Unearthed Arcana 2023: Player’s Handbook Playtest 5 Breakdown, Part Two
Okay, I took the weekend off from writing about this packet so that I could go to the Georgia Renaissance Festival and my house could flood. So, you know, life. Anyway, last time I covered everything up to the Fighter class and Champion subclass, and that brings us to the Sorcerer. It will be absolutely necessary to examine the new Sorcerer-only spells in the first part to get a sense of what this class even means; likewise for the Warlock and the new pact boon spells, and the Wizard’s new spells.
Character Origins | Expert Classes | Cleric & 3 Revised Species | Druid & Paladin | Player’s Handbook Playtest 5 | Player’s Handbook Playtest 5, Part 2
If you need a podcast rundown of the… let’s say gaps… in the Sorcerer class story, Sam Dillon and I have you covered. The 2014 Sorcerer is bland at its core, and all of its story comes from its subclasses. This version sets out to address that by giving them spells that deliver on the story of chaotic, churning magic barely contained within. The story of Wild Magic is for everyone now, so I’ll be curious to see what that looks like as a subclass – if it still is one.
As a result, though, it’s particularly odd to have a Sorcerer without a subclass, as we see at 1st and 2nd level. The flavor text here says, “As Sorcerers master their innate magic, they grow more attuned to its origin…” which is to say, you may know you’re Draconic or whatever but don’t have any powers unique to Draconic Sorcery yet.
- No change to baseline math: d6 HD, Con and Cha saves, same skill list, simple weapons, no armor, no tool proficiencies. Moving your subclass up to 3rd means that a subclass can’t carry the major style-changing features that they could, but generally didn’t, in 2014. I won’t keep harping on this, but subclasses being able to really stand a class’s playstyle on its ear are a good and sufficient reason for subclasses to start at 1st level.
- At 1st level you have 4 cantrips, scaling to 6 at 10th level. No change from 2014 here.
- You start with 2 prepared spells, scaling up to 22 at 20th level. That’s 7 more than in 2014. You learn spells faster in the early going and don’t stop learning spells at 17th level in this version. This is a very welcome change.
- Hokay, if you’ve been following along with the Bard and Ranger UA, you might be surprised to learn that the Sorcerer doesn’t prepare new spells at the end of each Long Rest. They prepare new spells each time they gain a level. That… doesn’t feel a lot like preparing a spell. In fact, they seem to have flipped the meanings of Spells Known and Spells Prepared, and… yeah, it just makes no sense now. I assume this change will work its way into the Bard also.
- Innate Sorcery at 1st level gives you the Sorcerous Burst cantrip and the Chaos Bolt They’re always prepared, and (as the Spellcasting feature clarifies) don’t cost a prep slot.
- Font of Magic at 2nd level is essentially unchanged, except that there’s a minimum Sorcerer level to create each slot. This is presumably a check on multiclassing.
- I’d like to see one or both of Converting and Creating Spell Slots changed from bonus actions to free actions on your turn, because those don’t have an associated narrative beat and there’s no mechanical need for them to take even a bonus action worth of time.
- Metamagic at 2nd level is similar to its 2014 version, except that it has moved down a level (so you don’t have a level in which Font of Magic is almost useless), and you can change out Metamagic options as part of a Long Rest; you also gain 3 options instead of 2, and another set of 3 at 13th level. As for the Metamagic options:
- Careful Spell is considerably improved: not only do protected creatures automatically succeed their save, they also take no damage if the spell normally inflicts half damage on a save. Which, thanks to the Evocation feature Sculpt Spell, is what my players always expected it to be.
- Distant Spell’s range increase is based on your Sorcerer level (30 feet per Sorcerer level!), or just a flat 30 feet if it’s a Touch spell. That’s more range increase for most spells.
- Empowered Spell is unchanged. No complaint.
- Extended Spell increases duration and grants advantage on Con saves to maintain Concentration, which is a huge boost to the draw of this Metamagic.
- Heightened Spell is reduced in cost from 3 to 2, and applies to all saves against that spell (that is, for spells with a duration) rather than just the initial save. That’s a substantial improvement, for sure.
- Quickened Spell is now more explicit that it’s not an exception to the general rule against casting a spell of 1st level or higher more than once per turn. I’ve always felt like this was about letting you cast a fire bolt or other attack cantrip as a damage kicker for whatever you were doing with your main action, and this supports that read.
- Seeking Spell comes from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everydangthing, and is unchanged.
- Subtle Spell now gets around non-consumed Material components, as well as Verbal and Somatic components. Necessary for the Metamagic to deliver on its conceptual promise, yep.
- Transmuted Spell is unchanged from its appearance in Tasha’s Joy of Cooking.
- Twinned Spell got hugely overhauled to put an end to the most favored trick of basically every Sorcerer that made it to 5th level or higher in any game I ran or played, which is to say Twinned haste. You now get to repeat a spell on the round following casting it with a slot by spending Sorcery Points – in effect, you’re getting the second casting at a preferable number of Sorcery Points. What you don’t do is get around Concentration limits on haste or the like.
- Sorcerer subclass features and feats at the standard levels.
- At 5th level you always have Sorcerous Vitality prepared – that’s the self-heal that purges Conditions. This delivers on the physical side of the idea that magic is your lifeblood – maybe you think of this as burning out impurities and cauterizing wounds, that kind of thing.
- At 7th level you always have Arcane Eruption prepared – that’s the AoE that also hits them with a random Condition.
- At 9th level, you pick up Sorcery Incarnate, your spellcasting battle stance (more or less).
- At 13th level, as mentioned above, you gain three more Metamagic options.
- At 15th level, Sorcerous Restoration replenishes 4 Sorcery Points each time you roll initiative or taka a Short Rest. I’d really like to see Sorcerers get something that cares about Short Rests earlier. 1st level ideally, 3rd level at the latest. Even so, this is 5 levels earlier and much more frequent than the feature of the same name in the 2014 Sorcerer.
- At 18th level, Arcane Apotheosis is an all-new feature that gives you Wish as a free prepared spell. You can’t lose Wish to casting stress. You can also use Wish for free (!) once per Long Rest, to stand in for any one spell of 1st to 8th level. It’s the perfect wildcard for anything below 9th level. This is an incredibly cool feature that delivers on the idea that the Sorcerer is the essence of magic. Big fan!
- Epic Boon at 20th level; their default is the Epic Boon of Energy Resistance.
Other than feeling bad for my Sorcerer PCs who are mourning the lost of their best friend in the universe, Twinned haste, I think this Sorcerer is a clear upgrade in many ways over its predecessor. I’ll have some very thorny work ahead of me to make the Royal Sorcerer – a subclass that I wrote and published, and that my players have loved – into the new subclass model.
I like how many alternatives to monsterschtupping they’re trying to offer in this flavor text.
In case you haven’t looked at it in the last eight or nine years, for which I wouldn’t blame you, I’ll remind you that the Draconic Sorcery subclass in the 2014 PH is miserably underpowered even by the standards of the 2014 PH. This subclass has a lot to make up for.
- Draconic Resilience at 3rd level grants 1 hit point per Sorcerer level, retroactive for levels already gained. You also gain AC equal to 10 + Dex + Cha, rather than 13 + Dex as it did before. That’s equal in value for most plausible Sorcerer builds, and better as you get into the mid-to-late game. All good here.
- Dragon Speech at 3rd level lets you understand and be understood by dragons. You don’t read Draconic, I guess? So this is a brutal nerf from the 2014 version. (I exaggerate, but… it does seem to be the intent.) Also, you previously gained twice your Proficiency Bonus to Charisma checks to interact with dragons, and that’s gone. I think that’s an unnecessary cut of a ribbon feature, but I’m not really surprised either.
- Elemental Affinity at 6th level grants resistance to one energy type (Acid, Cold, Fire, Lightning, or Poison), and you can add your Charisma modifier to one damage roll of spells dealing that damage type. This touches on why it’s so important for the new Sorcerer spells to deal variable damage types, chosen or random, because let me tell you, there are not a steady progression of ways to deal every damage type at even most spell levels. Lookin’ at you, Poison.
- Anyway, at the level you get this feature, this is on the order of a 50% increase to your Sorcerous Burst damage if you choose your Affinity element. Its effect wanes slightly in later tiers, as your Cha modifier can’t keep up with dice scaling, but +5 or so on 3d6 or 4d6 is still great.
- Draconic Exhalation at 10th level lets you cast Sorcerous Burst as a 15-ft cone rather than a single-target spell, once per turn. You have to choose your Elemental Affinity damage type, which is no drawback for you most of the time since you also get your Charisma bonus to that damage. Moving your cantrip up to an AoE is a great benefit, and when those damage dice explode, things might get spicy.
- Dragon Wings at 14th level gives you wings that don’t rip through your clothing (this one makes me a little sad – things being physical and having some kind of consequence rather than everything becoming spectral feels like a loss of meaning to me) and appear as energy of your Affinity flavor (in fairness, that’s awesome). Also, you can deal damage in a 15-ft radius at the end of your turn – your Cha modifier, damage flavor based on Affinity of course, to creatures of your choice. That’s just a splash of damage at 14th level, but it’s hard to beat freebie damage.
This version of Draconic Sorcery is much better than the 2014 version. I’d like to see some of the “interaction with dragons” ribbons come back; I wouldn’t be sorry to see the table to dragon types and energy show up here, to strongly remind players how to link Elemental Affinity with dragon type. Either that, or maybe we call this Chromatic Sorcery, and there’s a separate Metallic Sorcery? I dunno, there are a ton of cool dragon types. Maybe that’s my next DM’s Guild project. (Probably there are already six dozen other folks’ versions of same, but I’m not going to let that stop me.)
I look forward to seeing other Sorcerer subclasses. This core Sorcerer and Draconic Sorcery subclass are, by a wide margin, my favorite versions of those concepts that WotC has presented in any edition of D&D. 4e takes second place there. I’d play this and expect some chaos, but in a super fun way.
For me, the Warlock is the most troublesome class in 5e. I’m playing a Hexblade on Tuesday nights, and that’s working well largely because the Hexblade delivers on the promise that the Pact of the Blade falls short on. My wife has been playing an Archfey Tomelock since D&D Next, and I’ve spent more energy trying to get the mechanics of class, subclass, and Pact to be as exciting as their story than on any other game element. The Eldritch Blast finger gun is a big part of the problem; the Warlock gets a lot of extraneous cantrips (Tomelock even more so) that get no help in keeping up with EB’s damage.
The limitations of Pact Magic and a spell list that lean heavily on Concentration spells make the Warlock a particularly strange spellcaster. Finally, the design of Eldritch Invocations in the PH is incredibly uneven, and everything that would expand their spellcasting is punitive; TCOE improves on this somewhat, but doesn’t attempt to directly revise the useless Invocations.
So that’s my context and perspective. This Warlock’s flavor text leans on them as occultists first and attached to a Patron more incidentally. I like the idea of gaining starter powers from compacts with lesser entities, though it makes me super wish that the game did more to engage with that story, rather than shoving it all into the background and forgetting about it.
- The Warlock’s d8 Hit Die is unchanged, as are their skills. They gain Armor Training with Medium Armor, to make playing a Bladelock more feasible without also having an amazing Dex. (For the current 5e Warlock, Medium Armor is another reason that Hexblade is the only Bladelock worth playing.)
- Wisdom and Charisma are still your two proficient saving throws. However, the Warlock now lets you choose your spellcasting ability score, so Int may be your top stat. If you go that route, you’re in the same boat as Dex fighters, paladins, and the very rare Dex War cleric: your best stat isn’t one of your proficient saves.
- My friend Greg’s Dex-heavy War cleric archer was damn impressive, as well as just being a great character. But I digress.
- Pact Boon has moved from 3rd level (where it spread out decision points, but also meant the first two levels of Warlock didn’t really work right because your Pact Boon is the beating heart of your playstyle). Your Pact Boon does a several key things:
- Eldritch Blast and Hex are always prepared, and don’t cost a prep slot. Basic quality-of-life improvement.
- Pick one of Pact of the Blade, Chain, or Tome.
- For Blade, gain the Pact Weapon cantrip (see my previous article), and choose either Wis or Cha as your spellcasting (and thus pact weapon attack) ability score.
- For Chain, gain the Pact Familiar cantrip, and choose either Int or Cha as your spellcasting ability score.
- For Tome, gain the Book of Shadows cantrip, and choose either Int or Wis as your spellcasting ability score.
- Okay, now that we’re through all that: this design introduces some problems. Total dependence on cantrips rather than features means that your Pact Weapon is dispellable, and your playstyle is turned off in an antimagic area. Being able to choose new cantrips and 1st-level rituals every time you cast Book of Shadows amounts to casting any cantrip or starting any 1st-level ritual you want, on a one-action delay.
- Why on earth is it important or useful to broaden each Pact to two stats but not all three? Making the Tomelock of 2014, where Cha was the only spellcasting stat, impossible to convert to One D&D is a source of pure frustration for me. The game sees no margin in allowing two stats but not all three for each Pact here.
- To be clear, I absolutely love opening the Warlock class to Int and Wis spellcasting. I would love to see that extended to some other spellcasting classes. Going partway on it within the Warlock is the problem.
- Spellcasting: Pact Magic, the Short Rest reset spell slots, are gone. In their place, Warlocks become half-casters, just like Artificers, Paladins, and Rangers. You “prepare” spells when you gain a level, scaling from 2 to 15 spells at 19th level (that doesn’t count additional spells from class or subclass features), and you change out only one spell when you gain a level.
- I’m very much not a fan of this. It’s fine for Bladelocks, who are clearly half-caster/half-warrior. Chainlocks and Tomelocks… they’re half-caster/half-nothing. They get real scaling with Eldritch Blast and a bunch of cantrips that don’t meaningfully compete with it, and the rest of their spellcasting is subpar. Even Hex is much weaker than it seems like it’s going to be, because their spellcasting progression is such slow going.
- Narratively, I think it’s also way off-base. Making bargains with powerful entities shouldn’t be the slow path to power.
- Warlocks can spend Eldritch Invocations on Mystic Arcana at each spell level of 3rd and above. That one spell (and you’re locking in one spell, not gaining a spell slot) is on-level for a real spellcaster of your Warlock level. But that’s a lot of expenditure just to get to a narrow slice of what Sorcerers and Wizards can do. Mystic Arcana don’t use up a prepared spell slot.
- At 2nd level, you get your first two Eldritch Invocations, scaling up to nine at 17th level – so an increase of 1 over the 2014 Warlock. You can change out one of your Invocations when you level. I’ll cover the full list of Eldritch Invocations below. The class text lists every level at which you gain an Eldritch Invocation separately, as if to show that there aren’t dead levels.
- If you get additional features at levels you gain a new spell level so that it doesn’t look like a dead level, Eldritch Invocations spent on Mystic Arcana are dead levels.
- Subclass at 3, 6, 10, 14; Feats at 4, 8, 12, 16, 19.
- Contact Patron at 11th level lets you cast Contact Other Plane once per Long Rest without expending a spell slot, which is lucky because you won’t have a 5th-level spell slot until 17th You do also have the spell prepared. Just in case. I like the narrative of this, though most Warlocks are painfully ill-suited to Int saves.
- Hex Master at 18th level lets you cast Hex for free all you want. It’s a 1st-level Hex, nothing higher (because free spells are always cast with the lowest possible slot), so it isn’t really worth your Concentration at 18th At this level it could be always-on with no Concentration required and it would still be only okay.
- You get an Epic Boon at 20th level, of course, and Epic Boon of the Night Spirit is the default choice.
This document moves Warlocks from the class absolutely dependent on Short Rests to a class that gains nothing from Short Rests. I don’t want to go back to Pact Magic, but is there no way we could split the difference? Maybe you regain your 2 highest-level expended spell slots on a Short Rest?
The design sidebar here is excellent and informative. Including more sidebars like the ones in this document are the best move WotC can make for improving audience buy-in, in my opinion. As the sidebar explains, many Invocations from 2014 are gone-zo because they’re specific applications of Mystic Arcana (and also used your Pact Magic, which they can’t conceivably do now).
Agonizing Blast is unchanged. I can’t emphasize strongly enough that this is awful Invocation design – it’s so good that the class is balanced on the assumption that you’ll take it (or be a Tomelock and get it for free as a 5th-level Warlock). Stop messing around and just make it an automatic feature. I think it’s good enough to be mandatory even for Bladelocks.
Armor of Shadows is unchanged, though contextually it is changed by the addition of Medium Armor to Warlocks. I wouldn’t be sorry to see this change to match Draconic Resilience: AC = 10 + Dex + spellcasting ability modifier.
Ascendant Step is unchanged: a self-only Levitate, at-will. Why it needs you to be 9th level or higher is lost on me.
Beast Speech lets you cast Speak with Animals at-will. Good fun for some Warlock concepts.
Devil’s Sight remains, in my opinion, the second-best Invocation, right after Ag Blast. It doesn’t feel mandatory for all playstyles, it’s just incredible if you have Darkness or Hunger of Hadar to drop on people.
Eldritch Sight is yet another low-level utility spell converted into an at-will effect as an Invocation. This one’s fine and good, as long as you concede that Detect Magic should cost a spell slot in the first place (which I do, because assigning some cost to the information you gain from it makes it more comfortable for DMs to make it yield good results).
Eldritch Spear increases the range of Eldritch Blast to 300 feet. Useful every once in a long while, in most campaigns.
Eyes of the Rune Keeper lets you read all writing, as before, but now calls out that it doesn’t decode secret messages. Good stuff – just figure out if this has a way to matter in your DM’s game. I would buy this in a heartbeat if it were offered in real life.
Favor of the Chain Master gives a Chainlock’s pact familiar’s Eldritch Strike an extra effect based on its type. These are generally useful features, though some are strictly situational – for example, in 90% of combats it won’t matter that an NPC can’t Dash or Disengage, and if your allies have to engage them in melee, well, slower movement is irrelevant (i.e., the Aberration familiar’s Slowing Slime). If you’re in a lot of fights with Larger or larger creatures – particularly common in Tier 3 and 4 – you may go a long time without finding anything that your Draconic familiar could knock prone. All that said, I generally like this feature for improving the familiar’s combat usefulness.
Fiendish Vigor is unchanged.
Gaze of Two Minds gets a lot more useful: it’s a bonus action rather than an action, and you aren’t Blinded and Deafened while using it. Also, you get to use the target creature as the source space for your spells. You do have to keep spending your bonus actions. The possibility to keeping the Warlock safely behind total cover and casting spells through the Fighter is, um, worth considering carefully, because you probably want all party members to share in danger equally. I pointed out these potential abuses with the Scribe wizard’s Manifest Mind feature, and this is a far longer-lasting version of that.
Gift of the Protectors comes from Tasha’s “How to Serve Man,” and stops someone from falling to 0 hit points once per Long Rest if their name is in your Book. You can keep a number of names equal to your Proficiency Bonus recorded at a time. Great for saving the defenders and, more important even than that, the healers.
Hexer extends the range of Hex spells you cast to 600 feet, and you have Advantage to maintain Concentration from taking damage. That’s pretty good, but it would be even cooler and more stylish (but not appreciably more powerful) if you could also target unseen creatures in range by name, using the same mechanic as Raulothim’s Psychic Lance. You should be able to pronounce curses on someone by name even if you can’t see them, in my opinion.
Lessons of the First Ones lets you gain one 1st-level feat. That’s a pretty strong offer for an Invocation, and Lucky or Magic Initiate look like particularly strong choices if you don’t already have them.
Lifedrinker used to add your Charisma to your pact weapon damage. Now it’s available 3 levels earlier, and it adds 1d6 Necrotic damage to your pact weapon attacks. The first time on each of your turns that you deal Lifedrinker damage, you recover that d6 value in hit points as well. I love this for delivering on the Invocation name the way the original didn’t.
Mask of Many Faces hasn’t changed. I don’t know that any other single Invocation can create half as much chaos as this one does. It’s at the core of my Hexblade’s concept – and we also have a changeling and a character with a hat of disguise in the party, so chaos and very efficient bypassing of encounters are the order of the day.
Master of Myriad Forms is unchanged. It’s sort of an upgrade on Mask of Many Faces… that you have to be 15th level to get. By that point, almost anything it can give you, you could do some other way more easily.
Misty Visions is unchanged, and lets you cast Silent Image at-will. It takes a specific kind of player and DM to make this worth having.
Mystic Arcanum – well, I’ve already talked about this extensively. You can buy this one repeatedly, and it gives you a 1/Long Rest use of a specific spell. The level of the spell you can choose comes from a table that follows the progression of a full spellcaster’s highest-level slot. You can take this up to 7 times, one for each spell level 3rd to 9th, but you probably shouldn’t.
I hope that this gets improved in some way for the next draft, because this is punishing. Especially with spells of 7th+ level, you’re getting into a lot of weirder utility effects, and many of the Arcane list options at those levels you might not want very often. It was true of Mystic Arcana in 2014 also, but… there are so many ways to be disappointed until the next time you level, if it’s not even a real slot to let you spend it by up-casting spells.
One With the Shadows hasn’t changed, and that’s not to its credit. If you’re in a situation where you can use this Invocation, you probably don’t need it.
Otherworldly Leap still makes you wait until 9th level to cast Jump at-will. C’mon, now. This Invocation is barely worth it at 2nd level, because Jump is an action to cast. If the spell got overhauled, I can imagine that it could be worth using. Making it a bonus action to cast is an easy, obvious starting point. There just aren’t that many people aching to play Spring-Heeled Jack. (Big shout-out to Tim Powers, though.)
Repelling Blast now has a size category limit – it only works on Large or smaller creatures. I’m in favor of this change, because knocking a dragon back 40 feet is probably more value than this should have.
Visions of Distant Realms hasn’t changed. It’s a good scouting effect, but… I dunno, that’s a long time to wait for an Eye of Kilrogg.
Whispers of the Grave is unchanged. I don’t know how often you even get into situations of needing to cast this several times in a day, but that’s fine.
Witch Sight got upgraded to 30-ft Truesight. Even short-range Truesight is amazing, and this is no exception. It’s a rare case of a late-game level prerequisite that I think is firmly justified.
Overall, the Eldritch Invocations remain very uneven. Some are must-buys for almost every Warlock concept, others are hard to come up with even one Warlock concept that wouldn’t do better to gain that functionality some other way.
The Fiend Patron was the strongest of the three Patrons in the Player’s Handbook. I appreciate the tweak to the flavor text that makes it very clear that Fiend Warlock PCs are basically always going to be striving against their patron. Humbly, I’d also invite your attention toward my own thoughts on why a PC-playable character might have a more positive relationship with Hell, the Abyss (my answer does boil down to “mostly don’t do this”), or Gehenna (genuinely worse than the Abyss).
- Your Patron Spells not only expand your prepared spells automatically (which they didn’t in 2014 – Warlocks were the only class not to get their extra spells feature as free Spells Known!), you also get to cast one of them each Long Rest without expending a spell slot. As you’d expect, the Fiend Patron spells are tilted toward aggressive, fiery, and poison/plague themes.
- Dark One’s Blessing grants you the same number of temporary hit points, but with a huge improvement to its trigger: instead of requiring you to be the last person to deal damage to the creature, it now triggers on any creature you take down, or that falls to 0 hit points within 5 feet of you. You have to get into melee range to benefit from that second clause, which many Warlocks don’t want to do… but at least there’s some way for your allies not to kill-steal from you.
- Bladelocks obviously care about this feature the most, out of our three Pacts, and it does work better for them than it does for Tome or Chain. On the other hand, a Tomelock or Chainlock who picked up the new version of Spell Sniper could use Eldritch Blast at melee range and expect things to die often enough to keep their temporary hit points topped off, or nearly.
- Dark One’s Own Luck at 6th level is a great example of how Robert Jordan lodged a few phrases in even D&D’s lexicon. It is still +1d10 to a failed ability check or saving throw, but instead of 1/Short Rest, it is spellcasting ability modifier uses per Long Rest. Kind of wild to see anything move back to scaling by ability modifier, but that much is fine; I’m less thrilled about the one Short Rest refresh thing in this whole subclass going to Long Rest.
- Fiendish Resilience at 10th level is changed to meet the redesign of monsters that gets rid of the Magical Weapons trait. (I’m still not convinced that this is a good change, at least not in the implementation we’ve seen so far that enshrines Force as the best damage type and kinda stops there.) The sidebar notes that monsters never or almost never possess magical or silvered weapons to bypass this resistance. That’s not a very good reason to change the feature; enemies deliberately equipped to hunt down a Fiend Warlock PC is a great story moment if used sparingly.
- The sidebar doesn’t mention that Force damage is just better, so Fiendlocks can’t have Force resistance.
- It really bothers me that top-end baddies bypass the resilience of characters like Barbarians and Fiendlocks, but function normally against, say, Fighters. It seems like it would be a serious feels-bad moment to go from “Barbarians and Fighters are basically balanced in relation to each other – one has resistance, one has superior AC and Indomitable” to “well, one has superior AC and Indomitable” when it’s one of the most important fights in the campaign, because that switch to Force damage happens most notably in Archdevil stat blocks.
- Hurl Through Hell at 14th level is mostly unchanged – one-round banishment, and a pile of damage to non-Fiend targets – but now you can also spend a 4th-level spell slot to refresh this ability. I like that option, though of course you won’t have a lot of spell slots to do that with as a half-caster class. (I call it out this way for Warlocks and not Paladins, who also tend to have this option on their top-end features, because we’re all getting used to that being a high cost for Warlocks, while we’re used to that being a precious currency for Paladins.)
The Fiend Warlock is stronger at early levels and mostly the same at later levels, compared to the 2014 PH. One of the more significant changes subtle changes is that Fireball is gone from their Patron Spells – it was a big deal in 2014 that they, as Warlocks, could even get the overpowered Sorcerer/Wizard spell. Now, it’s just an Arcane Evocation spell, and they can get it as one of their spell selections. Not until 9th level without a Mystic Arcanum, of course.
It’s hard to discuss the power-level change of the Warlock in a reliable way. In the game where I play a Hexblade, we also have a Monk and a Druid, so the group is always happy to take Short Rests. We’ve had adventuring days with 4+ Short Rests, no problem. (Our Ranger doesn’t get anything from them other than spending HD to heal, but he understands.) I’m in other games where Short Rests are much less common.
So is this version of the Warlock more powerful? No, probably not. By late tier 2, you’re sometimes more powerful in a single encounter than the previous version – for instance, at 8th level you have 7 spells (of any level) rather than 2. On the other hand, those 2 spells were 4th-level spells. You might have a Mystic Arcanum for one 4th-level spell, bringing you to 8 – but then we have to get into what the 2014 Warlock would have spent that Invocation slot on.
The new Warlock isn’t both buying Mystic Arcana and buying the same number of at-will utility spell Invocations, for example. (The 2014 Warlock never should have been buying Invocations that let them spend a Pact Magic slot to cast a specific spell 1/long rest; those were always a trap.)
Is it weaker? Given how much they want the class to be about spamming Eldritch Blast, the new 1/turn limit on Hex is a net loss of damage at many levels of play. AoE damage spells mostly won’t be worth casting, because by the time you get them they’ve lost a lot of ground compared to casting Eldritch Blast again, or will in another level or two.
Napkin math: Fireball averages 28 damage, not counting upcasting. You used to get that at 5th level; now you get it at 9th. Assuming 20 Cha and Ag Blast, Eldritch Blast costs nothing and deals an average of 21 damage at 5th level, 31.5 at 9th. That’s single-target versus AoE, of course! But it’s also a cantrip versus your highest-level spell slot at the time.
In closing, I hope for major changes to the Warlock. I would like to see a full caster that has Eldritch Blast as an option, but not the clear, order-of-magnitude better option. If that means fewer Eldritch Invocations, that seems like a pretty fair trade to me.
I’m overall very happy with the 2014 Wizard, though several of the subclasses are just awful. Lookin’ at you, Enchanter and Necromancer. On the other hand, the hit rate for the 8 in the PH is solid: Abjuration, Divination (who would have thought that Divination would be a top school?), Evocation, and Transmutation are all great, and I have no strong opinion about Conjuration or Illusion. I am hyper-invested in the Wizard concept, though.
- The core of the Wizard class is about the same, except that now they can use all Simple Weapons, not just daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, and light crossbows.
- You start with 3 cantrips, scaling up to 5 at 10th level. I’m not really sure why all casters stop gaining cantrips at 10th level, but it’s a Thing.
- Spellcasting & Spellbook: instead of Int + wizard level prepared spells, you now have a fixed number, scaling from 4 at 1st level to 22 at 20th (Spells from class features continue to not count.) This is the one class for which “spells prepared” language makes some sense. The Wizard, unlike the Sorcerer and Warlock, prepares spells at the end of a Long Rest, and gathers spells in their spellbook. The idea that you must prepare a number of spells at each spell level equal to your number of spell slots of that level is, thankfully, absent here (and no songs will be sung to lament its demise).
- Every spellcaster can cast a spell they have prepared as a ritual; Wizards only need to have it in their spellbooks.
- You also gain Scribe Spell. No, I still don’t grasp why this should be a spell and not a feature. Is it somehow good to have a spell with an 18-hour casting time that screws up your Long Rest cycle? (Because, the way Long Rests work, staying up late means you can’t make it up by going to bed early the next day. The only way to fix your sleep schedule is to go “around the horn,” stay up all night, and take the point of Exhaustion. Yes, it’s dumb, but that’s what happens when you have to nail down every detail.)
- The most important part of this feature, for me, is that the Wizard spell chase minigame is preserved. Yes I do love and care about collecting as many spells as possible.
- It’s fortunate that Scribe Scroll is always prepared for you, so that if you lose your spellbook you can at least add all of your currently prepared spells to it.
- Academic at 2nd level gives you Advantage when you use the Study action and roll an Intelligence check. This framing feels bad to me, because it hammers on actions in non-combat situations. It essentially means that you have Advantage on every Arcana, History, Nature, and Religion check you’re likely to roll, and maybe half of all Investigation rolls. That’s so much passive Advantage.
- What if you just gave them Expertise in their choice of two Int skills instead…? PCs probably shouldn’t need to figure out whether they’re correctly routing through the Study action to get their bonus. I know they want to make Expertise the Expert Group’s main thing, but… it’s about skill checks. Everyone needs to make those, and they honestly need to make them on a fairly equal footing because that’s how DC scaling works.
- Arcane Recovery moved from 1st level to 2nd so that its “half your Wizard level” thing is clear at first glance, without even parsing the “(rounded up)” bit.
- I would be happy to see Wizards get a better Arcane Recovery, and other spellcasting classes get basically this feature. I’ve said it a lot of times, but to reiterate: it’s beneficial to the game if everyone gets something back on Short Rests, but no one gets everything
- Subclasses and feats at the normal levels, of course.
- At 5th level, you gain Memorize Spell, which I covered in Part One.
- At 7th level, you gain Modify Spell.
- At 9th level, you gain Create Spell. In combination with Modify and Scribe, you can now create – but not share, I was wrong about that in the previous article – new spells. Because they’re Wizard spells and not Arcane spells, Scribe Spell doesn’t let other Wizards copy them, ever.
- Spell Mastery at 15th level lets you pick one 1st-level spell and one 2nd-level spell that are in your spellbook. When you have those spells prepared, you can cast them without expending a spell slot. The feature is the same as in 2014, but has moved down three levels.
- I honestly think this feature should go away, because being able to cast any of the game’s spells as many times in a day as there are 6-second rounds in 16 hours is either not useful (most spells), overpowered (shield, silvery barbs), or seriously infringing on another class’s schtick (cure wounds). This leads to it being possible to introduce a healing Sorcerer subclass (Divine Soul) but never a healing Wizard subclass (because you absolutely can’t let cure wounds get scribed into a spellbook), or the healing Wizard has some convoluted way to cast healing spells that dodges getting written down. It’s a huge waste of energy when this could just… be something else.
- Signature Spells at 18th level lets you pick two 3rd-level spells from your spellbook. They’re always prepared (so your 22 prepared spells at 20th level are now more like 27, not counting feats like Magic Initiate), and you can cast them without using a spell slot 1/Long Rest each. I’m fine with this feature.
- Epic Boon at 20th level; the default is the Epic Boon of Dimensional Travel.
The shorter version of all of that: these new spells could be stored as class features instead. Storing them as spells mainly serves to increase lookup time at the table, since they refer to each other but are found in disparate parts of the alphabet. There aren’t going to be exciting features that trigger off of casting these rituals, because these aren’t for adventuring time. They’re for downtime. Only Modify Spell is even a plausible exception to that. Scribe Spell should probably be a feature you can use while taking a long rest, because a Wizard burning the midnight oil to scribe that new spell should be supported without wrecking the party’s next adventuring day.
I like the idea of Academic, but its implementation seems lacking to me. Spell Mastery creates unnecessary problems. Create Spell is great, but falls short of the conceptual promise of creating new spells with, essentially, DRM.
All that said, the fears that I had for the fate of the Wizard back when the Bard UA first dropped are unfounded in this document. If this version became the final, my quibbles with it would be only that, not a dealbreaker.
I don’t like changing the subclass name from School of Evocation to Evoker. Yes, that’s the name of someone who specializes in Evocation, but School, Tradition, Path, College, Oath, Circle… I like all of those for even the fig leaf of positioning that group and type of character in the setting. I assume the change is about averting possible confusion between the spell school of Evocation and the subclass, now that players care about the
- Evocation Savant now grants you two free Evocation spells of up to 2nd level and halves gold and time cost for Evocation spells. Two extra in-school spells in your spellbook is a significant percentage of the total for some schools – yes, you, Necromancy! Don’t try to hide behind Divination, we’re wise to your tricks.
- Sculpt Spells at 3rd level is unchanged. It’s still “drop a Fireball grenade at your feet, and your allies are fine.” In itself, this is a pretty good reason to take this subclass.
- Potent Cantrip at 6th level now affects all damaging cantrips, not just ones that force saving throws. The Evocation feature not improving Fire Bolt, the quintessential Evocation cantrip, was always ridiculous. Its effect is to make your damaging cantrips deal half damage on a save/miss rather than none.
- Empowered Evocation at 10th level adds your Intelligence modifier to “one damage roll” of an Arcane Evocation spell. Love to see Create Spell, which you got one level earlier, break this feature (because it creates Wizard spells, not Arcane). Anyway, the current effect of this feature, due to a technical reading of the rules, is to make it wildly more effective to only cast Magic Missiles with all of your spell slots from this point forward. The d4+1 of Magic Missile is, technically, a single roll that applies to every missile, so you get Int x (2 + slot level) damage bonus from this feature. At 20 Int, that’s 3d4 + 18 for a 1st-level slot, or 7d4 + 42 for a 5th-level slot. With a spell that can’t miss and does the best flavor of damage.
- Overchannel at 14th level is unchanged: you maximize damage with one of your spells. You get one free use per Long Rest, and uses after that cost you a scaling amount of damage. There’s some question whether a damaging spell with a duration – e.g., Flaming Sphere, Vampiric Touch – is maximized on turns past your first. That’s probably worth clarifying for the ordinary reader, because if not, Overchanneling Vampiric Touch might be one of the strongest uses. A maximized 30 necrotic damage and 15 healing, round over round, is a solid way to spend a 5th-level slot in my view.
So that’s the Evoker for you – very little changed from its previous version, just some fixes to their Savant feature (none of the existing Savant features are great) and Potent Cantrip. No matter what they pick for the other three Wizard subclasses of the new PH, they’re cutting something that dearly needs the support.
The Rules Glossary is mercifully short this time. There have been some cuts, signaling official reversion to the 2014 rules or an entry being fully subsumed into another rule. I hope we see a new version of Exhaustion rules, if they aren’t going to use the 10-point Exhausted track – the 2014 Exhaustion rules are punitive enough to stop your adventuring day in its tracks, rather than being fun or exciting to play through.
Death Saving Throws – the entry replaces the previous Dying entry. As we saw in the last document, there’s an extended effort to shift the “stable” point up to 1 hit point and Unconscious, rather than letting you ever be stable at 0. 0 hit points always means Dying. This still seems like a lot of work for a problem-adjusted solution. It’s not at all clear that Medicine might still be able to bring a Dying creature to 1 hit point. (It probably still does, but the text here is confusing on that point.)
Influence [Action] has some further clarifications that protect the DM’s judgment as final arbiter of creature actions and whether Persuasion, Deception, and Intimidation can change a Hostile creature’s attitude, or are even needed to get a Friendly creature to do something for you. In the balance, I think that’s for the best, as opposed to sparking arguments that a roll means an NPC must behave a certain way.
Truesight gains a bullet point about visual illusions: you know they’re there, they look translucent to you, and you automatically succeed your saves against them.
And that’s that.
This has been a monumentally long packet to cover to this level of detail. If you’ve read all of both articles, bless you, fellow traveler. I hope you had fun along the way with me. Pass me another Java Monster.
The packet has a lot of good in it, some things I’m dubious about, and then the Warlock class. Even the Warlock class has some good in it, some things I’m dubious about, and then its spellcasting progression. When the surveys for this packet open up, I hope you’ll rate features according to your opinions (especially if you’ve found my arguments persuasive) and write your commentary in a way that remembers that the people reading it are human too. Even when there’s disagreement on how and why, the Design Team loves the game as much as we do and they want the game to be as fun as possible for as many people as possible.