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Unearthed Arcana: Barbarian and Monk Breakdown

A new UA article! On a Thursday? Don’t these monsters know that this does strange things to my writing schedule for the week?

They don’t?

Weird.

Anyway. Two new subclasses, one for barbarians and one for monks.

The Path of the Wild Soul

What if Wild Magic sorcery… but a barbarian? Makes sense to me – if you’re raging too much to control magic, let’s try some uncontrolled magic. The early flavor text mentions the Feywild, but that’s the only time it comes up.

  • Lingering Magic lets you cast detect magic and gain a cool whole-body particle effect, a number of times per day equal to your Con modifier.
  • Wild Surge gives you a random effect on a d8 table when you enter a rage. The effects range from fairly simple – imposing disadvantage on enemy attacks until the start of your next turn – to very involved – resolving the random movement of 1d4 spirits, which force saving throws when they explode. My concern is that your first round of actions in most fights is to grind the combat to a halt for a roll, table lookup, and one of more further rolls.
    • Any of these effects, if available consistently, could be the linchpin of an awesome opening tactical play. They want different things, though, so it’s much more about making the best of whatever weird power you get this
    • As with any Wild Magic mechanic, you’re absolutely going to spend time harming your teammates. Effects 1, 3, and 5 target “each creature” or alter terrain in a way that affects everyone. (I assume you can always find a direction to place a line for effect 8 that doesn’t hurt any allies.)
  • Magic Reserves at 6th level lets you take 5-20 force damage to restore a spell slot of a level equal to a 1d4 result. If there’s no slot at that level, they gain temporary hit points equal to the amount you lost. There’s no other limiter on this feature. It’s really interesting, except for the part where it turns healing spirit into unlimited spell restoration for slots up to 4th Starting at 14th level, you use a d6 instead of a d4. (This doesn’t improve matters, vis-à-vis healing spirit.)
  • Arcane Rebuke at 10th level lets you deal 3d6 force damage, as a reaction, whenever you are raging and a creature forces you to roll a save. That’s going to wind up doing less damage overall than the Berserker’s Retribution feature, probably, but it’s still incredibly good. Just don’t fail a saving throw against any form of action or reaction denial!
  • Chaotic Fury at 14th level lets you reroll your Wild Surge d8 as a bonus action. There’s nothing actually stopping you in the text from doing this once per round. Some of the Wild Surge effects are instant (1, 3, 6?, 8) while others are ongoing (2, 4, 5, 7) so… can you just keep fishing for your instant effects every round for the duration of the rage?

I like the theme that goes on here, but I think Magic Reserves and Chaotic Fury need some measure of limitation. Getting accidentally murdered by the barbarian is a problem in some teams and fine in others, so make sure you know which kind you’re in.

Way of the Astral Self

I’m all about doing cool astral-plane stuff with monks, as you can tell from both versions (one more than the other) of the Way of the Silver Chain monastic tradition that I wrote. The Way of the Astral Self has a completely different angle on the concept, though. This monk has an astral body that differs from their physical body, and there’s some kind of tension there. I don’t think it’s fair to critique the flavor text of UA articles, as a general statement. In this case, though, even the sidebar doesn’t do enough to help me understand what kind of stories you tell with this subclass.

  • Arms of the Astral Self does a bunch of things, all for 2 ki per 10 minutes. You gain two spectral arms that have 10-ft reach, use your Wisdom rather than Strength or Dexterity, deal your choice of radiant or necrotic damage, and make extra attacks as a bonus action. At 3rd level you get just one extra attack, scaling to 2 extra attacks at 11th level and 3 extra attacks(!) at 17th A fifth attack for monks, with only an up-front cost for ki, seems like a big deal to me. Also, you can use your Wisdom modifier in place of Strength for Strength checks and saves, while your extra arms are out.
  • Visage of the Astral Self at 6th level costs you 1 ki point, separately or in the same action as Arms of the Astral Self. It adds advantage on Wisdom (Insight) and Charisma (Intimidation) checks, and 120-ft darkvision that pierces magical darkness – so basically super-Devil’s Sight.
  • Awakening of the Astral Self at 11th level adds more effects when you’ve spent 3 ki for both Arms and Visage. You can Deflect acid, cold, fire, force, or lightning damage about the same as Deflecting Missiles. Empowered Arms lets you add another Martial Arts die to one damage roll of your spectral arms. Word of the Spirit gives you tight-beam or megaphone communications – you can decide to be heard by only one person within 30 feet, or everyone within 600 feet.
    • I’m assuming that the damage bonus for Empowered Arms is a nod to the fact that magic weapons are just about always a waste of your time – since you may not have invested in a good Strength or Dex score.
  • Complete Astral Self at 17th level lets you step your ki expenditure up to 10, getting an astral body to go along with your arms and face. (I get a weird Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots image in my head here. Is that just me?) Anyway, it gives you +2 AC and an extra attack when you use the Attack action (bringing you up to 3 attacks from the Attack action and 3 attacks on your bonus action). Finally, Ki Consumption lets you spend your reaction to harvest ki equal to your Wisdom modifier from creatures that die within 10 feet of you.

The Way of the Astral Self looks incredibly powerful to me, since it’s one of the only official or WotC-playtest monk releases we’ve ever seen that can steadily replenish ki throughout a fight. Sure, that’s only at high levels, but Arms of the Astral Self is powerful early as well. I haven’t crunched numbers to say that it’s too powerful. Six attacks per round and increasing the net cost to use your bonus action for anything but more attacks is not something I expected to see. I don’t see any way that wouldn’t slow down play quite a lot.

Having said that, monks are unusually hard to judge, because of the complexity in their round-by-round decision-making. Some of you may remember the first time we saw a Kensei in UA and, collectively, spent the rest of the day trying to work out the design intent for their weapon and unarmed attacks.

I think with a few stronger story hooks and a few tweaks to the features, I could be really into the Way of the Astral Self. It does a lot of things – if you take each of its four main features apart, you could say it has eleven features. That doesn’t matter, except that it’s a lot to manage on your character sheet.

Conclusion

There’s interesting stuff here, but what gets me most is trying to look past the Veil of Secrecy to guess what kind of product they presage. If these are for the same product – maybe a 5e Manual of the Planes?