The new packet came out yesterday, but I’m not covering that today. I’m still finishing up the last one, with the Rogue, new or revised spells, and anything else down toward the bottom of the packet. Let’s hit it.
The first UA Rogue didn’t excite me, because they had narrowed Sneak Attack down to only happening on your turn, and only as part of the Attack action – no Reaction Sneak Attacking for any reason. There also just wasn’t much new to see. This version addresses both points.
- Expertise is unchanged at 1st Two skills, such double proficiency bonus, wow.
- Sneak Attack, as I was just saying, no longer has to be part of the Attack action on your turn. It’s back to 5e.14’s 1/turn – which means it can happen on someone else’s turn. As far as I’m concerned, order has been restored to the cosmos. Is off-turn Sneak Attack really good? Yes, but as long as you don’t turn weird and obsessive about maximizing damage every turn (that’s a good way to ruin your own fun in any game), it feels like you’re getting away with something when you land an off-turn Sneak Attack, and that’s great.
- Thieves’ Cant is treated as a language, though as we all know it’s an argot. Anyway, this is unchanged and fine.
- Weapon Mastery wasn’t even a thing in the first appearance of the UA Rogue. Now you can use the Weapon Mastery properties of two weapons, and change them out on a Long Rest.
- Most of the weapons on the chart are no use to you – you’re a Rogue, if it’s not a Ranged or Finesse weapon, what would you do with it? Not Sneak Attack? Get outta here with that nonsense. My point is that you have very few practical
- Oh, huh. Rogues don’t get proficiency in Firearms by default. Sure, they’re loud, but… I’d probably still give it to ‘em.
- I think Rogues should get dagger Weapon Mastery for free, and get two choices for the rest of their short list of Ranged and Finesse weapons.
- Cunning Action at 2nd level is unchanged: you can Dash, Disengage, or Hide as a Bonus Action.
- Rogues get subclass progression at levels 3, 9, 13, and 17. Thanks, I hate it.
- Steady Aim at 3rd level lets you spend your Bonus Action to give yourself Advantage, but you can’t have moved this turn, and your Speed is 0 for the rest of this turn. If you need a little help to deliver a Sneak Attack this turn, this gets the job done. (Subtle Strikes, previously at 13th level, has been cut because of this feature’s inclusion.)
- Ability Score Increase or a Feat at 4, 8, 10, 12, 16, and 19.
- Cunning Strike at 5th level is a major new feature that lets you trade dice of Sneak Attack damage for an alternate effect. You get four options here, and more later on. Each of these four costs 1d6 from your Sneak Attack.
- Disarm forces the target to drop a held object if they fail a Dex save. I’m always nervous about Disarm effects, because the disarmed enemy has so few options for getting the weapon back in a way that doesn’t cost them a full turn or more of actions (at which point the PC can just Disarm them again, it’s only costing 3.5 average damage!), but still upholds the Disarm as mattering at all. I’d honestly rather see something else here.
- Poison doesn’t deal extra damage – that would undermine the whole point of sacrificing a die – but it gives the Poisoned condition for 1 minute on a failed save. The target gets a new save at the end of each of their turns. Very solid debuff here, though not as impressive against spellcasters.
- Trip knocks a target prone on a failed Dex save. You won’t get to use that prone-ness to help your own Sneak Attack much at all, but it’s great for the rest of your party – or for slowing down an enemy at range.
- Withdraw gives you, in essence, a Disengage and half a Dash, which is a huge help if you need your Bonus Action for something else – like a magic item, Cunning Action (Hide), or a subclass feature.
- The D&D Beyond interface on this is probably going to be janky as hell, because it has never handled decision points or conditionals within a dice roll all that well.
- Also I think it’s kind of interesting how this inverts the way Battle Masters work – they use limited abilities to deal extra damage and an extra effect, this uses unlimited abilities to deal reduced damage in exchange for an extra effect. That’s not a problem, just interesting.
- Uncanny Dodge at 5th level is unchanged. Halve incoming damage from an attack you can see, as a Reaction.
- Expertise at 6th level grants you two more skills with doubled proficiency bonuses. The only issue I have with this is that because you can get to “mostly can’t fail” levels with skills as a Rogue, the rest of the design is much less inclined to have skills matter in combat. I think I’d prefer more skills-forward combat applications and no Expertise or Reliable Talent.
- This had been at 7th level in the previous packet; I’m fine with it moving back.
- Evasion at 7th level is moved back down from 9th level, and otherwise unchanged. Sure, all good.
- To be clear, the Expertise/Evasion level rejiggering is 100% about Rogue subclass features dropping down to 6th level in the previous packet and going back to 9th level in this one.
- Reliable Talent has moved from 11th level down to 7th so that a new feature can come in at 11th. It’s very possible to have a skill check floor of 21 for your Dex-based Expertise skills when you get this feature, and it goes up from there. Whew.
- Improved Cunning Strike at 11th level lets you stack two Cunning Strike effects on a single attack. Nice to have, but it shines even more once you get…
- Devious Strikes at 14th level gives you three more Cunning Strike moves, and because you’re up to 7d6 Sneak Attack at this point, these get to cost a lot more.
- Daze forces a Con save, and Dazes the target until the end of its next turn on a failure. (As a reminder, Daze lets the target move or take an action, but not both, and denies them Bonus Actions and Reactions. Not that most NPC stat blocks rely on Bonus Actions much, just to keep things easy for the DM.) Costs 2 dice.
- Knock Out costs a huge 6 dice, but on a failed save the target is Unconscious for 1 minute, until it takes damage, or until it passes a save at the end of its turn. Potentially a great way to burn through a boss’s Legendary Actions.
- Obscure costs 3 dice, and blinds the target until the end of their next turn on a failed Dex save. This is merciless against casters and many caster-like opponents that rely on “that you can see” phrasing, and there’s precious little reason why you wouldn’t keep trying to lock them down, round over round.
- In short, I’m going to have to see these in play before I’m completely comfortable with making them work every round.
- Slippery Mind at 15th level is unchanged – still grants proficiency in Wisdom and Charisma saves. (An improvement from the 5e.14 rules that we saw in the previous UA Rogue.)
- Elusive at 18th level has moved back up from 17th level, now that Rogues get their last subclass feature at 17. It denies attackers Advantage against you while you’re not Incapacitated.
- Stroke of Luck at 20th level – remember, the Epic Boon at 20 thing is gone – lets you decide to turn any failed d20 roll to a natural 20, 1/Short or Long Rest.
One key thing to notice: Stroke of Luck is the only thing the core Rogue gets back on Short Rest. Spoiler (?), the subclasses aren’t going to help much there. I’d like to see a new feature at around 2nd level that introduces some kind of fairly low-stakes benefit that you regain on Short Rests. I’d actually like it most if it was in some way generous toward other players, since Rogues generally “play selfish.” (This is more noticeable in 4e, where other players are setting up combat advantage that rogues expend, but it still sort of applies here.) Look for a blog post in www.brandesstoddard.com on that idea in the next week or two.
That said, I really like what I see in this Rogue. Cunning Strikes is a great idea even if I have concerns about the outcome. The worst I would say of this version is that the jump from level 3 to 9 for subclass features feels so bad, and we’ve known that since 2014. I get why they’re doing it this way, but I don’t have to like it.
If you’re familiar with the Arcane Trickster of 5e.14, the coverage here is super fast.
- Their spells changed to Arcane rather than Wizard spells, but as we learned yesterday (5/7/23), they’ve nuked the Arcane/Divine/Primal lists and gone back to class lists. We can safely assume that this change is reverted. Their spell selection is constrained to Enchantment and Illusion spells only at 3rd level – after that, pick whatever within the Arcane Wizard list.
- No changes to Mage Hand Legerdemain – it’s been reworded to not use bullet points, but I’m not clear that any of these options have been removed, as such.
- Magical Ambush at 9th level is reworded to use the Invisible condition rather than you being hidden, but that amounts to the same thing.
- Versatile Trickster at 13th level is the real change – instead of granting you Advantage, which you need less than before because of Steady Aim, you can now add a second target for your Disarm and Trip Cunning Strikes. The second target has to be adjacent to your mage hand. This feature is pretty incredible for just improving the output of two already-very-good options.
- Spell Thief at 17th is unchanged. Yoink, thanks for the spell knowledge, my guy.
Looks great, no issues.
Oh hey, it’s the Problem Child of the Rogue subclasses. It is, perforce, the antithesis of weal.
- Bonus Proficiencies are unchanged – disguise kit and poisoner’s kit. Sure.
- Assassinate is the start of the trouble: advantage against enemies that haven’t acted in combat yet (not bad, but highly dependent on Initiative rolls) and automatic crits against surprised enemies (surprise isn’t something players can do very much about, and depends on the DM setting up situations for surprise to be possible). This version changes that to Advantage on Initiative rolls, Advantage on attacks against creatures that haven’t yet taken a turn, and you add your Rogue level to Sneak Attack damage you deal in the first round.
- It’s better, in that you can do more to apply your extra damage. At the level you get it, it’s 3 points of damage added to probably 3d6+4 or so – nice to have but not amazing.
- Infiltration Expertise at 9th level does a bunch of things to help you in a situation that almost never comes up, and takes a lot of DM setup to give it a chance to work. I think this feature should be scrapped completely and a new concept put into its place; I’d be happiest if the concept stayed nonmagical and leaned into observation of the target.
- This feature incorporates Impostor from 5e.14’s Assassin, and it’s still not great.
- Envenom Weapons at 13th level is a marked improvement over Impostor, that’s for sure. When you use the Poison option of Cunning Strike, you trade 1d6 of Sneak Attack damage for 2d6 of Poison damage, if they fail their save, and this damage ignores Resistance but not Immunity to Poison damage. You should be using this basically every round against enemies that you don’t strongly suspect to be Poison-immune.
- Powerful, fun, thematic. I wish you weren’t waiting until 13th level for something that contributes this much to your playstyle.
- Death Strike at 17th level is unchanged: you’re doubling the damage of your first-round Sneak Attack. That first-round Sneak Attack isn’t an auto-crit against a surprised opponent anymore, but at 17th level you’re still talking about doubling approximately 10d6+22 damage, plus whatever cool magic weapon you have.
Of your five features, two do nothing at all outside the first round of combat. For another, if it comes up once in a campaign, that’s unusual and your DM is doing you a favor. I think the Assassin just isn’t delivering enough to do, and I doubt that tinkering with its current framework is going to be enough.
An unfortunate aspect of Rogue design: Cunning Strikes coming in at 5th level, specifically, means that the subclasses can’t ever make a new Cunning Strike option be the core of their unique gameplay loop. You can’t grant a feature at 3rd level that doesn’t kick in until 5th, and you can’t wait until 9th level to bring your unique gameplay loop online.
I get why Rogues are back to 3/9/13/17, but… I think we as users could suck it up and deal with one class getting its subclass levels realigned if the improvement was significant enough. For as much as it might inform every round of actions, maybe find a way to move Cunning Strikes down to 3rd level, and/or move Rogue subclasses to 3/6/something/something. Even 3/6/13/17 would be comparatively fine. That’s not going to happen and I get it, but I can still wish.
I’m a huge fan of this concept. I think it’s one of the only pretty-exclusively-melee Rogue subclasses out there?
- Fancy Footwork folds a Disengage into your melee attack, even if you miss. It covers the main thing you want from Cunning Strike’s Withdraw, though Withdraw also gets you some free movement speed – except the Fancy Footwork only lets you avoid OAs from that one creature. (Unchanged from XGTE.)
- On thinking about it, I’d like to see this get a little bit better, just so it doesn’t feel like it’s replaced by a core Rogue feature two levels later.
- Rakish Audacity gives you +Cha modifier to Initiative, and gives you one additional Sneak Attack condition – you can Sneak Attack when you and your target are a bit isolated from the rest of the fight. (Unchanged from XGTE.)
- It’s nice to have and might let you think about positioning in a different way. Between this and Fancy Footwork, the Swashbuckler playstyle is still very close to just a standard melee Rogue.
- Panache at 9th level is reworked to use Cunning Strike’s mechanic. Now you can pay 1d6 to Goad an enemy (Disadvantage to attack anyone other than you on a failed Wis save), or 3d6 to Awe each creature within 30 feet (Wis save or be Charmed until the end of your next turn).
- So one to “force” them to attack you and one to prevent them from attacking you; with Improved Cunning Strike at 11th, maybe you do both to call out and isolate the enemy you want to fight. This is a huge improvement in real function and action economy over XGTE’s Panache, though the Awe option has lost something in the narrative by working against hostile creatures, rather than deliberately being a fight-opening action.
- This feature is fine in itself, but it’s a long time to wait for the most active subclass feature to kick in.
- Dashing Strikes at 13th level is also reworked to be about Cunning Strikes, with two more options. Parrying Stance lets you spend 2d6 to roll 1d6 and add it to your AC. Invigorate lets you spend 2d6 to inspire one ally, giving them a d6 to all attacks and saves until the end of their next turn.
- I am all about a Rogue getting a leader-like feature and a pretty solid defensive feature. I just wish it were showing up earlier so that it could be part of just about any WotC adventure. (If you need at 13th-level adventure, though, “The Scrivener’s Tale” in Candlekeep Mysteries and “Against the Machine” in Dreams of the Red Wizards are here for you and written by me!)
- Master Duelist at 17th level used to be a 1/Short Rest reroll-with-Advantage of a missed attack. Now it is an extra attack against a target you’ve just hit with a Sneak Attack, if and only if you’ve set up the positioning described in Rakish Audacity.
- That’s a fairly narrow conditional on the attack, and there are going to be a lot of fights where NPCs make that impossible without active DM collusion to make it possible. I’m not thrilled with this one – the payoff is nice, but isn’t going to feel like much after your big Sneak Attack lands (and then only if you don’t drop your target, since this attack requires that you keep your original target).
The Swashbuckler is fighting the constraints of Rogue subclasses and class design. It wants to be a dynamic and exciting playstyle, but I think it doesn’t kick in until 9th level (and, to a certain extent, 13th!), and that’s a bad problem. Also, Master Duelist over-promises and under-delivers. I think there’s a lot of good here, but some significant unresolved problems as well.
The 5e.14 Thief is strongly utility-focused for exploration, and only obliquely helps with combat (Supreme Sneak) before 17th level. It’s great at accomplishing goals other than “reduce the opponents to 0 hp,” which is what I love about it.
This is the second draft of the Thief we’ve seen from UA.
- Fast Hands previously granted Search as part of Cunning Action, and I think I noted at the time that once a feature lets you Search as a Bonus Action, the DM can’t situationally declare that without infringing on the Thief’s cool thing. I’m not surprised, therefore, that it got cut. Then as now, it lets you use Sleight of Hand to open locks or disarm traps using Thieves’ Tools (I continue to not love Sleight of Hand for those tasks, but okay), and now it also lets you Use an Object or an item-based Magic action as a Cunning Action option.
- I’m still not clear on whether Object Interaction is going away, and no matter what, I hope Use an Object becomes part of how more things are used. I don’t want that to be a vestigial part of this feature.
- If Object Interaction as an additional thing you can do on your turn is going away, that’s a shame, because it is great swashbuckling and derring-do material.
- The DMs who houserule healing potions to use a Bonus Action are going to need to think this one through.
- Second-Story Work still gives you a Climb Speed equal to your Speed. There used to be a Jump action in UA, and that idea got put out to pasture, so now you get to use your Dex in place of Strength for determining your jump distance. (Thief-Acrobat ftw.) Finally, your climbing can now be a fully inverted climb as long as you have a handhold during the move and at the end of your turn.
- I like the direction this is going. Good traversal options without offering outright flying.
- Supreme Sneak at 9th level now uses Cunning Strike mechanics, with Stealth Attack: spend 1d6 to stay Invisible from Hiding (not Invisible from Invisibility) if you end your turn behind Three-Quarters or Total Cover.
- The conditional here is a little weird because it introduces a time and resolution gap between the attack and the point at which Hiding ends. I don’t love the phrasing of the Hide rules, because “find” seems like such a pivotal term but loosely defined term as I try to parse this closely.
- Use Magic Device at 13th level is unchanged from the previous draft, which is great because this one sparks joy. It’s a Gray Mouser and early-edition Thief class callback, giving you an extra magic item attunement slot, a 1-in-6 chance to not use charges when using a charged magic item, and spell scroll use. Even just 1st-level spells – the only kind you use without a spell failure chance – cover a lot of utility. Big fan.
- Thief’s Reflexes at 17th level is back to its 5e.14 mechanics – not six extra Bonus Actions per Long Rest, but one extra turn in the first round of each combat.
- It may come up less often – plenty of adventuring days don’t have six combats – but it’s a lot more memorable, and 17th level features can afford to do just that. I think I prefer this version.
The cool thing about Fast Hands and Second-Story Work is that they can change your tactical and strategic approach to a whole adventure, not just an individual combat. Access to more pathways through a dungeon is an incredible asset if the map design supports it. Creative use of your inventory likewise depends on the content and the DM supporting your approach. Sure, there are games where this subclass has few chances to shine before 9th level, but no subclass is right for every group and every campaign.
Which brings us to the end of the Rogue. The subclasses are mostly improved or improving, but the Assassin is still the weak link, and as I’ve said all of the subclasses are at odds with the Rogue class design and the placement of Cunning Strikes. The changes from 5e.14 are positive ones, but much lighter touches than we see them trying in other classes.
Yep, I’m going to try to finish this UA document now. Look upon my works, ye mighty.
There are a bunch of little changes to the spell lists – Hex, Find Steed, Hunter’s Mark, Conjure Barrage, and Conjure Volley are now class exclusives, as are all of the smiting spells other than Searing Smite and Wrathful Smite. Since we’ve also already seen the packet after this, we know that the Arcane/Divine/Primal lists are about to go away, but in this packet they’re still working with it and moving spells between schools. I’m not digging into those changes any deeper because they really only matter for edge cases.
Most or all of these changes seemed likely from the very first moment of the three-spell-list model in UA. There was just no way Hex was really going to remain widely available. I hope Find Steed shows up for Warlocks, maybe in an invocation, because I played enough World of Warcraft to get very attached to Warlocks having special mounts. (I didn’t play a Warlock to any particular level. Cleric main up through the middle of WotLK.)
Banishing Smite is now a hard CC that requires Concentration but doesn’t grant additional saving throws in rounds after the first. It can’t permanently send a creature back to its home plane, and it has a hit point threshold to even require that initial save. I don’t think I like that use of the hit point threshold, because we’re talking at 50 hit points as a 17th-level Paladin. The ideal case for this spell feels pretty narrow now, since they were just a couple of hits away from being all the way out of this fight. (I realize this is carried over from 5e.14, but I never wrote a detailed breakdown about that.)
Smite spells in general have decided they care about being melee/Unarmed only for some reason. This isn’t serving the game’s interests significantly, in the same way that making it harder for Paladins to take the Archery style isn’t.
Blinding Smite no longer has an initial saving throw, which guarantees you at least a round of your enemy having Disadvantage and being unable to target “that you can see” spells. Very solid use of a 3rd-level spell slot at 9th level.
Conjure Barrage would be fine if it were ranged-only – I can live with Ranger magic splitting arrows or javelins or whatever, Pepperidge Farms and I remember the Seeker class – but trying to support melee Rangers with it is goofy. Also, their middling-at-best Wis modifier means the saving throw DC won’t be anything great.
Conjure Volley – hey, go up one (1) entry and see the thing I wrote for Conjure Barrage. Thanks. Also, only dubiously a fun use of your turn at 17th level.
Divine Smite is the Paladin spell version of what was once a Paladin feature. As we’ve seen, it costs a Bonus Action to be absolutely sure there’s no way to smite twice in a round. Since I’ve heard some grumbling about that lately, I’ll just say – Paladin burst damage is too high in 5e.14, and so appealing that it’s hard to think why you’d use a spell. This puts on the brakes while still keeping Paladin burst damage very strong.
Elementalism is another variation on Druidcraft, Prestidigitation, and Thaumaturgy, themed around the four elements. I don’t know about you, but my players have pushed mold earth to its breaking point as a cantrip, and Elementalism is far more constrained. I don’t expect to see a lot of excitement about this one.
Find Steed’s only change that I’m spotting is that it is now Paladin-only. It still has the problem that Fell Glare isn’t as good as the other two options. Also, I think the mount should be real enough that its slams do B/P/S damage, rather than N/P/R damage (with apologies to Kai Ryssdal).
Hunter’s Mark does the thing we saw from Hex previously: instead of adding damage to each attack you make, it deals extra Force damage once per turn. 1st-level slots deal 1d6 damage, 3rd-level slots deal 2d6 damage, and 5th-level slots deal 3d6 damage. You have Advantage on Perception and Survival checks to find the target.
Those higher spell levels also extend the duration, but you’re going to fail a Concentration save or need to cast a different Concentration spell before you get anywhere near 8 to 24 hours. That extra duration is mostly wasted. Hunter’s Mark is, in short, much less appealing now.
Power Word Heal now works at range, like you’d expect for a Power Word, and Dazed has been added to the list of conditions it addresses. It has been moved into the school of Enchantment for some reason.
Power Word Krill now summons 100 hit points of what I can only describe as the quantum of seafood.
I am, in fact, just wondering who is still reading every word, 4400+ words into this article. For both of you, my sincere thanks and/or apologies.
Power Word Kill no longer has no effect against creatures with more than 100 hit points. Instead, it deals 12d12 Psychic damage. (There’s still nothing resembling a saving throw.) I like this change to such a legacy spell.
Searing Smite now guarantees you one instance of its ongoing damage – there’s no initial saving throw. Also, no Concentration. I’m a fan.
Shining Smite is a rename of Glimmering Smite – good change – and in addition to kicking creatures out of invisibility, it also prevents them from gaining invisibility. Looks solid.
Vicious Mockery is now exclusive to the Bard and scales strictly by your Bard level, rather than your character level. It has stepped up from d4 to d6 damage. This is mostly here to lock out multiclassing and feat purchase with Magic Initiate, and I don’t love how that makes it an outlier in spell design.
Wrathful Smite is now a Necromancy spell dealing Necrotic damage, and it says “not from concentrate” on the side. Much better. Also I’d very much like to see Searing and Wrathful get offered to Eldritch Knights… and maybe Arcane Tricksters… and definitely Bladesingers. C’mon, y’all. (Also, if we’re supporting melee druids in humanoid form, them too.)
Ability Score Increase now has its score cap bump up to 22 for your 19th-level feat. I kinda like that.
All of the Fighting Style feats now require that you have the Fighting Style feature from your class, which… sure, if you want to pressure players into level-dipping into Fighter? That seems like a bad idea to me, and definitely a prereq that accomplishes just nothing beyond making sure Paladins and Rangers (but no one else) can’t have this before 4th level. What an utter waste of time.
Fighting Style: Protection has reverted to its bad 5e.14 version, which is heartbreaking because they’re dumping a better version to get there. In case you need it – or just want to revisit a classic – here’s my breakdown of why the original Protection fighting style is bad, and what could be done in its place. (But the Interception fighting style in TCOE is still better, and you should use that.)
I’m not inclined to cover the weapon table in detail, or crawl through every piece of it to look for tweaks, so that’s going to bring this article and this seven-part series to a close.
Next time out: a whole new packet! Mercy.