Frost Lance is granted by the Prince of Frost, even though it makes sense thematically for a lot more than just Archfey. It also requires the eldritch blast You know, the one that’s already the best? That one. Anyway, it adds a -10 ft snare until the end of your next turn to your eldritch blasts. Combine this with some Repelling Blast action for really abusive kiting.
  • Gaze of Khirad grants x-ray vision to a range of 30 feet, and requires the Great Old One patron. I love that it’s Detective Vision from Rocksteady’s Arkham series. It sounds like it lets you target creatures through total cover, if the spell requires “that you can see” as its qualification. If so, man, you don’t even have to kick open the door to murder everyone in the room. Gaze of Khirad + crown of madness Hunger of Hadar means that you killed everyone in the room without them seeing a thing. In short, if it works the way I read it to work, this is pretty much the ballgame.
  • Grasp of Hadar is a 10-ft pull rather than the 10-ft push of Repelling Blast, and also works only once per turn. This is the Great Old One-only eldritch blast invocation.
  • Green Lord’s Gift maximizes all dice for healing that you receive. I actually really dislike maximizing healing dice, because it makes me so much more conscious of the simple calculation of “how many hit points are you down? Okay, here’s the optimal spell(s) to heal you.” There are almost no cases where I want a feature to turn a die roll into an automatic outcome, though. (I’m aware that maximized healing shows up elsewhere in the rules. That doesn’t change my view in the least.)
  • Improved Pact Weapon makes your pact weapon a +1 weapon, if it isn’t already magical in some way. This seems to include more special weapons created with the invocations found in this document, such as the Curse Bringer sword. The good news is, if you get a good magic weapon, you can just cycle out this invocation next time you level. This is a super boring, themeless invocation, though.
  • Mace of Dispater is another weapon-creating invocation for blade pact warlocks, this time for Fiend ‘locks. Its smiting damage is force-based, and it can knock Huge or smaller creatures prone if you spent a spell slot. Unlike Curse Bringer, this one works with Hex Warrior all the way. EDIT: Thanks, MaxXiminez, for pointing out the painfully obvious thing that evaded my sleep-addled mind. The Mace of Dispater. Requires. The Fiend. Patron.
  • Moon Bow is an actual, honest-to-Titania blade pact option that gives you a bow. This does not need to be this hard to achieve, guys! Anyway, it’s the Archfey blade pact invocation, and it is good against lycanthropes. Its smiting damage is radiant, but it carries no other effects. This is at its very best in the hands of a Valor bard using Magical Secrets to snag swift quiver, I think, though it’s also super appealing for bow rangers looking to turn their spell slots into better-than-paladin-smiting.
  • Path of the Seeker is an invocation for Seeker patrons, which were described in a previous Unearthed Arcana: The Faithful. This lets you ignore difficult terrain and gives you advantage to resist grapples, manacles, and paralysis. I’m glad to see an exploration-pillar invocation, but it could probably be 10% flashier, compared to the super flashy stuff other invocations are doing.
  • Raven Queen’s Blessing is the eldritch blast invocation for Her Deathly Ladyship: when you crit with your EB, you or an ally within 30 feet can spend a Hit Die to heal. This feels so very 4e to me, in a way that I can’t decide whether I like. But then this whole document introduces features that are a lot more in the vein of 4e’s pervasive magic, as we’re about to see.
  • Relentless Hex is for Hexblade ‘locks, and gives them a short-range teleport to keep up with their New Besties. I am not happy to see the strong proliferation of combat teleportation in 5e. It was fine in the 4e environment, but 5e has thus far been aiming for a lower fantasy where you don’t get nigh-infinite stutter-step teleporting at 5th level (blink is the closest thing, and it’s fairly convoluted), and this breaks that trend. I would rather see this as a non-teleport movement.
  • Sea Twins’ Gift is for Archfey ‘locks, and lets them breathe underwater and gives them a swim speed. It also gives them one casting of water breathing that costs a Pact Magic slot and can’t be repeated, because that element of the original PH invocations went over so well. (Hint: it did not.)
  • Seeker’s Speech is again for Seeker ‘locks, here for the social pillar (!), and grants proficiency in two languages. You can change out these languages as part of any long rest. Again, not nearly as flashy as other invocations, and probably a bit underpowered.
  • Shroud of Ulban is for top-end Great Old One ‘locks. They can spend an action to become invisible for 1 minute, and after they do something to break the invis, they remain invisible until the end of that turn. Considering that it has no other usage limit, this is pretty crazy, but… 18th level, I guess it’s okay?
  • Superior Pact Weapon is the aforementioned upgrade on Improved Pact Weapon, and as such, I do not find it interesting.
  • Tomb of Levistus is a welcome nod to still more fiendish lore. As a reaction, you create an ice block around yourself to absorb damage, with all the good and bad that that implies. Like ice block spells in World of Warcraft, it’s a panic-button move, but it has its place. Also good for absorbing falling damage, I guess.
  • Ultimate Pact Weapon is the final (that’s what “ultimate” means, y’all) upgrade on Improved and Superior Pact Weapon, and nothing has changed but the number.

There’s a lot of interesting ideas in these invocations, but the crippling problems of the warlock being the best class to take for two levels and leave is only exacerbated here. The problem is that many flavors of warlock carve out a compelling playstyle at 2nd level, but everything else you need for that playstyle is found somewhere else, like bard, paladin, or sorcerer. Further, the warlock’s interesting features drop off sharply after 10th level. The greater focus on lore is excellent; the more intensive use of prerequisites is worrying. Anything that makes eldritch blast spamming more powerful without adding more decision points during the action is thumbs-down with me.

 

Lore Mastery

Finally, we have a new Arcane Tradition, called Lore Mastery. We’ve seen a few attempts at this concept in the past; I think there was a Generalist in one of the D&D Next documents, and maybe in one of the early UAs? I don’t remember and I’m not going to hunt it down right now. Anyway, this tradition is all about bringing some pseudo-metamagic into the wizard class. The theme of this class could be summarized as “the wizard-iest wizard that ever was.”

  • Lore Master grants Expertise in as many of Arcana, History, Nature, and Religion as you are proficient in. But if you didn’t pick the Sage background, that’s just weird. It also lets you use Intelligence in place of Dexterity for initiative checks.
  • Spell Secrets lets you swap damage types for your spells pretty freely, and lets you change the ability score that your spells’ saving throws target. Which is useful, except that now the game kinda wants you to guess or remember which saving throws your targets are likely to be bad at; at least this part of the feature is once per short rest. (The answer is usually Intelligence unless it’s really obviously otherwise.) There’s a sidebar reminding you to make any changes to spells be a compelling part of narrating your actions.
  • Alchemical Casting is the serious metamagic – but since you don’t have sorcery points, you burn low-end spell slots instead. This is hard to use well when you first get it, since your overall spell slots are so limited, but it gets a lot better at higher levels. Anyway, spend a 1st-level slot to boost damage, a 2nd-level slot to boost range (to boost it beyond your sight range, in most cases), or a 3rd-level slot to boost a spell’s DC by 2. Note that a 3rd-level fireball + a 1st level slot is an average of 7.5 damage per target better than a 4th-level
  • Prodigious Memory ignores the thematic point that spells are prepared through rituals rather than memorized in this edition, and lets you hot-swap one prepared spell. This is once per short rest. Mechanically, it’s fine, but it ignores their fiction that tweaks Vance’s oddities about “forgetting” a spell (which is important given how everything else functions in 5e spellcasting). So half credit.
  • Master of Magic was a phenomenal video game that ate huge portions of my youth, as I assume it did yours, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. Once per long rest, you can spend a bonus action to treat any spell in the game as a wizard spell that you have prepared for a single casting. Which means, of course, that when the chips are down, the game grinds to a halt as you hunt through every book your DM allows in the game. Or, if not that, then you must do all of that mental labor between sessions and possess a staggering level of system mastery. This feature is awesome, but it is not a good idea. It becomes a worse idea with every new supplement that includes spells.

The story of the Lore Mastery tradition is right up my alley, and I like about half of its mechanics. The other half require the player to go deep on memorizing rules minutiae, in a way that 5e has otherwise avoided. (This is why you don’t see features to hot-swap feats, for example.) I hope they do release this one in a refined form in the future, though, because I would be all about it. Until then, Divination is the best fit for the theme.

Overall, this week’s UA is one of the most content-dense documents we’ve seen since… probably the last Mystic update? There are a ton of exciting ideas here, but I’m not sold on all of them. I know they resolve multiclassing issues in a later pass than most UA documents are on at release, though, so I’m hopeful that everything will be amazing in its final form. While we’re on the topic, though, I also hope that the warlock gets a deep re-examination once the ranger is out of playtesting and into an official product.