Last year I worked my way through the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, which brought Eberron into 5e. Keith Baker, Ruty Rutenberg, and a team of other contributors now offer a collection of subclasses and… you know what, even summarizing the rest of the content is daunting (that’s a good thing). It’s a ton of different ways to enrich characterization of people, places, and things. The book’s conceit is that it is a discussion of classes available at Morgrave University in Sharn. In effect, this is Xanathar’s Guide to Eberron.
Disclosure: I received a copy of Morgrave Miscellany from Tribality for free, but as far as I know Tribality paid full price for it. To show my biases in full, I was otherwise going to buy a copy, because I am moderate-to-hardcore Eberron fan and moreover a Keith Baker fan.
First in our alphabetical order… and our hearts, this section starts out by redefining “barbarian” for the urbane, magitech setting of Eberron. First off, not all of Khorvaire’s cultures are the highly-developed Five Nations. Perhaps more importantly, though, you can play the class’s features without emphasizing its class name. This was a thing back in 3.5e as well – one of my friends played a barbarian as a John McClane Action Hero. You can take it as read that the setting description and commentary are well-written and to the point.
The new subclass here is the EXTREME EXPLORER (sick electric guitar in the background). It’s very friendly to a Lara Croft concept.
- Adrenaline Rush lets you spend Hit Dice for something other than short-rest healing – you’re adding its result to an ability check, attack roll, or saving throw, then taking (result – proficiency bonus) damage.
- I’ve talked before about how barbarians can’t readily use the advantage on Strength checks to be amazing in exploration challenges. This fixes that – even if you know you’ve passed the ability check, it might be worthwhile to spend a Hit Die and take a splash of damage to keep it rolling. You can’t do that for long, but it could still be a big help.
- Cunning Artisan harvests monster bits and turns them into tools of last-ditch survival – a club, a shield, a javelin, darts, or blowgun needles. This is just about the definition of a ribbon feature (flavorful, doesn’t come up much) unless your DM takes all of your gear away on the regular. That can be a fun way to play too!
- Adaptive Elements at 6th level is the kind of feature that… maybe should just be something anyone can do? Perhaps it’s distinguished more by positive permission and only taking 10 minutes and part of a short rest. Anyway, you modify your gear (implicitly, only your own gear) so that you’re comfortable in either very hot or very cold environments (pick one at the time of use).
- How often does it come up that doing this for yourself and not the whole party means it’s okay to go explore an area, rather than… we’re screwed, gotta leave as soon as possible? It’s possible that your buddies have their own solutions, but this could be a lot more compelling even for a ribbon feature.
- Extreme Rush at 6th level improves upon your Adrenaline Rush feature, with a separate benefit for ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls.
- Instinctive Focus gives you a Jack of All Trades-like half-proficiency bonus to nonproficient Int/Wis/Cha ability checks, if you use Adrenaline Rush on them. This is interesting but the narrative is kind of surprising for even an Extreme Explorer – other than Perception, Int/Wis/Cha checks just don’t come up that much while you’d also be raging. (But you can decide to rage for the Adrenaline Rush benefit… and that’s weird too.)
- Overwhelming Dominance is a reaction to passing a save that lets you make a melee or thrown attack against the source of the save. At 6th level, this is just incredible for a barbarian. The trick is either being in melee (you can’t control who’s forcing you to roll saving throws very easily) or having a weapon with the thrown property in hand (which you mostly won’t want to do, because you mostly want to wield a big two-hander). You also add the HD roll result to your damage.
- Unbridled Aggression adds your HD roll result to your damage, when you use your Adrenaline Rush to hit with an attack. It’s interesting that the text goes out of its way to make sure you can’t combine this with the Hunter ranger’s Whirlwind Attack, the Battle Master’s Sweeping Attack, or any other means of damaging more than one creature with a single attack – this comes up rarely enough that I think most damage-add features just don’t care.
- In short, Extreme Rush is incredibly good, but encourages you to spend your HD like water – possibly making you more of a burden to the party’s healers, since you won’t have those HD available for short-rest healing. It’s a lot like how the Berserker’s Frenzy makes them a burden for the rest of the party because the barbarian now wants a long nap, or a greater restoration or better. That’s the serious danger of any mechanic that spends HD for non-healing effects, though.
- Elevated Exploration at 10th level gives you a climbing and swimming speed without, you know, giving you a climbing or swimming speed, and increases your movement speed by 10 feet. (That is, you don’t climb or swim at half-speed.) At 14th level (I’m sure I don’t see why this needed to be broken up), you also don’t risk climbing as long as you use both hands.
- Conditioned Endurance at 14th level further improves your Adrenaline Rush: if (HD result – proficiency bonus) = 0 or less, you don’t expend the Hit Die. This has the possibly odd result of making a 6 the optimal roll on your Adrenaline Rush. In fairness, the feature is incredibly dangerous to use at lower levels, what with the risk of rolling a 12 and taking 10 damage.
Overall this is a very cool barbarian path, though it’s more likely to kill you for just… using its features than any other subclass that isn’t Wild Magic sorcery. I like the concept of action heroes pushing themselves to the limit, but holy cow are these guys healing sinks. I’m going to say that either they need a self-healing feature (which could just be “when you receive healing, add X to the result”), or they need some better way to throttle the damage they’re taking through something other than just not using their core feature.
Okay, I wasn’t going to comment much on flavor text, but I have to highlight this discussion of bards in Eberron for being just surpassingly great. Worth reading for anyone who cares about fitting bards into any setting in interesting and varied ways. The new bard subclass, the College of Keys, is a concept I wouldn’t have looked for – lockpick bards? – but okay, sure, let’s see where this goes.
- You gain proficiency in thieves’ tools. Sure, necessary.
- Key Change lets you use Charisma (anything you have Expertise in) in place of Dex (thieves’ tools). As the in-character sidebar note says, the bard flirts with the door, and the door opens. It’s kind of a weird idea.
- Timbre Illuminous (we’re still on 3rd-level features here) lets you sing, expending Bardic Inspiration, to extract information from a construct or mechanism. Weird idea, again, but I love well-written information-gathering features, so I’m a fan of this too.
- In fairness to my repeated remarks about how weird this is, the College of Keys would fit really well in my own campaign, where they’d just be dedicated to the Muse of Steel.
- Cypheric Ostinato at 6th level lets you spend Bardic Inspiration for disarming attempts and saves against traps or wards. This is the feature I’d expect to see at the core of this subclass more than Key Change.
- Master Keynote at 14th level is sort of a mass knock spell, opening all locks and disarming all traps for a short time, at the cost of a Bardic Inspiration die. This is… fine, sort of a single feature to defeat some kinds of complex traps, I guess?
Overall, the mechanics deal so narrowly with disarming traps and opening locks that I don’t think this has a lot of legs for most campaigns. You don’t want to put your whole subclass into something that comes up once every few sessions. In the right campaign, it’s great, but it needs diversification into more common areas of gameplay.
The new domain here is Sovereign, for the Sovereign Host of Eberron. What it presents is more of a pantheon servant, a cleric serving gods in a collective way. This too would be relevant to my home campaign.
- Solemn Devotion grants proficiency and Expertise in History and Religion.
- Worldly Focus grants proficiency with martial weapons, and lets you use any weapon as a spellcasting focus.
- Note the absence of a Domain Spells list. This is going to matter.
- Channel Divinity: Omnitheist (there’s a typo listing this at 3rd level rather than 2nd) lets you borrow a spell from any domain list for 10 minutes. That’s a lot of flexibility, but be careful with the amount of flipping through the book at the table that this requires.
- Encouraging Whispers at 6th level lets you add your Wisdom to concentration saves. That’s pretty cool.
- Divine Balance at 8th level adds your Wisdom modifier to cantrip and weapon damage. I’ve been saying for years that Potent Spellcasting and Divine Strike need to get paired up, rather than each domain receiving just one or the other. (But with Divine Strike you get a second d8 at 14th level, so this is shorting you a bit on melee.)
- Sovereign Vassal at 17th level gives you five domain spells, one of each spell level from 1-5, as long as they’re taken from some domain’s list. The text here mentions “your other domain spells,” as if you had others? Maybe it’s referencing Omnitheist in a confusing way?
The Sovereign domain is… fine, very generic. If you want to play a cleric as a multitool, this is the one for you. Please, for your table’s sake, do the work ahead of time and collect the domain spell lists of every domain you can use. On the plus side, it’s hard to imagine a situation (other than being out of spell slots) where your primary features aren’t useful and don’t present you with interesting choices.
The druid flavor text of the original Eberron Campaign Setting was particularly memorable to me, with its five different druidic orders, so the text here that adds two more cultural orders (Talenta halflings and Valenar elves) particularly interests me. One of my favorite PCs I’ve ever played in tabletop gaming was a Valenar elf druid, in fact.
The new druidic subclass is the Circle of the Arbiter. The flavor text here is vague on what they do, other than preventing something related to the outer planes from happening. It’s kind of about being a Circle that includes every druidic order. Maybe the mechanics clear this up?
- Student of Tradition lets you pick one of five different features.
- Absolve the Unnatural lets you decide that your spell damage was nonlethal.
- Scent of Decay makes detect poison and disease and protection from poison always prepared spells for you, and lets you cast each once a day without spending a slot.
- Darkvision 60 ft, or +30 ft if you’ve already got it.
- Woodsong grants proficiency in Performance, and doubles your proficiency bonus on all Charisma checks to interact with the fey.
- Warden View grants proficiency and expertise in Nature and Perception. Can… can we talk about how much better this is than the rest of the list, for the majority of users?
- Shape of the Arbiter at 2nd level is a new Wild Shape option that puts you in a raw-energy form. It does a big list of different things, but instead of giving you a second, normally-healable hit point pool the way other Wild Shapes do, this gives you a temporary hit point pool. The rest of the feature handles temporary hit points correctly, sort of. Connecting Wild Shape to running out of temporary hit points is a common enough mistake that seeing it done on purpose puts my teeth on edge.
- The feature is complicated but basically okay, as such. I’m not sure why you’d use the special melee/ranged attack if you had just about any other option – it needs a scaling function in the vein of Extra Attack or cantrip scaling. I take it that the main intent of arbiter form is giving druids a much more damage-resistant caster form.
- Mainly I’m dissatisfied with its aesthetic and narrative, which… I mean, if Keith says it’s okay for Eberron, then I guess we’re good. It just seems like a crypto-angelic peg in a square hole to me.
- Hated Foe at 6th level grants a bonus equal to half your druid level to weapon and spell attack rolls against two creature types. The creature types are determined by your druidic order – so it’s unfortunate that the new orders listed 3 pages earlier aren’t options here.
- To be blunt, this feature isn’t a great idea for the same reason that a ranger’s Favored Enemy doesn’t grant a damage bonus: it’s by no means guaranteed that you’ll see any of those creatures often enough for this to be fun. Also, the Greensingers get beasts and fey. I’m betting beasts and fey drop to near-zero in encounter frequency and actual threats in most campaigns after… let’s say 8th level, maybe 10th.
- Elder Gifts at 10th level is another choice from a list of five options. It’s even clearer here that each feature aligns with one of the five main druidic orders.
- Ashes to Arbiter lets you counter a spell and shift into arbiter form as a reaction. I’m not actually clear on whether this costs 1 Wild Shape use or 3, because “additional” is ambiguous in context. This is certainly useful, in any case.
- Chillbane grants immunity to poison (boo) and disease (more boo), resistance to cold, and tolerance for cold environmental conditions.
- Gates of Mind grants immunity to psychic damage (boo) and resistance to force damage.
- Singer’s Haunt grants proficiency in Charisma saves, and immunity to charmed, frightened, and effects that put you to sleep. Thumbs down for all immunities, especially ones that just block off whole encounter mechanics.
- Warden’s Last Stand lets you drop to 1 rather than 0, when you would be knocked out. It’s half-orc Relentless Endurance.
- This is a collection of powerful defensive features, and I dislike most of them because I’m just not here for player-side always-on immunities.
- All Paths at 14th level adds plane shift to your list of prepared spells, and gives you one free casting of it each day. Also, while you are Wild Shaped (arbiter form or otherwise), you can see 30 ft. into the Ethereal Plane. This feature is inoffensive – nice when it’s useful, but don’t expect too much.
- Arborescent Omen at 14th level finishes off this subclass with another choice from five different options.
- Bound to Unravel adds your proficiency bonus to your melee damage when you attack a creature concentrating on a spell. So it’s a modest damage bonus, for a type of attack you mostly don’t prefer (some exception for arbiter form, but… only so much), in a situation that doesn’t come up all that often? Well, okay, glad that’s sorted. I can say from recent experience that this is the kind of feature I would write in the first draft of a subclass, only to have Colin say exactly the same thing to me during critique.
- Contagious Chill adds contagion to your spell prep list, and once per day you can spend Hit Dice up to your Con modifier to increase the save DC by the number of dice you spend. That’s… not a very good bet, overall, in part because contagion is so hard to use well in 5e. Also, bounded accuracy means you’re not easily going to push the DC out of reach unless you have 20 Wis and 20 Con.
- Gates of Wrath lets you banish a Hated Foe when you reduce them to 50 hit points or fewer, at the cost of a Wild Shape use. Banishing a creature late in the fight is a lot less exciting (and less abusable – same thing) than banishing them early on.
- Song of Madness adds crown of madness (I have opinions about this spell, y’all) to their prepared spells, and gives them a 1/day upgraded version: instead of targeting one creature, it targets “all humanoids within 30 feet that can hear or see you.” Okay, increasing the number of targets is good, though not being able to avoid targeting your allies is weird on something like this. (In fairness, you can assign them to attack someone they want to attack anyway.) This is, then, less bad than bog-standard crown of badness, but it’s still less effective than hold person.
- Fell Sacrifice lets you burn Hit Dice and take damage to create a damage kicker equal to your druid level for your Wild Shape attacks. I get that this design team loves sacrificing HD for other effects, but I’m surprised they didn’t look to Overchannel or paladin smites as their model here.
- On the whole, then, Fell Sacrifice is useful and strong (if costly), but the rest of the feature options are lacking in one way or another.
The concept here is a roll-your-own druid subclass that unifies and represents the druidic orders the same way the Sovereign domain unifies and represents pantheon clerics of the Sovereign Host. It’s making some jarring aesthetic choices alongside several underwhelming mechanical choices, and one strong feature that just does things I wish subclasses wouldn’t do.
The flavor text is Grand Central Station for story seeds, which is not surprising with that whole two-years-after-the-Last-War thing. We get two fighter subclasses, rather than one. First, the Bone Knight – I recall its days as a 3.5 prestige class, and I’m excited to see its new coat of paint. Bones. Whatever. It’s not just Karrn – it’s Karrnasti!
- Spellcasting – they’re Eldritch Knights but with clerical necromancy and transmutation rather than wizardly abjuration and evocation. Wisdom is the Bone Knight spellcasting stat.
- Let me just say, forkin’ finally. This has been money left on the table up to this moment. Now bring me further EK recombinations to consider (and set them apart by making the rest of their features great).
- Ivory Legionnaire gives you not one but two companion NPCs, a skeletal warhorse and a skeleton. Your skeleton also gets a sweet upgrade at 10th level, becoming a dread protector.
- Interesting idea here. No complaints – it’s probably useful about as often as Weapon Bond, maybe a little more. Your skeleton buddy does make you a pet class, but without more aggressive scaling functions before 10th level, there are big stretches of the game where it’s a one-hit kill for many opponents.
- Bonecraft at 7th level lets you make bone armor (AC 11 + Con modifier + proficiency bonus) or a bone weapon (only useful if you don’t have a magic weapon on hand, or need to change damage types unexpectedly). This is pretty neat; assuming you can scrape up a good Con score, it becomes insanely powerful, and carries none of the mechanical drawbacks of heavy armor, or the heavier-side-of-medium armor. It should probably at least have a weight.
- Master of the Ivory Banner at 10th level improves your Second Wind by adding your proficiency bonus to it, and grants your Second Wind result as temporary hit points to your undead buddies. I like the way this feature supports your pet-skeleton gameplay.
- Death Strike at 15th level grants something sort of like paladin smiting, but 1d10 per spell level rather than 2d8 + 1d8 per additional spell level. And, of course, you have fewer spell slots than a paladin. Still, I think this is a good and important feature to have, and it would be really nice to have seen something like this in Eldritch Knight.
- Grim Conscription at 18th level lets you control undead, of a total Challenge Rating equal to your level. Seizing control of an enemy necromancer’s animated legions and beating him to death with them is a very classy move. The undead you’re trying to control get a saving throw; intelligent undead roll with advantage. This seems like a fun feature, all around.
I’m a fan of what I see in the Bone Knight. It could use another style-guide editing pass, but that’s more about looks than function so I don’t care all that much about it. Also, it does carve out a distinct concept and set of mechanics from the Oathbreaker paladin.
The second fighter archetype is the Vigilante. Its concept is “two-fisted crime-fighting hero,” I think? But let’s find out.
- Bonus Proficiency grants one extra skill proficiency, chosen from Insight, investigation, or Perception.
- Tough as Nails lets you go without armor; you can calculate AC as 10 + Con modifier + proficiency bonus. It also grants an extra hit point per level.
- Granting “armor” that doesn’t reference Dexterity on the justification of “you’re super tough, like you probably even lift” is a considerable distance from the rest of what we see in D&D. This is straight-up better than a barbarian’s Unarmored Defense, unless the barbarian’s Dex is improbably high or the Vigilante neglects Con. I’m suffering some cognitive dissonance on this feature. Eberron kind of lives in the aesthetic friction between D&D fantasy and 20th-century pulp and noir. This feature wants to push hard toward the unarmored heroes of the latter category, and breaking away from D&D’s assumptions can’t help but look weird.
- Vital Pursuits (still 3rd-level features here) lets you sacrifice a HD for various things, 2/day – Int/Wis/Cha checks and saves, bonuses to weapon damage, and imposing disadvantage on attempts to discern your intent. You spend the HD, roll it, and suffer damage equal to the result. These effects last several minutes, and use your Concentration during that time. That’s especially regrettable for the damage bonus.
- Using HD sacrifice here makes little sense to me – at least with Int/Wis/Cha checks and saves, I can kind of see that you’re drinking too much coffee or drugs or whatever to get to the bottom of this case. I’m tired of seeing HD sacrifice used in so many subclasses at this point, and HD sacrifice + suffering damage is too much risk and healing demand to me.
- Prepared for Anything at 7th level grants an extra saving throw proficiency of your choice, which you can reassign after any short or long rest. Sure, whatever.
- Vigilant Heart at 10th level grants advantage on Con saves to maintain Concentration. That’s fairly niche, even when it’s a core part of this class’s function.
- Tireless Pursuits at 15th level is the currency fixer for Vital Pursuits – if you’re out, regain one use when you roll initiative.
- Vigilant Opportunist at 18th level lets you make an opportunity attack on every creature’s turn, except your own. You can’t double it up with your normal reaction. Uh, good heavens. Especially with Sentinel, this is completely over-the-top. Most rounds, it won’t result in the fighter getting 5+ extra attacks, but when it does, it’s a bad time. I’m not convinced that this has much to do with the rest of the archetype.
In short, I don’t like what the Vigilante is doing. I do want to see a subclass that makes an unarmored fighter competitive (ahem, not just a barbarian multiclass). This isn’t it: the HD and hit point sacrifice are double-dipping on cost in an unpredictable way. As a result, it’s very hard to make good decisions about when to use your primary subclass feature. I see this as the self-destructive cop: barely sleeping, working 16-hour days, staggering drunk most of the time, and so on, all so they can bring their spouse’s murderer to justice. This subclass is a loose cannon, and I want its gun and its badge.
That’s it for this week. I’m already past 4,000 words, with plenty of subclasses and other content left to go! When all is said and done I’ll offer a X-out-of-10 rating for the book. I haven’t read ahead at all, so I don’t yet have an overall opinion. Thus far, though, the flavor text is incredibly good, even as worldbuilding inspiration for non-Eberron campaigns, while the subclass mechanics are hit-or-miss. I really like the Bone Knight, and the core concepts of the Sovereign domain and Extreme Explorer speak to me.