UA on a two-week cycle, you say? Don’t mind if I do. This time out, we complete a cycle through all of the Player’s Handbook classes with the fighter, ranger, and rogue. Let’s see where this takes us…
Rune Knight Fighter Archetype
Here’s another fine example of “you had me at [$subclass name]. Yes, sure, I’ll still study it with a critical eye, but Rune Knight is one of those things I am all about getting to call my character (and mean it). The concept here is more giant-oriented than the default “rune knight,” but maybe that’s just me having played FFVI recently. In D&D, of course, runes have been closely associated with giants for decades of canon.
It’s been a long while, but one of the long-ago UAs offered us a Rune Scribe prestige class for 5e, testing the waters for a whole approach to prestige classes. It didn’t go over well.
- Bonus Proficiencies grant you a working knowledge of smith’s tools and how to read, write, and speak Giant. I’m intrigued that they’d take a smithing angle and call them Rune Knights rather than Rune Smiths, but that doesn’t even rise to the level of a quibble.
- Rune Magic is a big, text-intensive feature, in the same way that Combat Superiority and all of the Maneuvers are text-intensive. In short, you pick two of the six runes to learn, and at the end of a long rest, you can inscribe two runes. Those runes go on weapons, shields, or armor. You can’t use the same rune twice or inscribe the same item twice. Intelligence is your casting stat, which is… okay, not the best for many fighters. (But maybe they won’t be all that saving-throw-intensive?)
- Haug (Hill) gives you resistance to poison damage and advantage on poison saves, and 1/short rest, you can gain resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage for 1 minute. Baseline passives + invoke effects are cool. No matter how good the other invokes are, though, I don’t know that there’s any way to not pick up resistance to B/P/S damage for one fight per short rest.
- Ild (Fire) doubles your proficiency bonus on ability checks made using a tool. So congratulations, you can be the party’s traps rogue? That’s unexpected but neat. It’s presumably not part of the creator’s inspiration, but I’m definitely put in mind of the runethane from Arcana Evolved. (But without the incredibly clunky playstyle of the runethane.) The invoke effect hits your target with fiery shackles that burn and restrain them. Well that’s obviously amazing.
- Ise (Frost) grants advantage on Animal Handling and Intimidation checks, and you can invoke it to increase your Strength score by 2 for 10 minutes. Whuh… no. With all love, no. God of mercies, save us from regular-use features that change ability scores and then fade. No.
- Skye (Cloud) grants advantage on Sleight of Hand and Deception checks. Unfortunately, advantage still won’t be enough to make these desirable skills (and they certainly aren’t class skills) for most fighters. The invoke effect lets you turn a hit against you or a nearby creature into an attack using the same roll against another nearby creature other than the original attacker. I guess you’re saving this to redirect the first crit that your party would suffer?
- Stein (Stone) grants advantage on Insight, and 60-ft or +30-ft darkvision. Non-proficiency with Insight feels less bad than non-proficiency with Sleight of Hand and Deception because it’s more… defensive, I guess you’d say. You haven’t committed to a risky action when you use it. The invoke effect lets you charm one creature into incapacitation – a very strong crowd-control effect. This is definitely saving-throw-intensive stuff.
- Uvar (Storm) grants advantage on Arcana checks, and you can’t be surprised unless you’re incapacitated. Invoking the rune lets you, for the next minute, spend a reaction to give any d20 roll within 60 feet advantage or disadvantage. That’s pretty strong, though declaring it before the roll makes it tough to decide the right time to use it.
- Overall, I like what the runes are doing, though I think the passive effects are a bit uneven in usefulness to a fighter, and Ise’s invoke effect is something I thought we just didn’t do in 5e.
- Giant Might (still at 3rd level) lets you hulk out for 1 minute as a bonus action, twice per long rest. You grow to Large, gain advantage on Strength checks and saves, and deal +1d6 damage. Sure, I like enlarge with a better damage die.
- Defensive Runes at 7th level teaches you another rune, and you can boost an ally’s AC by 1 + your Int modifier, potentially converting a hit to a miss, as a reaction. That’s a super strong tanking/leader feature, but the fiction is getting squishy here. How do the runes on your gear protect an ally up to 60 feet away…?
- Great Stature at 10th level makes you grow a few inches, your Giant Might damage die increases to d8, and you learn your fourth rune.
- Rune Magic Mastery at 15th level teaches you a fifth rune, and you get a second invoke per rune. That jumps you up to 10 bennies floating around per short rest, considerably surpassing the Battle Master’s Combat Superiority. They aren’t incredibly strong effects individually, but I think there’s a lot of room to argue that they’re stronger than Maneuvers.
- Blessing of the All Father at 18th level lets you share Giant’s Might with a buddy when you use it.
Overall, this looks incredibly strong to me. They have a lot of features to activate, sometimes taxing their action economy and sometimes not. I mean, yes, it is beyond question that this would be crazy fun to play. I have issues with some of the runes, as shown above. It surprises me, to some degree, that runes have the same effect whether they’re on your weapon, armor, or shield.
For Defensive Runes – look, I get that this is a weird complaint. There are plenty of times in 5e that you just… get to boost an ally’s AC. The thing is, the whole concept of rune magic is a tight connection between the signifier (rune), the signified (a word with meaning), and the target of the effect. This weakens that connection, without further explanation. Other kinds of magic don’t dwell on that connection nearly as much.
My favorite thing about the subclass, now that I’ve read the whole thing, is that a non-giant can jump into the deep end of giantish lore. If you want more player-side giant content, written by me and edited by Dan Dillon, check out In the Company of Giants.
Swarmkeeper Ranger Archetype
This subclass is drawing a lot buzz so far. It’s all about th… OH NO BEES!
Okay, I’m back. It’s time we had a talk about the birds and the bees. It’s a very stylish class, or as the kids say these days, it is On Flock. If you’ve listened to the first season of The Magnus Archives, you know that this is Jane Prentiss. Excuse me, sir, do you have a moment to talk about our lord and savior, The Corruption?
In theory, you have not actual bees tucked into your sleeves or whatever, but a bunch of teensy-tiny fey spirits. It would be weird and messy to think about the stats of each creature type, or that creature’s ability to survive at all in your current environment.
For serious, if you have phobias related to insects or swarming, this is going to mess with you real bad. I issued this warning for infestation back when it came out, and I’m issuing it again – Rabbit, darling, if you’re reading this, you should strongly consider skipping the rest of this subclass and moving straight down to the Revived Rogue Archetype header, below.
- Swarmkeeper Magic teaches you the mage hand cantrip, which looks like tiny nature spirits of whatever kind. You also learn additional spells (and thank goodness that bonus spells are now a standard feature of ranger subclasses). I like this list in particular because the insect/arachnid/swarming theme is strong.
- Oh jeez, I just realized that Linguini from Ratatouille is a Swarmkeeper ranger with rats.
- Or he’s Remy’s beast companion. Either way, it’s a ranger danger movie.
- Gathered Swarm is your core ability. When you hit with a weapon attack, your swarming spirits add 1d6 damage and move the target 5 feet toward or away from you. At 11th level, this becomes +2d6. The buff lasts for 1 minute, and you can use it a number of times per day equal to your Wisdom modifier. That limit to uses per day means that there’s either a ton of stat pressure (for campaigns with lots of encounters and rests per day) or very little (for campaigns with a small number of encounters per day), and that seems weird to me in itself. Usually there isn’t a ton of pressure on rangers to go big on Wisdom (because we mostly accept that ranger spells with saving throws aren’t great).
- Crows are an option for your swarm creature, so I’m almost sad this feature isn’t named Attempted Murder.
- Writhing Tide at 7th level is unsettling even to me, and I don’t have significant insect-related phobias. The swarming creatures help you move faster, climb, or fly short distances. This is an awesome, and unbelievably gross, feature.
- Oh jeez, I just realized that Mayor Humdinger from Paw Patrol is a Swarmkeeper ranger with cats.
- What? I have a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old.
- Scuttling Eyes at 11th level gives you a scouting power. You can send one individual of your swarm to go look around, once per long rest, and you can burn slots of 3rd level or higher for extra uses. I’m all about that mechanic for extra uses. Also, you can teleport to the spirit if you end the effect before its 1-hour duration. This still feels like it belongs in The Mummy – the thematic work is fantastic throughout this subclass.
- Storm of Minions at 15th level is the kind of feature name that just… ugh, Jesus, it’s great but also horrible wtf. But don’t worry! I have exactly the same reaction to the feature itself, which means the design is on point. You create a 10-ft-radius sphere of creatures that inflict modest (2d8) necrotic damage and blind the targets, unless they save. If the sphere deals damage, it also heals you a little. You can choose creatures not to be affected by it. 1/day, and you can burn a 4th level slot for more uses.
- Oh jeez, I just realized that Santa Claus is a Swarmkeeper ranger with eight Tiny reindeer.
This subclass chooses a series of highly cinematic moments and puts them in the player’s hands as horrible things that they can do to the DM’s poor, trauma-prone monsters. Won’t someone think of my monsters? The power level seems reasonable; at most I’d think about flipping Gathered Swarm to 1 or 2/short rest to avoid leaning on Wisdom.
Have a conversation with the other players in your group before you pick this subclass, though. Messing with someone’s phobias is Not Cool.
Revived Rogue Archetype
I’m always here for revenant character concepts. It’s odd to see this as a rogue subclass rather than… almost any other way of handling it, but okay. I am totally here for Death’s Little Helper or the Troubleshooting Psychopomp as character concepts. Since the flavor text suggests that you might be frequently reborn or resurrected, I can’t help but think of The Nameless One of Planescape: Torment…
- Tokens of Past Lives gives you a wildcard skill or tool proficiency that you can reassign as part of a long rest. Thumbs up.
- Revived Nature gives you undead-adjacent features but, thankfully, not the Undead type. You gain advantage on saves against poison and poison resistance, and you no longer need to eat, drink, breathe, or sleep. Your long rests are 4 hours of brooding.
- Bolts from the Grave is sort of a weird fit thematically to me, but it’s a backstop extra chance to deal your Sneak Attack damage each round – just as necrotic damage. It’s a ranged spell attack whenever you use your Cunning Action and haven’t used your Sneak Attack in the round, Dex is your spellcasting stat, and you deal damage equal to your Sneak Attack value + your Dex modifier.
- I’m intrigued by thinking about how dealing your Sneak Attack damage without having used your action in any way might create a new gameplay loop. The danger that I see here is that with 1 level of a spellcasting class or any other way of gaining an attack cantrip (Magic Initiate, Spell Sniper), this might be crazy good because the spell’s damage still scales with your rogue level. Bonus action to Dash, fire off a Bolt from the Grave, then fire bolt.
- Connect with the Dead at 9th level gives you a 1/short rest speak with dead that also gives you a random benefit from a d3 table. The random benefits aren’t amazingly powerful, but an extra saving throw proficiency of your choice 33% of the time isn’t too shabby.
- Audience with Death at 13th level is just ridiculously stylish. You gain advantage on death saves, and whenever you roll a death save, you can ask Death a yes/no question. This will absolutely lead to your buddies bleeding you for death saves during downtime, and that’s awesomely grim. Finally, you can change one personality feature each time you come back from 0 hit points.
- Ethereal Jaunt at 17th level adds a 30-foot teleport to your Cunning Action options – so functionally a Disengage + Dash + you can go through most walls that aren’t walls of force.
This is interesting in that Bolts from the Grave is the only “big” game effect before 17th level, so it’s clear that the game strongly expects you to use it to maximum advantage. I love what the subclass offers in other areas, but they’re modest in overall power. This looks like it would be a lot of fun to play thanks to its run-and-gun style. It pairs particularly well with a bow. I have friends who will lose their minds, in the best possible way, over a half-undead bow rogue concept.
This is a super stylish UA round. A lot of them are – we’re seeing rarer, bolder themes this time around, and I love it. I have some concerns about the power balance of this article’s subclasses. For example, compare the Rune Knight to the Arcane Archer – does the Arcane Archer stay competitive, with so many fewer uses of their Cool Thing per short rest? It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, so it’s harder to say.
The Rune Knight and the Revived are absolutely stories that I want to see in a game. I’m much more dubious about wanting the Swarmkeeper’s concept, because it’s just so gross, but maybe if they had some kind of Small But Vicious Dog…