This week, we’re starting with bards and going through… oh, who knows. Whatever 3-4,000 words gets us. Since you don’t mainly come here to read exordia, let’s plunge in.
Part One | Part Two
First off, bards get a few new features, just as barbarians did (just as every class but the artificer does).
Additional Bard Spells expands the bard spell list with a combination of spells from the Player’s Handbook and this book. Prismatic spray and prismatic wall are the only ones I find the least bit surprising – the rest of the PH additions feel like a natural conclusion from the class’s buff/debuff/trickster themes, such as aid, mirror image, slow, and phantasmal killer. Also heroes’ feast, in case you want to spend a precious Spells Known slot on something you probably can’t cast every day. Anyway, no complaints here.
Magical Inspiration at 2nd level lets your Bardic Inspiration apply to damage and healing for one spell that your target casts. This extra damage or healing applies to only one target of the spell, but it’s still ambiguous, to my eyes, how that applies in some cases. If the spell grants a save, are you modifying the damage of a success or a failure? (Probably failure.)
Bardic Versatility at 4th level allows you to reassign one cantrip and one Expertise skill when you gain an Ability Score Improvement. I find cantrip respending more important than skills – if nothing else, new official and third-party releases are more likely to offer new cantrips than new skills!
College of Creation
Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies…
–“Ainulindalë,” J.R.R. Tolkien
Other than absence of Eru Ilúvatar, the concept of this class is largely identical to the opening of the Ainulindalë, down to Bahamut and Tiamat as Ainur-figures. (I don’t think we’re reaching at all to characterize Tiamat as Melkor, even if she isn’t directly responsible for Miska the Wolf Spider… I’m getting off-topic here.)
- Mote of Potential turns your Bardic Inspiration into a Tiny visible (but intangible and invulnerable) object, granting the recipient’s choice of three different effects:
- If it’s added to an ability check, you can roll it twice and take the better result.
- If it’s added to an attack roll, the mote splashes thunder damage on the attack’s target and other enemies within 5 feet of them, dealing damage equal to your Bardic Inspiration die roll.
- If it’s added to a saving throw, the recipient gains temporary hit points equal to the Bardic Inspiration die.
- First off, it’s interesting that we’re seeing so many more objects from features get their size specified. I don’t know that there’s any deeper mechanical meaning to this – that is, something they’re trying to allow or prevent – but it does stand out a bit compared to older subclass text. (Creating objects is also getting more common.)
- Second, it’s a shame that this can’t include +spell damage and +healing from Magical Inspiration, but WotC doesn’t interconnect these because they don’t want the subclass to require the optional feature, or the subclass to get invalidated because your DM has decided not to use Magical Inspiration.
- Performance of Creation, also at 3rd level, creates an object of some value (20 gp per bard level) and Medium size or smaller, which sticks around for a few hours (equal to your proficiency bonus). This ability is 1/long rest, or can be refreshed by dumping a 2nd-level spell slot, but in any case you can only create one object at a time. The object is obviously not natural, which doesn’t mean that bards won’t try to scam people with them for some quick cash. At higher levels, you can create a Large, and then Huge, item.
- This feature is certainly intrinsic to the subclass’s whole concept. There’s no telling what kind of weirdness and shenanigans College of Creation bards will cause with what amounts to wildcard object creation. The good news is, you can’t be a 50th level bard and create the material component for heroes’ feast. (Is this whole article going to about heroes’ feast? It’s as much a mystery to me as to you.)
- Animating Performance at 6th level turns a Large or smaller item into a Dancing Item, the stat block for which is included here. The stat block is roughly on the order of any other summoned or companion creature, and its special thing is that it grants a speed boost to go with beating things in the face with force damage. You issue commands to it with bonus actions. That’s a bit of a tough demand for bards, as it competes with Bardic Inspiration and healing word. This is a 1/long rest feature that you can reset with a 3rd-level spell slot, so that you can play this with pet management at the core of your actions.
- But probably my favorite use of this is to cast it on that Large or smaller golden idol that the DM thinks is too heavy for you to loot from the Cave of Wonders or whatever. Not only can you now loot it, it can carry extra loot and get you out of the dungeon a little faster.
- Creative Crescendo at 14th level ends both of the major limitations on Performance of Creation: you can create more than one item at a time, and you no longer have any value limit on the items you create. If there’s something stopping you from creating all of your expensive material components from here on out with this feature, I’m sure I don’t see what it is, but at the same time I seriously doubt that’s the intent.
“Anything you can describe up to Huge size” is just not going to be okay for my gaming groups. There’s probably an intent that you’re at least limited to real things that already exist in the setting – so no laser guns – but based on the text here, that’s not an argument I can leave open. If you’ve read my breakdowns for any length of time, you’ll understand I almost never say this, but I simply cannot allow the Creation bard in a game that I’m running. This is open to change pending a substantial rules clarification.
College of Eloquence
I covered the College of Eloquence in my Mythic Odysseys of Theros breakdown, so observe as I sing the magical song of copypasta. (It’s in under control, in the key of C.)
This college offers a masterclass in oratory and rhetoric, so of course it’s ideal for my highly political Birthright game, as well as the Athenian Agora.
- Silver Tongue gives you Reliable Talent (the 11th-level rogue feature) for Deception and Persuasion. If you have a good Charisma and haven’t totally neglected the skills, you’re well into can’t-fail territory for the majority of likely DCs. (There’s a whole conversation about how you might set social-interaction DCs to 20+ that, as far as I know, the PH and DMG skip.)
- Unsettling Words lets you apply your Bardic Inspiration as a penalty to a target creature’s next saving throw. You’ve got to apply the die before the saving throw is rolled, so you’re operating on minimal information and have a lot of potential for a use that doesn’t change the outcome, but when you do turn success into failure, this can definitely turn a battle. You can also hope to break concentration with this, since it hinges on a Con save.
- I’m not actually sure the bard in my game has used this yet. I’m sure he’ll tell me in the comments if I’ve just forgotten.
- Unfailing Inspiration at 6th level makes your Bardic Inspiration dice reliable – if they’re adding the die to the roll result and still fail, the die isn’t expended. This improves the chance that your Bardic Inspiration die changes an outcome, and that’s so good for this party role.
- Universal Speech, also at 6th level, lets you get around language barriers, all the way down to “this creature has no concept of language,” for a number of creatures equal to your Cha modifier, for 1 hour. This is 1/long rest, but you can refresh that by expending any spell slot. What it doesn’t do is give you any capacity to understand them, so your conversations with animals, elementals, and so on may be strictly one-sided.
- Infectious Inspiration at 14th level builds on Unfailing Inspiration – where Unfailing is an on-fail benefit, this one is on-success. When a roll applies your Bardic Inspiration and succeeds (regardless of whether the Bardic Inspiration changed the result), you can use your reaction to give another creature (not yourself and not your first target) Bardic Inspiration, without spending another die. It’s like getting your Cha modifier per long rest in additional Bardic Inspiration dice.
The Eloquence bard in my group is, of course, untouchable in social scenes, which are a huge part of Birthright. There are things that no Persuasion or Deception roll is going to talk someone into – it’s still not mind control – but he is still a bard with actual mind-control spells, so…
It’s not a combat-focused subclass, but what I see here isn’t the “social only” subclass that I have heard some call it. Unsettling Words, Unfailing Inspiration, and Infectious Inspiration promise to be very strong support features. My only concern is that it offers so much of a boost for differing applications of Bardic Inspiration dice that the bard faces a very tight economy and a high demand for short rests.
There are four new optional features for clerics.
Additional Cleric Spells – well, yeah, all of the spellcasters are picking up a few new spells. The eight new spells come from the paladin, druid, and bard lists. Maybe you, like me, totally didn’t notice before now that power word heal is (used to be, whatever) bard-only.
Harness Divine Power is a new Channel Divinity option, to make absolutely sure you get to use your Channel Divinity in every span between short rests. It’s not like you lose the game or whatever if you don’t need to Turn Undead or use your domain’s special Channel options every short rest, but this feels like a good place to dump them right before a refresh.
Specifically, you’re using Channel Divinity as a kind of slightly-lower-powered Arcane Recovery. The spell level can’t be higher than half your proficiency bonus, and the number of times per day you can do this scales from one at 2nd level up to 3 at 18th. My takeaway is that it’s a bit more staying power for the healer, in case you’re in the kind of group where the healer’s spell slots are the main limiter on your adventuring day.
Cantrip Versatility lets you change out a cantrip whenever you earn an Ability Score Improvement feature. Fine, no problem.
Blessed Strikes is the one I’m excited about – it replaces Divine Strike and Potent Spellcasting from your cleric subclass, instead granting +1d8 radiant to weapon attacks and cantrips. I’m sorry to see the unique damage flavoring of Divine Strike go away, and vaguely sad to see the 14th-level scaling of Divine Strike go away. On the other hand, you’re not locked into being a weapon cleric or a cantrips cleric, so it feels a lot more like getting to use your whole class.
Huh. I’m just now realizing that Divine Strike explicitly only works on your turn, so you don’t get amped-up opportunity attacks. War Caster is the main way you’d ever cast an attack cantrip during your off-turn (well, that and Ready Action), but Potent Spellcasting works all the time. Blessed Strikes is 1/round, and refreshes at the start of your turn.
I think the last time I covered the Order domain in any regard was still in UA release. Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica came out at the same time as Dungeon of the Mad Mage, and I reviewed the latter while basically ignoring the former. Apologies to the Wizards team that sends me review copies! The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Also, it was Thanksgiving and my family expected my attention for several minutes a day.)
- The Order Domain Spells lean heavily on control, which isn’t terribly surprising, as well as some healing and buffing.
- You gain proficiency in heavy armor and either Intimidation or Persuasion. On message.
- Voice of Authority lets an ally make a weapon attack as a reaction after you target them with a spell of 1st level or higher. It’s a huge benefit to buff/healing casters. For best results, bless the rogue early and often.
- Channel Divinity: Order’s Demand charms creatures of your choice within 30 feet for a round, and they drop what they’re holding if you want. Taking damage breaks this brief charm. This is still a huge break in the fight for healing, repositioning, or getting the hell out of Dodge. Now, the charmed condition doesn’t stop them from attacking your allies.
- As a Channel Divinity, this is largely similar to the Archfey warlock’s Fey Presence feature, but more often, in a larger area, without the frightened option, but with the incredibly powerful disarming function. In short, if you’re lucky when it comes to their Wis saves, this could absolutely be a fight-ender against humanoids, but because it won’t always work that way, it’s basically okay.
- Embodiment of the Law at 6th level lets you reduce the casting time of enchantment spells of 1st level or higher from 1 action to 1 bonus action, Wis modifier times per long rest.
- The choice of Wis modifier rather than proficiency bonus probably comes from when this was written – it was one of the first things to come out after XGTE, and thus predates that shift in design trend.
- I like the action economy change here, both because you can still make a weapon attack or cast a cantrip, and because the implied narrative is that you’re Judge Dredd – you just growl from deep in your sternum and people obey.
- Divine Strike at 8th level is, well, Divine Strike. Psychic damage.
- Order’s Wrath at 17th level adds a curse to your Divine Strike damage, once per turn. I’m not sure how you’d even deal your Divine Strike damage more than once per turn, but let that go. Anyway, the curse is a short-term debuff that causes the target to take 2d8 psychic the next time one of your allies hits it. You set ‘em up, your friends knock ‘em down. It’s such a pure, functional leader, translated out of 4e and into 5e.
- Shifting from Divine Strike to Blessed Strikes is 4.5 average damage off a standard bonus action cast/action to attack gameplay loop, but it opens the door to Order clerics who stay back and sacred flame or toll the dead on their turn. 4.5 damage ain’t nothin’, but you’re. not. the. striker. (Also if you know you’re playing a weapon-wielding cleric, make sure your DM is cool with you opting out of the Blessed Strikes change.)
The good side of the Order cleric is the clear, strong setup/payoff structure of their gameplay loop, and their clear narrative. Inasmuch as there’s a downside – if you’re really into flame strikes or guiding bolt or whatever as a cleric, this subclass is steering you away from that with every feature. Buffing, healing, control. That’s your deal, and your lot in life.
Peace Domain Be With You
This domain doesn’t really mean that you’re playing a pacifist, though only one feature in the whole subclass involves you doing anything to an enemy – Potent Spellcasting. Thematically, the gap between Peace and Life doesn’t admit a lot of daylight. It’s more that you’re choosing your playstyle, between raw healing throughput (Life) and healing + mitigation + buffing.
- Your domain spells are heavy on buffs, with a meaningful sideline in communication. On-theme, and warding bond is more conceptually redundant than literally so.
- Implement of Peace grants proficiency in one of Insight, Performance, or Persuasion. All potentially good ways to avoid or end a conflict.
- Emboldening Bond is… kind of mega-bless? You choose a number of creatures equal to your proficiency bonus, and they each gain 1d4 per turn that they can spend to add to an attack roll, ability check, or save. (As opposed to actual bless working equally well on all of the fighter’s Action Surge attacks.) Anyway – the bond lasts 10 minutes at a time, doesn’t require concentration, and you can use it proficiency bonus times per long rest. The targeted creatures do have to stay kind of close together (30 ft) to use their bond die.
- I probably don’t need to say this, but this is a very powerful feature. But since it doesn’t apply to every roll, you have to make a choice on when to use it. The timing is a bit unclear – I’ve asked on Twitter and if the Council of Wizards issues a decree, I’ll edit this article to tell you about it.
- The longer duration and the fact that this applies to ability checks also makes it a very potent feature for social interaction and exploration scenes, where you’re quite a lot less likely to need more than 1d4 per turn.
- Channel Divinity: Balm of Peace at 2nd level lets you move without provoking opportunity attacks, trailing healing in your wake for those you intend to heal. This can be an enormous amount of healing per use.
- When you first get this feature, it’s wildly better than the Life cleric’s Preserve Life feature, but it has almost no scaling function, so there’s some point (depending on your party size, it might be as late as 12th level) at which Preserve Life outperforms it and never looks back. As long as Preserve Life has enough hit points below your bloodied value to work on, that is. Point is, this goes from distressingly phenomenal to merely good.
- Protective Bond at 6th level lets characters you’ve connected with Emboldening Bond intercept damage for each other as a teleport reaction. Reassigning damage is great if that’s what you need – it solves a lot of defender sins – but at this level the damage is still going to someone on the team, and the incoming damage doesn’t have to hit the new target’s AC or have them fail a save. In short, this is an interesting way to get into and out of a lot of trouble.
- Potent Spellcasting. In fairness, this one is particularly dodgy to turn into Blessed Strikes, because why are you beating people over the noggin? But I’m not your dad. Unless this article is still up by the time my kids are interested in reading ancient internet blogs, in which case, for two of you, I am your dad, and no you can’t borrow the car or our next-gen console. I really hope we’re out of COVID-19 quarantine, Future Stoddard Kid.
- Expansive Bond at 17th level extends the distance the bonded allies can be from each other to 60 feet, and when they use Protective Bond, the new target halves the damage. At this level, as long as someone in the party has a reaction available, you’re halving the incoming damage, and circumstances permitting, you might well have the whole party saving their reactions for Protective Bond, just so that you’re halving total damage taken.
I can’t really recommend going quite as lightly-armored… or clad… as the Peace cleric in the art here, though I guess if I had those abs I’d consider it my gift to people who like seeing that sort of thing.
I’ve heard a lot of talk in the days since the book came out about the Peace domain being overpowered. I think it’s good at what it does, but the decision-making of Emboldening Bond opens the door to erroneous decision-making. You might be making a lot of d20 rolls in a single round, especially as the game goes on. Now, you’re also affecting more characters – but maybe it’s a bigger deal that this stacks with bless, if you’re feeling truly committed.
Balm of Peace is a ton of healing output, though getting damage spread around the right way to get maximum advantage out of it isn’t the most likely unless you’ve just been fireballed. That’s a nice part of how Protective Bond works – your team gets to make some choices about how the damage gets spread around, so that the healing distribution works out. And honestly, by the time you have Expansive Bond, the party should probably be taking damage from so many different sources during a round that they can’t spend reactions on every incoming damage source. (To say nothing of all the reactions from their own classes that they won’t be using.)
(Also, someone out there, do me a favor? When you’re teleporting in to redirect damage, say: “On your left.”)
Oh, now I get what’s going on here. The Order domain is basically the Collect, followed by the Peace, and now we’re explaining that it was a Tenebrae service all along. The Church Of England has made some bold moves with the liturgical calendar… no? Is that not what we’re doing? I saw all those #TCOEs and just assumed…
Right. The concept here is, in essence:
“Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death… I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”
–the Oath of the Night’s Watch, from Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
- The Twilight Domain’s spells are a broad mix, and I think it takes some thought on the image of the spells to see a through-line. The sense is kind of about making things glow in the dark, or disappear entirely. It starts out more offensive-minded (though sleep is a gift that almost immediately stops giving) and grows into a defensive and evasive set of spells.
- You’re very warrior-adjacent, so you get martial weapons and heavy armor proficiencies. Conceptually this is a highly paladin-adjacent domain that is built on a cleric instead.
- Eyes of Night grants an impressive 300-ft darkvision. I’m not delighted with everyone getting darkvision, but it’s clearly a big part of theme here. Further, and less delightfully to me, you can share this darkvision with others for an hour, 1/long rest or refreshed when you burn a spell slot on it. Limits of vision due to darkness are just not part of your gameplay at all if there’s a Twilight cleric in the party, so get used to changing up how you describe what they see in dungeons.
- Vigilant Blessing – still 1st-level here – lets you give one person at a time advantage on initiative.
- Channel Divinity: Twilight Sanctuary at 2nd level was my favorite entry in the Zelda franchi… wait. No. It makes you radiate twilight to a 30-ft radius for 1 minute, and creatures who end their turn in that sphere can gain (if you wish them to) temporary hit points equal to 1d6 + your cleric level, or you can purge one instance of a charmed or frightened effect from them.
- This is incredibly, outlandishly dominating in many combat situations. Those temporary hit points are answer for far more damage in even a three-round combat than Balm of Peace, once you’re above maybe 8th Or you’re completely shutting down an enemy’s charm- or fear-based schtick, such as a vampire. Good look getting anywhere with dominating the cleric’s friends in the midst of combat! All of this flows out a a single action spent by the cleric, as long as the party stays in a 30-ft radius.
- Steps of Night at 6th level gives you a flying speed equal to your walking speed for a minute, as a bonus action. You can do this proficiency bonus times per day, which is enough for a lot of combat and exploration challenges, but not overland travel. Mobility powers never go out of style.
- Divine Strike at 8th, radiant damage. Like you’d expect. You might find value in a cantrip build of the Twilight domain, but thematically, as I’ve said, it wants to be a melee combatant.
- Twilight Shroud at 17th level adds half cover to the effects of your Twilight Sanctuary – so +2 AC to the team, basically.
More than a lot of clerics, your Channel Divinity is the beating heart of your domain-derived gameplay. I’m not looking up right now how many clerics get a 1-min duration effect from their 2nd-level Channel, but I don’t think it’s a lot of them. I don’t see any way for this not to be an incredibly powerful domain, based on that one feature. I’m sure it’ll be enormously fun to play – just maybe tough to challenge. You shouldn’t face too many cases of more than 2 fights between short rests to refresh Channel Divinities, though it’ll happen some.
Two more classes down – in his heart, Frodo begins to understand that this quest will claim his life, or at least the rest of this year.