There’s a staggeringly huge new Unearthed Arcana playtest document from WotC, with the new weapons table, five classes (barbarian, fighter, sorcerer, warlock, and wizard), a bunch of new spells, a reversion to 2014 spell prep/spell knowledge (but with the meaning of those terms inverted for some reason), a few new feats, and a few changes to the Rules Glossary. I’m going to say right now that finishing this in one article is not bloody likely, not even with the ridiculous length of a lot of my prior UA breakdowns.
Up front, I appreciate that this document has deeper change log sidebars, some of which delve into the reasoning behind changes. That’s great to see, just as a way of communicating with the audience.
There’s a whole new column in the weapons table, labeled Mastery. What this means is that if you have Mastery of that weapon type, you get an extra benefit. Mastery is currently visible for the Barbarian and Fighter classes and people who buy the Weapon Master feat; I’m not currently finding it in this document, but I’m 100% confident that Monk, Paladin, and Ranger will also get some amount of Weapon Mastery, and good odds for the Rogue. I’ll be curious to see about the War cleric and such. Looking way ahead in the document, I’d like it to be easier for Bladelocks to gain Mastery in their pact weapon.
Another big thing here is that weapons are distinct: no two weapons share the same damage type, damage value, properties, and mastery. Battleaxe and longsword are distinguished, for example, only by their Mastery (Topple vs. Flex), but by gum, it’s something.
The Light and Thrown properties also got some changes. Light weapons have moved back to requiring a bonus action for two-weapon fighting (but see Nick, below); the reason for this is that you got some optimal use cases that were definitely contrary to the intended narrative, such as low-level wizards being better off with two daggers than any damaging cantrip could manage. You don’t get “free” TWF, without having Mastery in a Nick weapon.
The Thrown property solves the problem of drawing thrown weapons rapidly enough for the Extra Attack feature (and bonus action attacks); it also restates the freedom to use Strength or Dex with ranged thrown weapon attacks.
- Cleave “splashes” an extra attack to a second creature within 5 feet of the first creature when you hit, 1/turn. If this extra attack hits, you can’t add your ability score modifier to damage, but still – that’s a great extra damage boost, and this Mastery effect can only apply to weapons with larger damage values in the first place.
- Flex lets you use your weapon’s Versatile damage value one-handed: an average damage increase of 1. I’d like to see this lead to “also you can still 2h the weapon for another die size larger.” The Flex weapon I’m happiest about is Spear, except that – because you need to be using Flex to get it up to the target damage value for a normal 1h weapon – it’s not also getting Topple or Slow or whatever other rider effect you might have wanted.
- Graze lets your big heavy weapon deal your ability score modifier in damage on a miss. This idea has been popular with designers since 4e at the latest, and unpopular with users for the same span of time. I’ll be curious to see if opinion has shifted on that. For myself, I think designers like its damage normalization outcome a bit too much, but I’m not upset if it makes it into the game.
- Nick gets your two-weapon fighting attack back into your Attack action, instead of a bonus action. Free two-weapon fighting is for people who “should” be two-weapon fighting – people capable of using a Nick Mastery.
- Push grants a 10-ft knockback, as long as the creature isn’t more than 1 size category larger than you. (Side note: a vestigial drawback to being Small.)
- Sap – with the unusual prereq of “no other properties” – ironically has strict limits on which weapons can take it, if you play a fighter and gain the ability to change up a weapon’s Mastery properties. Looking at the table, that translates to “non-Heavy bludgeoning weapons.” The effect is very appealing – hitting with a Sap weapon imposes Disadvantage on your target’s next attack.
- Slow, on the other hand, has no prereqs to change out, because it’s always fine to just reduce an enemy’s Speed. It’s a classic and handy warrior stickiness trick.
- Topple, as you might expect, knocks enemies down. It could probably use a size limit. This is the only property that involves an extra saving throw each turn, and I’m surprised that it’s a Con save, but okay. This is incredibly powerful, given that you’re setting your allies up for a round of advantage if the initiative cooperates.
- Vex is very Rogue-friendly, looking at the weapons it applies to, and it lets you give yourself advantage on your next attack against that target.
In short, these are a steady power boost to weapon-using classes, at a minor to modest cost in time and data management. Fighters, as we’ll see, get to change out Mastery features, and I’m sure that some enterprising third-party creator will write a bunch of extra Mastery properties that they can sub in (or that come with the specially-forged weapon natively). I like what I see here and I don’t mind the extra power; I do think Flex needs to deliver a little more than it does.
The net, which was previously a weapon only in the very loosest sense and exceedingly bad at the task of being in a dangerous situation, is now Adventuring Equipment. It’s still only okay, but by forcing a save rather than using an attack roll, it has some viable use case.
The useful note here is that Vicious Mockery and Dissonant Whispers have been cut from the Arcane list and moved into the Bard-exclusive list. We’re doing class-exclusive lists again, as you’ll see in a moment, but they’re small additions to the robust Arcane, Divine, and Primal lists. They still have a lot of exceptions and carve-outs to get from the Arcane list to the minimum requirements of the Bard class, though.
Eleven new spells, three modified spells.
Arcane Eruption at 4th level represents the “roiling chaos of magic” story that One D&D is asserting as the story of sorcerers (as opposed to “we’re generic non-wizard arcane casters”). It deals 6d6 damage of a type you get to pick, and one of the damage dice results gives you a condition that the spell applies to anyone who fails the Con save. The condition lasts only until the end of your next turn, though. This contrasts satisfyingly with the wizard’s more stable way of generating new spell effect recombination – the sorcerer does it with no forethought or certainty of what they’ll get. (That said, if your initial damage roll doesn’t get you one of the six effects that you want, Empowered Spell gets you another shot at it.)
Book of Shadows is the Pact of the Tome spell, and there’s no other way to get this spell. Casting this cantrip (which doesn’t count against your cantrip picks) summons the book, and the book teaches you two more cantrips from Arcane, Divine, or Primal, as well as two 1st-level rituals. The book is a spellcasting focus. Finally, when you reach 5th level, casting any damaging cantrip lets you add your spellcasting modifier to the damage roll, if you can’t already add it to that damage roll some other way (such as Agonizing Blast). I think this doesn’t do enough to bring other cantrips up to par. I also think you should have ways to get more than just two 1st-level rituals from your Book.
Chaos Bolt is essentially unchanged, except that it’s now a Sorcerer spell rather than an Arcane spell. That is, it’s now an explicit part of the theme and story of sorcery, and off-limits to other classes. I’m basically okay with this, and if so much chaos theme gets parked in Sorcerer spells that there’s no need for a Wild Magic subclass, I wouldn’t even notice.
Create Spell is a new 5th-level Wizard spell that lets you make permanent, reusable versions of spells you’ve tweaked with Modify Spell. They become Wizard spell rather than Arcane spells, suggesting that you can still teach them to other Wizards. The material component is blisteringly expensive – I should write a blog post on descriptions of arcane foci at 1,000-9,000 gp, because I think the idea of a very expensive focus is interesting and deserves some narrative care. You don’t just pop off down to the corner shop and buy a signed author’s copy first edition of Volo’s Guide to All Things Magical with marginalia by Dalamar and Erandis Vol, after all.
(Seriously, “okay, how do I scale up from here?” is an interesting and fun creative challenge, especially if “and it’s made out of gold-pressed latinum” is off the table as a solution.)
Anyway. Create Spell has some timing quirks that make it very much a lab-work kind of spell, even if in principle you could use Modify Spell and this spell in downtime. It’s just that the next thing you have to do (or risk losing all of your work so far, including the expended component) is to start casting Scribe Spell in the next 10 minutes. I have some quibbles with Scribe Spell that I’ll get to, but I think I like Create and Modify as lab-work magic. It points to something I love in Ars Magica and a few other games.
Eldritch Blast has been the most notable of all absences from the Arcane spell list, leading to speculation that it would be a Warlock class feature. Ta-da! It is. In addition to that restriction, the scaling on this cantrip is locked to your Warlock level, not your character level. It’s better than other cantrips, it knows it, and it’s not here for your casual multiclass dipping. I’m fine with this, though the multiclass bard/warlock in my campaign who has very well-laid story reasons for his multiclass might be rightfully disappointed.
Hex is substantially changed, and the total rework of Warlock spellcasting means it’s not scaling up for “free” anymore – and that scaling is a major source of your extra damage. It’s also dealing its extra damage just once per turn, rather than on each hit of an Eldritch Blast. One D&D NPCs are much less likely to have any reason to roll an ability check during an encounter than a 5e PC (owing to changes to grappling rules), so even more than before, Dexterity and Wisdom are your only meaningful options for ability scores to hit with disadvantage.
Maybe paradoxically, Hex is also folded into the Warlock’s class features more than ever before, with a new Eldritch Invocation and a new class feature that interact with it directly. Overall, I guess this is okay, but it’s a less appealing place to spend your spell slot and Concentration than it was.
Memorize Spell is a new 3rd-level ritual to let Wizards change out one prepared spell. Gaining this spell and always having it prepared are your 5th-level class feature, so you don’t spend anything else on it. It takes a lot of the sting out of having a wide swath of utility spells and needing to guess which one might come up today.
Modify Spell is a new 4th-level Wizard ritual. (This is a good time to observe that Wizards can still cast rituals directly out of their spellbooks, without preparing them, but also this is a class feature.) Its effect gives you a modest upgrade on one of your spells, from a list of possible upgrades: eliminating one component of the spell, making it so you can’t lose concentration on it through taking damage, changing the damage type, (vastly) increasing its range, adding the ritual tag to any long-casting spell that isn’t already a ritual (not a lot of these out there), or making your spell more target-selective (that is, targets only enemies or only allies; worth noting that anything you would plausibly want to target only allies already does that).
Oh, and you get to change the spell’s cosmetics and name. If, like me, you think that Vance’s Polysyllabic Verbalizations is the greatest Wizard talent in all of 13th Age, then you have reached the perimeter of wisdom.
Also, this spell has its own scaling function, so that you can add more modifications when you cast it with a higher-level slot. You don’t get to keep any of these spells past a Long rest unless you cast the very expensive Create Spell, at which point you can further cast Scribe Spell. Then it goes into your spellbook and can be shared with your Wizard buddies. Or stolen by your rivals. Are… are you paranoid enough?
Pact Familiar is the Pact of the Chain feature, a new cantrip that summons your familiar. This is mostly similar to the familiar spell we saw in the Druid and Paladin packet, but with more possible creature types and several different stat calculations because it comes from a cantrip rather than a spell slot. The Pact Familiar is a better candidate for combat than an Otherworldly Familiar, for several reasons – but most of all that it only costs a cantrip (a 1-hour cantrip, but… fine) to get it back. It doesn’t get Deliver Spell, though, and that seems odd to me.
I’m always going to find it odd that Chain ‘locks aren’t more like Demonology warlocks in World of Warcraft. That’s not what D&D wants them to be and they never promised otherwise, but with some functional pet classes in the game (nu!Beast Master, Battle Smith Artificer), it seems like you’d want to design the Warlock to support that. The Warlocks in my game already lean hard on Summon Shadowspawn and Summon Fey as some of the best sustained damage and survivability they can bring into a fight or adventure.
Pact Weapon is the Pact of the Blade feature, a new cantrip that either conjures a weapon or creates a bond with an existing weapon. That weapon can’t have the Heavy property (a new restriction compared to 2014 that – because I have a Hexblade PC that wants a greater silver sword real bad – I quite dislike), and you can’t cast this on someone else’s attuned item. This also needs to be able to summon your bonded pact weapon to hand. Anyway, what the cantrip does for you is let you use your spellcasting stat for attack and damage rolls with your pact weapon (the #1 most important thing Hexblade does for you), grants proficiency with the weapon, and grants the weapon Returning if it is a Thrown weapon. This is about 90% of the way to what the Pact of the Blade needed to be in 2014; all that’s missing is Heavy weapons and calling a bonded magic weapon to hand.
Scribe Spell is, of everything in this document, the weakest case for being a spell and not a feature. If you’re a Wizard who loses their spellbook somehow without Scribe Spell prepared, it’s unclear how you’d even start to recover. You also get a cost break on making backup spellbooks, I guess, from having spells prepared. But seriously, it’s okay for Wizards to still do some things that are practical, physical acts and not spells in their own right.
Sorcerous Burst is a Sorcerer cantrip that delivers on the same chaos theme as Chaos Bolt and Arcane Eruption. This spell is awesome because it uses exploding damage dice, and you can choose its damage flavor each time. I feel like my PCs would have a lot of fun with this spell’s tension-and-payoff cycle.
Sorcerous Vitality is a new 3rd-level Sorcerer spell, a self-heal for 2d6 + spellcasting modifier that also cleanses Blinded, Deafened, and Poisoned. It’s good, though if you don’t specifically need the condition purge it’s inefficient compared to cure wounds. Still, nice to have the option.
Sorcery Incarnate is a new 5th-level Sorcerer spell that is a quasi-stance – it refreshes some Sorcery Points, it lets you apply two Metamagic options to your spells for the duration (though you have the privilege of paying for both), and it grants Advantage to all of your spell attack rolls for the duration. I think it’s reasonable to wonder if that’s enough for a 5th-level slot, but it’s a cool set of effects, and I like seeing spells hook directly into class features like this.
Seven feat long, six of them EPIC.
Epic Boon of Dimensional Travel (Expert or Mage) gives you a point of Dex, Int, Wis, or Cha, and after any Attack or Magic action, you can teleport 30 feet. I mean, I like Nightcrawler and Blink as much as anyone else, and this definitely meets my standard for “epic.”
Epic Boon of Energy Resistance (Expert or Mage) grants +1 Con, Int, Wis, or Cha, resistance to two energy types from almost the full list (B/P/S and Force excluded) that you can change with a Long Rest, and lets you redirect energy of the types you choose, dealing damage to another creature within 60 feet. The damage you redirect isn’t based on the amount you take, but it’s good damage for a Reaction. My only real issue with this is that I think the argument for restricting it to Experts and Mages is particularly weak – everyone wants energy resistance, and redirecting energy with a weapon or shield seems reasonable as a Fighter or Paladin trick.
Epic Boon of Irresistible Offense (Expert and Warrior) gives you a point of Strength or Dex, your B/P/S attacks ignore resistance (this will almost never come up, because you have a magic weapon at 20th level and almost all B/P/S resistance is bypassed by magic weapons), and when you roll a natural 20 on an attack, you add your ability score modifier to the damage again – so probably +6, maybe +7. You can’t gain this benefit more than once per turn. That’s a nice-to-have, but it’s just goosing up your damage occasionally. It feels neither EPIC nor Overwhelming. This feat needs some help to matter for 20th-level characters.
Epic Boon of Recovery (no class restriction, yay!) improves your Con by 1. 1/long rest, when you drop to 0, drop to 1, then regain half of your maximum HP. When you would fail a death save because of damage you take while at 0, you can roll a death save instead. This feels properly epic for a feat, to me.
Epic Boon of Speed (Expert and Warrior) grants +1 Dex, you can Disengage as a Bonus Action and automatically end the Grappled and Restrained conditions on yourself, and your Speed increases by 30. That’s good speedster action, to me, though I hope DMs remember to grapple and restrain them so they can use their feature, rather than quietly dropping grapples and restrains from things enemies bother doing. You know, for all of those campaigns that run post-20 content.
Epic Boon of the Night Spirit (Expert or Mage) grants +1 Dex, Int, Wis, or Cha, and lets you become Invisible while you are in an area of dim light or darkness, as an action. You stay invisible until you take an action other than just moving. You also gain Shadowy Form, giving you Resistance to all damage except Force, Psychic, and Radiant. Force: it’s just better damage. It studied physics at MIT or something. Not like those other peasant damage types, with their Bachelor’s degrees in English and their Medieval Studies certificates.
Weapon Master is the one non-epic feat here. It requires that you’re 4th level or higher, grants +1 Strength or Dex, and gives you Mastery over one Simple or Martial weapon of your choice; you can change that weapon as part of a Long Rest. I like that the on-ramp for other classes to play with Mastery is fairly easy and still grants an ability score point – I expect that’ll be fairly appealing to Bladelocks, Bladesingers, Valor Bards, and War Clerics. Maybe Rogues, too.
Which brings us, at last, to the first of five classes in this document. The flavor text contrasts significantly with the 2014 Player’s Handbook text for Barbarians, describing their rage as something more overtly mystical – it starts to feel a bit like werewolves from World of Darkness. It’s very different, but I could get behind that.
My personal angle on Barbarians is that I had two in my long-running campaign – one Eagle Totem, one a third-party subclass based on connection to the Abyss. (It’s found in Under the Seas of Vodari, as the Abyssal Delver.) They have both been significantly dissatisfied with the core of the Barbarian class, feeling like the class’s interesting features stop in Tier 2, and everything they get after that is fairly minor. That includes a general lack of damage scaling into later tiers, compared to the very potent damage scaling that Fighters, Paladins, and Rogues enjoy. I’m going into this class hoping that it has something interesting to say in the late game.
- No change to the mechanical baseline – d12 HD, Strength and Con saves, the whole deal.
- Rage is, of course, still the most essential feature. Damage Resistance, Rage Damage, advantage on Strength saves and checks, and no spellcasting or concentration are unchanged. Other things have changed: taking damage no longer sustains your Rage, but forcing a save or just spending a bonus action to sustain your Rage are enough. It can also now last for up to 10 minutes, if you sustain it – a Rage that stretches between fights is a possibility now. Becoming Incapacitated also ends your Rage immediately. (As does putting on Heavy Armor, which is manifestly unlikely – but also, is it that important to block off?)
- So we need to talk about how the change in monster design, moving away from B/P/S damage in high-CR monsters, takes away the mitigation that keeps Barbarians in the late game. Their damage is fairly flat, their AC is fairly flat, it’s only their hit points that keep scaling – but the value of those hit points isn’t doubled anymore. Monsters lean much harder on every other type of damage, even if they’re also dealing some B/P/S damage.
- Unarmored Defense is still the same. You can wear light or medium armor, or you can have AC 10 + Dex + Con, and you can use a shield with either. This feature still seems pretty much fine.
- You have Mastery with two weapons, which you can change out with a Long Rest. By 10th level, this scales up to 4. It’s a rare situation that you’d need more than two, I’d think, but having options is nice. (My ranger in Tomb of Annihilation had three different magic weapons as his three attuned items, and he didn’t fight with more than one at a time.)
- Primal Knowledge at 2nd level gives you a noncombat feature. The Barbarian! You pick up an additional skill from your class skill list, and you can use Strength in place of other ability scores for Acrobatics, Intimidation, Perception, Stealth, or Survival while you’re raging, as an expression of primal power within you. That’s pretty cool.
- Reckless Attack at 2nd level is unchanged – you get Advantage on your attacks, your attackers get Advantage on you.
- Your subclass comes in at 3rd level, with further features at 6th, 10th, and 14th Not even a change, for this class!
- Feats at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th
- Extra Attack at 5th level does exactly what you’d think.
- Fast Movement at 5th level increases your Speed by 10 feet.
- Feral Instinct at 7th level gives you advantage on Dex saves and initiative rolls. This means Danger Sense jumped up 5 levels, and its limitations are gone.
- Indomitable Might has dropped from 18th level to 9th. Its effect is the same: the floor of your Strength checks is now your Strength score. That means you can’t fail most Strength checks. It’s worth saying that this is a lot like Reliable Talent. Your proficiency bonus is +4, you’ve probably got 18-20 Strength, so that’s a bonus of +9 on Athletics and all of your Primal Knowledge skills. You’ve functionally got an ability check floor of 11 if your Strength is 20. Can you imagine giving Rogues or Bards Reliable Talent for six skills?
- Brutal Critical comes in at 11th rather than 9th, but doesn’t recur at 13th and 17th with more dice on a crit. Instead, you add your Barbarian level to critical damage – better on average, maybe less exciting. Still, that’s a serious boost to crit damage.
- Persistent Rage at 13th level means you no longer need to do anything to keep your Rage going for up to the full 10 minutes, other than not getting Incapacitated. It’s fine, though probably not something you’ll be that excited about either.
- Relentless Rage at 15th level lets you keep fighting when you fall to 0 hit points if you pass a Con save. The DC starts at 10 and goes up from there until you reset it to 10 when you finish a long rest. The big change here is that instead of going to 1 hit point, you go to twice your Barbarian level in hit points, so that you don’t take a single hit and have to save again. It’s definitely better and more useful this way.
- Rage Resurgence at 17th level gives you back one Rage use when you roll initiative. The thing with this is that you receive it when it doesn’t really matter The number of encounters you need a Rage in doesn’t scale up by tier – that’s just not how the game works. It’s going to feel a lot like not playing your class, because raging is your whole trick. Six Rages, and you regain one when you roll initiative? You really only need that if there are a ton of Incap effects getting thrown around.
- Primal Champion at 18th level gives you +2 to Strength and Con, to a maximum of 22.
- Epic Boon at 20th, of course.
What I like about this version is that it gives the player a lot to do out of combat. That’s a continual problem for Barbarians and Fighters, so I’m glad to see things happen there. It doesn’t address my broader concern with the class, though: that you need a more interesting choice than Rage? Y/N (circle one). Weapon Mastery helps a bit with that, and your subclass and feat choices may help.
I’m not saying this class wouldn’t be a good play experience for a lot of folks. I’m saying that some classes get their most exciting and awaited features in tiers 3 and 4, and some have long since peaked. Relentless Rage is cool and worth keeping; I’d dump Persistent Rage and Rage Resurgence, and find some other way to offer something new. At the level of play where Plane Shift or Resurrection are table stakes, what does an indestructible avatar of primal power look like? Ask Cu Chulainn. Do it without outright magic (not counting subclass features).
So let’s talk about the Berserker subclass. In 2014, it’s a subclass that gets a very strong but essentially 1/long rest feature at 3rd level (remember, DMs, you can take away their whole subclass with 1-2 levels of exhaustion!), two pretty bad features, and then the very powerful Retaliation at 14th level. In my view it’s the worst of the official Barbarian subclasses.
- Frenzy at 3rd level no longer grants an extra attack in an exhausting turbo-rage, but adds d6s equal to your Rage Damage bonus to your attacks while raging, once per turn and only when you use Reckless Attack. +2d6 to +4d6 is incredibly powerful, though.
- Mindless Rage at 6th level grants immunity to Charmed (clarification: 1998 original or 2018 reboot?) and Frightened while you’re in your Rage, and if you are affected by them, you can end them (not just suppress them) by going into your Rage, assuming the terms and control of your Charmed state allow you to Rage in the first place. As you might expect, I’m not a fan of player-side immunities, and I’m concerned that designers won’t consider whether each monster that applies those conditions stays interesting if a party member ignores them.
- Retaliation at 10th level does what it did before, but four levels earlier. Get hit by an adjacent creature, use your Reaction to make an attack. This increases your Tier 3 damage output significantly.
- Intimidating Presence at 14th level is reworked from its 2014 appearance. Note that it forces a saving throw, so it maintains your Rage in itself. The feature affects creatures of your choice within 30 feet for 1 minute on a failed save; they get a new save at the end of each of their turns. You can use this once per Long Rest, and get extra uses by expending Rage uses to refresh it. It’s good to see a demand for more Rages at higher level, here. On the other hand, I suspect that a disappointing number of the enemies you face in late tier 3 and all of tier 4 are immune to Frightened, so this feature may show up too late to help much.
This is certainly a much more compelling Berserker. This use of player-facing immunities doesn’t circumvent my dislike and distrust for player-facing immunities. In so many potential situations, this will feel like negating a tension moment rather than gloriously triumphing over a tension moment. I’d just as soon see that done some other way, though I have no expectation of winning any converts here.
The flavor text doesn’t have a lot new to say, but I don’t want the text to change my idea of what a Fighter is.
- The class baseline mechanics – d10 HD, proficient in all weapons, trained in all armor and shields – is unchanged. Persuasion is a class skill now, which is great to see; the sidebar calls out that this is about persuasive leader types. I always want to see Fighters get good ways to engage in non-combat scenes, and this supports that.
- Fighting Style at 1st level gives you, you know, a Fighting Style. (Bring back Interception, y’all. It’s actually better for the game than the current Protection, because Interception mitigates damage and allows partial effect, while Protection’s adjustment to the attack roll is all-or-nothing.)
- Second Wind at 1st level now grants multiple uses per Long Rest, scaling from 2 up to 4, and doesn’t interact with Short Rests at all. This is the wrong direction, because it creates space for players to ruin their own fun. Instead, this should grant another use of Second Wind at 10th-ish level, but all uses of Second Wind come back on a Short Rest. Calling it Second Wind when it’s actually Second Through Fifth Wind in a single combat is missing a chance to do something that supports attrition and the adventuring day. Even just granting multiple uses, but you recover one use when you finish a Short Rest, would be a smart backstop.
- Weapon Mastery at 1st level grants you Mastery in three weapons, scaling up to 5 by 10th level. Unlike the Barbarian, this plugs in directly to later class features – no one’s going to use weapons with more creativity or versatility than a Fighter. With the number of Mastery effects that are limited to 1/turn, I wonder if the rules for drawing a weapon make it such that you could reasonably (well, “reasonably”) cycle between weapons enough to use multiple in each turn?
- Action Surge at 2nd level can now only be used for “Fighter-themed actions,” as the sidebar puts it – that means Attack, Dash, Disengage, and Dodge. I hope that Eldritch Knights, once we see them, will be able to cast spells with their Action Surge, just so there’s no pressure to specify whether you’re casting a spell with your “main” action or your don’t-call-it-a-bonus “surge” action.
- You get your subclass features at 3rd, 6th, 10th, and 14th, of course. Which means that Fighter subclasses need some significant reorganization.
- You gain feats at 4th, (not 6th), 8th, (not 10th), 12th, 16th, and 19th levels. I’m surprised to see that you also gain a feat at 5th level.
- Weapon Expert at 7th level lets you reassign some Mastery properties as part of a Long Rest. Masteries have intrinsic prerequisites, beyond being attached to weapon types on the table, and this feature is why. I’ll have to go through the list and see which weapons have the most, and fewest, options. Anyway, this is pretty stylish stuff.
- Indomitable at 9th now lets you add your Fighter level (!) to your rerolled saving throw. This is very close to just being a Legendary Resistance, and… I can live with that. A reroll that doesn’t improve your chances with a bad saving throw value isn’t as useful as one would like to see.
- Second Extra Attack at 11th.
- Weapon Adept at 13th level lets you stack two Mastery properties as part of your Weapon Expert thing. You can’t use both on the same attack, but you can choose which one applies at the time of the attack roll. I like this one a lot – it’s gradually adding more data management for the Fighter, but I don’t think it goes too far.
- Since this takes the place of getting your second use of Indomitable, I think it’s worth pointing out that the One D&D Fighter is getting a better balance of offense and defense feature in Tier 3 than the 2014 version does.
- Improved Action Surge at 15th level gives you a second Action Surge per Short Rest. In contrast to the Barbarian, I think that this and Weapon Adept are exciting enough to anticipate eagerly on that long level climb. In contrast to the Druid, these features will obviously serve every Fighter subclass well.
- Unconquerable at 17th level lets you double up your Indomitable and Second Wind, by expending a Second Wind at a time when your Indomitable is already expended. That’s a pretty badass feature – it’s getting at some of the same both-and concept as the Druid’s Wild Resurgence. It replaces the 2014 Fighter’s third use of Indomitable by turning all of your Second Winds into, potentially, extra Indomitables. Yowza.
- Third Extra Attack at 18th, down from 20th as with all capstone features.
- Epic Boon at 20th. They go with Epic Boon of Recovery as the default, and that’s a very solid choice.
Top to bottom, this is a very convincing core Fighter class. Good balance of offense and incredible survivability, with interesting tactical choices to make. I still think I’m right about the Second Wind thing, though.
The Champion has always been 5e’s low-decision-point Fighter, for people who don’t enjoy more complicated tactical choices. I’ve personally been more drawn to the Battle Master, but some of my players were looking for the experience that it offers and I’m glad it was here for them. It accepts that its narrative space is fully indistinguishable from the Battle Master, and I respect that, too.
- Adaptable Victor at 3rd level replaces Remarkable Athlete, letting you pick another skill from the Fighter class skill list, which you can change out as part of a Long Rest. Fighters are almost always short on proficient skills, so another one here is all to the good.
- Improved Critical at 3rd level is the feature that most draws people to the Champion and makes it an appealing option for multiclassers. There are very few things that expand your crit range in 5e, and here’s the main one.
- Additional Fighting Style has dropped from 10th down to 6th. Otherwise, it’s the same. The only downside to this is that most Fighting Styles can’t be used at the same time, except for Defense and everything.
- Heroic Warrior at 6th level feeds you Heroic Advantage once per combat, when you start your turn without it. I feel like it should let you get Heroic Advantage and just pass it off to another party member if you already have it, but okay. This feature isn’t super exciting to me, because it doesn’t have narrative weight.
- Superior Critical at 10th level expands your crit range again, to 18-20. This should be lots of fun in actual use, and Advantage from the previous feature is just more chances to go crit-fishing.
- Survivor at 14th level was incredible survivability in the 2014 version, and now it’s only better: in addition to automatically healing while bloodied, you also gain Advantage on death saves, and your death saves crit on an 18-20.
Battle Master is probably still going to be more my speed, personally, but I like almost everything I see in this version of the Champion. Assuming you have 2+ encounters between Short Rests so Improved/Superior Critical can sometimes edge out the Battle Master’s Combat Superiority damage, it should be good fun. The new Survivor, on top of the new Indomitable/Unconquerable, delivers on the Fighter’s dreams of being an unkillable death engine at Tier 3 and 4. (Not that the 2014 version didn’t, in my experience.)
I’m going to end this article here and come back with a Part Two in the next few days. Look, I’m not the one who decided to release a 50-page UA. (And WotC probably wouldn’t be doing it now if they hadn’t scrapped at least one UA release date during what survivors recall as “the longest January in the history of D&D.”) This is a mostly-solid UA release so far, but come back next time to see me complain about the new draft of the Warlock!