It’s the sixth article in this series and we’re sixty-five pages into this book! this-is-fine-dog.gif. Anyway, this time I’ll be looking at sorcerers and warlocks; they’re a particularly exciting set in this book because they represent a pivot in WotC’s approach to those classes. I can’t state this strongly enough: if you’re working in freelance subclass design, you need to be studying what’s going on here on a bunch of levels.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six
The sorcerer has an identity problem. In Edition Wars, the podcast that I record with the delightful and talented Sam Dillon, we spent a whole episode on Why Even Are Sorcerers?, which I won’t try to rehash here. The short version is that sorcerers and warlocks tread on a lot of the same thematic ground (connection to entities of great power), while sorcerers and wizards share a lot of mechanical ground. Something to keep in mind, as we dive into this section.
Additional Sorcerer Spells is a substantial expansion to the already broad sorcerer spell list. Most of what’s here is either new in this book, or picking up spells that wizards could cast and sorcerers couldn’t. The interesting exception is flame blade, which was previously druid-only. (To be clear the sorcerer list has always had a few curious druid crossovers.)
Metamagic Options introduces two new metamagics. Seeking Spell lets you spend 2 sorcery points on a missed spell attack to reroll it, though you must keep the new roll. Like Empowered Spell, it’s non-exclusive with other metamagic on a single spell. Transmuted Spell lets you spend 1 sorcery point to swap out damage types within the elemental (acid, cold, fire, lightning, thunder) + poison list. This is going to be an interesting data point when we get to the Scribe wizard in Part Seven. I don’t really have a problem with either of these; I can’t quite conceal a wish that there had been about two more new things here.
Sorcerous Versatility is the “stuff you can change out at ASI levels” feature for sorcerers: one metamagic and one cantrip.
Magical Guidance at 5th level builds on the Font of Magic concept – you can translate some of the raw magical power of your sorcery points into excellence in ordinary tasks. That is to say, you can spend 1 sorcery point to reroll a failed ability check. I’ve never completely understood 5e’s many, many uses of “you must use the new result” with reroll mechanics, but it shows up here too. This is nice to have, and luring players into solving a few more problems with skills rather than spells is a net good to my mind.
Aberrant Mind Origin
There’s more going on here than its core pitch, but at base this is the psion – the caster-style psionic character – of 5e. If you’re waiting for an official 20-level mystic/psion class, I have some bad news. It’s not publicly, definitely ruled out, but think about how hard they worked on this and on the artificer (many, many rounds of UAs each) and ask yourself how hard of an uphill push it’d be to get another class into the game. I wanted that mystic too, but I’m not disappointed with this.
The d6 Aberrant Origins table (not a prequel game by White Wolf or Onyx Path somehow starring Hugh Jackman; I’m as disappointed as you are) is simultaneously talking about the Aberrant Mind as a subclass, and about the spectrum of weird to creepy that all psionics could carry in your campaign. Vectors for your psionic power might be vectors for all psionic power.
- Psionic Spells is a really interesting version of an extra/expanded spells feature. At first it looks like two extra spells known at every spell level up to 5th, and a third extra one at 1st It is that, but then the second paragraph comes in and opens a new direction for the theme. The 11 spells in the list include the three friendly-tentacle spells (arms of Hadar, hunger of Hadar, and Jesus, Hadar, how about some boundaries, my guy, more commonly known as Evard’s black tentacles) and a hefty helping of non-charm mental influence. But each time you level, you can cycle out one of these spells and bring in any divination or enchantment spell found on the sorcerer, warlock, or wizard lists.
- So the story is that you manifest a bunch of new powers that “you didn’t choose,” but you can eventually get them under control and turned into something you do want. (If you want.) That… does kinda sound like a fair number of telepaths and telekineticists from fiction, yeah!
- Telepathic Speech lets you establish a telepathic link with another creature. When you activate the feature, they have to be within 30 feet, but afterward you can sustain the link as long as they’re within Cha mod miles. This is language-based telepathy. It only lasts a number of minutes equal to your sorcerer level, which means you’re not getting the full benefit of that range most of the time. You can only have one active link at a time, but as many as you want per day.
- This and Psionic Spells suggest comparison to the Great Old One warlock’s Expanded Spell List and Awakened Mind. They’re not carving out a playstyle yet – you play about like any other sorcerer, with some mostly-out-of-combat utility tricks, plus spellcasting that is not much different from their base class.
- Psionic Sorcery at 6th level is where this starts to pull away a bit more from the core sorcerer and the Great Old One warlock. It also puts a whole new spin on your Psionic Spells feature and the importance of repopulating it. (As a bone-deep design nerd, a feature that recontextualizes what came before is a delight to me.) Anyway, you can cast spells on your Psionic Spells list at a more efficient sorcery-point conversion rate than the Font of Magic standard, and if you do, you ignore verbal, somatic, and non-consumed material components. Ideally, it gets you thinking about how to make those 11 spells the centerpiece of your gameplay, so yes, that’s defining a playstyle.
- Psychic Defenses, also at 6th, grants resistance to psychic damage and advantage on saves vs. charm or frightened. Very much on brand.
- Revelation in Flesh at 14th is, no question, among the all-time great feature names of 5e. You spend 1-4 sorcery points as a bonus action and gain benefits for the next ten minutes – one of these for each point you spend.
- See invisible stuff within 60 feet. You also get cool sclera contacts, or tentacles come out of your eyes (a spell commonly called not now, Hadar).
- Flying speed equal to your walking speed, and you glow or glisten. I love how “Jean Grey as Dark Phoenix” this is so far. (No one actually likes the Dark Phoenix arc as far as I am aware, but the aesthetic is great, so go nuts.)
- Swimming speed equal to twice your walking speed, and you develop an Innsmouth look or some distressing cilia.
- You can squeeze through a space as narrow as 1 inch without squeezing, and you can slip out of nonmagical restraints or grapples by spending 5 feet of movement. The “slimy and pliable” part sounds very aboleth-appropriate, while for the Dark Phoenix aesthetic, you gloss it as a lesser intangibility.
- Anyway, great combat and exploration feature set, great opt-in cost scaling.
- Warping Implosion at 18th level lets you teleport up to 120 feet out of a dangerous spot as an action, leaving a vacuum behind that pulls in creatures within 30 feet (on a failed Str save) and deals 3d10 force damage to them. You get one use per long rest, and you can refresh this early by spending 5 sorcery points. It’s an excellent fallback plan.
One thing that really jumps out here is how much more tinkering with your sorcery point reserve this subclass has you doing than many other sorcerers. You might very well use your bonus action almost every turn for melting down spell slots. That’s not bad, but I’ve known players who would find that this steers them away from it. It’s got a lot of cool stuff going on; I like that you can play all the way to 13th level before you have to even grapple with whether your psionics are squirmy and gross or not. For a lot of campaigns, that means it never comes up, and your aesthetic is anything at all. (Not that the Wizards Design Team is lawyering up if you do change it in your home campaign.)
Clockwork Soul Origin
Where the Aberrant Mind represents inner connection to the Far Realm or aberrations, the Clockwork Soul offers a connection to Mechanus and modrons. It’s kind of an odd idea, and I keep finding myself surprised that for all this clockwork, there’s really no time-travel theme in the offing. Just one of those things about what people do or don’t attach to “clockwork” as a theme.
- Clockwork Magic works about like Psionic Spells, though it’s the standard 10 spells rather than 11. You can replace these spells with abjuration or transmutation spells from the sorcerer, warlock, or wizard lists, which I guess is a “tinkering” concept. The spell list is very buff-focused, along with lesser restoration and greater restoration (restoring something to factory settings, sure). You also get a Manifestation of Order, a visual or auditory signature that comes along with your sorcerer spellcasting.
- Restore Balance lets you negate advantage or disadvantage on one roll that you can see happening within 60 feet, proficiency bonus times per long rest. It’s a fun way to annoy your enemies or bail out your friends – the barbarian especially appreciates you negating a whole lot of Reckless Attack advantage-granting. Having just 2/long rest uses as your main non-spellcasting feature for several levels of play is rough.
- Bastion of Law at 6th level lets you spend 1-5 sorcery points as an action. One of your buddies gets a damage-absorbing field with that many d8s in it, spent at the time they’re taking the damage. The dynamic of not rolling the dice until you’re stopping damage means you’re going to occasionally waste some of the effect, differentiating this a bit more from just being temporary hit points. You can only protect one creature at a time with this feature. In case you haven’t caught it before now, this cements the Clockwork Soul as a support playstyle.
- Trance of Order at 14th level is a stance you enter for 1 minute, as a bonus action. You negate advantage on attacks against you, and d20 rolls you make treat rolls of 9 or lower as 10. You get one use per long rest for free, and additional uses for 5 sorcery points. This seems like it wants you to lean into spells with attack rolls, though there aren’t a ton of those at mid-to-high spell levels that I can think of.
- Clockwork Cavalcade at 18th level is a flashy “ultimate” power: you summon a bunch of spirit-modrons, which heal 100 hit points divided among your friends in the 30-foot area, repair damaged objects, and end spells of 6th level or lower that target creatures or objects of your choice in the area. You get one free use per long rest, and additional uses cost 7 sorcery points. This is a super weird ability, not least of which is because you choose the creatures and objects to end active spells on, but not which spells to end – so if you need to end hold person, your friend’s stoneskin is also toast. That… does seem like something a cosmic spirit of Law would do, though.
Overall, the Clockwork Soul seems to be about dividing energy between the core of sorcerer play – blasting things to smithereens while running twinned haste (what?) – with protecting and supporting your friends. Cheap at first, but the sorcery point cost for using your features regularly is intense, and I think that’s a touch disappointing. What you get for those additional uses is good – damage prevention and healing are never passe – but still. You mostly won’t keep spending for more Trance of Order uses, unless there’s a huge exploit there that I’m missing. (Not unlikely.)
We get both optional new class features and eight new eldritch invocations, including a new Pact.
Additional Warlock Spells adds several new spells from this book and five spells from the Player’s Handbook to the warlock spell list. The melee cantrips are a huge help for Pact of the Blade warlocks, one hopes, though you’ve got to parse the rules and rules clarifications pretty carefully to be sure you can legally use them. The PH spells feel very much like oversights, though no one has ever been sad not to have weird because it is so. bad.
Pact of the Talisman at 3rd level (like all Pacts) gives you a talisman that you can use yourself or hand off. Whoever has the widget can add a d4 to a failed ability check, proficiency bonus times per your long rest. If lost, you can create a new talisman and destroy the old one with an hour of work, like you’d expect from similar features that give you a widget.
Eldritch Versatility at 4th level gives you things you can cycle out as part of an Ability Score Increase: cantrips, your Pact (!), and at 12th level, Mystic Arcana. If changing your cantrips or Pact invalidates Eldritch Arcana, you can immediately respend those Eldritch Invocations. I’m honestly pretty surprised by the Pact change, because so much of your build centers around your Pact, but okay. If you’re unhappy with your Pact, the game should let you change it, I’d just want to handle that in the narrative if at all possible.
New Eldritch Invocations
Bond of the Talisman is one of three talisman-specific invocations. This one requires 12th level, and lets you teleport to the person holding your talisman, or lets them teleport to you, as long as you’re on the same plane of existence; you get your proficiency bonus in total teleportations per long rest. There’s a lot of infiltration/exfiltration fun here, just the kind of ridiculousness you want in Tier 3 and 4.
Eldritch Mind grants advantage on Con saves to maintain concentration. Yay, War Caster is slightly less mandatory! (Still amazing!)
Far Scribe is a Tome pact invocation that requires 5th level. It creates a new page in your Book of Shadows that is a prop for casting sending to a list of people equal to your proficiency bonus. I… guess you can cast sending as much as you want? Oh, but you can’t target just anyone you met – you have to get them to sign your yearbook before you can target them. That’s kinda cool, though having to cycle anyone out and go back to them to get them to sign again would get old.
Gift of the Protectors is a 9th-level Tomelock invocation. Again you get a new page in your Book, and a creature that writes its name on it falls to 1 hit point instead of 0 when they would be knocked unconscious but not killed outright (by disintegrate, say). The page’s power is expended until you finish a long rest after it saves one person.
Investment of the Chain Master is a new Chainlock invocation, with no level prereq. It improves your familiar with several new features.
- They gain a new movement mode (not that it’s the easiest to visualize adding flight or swimming to the creatures that don’t already have that).
- They can now attack when you use a bonus action rather than using part of your Attack action. The Chain pact baseline here is near-useless; this upgrade is good if you have an imp, pseudodragon, or quasit, and still forgettable for most other familiars.
- Their weapon attacks are magic for purposes of resistance/immunity. Sure, good to have if your pet is going to be a combat pet.
- They use your spell save DC rather than their default save DCs, if they have such effects (as the imp, pseudodragon, and quasit do, as well as the poisonous snake).
- When the familiar takes damage, you can give it resistance as a reaction. Which still won’t be enough to save it, I want to point out, because the toughest of them has 10 hit points.
This is partway toward making your familiar a combat pet, but without a substantial and scaling increase to its hit points, AC, saves, attack bonus, and damage (oh hai, changes to the Beast Master ranger! You say you’re in the same book and I covered you in the previous article? Weird), the owl with Flyby Attack and the Help action remains the greatly superior choice. I remain convinced that in its heart of hearts, the Chain pact wants to be a Demonology warlock from WoW, with variants for each Patron, but eldritch blast gameplay is simply too dominant.
This invocation further has the problem of feeling like a tax just to get to your desired gameplay loop, a problem that it shares with a pure blasty build (Ag Blast, other blast upgrades) and a Blade Pact melee build (Lifedrinker, Thirsting Blade, Eldritch Smite). Eldritch Invocations look like design space to solve the warlock, and to some extent they can be, but really your gameplay loop needs to be competitive with just your Patron + Pact choice. Not that I haven’t done my own experimentation with solving the Chainlock through invocations.
Just to head this off at the pass – yes, I get that any damage a familiar deals as part of your bonus action is extra on top of your eldritch blast attack routine, and needs to stay in check as a result.
Protection of the Talisman is a talisman-pact invocation for 7th level and above. The wearer can add that d4 to a failed saving throw, proficiency bonus times per your long rest. Good extension of the concept.
Rebuke of the Talisman is another talisman pact option, this time without a level prerequisite. It gives you a reaction, dealing a splash of psychic damage and pushing away a creature that hits the talisman-wearer. Interrupting a Multiattack is an ideal case here, and potentially amazing.
Undying Servitude requires 5th level. It lets you cast animate dead once per long rest without a spell slot. Two things to note here: without spending a spell slot puts it in sharp contrast with most of the spell invocations in the PH (and suggests the obvious fix for any of them). More critically, please remember that animate dead breaks like a terrible breaking thing if it becomes a 2-or-more per short rest spell. Yes, there exist a couple of ways to gain animate dead as a warlock spell – thanks, Golgari guild of Ravnica! – but please just don’t.
This Patron has a Great Old One vibe thanks to all those tentacles, but it could be any deep-dwelling watery thing, possibly tied to the Plane of Water. The ideas for what exactly your Patron might be sound like fun.
- Their Expanded Spell List has a heavy dose of storm themes, in thunder, wind, lightning, sleet, and cold, as well as an equal helping of water-based spells.
- Tentacle of the Deeps summons a friendly tentacle for 1 minute as a bonus action. You slap people with it, a melee spell attack that deals d8 cold damage (2d8 at 10th and later). Tentacle slaps on later rounds are also bonus actions. You get proficiency bonus uses per long rest, which… it’s hard to know if that’s enough or not. You’re saving that last one in case of a boss fight, almost no matter what, aren’t you? Also it looks like the tentacle isn’t a separate creature in a rules sense, so if you’ve already cast hex, you can apply that damage as well.
- Gift of the Sea gives you a 40-ft swimming speed and underwater breathing.
- Oceanic Soul at 6th level grants cold resistance – good for the deepest parts of the ocean, though you might also need some way to resist pressure. You also gain perfect knowledge of spoken languages while you and the person you’re speaking to are fully submerged. That’s a strange idea that seems like it started out as “your voice isn’t distorted” and got reinterpreted from there.
- Guardian Coil, also at 6th level, lets you use your reaction to have the tentacle block 1d8 damage dealt to a creature you can see within 10 feet of the tentacle; as with the base feature, this improves to 2d8 at 10th. Getting to attack and block with this tentacle is starting to sound like a lot of entertaining gameplay.
- Grasping Tentacles at 10th level teaches you Evard’s black tentacles as a bonus spell and gives you one free casting per long rest. It’s such a favored spell that you gain temporary hit points when you cast it and damage can’t break your concentration on it. I would like to see a lot more warlock features following this model.
- Fathomless Plunge at 14th level lets you teleport yourself and up to five companions (oof, sorry large teams) up to 1 mile, into a body of water you’ve previously seen. It’s a great emergency escape power, 1/short rest.
I am very happy with this subclass design and its narrative. No significant complaints. Tentacle of the Deeps is a perfect example of a central gameplay mechanic that the PH warlock patrons lack.
I remember being very into this when it showed up in UA. I’m expecting nothing to change on that front – and a genie warlock is just an unbelievably strong concept pitch. “Kinda shoulda been in the PH” strong (no real criticism intended here).
- The Genie Expanded Spells are particularly involved – there’s a universal list of five spells (plus wish at 9th, I am so freaking glad that stayed in), and a separate list of five spells for each of the four genie types. It offers the kind of customized patron-identity that the Archfey and Fiend patrons fall just short of delivering.
- Genie’s Vessel gives you the lamp, ring, or whatever that is your connection to your patron. It does a bunch of stuff:
- Spellcasting focus, of course.
- Bottled Respite lets you go inside your vessel, which turns out to be a cozy hangout spot that only you and, later, your best friends go to. You can take a short rest within, or later a long rest (once you have a +4 proficiency bonus), though you’re in some danger of coming out and discovering that someone else has moved your vessel. You can’t keep popping in and out, though – you have to finish a long rest to go in a second time. The vessel is good for spying, because you can hear what goes on outside.
- Genie’s Wrath lets you add your proficiency bonus to the damage you deal with an attack, once per each of your turns. It’s a small damage kicker, but sure.
- There are rules for the vessel’s resistance to harm and for making a new one if your old one breaks. They’re all basically what you’d expect.
- This calls out to be a Pact of the Talisman so incredibly hard, except that I guess you need two talismans? Handing someone else your Genie’s Vessel is an actual problem, after all. I dunno, still play it as Pact of the Talisman, just get a widget and one almost exactly like it?
- Elemental Gift at 6th level gives you resistance to your patron genie’s favored damage type; the fact that one of these is bludgeoning is something of a surprise. You can also fly with a speed of 30 ft, for 10 minutes at a time, proficiency bonus times per day.
- Resistance and flying? Heck yeah, that’s an amazing feature!
- Suck it, Draconic sorcerers.
- Sanctuary Vessel at 10th level lets you bring up to five friends (sorry, large groups!) into your vessel. You can bounce them out of your lounge as a bonus action.
- Jeez, that is the fantasy here – getting to go out to a bar with only the people I’m already quarantining with.
- Also, you and your pals can finish a short rest in 10 minutes in your vessel, and they add your proficiency bonus to their Hit Dice rolls to regain hit points.
- Limited Wish at 14th level lets you duplicate any one spell effect of 6th level or lower, ignoring costly material components. It takes 1d4 long rests to refresh. This may be one of the greatest ace-in-the-hole features 5e has offered so far. I’m a big ol’ fan. The spell does have to have a casting time of 1 action, which leaves most spells on the table but not quite all. (Sorry, raise dead.)
I find the Genie Patron to be stylish and fun. Listening to a lot of Critical Role hammers home how much fun a customizable, portable space can be, whether it’s a Genie’s Vessel or Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion. It’s not as damage-focused as the Fathomless, but if you have a group that uses a lot of short rests (or needs some encouragement to start doing so), it shines. Any shortcoming on raw combat features is paid back in shenanigans, I’m sure.
The sorcerer and warlock options together are looking great. They have strong, memorable narratives and well-defined playstyles. If there are issues – Clockwork Soul sorcery point costs, whatever – it would take years of playtesting to find them for sure. Beyond that, the issues are things that TCOE can’t shoulder the weight of fixing – this isn’t the place to tackle the things I think the sorcerer or warlock need, even if I comment on them along the way.
Next time – the wizard, and plowing on into the rest of the book!