UA: Class Feature Variants Breakdown, Part Two
Hey, have you already checked out the first article in this series? It’s full of (commentary on) great stuff like new Battle Master Maneuvers and new Fighting Styles and even, technically, a few things not mainly for fighters. No matter how much I treat this “second half” as if it’s an equal portion, though, I’m covering the big news here.
PS. If you’re one of the incredibly kind people who has talked on Twitter or elsewhere about how much you look forward to my breakdown articles, please know that you’re warming the cockles of my heart here. Thanks for reading.
Barbarian – Monk | Paladin – Wizard
Blessed Warrior is the new paladin-only fighting style option, though they can also choose the four new fighting styles I mentioned last time (not including Superior Technique). Blessed Warrior grants the paladin two cleric cantrips, which is definitely a way you could go.
Spellcasting: The paladin list gains seven new spells. Giving paladins spirit guardians is a hell of a choice, as it gives paladins some absolutely terrifying defender stickiness.
Channel Divinity; Harness Divine Power works the same here as it does for the cleric: burn your Channel Divinity to refresh a 1st-level spell slot. Sure, you don’t have as many CDs or spell slots as clerics do, but getting to reload a spell slot to smite with is never going to be a bad answer.
The Technically-Not-A-Revised Ranger
The ranger gets two and a half pages of variant material. Published on its own, we’d be calling it a fairly robust UA release!
Deft Explorer replaces Natural Explorer. Since Natural Explorer has always had the problem of doing nothing when you’re in any but your short list of terrain types (and many adventuring environments aren’t any of the terrain types), almost any alternative would be welcome. You pick one of these at 1st level, another at 6th, and the last at 10th.
- Canny gives you one skill proficiency plus expertise, chosen from a list of ten. For once, I’ll argue that granting expertise is simply appropriate: giving the rogue and bard expertise and leaving the ranger out says strange things about who gets to play competence porn and who doesn’t. Also, you pick up two more languages.
- Crocodile Dundee has Canny: Animal Handling, I take it.
- Roving increases your movement speed by 5 feet and gives you a climbing and swimming speed equal to your walking speed.
- Tireless charges you up with temporary hit points (1d10 + Wis, Wis modifier times per long rest), and you recover one level of exhaustion each time you finish a short rest. Uh, no one tell the Berserker, because class-dipping one level of ranger might be hilariously OP – especially if you’re not going into Tier-4 (17th-20th level) play.
Overall, this is a good answer to the issues of Natural Explorer to me, because it is broadly-applicable exploration-pillar material, but Tireless won’t survive the multiclassing editing step. Frenzied Rage going from 1/long rest to 1/short rest is simply untenable. This does drop a lot of the Stealth improvement and Survival improvement of Natural Explorer, so I’d like to see 2-3 more items in this menu.
Favored Foe replaces Favored Enemy. Everyone and their brother has noticed how Favored Enemy is not a combat feature. This gives you hunter’s mark and a few free castings (equal to your Wis modifier) per long rest and the free castings don’t require concentration. Even if you’re in a ranger build that doesn’t lean on hunter’s mark – Beast Master, f’rex, or any two-weapon-fighting ranger – this is probably a more consistent performer for you than Favored Enemy.
This change pushes forward to Foe Slayer, the underwhelming 20th-level ranger feature: any target of your hunter’s mark is now your Favored Enemy. Which means that Foe Slayer, which didn’t used to require any form of action, is now even worse for Beast Masters and two-weapon-fighting rangers and any ranger that needs their bonus actions for something else. (That’s a lot of rangers.)
Overall, then, this one feature is a great step forward for rangers, but it highlights further issues in the ranger class that this document doesn’t address.
Fighting Style Options gives rangers the four new general fighting styles of this document, just like what paladins got, and introduces Druidic Warrior, the ranger answer to Blessed Warrior. The druid cantrips are good and all, but if this is competing with Archery style, I’m not sure what you’re doing with your non-melee ranger, and shillelagh is probably not the answer to a melee ranger’s problems.
I’m incredibly excited to see Interception as an option for rangers, because I am Here For melee rangers as tanks – a semi-viable path for Hunters that just got substantially better. Ranger + pike or greatsword or axe & shield? Any of those work and I would play them.
Spellcasting: Rangers have been in an ugly place for spells since Day 1, and only XGTE’s subclasses start to address these things. Some of the additions here are odd to me, but they’re breaking down the wall of paladins being better spellcasting healers than rangers with revivify and greater restoration. To my eyes this is a deep-cut callback to 2e-era rangers, where the class was much closer to being the militant wing of the Druid Society.
I’m reasonably happy about the smites that show up here, because melee rangers just need help so badly in their spellcasting side. If you’ve read my “By Flame, Storm, and Thorn” supplement, you know I am way into rangers having Divine Smite parallels, because I like Paladin : Cleric :: Ranger : Druid, and because the paladin gameplay loop is just so. damn. good.
Adding dominate beast and awaken feels like addressing plain oversights. Glad to see these.
Spell Versatility lets rangers trade out one spell per long rest. Since I don’t know why 5e rangers are on Spells Known in the first place, I find this unobjectionable.
Spellcasting Focus lets rangers use druidic spellcasting foci. Sure, sounds good, probably should have been the case from Day 1.
Primal Awareness replaces Primeval Awareness – if you haven’t read Colin’s deep dive into that feature, do so now. Given Colin’s points, literally anything would be an improvement over the Player’s Handbook text. (Also, Favored Foe breaks Primeval Awareness.) On its own merits, this is a massive information-gathering and general spellcasting power boost for rangers. The class was always supposed to be the heavyweight of the exploration pillar of play, and now they’re getting there.
The real effect here is to give you seven more Spells Known and one free casting of each one per day. That’s a bit of bookkeeping burden, but… I can’t hate it.
Fade Away replaces the oft-maligned Hide in Plain Sight, delivering the sudden invisibility 1/short rest that I think a lot of readers hoped to get from a feature named Hide in Plain Sight. It loses some frequency of use and becomes more explicitly magical, which I’m sure rankles some users (hi, George!), but the dividends in usability at the pace of D&D combat are hard to argue with. I dig it.
Ranger Companion Options
Look, if this one section had been the whole article, I’d do 2,000 words on it and call it a triumph of a UA release. Nothing about the ranger has been half as divisive as the Beast Master subclass. As journeyman Wizard of the Coast Dan Dillon has argued early and often, there are several viable animal companions for Beast Masters – but the game also doesn’t help you find them, leading to an ugly system-mastery bottleneck.
This revision lets you assemble your beast’s mechanics, then describe what it looks like. Your beast won’t share a stat block with its Monster Manual self, but in version 1, your beast stopped sharing a stat block with its MM self as soon as you selected it, so whatever. Now at least the mechanics do what they should.
What happens is that you choose either a Beast of the Air or a Beast of the Earth. Beasts of the Air are small flying beasts with d6 HD (HD are for recovering during a rest, not determining hp). They’re faster and gain Flyby (which is huge). Their better Dex gets them slightly more AC and damage.
Beasts of the Earth are medium beasts that can either climb or swim, and have d8s for HD. I’m surprised they don’t have any natural armor. They have one more hit point than Beasts of the Air, 1 less AC, and 1 less point of attack and damage. They gain a Charge that adds some damage and a knockdown, so that’s solid. (Though prone is not helpful to archer rangers, and Beast Master remains starkly hostile to two-weapon-fighting rangers – so play an Interception ranger with a greataxe or whatever!)
Both Beasts gain Primal Rebirth, which lets the ranger bring them back from death with an action, any spell slot, and 1 minute of delay. This is a great addition and lets you stay with the beast you built an emotional bond with, rather than needing to go back to recruiting another animal that will just get killed in the next fireball.
Also, you can order these Beasts to attack or Hide as a bonus action – a decisive move against both hunter’s mark and two-weapon fighting, so plan accordingly. But this feature all by itself solves about half of the Beast Master’s problem – you’re not in competition with your pet for your action each turn. Sure, it’s not as big of a damage spike as some particular pets, but playing this subclass acceptably well is 100% easier to figure out.
It’s hard to know how this text meshes with the Player’s Handbook text, but I do have it straight from the horse’s mouth that “Add your proficiency bonus to the beast’s AC, attack rolls, and damage rolls, as well as to any saving throws and skills it is proficient in” still applies to these Beasts. With that handled, I have just one complaint: no Large Beasts to allow Medium rangers to ride. It drives me nuts that Small rangers have that different of an experience of this subclass, and the Lone Ranger can’t have Silver as his companion.
With that said, then, this normalizes AC, damage, and other stats for beast companions, and finally gives full mechanical support to falconers. That might be my next new character.
Cunning Action: Aim is a new Cunning Action option. It lets you spend your bonus action to gain advantage on the first attack you make in the same turn, and you can’t move before or after you Aim. It kinda short-cuts the Hide-Sneak Attack loop of bow rogue gameplay, but… that might be okay. If something is going to be that repetitive, boil it all the way down. This is fine; I don’t feel strongly about it.
Spellcasting: I don’t really care one way or the other about the ten added spells. They’re fine. Okay, I guess I feel good about adding fire shield and vampiric touch, and primal savagery is probably neat for some Origins.
Spell Versatility does the long-rest thing. As I said in Part One, I feel weird about sorcerers specifically getting this, because being locked in except at level-up (basically their mutation breaks) is such a part of their mechanical and fictional dynamic, all the way back to 3.0. That said… my feelings on buyer’s remorse aren’t going anywhere.
Font of Magic Options gives you three new ways to spend sorcery points that aren’t part of casting a spell (see Metamagic, below). You get all of these, added to the one-feature list that is Flexible Casting.
- Empowering Reserves grants advantage on an ability check for 2 sorcery points. Burning raw arcane energy for advantage on a single check is… hmm, an interesting aspect of the sorcerer-as-Marvel-mutant thing that is a lot of folks’ go-to for imagining the class. (Source: me talking about sorcery on Twitter for five minutes.)
- Imbuing Touch lets sorcerers spend 2 sorcery points to make a weapon strike as magic for 1 minute. Probably won’t come up much, but okay. I don’t mind it being here.
- Sorcerous Fortitude lets you convert any number of sorcery points into Xd4 temporary hit points. It’s a Mana Shield, y’all, and the only surprise of it is that it took so long to get here. I’m in favor of it in principle, though 1 sorcery point to 2.5 (average) temporary hit points is a garbage exchange rate (and that’s probably intentional and good). It’s a panic-button feature to keep you standing at all costs.
These are all costly, inefficient ways to solve problems, but they all sell the font of raw power concept quite directly. The only bad thing I have to say of them is that they might kind of clog a character sheet.
Metamagic Options gives you three new options for Metamagic choices.
- Elemental Spell lets you change a spell’s elemental damage type for 1 sorcery point. You probably solve this with spell selection rather than metamagic selection, but I don’t know your life.
- Seeking Spell gives you the cover-ignoring benefit of Spell Sniper, and lets you ignore cover for your Dex-save spells. Feats are roughly as rare as Metamagic choices, so if you go big on spell attacks, plan on one or the other. The tricky thing about cover and Dex saves is that your main Dex save effect, fireball, is indirect fire – the air-burst is likely on the other side of the enemy’s cover.
- Unerring Spell gives you a reroll on a failed spell attack for 2 sorcery points, and this doesn’t count against your limit of one metamagic effect per spell. A homing effect on a fire bolt or whatever is cool to me, and just helping a lot of those ray spells be stronger choices is all good in my book.
No real objections; Unerring Spell is my favorite of them. I don’t know that they’re as strongly appealing as the original list of metamagic options.
Spell Versatility: Of all the casters that receive this feature, warlocks need it most and I think it makes the most sense for them to get it, because… hey, just ask your Patron for a different set of soulscars or whatever it is that attaches your spells to you.
Spellcasting: Warlocks pick up a very impressive 17 new spells here, some of which are glaring oversights from the original list. Gate, I’m looking at you. Create homunculus, I know you come from XGTE, but you know you belong here. Modify memory, planar binding, and teleportation circle – yes, yes, and yes. These are absolutely about selling the fantasy of being an unsavory, outcast spellcaster. Warlocks desperately needed more Mystic Arcana options too.
Animate dead on a per-short-rest timer is the only dubious choice to me, but juggling any substantial number of undead from one day to the next is probably too complicated to deal with.
Eldritch Invocation Options bring us eight new invocations, spread across one new Pact and the three Player’s Handbook pacts.
- Bond of the Talisman is for the new Pact of the Talisman. I think you’ll find that after you buy this, even your allies are always after your lucky charms. You can teleport to the person with your talisman, and they can teleport to you. No use limit. That’s… pretty much the last word in exfiltration tactics, but you’re 12th level, so you had other solutions to the problem.
- Chain Master’s Fury is finally throwing a bone to Chainlocks’ familiars as combat (Needs moar voidwalker.) At 9th level, your familiar can attack as your bonus action. It’s fine, but maybe a long time to wait for what I still kinda see as the concept of the Chainlock. WotC doesn’t see “a Demonology-specced warlock from WoW” as the promise of the thing, but I don’t know what they do see as its whole deal.
- Eldritch Armor lets Bladelocks do the Iron Man trick of donning a suit of armor instantly. It’s a really cool trick that is regrettably too good for stealing armor from a merchant – yet another in a long, long list of interesting mechanics that got tossed out because characters abusing them to fleece merchants is too easy and obvious. It also gives the Bladelock proficiency in the armor for as long as they wear it, so the Bladelock’s AC is finally solved for real.
- Eldritch Mind gives Tomelocks advantage on saves to maintain concentration. Buy either this or War Caster, basically. You just cannot afford to lose a hex at the wrong moment.
- Far Scribe adds a page to the Tomelock’s book, at 5th level or higher, to make it into a Book of Discord Chat Server. (Hail Eris.) I joke, but it’s a great way to maintain communication over a great distance with up to your Charisma modifier number of people. No objections.
- Gift of the Protectors at 9th level lets Tomelocks bind a friend’s name into a book. When they’d otherwise fall to 0 hit points, they fall to 1 instead. You can protect up to your Charisma modifier number of people this way at a time, but as soon as one of them is saved, no one else is protected until you finish a long rest.
- Investment of the Chain Master powers up a Chainlock’s familiar with a bunch of modest benefits: it adds a 40-ft flying or swimming speed, it takes away the need to breathe, your pet’s attacks are now magical, and its saving throw effects are now based on your spellcasting DC. This is nice to have, but if we’re going to push Chainlock familiars as combat-ish pets, let’s try a damage bonus of some kind? (One of these days I’ll write that compiled article on all pet/familiar/conjured critter mechanics.)
- Protection of the Talisman at 9th level (that’s… unnecessarily high, by 6 levels) lets Talisman ‘locks give someone, possibly themselves, +1d4 to all non-proficient saves while wearing the talisman. This is the luckiest lucky charm!
- Rebuke of the Talisman makes a Talisman ‘lock’s talisman a retributive damage item. The warlock spends the reaction, no matter who’s getting stabbed, and the stabber takes psychic damage equal to the warlock’s Cha modifier and is pushed 10 feet. The push seems weird to me, but it does decisively clear enemies off your squishy allies.
Overall, these are fascinating additions to the list of options. I love seeing Tome, Blade, and Chain get new options, and Talisman feels like a worthy new path – if more generous than most warlock pacts. The narrative implications of that are awesome – “yes, I’ll serve you – if only you’ll give me a way to protect my loved ones.”
Pact Boon Option: Pact of the Talisman – okay, yes, I spoiled this a bit above. The baseline talisman gives the person wearing it +1d4 to any non-proficient ability check they make. So this is good for anyone and amazing to give to a bard (because Jack of All Trades stacks with this).
I’d like to see additional Eldritch Invocations for this Pact that developed it into a weird new way to play a warlock as a pseudo-tank. The talisman carries even better symbolic weight than a 4e swordmage’s Aegis, and I frickin’ love 4e swordmages.
Wizards don’t get much here, but in fairness, they needed even less. Well, other than Necromancers. And arguably Enchanters. But other than Beast Masters and Battle Masters, this document isn’t about subclass tweaks.
Cantrip Versatility does the same thing here as it does for clerics and druids.
Spellcasting: Wizards gain just four spells, and I don’t know why they didn’t have them before. Diviners obviously need access to augury and divination for their core concept. The word “necromancy” literally denotes “divination by speaking with the dead,” so speak with dead always should have been available. 3.x wizards certainly had enhance ability’s precursor spells, and I’m sure every Transmuter is happy to see it come back now.
This is, as I said at the beginning, an absolute beast of a UA document. I’m seeing “precursor to 5.5” getting thrown around a lot, and that was part of my initial reaction. Backward compatibility is basically 100% for now, since it’s only changing player-facing content and not monsters or anything else.
I don’t believe that this does invalidate the Player’s Handbook, as I’ve seen a few others say. There is a net gain in power here, especially for the still-hotly-debated ranger, but the great majority of the content is close to power-neutral. Just… don’t be the kind of player who squeezes a ton of extra power out of exploiting the respend mechanics, please? It’s nothing but a headache. (If you’re one of my players worried that I mean you – I don’t, this time.)
I have quibbles with some pieces of this, but overall I think WotC has delivered another very strong public-playtest document. Fighter, ranger, and warlock all hit the jackpot here. I probably can’t overstate the effect that the new fighting styles will have on the breadth of fighter, paladin, and ranger builds. I would have forgiven any depth of sins in exchange for Interception fighting style, though. The sorcerer is probably the least exciting class of the whole document to me, but I appreciate the concepts in play.
Now just do the same for Two-Weapon Fighting, s’il vous plaît?