What Do I Know About First Impressions? Unearthed Arcana (Subclasses, 1/14/2020)(D&D 5e)

Remember back in 2019, when Wizards was releasing all of those Unearthed Arcana articles, non-stop, and it seemed like they were never going to end. Everyone was really wondering what they were all leading up to. It’s like it was yesterday. Oh, hey, what’s this? Another Unearthed Arcana article with three more playtest subclasses? Okay, twist my arm, I’ll take a look.

Unearthed Arcana 2020 Subclass Part 1

Barbarian (Path of the Beast)

The flavor for the Path of the Beast barbarian is that somewhere in the barbarian’s past, they have an association with an animal spirit or a shape changer. If you don’t have an idea what that connection is, there is even a handy chart with four broad options on it.

  • At third level, when you rage, you get a bite attack, a claw attack, or a tail attack. Biting lets you regain hit points, claws allow for an extra attack, and the tail is one beefy hit with reach.
  • At sixth level, you have magical appendages for combat purposes, and you can decide on a boost to some form of movement (swim, climb, jump). You can swap that out at short rests.
  • At 10th level, you get the ability to force another creature that you hit with your attacks to either attack another creature, or take psychic damage.
  • At 14th level, you can grant friends of yours within 30 feet some temporary hit points, reckless attack, and advantage against fear effects.

I really like this theme, and I think the abilities stay on point for the whole progression. I’m not used to contemplating what it would look like for a barbarian to mainly rely on natural attacks for most of their career, but I kind of like the notion of it. There is a part of me that almost wishes you could “benevolently infect” a friendly creature at 10th, and then scale up the ability at 14th, but that might be a bit too much versatility.

Monk (Way of Mercy)

The Way of Mercy Monk is a traveling monk that is also a wandering physician. This is actually a pretty well worn martial arts trope, and there are enough D&D religions that support both healing and monastic traditions that this feels like a pretty natural fit.

Like the barbarian, there is a chart of what kind of mask your monk might wear as a mark of their order. I liked of like these potentially randomized bits of character details, although the meta-conceit of the sub-class flavor might clash with established setting based orders. Still, I’d rather have more flavor and not use it than have a drier presentation.

  • At 3rd level, you can spend Ki to heal hit point damage, and you can split off one of your flurry of blows attacks as a healing touch without spending a separate Ki point for it. This is a good time to remember that in 5e you can move between your attacks. You can also spend Ki to cause extra necrotic damage with an attack.
  • At 6th level, the monk gets a noxious aura that gives the monk cover and poisons anyone that fails a save when they are right next to you. I get that on one hand, this is kind of the “monk is spiritually manipulating the essence of life” power put to potentially harmful use, but I would almost rather this ability had been flavored so that the monk just exudes an aura that makes it hard for others to harm them, and that inflicts some other condition on those dazed by their aura of life. Maybe this was a bit more sinister in nature to provide a “balance” for evil healers? I get the broad strokes, but it feels like a bit of a stretch.
  • Healing Technique at 11th level lets the monk heal conditions as well as hit points. This feels like a very late game implementation of healing conditions, for a subclass that is intended to potentially represent a wandering physician. A 1st level paladin is potentially a better physician than a 10th level Way of Mercy monk. Since this feature adds the removal of conditions as a kicker to regular healing, I think it might be worth it to let the monk also remove the same conditions a paladin can with Lay on Hands with a Ki point instead of healing at lower levels as well.
  • Hand of Mercy at 17th level lets you put someone into suspended animation, where they are immune to anything going on around them. I love the feel of this, but it also feels like at 17th level, you are way less likely to be worried about time-critical conditions affecting a party member.

I like the flavor of this one, and I only kind of had to squint at that 6th level ability to bridge the gap, I just wish they were better healers for things other than hit point damage earlier in progression.

Paladin (Oath of the Watchers)

Oath of the Watcher paladins are guardians against supernatural incursions from other planes of existence, with a side order of keeping an eye on cultists that might traffic with those extra planar influences. I’m a little sad that the subclass didn’t get a short form variable bit of story fluff that the other two subclasses got, but we do get their tenets.

  • At third level, Oath of Watcher paladins get an expanded spell list with lots of watching and warding spells, and also they get access to D&D’s particle beam cannon, Moonbeam, as well as the “on point, but I hope not too many other people in the party have it as well” addition of Counterspell. Channel divinity options include boosting your allies Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saves, and the ability to turn elementals, fey, fiends, or aberrations.
  • At 7th and 18th level, there is a range around the Oath of the Watcher paladin that boosts initiative bonuses (with the range increasing at 18th level).
  • At 15th level, you get the ability to use a reaction to damage a creature within 30 feet of you whenever they make a save. I can just imagine the DM frustration when their enemy spellcaster dodges a magical bullet, and then blows their Constitution save as soon as the paladin pops the follow up damage.
  • At 20th level, the paladin gets the ability to get a minute of truesight, advantage against elementals, fey, fiends, and aberrations, and ability to banish one of those creatures when you hit it with your attack.

I can’t say that I have an issue with any of this, and it all ties pretty nicely back to the idea of a paladin on the watch for extraplanar forces. The only bit of flavor that isn’t quite as fully realized is that there is much more “anti-extraplanar” abilities going on, and not a lot of “anti-cultist” abilities, but I’m good with that.

Warlock (The Noble Genie)

I just watched the live action Aladdin the other night, so I’m in the right mood to read this one. At any rate, you are a warlock that makes a deal with a powerful genie, which makes perfect sense given all of the other powerful entities to which a warlock can hitch their eldritch blast.

  • There are expanded spells that deal quite a bit with elements and illusions. There is another randomized bit of story in this section as well (I like it) that involves the vessel that your patron has given you (including rings, lanterns, and of course, lamps). The vessel allows you to tether yourself to another creature and use them to boost your perception checks and as a spellcasting node.
  • At 6th level you get a choice of some form of resistance to a range of damage types, and your tethered creature gets that resistance as well.
  • At 10th level you can wish to switch places with your tethered creature when either you or the creature is hit by an attack. Hopefully if you switch places when you are taking the damage, you are willing to buy them a nice gift later on.
  • Another 10th level feature allows you to teleport someone to your patron’s court in the elemental planes for up to a minute, although they get round by round saves to return earlier.
  • At 14th level, you can use some of your patron’s power to heal someone and remove a condition from them, inflict disadvantage on an opponent until your next turn, or use legend lore. I really like that this class feature is recharged on a short rest, OR if you bribe your patron with something worth 500 gold pieces.

One of the things I appreciate about this subclass is that not only do the abilities stay on point for the story of a warlock getting power from a genie, but there is a bit more psychology as to what the patron is getting out of the arrangement. It weaves a bit of lore about how much genie nobles like to be able to “tag” things on other planes of existence as being theirs, and how having a warlock running around on other planes facilitates this.

Arcana Wrap Up

So many of these recent Unearthed Arcana articles have had subclasses with really clear stories that are reinforced by the abilities that they grant the classes, and this one is no exception. There have been a lot in the past that were intriguing, but kind of go off the rails somewhere. These don’t feel like they wander off too much at all, but maybe just need some tightening up.

I like all of these, but I haven’t played a barbarian yet in 5e, and this article really makes me want to rectify that situation.

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