D&D 5eReviews

Xanathar’s Guide Breakdown, Part Five

Wow, so we’re coming up on the end of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and I want to thank the Academy… wait, say again? We’re not even coming up on the end of Chapter One…? Well, uh, all right then. In this article I’m discussing four calling birds, three (sorcerous) origins, two warlock patrons, (a whole bunch of new Eldritch Invocations,) and a War Magic tradition.

I am being informed that I must write “Filking Twelve Days of Christmas is completely unoriginal and I won’t do it again” on the blackboard 1.6 billion times.

Barbarians and Bards | Clerics, Druids, and Fighters | Monks and Paladins | Rangers and Rogues | Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards

 

Sorcerers

D&D has always had a tough time investing the sorcerer with any theme of its own, outside of subclasses or mystical bloodline feat chains or whatever. It’s a wizard but without books. It’s a superhero that can only be a blaster or controller. It was created to be a playstyle distinct from wizards, not an archetype. Part of this is that they usually don’t include mechanics for innate, poorly-controlled, raw power, even though that concept shows up in approximately 110% of all sorcerer flavor text. And so it is here.

Including an Arcane Origin table as one of the distinguishing backstory elements is a strange idea. I mean, you pick your sorcerous origin at 1st level, isn’t that enough? At the same time, this is another reasonably interesting list of story hooks, and some of them work reasonably well with multiple origins. Reactions talk about how people who know about your sorcerous power view it. Some of these are decent story hooks, but more of them are sort of trite and tropey. Supernatural Marks and Signs of Sorcery are ways that your power manifests – the first is a minor, always-evident change to your body, while the second happens when you cast. They’re generally fine.

I’ve released my own set of sorcerous origins and magic items, too!

 

Divine Soul Origin

Previously called the Favored Soul, the Divine Soul is the sorcerer that is also a cleric. I’ve seen the UA version of this in action intermittently, in Colin’s Planescape campaign, and it’s fine so far – the Spells Known limit generally means that getting to pick from two spell lists just makes choices a lot harder. It also complicates Metamagic selection.

I’m also always going to be a fan of letting other classes handle the primary-healer role. When 4e made all of the leader classes fully competitive with cleric as primary healers, we started seeing a wider variety of class lineups, and that changed the kinds of stories that D&D can tell. 5e does that even better, since primary healers aren’t remotely as obligatory as they were. If you do have a primary healer, it might be a bard, cleric, druid, paladin, sorcerer, or warlock. On which note, I am still sad that there’s no Theurgy school for wizards in XGTE. But I digress.

  • Divine Magic is the essential feature to make the Divine Soul do what it promises. You can spend Spells Known slots on cleric spells and cast them as sorcerer spells. Also, you get one freebie, based on choosing an alignment affinity that is the source of your power. Your alignment affinity doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your alignment if you don’t want it to. I appreciate how straightforward and manageable this feature is, and how a big must-buy of the Divine Soul (cure wounds or bless, according to your tastes) is available as a free extra.
  • Favored by the Gods is the gods putting a heavy thumb on the scales of chance in your favor, once per short rest. I’d expect that 2d4 converts most misses to hits and most failed saves to successes. Still, basically fine.
  • Empowered Healing is sorcerous metamagic to affect healing spells that you or an ally within 5 feet cast. Crummy rolls on healing spells are frustrating (since you’re mostly casting them in really bad situations), so a chance to improve those rolls is great. I also like that, if you’re not casting the spell yourself, you have to be adjacent to the caster – I have an image of the spell getting channeled through you (as an intermediary with the gods) that I think it awesome.
  • Otherworldly Wings returns to the wings of the original Favored Soul. They’ve sorta gone back and forth on this over the various UA iterations, and I’m happy enough to see it here. The wings are spectral and don’t ruin your clothing the way Draconic Sorcery’s wings do. The different styles of wings by alignment affinity are cool – I particularly like dragonfly wings for Neutral affinity.
  • Unearthly Recovery is a bonus action self-heal for half of your maximum hit points, once per long rest. That’s great survivability, but we’re still talking d6 Hit Dice here. Seems fine to me.

I cannot think of a single bad thing to say about this subclass. It sets out to do a straightforward job, it gets that job done, and it adds in a few solidly appealing features beyond that. A lot of sorcerer subclasses are about what kind of survivability they grant, and this is no exception. In power level, the Divine Soul is pretty tame.

 

Shadow Magic Origin

There’s been a Shadow sorcerer in my own campaign since, what, two or three days after the UA document first offered them? The character is still fairly low level, because of how that campaign works and because this year has been so tough on his scheduling, but from watching it… it wasn’t bad. (The player has pointed out to me that he was trying not to abuse its power.)

  • Shadow Magic sorcerers still have their own table of Quirks, which are pretty much just more Supernatural Marks.
  • Eyes of the Dark now grants twice the range of darkvision it once did (very good for races that already get 60-ft darkvision; surprised they didn’t go with the Gloom Stalker’s +30ft mechanic), and – in a rare move – also grants a feature at 3rd If a non-WotC designer did this, they’d get knocked for it. It looks clunky, like you don’t remember how features are supposed to work. The 3rd-level feature grants you the darkness spell and, when you cast it with sorcery points (on the cheap, I might add) rather than a spell slot, you also can see through it freely. This feature is the Big Deal of Shadow Magic, and can be a great area debuff to your enemies over the course of play. Blindsight and better forms of perception become more common as you progress in level, but remain far from universal throughout.
    • There are a few more wrinkles now than there were in the original UA iteration, but this is still basically the feature that it was before. I think the sorcery point cost went up (though 2 is still a bargain), and you used to always get to see through your own darkness.
    • The fundamental problem of sorcerer class/subclass intersection is that you don’t get sorcery points until 2nd level, but you only get features at 1st and 6th. (And 14th and 18th, obviously, don’t miss the point here.) So either you have a 1st level feature that you can’t use when you get it (because it costs sorcery points to use), or you don’t get a gameplay-defining feature until 6th level, or you do exactly as this does and brute-force a new feature in at 3rd None of this possess that pure and perfect design goal of elegance, so I appreciate WotC “officially” opening the door to this kind of design.
    • If you don’t understand why “officially opening the door” matters in game design, you’ve never tried publishing third-party content for pay, in a way that reviewers will critique. Third-party work has to look close enough to first-party releases that people sitting around the table can’t really tell the difference.
  • Strength of the Grave emphasizes the Shadowfell theme in the Shadow Magic origin. It’s a Charisma-based cousin of Zombie Fortitude, but it doesn’t just. keep. going. the way Zombie Fortitude does. I don’t think the sorcerer in my game has yet had to use this, though; he plays fairly cautiously. This changed from always-on (the full-strength Zombie Fortitude) in the UA to once per long rest. That’s a hell of a nerf, but… I mean, yeah, it was probably too much survivability for a 1st-level feature.
  • Hound of Ill Omen has changed only a tiny bit from its original UA incarnation. The Hound is now a monstrosity rather than a beast, which is probably about spell interaction and super-overtly-magical nature as much as anything. It now has temporary hit points when it first appears – not a ton, but it’s a little bit of survivability on an otherwise non-scaling creature. This looks like a very strong feature even now – 3 sorcery points per hound could mean a lot of active hounds at once at high levels, so we could be talking about a lot of Pack Tactics and saves to avoid falling prone.
  • Shadow Walk is a feature I would absolutely expect to see in any dedicated shadow-related character; more than that, I’m shocked not to see it in Gloom Stalker. It has a lot in common with the Way of Shadow monk’s Shadow Step, except for a longer range and no free advantage on your first strike after teleporting.
  • Umbral Form is the significantly nerfed version of the UA Shadow Form. Its sorcery point cost doubled, and it no longer grants resistance to radiant damage. The first part is… probably necessary, given how much extra survivability half-damage-from-nigh-everything really is, while the second part looks like a correction of an oversight. You take the form of a shadow, you live with its vulnerability to damage in the form of light. The form now also has an end state before 1 minute, and you can get hosed in a big way with the relatively-small number of ways to incapacitate someone without taking them to 0 hit points. See also, why hold person and hypnotic pattern are some of the most show-stopping spells in the game.

Compared to the UA version, then, this subclass is (sorry) a shadow of its former self, tuned down in some small ways and some bigger ways. I think it still looks solid. Original Strength of the Grave was especially too good; in combination with original Shadow Form halving your incoming damage, you could be tanking at 1 hit point for a long, long time.

As it is, the Hound is still a weird note in their gameplay, but getting to impose disadvantage against saving throws and/or getting your target to waste 37+ points of damage on your Hound is potentially stellar. Since the Hound doesn’t require Concentration, pair this with devastating single-target control that does require Concentration, or conjure a bunch of Hounds – one for each enemy target – and bring a whole fight to its knees with a big control spell.

 

Storm Sorcery Origin

This is another of the SCAG reprint subclasses. On one hand, it’s obvious how Storm Sorcery would be feared – lightning is scary – but at the same time, the theme emphasizes being a ship’s mage. That seems like a respected position not just on the ship, but in society – at least as much as a skilled navigator. Really, my point is that you have options in presentation.

  • Wind Speaker is the single most expansive language-proficiency feature I’ve seen. Neat! I like the implicit connection of the tempest to all elements, not just Air.
  • Tempestuous Magic is a movement buff, letting you fly short distances as a bonus action. This increasingly fits the style of spellcaster shown in fantasy and sf media. This is a mechanic for Signs of Sorcery, since it requires spellcasting in the same round. I like it, though I think shifting it to be part of your move rather than a bonus action to keep it out of your action economy might have been better (except that they want it not to get pushed out by Wind Soul). After all, Quickened Spell relies on that bonus action too. This suggests mobility and getting to high places as key pieces of the Storm Sorcery intended playstyle.
  • Heart of the Storm grants two damage resistances, and more importantly it makes you radiate damage whenever you expend a spell slot to cast a spell. This damage is based on your sorcerer level rather than the spell level, which is sort of an odd choice to me; it’s one way to get your enemies to kill themselves on your shields. Where Tempestuous Magic helps you get some space from your enemies, Heart of the Storm wants you to get in the midst of them and passively murder everything.
  • Storm Guide is what we’ve learned that WotC calls a “ribbon” feature – something that communicates theme, but no one pretends that power balance is on the line here. It’s not impossible that you’d wring some effectiveness out of this, but it takes a rarer situation or an unreasonable amount of prep. In this case, it’s modest weather control.
  • Storm’s Fury punishes enemies for hitting you with melee attacks, dealing damage and pushing them back. The damage scales with your level, and may be enough that you want to draw a few attacks. The pushback on a failed save means that, if a creature has expended all of its move, you’re disrupting a multiattack, which can potentially be a great advantage. On the other hand, it costs your reaction, so don’t take that risk if you can’t afford to eat the whole multiattack. Anyway, the point of this feature within the playstyle is to kick out more raw damage and to get enemies off you.
    • Compare this to the Tempest cleric’s Wrath of the Storm, which improves when you pick up Thunderbolt Strike. Wrath of the Storm is a 1st level feature, so it’s mostly fine that it deals more damage early and less damage later (2d8, non-scaling). It also has a limited number of uses per long rest, as opposed to whenever you have a reaction. Thunderbolt Strike grants some – albeit less – pushback.
  • Wind Soul is a huge deal, and at this point I’d argue that it’s simply overpowered. Two damage immunities (replacing your damage resistances), plus a fast flying speed. Or you can halve your flying speed to share it with the rest of the party. Getting to share a movement mode with the rest of the party is neat and can probably open up some fun exploration options. But two uncommon-ish damage immunities and a fast flying speed? Aie.

Storm Sorcery offers only marginal survivability improvements (Tempestuous Magic avoids opportunity attacks, and you gain lightning/thunder resistance and immunity), instead making sure that all of your enemies die along with you. If I recall correctly, that was largely true of 4e Storm sorcerers too – jaw-dropping damage output, sort of a sugar-glass cannon. I feel like this would just about have to be overpowered, but I’d be willing to see it in play for awhile and find out.

 

Warlocks

The intro to the warlock offers three new background elements for warlocks: Patron Attitudes, Special Terms of the pact, and a Binding Mark. I am absolutely going to be a fan of any angle on making the Patron a significant, compelling presence in the game, whether that means regular on-camera appearances or conspicuous, worrying absences. I know there are people who just want the power set of the class without the concomitant story, but that approach is utterly alien to what I would ever want as player or DM.

In any case, Patron Attitudes and Special Terms are great collections of ideas. I have no trouble seeing how these would inform roleplay and blossom into stories. Binding Marks are cosmetic effects signifying your nature, and I was pretty much with them until the glowing nose. Sorry, I am just not here for the Neon Clown Nose patron. I am anti-fun, what can I say.

 

Celestial Patron

I’ve been on the record for ages now as not really liking the Celestial patron. The rest of the warlock class that isn’t affected by the choice of Patron – spell list and Eldritch Invocations – are so strongly themed around being dark and sinister that I think having a Good-aligned Patron is bizarre and tone-deaf, unless your Patron is Fallen. The table of Patron Attitudes suggests some antagonistic possibilities that could work for a Celestial Patron, and I appreciate that a lot. This is to the warlock as the Divine Soul is to the sorcerer.

  • The Expanded Spell List is mostly about healing, and let me tell you, a cure wounds that auto-scales with your Pact Magic slot level is handy. Your non-healing spells are about holy fire in various forms – spheres, lights, walls, and strikes. I’m guessing you usually won’t have a Pact Magic slot available when you need to cast revivify, though.
  • Bonus Cantrips grants two new cantrips, one of which is the signature cleric attack cantrip. Even with the Radiant Soul feature, you’re still doing tiny amounts of damage compared to eldritch blast with Agonizing Blast, so this is not much competition to break into your gameplay loop. You’re spending a lot of your subclass features on something that remains firmly subpar. Welcome to the unaddressed problems of the warlock class, y’all!
    • Don’t even begin with telling me that you don’t mind dealing less damage, because you’re playing a primary healer here. It’s one Eldritch Invocation, and the rest of your Eldritch Invocations can’t help your healing output (yes, I see Gift of the Ever-Living Ones, being a primary healer is not about your self-healing!). If you like suboptimal play, that’s fine, I don’t care. Just recognize that your preference for suboptimal play is not a valid part of design and balance discussions.
  • Healing Light carries the weight that your Pact Magic can’t carry on its own, granting you a scaling dice pool that you can spend for healing. With its level scaling, it averages 1.5 points per level less than a paladin’s Lay on Hands; at 20th level, it’s 26.5 points behind. It has a restriction on how many dice you can spend in a single bonus action, and can’t be used to remove disease or poison. I certainly appreciate that it is just a bonus action to use. Overall, this is good, but I still question whether it carries the Celestial Patron as a primary healer (but see below). Having a 60-ft range is a big help.
  • Radiant Soul boosts your damage output with fire or radiant spells, and grants radiant resistance. Not that I need to tell you how rare it is for monsters to deal radiant damage. The damage bonus here is great for non-cantrips.
  • Celestial Resilience grants you and your party a pile of temporary hit points at the end of any short or long rest. So, you know, pre-healing. This feature is absolutely huge, and tips the scales in the warlock’s favor for that comparison to Lay on Hands.
  • Searing Vengeance is a self-heal that also makes you explode in damage to your enemies. (Enemies only, unlike the much riskier Phoenix sorcerer of UA.) Triggered self-healing is particularly helpful for primary healers, since the idea is that it’s no one else’s job to heal them. The D&D narrative being what it is, there’s not a lot of emphasis on wipe-recovery features, but this is great for averting catastrophic failure when things start to go really wrong.

Boy howdy does this subclass boast a lot of survivability boosts: almost every feature. My issues with the theme notwithstanding, I think the subclass mostly pulls together into something coherent. I remain skeptical of the attacking side of their gameplay, but I think they should be quite competitive as healers. If you’re in a situation where you can afford some short rests but a long rest is out of the question, Celestial warlocks are ideal, because recovering 2 or more 5d8+5 cure wounds per short rest is fantastic.

 

Hexblade Patron

Well, I appreciate that Xanathar’s marginalia make fun of the awkwardness of the name here. Is the blade itself (not by Joe Abercrombie) the Patron here? What happened with the character being the one who was called a hexblade, as in 3.5e? And my real question: why didn’t they just make the Pact of the Blade cover everything they needed to say about this concept? Well, whatever. The Hexblade warlock in Colin’s Planescape game seems pretty much fine so far, in terms of power, but he’s just now 5th level.

  • The Expanded Spell List is a lot of the Greatest Hits of the paladin spell list, plus some defensive buffs. Phantasmal killer and cone of cold are sort of odd items on this list, but sure.
  • Hexblade’s Curse is a once-per-short-rest curse that carries a small damage boost, a crit chance boost, and a really nice healing payoff when you kill the target. Any short-term increase to crit chance is weird to me, since even if you attack that target every round for the ten-round duration, you might only see a benefit from it every other time you use it. Also, that’s the kind of benefit that is easy to forget, I suspect. As it’s a bonus action to apply, this is either replacing hex (and freeing up a spell slot for something else), or stacking with it.
  • Hex Warrior grants a bunch of gear proficiencies, and lets you use Charisma for attacks with your weapon. It does lock you into using a non-two-handed weapon, but other than that, it’s a partial solution for the issues around medium armor and stat dependency. You can get around the limit on using two-handed weapons if you pair this with Pact of the Blade, which is an interesting minor piece of niche protection. All in all, I like this feature a lot.
    • Creating a situation where you can reasonably wield a greatsword while having low Strength (and not get screwed for it) is a great nod to Elric.
  • Accursed Specter lets you animate the soul of a slain enemy as a specter bound to your service. Uh, wow. That’s pretty awesome. I mean, specters don’t have a ton of staying power, and healing the undead is a bit complicated, but it does get some temporary hit points and a bonus to attack rolls. I feel like, specters being what they are, there are probably some corner case uses that really abuse the shit out of this, but I don’t immediately know what they are. Something about an ally that is 100% going to die at the end of your next long rest?
    • Discarded name for this feature: Temp Agency Recruiter.
  • Armor of Hexes is a strange reaction option – it creates a 50% miss chance for any attack, even a crit, coming from your Hexblade’s Curse target. You don’t see a lot of special-case die rolls like this “d6, roll 4 or better” in 5e, so it’s another example of official text opening a door for new types of effects.
  • Master of Hexes addresses the limitation of the Hexblade’s Curse. When you would reap hit points from the Curse, you can instead transfer it to another creature, so you’ll get paid in hit points later in the fight (when you presumably need them more), and you get to keep your damage and crit bonus for another fight. You can just keep doing this until something dies and you’re either incapacitated at the time, have no new valid target, or decide you want your healing payoff.

The playstyle here is crystal clear: you want to chase down one target at a time, murder them, and move on, possibly recruiting them into SPECTRE along the way. Their features are strictly combat-focused, other than the scouting applications of the specter. It looks like it should be one of the stronger Patrons, but I don’t know that it rises to the level of overpowered. Mainly I’d like to see more supporting material around the concept and the Patrons.

 

Eldritch Invocations

This article is already more than 4,000 words and I have a whole subclass left to go, so I’ll be taking these pretty quick.

Aspect of the Moon lets you keep watch all night long. Never sleeping also confers immunity to dream, including its nightmare version. Also you’re immune to all involuntary forms of sleep, such as the sleep spell or sleep poisons. This is a nice flavor bit, and a handy immunity in some campaigns. I’d say it’s a good buy, once you’ve covered your core gameplay needs.

Cloak of Flies is super gross, but even a minor poison damage aura is a big deal as long as your allies don’t want to stand near you. A good buy, but you might not get invited to parties anymore. Oh, sure, you can turn it off, but once you know someone can do this, do you really want them near the punchbowl?

Eldritch Smite lets you burn Pact Magic slots for force damage on weapon strikes. It’s, you know, paladin smiting with an automatic knockdown. More single-target direct damage was not exactly the thing warlocks needed most, but damage declared after the hit is the kind of reliability that they have needed.

Ghostly Gaze is x-ray vision, once per short rest. This is a huge scouting feature and probably lets you do some really nasty things with spell targeting, but I’m not completely clear on that. I’d call this a very high priority in any campaign that includes regular dungeon exploration – so most of them.

Gift of the Depths grants you water breathing – so a great exploration feature – and cast water breathing once per long rest without expending a spell slot. That “cast once per long rest without expending a spell slot” shows that they’ve stepped away from doing that thing that makes so many Player’s Handbook invocations unappealing, and I hope it represents a lasting change. It’s a good utility invocation in campaigns that include sailing or underwater exploration; otherwise, there are higher priorities.

Gift of the Ever-Living Ones boosts your healing received from effects that heal a random value. I don’t really understand where this fits in with the Pact of the Chain or having a familiar on a thematic level, and I don’t really see that this is a sensible buy for the very not frontline Pact of the Chain warlocks.

Grasp of Hadar inverts Repelling Blast, but works only once per turn. Eldritch blast-focused warlocks mostly don’t want to keep enemies close by, but it’s great for fighting across a chasm or giving fleeing enemies a very bad day. Or just pulling enemies into the area of a defender’s stickiness. (Eww.)

Improved Pact Weapon is a three-parter: it saves you from needing an empty hand for spellcasting, it grants you an attack and damage bonus with your pact weapon, and it removes the rule against pact weapons being bows or crossbows. One wonders why slings and hand crossbows were kept off the list here. Is there a corner-case exploit I’m missing here?

Lance of Lethargy adds the snaring effect of ray of frost to your eldritch blast, once per turn. Compounded with Repelling Blast, you should be able to kite a lot of creatures to death. I am not at all convinced that creating more ways to be hyper-specialized in eldritch blast is a good move for the warlock metagame, even if it does give them another choice and tactical consideration as part of their action.

Maddening Hex is the kind of feature that I wrote for publication before the OGL arrived, but can’t now, because hex is not in the OGL. Not that I’m bitter. Anyway, it slaps the target with a minor psychic damage aura. This feature hugely boosts the potential damage output of any hex or curse-based feature. It should be an automatic purchase for any Hexblade warlock.

Relentless Hex borrows from… I think it was an Avenger power in 4e? Bond of Pursuit or something like that? This is generally more limited – you can only teleport up to 30 feet, and your destination space has to be within 5 feet of the target. This is still a great buy for a Hexblade warlock, and for any Pact of the Blade warlock.

Shroud of Shadow is, um, crazy good. I don’t know what to say about invisibility as an at-will effect. You probably won’t spend that many of your combat turns casting it, but as an opener and as an exploration or espionage buff, it’s phenomenal. I mean, sure, you have to be 15th level, but I’m also in favor of things that try to drag warlocks, kicking and screaming, into sticking with the warlock class for more than 10 levels.

Tomb of Levistus is the classic Ice Block from World of Warcraft. I love that they attached it to Levistus. The incapacitation effect means that things have to be super dire for this to be a good idea, because it costs you a turn of actions and reactions, and ends Concentration. Probably a better buy for Celestial warlocks (ironically) than other Patrons.

Trickster’s Escape is another cast-without-expending-a-spell-slot feature, this time for freedom of movement. Great purchase for many kinds of warlocks, but especially Tome and Chain warlocks, because they’re the most screwed by grappling. I’d just like to point out that casting freedom of movement without components might (often) be more useful than casting without expending a spell slot, but sure, I guess it’s bad to get a get-out-of-paralysis-free invocation.

And that’s it for the new invocations. There are new ways to improve your eldritch blast (which ultimately points back to the 3.5e warlock), a lot of new exploration utility effects, new boosts to hex and other curses, and so on. I like the themes that show up here, and I’m especially glad that Kiss of Mephistopheles (as tested in UA) got cut from the list. Mostly I just wish they would explain a little more about the story of 5e’s Archfey, so that the fey-linked invocations would be more up-front with their theme.

 

Wizards

The three distinguishing detail tables for wizards are Spellbooks (what your spellbook is like), Ambitions (broad character goals about your approach to magic), and Eccentricities (minor flavor notes). The Ambitions could be story hooks, but they’re so broad that there’s no particular guidance on how to turn them into actionable plans. Also, good luck getting the rest of your adventuring party interested in them. They read reasonably like core philosophies of Orders in Mage: the Awakening. I generally find the Eccentricities forgettable, but one deserves special mention. Dead worm in a jar? More like you received a larval soul (whose?) from a night hag. Starting play with someone else’s soul in a jar… now that is a bitchin’ story hook.

 

War Magic Tradition

Now, there was a war mage class in 3.5’s Complete Arcane, and I guess there was interest in bringing that back. At the same time, this nominally represents the War Wizards of Cormyr… who are the secret police as well as the battlefield mages of the kingdom. This is a blend of the abjurer and the evoker, stripped down to brutal practicalities – none of this school savant business, just defense against direct attack and explosive murder with magical force.

  • Arcane Deflection is a defensive reaction that – in a sort of rare move – grants substantial flat bonuses. It limits you to cantrips in the following action, which means you can kind of get locked into it if you can’t get away or get an ally to peel them off you. The cinematic image I get here is sort of batting away spells and weapons, which fits about equally well into Harry Potter and Doctor Strange. This is an especially big deal against spells that have no effect on a successful save.
  • Tactical Wit boosts your initiative rolls. Interestingly, the rule says can, so if you’d rather go later in the round for whatever reason, you’re allowed.
  • Power Surge is the other big playstyle-defining feature, even if you don’t get it until 6th Getting to add your wizard level to damage against one target is a nice boost, a lot like casting a spell with a slot several levels higher. I’m more uncomfortable with a feature that strongly encourages blue-decking as a primary way you spend spell slots. The real effectiveness of this feature depends entirely on how many spellcasting opponents you run into, I guess.
  • Durable Magic grants further bonuses to AC and saves while you’re maintaining Concentration. In combination with Arcane Deflection, that’s a whole hell of a lot of AC, and an enormous boost to saving throws.
  • Deflecting Shroud pays you further for using Arcane Deflection, by letting you splash automatic damage onto nearby enemies. Basically, you’re looking at +7 to +21 damage when you first receive this feature, scaling to +10 to +30, and with those kinds of numbers, spamming fire bolt for your main action looks like a good idea (4d10+10 for the cost of… also picking up +2 AC and +4 to all saves? Yeah, okay).

In one sense, then, this subclass turns the wizard’s gameplay into something more like the warlock’s. Fire bolt, spell slots to counterspell and dispel magic, and probably flaming sphere to trigger Durable Magic and give you something useful to do with your bonus action. Or, you know, fly or stoneskin or something practical like that.

The most interesting part of this idea to me is thinking about the wizard traditions that exist in the intersections between the Eight Traditions. War Magic is Abjuration + Evocation. For EN5IDER, I wrote a School of Nightmares that was approximately Necromancy + Enchantment (with a smattering of Illusion). Abjuration + Conjuration adds up to Goetia, Conjuration + Divination might be Enochian, and I can imagine Divination + Transmutation being a super creepy Alienist thing. While I’m aggressively pairing Divination with things, maybe Divination + Illusion is a sort of Fate Witch deal. You could  cover most of these concepts through picking one tradition and selecting heavily for the spells of the other, so think of this as an approach for when you specifically want to drop the Eight Traditions, or feature upstart alternate Traditions.

This brings me to the end of the subclasses in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. I’m still planning to cover the rest of the book, because it has tons of useful rules bits, but the subclasses of Chapter One were the biggest piece to tackle. I hope you’ve enjoyed the five articles in this series so far.

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