What Do I Know About First Impressions? Unearthed Arcana 2020 Subclasses Part 3 (D&D 5e)

Even more subclasses, this time with (I’m pretty sure) way less controversy attached to them.

Unearthed Arcana 2020 Subclasses 3

This time, we’ve got subclasses for the artificer, druid, and ranger. I think it’s interesting that we’re seeing an artificer subclass come up, because that either implies another Eberron source, or it’s a statement of intent that just because artificer shows up in the Eberron book, it it’s still considered a supported class across the board (I know, the class write up also indicates this, but it’s nice to see that followed up with actions as well).

Artificer (Armorer)
The artificer subclass is the armorer, an artifact that forges a special bond with their armor. This subclass grants proficiency with smith’s tools and with heavy armor, which is a big nod to what armor you should be looking at for your character by the time you hit 3rd level.
  • Magic missile, shield, mirror image, shatter, hypnotic pattern, lightning bolt, fire shield, greater invisibility, passwall, and wall of force are added to your spells. I’m not sure I can discern the pattern of added spells. Force spells I could understand, if you equate force with strengthening armor. Mirror image and invisibility play in to “increase defensive ability,” but not directly with an affinity for armor. Lightning bolt and invisibility tie into the two armor models you can pick, but it seems weird to tie bonus spells in to an armor mode you may not currently be using. I don’t dislike the selection, it just doesn’t tell a story for me.
  • Power armor negates your strength requirement for the armor, lets you use the armor as a spellcasting focus, and makes it unable to be removed against your will. If you are missing a limb, if the armor has that limb, you function as if you have the limb. I really like that final feature, even though I’m not sure how often it is to come up. I’m actually wondering if this might get slightly more use if it also allowed something damaged or impaired to function without impairment, but I can’t think of how many effects target limbs in 5e off hand.
  • Armor model lets you pick Guardian or Infiltrator models, which you can switch after a rest. Guardian gives you thunder gauntlets that emit a noise that gives anyone you hit with them disadvantage if they attack someone other than you (until your next turn), and grants you temporary hit points. Infiltrator lets you shoot a gem that does electrical damage, increases your speed, and negates a stealth penalty for the armor. I think we’re going for a taser effect with the gem, but I’m still not picturing it all that clearly when coupled with the gem. I think I might like this more as a dart that goes off when it hits.

Probably not worth going down this road, but technically if you had the dual wielder feat, since both of your gauntlets are considered to be simple weapons in guardian mode, you would get a +1 to armor class and potentially have the ability to slap two opponents to grant them disadvantage or draw their ire.

All of that was what you picked up at 3rd level. Artificer really does redefine a playstyle when you pick you subclass.

  • At 5th level, you get an extra attack, which is good since this seems to be a combat-oriented take on the artificer. This also means if you really wanted to draw aggro, you have another chance to do it in guardian mode with this attack.
  • At 9th level, you can use infusions on individual pieces of your armor as if they are separate items (so gauntlets, helmet, etc.). 
  • At 15th level, you get additional functionality from your new modes, pulling opponents to you in guardian mode, or painting a target in infiltrator mode (granting advantage on the next person to attack and kicker electrical damage).

Also, Infusions

There are some new artificer infusions included as well, which would be options for all artifacts, but are at least nominally themed to fit with the armorer. One lets you swap intelligence for strength when wearing the imbued armor, another lets you connect tools to your armor, one allows you to imbue a helmet to allow for advantage on initiative. There is one that allows you to imbue armor or robes so that the wearer can use their reaction to succeed when they fail a concentration check, and one that allows you to infuse a ring with the ability to store spells.
The Armor of Magical Strength feels like it’s going to be most popular for front line artificers, and the Mind Sharpener feels like it’s going to make an artificer really, really popular with their caster friends. I can’t remember offhand how many armor descriptions specifically describe included helmets, but if leather doesn’t have that provision included, I’m wondering if this infusion should be expanded to work on hoods, hats, or circlets as well as helmets. I’m pretty sure an assassins and anyone else that might end up with a “triggered before your opponents act” ability will want to get in on this infusion at some point in time.
I wish the spells were more flavorful for the armorer, and it feels weird that they don’t get any kind of kicker for when they use infusions on someone else’s armor. They are armorers that are really just really good at working on custom armor that they intend to wear themselves. And for some reason I can’t put my finger on, I’m fine with stealth electrical darts, but the gem thing is bugging me because I’m thinking it should mean something that I’m not connecting.
Druid (Circle of Stars)
You’re an astrology druid! Kind of. You aren’t doing individual horoscopes so much as predicting trends by looking at the stars, and adopting aspects of the constellations. But I still like the overall flavor of this.
  • At 2nd level, you get a Star Map, which you can use as a casting implement. There is one of those neat d6 randomizers at the beginning of this class features that a lot of the UA articles have had, flavoring what your star chart might look like.
  • You get a limited number of castings per long rest to use either augury or guiding bolt when casting with your star map, which don’t count against your spells used. I am a big fan of guiding bolt. You also get an alternative to Wild Shape called Starry Form, which grants you powers based on one of three constellations that you pick. These give you bonus healing kicker that you can give to someone within 30 feet when you cast a healing spell, a bonus action ranged attack for radiant damage, or a “reliable” Intelligence or Wisdom check, or a Con save to maintain concentration (meaning you treat a 9 or lower on the die as a 10). 
  • At 6th level, whenever you finish up a long rest, you get a limited number of Cosmic Omens you can use as a reaction. You roll a d6 to determine if these are weal or woe. Weal means you can use reactions to roll a die to boost someone’s attacks, saves, or ability checks, and woe means you can do the same to subtract the die from those rolls. 
  • At 10th level, you quote David Bowman and become Full of Stars. This is a kicker to your alternative Starry Form that also grants you resistance to normal bludgeoning, slashing, or piercing damage. 
  • At 14th level, you can cause a flare of light that takes everyone within a 30 foot burst a similar distance away from their original position, if they are willing, and anyone else in that area makes a con save or take radiant damage and become blinded. It’s a nice “we need a breather and maybe a head start” ability to whip out against a good number of opponents. This is a per long rest ability that you can burn a 5th level spell to use again.

I really love this subclass. I love tying the special abilities for the Starry Form to constellations, and I continue to enjoy divinations that play with the dice, instead of locking the DM into trying to come up with actual future events. If I had to point to any one thing, the “glowing” part of guiding bolt fits the theme, but I think the free extra helping of 4d6 + advantage may be a little much compared to some of the other circles when looking at the 2nd level abilities.
Ranger (Fey Wanderer)
This is a ranger that has learned about the fey and their ways, and helps to guard against hostile or aggressive fey creatures that may cross over into the world. Okay, I like the theme for a ranger, let’s look at what they get.
First off, there is a d6 randomized feature that is essentially how your connection to the fey manifests. I am really liking these d6 randomizers for subclasses. Not only are they fun, but they are also permission to do something similar to customize your character if none of these ideas work for you.
  • At 3rd level, you pick up extra ranger spells, in this case charm person, misty step, dispel magic, banishment, and mislead. Charm feels a little off here. Not because it’s not something associated with the fey, but because this feels like someone guarding against the fey.
  • In addition to the expanded spell list, these rangers get advantage against being charmed or frightened, and proficiency in either deception, performance, or persuasion. They also learn how to use a bonus action to infuse a weapon with unseelie magic, causing extra psychic damage. If they are two weapon fighting, they may double up on bonus action effects and imbue at the same time they make their off-hand attack. 
  • At 7th level, you can add your Wisdom bonus to Charisma checks, and you can effectively psychic smite by spending a spell slot to add psychic damage to your damage. When you do this, the target also has to make a wisdom save or be frightened. Since this doesn’t mention using an action, bonus action, or reaction, this means you could boost your imbued weapon with even more psychic damage. 
  • At 11th level, whenever someone within 120 feet of you saves against an effect that would charm or frighten them, you can target someone else in that range with a rebound effect that causes another target to make a Wisdom save or become charmed, frightened, or take extra psychic damage. I like this . . . with a caveat, but I’ll hit that at the end.
  • At 15th level, you can spend a bonus action to force a target to make a Wisdom save, and if they fail, they can’t perceive you for 24 hours. If you attack it or force it to make another save, they can make another save at the end of their turn, but it doesn’t automatically end the effect. If you use the ability on someone else, it ends for the original target. This is a per long rest ability that you can burn a 4th level spell to regain.

This class is mostly on theme, but I like the idea that the ranger is learning these abilities to guard against similar abilities. That’s why I would rather replace charm with something else, and why I would probably remove charm as an option for the 11th level ability. However, outside of that, I love the idea of deflecting psychic energy around the battlefield, and I adore being invisible to just that one person on the field.
Wider Thoughts
I think the druid and ranger options tell a pretty strong story, though I might scale a few things back as options with both of them. I couldn’t help but think that somebody watched Stardust again just before sitting down to design them, but that may just be me.

I like the artificer option, but I feel like it’s either trying to go full Tony Stark (in which case it really needs to be able to fly), or it needs to have something that lets it provide some kickers to armor that it infuses for others.
Overall, it’s interesting to see the emergent trend of “spend X spell level to get back something you would normally get per long rest” and “when you roll a 9 or lower, treat it as a 10” as recurring design elements in a lot of this UA. 
It also feels like we’re seeing more mitigation of concentration checks that don’t lean on a player picking up a feat they may not have otherwise wanted to take. I think some of this speaks to the idea that concentration as a limiter is good, but Constitution saves can feel punitive to some of the casters that have to make them. 
When I do these first looks, I usually look through the other subclasses and what they get at that level as a guide for how these UA options feel comparatively, and this works fine for the druid, I think, but it feels weird for the artificer, since the subclasses do involve some really different playstyles, and it’s tricky for the ranger because . . . well, the ranger started off with a lot of design that was more “situationally good” versus broadly good, compared to other classes.
That’s a lot of words for a first look. Artificer okay, could use a stronger story theme with the abilities. Druid and ranger, really strong stories, with the druid maybe getting too much blasting at 2nd level, and the ranger getting too much charm versus just using fey tricks to combat rampaging fey creatures and things that use similar tricks. I’m going to internet stride out of here, now.

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