New year, new Unearthed Arcana – this time bringing us four new subclasses. We have the barbarian Path of the Beast, the monk Way of Mercy, the paladin Oath of the Watchers, and the warlock Noble Genie Patron. I am excited to dive into this! Just, uh, be aware that I will be throwing in some jokes along the way. The jokes don’t mean I don’t love this material – it’s not intended as mockery.
Barbarian: Path of the Beast
Too long have we labored under the burden of not knowing how to represent a certain Teen Titan in D&D! This is a shapeshifting barbarian, and I am particularly happy to see it because of a Twitter thread, uh, yesterday about how it was hard to bear not having a bear bearbearian.
Anyway, you don’t have one fixed Crinos form or anything, you just shapeshift with you rage.
- There’s an Origin of the Beast table with four ideas for why your fursona comes out when you rage. It’s good.
- Form of the Beast gives you one of three options, chosen each time you rage.
- Bite gives you a d8 bite weapon that also heals you equal to your Con modifier, up to once per round, when you hit. This is very badass and I clearly remember trying (with less success) to write a feature exactly like this for EN5IDER back in uhhh 2015 or so.
- Claws gives you d6 claws, and when you use the Attack action, you can make an extra attack with your claws as long as one of your attacks in that action used your claws. This gets into a fairly involved damage tradeoff between your flat add from Strength against the larger damage die of a greatsword or greataxe. I appreciate that claws “work” in the round that you rage, rather than competing with your bonus action.
- Tail gives your butt a d12 reach weapon, which is a damn good offer if you don’t have a extra damage on your weapon yet.
- Overall these are fine; I’m not digging way into the math right now to see how they all stack up. For my money, Bite is the most fun. Others have observed that Claws + Action Surge is going to be very potent, to which I say yeah, Action Surge is always incredible.
- Bestial Soul at 6th level makes your shapeshifting natural weapons strike as magic, and gives you your choice of a swim speed, climbing speed, or greatly increased jumping ability. You can change out which one you have as part of a short rest.
- Cool stuff, not surprising to see a mostly exploration-focused feature at 6th for barbarians.
- Infectious Fury at 10th level pushes the lycanthropic theme. Con modifier times per long rest, you can either make your target attack someone else with a melee attack (“punch your fire shielded buddy for me”), or suffer 2d12 psychic damage, assuming they fail their save.
- It’s gotta be a bit of a special occasion to use the forced attack, because there’s a whole extra miss chance involved. Immensely satisfying if you can make a dragon eat its minions, though! (Even better if your DM leans into how demoralizing this would be for the rest of the minions.)
- Call the Hunt at 14th level turns your rage into a group buff. Con modifier times per long rest, when you rage, you can choose Con modifier creatures to receive Reckless Attack, and you gain advantage on saves against fear. (I… assume that’s not a plural you, in the saves against the frightened condition clause.) You gain a tidy boost of temporary hit points for each creature that accepts the benefit.
- I’m not wild about seeing Con modifier used in two different ways in the same feature. This is definitely a barbarian that treats Con as probably their number-one primary stat. I mean, all barbarians need Con, but this goes even deeper on it.
Overall I like what I see here. I think I’m a little surprised that there’s not a defensive feature making some kind of change to your Unarmored Defense – thick hide or chitinous shell or whatever. It’s not a problem without that, but I think of the hide or shell as part of selling the shapeshifting.
Way of Mercy Monastic Tradition
These are healer monks, exploring sort of a Chinese medicine theme, offering healing and necrotic and poison damage. It’s a reasonable direction to go with ki, and if there’s any surprise, it’s that something like this didn’t come along sooner. A masked monk that is a master of life and death sounds incredible. I wouldn’t have thought to build a Renaissance plague doctor on the monk class, but that’s on offer.
Also, this is an amazing chassis to play a Star Wars: The Old Republic Imperial Agent, and y’all can probably guess that I am all about roguish healers. Finally, I haven’t played WoW since well before monks were a class, but I assume there are some (likely unintentional?) Mistwalker monk connections. Hie thee to the comments, monk healers.
- Merciful Mask is a d6 table of looks for your mask, since most monks of this order go masked. Very cool.
- Implements of Mercy grants either Insight or Medicine proficiency, and herbalism and poisoner’s kit proficiencies.
- No objection except that I wish Medicine were better in 5e.
- Hands of Healing lets you heal by touch, spending 1 ki to heal hit points equal to your Martial Arts die + your Wisdom modifier. Also, when you use Flurry of Blows, you can turn your extra attack into healing, which is an action-economy fixer – heal while still making three attacks.
- As a healing style, this is going to be very bad for burst healing but incredible for sustained healing, depending on how much of ki you’re willing to spend. 1dX + (3 to 5), up to your level per short rest? Wow.
- Hands of Harm lets you burn ki for additional one Martial Arts die of necrotic damage, or three MA dice of necrotic damage if the target is incapacitated (stunned includes incapacitated) or poisoned.
- What this basically means is that the Mercy monks have an even more brutal decision-making process for ki spends than other monks.
- Noxious Aura at 6th level lets you spend 1 ki as a bonus action to create a toxic 5-foot aura, which imposes disadvantage on ranged attacks against you. Creatures that start their turn in the aura have it worse – save or be poisoned and take a little poison damage.
- This feature is amazing. The worst I can say of it is that the subclass’s ki dependence, without anything to boost or restore ki, is adding up real fast.
- Healing Technique at 11th level improves your Hands of Healing, so that – for no additional cost – you also purge a disease or the blinded, deafened, paralyzed, or poisoned conditions when you use it.
- Just to reframe that, your per-short-rest cure wounds also carries lesser restoration. Uh. Wow.
- Hand of Mercy at 17th level is sort of the nice version of Quivering Palm – a long-term suspended animation, for 4 ki. It lasts a number of days equal to your monk level, unless you end it earlier. A helpful sidebar reminds us that the Mercy monk using this feature is a creature, and thus you can target yourself with it.
- This is probably more of a shenanigans power than a combat power, but it is a very pure save-or-suck effect. The creature is immune to all damage while in suspended animation (I… kind of wonder how to picture that), but also paralyzed, so you have all the time in the world to do something about them.
Well, this subclass is very cool. Having no ranged healing and no raise dead powers, and with your lesser restoration waiting until 11th level, it’s still hard to play this as a primary or sole healer, but it’s not out of the question, either. I like that it has interesting damage output options as well as healing. In effect, Mercy has two parallel gameplay loops, and you really don’t want to use them both at the same time. The healing side is touch-cast, while the damage/poison side has an “any creature” damage aura. You can dart in, heal, and keep moving, but this will absolutely give one of your allies a bad day at some point.
Paladin Oath of the Watchers
This is the, uh, the Stan Lee character? Oathu the Watcher?
Anyway, this is a paladin Oath about protecting against various outsiders – the Feywild, the Far Realm, the Inner Planes, the Lower Planes. Leaving the Shadowfell off that list might be a little odd. The tough thing about this kind of Oath is that I don’t know that it outwardly distinguishes itself from Devotion. Inwardly, sure – you know that you’re heroically dedicated to fighting certain kinds of threats, rather than protection and purity in general. To implement this in a campaign, I’d want to pour an uncommon amount of energy into differentiating the orders these paladins serve.
I don’t expect people other than me to care about things like outward distinction, but I want to explain why I do. The PH and XGtE Oaths suggest their outward characterization to me: Devotion is High Chivalry – pennants snapping in the wind, Lancelot and Galahad all the way. Ancients is a Green Knight figure, Percival, and maybe Herne the Hunter if you like. Vengeance is a 4e avenger who discovered heavy armor and never looked back, or all of the tormented-soul knights. Oathbreaker and Conquest are both straight-up bad guys (please, no fascism apologias), much darker than Vengeance. Redemption a staff-bearing healer, maybe sort of a Jedi Consular. How does a Watcher paladin distinguish itself?
I’m not trying to tear it down, though you’d be forgiven for thinking so at this point. A little additional story support and characterization would be sufficient for me. I do appreciate the “no Diabolical Deals for you!” tenet, now that Descent into Avernus gave us such a lavish and cool description of same.
- The Oath Spells are sort of an odd combination of spellcaster offense (this is very rare in paladins!) and utility. The story it’s telling might be that you feel like a paladin who went to wizard college? Okay, I’m into that.
- Channel Divinity – you get Watcher’s Will and Abjure the Extraplanar.
- Watcher’s Will grants advantage on Int/Wis/Cha saves to (Cha mod) creatures for 1 minute. Fey, fiends, and aberrations love messing with your mind, so this is great – if not the flashiest – for that.
- Abjure the Extraplanar does what you would expect if you’ve read the other paladin subclasses, but applies to aberrations, elementals, fey, and fiends. (That is to say, it turns them.)
- These feel very normal as features – they don’t really set the Watcher apart. That said, I can appreciate a certain Rupert Giles quality here, where there’s a lot of non-flashy power getting wielded. Also, the core of the paladin class is so incredible (i.e., Divine Smite) that it’s hard to “fit” a lot of extra cool stuff into their low-level features, without going completely overboard.
- Aura of the Sentinel at 7th level adds your Cha modifier to the initiative rolls of allies with 10 feet, or 30 feet at 18th This is nice to have, but the story isn’t delivering here.
- Vigilant Rebuke at 15th level is where the Watcher does something really different. When you or your nearby allies resist a spell effect, you get to punish the caster with force damage. Good stuff – a steady option when those counterspells (from your Oath spells) dry up.
- Mortal Bulwark at 20th level is absolutely crazy good when you’re fighting your favored enemies. It’s a bonus action to activate: paladin subclass designers take note: you can stop making your 20th-level Super Saiyan modes take an action to bring up, unless they have a huge duration. Then you gain 120-ft truesight, advantage on attacks against aberrations, elementals, fey, and fiends, and all of your attacks force a Cha save or the target is banished if it’s not on its native plane (succeeding this save makes the target immune to this feature for 24 hours).
- For the probable opponents of a 20th-level adventure, this is everything you could want and more.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten to “these are paladins that went to wizard college,” I like everything I see here except Aura of the Sentinel. Writing good auras is hard because they are passive awesomeness, so I wouldn’t kick up a fuss if it survived to the final version. I can absolutely see these paladins as the Wardens of the White Council, especially for bringing down rogue Conjurers and warlocks. I… kind of wish something unusual went on with their armor, or absence thereof, to sell that crypto-wizard concept (if indeed that’s the concept).
Noble Genie Patron
Way back when I wrote the History of the Warlock series, I took a sidestep from it to also write the History of the Sha’ir (also check out Part Two). I mention this because, uh, this is doing sha’ir stuff in all but name. If you’re new around here and have only seen my breakdowns, I occasionally do big History of the Classes series. It’s a thing.
I mention this, of course, because this is a sha’ir-adjacent warlock, though it’s by no means a direct adaptation. For one thing, you cast spells immediately, rather than a few minutes from now when your gen search engine gets some responses back. What can I tell you, neither the internet nor search engines were all that fast in the 90s. For another, you don’t have unrestricted access to all spell lists.
- Expanded Spell List is themed around creation ex nihilo, illusions, and transformation. Robin Williams’s Genie is feeling good about this, and (I like to think) nothing so much as Bigby’s hand. This particular Patron is the closing argument in why Patrons should expand your options for Mystic Arcana, though – this warlock needs to be allowed to cast wish.
- Collector’s Vessel is an odd, sort of convoluted feature. You gain a vessel, which either comes from the table or matches a signature item from your Pact (blade, tome, talisman, whatever). You use it to create a misty tether, Cha modifier times per day. The misty tether designates one willing creature of your choice. While you have a tether up, you add your Cha modifier to Wisdom (Perception) checks, and your spells can originate from your tether target.
- This feature feels like it should do a bit more, since it’s your Patron’s defining feature until 6th A bonus to a single skill (if an important one) and getting to cast spells through an ally is not playstyle-defining stuff.
- Elemental Resistance at 6th level gives you and your tether target resistance to one of acid, cold, fire, or lightning damage, and you can change that resistance when you finish a long rest.
- Nice direct nod back to the 3.5e sha’ir’s Elemental Protection and 4e sha’ir’s Elemental Resistance.
- Protective Wish at 10th level lets you swap places with your tether target when one of you is hit by an attack, also swapping targets for the attack.
- This is a great support feature, letting you do all kinds of crazy positioning stuff if you have a cooperative attacker.
- Genie’s Entertainment at 10th level lets you banish a target to your patron’s audience chamber, where they get stunned and mocked for up to a minute, with a new save every round. If they don’t save in that minute, this power refreshes itself. This is a strong crowd-control, though I have Questions about what happens if you target a stun-immune creature with this (since the initial effect is “just” a plane shift).
- This takes the 2e sha’ir’s Receive an Audience feature back down to studs and rebuilds it as something you’d use on purpose.
- Collector’s Call at 14th level is where your patron calling from another plane and sticks you with the charges. No? Okay, well, it’s a plea to your Patron for aid (every Patron should have some kind of option for warlocks to utter a desperate plea to them), and if you pass the Cha (Persuasion) check against your own spell DC, you can choose one of three different benefits.
- A quite substantial healing effect (8d6) that also removes a disease or condition
- An enemy has disadvantage on attacks and saves until the start of your next turn
- You cast legend lore without its material components
- Finally, you can refresh your use of this once-per-long-rest feature by making a sacrifice of wealth to your patron. More warlocks should have a way to offer tribute to their patrons.
This one doesn’t quite hang together for me. I want the vessel to matter in some greater way – as it is, it’s an appendage to the misty tether. The misty tether matters at 1st level, but it’s building the foundation of a playstyle that takes 10 levels to coalesce. I’d love to see the vessel hold a single spell borrowed from another class’s list (and more involved than just a long rest to change out), or something similarly reflecting and updating the 2e sha’ir. I also miss the thing where you could conjure lesser genies to aid you. Protective Wish, Genie’s Entertainment, and Collector’s Call are each cool things to have, but they don’t cement a playstyle or the Patron as a whole.
A shapeshifting barbarian is one of those concepts that definitely has community interest. It recalls some of the 4e warden, as well. Healer monks sound like something that should exist, once you say it out loud. A paladin who deals with the effects of reckless Conjurers and warlocks – well, that’s every paladin, but a specialist is still good to have. Sha’ir are a hard target to hit, and even if it’s not quite satisfying me yet, I desperately hope that it gets another 5e iteration.