It’s been several weeks, but today I’m back to continue this series, in which we dig into Tasha’s Cauldron and find out just what she put in that soup. Monk’s subclasses, while common in Rentonese cuisine, are not often to be found in Washington, D.C. (I’m also covering paladins.)
There are four new monk features, all of them extra stuff (that is, no replacements).
Dedicated Weapon at 2nd level might represent the many action sequences of martial arts movies where the protagonist goes through just about every conceivable implement of destruction. Basically, you make one additional weapon at a time into a monk weapon. The weapon must be simple or martial, which leaves out improvised weapons (Jackie Chan wants you to know that he has Tavern Brawler) and siege weapons. (In which we recall that no one gets to apply proficiency bonuses to siege weapons.)
Anyway, you also have to already be proficient in it, which is kind of an odd requirement but great for monk multiclasses, monks with weapon training features from their race, and monks who spend a feat on Weapon Master (roughly zero monks ever). Finally, it can’t have the heavy or special properties. Locking out heavy weapons (the same way Kensei does) seems to be about making sure you can never ever pair Dex with the Great Weapon Master feat. Locking out special weapons covers only lances and nets (lol no) from the Player’s Handbook, but I can say with authority that weapons with special are much more common in third-party content – so this becomes something they’ll want to consider designing around. (A side note: nothing in this list slows you down from selecting firearms, assuming you gain proficiency somehow.)
Ki-Fueled Attack at 3rd level lets you make an attack with an unarmed strike or a monk weapon as a bonus action, if you’ve already spent ki as part of your action. This is a meaningful benefit to some monk subclasses such as the Four Elements Total Landscaping monk (no I am not letting that joke go, thank you for asking), the Way of Shadow, and the Way of Mercy monk that we’re about to see. It also plugs into Quickened Healing, below.
Quickened Healing at 4th level lets you spend 2 ki points to heal yourself for one Martial Arts die + your proficiency bonus. This strikes me as too much, even though it’s both an action and 2 ki. Second Wind is the obvious comparison here (bonus action, 1d10 + fighter level, 1/short rest), but I think we also need to take the Open Hand monk’s Wholeness of Body into consideration (action, 3 x monk level, 1/long rest). Those 2 ki are expensive at 4th level, of course, but pretty cheap by 8th or 9th level. At minimum, you’re going to dump any unspent ki into self-healing before you start a short rest. This one makes me wish that some public explication of thinking (not, like, putting them on trial, just design-diary kind of stuff) were part of the content release.
Focused Aim at 5th level lets you dump up to 3 ki points after you miss with an attack, at +2 per point of ki, potentially turning that miss into a hit. You won’t use this all that much, but this kind of accuracy spend is mostly not a thing. Making absolutely sure you land a finishing blow this round before your target can act again is pretty much the ideal situation here – well, that, or landing a hit so you can spend more on Stunning Strike.
Way of Mercy
I like it when many, most, or every class has an option to fill any party role in their own way. This is the healer monk… who also gets some great murder powers. The art suggests Italian plague doctors and the flavor text mentions – delightfully – “masked bringers of macabre mercies.” This is one of the few subclasses that my players took enough interest in to playtest at my table during its UA appearance, and it has changed a good bit since then.
- Implements of Mercy grants proficiency in Insight and Medicine, and with the herbalism kit. (I already wish there were going to be a “when you use a healer’s kit, do this extra thing” feature, but I know that’s not happening.) It also gives you your mask, and a d6 table of mask descriptions. The mask doesn’t do anything other than look cool.
- Hand of Healing lets you spend 1 ki point as an action to heal a creature for your Martial Arts die + your Wisdom modifier. This improves on the new Quickened Healing feature in cost, permission to target others, and early-game healing value, assuming your Wisdom bonus is higher than +2. You can also slide this into a bonus action if you’re using Flurry of Blows, replacing one unarmed strike with it, and if you do that, the healing doesn’t cost ki. In a sense the ki you spent to Flurry is going to healing, and you’re still getting one extra unarmed strike for free. That’s a pretty incredible action economy fixer, even better than using the new Ki-Fueled Attack.
- I find it absolutely fascinating how this intersects with and, in a sense, rejects two of the new features. It is as much as saying, we can give everyone else the scaled-down version of the Way of Mercy’s Cool Thing.
- Hand of Harm (still 3rd level here) gives you a once-per-turn damage-kicker ki spend, adding your Martial Arts die and Wisdom modifier in necrotic damage. Note that if you’re willing to spend the ki, this does work for opportunity attacks.
- It’s awfully hard for any amount of damage to compete with Stunning Strike, once you gain that option, but doing both is appealing if you have ki to spare.
- Physician’s Touch at 6th level adds a bunch of condition cures (disease, blinded, deafened, paralyzed, poisoned, or stunned) to your Hand of Healing, and adds poisoned (no saving throw, ha ha) to your Hand of Harm.
- Now that really changes the decision point around Hand of Harm and Stunning Strike. After I land a hit, I can deal extra damage and poison the target, no save, or I can deal no extra damage and risk a saving throw? The former starts looking incredibly good.
- Flurry of Healing and Harm at 11th level lets you replace both of the unarmed strikes of your Flurry with healing without expending ki, and lets you use Hand of Harm once per turn for free when you Flurry.
- To break that down another way – monks risk falling behind fighters at 11th level thanks to the fighter’s Extra Attack 2. This addresses that by making sure that your most common bonus action gets a meaningful damage boost at the same level, to say nothing of the debuff it carries.
- Hand of Ultimate Mercy at 17th level is a once-per-long-rest option to return the dead to life, as long as they haven’t been dead more than 24 hours. It costs 5 ki, so you’ll sometimes come up short if someone dies late in a fight; other than that, it’s maybe the best combat rez we’ve ever seen? Is it the only combat rez other than revivify? Also, no cost in diamonds.
- This is an incredible feature… but I don’t know how many Tier 4 campaigns have enough character death to need this even once an adventure, much less once per long rest. That said, the rest of the subclass’s features are incredibly appealing, so making the 17th-level feature only occasionally needed is fine.
Now, let’s get something straight: I was sold on this subclass on the aesthetic alone. This is not uncommon! But the mechanics are also incredibly appealing – the totally fluid shift between healing adjacent allies and wrecking your enemies sounds like great fun.
Way of the Astral Self
I’ve had it explained to me that this is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: the Monk Subclass, but I haven’t watched any of that. Sorry, friends, my Appendix N is as idiosyncratic as yours! Because it’s mentioning the Astral, I’m thinking sort of a dream-knight. The flavor text also sparks the idea of “it’s a weird New Age-y thing maybe” that… is a very different direction than other monk subclasses, so I’m intrigued.
- Arms of the Astral Self is a pretty involved power, so stick with me here. For a bonus action and 1 ki, spectral arms burst out of you and smack everyone within 10 feet for two Martial Arts dice of damage (not that big a deal at 3rd level, but it gets there) on a failed Dex save. For the next 10 minutes you also:
- Can use Wis in place of Str for Strength checks and saves.
- Can use the arms to make unarmed attacks, with reach (reach applies only on your turn), using Wis rather than Str or Dex for attack and damage if you want, and deal force damage.
- So it’s interesting to see that single ki spend get you point-blank AoE damage and an ongoing, maybe even multi-fight benefit. I like that it lets you play a monk with Wisdom as their primary ability score, and Dex as a secondary – though the first two levels of play might still be chancy.
- Visage of the Astral Self at 6th level is an exploration/social feature that you can bring up separately or as part of the same bonus action (but for a separate expenditure of 1 ki point) as Arms of the Astral Self. It grants Devil’s Sight-style Best Darkvision out to 120 ft, which is fine by me because it’s 1 ki point per 10 minutes of use. You also gain advantage on Insight and Intimidation checks, and you can make just one creature within 60 feet or all creatures within 600 feet hear your voice, for that 10-minute duration.
- Interesting set of effects here. Because it’s how my imagination works, another way to approach these mechanics might be to treat the Astral Self as an angel or other supernatural entity that is bound to the monk. Because this gets weird in places, you can probably treat it as a particularly Book-of-Isaiah-style angel, if that’s your inclination.
- Body of the Astral Self at 11th level is a combination defense and offense feature. Its cost structure is unusual: you get it for free when you already have your Arms and Visage up, so it’s free-with-purchase, and comes along with the same bonus action you spent for the first two features. It both lets you deflect acid, cold, fire, force, lightning, or thunder damage about like Deflect Missiles but without turning into a counterattack, and adds one Martial Arts die of damage to your Arms of the Astral Self damage, once per each of your turns.
- So it’s another 11th-level damage boost – less of a boost than Mercy got at 11th, but stay tuned for the 17th-level feature.
- Awakened Astral Self at 17th level costs 5 ki points, but it sets up all of your other features, then tacks on two more. That ki cost spike – 2 to 5 – is real, but you’re 17th level, do you honestly care? I didn’t mention this above, but all of these features end if you’re incapacitated or you die. (Which suggests to me two Astral Self monks playing stun-tag to see who runs out of ki first, as they keep bringing up their astral features and losing them.) Anyway, your awakened form gains +2 to AC – an incredibly rare kind of feature in 5e, and Astral Barrage. Astral Barrage’s deal is that it’s Extra Attack 2 with a condition: you can only use it if all of your attacks that round are astral arms attacks.
- That’s complicated, because… what about magic weapons? One of the surprisingly powerful quirks of monks is that they can get very good use out of simple weapons that other primary weapon-users might pass up, like spears, so magic versions of those weapons are particularly appealing. This final feature may represent a change in your whole combat loop to get that extra Martial Arts die + Wis bonus of force damage each round.
The theme of this subclass grew on me as I read through it. It’s still not more my deal than the Way of Mercy, but that’s not a reasonable standard. I think the mechanics tell a cool visual story and show us a monk that can exert control over a large area of the battlefield – functionally a square 25 feet on a side, even if you only have opportunity attacks within your normal reach.
There’s a spread of new features for paladins.
Additional Paladin Spells add three Player’s Handbook spells and two Xanathar’s spells to the paladin list. Bothering to give more people the oft-maligned prayer of healing is an interesting move. Warding bond obviously should have been there from the start.
Fighting Style Options adds three new fighting styles for paladins at 2nd level: Blind Fighting and Interception from the Fighter section, plus Blessed Warrior. Blessed Warrior lets you pick two cleric cantrips to learn, so you can toll the dead or sacred flame with the best of them if that’s your deal. I stand firm in my belief that not adding TWF to this list is an unwelcome aesthetic control on paladins, and for that matter I’d tweak the rules to support ranged-weapon paladins with the Archery or Thrown Weapon fighting styles. Superior Technique, while we’re here. What I’m saying is that the game loses nothing by opening that up wider.
Harness Divine Power here is the same as it is for clerics, but 3rd level instead of 2nd. A way to turn your Channel Divinity into 2d8 radiant damage even once per long rest is a good bet for a lot of paladins, if their Channeling options are particularly situational.
Martial Versatility at 4th lets you change out your fighting style whenever you gain an ASI. No problem with that.
Oath of Glory
Since this was also part of my Mythic Odysseys of Theros breakdown, I’ve copied-and-pasted the bullet points here.
- The Oath of Glory spells tell a story that has more direct blasting spells – any – than I generally expect from paladins (guiding bolt, flame strike). Leaning heavily on physical buffs is the more obvious move, and there’s a lot of that here too.
- Two new Channel Divinity options, as is standard for paladins:
- Peerless Athlete grants advantage on Athletics and Acrobatics checks for 10 minutes, and increases the feats of strength you can achieve. Great for exploration sequences; the Glory paladin in my campaign also used it to thumb his nose at a group of enemies who used grappling as part of their tactics.
- Inspiring Smite gives you a pool of temporary hit points to distribute among nearby teammates (including yourself). 2d8 + your paladin level is real nice.
- Aura of Alacrity is a speed boost for the paladin and allies who start their turn adjacent to the paladin. This plays oddly with initiative order, but it’s probably good that paladins mostly don’t win initiative. The one other place where it does its job well is when the paladin is covering a retreat – their adjacent allies can Disengage from the enemy line and gain +10 ft of distance in their withdrawal. Point is, this is hard to use well, especially in comparison to other paladin auras.
- Glorious Defense at 15th level lets you block for yourself or nearby allies (within 10 feet), a reaction triggered by a hit that boosts AC. If this turns a hit to a miss, which you presumably know it will do when you use the reaction, you also get to make a weapon attack if they’re within your range. (Great time to fight with weapons you can throw!) You can do this a number of times equal to your Cha modifier per long rest.
- This is a case where I really wish uses-per-day scaled off of proficiency bonus, just so Cha modifier wasn’t governing the same feature in two different axes. It’s a harder push toward “Cha 20 or gtfo” than I necessarily love to see.
- Other than that, it’s an absolutely phenomenal defender feature, and the worst I could say is that it’s a long time to wait for that kind of action.
- Living Legend at 20th level is, well, their 20th-level transformation. It’s a bonus action (hot tip: houserule Devotion/Ancients/Vengeance transformations to be bonus actions too) and lasts one minute, during which time you gain advantage on Cha checks, one missed weapon attack per turn becomes a hit instead (!), and you can use your reaction to reroll failed saving throws. Oh! You can also dump a 5th-level spell slot to refresh this. I am all about that new mechanic.
- That’s a whole lot of improvement; I’m gonna say it’s objectively better than Avenging Angel, and at least competitive with Holy Nimbus and Elder Champion. (Comparison to other paladin Oaths gets weird – and it’d be nice to finish this bullet point someday.)
Athleticism and raw magnetism are centerpieces of the narrative. It’s not as dominating on the offensive side as a lot of paladin Oaths, though all paladins can be offensively dominating thanks to Divine Smite, which needs no help at all. This brings some additional strength to the defensive side, which is also hardly necessary. My favorite features are those aiding in mobility and physical exploration challenges. A rare thing, among paladins!
Oath of the Watchers
I think I speak for all of us when I say it’s weird that the character art for this doesn’t look more like Anthony Stewart Head.
If you don’t get that joke, the odds are good that your thirties are still a strange and unknowable future.
(checks notes) Oh, hey, I absolutely made this same joke in a different way back in the UA breakdown. I’ll go harangue the writers’ room until there’s some new material in these jokes, okay?
- Their Oath Spells lean on protection, detection, and crowd control. Moonbeam is a kind of unusual choice, but I think it touches on a nighttime aspect.
- Channel Divinity gives them:
- Watcher’s Will grants you and Cha mod creatures within 30 feet advantage on Int, Wis, and Cha saves for 1 minute. That’s damn close to just having magic resistance against aberrations. Less firmly so against fiends, but still incredibly good in a lot of circumstances.
- Abjure the Extraplanar is Turn Undead but for aberrations, celestials (bit rude), elementals, fey, and fiends. It sits right at the core of the whole subclass’s theme. Not sure how much any of those are going to come up before mid-Tier 2, though.
- Aura of the Sentinel at 7th level makes you radiate, uh, caffeine? Which sounds amazing to me, yes please and thank you. It’s actually just your proficiency bonus to initiative within 10 feet, or 30 feet at 18th Anyway, this is a paladin aura that could affect every character’s roll, but not more than once per combat.
- Vigilant Rebuke at 15th level turns Watcher’s Will into retributive damage. Specifically, when a nearby creature succeeds an Int/Wis/Cha save, you can use your reaction to deal 2d8+Cha force damage to the instigator, and Watcher’s Will helps create that situation more often.
- I think I’ve got decent footing when I say Int/Wis/Cha are less common overall than Str/Dex/Con, so there’s some real need for GMs to remember to pitch to this strength. If you don’t… half of the non-spell features of this subclass below 20th level don’t do anything most of the time.
- Mortal Bulwark at 20th level is, of course, a transformation that takes a bonus action to use and lasts 1 minute, 1/long rest, or you can refresh it with a 5th-level spell. For that duration, you get a nice variety of stuff:
- Truesight out to 120 feet
- Advantage to attack all the same types of creatures as you abjure.
- Your critical hits proc a banishment effect, if the target fails a Cha save and isn’t already on its native plane.
The short version of my take on this class: I like the theme, would play… but with tightly managed expectations.
The longer version: paladin subclass design is in a weird place. The format defined by the PH paladin Oaths (Oath Spells + CDs at 3rd, those CDs are strictly 1/short rest, aura at 7th, transform at 20th) is more circumscribed than any other class. None of the features below 15th level or so can move the needle really at all on damage output, because Divine Smite produces such phenomenal damage spikes already.
This Oath in particular is highly situational. If the creature doesn’t fall into the list of creature types, or its attacks into Int/Wis/Cha saves, you have very few Oath features to draw on. The core of the paladin gameplay above about 3rd level (uh, once you have more than about 2 spell slots per long rest) is strong enough that you just won’t care as much that you can’t lean on your subclass.
I like that it’s covering a good spread of types, and missing just two of the dominant Tier 4 creature types (dragon and undead), but in general we don’t see favored-enemy subclasses, and this is kinda why. Looking back to the UA version, this is almost identical – it’s got to be one of the least-changed subclasses we’ve seen.
But again – it isn’t that I hate this Oath, far from it. It just calls for a conversation between player and DM to set expectations on both sides, to a greater degree than a lot of paladin oaths. (Setting aside for a moment that every paladin player and DM need to have a conversation about how much Lawful Asshole they plan to be, and exactly how oath tenets are adjudicated and enforced.)