Last week, I started in on a breakdown and review of Morgrave Miscellany by Keith Baker and Ruty Rutenberg, covering the first handful of subclasses. Today I’m picking up where I left off, at the beginning of the Monk section.
Barbarian – Fighter | Monk – Wizard
As usual, the flavor text explaining how each subclass fits into Eberron is straight-up great – I don’t know how else to put it. I particularly like the warforged monk Living Weapon concept, though I’d personally tweak the implementation to de-emphasize or recontextualize high Wisdom scores. You know what, I’m getting off-topic.
The new monk subclass is the Way of the Argent Fist. Its flavor text sounds like the Sun Soul, with healing bolted on. (There are some meaningful editing errors in this subclass, out of character with the rest of the document.)
- Balm of the Flame is more or less Lay on Hands, except that the action of healing also costs 1 ki point, the pool of hit points is (level * Wisdom modifier) rather than (level * 5), and at 11th level you can purge the charmed and frightened conditions rather than disease and poison.
- The ki cost is particularly rough because you need this feature most later in a fight. You may even need to heal multiple characters, which means saving multiple points. At minimum, I think this subclass needs to receive spare the dying, just so you’re less likely to have companions bleed out because you spent your last ki point in the fight. Maybe more ideally… drop the ki point cost, it isn’t necessary for game balance or narrative, and it significantly hinders their gameplay.
- Seeker (of?) the Light lets you turn all fiends, monstrosities, and undead (as clerics turn undead) within 30 feet when you land a Flurry of Blows attack, 1/long rest, or 2/long rest after 11th level. The narrative is a little odd, but maybe your punch is named (Silver) Fire on the Mountain.
- Wrath of the Argent at 6th level lets you spend ki for a 1-minute radiant damage bonus with monk weapons and unarmed attacks. 2 ki points gets you +1d4 radiant, or +2d4 radiant vs. fiends, monstrosities, and undead. At 17th level, you can spend 4 ki points for +2d4/+4d4. Starting this up doesn’t seem to cost an action. This seems pretty solid to me.
- Bound by Faith at 11th level grants an alternate Stunning Strike option: instead of 1 ki to try to stun, you can spend 5 ki to try to paralyze, if the target is a fiend, monstrosity, or undead. Staking 5 ki on the target failing that Con save is not a good bet, unless you have a Diviner in the party to rig the odds. 5 ki is most of a short rest’s allotment at 11th level, and it’s still a huge bite at 20th.
- Radiant Embrace at 17th level is sort of like the transformations that paladin subclasses get at 20th In this case, it makes you a light source, grants you regeneration, and improves your crit chance (with further improvement if you’re fighting fiends, monstrosities, or undead). Lasts for a minute, 1/long rest.
- This is the boss-fighting, Super Saiyan deal. It’s basically fine; the expanded crit range combines very nicely with Wrath of the Argent. (Wrath of the Argent also combines exceptionally well with Bound by Faith, because attackers within 5 feet auto-crit on paralyzed targets.)
To recap, the worst I can say of this is that I think some features cost too many ki points (this is a common issue in monk subclass design). Otherwise, it’s on message for the Silver Flame, and should be fun to play. It’s my second-favorite subclass so far in this book.
The discussion of paladins of non-obvious faiths, and non-theistic paladins, is a great read. There are some really messed-up, compelling character concepts on offer. Then there’s the new subclass, the Oath of Sacrament, for paladins of the Blood of Vol. Oh yeah, I’m sure it’s fine.
- The Oath Spells are all about being creepy necromantic knights. Yes, I like WoW death knights just fine, thanks!
- Sacrament of Blood is your first Channel Divinity option. Spend Hit Dice, up to your proficiency bonus, and roll them. Allies within 30 ft get the result as healing, while undead in that area take the result as force damage. Well, that’s potent! Unlike several of the other HD sacrifice features from other subclasses, making good tactical choices with this feature is fairly self-evident.
- Turn the Suffering is your other Channel Divinity option. It takes an effect on you that grants a save at the end of each of your turns, purges it from you, and pushes it to each creature within 10 feet (no exceptions for allies). The effect takes on a new duration: a number of rounds equal to your Charisma modifier.
- This isn’t a situation you can really count on, but oh man, when it comes up, it’s going to be super satisfying. That new duration is a bad look, though – 5e has worked really really hard to keep us from ever tracking multi-round durations of less than a minute.
- Aura of Inner Strength at 7th level applies your Cha modifier to the Strength and Con ability checks of your allies within 10 feet (later, 30 feet). This is… nice to have, but not particularly impressive except for making grappling-focused characters still more dominating. (I don’t think there are any established reasons to roll a Con check rather than a Con save?)
- Godless Dogma at 15th level improves your saving throws against necrotic and radiant effects, and grants necrotic and radiant resistance. It’s a good presentation of the Blood of Vol’s inner-power story, sure.
- Absolution at 20th level lets you sacrifice Hit Dice when you cast a spell that heals or damages a creature, adding the Hit Dice to your spell’s throughput. As with Sacrament of Blood, the clarity of expected outcomes here is good, but even at 20th level you can’t do this often, or even day after day.
I have a few quibbles, but overall this is a cool subclass that presents one of the most sinister character concepts I’d personally consider playing in an Eberron campaign. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with playing a Blood of Vol paladin as Oath of Vengeance. It’s only wrong if you wear an orange jersey while you do it. (Bam, college sports joke, I am on fire.)
You know, there’s just no way to talk about rangers without things getting contentious. The flavor text here is mostly fine, but for two things. One, Morgrave Miscellany introduces two new terrain types that rangers can pick with Natural Explorer: urban and unnatural. That would be fine, except now rangers start with 1 out of 10 terrains and can eventually grow to 3 out of 10, rather than the (also surprisingly poor) 1/8 to 3/8. Adding more terrain types, rather than filing unusual or developed terrains under one of the eight existing types, weakens a feature that really doesn’t need weakening.
Secondly, the text on Valenar elves (who are Medium creatures just like all elves) suggests that Valenar rangers are often Beast Masters who have their horses as their beast companions. What a great idea! You have to call that out as a rules change, because otherwise it just looks like the text doesn’t understand that horses are Large creatures and thus explicitly barred from being beast companions. This is a very good change to make and (breathe, Brandes) you should all embrace it, because it’s ill-considered for only Small rangers to get to ride their beast companions. Once you make that change, rangers become ideal light or medium cavalry, while paladins and fighters remain the go-to classes for heavy cavalry. Just… don’t write it like you think that’s D&D’s default.
Okay, I got that off my chest. The new subclass is the Field Marshal. I’m not particularly well-informed on military matters, but the description of this subclass is… not similar to what we usually mean by “field marshal” in the real world. This is a guerrilla-warfare tactician, not the senior-most officer of the army or the Master of Horse. In some times and places, at least, the title has meant something as lowly as a brigade command position (a mere 1,000-5,000 soldiers).
Did I just wake up salty today? Let’s not rule that out.
- Field Marshal Magic grants a new spell known at each spell level, as we see in XGTE. (Dan Dillon is very right that this benefit should be back-filled to Player’s Handbook rangers.) I’m not sure what story the text is telling with these spell choices.
- Armored Infiltration removes disadvantage on Stealth checks while wearing armor – the medium-heavy and actually-heavy armor drawback. It’s one piece of the Medium Armor Mastery feat, and I’m glad to see it here (because it shows that I’m not the only one interested in granting that benefit). That said, it’s still not fully useful unless you’re a) a Strength ranger or b) honestly not going to climb to 20 Dex.
- Tactical Aggression adds a damage kicker, equal to your proficiency bonus, that your allies can use. It’s a bonus action to start (rangers and bonus actions, oof) and only adds to damage the first time someone hits that target in a round. “The first time each round” is not great formal rules language for timing, but that’s okay. Good leader-type feature, anyway.
- Redeployment at 7th level lets you sacrifice an attack within the Attack action to let your buddies spend a reaction and move up to half their speed without provoking opportunity attacks. It’s a pretty standard warlord feature concept, and I would have been surprised not to see it here.
- Overwatch at 11th level is a very hard push toward archery rather than melee. When an enemy declares an attack (for more on this, read up on reaction timing) but before they roll the attack, you can attack them, and if you hit, they roll their attack with disadvantage. You get a limited number of uses of this, but it’s incredibly good, so that’s okay.
- It’s also your 11th-level damage boost. Every ranger subclass should get some kind of damage boost at 11th level to cover for the fact that they don’t get Extra Attack 2. This is a solid version of that, though I might have tried a smaller number of uses per short rest rather than a greater number per long. A steady improvement to DPS, it ain’t.
- Tactical Coordination at 15th level turns Tactical Aggression from per-round to per-turn, which is a huge boost. You also get to assign an AC bonus equal to half your proficiency bonus to one adjacent creature, until the start of your next turn.
I’ve wanted to see a ranger-based warlord for quite some time, and I like what this one does. The great thing about Tactical Aggression is how reliably that damage is going to get dealt each round – even more reliably than hunter’s mark. It’s probably my favorite subclass for presenting Aragorn that I’ve seen to date.
Probably no class needs explaining for how it fits into a pulp + noir setting than the rogue, but that’s not a knock on the text here.
Just as much of this book has focused on applying various classes to the Silver Flame, the rogue subclass is the Divine Herald, who is sneaky and stabby for faith. (I wrote my own version of such a concept in Harbinger of Doom some years ago. That design looks very… first-draft now.)
- Divine Herald Spellcasting works exactly like you’d think it would. They’re 1/3rd casters, just like Eldritch Knights, Arcane Tricksters, and Bone Knights, pulling from the cleric spell list. They have Spells Known, starting with 3 and scaling to 13. Wisdom is the casting stat.
- Harbinger of Faith turns your Sneak Attack bonus damage to radiant (good or neutral gods) or necrotic (evil gods). You can also impose disadvantage on your target’s next roll, if they fail a Wisdom save, a number of times per day equal to your Wisdom modifier. This is pretty cool, but as long as you have a magic weapon, the damage flavor is mostly power-neutral. Creating even 1-2 missed attacks a day is a nice benefit.
- Dogma Votary gives you proficiency and expertise in History and Religion when recalling information about gods or their worshipers. When this comes up, you’ll feel good about it.
- Guise of the Believer at 9th level lets you masquerade as a member of another faith very effectively. Basically, you’re an assassin who has a particular code or creed, and easily blends in with groups of robed monks. You gain advantage on the Charisma (Deception) check for this, and your observer rolls against you with disadvantage.
- Corsair of Penance at 13th level is a feature name that has nothing to do with its effect. It’s a self-heal using HD, when you drop to 0 hit points, if you pass a DC 10 Wisdom save. You can do this 1/long rest. I’m fine with it as a feature, but I’m not sure I believe there are pirates in the penance race this year.
- Last Rites at 17th level lets you Sneak Attack any target that is below its maximum hit points. In a sense, it’s the opposite of an Assassin: they open fights with a huge critical Sneak Attack, you close them by always getting your extra damage after someone else has hit them with a magic missile or something. Anyway, this is a very strong feature, but I’m fine with it.
My only issue with this subclass none of its features after the initial spellcasting feature touch on their spells in any way. I get that there are a lot of things about being, in essence, a holy slayer that the text has to cover, but it feels like a strange absence in comparison to the other 1/3rd casters. Otherwise, it’s a concept that I love – a rogue who can heal and also has some sort of principles. Would play.
It’s unreasonably difficult to say much of great interest about sorcerers, but the flavor text here manages it.
The new sorcerous origin is the Progenitor Spark – you trace your power back to the entities Eberron, Khyber, or Siberys. It’s a strong start on getting my interest.
- Arcane Birthright grants proficiency and expertise in Arcana and Nature. That’s… a lot.
- 5e design folks, we need to have a hard talk. It’s about the proliferation of expertise features, especially for classes that aren’t bards or rogues. First, it skews the bounded accuracy functions of skill checks. It matters in 5e that DC 15 stays at least possible to fail into the late game for most characters. We don’t want to get back to the 3.x sense of inflating DCs just to make sure the rolls have some tension to them.
- Second, it eclipses characters who should be as good at that skill as the character with expertise, just in terms of character concept. This is because early releases treated expertise as an exclusive deal, while later releases toss it around with the same frequency as you might expect from simply granting proficiency.
- Shape of Creation has to be one of the boldest features I’ve seen in awhile. You, uh. You make a new person out of common materials, and give them the gift of life and essence. At base, it’s a commoner, but you can improve the stats by investing sorcery points. It would take a huge investment to get to “fully viable combat pet,” but if you’re looking to play a sorcerer as a pet class, here you go. Its action economy seems to be entirely separate from yours, which is a big deal.
- Cradle of Life at 6th level grants saving throw advantage and universal damage resistance to you and allies within 10 feet whenever you cast a spell of 1st level or higher, until the start of your next turn. This is staggeringly powerful, as long as you’re standing close to your melee buddies.
- Thirst for Magic at 14th level lets you convert spell points into spell knowledge – for spells from any class’s list. This is also incredibly good – even with the limit of 5th level or lower, raise dead is within reach if you want.
- Gift of Progeny at 18th level grants knowledge of simulacrum, and improves it for you a bit – you can spend 10 sorcery points to cast a variant that doesn’t have an expensive material component. The simulacrum also has reduced stats from this standard simulacrum, but saving 1,500 gp is nothing to sneeze at. I know there are big abuses possible with simulacrum, but I’ve never dug into them.
I obviously haven’t seen this in play, but on its face I would say that the Progenitor Spark looks incredibly overpowered. Toning down Cradle of Life or Thirst for Magic would help. If it has a problem, its options pull it in so many different directions – three major features that cost lots of spell points, plus one that pushes you to cast spells every round.
We get a new Pact and new Eldritch Invocations here, but no Patron. The flavor text, of course, is all about specific names and personalities for patrons, as you’d hope.
The Pact of the Host is all about having a creepy symbiont for which you are the host body. You know, like if Curzon Dax were written by H.P. Lovecraft? (Like hell would he have written Jadzia Dax or Ezri Dax.) Anyway, most pacts take 1-3 short paragraphs to explain. This… is the other kind.
The short version of this is that when you drop below half your maximum hit points, you can shift into a melee murder machine, but it shuts off your spellcasting and concentration. You are, in short, a horrible monster; the mechanics for your self-control are specific and distressing. Getting knocked out while in symbiont form is very bad for you (two levels of exhaustion), and will probably end your adventuring day even if you’re healed. That’s difficult, because the transformation that you undertake at half health doesn’t restore hit points until you spend a whole round consuming an enemy. I’d just say that giving it Extra Attack (automatically or as an Eldritch Invocation) would go a long way toward making this tactically sound.
I think it should be an exciting gameplay experience, if different enough from normal warlock play that it may not synergize the very best. Still, I enjoyed several Manhattan-eating parts of Prototype, so I can see how this could be fun.
The Eldritch Invocations all relate to the Pact of the Host. I’m not going into each one. They’re flavorful and look well-designed. The one to let you grow a whip tail and attack with it as a bonus action is a great visual, but it’s a poor patch on the Extra Attack that the Pact still needs.
Really, though, haven’t you wanted to be the one to tell the enemy boss, “This is not my final form!”?
The new Tradition is the School of Antiquities. That’s a promising name, and the flavor text says it’s going to be all about deep academia. Yes, okay, go on…
- Antiquated Studies grants History and Religion proficiency. Sure, no problem. No expertise, you say?
- Aftermath lets you add your proficiency bonus to any cantrip damage that targets a single creature. That’s a very potent feature – its effect is diluted as you advance, but it always amounts to another die or two of damage.
- Empire of Secrets at 6th level is an information-gathering feature – you pick a creature type or a humanoid subtype, and gain advantage on checks to know about related cultures and how they died horribly. You also learn their language. This feature doesn’t do a lot in itself, but later features hook into your choice. You choose a second type at 10th and a third at 14th.
- Personal Prophecy at 10th level is an odd concept for a feature. You’re permanently under the effect of an alarm; the text says it “emanates from you in a 20-foot cube,” which is a strange choice and harder to judge as a phrasing. This is why “emanates” is usually paired with a spherical radius. Anyway, creatures covered by your Empire of Secrets feature have disadvantage to attack you while they’re in the cubic area, and they can’t charm, frighten, or possess you. In effect that makes it a lot like a protection from evil and good, but against types you get to choose.
- It’s a big defensive feature if you’re encountering your favored enemies a lot, but it’s also a reminder of having a lot of type-locked class features is an issue. (Playing a dragon-studying Antiquarian through Tyranny of Dragons, or a giant-studying Antiquarian through Storm King’s Thunder, would be both very powerful and a fun character perspective.)
- Surveyor of Ruin at 14th level is another information-gathering feature, with one list of options against all creatures and a deeper list for creature types on your Empire of Secrets list. It’s cool, useful information; also, your Aftermath damage bonus doubles against your Empire of Secrets types.
- My one issue is that the feature says “Divination magic can’t hide this information from you,” and all I can think is, “Of course not, Divination doesn’t do that. You’re thinking of Abjuration or Illusion, maybe even Transmutation.”
Overall, this looks playable, but highly situational. You’re not getting your big cool benefits against far more creature types than you are, so it just depends on how well you’ve predicted the direction of the campaign or gotten your DM to focus the story on those creature types. Yes, of course, good DMs look at Empire of Secrets and similar features as an expression of your interest in doing that thing. As much as anything, you need to talk to the other players at the table and make sure you’re not all picking different creature types, dragging the DM in a dozen different directions. Unless, of course, you’re just going for broad coverage, so that there’s a party specialist for any type of foe.
That’s it for Part Two. Part One had left me feeling a little down on the book’s mechanics. Part Two has course-corrected to a large degree. There are still minor concerns, but the subclasses I’ve covered here are much tighter. The book could use another editing pass to suit the general WotC style guide for content. I don’t want to overstate the importance of that level of polish, especially when you don’t have WotC’s budget, but still. Knowing how exacting the fanbase can be, I wouldn’t want to see the book get slagged for that. (I’m aware that I’m arguing a point I’ve just said I don’t care about.)
At this point I’ve covered just over half the book; I think two more articles should There’s still an enormous amount of rules crunch left, as there are new races and subraces (I’m particularly excited about Eberron tiefling variants), an alternate approach to dragonmarks, new weapons, and so on. So. Many. Feats. (And that’s not a complaint, in this case, they’re exploring some incredibly cool concepts.)