What Do I Know About First Impressions? Way of the Cobalt Soul and Oath of the Open Sea (Critical RoLe/D&D Beyond)

Recently two subclasses appeared on D&D Beyond, The Way of the Cobalt Soul for the Monk, and the Oath of the Open Sea for the Paladin. Both subclasses are connected to Critical Role, based on mechanics that Matthew Mercer has been tinkering with in the campaign, with two of his players. Unlike the Bloodhunter, an entire class which debuted in the Dungeon Masters Guild, these subclasses just appeared for free on D&D Beyond.

If you feel as if you have seen a version of the Way of the Cobalt Soul, you may have, if you own the Tal’Dorei Campaign Guide released in concert with Green Ronin in 2017. There have been some changes, so we’ll touch on those when we get to it.

915ijyVFI6LWay of the Cobalt Soul

The Way of the Cobalt Soul is interesting, because it represents both a path, i.e. a way of practicing the monk’s tradition, as well as the specific training provided by a single organization to its agents in the setting. The Cobalt Soul are knowledge seekers with a dash of espionage organization.

The abilities this subclass grants are the following:

  • 3rd–Extract Aspects
  • 6th–Mystical Erudition (additional at 11th, 17th), Extort Truth
  • 11th–Mind of Mercury
  • 17th–Debilitating Barrage

Extract aspects allows you to mark an opponent as “analyzed” when you hit with one of your attacks with a flurry of blows, which allows you to use your reaction to attack the marked opponent when they attack and miss you. This also gives you the opponents damage vulnerabilities, resistances, immunities, and condition immunities.

Changes: The original version of this from the Tal’Dorei Campaign Guide required a character to hit with more than one attack, and spend an additional ki point. In addition, preternatural counter from the Tal’Dorei Campaign Guide, an 11th level subclass ability, has been folded into the 3rd level “opening” ability.

Extort Truth allows you to spend a ki point when you strike someone to make them unable to tell untruths, as well as granting the PC advantage on Charisma checks. Mystical Erudition gives the character an additional language and proficiency, which is repeated at 11th and 17th level, modeling the monk constantly learning.

Changes: The original version of Extort Truth cost two ki points, and lasted for a shorter amount of time. As a side note, given that part of this is about granting ongoing advantage on Charisma checks, I would rather this were specifically framed as the character making an attack roll that is not obviously an attack, which the monk can decide does no damage. That may just be my preference.
Mind of Mercury allows a monk to spend a ki point to gain an additional reaction. Pretty straightforward.

Changes: Mind of Mercury was, in the Tal’Dorei Campaign Guide, a 6th level ability, which granted the monk one additional reaction per point of intelligence bonus, which cost 1 ki point “beyond the first.” So, it’s kind of a confusing wording that allows more than one reaction per turn, at 6th level. I’m glad this is both more straightforward, and higher level, especially considering how much streamlining reactions has helped combat pacing in 5th edition D&D. Additionally, with moving the preternatural strike ability to 3rd as part of Extract Aspects, this could cause some issues with action economy.

Debilitating Barrage allows the character to spend 3 ki points if they hit an opponent with Flurry of Blows, causing an opponent to suffer vulnerability to one type of damage chosen by the monk for one minute.

Changes: Originally this required the monk to hit with 3(!) flurry of blows attacks before spending ki to activate. It also included a list of damage types, which I’m not sure needed to be defined.

This updated version is much more forgiving of the opening activation, requiring fewer attacks to hit in order to spend ki to trigger them. Some of the abilities are cheaper, some of them provide more bang for the buck, and at least one is way clearer. I like this one, but depending on how the DM rules, it might be tricky to get the most for your ki point using Extort Truth.

Oath of the Open Sea

Okay, I’m weird, so I’ll get this out up front. I wish more Paladin Oaths were named “actively” instead of “passively.” In other words, nodding towards what the paladin does to follow the oath, rather than needing the oath’s purview explained. That’s a me thing.

These paladins are about living free, adapting, and exploring the uncharted areas of the world. Now, if THAT sounds familiar, it’s not from any Critical Role product, but may be due to the Oath of Discovery subclass from Seas of Vodari. Those paladins focus a little more on spreading the information they learn from exploring, and in some way adopt a little bit of the purview of the tenants of the Cobalt Soul above.

All of that out of the way, let’s look at these class abilities:

  • 3rd Level–Channel Divinity (Marine Layer, Fury of the Tides)
  • 7th Level–Aura of Liberation
  • 15th Level–Stormy Waters
  • 20th Level–Mythic Swashbuckler

These paladins gain spells related to water, movement, lightning, and a wee touch of divination in the additional spells. Their Channel Divinity abilities include summoning heavily obscuring fogs that everyone within 5 feet of the paladin see as lightly obscuring, and a Channel Divinity ability that uses the power of the tide to push character struck, doing additional damage to the target if they hit a physical object or another creature.

Aura of Liberation grants characters close to the paladin immunity to being grappled or restrained. This range increases at 18th level.

Stormy Waters gives the character a control mechanism, allowing the paladin to use crashing waves to do damage when someone comes into, or goes out of, the reach of the paladin.

Mythic Swashbuckler allows the character to have advantage on athletics checks, gaining advantage on attacks when dueling someone one on one without friends around, using dodge as a bonus action, and advantage on dexterity saves, once per long rest.

It’s interesting to see a paladin Channel Divinity option that allows the paladin to be better at subterfuge. Even oaths that aren’t “virtuous” usually are direct and up front with their abilities. The damage dealing function of the Channel Divinity feels a little light compared to some of the other damage dealing options given to other oaths.

First Impressions: It’s fun seeing how the Cobalt Soul monk has developed, having a written “starting point” to compare, but I’m also thinking back to a few moments in the show where previous versions of some of these abilities were used. I don’t think you can so publicly track playtesting as you can with these, except you need to rewatch/listen to the episodes with an eye or ear towards when Beau or Fjord are taking actions.

Final Thoughts:  I like seeing how Matt develops things over time, and I’m going to keep paying attention to the things he puts out. He’s got some good ideas, and he’s got the energy and enthusiasm to keep evolving them, and I like to see options as much to see how and why they develop, as what the final product brings to the game.

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