The Warlord Class, Part Six
As I mentioned at the end of last week’s article, I also wanted to cover George Sutherland Howard’s Commander class, available on the DM’s Guild. Also, in Twitter, @ShareDVI suggested that the Order domain found in Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica might merit a look for warlord-adjacent gameplay, so I’ll say a few words about that. For disclosure, I received a free review copy of “The Commander.”
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six
This 20-level class sets out to the same thing as any other warlord class – that is, there’s nothing off-the-wall with theme here. Considering how much of the warlord we’ve covered already, that’s fine. This document has three subclasses.
- d10 Hit Dice.
- Proficiency in all weapons, armor, and shields.
- Proficiency in Strength and Constitution saving throws. That’s what I’d expect for a soldier-like class.
- Two skills, chosen from a list of six. As I’ve said with other classes, I’d like to see this be a touch more generous, but it’s worth noting that all of the subclasses grant a skill proficiency at 3rd
- Leadership Ability lets you determine whether Intelligence (“Strategic”) or Charisma (“Inspiring”) is your Leadership stat. (You still need Str or Dex for attack rolls.) This choice changes literally nothing about the rest of the class for you. I wouldn’t have been sorry to also see a Wisdom option here.
- I adore this choice, and I would retrofit it to – at minimum – the bard, sorcerer, and warlock, influenced by 13th Age’s move in that direction, as well as Pathfinder 2
- Coordinated Command is the Bardic Inspiration-like feature for this document. It cleaves closely to the Player’s Handbook Bardic Inspiration, starting at per-long-rest and advancing to per-short-rest. At base, you can add your Coordination die to attack rolls and ability checks.
- Improved Aid tacks on one of two different effects when you use the Help action.
- Bolstering Aid grants the person you Help temporary hit points equal to your Leadership modifier. If you know a fight is coming, I guess you might look for ability checks to Help with – maybe thieves’ tools checks?
- Urgent Aid lets the person you help move 10 feet as a reaction. This probably wants a “as long as your speed is at least 10 feet” clause.
- Fighting Style at 2nd level let you pick from the full list of Fighting Styles. I am happy to see this here, as again it communicates that the commander is at least as fighter-like as paladins and rangers. I also like including all six styles, since I think limiting paladins and rangers to 4 of the 6 blocks off what could be great character concepts.
- Coordinated Attack at 2nd level is Commander’s Strike, including costing you a Coordination die, except that the die applies to the attack roll rather than the damage roll.
- FWIW, Battle Masters start at 4d8 and scale up to 6d12 with the dice that grant Commander’s Strike. Unless the commander gets a magic item that breaks the ability score limit of 20, such as a tome, they’re capping out at 5d12. The commander also has to wait until 13th level to have the same targeting freedom that the Battle Master has, and I’m not sure what that accomplishes in the design.
- Commanding Archetype (your subclass) starts at 3rd level, and grants additional features at 7th, 10th, 15th, and 18th.
- ASI/Feats at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th levels, like most classes.
- Extra Attack at 5th
- Warrior’s Aid, also at 5th, lets you make one attack with your bonus action when you Help with your action.
- This is an unusual choice for a class’s action economy, and I want to dig into it. What we usually see is changing Help to a bonus action, while you make your normal number of attacks with your action. Instead, the commander keeps you using Help as your main action, and allows 2 attacks as a bonus action at 11th The result here is that you can Help + attack or Attack + Coordinated Command or Help + Coordinated Command. There are some edge cases where the difference between “taking the Attack action” and “can make two attacks as a bonus action” really super matter; for one thing, a Two-Weapon Fighting commander throws a huge wrench into these fairly delicate works. Likewise the Shield Master feat.
- I wouldn’t call this a dealbreaker, even for TWF, but you do need to pay attention to it in uncommon depth if you’re playing this class.
- The extremely important thing is that there isn’t pressure for the commander to just stand back and look pretty. Your attacks aren’t special (beyond whatever your Fighting Style does for you), but all damage-on-target is good and you’re not failing at a core class function by doing that.
- Efficient Coordination at 6th level shifts your Coordination die reset to per-short-rest.
- Tactical Command at 9th level lets characters expend your Coordination die to Dash, Disengage, or Help as a bonus action. That’s a pretty smart setup for a mobility fixer, but it’s also leaning so heavily on Coordination dice that the 5/short rest cap is harsh. Basically, you’re doing enough things with them that I’d like to see some kind of currency fixing (more than Superior Coordination at 20th level, I mean).
- Improved Warrior’s Aid does at 11th level does that thing I mentioned earlier: your bonus action can now be two weapon attacks, if your action was Helping someone.
- Mindful Leader at 14th level grants proficiency in whichever stat is your Leadership stat. I’m happy to see even a minor survivability boost for the commander.
- Superior Coordination at 20th level is the by-now-traditional currency fixer that you see in a lot of classes and subclasses – if you have none of [thing], recover one when you roll initiative.
I’m trying not to talk about this as if any other document is The Rubric by which this should be judged; you’ll understand if that takes some mental gymnastics. I’m surprised not to see any actual healing as a core function, only a steady flow of small amounts of temporary hit points. Insofar as Help + 1-2 attacks is the central gameplay loop, you’re operating in a similar vein to a bard’s heroism, but for fewer targets. Actual healing is the province of just one subclass.
Another thing I’m looking for, going into the subclasses, is improving damage output in the later levels. Right now this is positioned near the cleric (one attack + 1d8/2d8) and well below the paladin (two attacks + 1d8 each, etc.). What there is right now is improving damage while you’re using the Help action, but that’s tricky because it competes with your Coordination die for that bonus action.
This is the subclass for defense, obviously, as well as healing. “The best offense is a good defense” is a pretty clear narrative and gameplay style.
- Protective Coordination at 3rd level lets you spend a Coordination die and your reaction to boost an ally’ AC by the result.
- It’s interesting that the action remains entirely on the commander, here, rather than allowing a granted Coordination die to used for AC, as we see in the Valor bard. Possibly it’s done this way specifically to differ from the bard, or possibly there’s a deeper thought there that I’m overlooking.
- Negotiator at 3rd level grants proficiency in Persuasion.
- Protective Strike at 7th level is basically Goading Attack from the Battle Master, once per turn on a hit, but otherwise for free. The only range limit is “within 30 feet,” so we’re potentially talking about some ranged tanking here. It’s a very potent feature.
- Bolstering Force at 10th level is your actual healing feature. You expend a Coordination die, but it’s automatically maximized; you also add half your commander level and your Leadership ability bonus.
- The problem with setting this at 10th is that you’re definitely not the party’s primary healer. At best, you’re offering some emergency healing, but again, it’s drawing from your primary and very limited currency.
- Rallying Presence at 15th level lets you spend your reaction to improve the whole team’s saving throws against a single effect by your Coordination die value. Getting to affect the whole party is a nice efficiency boost for your Coordination dice.
- Superior Protective Coordination at 18th level lets you roll twice and take the best result when you spend a die on Protective Coordination.
Well, okay, there’s no surprise that the Protector isn’t improving your offensive output. I like what Protective Strike offers, but (as I keep saying) I’m concerned about Coordination dice being too scarce. A protection-flavored option for Improved Aid would be a good way to tell the subclass’s story after the Coordination dice run dry.
This is the stealthy raiding commander, sort of a Seal Team Six type. It’s a lot like “what if a ranger had a leader subclass?”, which is certainly asking The Right Questions as far as I’m concerned.
- Coordinated Strike at 3rd level lets you spend Coordination dice to boost initiative rolls; one die boosts a number of creatures equal to your Leadership modifier. I like the multi-target efficiency on this.
- Tactical Raider gives you proficiency in Stealth. This is basically the pinnacle of telling a subclass’s story in the simplest possible terms. Thumbs up.
- Manipulative Maneuver at 7th level adds 5 feet to the distance of your Urgent Aid feature, and those benefiting from it don’t provoke opportunity attacks. The extra distance is pretty marginal, but the rest of the feature is great.
- Fast Raider at 10th level improves your team’s speed and stealth for overland travel. Good to have, assuming you’re in the kind of campaign where this comes up. I’m happy to see a strong exploration feature.
- Tactical Retreat at 15th level lets you spend a Coordination die so that allies within 10 feet of you don’t provoke opportunity attacks in the next turn’s movement. It’s a good mobility feature, but I’m not sure the subclass needed another mobility feature.
- Superior Coordinated Strike at 18th level lets you roll twice for Coordinated Strike and use the better result, and you can affect up to a small army of allies (as long as they can see you). I don’t know about your tables, but initiative doesn’t feel important enough after the first round to justify using two of the subclass’s features on it.
I love the theme of the Raid Master, and I like most of the mechanics that are here. A stealthy commander can probably afford to have some Sneak Attack-like features, maybe an application for Coordination dice that shares the requirements for Sneak Attack.
This choice of name draws on the more negative connotations of “warlord” in real-world usage, since this is explicitly about being an aggressor and increasing the aggression of others. That’s striking, of course, in that D&D and 13th Age treat “warlord” and “commander” as essentially synonymous.
- Brutal Coordination at 3rd level lets your allies add your Coordination die to their damage rolls.
- Menacing Reputation at 3rd level grants you proficiency in Intimidation.
- Warlord’s Maneuver at 7th level lets you replace Strength with your Leadership ability for shove attacks.
- Yes, you probably push your Leadership ability to 20 before you do the same to Strength. Still, this probably amounts to 1-2 points of difference (more if you’re a Dex warlord, I guess) on a type of attack you don’t use all that often. It’s underwhelming for a 7th-level feature. I’d like to see this expanded to at least include ability checks to resist a Shove.
- Empowering Coordination at 10th level is a way to help casters and other characters that rely on forcing saving throws, by letting your allies apply granted Coordination dice as penalties to saves made against their damaging spells. I am super happy about this feature, because it’s nice to see a warlord class that remembers the non-weapon-wielders in the party.
- Inspiring Slayer at 15th level lets you spend a Coordination die when you take down an opponent, giving an allies within 10 feet temporary hit points equal to the result.
- As with other party-wide benefits, I’m glad to see high-yield benefits. On the other hand, I’m very skeptical of last-hit benefits, all the more so because this costs a bonus action. A bonus action that you don’t have available if you’re using Help + Improved Warrior’s Aid to deliver that hit. At minimum, this probably shouldn’t cost a bonus action. Relying on you to keep at least one Coordination die unspent in case you kill something is not great either.
- Superior Brutal Coordination at 18th level lets you also add your Leadership modifier to attacks that benefit from Brutal Coordination.
Overall I like what I see in the Warlord, but I think some of the endemic issues of the commander are still at stake here. Empowering Coordination is the bright spot here, by incorporating more characters into the commander’s tactics.
Stepping back to look at the whole commander, then, I think the designer has been too conservative on power. Hit Dice and armor aside, this is awfully close to a Valor bard, but with the Help action rather than full-progression spellcasting. That’s overlooking some unique benefits, of course, but so many of those benefits rely on the same tiny pool of Coordination dice that your choices just get harder as you advance. A way to regain some dice mid-battle would solve a lot of the problems here; it would need to be a little harder than gaining command points in 13th Age, but not as rare as “when you crit,” I think. Through whatever means, I’d like to see this class with about 20% more throughput.
Disclaimer: As with my critiques of… okay, almost every critique I’ve written in Tribality, I’m going on feel here rather than basing this on watching it over the course of 20 levels at the table. I could have missed something.
Having said that, there are a lot of great ideas here, and the fundamental sense of personal agency and engagement in the action is very good. The commander isn’t a backup dancer to the rest of the part on a round-by-round level, and if they’re not in the front ranks, it’s only because archer commanders work just fine. The subclasses differentiate themselves strongly and tell clear stories. The class presents the narrative and fantasy of playing a martial leader really well.
Order Domain Cleric
I covered this when it hit Unearthed Arcana, but haven’t tackled Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica. The domain’s concept is law-and-order, complete with voiceover narration by Steven Zirnkilton.
Did that not happen when you opened your copy of the book? Weird.
Anyway, on top of the obviously leader-friendly cleric spell list, the subclass features emphasize both control and leadership.
- The Domain Spells emphasize control, with command, hold person, slow, compulsion, and dominate person, as well as a sense of precision, hierarchy, and collective action. On-message.
- Bonus Proficiencies: heavy armor, and either Intimidation or Persuasion. I’m surprised that martial weapons don’t make the list here, since they do in the War domain.
- Voice of Authority at 1st level lets you grant allies weapon attacks by spending their reaction. To do this, you cast any spell of 1st level or higher on them. Healing word springs to mind here – ranged, bonus action, useful effect, and available at 1st Sure, you won’t have the spell slots to do this all the time early on, but later in the game there probably aren’t many rounds you’re not doing this or something similar.
- Channel Divinity: Order’s Demand at 2nd level is a short-term area charm effect, targeting creatures of your choice. The theme seems to suggest frightened more than charmed, but the effect – unable to attack you, and forcing them to drop anything they’re holding if they fail their saves. It’s a great way to parse awe and authority.
- Embodiment of the Law at 6th level is a kind of feature I’m not sure I’ve seen before, outside of Quickened Spell metamagic: it’s an action-economy fixer for spellcasting. The domain wants you casting a bunch of enchantment spells, so those become bonus actions to cast if they’re normally an action to cast, Wisdom modifier times per long rest. It shapes a very strong gameplay loop of spellcasting and attacking. There aren’t a lot of enchantment spells that target allies (to use both this and Voice of Authority), but heroism is one.
- Divine Strike at 8th level – psychic damage.
- Order’s Wrath at 17th level is the kind of leader feature where your weapon strikes become the specific engine of your action. When you deal Divine Strike damage – itself limited to 1/turn – you can also curse that creature (just 1/turn) to take 2d8 extra psychic damage. Sounds like fun, not too bad on extra stuff to track.
The warlord content here is Voice of Authority and Order’s Wrath, and the strong payoff for casting heroism. It’s also easy to imagine an imperious personality to match with these kinds of actions. Ultimately, this is a slightly better warlord than the War domain, probably not quite as good as the Valor bard or Battle Master fighter for that specific thing (but it should be great at what it’s doing).
Some time before WotC released the Mastermind rogue in UA, and then in SCAG, I wrote a Mastermind roguish archetype in Harbinger of Doom that was my own effort at a warlord-rogue. It was early in 5e’s release, and I’ve learned a lot about how to design for this edition since then, but I still think there are some interesting ideas that you might enjoy. Check it out!
As far as I know, this is the end of the History of the Warlord. It remains a popular concept, either as an independent class, a subclass, or even a collection of feats. At the same time, it’s an elusive target, as it calls the player to spend their turns and currencies helping other characters shine. How often should that work? How reliably does your adventuring day include a combat on each side of a short rest? How do you present a combat-focused leader as interesting and useful in exploration and social-interaction gameplay? Where are the limits on nonmagical healing?
Design is work, man.