What Do I Know About First Impressions? Unearthed Arcana Subclasses Revisited 2020 (May 12th)

More fun with Unearthed Arcana, as we get a new set of playtest subclasses, this time revisiting the previous Revived Rogue, Noble Genie Warlock, and Archivist Artificer, which drifted all the way over to becoming the Order of Scribes Wizard.

It feels like we’re seeing a little more of the “second round” of some of these classes before final determination is made on them, as well as a little more transparency in the process (thanks to a note at the end of the document). I don’t know what that means overall, but it does feel like a bit of a shift.

Speaking of that Transparency

Last things first, the Unearthed Arcana document released today mentions that the Onomancy and Psionics wizards didn’t appear to enough people, so while their themes may survive, we won’t be seeing a new take on those exact subclasses.

I’m not overly shocked about the psionics wizard. Anecdotally, I saw a lot of resistance to a psionic wizard, and given that the last round of psionic classes had a whole different (mind) thrust, reworking was bound to happen. I am sad about the Ononmancy wizard, however. I know the document said that the theme may be explored other ways, but Truenameing and wizards seem to go together like Socrates and the exploration of intrinsic relationship to the signified.

And with that out of the way, let’s dive in.

Rogue Archetype: Phantom

The original version of this subclass was kind of interesting, but it was really strange why it was specifically a rogue subclass. In that version, the Revived, you recalled bits and pieces of past lives as you leveled up. I actually like that concept, but like the Revenant ancestry option being revisited as a Supernatural Gift: Hollow One in the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, I think the “Revived” concept might need a similar “outside the box” implementation.

Instead of getting abilities from past lives, the Phantom now gains powers from the spirits of the dead around them. The subclass abilities of the Phantom are as follows:

  • 3rd—Whispers of the Dead (pick up a skill or tool proficiency when you finish a short or long rest); Wails from the Grave (do half your sneak attack damage as psychic damage to another creature
  • 9th—Token of the Departed (when someone dies in your presence, get a soul trinket from them that you can use for advantage on death saves and constitution saves, and can be destroyed in exchange for an answer from the dead)
  • 13th—Ghost Walk (phase partially into the realm of the dead, get a slow fly speed, impose disadvantage on attacks)
  • 17th—Death Knell (do that extra psychic damage from your sneak attack to the sneak attack victim as well as another target)

I liked the Revived, but I thought it was weird to be restricted to one class. I love the flavor of this rework. This is the more supernaturally attuned assassin that I didn’t fully realize that I wanted. I love the concept of stealing bits of souls to power your abilities.

The previous version got to shoot necrotic bolts when they used their cunning action if they didn’t sneak attack yet, had a full Speak with Dead ability at 9th level, got the answer to a yes or no question with each death save at 13th level, and could go full ethereal at 17thlevel. I think the lower-level ability is much more useful earlier in this version, and it’s nice to not have to go full Rodimus Prime trying to kill yourself to get questions from the Matrix of Leadership to activate the 13thlevel ability.

Compared to other rogue subclasses? Rogues really are a varied bunch.

It’s hard not to see this subclass as having more useful abilities than the assassin or the thief, mainly because both of those classes have more situation based abilities that more dramatically weigh the exploration pillar with the combat pillar of D&D.

The extra psychic damage that doesn’t require a hit or a save feels pretty good compared to the Scout’s repositioning, but both the Inquisitive and the Swashbuckler have “you pretty much have sneak attack all the time” abilities to make them more consistent against a single foe. That said, you have a limit to use it equal to your proficiency bonus, which isn’t something the Inquisitive or the Swashbuckler are worrying about.

It’s hard to measure, but advantage on a save to keep you alive feels a little stronger than getting automatic information, advantage on certain checks, or a 4e style marking ability, but I’m not sure that survivability is drastically out of whack, and I like the idea that the Phantom may burn their “luck” to ask questions of the dead.

Like just about everything else, to me, Ghost Walk feels a little more useful than what other rogues get, but again, just like . . . a notch above. It hard to measure against the thief, who may get good use out of their ability to use magic items, depending on what they find, and the scout’s Ambush Master is a tricky to take advantage of as the Assassin’s core trick. Compared to the ability to cut through illusions and discern shapechangers, or reassign damage, it seems to fit in fine, so in that case, our baseline shifts to looking at the Inquisitive and the Mastermind as peers.

At 17th level, things always get a bit wild. Compared to getting extra damage, immunity to certain magics, extra attacks, and rerolls on attack with advantage, getting 1.5 sneak attack doesn’t feel too over the top, especially with a cap on how often the ability can be used.

I like the little bits and bobs I’ve seen in recent design where you can burn off and use other features to get another use of an ability between rests, and the Phantom does this with Ghost Walk, letting you burn off another soul trinket to get an extra use. Overall, I love the flavor of this subclass, and the mechanics are really well aligned to the subclass’ story, although it’s odd that Ghost Walk imposes disadvantage instead of granting resistance as most other “partially intangible” abilities do.

Warlock Otherworldly Patron: The Genie

Conceptually, this one doesn’t drift too far from the previous stab at this, the Noble Genie. The reimagining does allow for the genie patron to be determined from Dao, Djinni, Efreeti, or Marid, which grants a different spread of spells compared to a unified list.

  • 1st—Expanded Spell List, Genie’s Vessel (extra damage on melee attacks, spend an action to enter for up to 2x your proficiency bonus in hours)
  • 6th—Elemental Gift (fly speed for 10 minutes, resistance to damage based on patron type)
  • 10th—Sanctuary Vessel (pull willing others into vessel with you, short rest in vessel equals 10 minutes)
  • 14th—Limited Wish (ask for spell you don’t have up to 6thlevel, random number of long rests to recover)

Compared to the old version, we patron specific spell lists that have some elemental spells on them for the previous one, that had general “genie tricks” as a theme, like illusions, sleep, polymorph, and creation. We also lost the tether feature, which was kind of a weird thing from a story perspective, where you could share senses and cast from another space. Instead of a reflexive space swapping teleport, we get the shared camping spot for the group inside the vessel, and we lose the “send someone to the patron’s living room” ability. The more constrained list of abilities in Collector’s Call is opened up a bit with a spell emulation ability.

I will admit, most of all of that I was okay with, but I kind of miss Genie’s Entertainment. It was effectively banishment with style.

I like the utility of hiding in plain sight in the vessel, and it may be slightly less broadly useful compared to other warlock patron abilities at 1stlevel, depending on how insightful hostile creatures might be when looking at whatever for the vessel takes.

Elemental Gift is competing with bonuses to skill checks and saves, a trade-off to make opponents more likely to be hit, an auto-heal when you make a death save, and a pet undead, so I don’t think resistance to a thematic damage type and flight are too much to expect at this level.

Sanctuary Vessel is interesting, in that it can potentially shift what is possible for the whole group, rather than just granting immunity to, well, icky living necessities, extra factors that might cause someone to miss an attack on you, psychic resistance, extra damage resistances, bonus hit points, or reflective charm fields that other pacts offer. On its own, a 10 minute short rest doesn’t look too bad compared to those, and it’s really hard to say how giving the party 10-minute rests could affect things, especially since . . . well, we go back to the 1st level ability and hostile creatures deciding to smash whatever the vessel happens to look like.

Compared to getting the ability to auto revive and nuke your foes, throwing people into Hell, or literally pull yourself back together, getting a free 6th level spell from any spell list doesn’t look too bad. I’m curious about the randomized recovery. I would almost rather see something more in line with the old version of the ability, where you could either wait for two full rests, or sacrifice an item worth X amount to get this back after a single full rest.

I love the flavor of this subclass, and I think the rework actually made it stronger. Depending on how often the character is hiding by big bad things that don’t notice a vessel sitting around, it may start off a little slower than other warlocks, but I think they pick up a lot of broad versatility as they go. I also like that we aren’t trying to shoehorn acid damage into the associated damage type for earth-related abilities anymore. I don’t think letting bludgeoning be a viable candidate causes any problems.

Wizard Arcane Tradition: Order of Scribes

This was a pretty big shift, from a subclass of artificer, to a subclass of wizard, so it’s probably not as useful to look at what the artificer subclass did. Essentially, this is all about book learning, and writing, and reading, and all of those lovely, lovely pages.

  • 2nd—Wizardly Quill (quill that never runs out of ink, half cost for transcribing spells), Awakened Spellbook (book is spellcasting focus, replace damage type for spell, casting rituals doesn’t take 10 extra minutes)
  • 6th—Master Scrivener (create special scroll to store extra spell to be cast, half cost to make spell scrolls)
  • 10th—Manifest Mind  (summon spirit of book, produces light, can see through its senses)
  • 14th—One with the Word (swap places with manifested book spirit, can avoid death by burning scribed spells)

Wizards get some pretty good tricks at 2nd level, so getting what amounts to a money management ability isn’t too bad, and speeding up ritual casting (effectively meaning you never need to burn spell slots for ritual spells) doesn’t feel overpowered, but I do wonder if substituting damage types on the fly is way too versatile. If the wizard had to prepare a spell with an alternate damage type, I feel like that might be more in line with the level of versatility that should be gained from this. In the moment, it’s not more powerful, but knowing what you are facing ahead of time, or picking weird damage types might come in handy.

Getting an extra spell at boosted capacity doesn’t seem too much to ask compared to free charms, regenerating spells slots, or undead playmates, and the cost to make scrolls is another one of those abilities that’s hard to weigh without a common understanding of how much downtime you let your players have.

Extra damage, extra targets, free concentration are what we’re comparing manifest mind against, and essentially, it’s a floating like that also allows you to get some of the tricks of a familiar. If anything, this feels a little lackluster for a 10th level ability.

At 14th level, other wizards are getting maximum damage for lower-level spells, resistance to spell damage, free undead control, and rebounding damage. Getting a free get out of the Fugue Plane card for the cost of some lost spells seems like a good deal against these things, but some of those abilities are going to keep you from dying in the first place, and aren’t causing your class abilities (i.e. spells you can cast) to atrophy.

I like the idea of burning spells known for immunity to death, but I think I would like a few more story beats at play. For one, even though it could be a heavy cost to lose all of these spells, I think there should be some escalation of spells lost each time the wizard dies before there is a long rest. Something that makes it scarier each time they die, possibly in a manner that makes them fear losing even more spells when they would rather just keel over until their friends can reverse death.

In case you haven’t read the article itself, have I mentioned that when you lose the spell from your spellbook, you lose the ability to ever cast it again unless you get a wish to reverse your loss of spell from the spell retention lobe of your brain?

I like this subclass, and I think it functions as a good “generalist” subclass, which 5e hasn’t really had, but I also think that it shines more in a long term campaign, where players will be wanting to cut the prices on things like spell transcription and scroll creation, and in games where there is a lot more loot and time available, early on this subclass may feel like it’s falling behind a few of the others, until you get to the point that you can’t die as long as you have spells in your book.

Final Thoughts

The story elements of these subclasses are only getting stronger. I feel like the second pass version of some of these subclasses are way more aligned with the story they are meant to tell than the published version of some of the earlier subclasses.

I think we continue to see that the early 5e though process that you could balance “other pillars” directly against one another for subclass abilities (this one is good at social at this level, and this one is good at exploration, etc.) is transitioning to more broadly useful abilities, like advantage or survivability across the board.

The Phantom feels great. It may outstrip a few other rogue subclasses, but it’s also got a limiter on its special psychic attack bonus ability, so I’d be happy to let it ride a bit. Both the Genie Warlock and the Scribe Wizard feel, to me, to start a little slow, but the Genie Warlock feels like it picks up steam much faster, with the Scribe only really adding a wow factor late in the game. That said, the scribe is a subclass filled with nutrition. It’s not the breakfast you order when you want food first thing in the morning, it’s the breakfast that’s sensible for your long term diet.

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