One D&DUnearthed Arcana

UA 2023 – Player’s Handbook 7 Playtest Breakdown, Part One

This packet dropped before I’d even finished covering its cyclopean predecessor, so I took a little time to make progress on other projects (good stuff, Under the Seas of Vodari backers!) before taking up sword and spellbook once again. This time out, the remaining five classes get a fresh draft: Barbarian, Fighter, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard. The spellcaster classes in particular signal a sweeping change to 5e.24’s development–we’ll get to that.


The changes noted in the change log sidebar are… extensive. They’re not going to intersect much with my critiques from the Player’s Handbook 5 packet, though.

  • Rage is unchanged. I mentioned last time that this presents a problem in the late game (because your B/P/S mitigation dies on the vine).
    • Not to get ahead of myself, but the Path of the Wild Heart (the rename of the Totem Warrior) signals that no really, they are all bored of Barbarian damage resistance.
    • If you skipped the PH 5 packet, the things to know are that a Rage can now last up to 10 minutes, and taking damage doesn’t keep your Rage going, but you can spend a Bonus Action for rounds where you neither make an attack nor force a saving throw.
    • The 10-minute duration and re-theming as channeling primal might (see also Primal Knowledge, below) really undermines the idea that Rage has anything to do with being in a rage, fighty mood, or in fact even a tizzy.
  • Unarmored Defense is unchanged. Which is fine.
  • Weapon Mastery is unchanged from the PH 5 packet; compared to the PH 6 packet, they’re back to changing weapon choices on a Long Rest rather than on leveling.
  • Danger Sense at level 2 was missing from the PH 5 version. As in 5e.14 it grants Advantage on Dex saves; now it works while you are Blinded or Deafened, but not Incapacitated. That change doesn’t come up a ton, but… sure, I’m fine with your Peter Tingle working almost all the time.
  • Reckless Attack at level 2 used to not work in your off-turn following its use, so it couldn’t apply to Opportunity Attacks, Retaliation, Commander’s Strike, that kind of thing. They fixed that. Small change, but I’m 100% in favor.
  • Barbarians gain subclass features at 3, 6, 10, and 14. True in 5e.14, true in the PH 5 packet, true now. Sounds fine.
  • Primal Knowledge at level 3 gives you another proficient skill from the Barbarian list, and lets you use Strength as the relevant ability score for five skills. I honestly don’t think there’s any amount of “Strength represents primal power” that they can write into the flavor text that makes a Strength (Perception) roll not draw jokes every. single. time. it happens in game.
    • Changing “Rage” to “Channel Primal Power” would at least be a start, but fundamentally I think the playerbase is really dragging their heels on coming along with the design team’s adjustment to the Barbarian class story. (Regardless of the fact that 4e Barbarians were very magic-forward Primal strikers.)
  • Ability Score Increase/Feat at 4, 8, 12, 16, 19. As you recall, for that level 19 ASI, your ability score cap is 22. I’ll come back to this, because they kinda broke it.
  • Extra Attack at level 5 does what it always does. I’m going to take it on faith that this isn’t your first time reading a 5e class.
  • Fast Movement at level 5 increases your Speed by 10, as long as you haven’t gone to the trouble to also pick up Heavy Armor Training and a suit of heavy armor.
  • Feral Instinct at level 7 still grants Advantage on Initiative. I’ll suggest that the most important thing about this is Raging early so that your B/P/S resistance is working as your enemies make their first round of attacks.
  • Instinctive Pounce at level 7 comes to us from TCOE, letting you move up to half your Speed as part of entering a Rage. I like this just fine – it amounts to a free 20ish feet of movement in your opening round.
  • Brutal Critical at level 9 (back down from level 11 in PH5) is additional d12s of damage (1 at level 9, 2 at 13, 3 at 17), rather than the weapon damage die of 5e.14 or just adding your Barbarian level from PH5.
    • Adding d12s is preferable to adding weapon damage dice because it takes out the step of optimizing your weapon choice for the best Brutal Critical effect. Rolling a fistful of d12s is just more exciting at the table than adding your level to the damage total. It’s one of the big things you sign up to do as a Barbarian!
  • Relentless Rage at level 11 (down from level 15) is otherwise unchanged in function: if you would fall to 0 hit points, you instead roll a scaling Con save, and on a success, you instead have twice your Barbarian level in hit points (so that you don’t instantly drop again). 22 hit points when you get this feature may not keep you standing long, but it’s a whole lot better than 1.
  • Persistent Rage at level 15 has absorbed Rage Resurgence (the Rage currency fixer that restored a Rage when you roll Initiative), and your Rage now only ends if you don Heavy Armor or fall Unconscious. That’s a change – previously you lost it when Incapacitated.
    • This feature is nice and all, but I don’t know how exciting it feels as a player by the time you get it. My contention is that the Barbarian needs something more active anywhere in the last 11 levels of the class (subclasses notwithstanding). Everything happening here is reactive or passive, and this feature is mainly about easing restrictions they’ve had since 1st
    • Making players slog through 14 levels without a currency fixer, to finally get it now that you have so many uses you probably don’t care? That seems off to me.
  • Indomitable Might at level 18 is way up from level 9. As before, it sets the floor for your Strength checks and saves to equal your Strength score (let’s not kid around, by 18th level it’s 20 or higher). Setting this at 18 rather than 9 greatly reduces my issue that it acts as Reliable Talent for a whole lot of skills.
  • Primal Champion at level 20 does exactly as it did in 5e.14 – +4 Strength, +4 Con, increased stat caps to match.
    • Which is a problem of sorts for your level 19 Ability Score Increase. It has no way to stack with Primal Champion, and Strength and Con are the only stats you’re likely to push to 22 at level 19 anyway.

I would not be at all surprised if this is essentially the final version of the Barbarian. It’s an improvement in a few smallish ways from 5e.14 and TCOE. I still think three main things are problems: one, there’s only one kind of Rage, which fits less and less well as the class’s concept broadens. Making a decision between a few different flavors of Rage, and giving the player a reason to change between them mid-battle, could add a lot of interest.

Second, Barbarian damage mitigation looks good on the page, but only because you can’t see from here what’s going on in monster design. We don’t have any real-actual-definitely-getting-used monster stat blocks for 5e.24, so all we can go on is the years-long trend line toward monsters in the mid-to-late game dealing a lot more non-B/P/S damage. You’re going to get halfway into a campaign, being the absolute brick with a million hit points, and suddenly the bottom drops out from under you and you crash back to earth. The Fighters, Paladins, and so on don’t have a comparable rug-pull labeled “Force damage.”

Thirdly, Instinctive Pounce is the last non-passive feature you gain, and Brutal Critical is the last offensive feature you gain (until Primal Champion, and again not counting subclass features at 10 and 14). Reducing restrictions and giving you more passives, while improving your damage output by the essentially forgettable value of your Rage damage bonus… the Barbarians in my gaming group are deeply unhappy with the future they see before them. One rebuilt the character as a Ranger, and the other settled in for a slog. It doesn’t have to be this way – other classes aren’t stuck with this.

Path of the Berserker

“Did he just say ‘making f*ck’?” – Clerks, 1994

I’m… I’m just not gonna recap the whole Berserker. Click this link. Got that? Cool.

  • Intimidating Presence at 14th level stepped from an Action down to a Bonus Action. Big improvement in real use, especially in the late game. When you run into a lot of Frightened-immune creatures in the late game, at least it’s only your Bonus Action, and you can still beat them to death with your Action.

If this version goes to print, I can live with that. Frenzy is amazing and worth the price of admission. Intimidating Presence doesn’t stack up that well in direct comparison to the top-end features of the other subclasses, except that you can use it every round (after the round you start your Rage, of course).

Path of the Wild Heart

As previously attested, this is the renamed version of the Path of the Totem Warrior. It’s the more interesting of the two Barbarian subclasses in 5e.14, and another of the a la carte subclass designs that I like.

  • Animal Speaker at level 3 gives you the ritual versions of Beast Sense and Speak with Animals. Nice to have, and ah-ma-zing if your DM plays a lot of Baldur’s Gate 3 and gives every animal interesting dialogue.
  • Rage of the Wilds at level 3 gives you one choice out of a list of three:
    • Bear now gives you resistance to two (2) damage types when you activate your Rage. You can’t choose Force or Psychic. Here again, the designers have decided that Force just gets to be The Best and there’s no way to mitigate it. This is a huge step down, if you guess wrong on the damage types you’re facing at the time you activate your Rage.
    • Eagle has improved to let you Disengage and Dash as a Bonus Action while Raging, and as part of activating your Rage. This is a step up from Dashing and imposing Disadvantage on Opportunity Attacks, and because it works on the turn you Rage.
    • Wolf has gone from granting your allies on attacks against your enemies within 5 feet of you to within 10 feet, while you’re Raging. It was useful before and it’s even better now – the extra 5 feet means that if one ally takes down your main target, another target is fairly likely to be nearby.
  • Aspect of the Wilds at level 6 no longer continues the Bear/Eagle/Wolf set. Some users may have misunderstood that you didn’t have to pick the same one all the way up, and this change makes that unmistakable. I do miss the lodge possibilities of the original.
    • Elephant (previously Bear) now grants proficiency in Athletics or Insight, or Expertise if you already have proficiency. That’s an improvement… like, a lot of improvement… from giving you Powerful Build and Advantage on Strength checks to Bend Bars/Lift Gates. On the other hand, this makes me sad that they’ve written Athletics skill use out of grappling and shoving combat.
    • Owl (formerly Eagle) grants proficiency in Investigation or Perception, or Expertise if you already have proficiency. I’m all about helping Barbarians engage outside of combat, since much of their ability score priority makes that harder.
    • Spider (formerly Wolf) is an animal choice that feels odd to me, but… okay. Anyway, it does the same as Elephant and Owl, but for Stealth or Survival. Stealth Barbarians are great fun and I love it.
  • Nature Speaker at level 10 is unchanged except that, for the rare corner cases where it matters, you now know that Wisdom is your spellcasting ability. Still gives you Commune with Nature as a ritual.
  • Power of the Wilds at level 14 gives you your last three-way choice point, this time with Lion, Falcon, and Ram.
    • Lion (formerly Bear) is a tanking feature, imposing Disadvantage on enemies within 5 feet of you if they’re attacking anyone other than you. This used to be stopped by immunity to Frightened, and is not now; that’s especially important at level 14 and later, as many enemies are immune to Frightened.
    • Falcon (previously Eagle, of course) used to give you flight that ended at the end of your turn, so it was more leaping and gliding. Now it’s a true Fly Speed while you’re Raging and not wearing any armor. I liked how the previous version could be almost as much “technique” as outright magic, and the same for much of the rest of this subclass, but the sense that Rages are Magic is more overt here.
    • Ram (formerly Wolf) still gives you a potential knockdown with your attacks while Raging, but instead of using your Bonus Action (which would block you from using this on the turn that you start your Rage), it now grants a Strength save, but could happen on each attack you make.

I think the nerf to Bear at level 3 might be deeper than was really called for, but aside from that, this looks like a fun Barbarian to play, and I’d give it a go if I ever decided I were going to play a Barbarian. For what I enjoy most, Wolf/Spider/Ram or Wolf/Spider/Lion seem likely.

Path of the World Tree

This is an all-new one, concepted around Yggdrasil. Tree-themed Barbarians sound a lot like 4e’s Warden class, to the extent that I’m almost surprised they don’t just go ahead and have the Barbarian radiate Difficult Terrain. (Not that surprised. Auras can really slow down play.)

  • Vitality of the Tree at level 3 heals you an amount equal to your Barbarian level, and causes you to grant 2d6 Temporary Hit Points to an ally within 10 feet at the start of each of your turns. That eventually scales up to 4d6, following your Rage damage bonus.
    • This is very potent Leader-like play for Barbarians, as well as added survivability for the Barbarian. I love seeing Barbarian mechanics… branch out.
  • Branches of the Tree at level 6 summons spectral branches as a Reaction to another creature ending its turn within 20 feet of you, and teleports the creature to you. It can choose to roll a Strength save to resist, or not.
    • The mechanics here are party support – getting allies out of danger – and very good defender stickiness.
    • This is a least-worst case of using spectral stuff for everything, for me, because it is so short-lived in the narrative. They still could have just been branches that withdrew or left dried twigs behind. If that has some unexpected longer-term story effect… good.
  • Battering Roots at level 10 grants +10 ft reach to your melee weapons, and… okay, the wording here is such that I feel like I’m missing some complicating factor. You can use Push (10-ft knockback, creatures of Large size or smaller) or Topple (Con save vs Prone), even if you’re already using a different Mastery property.
    • Does that mean it doesn’t matter what Mastery property your weapon already has? Does it matter if your weapon doesn’t qualify for Push or Topple? (This is unlikely for classic Barbarian melee weapons, but if a flail is your thing, you’ll want to know.)
  • Travel Along the Tree at level 14 lets you be the transportation utility character for your party. Sort of a wheel-man, but only on the cosmic scale. With access to any Huge or larger tree, or any Teleportation Circle, you can go to any Teleportation Circle on your world or any other plane of existence. (So you can’t go to another Material Plane world without going to another plane of existence first.) Your transportation limit is yourself and up to five other creatures. You get one free use per Long Rest, and you can burn five Rage uses for another.
    • This feature circumvents the usual protections on Teleportation Circles – you don’t need to know its glyph sequence. You can just say where you want to go, and the feature figures out the closest Teleportation Circle to that destination. Their example uses the City of Brass, and I would assume there are multiple Teleportation Circles fully within the City, so I think there’s a good bit of DM discretion left on the table here.
    • Because I’ve just run a multi-session adventure in the City of Brass, I wonder how much more specific you’re intended to be able to get. Can you specify “the Charcoal Palace,” and expect to find out if there is a Teleportation Circle inside the Palace? As written, this would become a matter of either DM fiat or a great deal of table contention, because it can do so much to set up a scry-buff-teleport situation.
    • I guess your baddies can start using Mordenkainen’s Private Sanctum or Forbiddance on their own Teleportation Circles, just to keep this one asshole Barbarian and their friends out?

I love the theme here. I have some concerns about the power level of Vitality of the Tree and the language of Battering Roots takes some getting used to. Travel Along the Tree is fascinating and has a lot of story potential, but I’ll be very curious to see the longer-term game experience that it creates.

Semi-serious answer: none. Level 14 means WotC’s intended usage is filed under Never. “If it breaks something in your campaign, that campaign was just about over anyway” is true but not helpful.

Having said all of that – I do like how this shows big new ideas of what a Barbarian subclass can even be.

Path of the Zealot

It has been interesting to see a couple of Zealots in Actual Plays (Critical Role’s second campaign, and one other). That’s been about the extent of my exposure to the subclass.

  • Divine Fury at level 3 is a damage kicker of 1d6 + half your Barbarian level Necrotic or Radiant damage, once per turn and only on your turn. I can’t think of any use cases in official content where you’d ever pick Necrotic over Radiant, but… options, sure.
  • Warrior of the Gods, also at level 3, is a kicker for any magical healing you receive (+d12, Con modifier times per Long Rest), and it doesn’t cost diamonds to bring you back from death. I like what this feature is doing.
  • Fanatical Focus at level 6 lets you reroll a failed saving throw, once per use of a Rage. Unchanged from XGTE.
  • Zealous Presence at level 10 lets you use a Bonus Action to give Advantage on attacks and saves to up to 10 allies within 60 feet, until the start of your next turn. That’s unchanged from XGTE; the new part is that now you can burn Rage uses for extra shouts. That, I like a lot.
    • I would be happy to see more barbaric yawps in this class of sweaty-toothed madmen.
  • Rage Beyond Death at level 14 takes the Warrior of the Gods concept and cranks it up to 11. You can become spectral for 1 minute when your Relentless Rage feature restores hit points (so you’ve got to fall to 0 hit points and pass an almost-no-fail Con save to trigger this). If you do all of that, you gain a Fly speed, become incorporeal, and can use your Reaction to turn hits against you into misses. This form also ends early if you regain any more hit points or drop to 0 Hit Points, and you can only use it once per Long Rest.
    • That’s a very narrow window, based on the damage things do in tiers 3 and 4. The best thing your friends can do, once you’re spectral, is to figure out ways to stack Temporary Hit Points on you.

I like the Zealot’s story and mechanics, except for Rage Beyond Death. I love the story of that feature, but it has a specific enough set of requirements and limitations that I doubt you’ll feel that it’s sufficiently effective to be your top-end subclass feature. Here again, the deep reduction on expected effectiveness of B/P/S damage resistance has an impact.

I’ve got my nitpicks, but if all of these subclasses went to press as shown here, I think we’d be in good shape. Next time out: the Fighter!