We have a new twelve-page UA release from WotC, offering a wide range of playtest content. It’s not particularly clear what titles any of it might go with – there’s some Giant-related material salient to that previous Giant UA, but there’s also some cosmic stuff with some Planescape vibes that might be part of Spelljammer instead? Life is full of mysteries, and I’m not solving this one today, so let’s dive in.
The byline for this UA goes to Makenzie De Armas, Dan Dillon, Ben Petrisor, Jason Tondro, and Jeremy Crawford – a longer list of authors suitable to a huge document.
When there are new races, they’re always listed first, and here come “glitchlings,” which to my surprise might not be a player option for Vanellope von Schweetz from the Wreck It Ralph movie franchise. The physical description leaves a lot of room for different possibilities, though I think it’s at least pointing in the direction of a modron with a bit more of a humanoid shape (and the Construct type).
- The table of Glitchling Quirks has six different android-like options.
- Construct, Medium, 30-ft walking speed.
- Armored Plating gives you a baseline AC of 14 + Dexterity modifier. The contrast with Integrated Protection (+1 AC, armor is installed rather than donned) is interesting.
- Balance Chaos lets you take 10 on an attack or save that you rolled 9 or below on; PB uses per long rest. Especially with saves, it’s an open question whether your weaker saves succeed on a 10. For most characters, the answer is no.
- Living Construct gets you around some but not all of the “this spell doesn’t affect Constructs” healing spells – you’re a valid target for cure wounds, healing word, mass cure wounds, mass healing word, and spare the dying, but not heal, power word heal, (this right now is me learning that aura of vitality and healing spirit affect Constructs and Undead just fine), or a paladin’s Lay on Hands class feature. You being a Construct is still a meaningful problem for your party’s potential healing strategies, though it’s not a straight-up death sentence.
- Ordered Mind (what must that be like?) grants advantage on Wisdom (Insight) checks, and on saves to avoid or end the charmed condition.
- Helpful Tip! Remember that advantage grants +5 to a passive score, so if you have 12 Wis, no proficiency, and the Ordered Mind trait, your passive Insight is 16.
- Vestigial Wings let you fly at your current walking speed for that one turn, PB times per day. If you’re not supported at the end of your turn, you fall. Not the only time we’ve seen limited flight work this way (see also Eagle totem Totem Warrior barbarians).
The story I take away from this is Lieutenant Commander Data, but with vestigial wings. I’m waiting for them to use the same mechanics, but for foot-mounted rocket thrusters. This seems fine; I understand that Balance Chaos is just going to be a thing even if I’m personally iffy on it being fun in the game. Living Construct is a “feature” that is, in the balance, still pretty bad for you. Even though prayer of healing isn’t anyone’s super-power-move healing spell, I’d like to see it wedged into that list for Living Construct, just so the glitchling isn’t another incidental nerf.
Fate Cleric Domain
It’s only Calvinism if it comes from the Picardy region of France. Otherwise, it’s just sparkling predestination.
I’m basically always a fan of a fate witch concept, and 5e has gone so much lighter on that in official content than 4e did.
- Fate Domain spells strike me as less information-gathering than I would have expected. See invisibility, clairvoyance (perpetually hard to use well), divination, and commune are all meaningful inclusions, of course – it’s really just dissonant whispers and heroism that make their case less strongly. It’s fine, I’m nitpicking.
- Omens and Portents gives you one free casting of augury per day, and your percentage failure rate for all percentage-failure spells (augury, commune, divination) is reduced by 25%. That’s a definite nice-to-have for divination-centered characters.
- Ties that Bind lets you tie a strand of fate from you to the target creature, as an action, lasting for 1 hour. An unwilling creature can make a Wisdom save to resist. For a creature that fails or doesn’t resist, you can sense their direction and movement while on the same plane of existence, and you add d6 to the damage or healing you do to them with a spell that uses a slot of 1st level or higher. You can also target an object. You can tie a strand of fate PB times per long rest.
- I’m pretty sure it’s never going to be worthwhile to target an unwilling creature, because that d6 damage kicker is just not worth spending an action to possibly fail. I love the idea of a Fate cleric working as solid damage output, but this is a hunter’s mark that the target can resist and that only works on spells that cost you a spell slot.
- Extra healing done is always a good time, of course. As written, as far as I understand, this wouldn’t add to aura of vitality, healing spirit, or other heal-over-time spells, because the trigger is when you cast.
- Channel Divinity: Strands of Fate (at 2nd level) is a little unfortunately named for distinguishing it in your mind from Ties that Bind. It places you in a stance for 1 minute that lets you use your reaction to grant advantage or disadvantage on any attack roll or ability check made by a creature you can see. This costs your concentration, which is a tough situation for a cleric (bless your heart!), but it’s up to 10 instances of advantage or disadvantage.
- I expect this to get treated as a reroll after the initial roll by at least 75% of all tables. That’s incorrect, and because you have just one reaction per round it’s incorrect in a way that makes a substantial power-balance difference. (The later in any roll resolution you can declare, the more information you have to work with and the more potent the feature.) See this article on Timing Reactions for more on this.
- But I won’t be surprised when DMs want players to have the most satisfying possible experience, and a reroll follows the flow of player thought (“that failed? I didn’t want it to fail, how can I fix that? Oh hey I have a feature I totally meant to use… is it too late?”) more smoothly.
- Insightful Striking at 6th level gives you, as a bonus action, either +1d6 to your attack roll against a target creature, or -1d6 to the target’s saving throw against your spell, each on your next attack or spell before the end of your next turn. PB uses per long rest.
- It certainly explains why Ties that Bind uses an action – the designer is maneuvering carefully in the action economy. Thus far we have one Passive feature, one Action feature, one Reaction feature, and one Bonus Action feature.
- Potent Spellcasting does what Potent Spellcasting does. It’s interesting that post-Tasha’s cleric domains still grant Potent Spellcasting or Divine Strike, rather than everyone getting pushed toward Blessed Strikes.
- Visions of the Future at 17th level gives you a 1-minute-duration foresight usage, once per long rest. It’s nice to have and lets you spend your reactions from Strands of Fate on someone else.
There’s something missing here, to me. I appreciate the concept of giving a fate concept a lot of control over accuracy with attacks and spells, but I want it to step beyond nudging the accuracy math or getting a d6 damage/healing kicker at some point. Dunno what that would be, but that’s okay because I’m not on the hook to design it. I guess I want either Insightful Striking or Visions of the Future to offer something different, maybe something strongly not combat related? Maybe Visions of the Future could do for precognition what Visions of the Past (17th level Knowledge domain feature) does for postcognition.
If you’ve been wondering if “everyone gets a bonus feat at 1st level” is a standard we can expect going forward… the answer is shifting from “probably” to “I guess it might vary by setting?” The text here suggests that DMs can simply not use any of the Backgrounds that do this, but WotC isn’t going to be able to fork their Background design. There’s just not enough community-wide support for DMs banning content to make that fly.
Anyway, if Backgrounds that grant a feat are on the table and you take a Background that doesn’t, you can pick one of six feats to fill the gap. Four are new feats found in this document, Scion of Elemental Air/Earth/Fire/Water; the other two are Skilled and Tough. I gotta say, if you like feeling good at things, Skilled is phenomenal, and there’s never been a character who wished for fewer hit points, so Tough is amazing.
With that said, let’s get to the four new backgrounds.
If your job, or your family’s job, was guarding a planar gate of some kind, maybe this is for you. You gain the Scion of the Outer Planes feat as your background feature; your skills are Persuasion and Survival, and you have a key ring holding a bunch of mystery keys. You also learn two new languages, which can include Abyssal, Celestial, or Infernal. (I think it’s weird that they don’t mention Sylvan and the Feywild here.)
If you grew up a little bit giantish, or… I dunno, if you drank an Ent-draught in Fangorn Forest, maybe this background is for you. Intimidation and Survival are your background skills, you gain the Strike of the Giants feat, and you learn two languages.
This is sort of a subset of the Sage background… but man, it’s hard not to read this as a member of one of the more esoteric factions of Sigil. Hidden truths of the multiverse, kind of thing. It’s probably also a solid fit for Journeys from the Radiant Citadel. Your skills are Arcana and Persuasion, you learn two languages, and… man, those trinkets aren’t trying at all to hide that they’re from Sigil. Razorvine and rebuses, you say?
The Personality Features take that even further. They are, in order, the Godsmen (maybe also the Athar), the Ciphers, the Doomguard & Dustmen, the Harmonium, Xaositects, and… probably the Fated? So, you know, we’re not hiding things here.
This seems like a strange idea to store in a background, to me. Starting out as a 5e prestige class draft that never went forward, more recently in UA feats and subclasses, a background is still a surprise – not a lot of backgrounds are explicitly about the expression of magical power. Anyway, your skills are History and Perception, you learn Giant and one other language, and you gain the Rune Carver Apprentice feat.
Twenty-one feats is pretty substantial. Go grab a drink, order a pizza. Hell, order me a pizza.
Agent of Order requires that you’re 4th level and have Scion of the Outer Planes (Lawful). It gives you +1 to any ability score and Stasis Strike: 1/turn when you damage a creature, deal +1d8 force damage and restrain the target on a failed Wis save. The appearance of the restraining force is whatever makes sense for your concept. You can use this PB times per long rest.
A casual survey of the feat list shows that we’re getting a lot of ways to express a limited cosmic attunement to elements or cosmic principles. I’d say it’s “limited magical ability” except that we’d then be stuck resolving the “is it magic?” logic tree. With an edition revision coming on, I’m amazed that they aren’t just committing to including the word “magical” in feature descriptions where appropriate – it can’t be harder than everything else you need to include to create a valid action.
Baleful Scion requires that you’re 4th level and have Scion of the Outer Planes (Evil). This doesn’t relate to you being evil, but… I think that your party members giving you a Weird Look for channeling the forces of cosmic evil is pretty reasonable! You gain +1 to one ability score and Life-Draining Grasp: 1/turn when you hit with a melee weapon attack, deal 1d6 + PB additional necrotic damage and heal an equal amount. PB uses/long rest.
This is fine, I just wish that the book this gets published in were likely to give more texture to how and why a heroic character gains a tie to an Evil Outer Plane. I think we’re unlikely to get that kind of rationale support, forcing groups to decide it doesn’t mean anything (this will be the common, very boring answer) or to make up their own answer (rare because it’s work that might get in the way of grabbing whatever feat the player wants). There is a character in my homebrew setting that this would be perfect for – hi Steve! – so I don’t think rationales require THAT much heavy lifting.
Cartomancer requires that you’re 4th level and have levels in the sorcerer, warlock, or wizard class. Class prereqs on feats? That seems… new? Also, at least for my aesthetic preferences, leaving bards off this list seems like an error. You don’t have to have a lot of damaging spells to make this useful.
The feat does three things. Card Focus lets you use a deck of cards as your spellcasting focus and add 1d4 to the damage you deal to one creature you damage, PB times per long rest. Card Tricks teaches you prestidigitation and lets you duplicate stage magic illusions with it; your patter and card-handling are your verbal and somatic components. Hidden Ace lets you cast one of your 1-action spells as a bonus action instead – you have to pick it at the end of your long rest, and it can’t be higher level than your proficiency bonus, but it’s still a cool spell-quickening feature. I expect fireball to be a common choice here.
Fiendlock huckster ftw.
Cohort of Chaos requires that you’re 4th level and have Scion of the Outer Planes (Chaotic). It grants +1 to an ability score and Chaotic Flare: when you roll a 1 or 20 on an attack or save, and as a bonus action PB times per long rest, you can roll on a 1d4 table to trigger a random effect. The effects are… sort of good for you? Sometimes? A lot like Chaos Magic sorcerers in 4e (that also triggered effects on 1 and 20), this feat makes you a liability a fair amount of the time. Anything that makes you roll saves outside of combat is a risk of making your whole party’s life harder.
Please don’t take this feat as-written unless your team is on board with this. Within this family of feats, you’d probably rather have an Evil party member than a Chaotic one.
Ember of the Fire Giant is a new version of the feat from the previous Giant UA doc. It has come down from 8th level, now requiring 4th level and the Strike of the Giants (Fire Giant) feat. The deal here is that they want a choice point that locks out other 4th-level Giant feats, and Strike of the Giants accomplishes that (because you can’t take a particular feat more than once).
This feat grants +1 Str, Con, or Wis, resistance to fire damage, and Searing Ignition. Searing Ignition is just like its version in the previous doc, but 1d8 + PB fire damage rather than 2d6 + PB; it still replaces one attack of you Attack action, affects targets of your choice within 15 feet, blinds targets, and is a Dex save for half damage and no blinding effect. It’s still an absolutely incredible effect.
Fury of the Frost Giant reimagines the previous Fury of the Frost Giant feat, still at 4th level. It grants +1 Str, Con, or Wis, resistance to cold damage, and Frigid Retaliation: instead of frightening a target that hurts you with an attack, you use your reaction to blast them with cold damage (1d8 + PB damage and halving their speed, Con save for half and no slowing). I like this a lot more than the previous version.
Guile of the Cloud Giant drops down from 8th level to 4th. It grants +1 Dex, Con, or Cha, the skill proficiencies are gone, and now you gain Cloudy Escape rather than Misty Form. Cloudy Escape is a reaction you can use when you’re hit with an attack; you gain resistance to the damage (I think I’m surprised it grants resistance rather than halving the damage, thus not stacking with existing resistance) and teleport up to 30 feet, PB uses per long rest. It’s a lot easier to use this consistently and effectively, and there’s less “but what about blindsight/truesight” mess in high-tier play.
Keenness of the Stone Giant reimagines it from its previous version, still at 4th level. It previously taught you spells and gave you darkvision (or more darkvision); now it gives you +1 Str, Con, or Wis, grants darkvision or increases it by +60 ft rather than +30 ft, and gives you Stone Throw. PB times per long rest, you can make a rock you’re holding be a magic ranged weapon that deals 1d10 damage, gains a ton of extra range (60/180 feet!) and knocks down a target that fails a Strength save. The magic fades from that rock when you hit with it.
180 feet sounds like a long way to throw something until we’re talking about outfielders trying to beat the runner to home plate. Other, not at all helpful stat: the current Olympic record-holder for the javelin throw, Jan Zelezny, made it 98.48 meters (323 feet). Get rekt, warlocks with the Eldritch Spear invocation.
Outlands Envoy requires 4th level and Scion of the Outer Planes (but doesn’t care which version you took, so you could buy this and one of the aligned-plane feats above). It grants +1 to one ability score, and Crossroads Emissary: you learn misty step and tongues, and you can cast each once per long rest without expending a slot.
It’s a rare case of granting a 3rd-level spell before you’d otherwise get a 3rd-level slot. I think it’s very much to the point that tongues is a utility effect you just don’t need that often and that exists to let the encounter happen, rather than to succeed the encounter per se.
Planar Wanderer requires 4th level and Scion of the Outer Planes (again, no specific requirement). It grants three features:
- Resistance to your choice of acid, cold, or fire, chosen at the end of each long rest
- Portal Cracker lets you try to brute-force portals that you don’t have a portal key for, but if you fail a Wisdom (Survival) check you’re going to take a bucket of force damage. On a success you can open or seal the portal, and sealing the portal makes it hard to use even if you have the portal key (Arcana check to use).
- Portal Sense gives you the direction to the last portal you passed through and, 1/long rest, lets you detect portals within 30 feet that aren’t behind total cover.
Portal Cracker might mean skipping a lot of adventure steps in a Planescape adventure, if you can reliably hit DC 20 on Wisdom (Survival). Portal Sense is a greatly toned down version of the Horizon Walker’s Detect Portal feature. You’ll still want this feat if you’re a Horizon Walker ranger… if only to help you pinpoint portals that you first sensed a mile away.
Righteous Heritor requires 4th level and Scion of the Outer Planes (Good). It grants +1 to an ability score and Soothe Pain: as a reaction when a nearby creature takes damage, you can reduce the damage it takes by 1d10 + PB, PB times per long rest. I say this a lot, but this feels like a feature that is least suited to uses per long rest. The more you can use up all of your abilities quickly for maximum power, the more we’re pushing a 3.x-like 60-second workday. I know I’m in no danger of impressing anyone with this argument.
Rune Carver Apprentice reworks a previous draft from the Giants UA. It teaches you comprehend languages, which you can cast once for free, and two runes of your choice from a list of eight. You can inscribe one of your two runes per long rest, and when you do, you can cast it once for free and again with spell slots. You can change up your two runes each time you gain a level. None of the spells here are as sharply party-role-changing as the spells of the previous version of this feat. This is reasonably comparable to Magical Adept.
Rune Carver Adept follows up Rune Carver Apprentice and requires 4th level. The spellcasting stat you chose for Rune Carver Apprentice increases by 1, and when you cast a Rune Carver Apprentice spell (one of the eight) or a spell that shares its school with the rune you inscribed, you can invoke runic power to do one of three different things:
- Grant advantage to the next attack a nearby creature makes before the end of its next turn.
- Give a nearby creature temporary hit points equal to your level.
- Grant a +10 ft speed buff, and they don’t provoke OAs, to one creature until the end of its next turn.
You can invoke runic power PB times per long rest. This is a classic pay-you-for-an-action-within-a-narrow-band kind of feature; you’ll notice that the eight Rune Carver Apprentice spells cover the spread of the eight spell schools. Which makes the Dragon rune (chromatic orb) extra appealing for… healers?
Scion of Elemental Air teaches you minor illusion and lets you fly equal to your walking speed until the end of your turn, as a bonus action PB times per long rest.
We’re really all about never using exploration challenges that are trivialized by flight, not even at 1st level, huh. This too is a thing where I get that D&D has made up its mind, it just makes me tired. I feel like we’re trending toward “ugh, if you don’t have a way to fly, you’re dead weight in the party a bunch of the time,” the way things already are for characters without darkvision.
Scion of Elemental Earth teaches you druidcraft and Earthen Shield, which lets you raise half cover around yourself or a creature within 30 feet, as a bonus action, PB times per long rest. Half cover is definitely nice to have… but can you also drop behind that cover and use it as three-quarters or total cover, or is it half cover no matter what? (I favor the former over the latter.)
Scion of Elemental Fire teaches you dancing lights and produce flame. PB times per long rest, you can use produce flame as a bonus action. Quickening a damaging cantrip is a nice damage kicker for many character builds, though some classes rely on bonus actions in a way that undermines that heavily.
I’d like it if Scion of Elemental Fire weren’t such a bad pick for barbarians, for instance – by using the Cast a Spell action to express Fervent Blaze, it’s locked out by raging. Sure, you could not rage as a barbarian… if you’re cool with not using most of your class and subclass features. I’m only harping on this because Fire is the most thematically barbarian-rage-friendly.
Scion of Elemental Water teaches you thaumaturgy (odd choice there, but… okay) and Wave Surge. That’s a bonus action 10-ft push or 10-ft pull on one creature, Strength save to resist, PB times per long rest. Overall, solid.
Scion of the Outer Planes gives you some mystical tie to an Outer Plane: the Astral, the Outlands, or an aligned plane. Kind of surprised not to see the Far Realm on this list, even if it’s not a major component of Planescape. Anyway, your planar tie gives you resistance to a damage type (psychic for Astral and Outlands, radiant for Good and Law, necrotic for Chaos and Evil. You also learn a cantrip tied to that plane. It’s worth mentioning that resistance to radiant damage is (even now in 5e) a lot less useful than psychic or necrotic.
Soul of the Storm Giant requires 4th level and Strike of the Giants (Storm Giant). You gain a +1 bonus to Int, Wis, or Cha, and Maelstrom Aura: as a bonus action you can raise winds and storms around yourself until the start of your next turn, imposing disadvantage on attacks against you, and when a creature starts its turn within 10 feet of you, its speed is halved if it fails a Strength save. You can invoke the winds like this PB times per long rest. Seems like a solid feat.
Strike of the Giants lets you pick one type of giant to be more like, and gain a bonus to a melee or thrown attack, PB times per long rest. Hill giants deal +1d6 damage and knock down the target in a failed Strength save; stone giants, +1d6 force damage (why force? Now that that’s our “magic” damage flavor? I don’t get it) and a 10-ft push on a failed Strength save. Frost giants, +1d6 cold damage and reduce the target’s speed to 0 on a failed Con save; fire giants, just +1d8 fire damage. I like that they’re in Ordning order rather than alphabetical order. Cloud giants, +1d4 thunder damage and you turn invisible if the target fails a Wis save (that’s… kind of an odd thing within D&D, because you’re invisible to everyone if your target is weak-willed?). Storm giants, +1d6 lightning damage, and the target has disadvantage on attacks if it fails a Con save, until the start of your next turn.
Vigor of the Hill Giant requires 4th level and Strike of the Giants. You gain +1 to Con (sensible, but the only one that doesn’t offer an option), Bulwark (use a reaction to negate knockback or knockdown), and Iron Stomach (you heal more damage when you spend HD as part of a short rest, as long as you eat a food). This is better healing output than its previous version, and grants a point of Con. Yeah, that’s a huge improvement.
Which brings us to the end of the feats. The feat-chain dynamic we’ve seen is in full effect here, though you never need more than one prereq feat to get to the thing.
I’m excited about some deck of many things-themed spells to go with Cartomancer! Wouldn’t be sorry to bulk this list up a bit more. Three of the five spells being bard spells make me feel great about my argument that bards should be eligible for Cartomancer, and you know what? Artificers too.
Antagonize (3rd level, sorcerer, warlock, wizard) is “what if crown of badness kinda… worked…? But had an instantaneous duration?” This feels more like the direct upgrade of dissonant whispers, and makes your target attack a creature of your choice. I’m curious about how this interacts with Sneak Attack damage; I assume the target gets to opt out of dealing it.
House of cards (3rd level, artificer, bard, sorcerer, wizard) lets you build a temporary defensive structure, with 1 minute of casting. The aesthetic here is drop-dead gorgeous, but the real utility is… not great? A house of cards is easily knocked down, that’s fine, but… I feel like there’s some durability missing. Basically, each time the house takes damage, the card is destroyed and you have a 33% chance of the spell ending. I want this to be just a little cooler or have a more obvious use case.
Spirit of death (4th level, sorcerer, warlock, wizard) summons a reaper spirit. The aesthetic on that material component! So frickin great. It’s interesting that the reaper spirit goes after just one creature, but that suits the story from the deck of many things. I like what goes on here, overall; I think I’d like to see it taken off concentration, though. Advantage on all of its attacks is cool, though. You’re invoking something dreadful and getting hit with a half-brick shouldn’t disrupt that, to me. There should be a different way to say, “you can only run one of these at a time.”
Spray of cards puts me in mind of color spray but without the hit point threshold mechanics. You choose between blinding targets in a 15-ft cone (Wis save to resist), or dealing 2d10 force damage in a 15-ft cone (Dex save for half). Definitely worth a spells known/prepared slot.
Summon warrior spirit (3rd level, sorcerer, warlock, wizard) lets you choose to summon a barbarian, fighter, or monk spirit for an hour. The attacks all resemble the archetypes, and there are some math tweaks based on this choice that are what you’d probably expect. Based on what I’ve seen of summon fey spirit, I expect this to be a good solid choice, as long as you’re pretty good at avoiding getting hit and losing concentration.
Which brings us to the end of this huge and varied document. I have my quibbles with things going on here, but overall there are a lot of interesting ideas and I think the giant-related feats have moved in a good direction from their previous draft. My favorite part by a mile is the non-announcement announcement of an upcoming setting. And – just for you, Leon – PLAN ESCAPE. I want that Great Modron March/Dead Gods remake, too.
Some kind of deck of many things release is incredibly exciting too! That thing is going to curb-stomp so many otherwise coherent campaigns! I’m making a joke, but I’m genuinely excited.