UA 2023: Player’s Handbook – Druid and Paladin Breakdown
January was a hell of a year, but we’re back with a new Unearthed Arcana for One D&D in the tail end of February. This time we’re looking at the other two Priest-group classes, the Druid and the Paladin, as well as more revised spells and some significant changes to the Rules Glossary.
Character Origins | Expert Classes | Cleric & 3 Revised Species | Druid & Paladin
No obvious changes in the opening boilerplate, but there’s a document-wide easing off of capitalizing like a German Print Shoppe That Gets Paid Extra For Capital Letters Because Of Obscure Medieval Guild Laws. The awkward “Strength Check (Athletics)” is gone and “Strength (Athletics) check” is back; the point here is that as much as possible, a style guide should reflect the user’s process and speech rather than treating the game’s rules as a programming language.
The most interesting change to the flavor text is the name-checking of the Elemental Evil cults. I would love to see those get another story appearance or use outside of Princes of the Apocalypse. I’ve been around D&D and druids long enough to just be so very glad that they’re not True Neutral and completely checked out of discerning good from evil (and teaming up with Evil when Good is too dominant).
- Most baseline stuff is unchanged: d8 HD, Int/Wis save proficiencies, skills are unchanged. Proficiency with simple weapons (scimitars are out, shortswords are in) and Herbalism Kits. Armor training with light armor and shields; medium armor is out, but so is the whole mess of “non-metal only.” Part of the effect here is to put a lot more emphasis on Dexterity as an ability score, to get an AC north of about 12.
- Here I want to point out that One D&D has nearly eliminated all valid use cases for Simple Weapons for characters that aren’t Monks. If that’s the case, why not just buff them to the point that a Fighter might want to use a Greatclub or whatever? What is gained by giving characters proficiency in weapons that you’ve functionally told them they’re wasting their round to use?
- Also, why are druids kinda stuck with worse AC than a wizard in Mage Armor, unless they can get some very good magic studded leather?
- Channel Nature is a core Druid function, directly comparable (as shown in a sidebar on the point) to Channel Divinity. Scaling Channel Divinity by Proficiency Bonus rather than something internal to the class opened a whole can of multiclassing worms (see the article on the Cleric UA, linked above), so now you get 2 CNs at 1st level, scaling to 4 at 9th You gain one CN option at 1st level, and refresh 1 use when you finish a Short Rest (!) and all expended uses when you finish a Long Rest. The Short Rest refresh is barely enough, but I do like it.
- Your starting Channel Nature option is Wild Shape, and it has changed a lot. Instead of using a creature stat block from the Monster Manual, you use a replacement stat block – Land, Sea, or Air. Up to 6th level, Land is your only option. This form’s Hit Points don’t replace yours anymore, and this isn’t a big bag of extra Hit Points (or weird vulnerability to disintegrate or power word: kill) like in the 2014 PH. Most of your stats are based on your Wisdom modifier in some way.
- Transformation is a Magic action, though the Circle of the Moon and later Druid features improve on this. I feel like it’s an Action rather than a Bonus Action just so Moon can improve it – I’m sure I don’t see a good reason to slow your transformation, except to remind you firmly that non-Moon druids shouldn’t be using their Wild Shape in combat.
- You’re limited to Small, Medium, or Large creatures, so Tiny creatures for scouting aren’t a thing. You can otherwise describe your animal form however you want, and that description doesn’t get you any further mechanical outcome. Wanna be an owlbear? Sure, do your thing.
- You make one attack per Attack action at 1st level and gain a Multiattack at 5th. For Creatures of the Land, those attacks deal 1d8 + your Wisdom modifier damage. You also have an AC of 10 + Wisdom modifier. You’re probably not going to use this form for combat, as a result, unless you also have the Circle of the Moon features. They’re nice but just not enough.
- What I really wish for here is a split like we saw in 4e: a Guardian form and a Predator form. One to be the party’s tank and one to be a high-damage skirmisher. I’m okay with some of that being locked behind the Circle of the Moon, but that subclass adds a lot less survivability than one might have hoped. At minimum, I’d like to see Concentration Spells from the school of Abjuration automatically succeed saves against losing Concentration from damage while you’re in your Wild Shape.
- The Sea form at 7th level is essentially the same as the Land, except that you go down a die size of damage. Seems weird for how common sharks will be as a form. Longer Darkvision range for some reason, but no Keen Senses. I think this falls short of being a cool form you’ll want to use in underwater combat.
- The Air form at 9th level offers flight for scouting and as a mount for another character, and little else else – its AC and damage output are both substantially worse. Its Darkvision range stretches to 120 feet, so it is a superior scout.
- You can’t use any magic items in your Wild Shape. A subclass whose core play style can’t use magic items is just an error, in D&D – the game needs players to want things. Inability to benefit from magic items also condemns that subclass to being less useful and exciting than other subclasses.
- You can speak in your Wild Shape. You can keep concentrating on spells, but can’t cast new ones (see below for Circle of the Moon). It looks like you lose skill and save proficiencies? That would be a huge mistake – if anything, some of those forms should add proficiencies that your caster form doesn’t gain from your class, such as Stealth.
- To be clear: the concept of the Wild Shape stat blocks (Land/Sea/Air) are good, but they need to deliver more staying power and ability to engage in Exploration to deliver on their promise.
- Druidic is a class-derived language that non-Druids can only spot with difficulty and can’t decipher without magic. A Skywrite spell might be especially fun in Druidic.
- Spellcasting works essentially as you would expect by this point – you prepare your spells from the Primal list and regain expended spell slots on a Long Rest. I’ll be curious to see if Nature’s Recovery is still part of the Circle of the Land druid. For whatever reason, there isn’t a default spell prep list included up through 20th level anymore.
- Nature’s Aid at 2nd level grants two more Channel Nature options: Healing Blossoms and Wild Companion.
- Healing Blossoms gives you a healing pool of (Wisdom modifier)d4 that you can distribute to creatures within a 10-ft radius sphere. This has an obvious scaling problem that the rest of the class barely addresses – you get a little help from Wild Resurgence at 15th level, but that’s not enough, and not by a long shot. The Cleric’s Divine Spark also had serious problems, but this is a waste of your action by mid-Tier 2, even with 20 Wis (where you’re averaging 13 hit points to distribute).
- I’ve got to assume that most Druid subclasses will do their own thing with CN – it’s already the case that a lot of them, like the Circle of Stars, emphasize spending your Wild Shapes in a new way. I think it won’t take long at all for Healing Blossoms to just be a waste that stops you from using your core game loop.
- The other new option is Wild Companion, a Find Familiar option that gives you a Fey familiar for no components. It stays until you finish a Long Rest. It looks like Flyby Attack is gone from all sorts of familiars; if so, one of my players will be sorely disappointed, because he loved using that to set up a Help action. It looks to me like this pushed back to being a scouting feature. I’m used to features like this specifying that they don’t expend a spell slot, but maybe that’s a given.
- You get your subclass at 3rd level now, of course, and gain features at 6th, 10th, and 14th.
- You get a feat at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th levels, and an EPIC BOON at 20th. Which is, in fairness, now a lot more epic.
- Might of the Land at 5th level adds Multiattack and a Climb Speed to your Land form.
- Aquatic Form at 7th gives you your Sea form.
- Aerial Form at 9th gives you your Air form. This seems like a long wait for something with limited utility, but it gets worse.
- Tiny Critter at 11th level lets you spend a Channel Nature to Wild Shape into a Tiny creature, for a maximum of 10 minutes, and you deal half damage in this form. That’s a long time to wait for very situational usefulness.
- Alternating Forms at 13th level lets you drop back into your caster form as a Bonus Action, then return to your Wild Shape without expending another Channel Nature as a Bonus Action within a minute. This was the baseline functionality for 4e druids, so I question holding this back to a level most games don’t reach.
- Wild Resurgence at 15th level adds a free Healing Blossoms to your Wild Shaping. By this point in the game, this is a tiny splash of healing… that you might well not yet need, if you win initiative and Wild Shape on the first round. Or you’re not a Moon druid and you have essentially no reason to Wild Shape in the first place.
- Beast Spells at 17th level gives you what Alternating Form was also giving you. It’s not fully redundant – especially if you’re flying or underwater! – but it is waiting until 17th level for something that won’t come up much at all. For druids other than the Circle of the Moon, this is probably a non-feature.
- Archdruid at 18th level restores one use of Channel Nature when you roll Initiative, and slows your aging to one-tenth normal speed for your Species.
- Your default Epic Boon at 20th is Spell Recall. Reaching 20th level also gives you an Ability Score Increase that can go past 20, but not past 30.
Overall, this feels like a lot of features to improve something that still isn’t good enough to use, because you have no extra survivability. The features get rolled out so slow and in such small bites that I’m not sure players will care that much about getting each no one. Your spells are great and all, but Wild Shape and Healing Blossoms just aren’t great – and Wild Shape interferes with your spells and magic items. Much like the Bard, I’d like to see this get a lot more generous in the next draft.
Circle of the Moon
The theme here is basically unchanged from 2014.
- Combat Wild Shape sets out to make Wild Shape a good use of your time in battle. It grants three features:
- You can cast Abjuration Spells in your Wild Shape. There aren’t a lot of Abjuration spells on the Druid list anyway, and some classic Abjurations got moved to different schools. The thrust of this is that you can be the party’s healer while you’re a kittycat.
- Quick Attack lets you make an Unarmed Strike as a Bonus Action – that’s a big damage output improvement over normal Wild Shapes.
- Swift Transformation lets you Wild Shape as a Bonus Action rather than an Action. Just gotta make sure you don’t get that Quick Attack in the opening round, I guess? (Well, okay, even un-transformed Moon druids can make an Unarmed Strike as a Bonus Action, it’s just not really worth doing unless Alter Self is active.)
- Elemental Wild Shape at 6th level adds Resistance to Acid, Cold, Fire, Lightning or Thunder to your Wild Shape, and optionally a particle effect. Your attacks can deal that type of damage rather than B/P/S damage, so that’s your way around resistance and immunity to nonmagical B/P/S damage. This is a modest survivability boost.
- Elemental Strike at 10th level adds 1d6 damage of your Elemental Wild Shape type to your Bestial Strikes (so maybe +3d6 per round). This bumps up to +2d6 at 17th level. This is going to be a huge part of keeping your Wild Shape relevant as your Wild Shape competes with bigger, badder spells.
- Thousand Forms at 14th level makes Alter Self an at-will for you. That’s cool and all, though it’s a late nice-to-have by 14th level.
It very much looks like the whole Druid was designed around the Circle of the Moon. I hope we’ll see more Druid subclasses soon so that it becomes clearer how other Druids fit into what goes on. The Circle of the Moon itself is okay for damage but absolutely awful for survivability, and you have no skill or saving throw proficiencies. Overall? The Druid needs a lot of help.
Okay, I’m going to nitpick one thing with the tone of the paladin’s flavor text. “Sometimes their oaths lead them into the service of the crown as leaders of elite groups of knights, but even then, their loyalty is first to their sacred oaths, not to crown and country.” Why are you answering this question? This would be more interesting as a question for characters to answer for themselves. It’s one of the fundamental questions of honor and faith: what do you do when your priorities are in conflict? We know what they should do, but people fall short of their ideals all the time.
- The standards – d10 HD, Wis/Cha saves, same skill list, proficiency in simple and martial weapons, training with all armor and shields. Humanoid enemies that want to grapple or shove with the PC-facing rules in this document may find Paladins to be easier than they were, since Athletics isn’t part of resisting an initial Shove or Grapple anymore.
- Lay on Hands is unchanged – 5 hp x Paladin level, refresh on Long Rest, spend 5 to cleanse Poisoned – except that cleansing disease is conspicuously missing. Considering that there’s also no Divine Health feature, I have to wonder if we’re seeing a pivot in D&D’s conception of disease – maybe into something more interesting and dangerous.
- Much as the Ranger gains cantrips and spells at 1st level, so too does the Paladin. There are no restrictions on the spells a Paladin can choose within the Divine list.
- Divine Smite at 2nd level has changed three key ways.
- First, it’s once per turn – the key takeaway here is that it didn’t go to once on YOUR turn, the way the Rogue’s Sneak Attack did, and it doesn’t cost your Bonus Action or Reaction. It does lock you out of casting a spell, such as specifically the various Smite spells. I have to wonder if we’ll see an easing of restrictions on Sneak Attack in a future document.
- Second, It’s not melee attacks with a weapon only. Any weapon attack or Unarmed Strike can Divine Smite like a big Divine Smiting thing. The reason for this restriction was always arbitrary protection of an intended “look,” so I’m happy to see the door open to more character concepts.
- There’s no additional 1d8 kicker for smiting Fiends and Undead. This change does kinda disappoint.
- And one very small change: the text doesn’t include a cap at +5d8 damage for 4th-level spell slots, so Paladin 2/$PureSpellcaster X can deliver bigger smites. I wouldn’t be amazed if that got reverted, but it’s okay if it stays that way.
- Fighting Style at 2nd level lets you pick any Fighting Style, defaulting to Defense. Yes, you can pick Archery or Two-Weapon Fighting. Maybe now we’ll see restrictions on the Ranger’s Fighting Style options go away too. This is a change I’ve spent 9 years asking for, because it was always arbitrary (even if, in 2014, the bonus action to attack with an offhand weapon would wreck paladin gameplay in other ways).
- Channel Divinity at 3rd level gives the same number of Channel Divinity uses as Druids get Channel Nature, and like Druids, you regain one CD use when you finish a Short Rest, or all of them when you finish a Long Rest. Your only baseline Channel Divinity option is Divine Sense, which they have gone way out of their way to make less bad.
- The problem with the 2014 Divine Sense is “within 60 feet of you that is not behind total cover.” For what you probably want this to accomplish in the course of play, using your action for a one-round-long ping (Sean Connery: “One ping only.”) that is blocked by walls and curtains is just not enough to justify its position as your first feature.
- In this version, then, it’s a Bonus Action, 10-min duration, and no cover restriction. I assume that if it were intended to fully circumvent invisibility, the text would say so more explicitly.
- Subclass features at 3, 6, 10, 14.
- Feats at 4, 8, 12, 16, 19, and an Epic Boon at 20.
- Extra Attack at 5th level.
- Faithful Steed at 5th level gives you one free casting of Find Steed per Long Rest, it’s always prepared for you, and its casting time is one Action rather than 10 minutes. The baseline 2nd-level spell slot isn’t terribly impressive – for this feature, I’d like to see the effective slot for the free casting scale up in level. 12 AC and 25 hp do not a destrier make.
- Aura of Protection at 7th level adds your Charisma bonus to your saves and allies’ saves within 10 feet, as long as it’s not blocked by total cover. Multiple Auras of Protection don’t stack, of course. The only change here is that this has moved up by one paladin class level, trading places with your second subclass feature.
- Abjure Foes at 9th level is an AoE debuff, and that… doesn’t really seem like what paladins are about, to me? You pick a number of targets within 60 feet and force a Wisdom save; on a failure they’re Dazed and Frightened for 1 minute or until they take damage. On a success they’re Dazed for 1 minute or until they take damage. But, you know, that’s your Action and a use of Channel Divinity. I’d really like to hear how/if Dazed interacts with Legendary Actions, too.
- Radiant Strikes at 11th level adds 1d8 Radiant damage to your weapon attacks. There’s no per-turn limit, so Haste and fighting with two weapons are both possibilities here.
- Aura of Courage at 13th level – up from 10th – grants immunity to the Frightened condition and suppresses existing Frightened conditions for your allies within your aura. The “while you are conscious” clause is gone. In general, I like keeping fear effects viable for more of the campaign’s duration.
- Restoring Touch at 15th level replaces Cleansing Touch, which was 14th level. Instead of removing a spell – because so many NPCs don’t use spells anymore – it now removes one or more conditions from a creature. Blinded, Charmed, Dazed, Deafened, Frightened, Paralyzed, or Stunned each cost 5 hit points from your Lay on Hands pool to remove. Moving away from a set number of free uses per day to drawing from your Lay on Hands pool is a downgrade in power.
- Aura Expansion at 17th level changes your aura range from 10 feet to 30 feet – no change except that this used to be 18th level.
- Your 20th-level Epic Boon is +2 to an ability score (I assume +1/+1 is actually fine, if by some chance you have two 19s floating around in the endgame), and your default Epic Boon is Truesight.
Overall, the paladin looks good to me. It gets the most explosive abuses of Divine Smite under control by limiting smites to once per turn, but you can still smite with Opportunity Attacks or other Reaction attacks, such as Commander’s Strike. It also takes some of the single-attack upper bound off of Divine Smite, to my surprise. In general I like that there are fewer currency pools to manage – Divine Sense and Cleansing Touch both had their own uses per long rest to track. Paladins getting something back on a Short Rest is good, too.
Sidebar: Breaking Your Oath
I love this sidebar on what happens if you break your oath and violate its tenets. One possibility is that you seek absolution from someone of your faith or order; the other is that you might change subclasses or rebuild your character into a new class completely. I am very happy for the text to explicitly uphold the story of sin and redemption that is central to many Arthurian legends and other stories of knights. At the same time, I think it’s important that DMs aren’t arbitrary or cruel with noting infractions.
Oath of Devotion
No particular change in theme – and that’s fine, there was nothing wrong with its story before.
- Oath of Devotion Spells – about half of the spells are changed from the 2014 version. The general concept is unchanged, but there are more Smite spells present. The more significant change in this feature is that you get one free casting of one spell from this list per Long Rest.
- I’ll be curious to see if Guardian of Faith gets rewritten in a future packet, because I’ve never seen anyone cast it on purpose.
- Sacred Weapon is your Devotion-specific Channel Divinity, and it’s hugely improved into something worth using, compared to the 2014 version that took an action to use. The effect is a bonus action now, and otherwise similar: +Cha to attack rolls, and the weapon sheds light.
- In 2014, it deals magical damage. Ever since Monsters of the Multiverse we’ve watched them trend away from that concept (in a way that I’m still not finding any benefit from). In this draft, then, you can deal Radiant damage with the weapon instead of its normal damage type. The effect ends after 1 minute, if the weapon leaves your hand, or if you have the Incapacitated condition (note the move away from the more natural “become Incapacitated”).
- Note the absence of Turn Undead.
- Smite of Protection at 6th level fails the narrative-fit test for me – it feels like an arbitrary game mechanic for a bubble of force (or whatever) to pop up around a nearby ally as part of you hitting that dude with your sword. I would like to see some part of this change to sell its story better. Maybe that’s the name, maybe it’s something else. What it does is add a temporary hit point rider to your Divine Smites – you or a nearby ally gain 1d8 + spell level temp HP.
- Aura of Devotion has moved up from 7th level, but its effect is otherwise the same – your aura grants immunity to the Charmed condition and suppresses active Charms on your allies. No apparent “while you are conscious” requirement.
- Purity of Spirit is gone – but always-on protection from evil and good is just mind-bogglingly powerful at mid to high levels, as I have seen many, many times in my campaign.
- Holy Nimbus has moved from 20th level to 14th, so it still won’t come up for most campaigns, but it’s at least closer to seeing real use. Its effects are slightly toned down – you no longer have advantage on saves against spells cast by fiends and undead, since most monsters won’t be casting spells anyway. You still deal Radiant damage to enemies who start their turn in your aura, but instead of a flat 10, it’s PB + Cha modifier. If you want to get up to 10, you’re going to need at least 18 Cha, and a good many paladins just won’t get there.
- Oh! And instead of 1/Long Rest, you get one free use, then you can refresh it by spending a 4th-level spell slot. That’s nice to have.
Sacred Weapon is a course-correction for something they knew was simply designed wrong by 2020 at the latest. The rest of the features in the 2014 version are heavily focused on self-defense, while Smite of Protection supports defense of others. This is reasonably equal in overall power to the previous version, I think, but it should feel more dynamic in play.
I’d like to see Turn Undead come back. Devotion paladins are the most classic of paladins, and to me, the inclusion of Turn Undead is part of that. I’m not sure if Divine Sense and Sacred Weapon (then refreshing 1 use per Short Rest) feel like enough from 3rd to 8th level.
This document re-drafts the three Epic Boons we saw in the Cleric document, indicating a broader review of all Epic Boons.
Epic Boon of Fate now grants +1 Int, Wis, or Cha (on top of the +2 you’ve already gotten from your 20th-level feature), with a stat cap of 30 rather than 20. It was previously +/-1d10 to a d20 Test, 1/Short or Long Rest; it’s now +/-2d4 to a d20 Test. You have 8 uses and regain 2d4 per Long Rest. That’s certainly a much bigger feature and feels a lot more epic when you gain it.
Epic Boon of Spell Recall likewise grants +1 Int, Wis, or Cha, to a cap of 30. When you cast a spell of 1st to 4th level, you have a 1-in-4 chance to retain the spell slot. Getting approximately 25% more spell slots of the levels that have the most slots is nice, and probably feels more engaging than retaining one spell slot of 5th level or lower per Long Rest. I like that this clearly works equally well for Paladins as it does for other classes of the Mage and Priest group – though maybe it needs to be “whenever you expend a slot,” rather than cast a spell, so that they can get their refund on Divine Smite spells.
(I continue to hope that Paladins have full access to Warrior Epic Boons, and I expect that a lot of Artificers, to say nothing of Eldritch Knights and Arcane Tricksters, should have access to Mage Epic Boons.)
Epic Boon of Truesight follows suit with +1 Int, Wis, or Cha, to a cap of 30, and also grants truesight to 60 feet. The truesight part is unchanged, because in fairness it doesn’t need to change. It is pretty epic. Tacking on an ability score adjustment doesn’t hurt.
You know what? At least I can’t easily say that these are all on par with 1st or 4th-level feats. Much happier with these, though Spell Recall could still go a little bigger.
There are ten spell changes in this document, now broken out from the Rules Glossary into their own section. Spell changes from previous documents aren’t reprinted here.
Banishing Smite makes a bunch of changes. It’s now Conjuration rather than Abjuration, because it moves something between planes. I’m unreasonably salty about that change, because the literal “swearing away” of Abjuration is a banishment, but spell schools are getting reorganized pretty arbitrarily. It’s also a Bonus Action to cast, after hitting with a weapon or Unarmed Strike. As a result, this has to be on your turn, and blocks other use of Divine Smite.
The banishing portion of this spell matches what we saw in the banishment spell of the Cleric packet – new save every round, and they only get kicked back to their home plane if the spell lasts a full minute. Failing ten saves in a row? That’s probably not happening.
Blinding Smite is minimally changed – you cast the spell after you land the hit. Also it moved from Evocation to Transmutation. I like the change to when you cast it for this and all the Smite spells, because it means you don’t have to choose between Concentration spells with a duration and your short-duration Smite spells. They’ve looked at a lot of the reasons players didn’t use Smite spells before, and this is a good solution.
Find Familiar is significantly reworked to operate on a procedural stat block rather than a Monster Manual stat block, so you don’t need to powergame and only ever pick owls (assuming you don’t have access to imps or sprites). It’s worth using your familiar to deliver touch spells to allies, but delivering touch attacks to enemies is only safe enough to try if you’re pretty sure the spell will take the enemy down. The familiar has basically no survivability other than the Extradimensional Escape feature. This is still fine for the other way the player in my game uses it to deal damage: Dragon’s Breath, from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Now it would just cost him his Reaction as well.
Anyway, I guess this is fine? It standardizes the game experience of having a familiar, and Extradimensional Escape protects your usage from fits of DM pique, but what I want more is something that engages the story of having a familiar more. The Celestial/Fey/Fiend choice point doesn’t affect the mechanics at all, and I kinda wish it did.
Find Steed is much like Find Familiar – here too, a procedural stat block rather than a Monster Manual stat block. The Celestial/Fey/Fiend options here do provide a 1/Long Rest feature. Celestial mounts get a heal, Fey get a 60-ft teleport that brings the rider along, and Fiends can make one target Frightened. Your steed also regains hit points when you do, if it’s a spell and you’re within 5 feet. Also, they can fly if you spent a spell slot of 4th level or higher, so that’s neat.
Overall, my thought is that the steeds still need more durability. Fortunately, they benefit from your Aura of Protection, once you have one of those.
Glimmering Smite is a new Smite spell that reveals invisible creatures and deals 2d6 damage; like other revised Smite spells, you declare it after a successful hit. This is basically a single-target faerie fire, so it does require Concentration, and grants advantage to hit that target. It’s a phenomenal opening move in a boss fight, since there’s no save happening here.
Searing Smite is changed from the 2014 version in that you use that Bonus Action after landing a hit, and the ongoing fire damage is now explicitly magical and can’t be extinguished by dousing. Dousing is often not a good use of a creature’s time in combat (it’s only an average of 3.5 damage per round), but at the same time, I don’t love cutting out ways to respond that reinforce the narrative of you’re on fire. I feel like this needs a way to not require Concentration, just to keep it at all competitive with other Smite spells.
Spare the Dying no longer just stabilizes a dying creature. It restores 1 Hit Point, because (as we’ll see in the Rules Glossary) the game has decided that “0 hp but stable” is not possible. I assume there’s an argument to ease of use for new players, but looking through the Dying rules, it seems to me that they’ve moved from “0 Hit Points might be Dead, Dying, or Stable” to “0 Hit Points is Dead or Dying; 1 Hit Point is Unconscious or Fine.” My feeling is that this wasn’t broken and didn’t call for a fix that would mainly serve the make transition to One D&D harder for anyone who had ever played any edition of D&D at least as far back as 2e.
Staggering Smite got cranked way up in its effect: instead of disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks and locking out reactions, a creature that fails the save is now Stunned. (I already miss the more natural flow of “is Stunned” compared to “has the Stunned condition.”) No Concentration now, of course, and it’s a Bonus Action declared after you hit.
Needing a 4th-level spell – something Clerics get at 7th and Paladins get at 13th – for this Stunned effect really emphasizes how excessive Stunning Strike at 5th level for 1 ki point is for Monks, the extra damage of Staggering Smite notwithstanding.
Thunderous Smite – same change to the Bonus Action usage, and no longer requires Concentration. It now scales with higher slot levels, as it always should have done, though each higher slot level is just falling further behind the Divine Smite damage curve. Knocking targets down is good, but stop at a 1st-level slot unless you’re pretty sure you won’t get another chance to deal damage to that target.
Wrathful Smite changes its Bonus Action usage. It also changes to language from “…or be frightened of you” to “or have the Frightened condition,” which is an actual loss of clarity on the page. With this phrasing, some groups will need to chase down a rule clarifying who the target is Frightened of, just to be sure they understand when and how to stop applying the Frightened disad. The spell also gains scaling for higher-level slots, and much like Thunderous Smite, it’s kind of a trap choice in most situations, just because the Divine Smite alternative is so good.
The Rules Glossary change log is a full half-page this time around, so… go drink a water, eat a food, I’ll wait.
Ability Checks and Attack Rolls have reverted to their 2014 rule – this was already stated in the Cleric packet, but it’s actually pulled out of the Glossary here.
Climbing and Swimming had a thing where changing movement types was awkward and made you stop. They cut that – it never served a self-evident positive purpose.
Dash is no longer needed – it was phrased as a “bonus Move” because of the thing I just said about changing movement types. You’d need the separation of your normal movement and your Dash Move to change movement types, is my point – now Dash can go back to just adding Speed as in 2014.
D20 Test is still a bucket that contains ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws, but it no longer grants Heroic Inspiration on a natural 1. I’ll talk a bit more about this under Heroic Advantage, below.
Difficult Terrain removes allies as a potential source of Difficult Terrain – you can’t even accidentally mess up your friend’s turn in grid-based movement anymore – and there’s clarification around the size of furniture that makes terrain difficult, as handling for the fact that PCs can be Small (and so should be as hindered by Tiny furniture as Medium creatures are by Small furniture). I’m okay with these – your allies can presumably move well enough out of your way when we’re talking about a full 5 ft x 5 ft space. Now I kinda want to see casters use Reduce as a way to mess with your movement in an antique store, or something just as excessively specific. So. Many. H*cking. Footstools.
Dying – as I mentioned above – is changed so that 0 HP is Dead or Dying, but never Stable. Spare the Dying gets you back into the fight now, I guess? I don’t care for this change – I think that “stable but unconscious” should be a possible state for someone who was dying a second ago, rather than only happening to someone the enemy decided to knock out. As I said before, I don’t think this achieves greater clarity on the page or in use, and Spare the Dying as a cantrip source of 1 hit point yo-yoing – pushing NPCs to keep hitting downed PCs – has as many bad effects as good ones.
Equipping Weapons is a small change – clarifying that you don’t need to use the weapon you have equipped as part of your free weapon equip/unequip before each attack. What I think I’m seeing here is a way to get rid of each creature’s free Object Interaction. (And, as a side effect, reinforcing a situation where Disarming can’t be part of the game without it being only too easy to neutralize even very powerful humanoid NPCs.)
Fly Speed has gone back to allowing the Prone condition to knock you out of the sky; you also fall if your Speed is reduced to 0. My feeling is that Prone is cheap (free, with the Shove option of Unarmed Strike), and the times that it can result in anywhere from 5-20d6 of falling damage are relatively too easy. Non-Hovering flyers usually have wings, and wings are great at catching air and slowing your fall. That’s kinda the whole pitch. I assume the Fly spell will gain the Hover trait in this revision, because people have probably treated it like superhero-style flight since at least AD&D 1e.
Grappled has undergone a major reversion toward its previous form. The Slowed Condition is also gone (to my great surprise), so the slowing effect of moving someone you’re grappling has to get explained. More salient, though, you now escape from a grapple, as an action, with a Str (Athletics) or Dex (Acrobatics) check against the grapple DC. That grapple DC is established in the Unarmed Strike rules, and in a monster’s stat block. I am happy to see Athletics and Acrobatics come back to contributing in combat.
Help has changed only to allow you to grant advantage on checks involving tools. It looked like an oversight before, and it was.
Heroic Advantage is the new term for Heroic Inspiration. That’s more accurate to what it grants, and it distinguishes it more from Bardic Inspiration, but it communicates less about why you might have it. You also don’t get it from rolling natural 1s anymore, but from being Human or from “doing something particularly heroic or in character.”
Also, and I missed this in the Cleric document, you decide to spend it “immediately after rolling the d20.” What that means in timing and available information is still a little shaky, but I take it to mean “this is a reroll between the time you see the die result and the time the DM tells you the result.” If that’s the intent, it’s not a great timing window… as we kinda learned from the 2014 Bard. After-the-fact advantage also handles a roll made with disadvantage poorly.
I think we’re all hoping for something exciting and innovative to happen with Heroic Advantage or whatever we’re calling it this week – perhaps stored in whatever might replace Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws.
Hidden is gone as a condition, and the purposes it served in the Hide action are now covered with the Invisible condition. The part I still see as a problem is that any enemy finding you reveals you to all enemies, and it’s less-than-clear that you would continue to need Three-Quarters Cover or Total Concealment after you have succeeded a Dex (Stealth) check. It looks like… no? You can just stroll up to a creature and remain Invisible from it until it thinks to use the Search action. I’m either reading this wrong or the intent is getting communicated poorly – I decline to believe that this is the intent, so I think we’ll see a lot more massaging of this language.
Tl;dr: “an enemy finds you” needs more rules architecture to do all the heavy lifting it’s being asked to do here.
Incapacitated now correctly locks out Bonus Actions.
Jump is gone as an Action. I would like to see new and engaging rules around movement through jumping – I love a Metroidvania platformer as much as any soul alive – but the previous version missed the mark on many counts.
Knocking a Creature Out offers rules on nonlethal damage. These plug into the Dying rules I mentioned above, and have you set the enemy to 1 Hit Point rather than 0. As a result, Spare the Dying does nothing, but any stronger healing spell or a DC 10 Wisdom (Medicine) check do the trick. Still don’t love this change.
Long Rests have gotten tweaked again. You have to have 1 Hit Point to start a Long Rest (that’s not a change), but the new Dying rules mean you’ll either get to 1 Hit Point or die in under 1 minute, so that’s not much of a concern. It’s now explicit that a Long Rest involves being Unconscious, so you definitely can’t Concentrate on a spell across a Long Rest. (I still think a Long Rest should restore half of your expended HD, not all.) The new phrasing recognizes that “combat” is not a state PCs are in, or not, but “rolling Initiative” and “taking damage” are.
There’s still no way to move your bedtime up as an adventurer, unless you live in a world with days longer than 24 hours. As an inveterate night owl who has to get up early to get the kids to school, this seems agonizingly accurate.
Move – the changes here I’ve mostly covered above, but: you can move through allies’ spaces freely and you don’t have to end one form of movement and Move action to start another.
Short Rest is not significantly changed, but some language got tweaked.
Slowed is gone, and I’m not sure why. I would like to see that potentially come back.
Telepathy is a bit standardized here, so they don’t have to describe the bounds of each different kind of telepathy every time it shows up. No issues here.
Unarmed Strike has changes I’ve mostly covered above – you now roll a Str or Dex save to avoid the initial Grapple or Shove attempt, but grappled creatures don’t automatically get a new save at the end of their turn. That latter part was looking more like a problem as things went on, so I’m glad to see that changed. I’d like to Unarmed Strikes, Grapples, and Shoves follow the natural reach of the creature, rather than always being 5 ft – a giant should get to thump you or pick you up from way over there if they want.
Unconscious is essentially similar to the 2014 Condition of the same name, except that you’re now explicitly unaware of your surroundings, so loud noises and damage don’t have a way to wake you up if you’re asleep. I know very well that this isn’t the intended outcome, and I’m sure we’ll see something in this rule or the rules for Long Rests that touch unconsciousness from normal sleep in the future.
And that ends this massive document. Thanks for coming along on this ride with me.
I want to see some meaningful changes to the Druid, so that a lot of different playstyles open up for the class. I’m strongly influenced here by 13th Age, World of Warcraft, and D&D 4e. Wild Shaping leans too heavily on restrictions that get lifted later on, but wouldn’t really harm play to allow earlier. (Mainly looking at you, Alternating Forms.)
The Paladin is in okay shape, though it’s nerfed from its “best spike damage in the game… by a lot” heights. My hope is that this retuning makes it easier to design new paladin subclasses; as it is, anything that even considers adding to their damage is off the table.
Epic Boons are heading in the right direction.
Most of all I want to see how survey feedback and any changes in design plans affect the Expert classes and the Cleric, and I’m very curious to see what all of this means for the Mage and Warrior classes.