What Do I Know About Reviews? Defenders of the Wild: The Warden (5e OGL)
I never ran a 4th edition D&D game. I honestly was very interested in the system, but was . . . less than enthused about the changes made to the Forgotten Realms going into 4th edition, and I felt the marketing campaign could have been more inclusive. Despite this, I played in a 4e campaign, and I played in several one-shots at the FLGS. While I didn’t pick up every book that came out, I did keep my D&D Insider account active for quite a while, even when I wasn’t actively playing in a campaign.
Because of this, I saw a lot more in 4e that I would have liked to have utilized, without getting the opportunity. While I played an eladrin paladin in my regular campaign, I saw so many classes that I wanted to try out, and made a ton of them. I eventually got to play my minotaur runepriest in a one-shot game, but I was always wondering about other classes like the avenger and the warden.
If you never had the opportunity to look at 4e material, the warden was, in brief, the nature tank. Using the more tradition D&D classes as examples, in 4e druids controlled and modified areas of the battlefield, and rangers were focused on being mobile and doing lots of damage. This roughly corresponds to the way wizards and rogues operate. Wardens soaked up damage and punished opponents for attacking anyone else, much like the 4e fighter, but with more nature flavored abilities.
Just as with the previous release Callto Arms: The Warlord, which recreated the 4e Warlord class with 5e mechanics, Robert Schwalb’s Max Press 5e imprint has release Defenders of theWild: The Warden, which does something similar for the warden class that I mentioned at the top of this post.
This review is based on the PDF of product, which currently is the only version to be had. The product itself is 12 pages long, with original artwork of nature-oriented warriors doing their thing. There is a little bit of slightly blurry nudity, and one page of text is comprised of the OGL statement, with another page consisting of an add for Shadow of the Demon Lord. There is a green themed formatting to the document that you might find familiar if you have seen any of the Terrible Beauty related Shadow of the Demon Lord products. Everything is attractively formatted and laid out.
Essentially, the warden is a class that derives power from spirits to defend nature. While you can still argue roles exist in D&D 5e, they are less rigidly defined in most classes, but the warden’s job is still primarily to keep opponents focused on them while the rest of the party does what they do best. As a d10 hit dice “half-caster,” the warden most closely resembles a nature focused paladin on the surface. Unlike paladins, however, you aren’t getting easy access to heavy armor.
The starting signature abilities of the class are Defender’s Ward, which defines a 10-foot radius where the warden can use a reaction to trigger an attack penalty to opponents, and Fount of Life, where the warden can both heal themselves and create an area of rough terrain once per short rest. Right from the start, the class establishes the importance of the warden being in contact with the ground, and I like the thematic feel of that. That said, the penalty assessed by Defender’s Ward is a dice-based variable, which isn’t bad, per se, but always jumps out at me compared to a lot of 5e more fluid use of rules like disadvantage.
The warden gets a fighting style and spellcasting as they advance in levels. They also get essentially a “reverse smite,” where they can sacrifice spell slots to reduce damage taken (I am now dreaming of a goliath warden rolling all kinds of dice to not actually get injured in a fight).
The subclasses for the warden are called Aspects of Nature, and they kick in at 3rd level. They pick up an extra attack, as you would guess for a combat-oriented class. Eventually they pick up the ability to save against ongoing effects early, get advantage on opportunity attacks, to do extra damage when you charge yourself up, make attacks of opportunity against anyone that attacks someone that isn’t you, get bonus hit points on a high death save, and a regenerating effect as their capstone.
While the higher end abilities are useful, getting opportunity attacks when you already have other powers that rely on you to use your reaction doesn’t feel as amazing as it could. Overall, the class feels a little front-loaded to me, although capstone abilities vary wildly even with the core D&D 5e classes.
Aspects of Nature
The three choices presented are the Aspect of the Elemental Storm, Aspect of the Primal Beast, and Aspect of the Sacred Trees. Each one grants a different set of bonus spells themed to the aspect in question. Each aspect also grants the ability to adopt a new form. It not quite shapeshifting (as in, getting new monster stats with a second set of hit points), but your appearance changes and you may get bonuses to armor class, resistances, extra damage on attacks, or gain a damaging aura.
At higher levels, different aspects allow the warden to spend spells slots to zap a foe with lightning by expending spells slots when they hit, give them a pounce attack that allows a bonus action attack, or entangle an opponent. At 15th level, the aspects grand abilities like extra lightning damage when a foe misses, advantage on attacks to a foe that has missed an attack, or an increase in your Defender’s Ward ability.
The high level (18th level) abilities granted include creating an area of difficult terrain that imposes disadvantage on opponents, a kind of mini-barbarian rage, or an even greater AC boost, reach, and more difficult terrain (difficult terrain is really a staple warden trick).
There are 10 new spells included in this product, and I appreciate that there is also a list of what other classes beyond the warden would have access to these. While many of the warden’s class features involve making them a more tantalizing target, several of these spells increase the damage done by the warden, or cause an opponent attacking the warden to take damage. Four of the ten new spells are bonus action spells.
My favorite is probably Close the Gap, as it functions as sort of the opposite of Expeditious Retreat, pulling an opponent into close range with you where all of your class features function. Only three of the spells have a higher-level scaling option, and one goes up by a d4 per level, which probably isn’t the best use of your precious higher-level spell slots.
This is definitely a class that establishes its flavor early and lets you play with the idea of standing firm to defend nature from the start. I like the cleverly inverted class features used to reinforce the them, like the Primal Might ability. I like having useful bonus action spells that play into what the class does well, so that burning spell slots on Primal Might is a deliberate decision, and not an easy default. I really like the ”not quite shapeshifting” abilities of the Aspects of Nature, and the kicker abilities that these subclasses get are very much in keeping with their themes.
The class feels a little front-loaded, and I’m not sure that when the rest of the party gets better at taking damage at higher levels, taking even more damage than everyone else is going to feel as useful. Part of that issue may just be how D&D scales at higher levels. I’d have to play to be sure, but the more passive, harder to hit nature of the Aspect of the Sacred Trees feels like it would be a little bit less fun than the other aspects, that have some neat “gotcha” effects that allow the warden to switch to a more proactive mode.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
I can’t speak for everyone playing D&D 5e, but I think this would be a fun class to try out, and definitely worth the purchase. Robert Schwalb has done a ton of work both on 4e and 5e, and even when I see quirks in a class that don’t quite “feel” the way established classes do things, I feel like that’s someone that knows how it’s done pushing boundaries and experimenting, rather than not following the established pattern.
Your millage may vary if you haven’t played 4e and had some curiosity about seeing similar concepts expressed in different game rules. I know I’m not usually one for brand new classes, as I generally think more can be done with design space using subclasses. But I think this one is worth checking out, and I think the mechanics are fun and interesting enough to at least ponder.
Robert Schwalb recently mentioned that this may be the last Max Press release, at least for a while. I love Shadow of the Demon Lord, and I fully understand him playing with his own well-designed toys, but I really looked forward to these releases, and would love to see more of them in the future.