What Do I Know About First Impressions? Unearthed Arcana 2020, Subclasses Part 5 (D&D 5e)
We’ve had a little bit of a break from Unearthed Arcana releases, and I’ve been anxiously awaiting the “final” version of lots of the material that I’ve reviewed over the last year when Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything releases next month. But, even before we get that book, we’ve got another Unearthed Arcana to look at today.
The releases today involve dragon themed subclasses, specifically for the monk and the ranger. I like the idea of big supernatural “things” inspiring subclasses, and it’s nice to see some draconic inspiration for classes other than, for example, the sorcerer.
This isn’t the first time D&D has looked to dragons for inspiration about class options. Third edition Dungeons & Dragons had plenty of draconic content, from prestige classes in The Draconomicon, to the dragon themed class substitution levels in Dragon Magic, and the dragon shaman class in the Player’s Handbook II.
Way of the Ascendant Dragon
The first subclass that appears is the Way of the Ascendant Dragon, a monk that is inspired by dragons and “alter their ki to resonate with draconic might.” Right at the beginning of the subclass description, we get the return of the inspirational origins for how you learned the secrets of this subclass. I’m a fan of these. I may not use them when I make a character, but I like having them to see the headspace of what these characters are meant to represent, and it’s nice to have inspirational fallback if you don’t have a clear idea of where your character comes from.
- 3rd Level–Draconic Discipline; Breath of the Dragon
- 6th Level–Wings Unfurled
- 11th Level–Aspect of the Wyrm
- 17th Level-Ascendant Aspect
The 3rd level of the abilities of the class give you the ability to substitute acid, cold, fire, lightning, or poison for your normal unarmed damage. You also end up speaking and reading draconic, and once per long rest, you can reroll Intimidation or Persuasion checks, channeling “big dragon energy.” You can also replace one of your attacks with a breath weapon a number of times equal to proficiency bonus, and if you run out of those, you can spend a ki point to get more uses of this ability.
I don’t know that it could be drastically abused, but being able to determine damage whenever you cause damage feels a little too open ended. I would almost rather the monk had to stick with a damage type until at least a short rest, especially for an opening level ability. I feel even more like this should be the case for the breath weapon ability. I’m still thinking about how I feel about the breath weapon. Switching to saves with half damage can definitely help versus heavily armored enemies, but I need to see this in action.
The 6th level ability allows the monk to get the [proficiency bonus] number of uses of draconic wings letting them fly, and they can get extra uses by spending ki. Flight at six level can be great, but it’s also kind of expected as part of the progression of characters that they will eventually get access to this kind of movement.
Aspect of the Wyrm is the ability that reminded me of the old 3.5 dragon shaman. These monks gain the ability to acreage a 30 foot aura for one minute that grants resistance, and allows your allies to spend a reaction when they get hit to do that damage type to their attackers. This is kind of a rarer thing for monks, getting something that is effectively a boost for allies, although it doesn’t come along until 11th level.
Ascendant Aspect gives the monk blindsight, gives your breath weapon ongoing damage, and can cause damage from your aura to opponents when you first trigger it.
I can’t fully put my finger on it, but I do wish there was an “attunement” limiter to the damage type related to dragons. Either making the monk stick with one damage type until a short rest, or possibly allowing the damage type to be shifted when the monk spends a point of ki, just to make it a little less “open” to modeling most dragons all at once.
I’m almost certain I wrote something about how awesome smaller dragon/drake pets are as a class feature. Just to put that up there up front, when we look at my biases. The Drakewarden is a ranger that ends up with a drake companion, a small dragon that helps them take on adventuring tasks. This subclass also includes a random origins table, which, see above, but, yes, happy to see it. Also, I love the old school Bahamut reference in the origins.
- 3rd Level–Draconic Gift, Drake Companion
- 7th Level–Bond of Fang and Scale
- 11th Level–Drake’s Breath
- 15th Level–Perfected Bond
Draconic gift gives the ranger the ability to speak and read draconic, and they pick up the thaumaturgy cantrip, presumably because you can do things like speak in a booming voice with it. You also gain the ability to summon a drake companion once per long rest, or when you spend a 1st level spell to use the ability more often. The drake has various stats that change based on ranger’s proficiency bonus, like their AC, attack, and damage rolls. The drake is aligned to a specific damage type when summoned, which affects the damage it does and grants it immunity to that damage type.
Bond of Fang and scale lets the ranger gain resistance to the drake’s immunity, the dragon does more damage, and the drake gains a new movement type (including having wings!).
At 11th level, you or your drake get a breath weapon that can be used once per long rest, or every time the ranger is willing to sacrifice a 3rd level spell to use the ability again.
Perfected Bond lets the drake grow to large size, gives it more damage on it’s bite attack, and you get the ability to use a reaction to gain resistance to incoming damage as long as you are close to one another.
So, I’m already a fan of getting a mini-dragon pet. Even though it’s a late game ability, I appreciate the idea that eventually you could even use your pet as a mount. Who doesn’t want to ride a dragon? Who I ask you?
While it’s not anything I’m worried about being abused, I would almost rather just the drake would get a breath weapon. Why steal the poor thing’s thunder? I’m sure the ranger will get into trouble where a breath weapon would be handy, but we’re already encouraging the two to stay within 30 feet later on. I’m curious to see how the reaction to grant resistance works, but its limited by your reaction, and you don’t get it until 15th level, so I doubt it’s going to suddenly make the ranger or the drake invulnerable (I mean, I know they literally aren’t, I just mean functionally hard to drop–flowery language and all of that).
I was about to mention that both of these subclasses do a good job of keeping all of their class abilities “on brand” for the story they are trying to tell, but I think it’s a testament to the current state of D&D design that just about every subclass that has come out recently has kept a pretty tight “story” with all of it’s new abilities.
Area attacks can be tricky to gauge, since the effectiveness is going to vary a whole lot depending on how many opponents the party regularly fights against. They are way less effective if they are only giving you a little bit more damage against a single opponent, and way better when you can line up a shot that maximizes the number of targets you can hit.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with both of these, and in most D&D settings, it shouldn’t be too hard to introduce subclasses that interact with dragons. Unless it’s a setting with wildly different assumptions that most D&D settings, dragons are “known” enough to emulate.
Given that Tasha’s is almost ready to come out, and we’re still seeing [proficiency bonus] number of uses of an ability, so I’m going to assume that the final content in Tasha’s is going to see that mechanic getting some use. Since the ranger is also using a “pet” with a discreet stat block, instead of a reference to an existing monster or CR of monsters, I’m also going to tentatively assume that the class feature dependent stat block is going to see some use in Tasha’s as well, although I would have to look through what we know is included to remember if any of those subclasses had this included.
Now I’m curious to see if we’ve got any more dragon related subclases on the horizon.