What Do I Know about Reviews? The Illrigger (OGL 5e Product)
Some of my earliest fantasy touchstones were the stories of King Arthur and his knights that my sisters would read to me at night. The idea of an evil knight that stands for everything wrong in the world caught my imagination early. In my young mind, an evil knight specifically sworn to oppose everything good was a great villain.
Yes, as I got older, I appreciated a bit more nuance. I also read more fantasy where someone lost to evil still had their own code of honor and had to work with the forces of good from time to time.
D&D 5e isn’t going to tell you that you can’t play your Bane worshipping Paladin of Vengeance, but there is always a bit more mystique to the warrior sworn to the forces of evil if it has access to abilities that only the surrender to darkness can grant them.
Before I launch into a side tangent on the history of paladins, alignment restrictions, anti-paladins, and blackguards, I’ll cut myself short and point out that today I’m looking at the MCDM product The Illrigger, a knight that gains supernatural powers from their allegiance to Hell. While I’m a Patreon backer of MCDM, I received an early look at The Illrigger from MCDM. You can find the product on their Patreon or their company store.
Put Your Name In the Book
The PDF of this product is 23 pages, which is a serious chunk of real estate for a D&D 5e character class. What’s in it?
There is an introduction, three pages of introductory fiction, a two-page example NPC, a page of Strongholds and Followers formatted retainers, and a full page 5e OGL statement. There are also three subclasses detailed for this class.
The artwork, formatting, and layout in this PDF are all exceptionally well done, and very striking. The PDF has a two-page layout with easy-to-read headers, and some impressive full color artwork.
What the Hell is an Illrigger
Thematically, the Illrigger is a class that lives in the same thematic space as some of the less upright paladin Oaths, or what in older editions might have been an anti-paladin variant. In this case, the Illrigger isn’t just a broad “evil paladin,” but specifically a warrior that derives powers from Hell itself.
The lore surrounding the Illrigger is very focused on the expression of Matt Colville’s personal campaign, from the expression of Hell to its arch-devils. In this case, Hell isn’t a semi-unified but backstabing nine layers, but seven cities vying for control, and the Illrigger is working to advance the goals of a specific arch-devil to give them a firmer hold on dominating the plane.
That means in the text, Illrigger is very specifically an agent afforded specific deference in Hell as an official agent, and that the Illrigger has been expressly recruited by Hell. The choice of subclass at 3rd level represents signing a binding contract with one of the Arch-Devils, affording the Illrigger specific powers common to that devil’s tactics.
This is a front-line fighter style character, with d10 hit dice, medium armor proficiency, and full access to martial weapons. The core gameplay loop outside of the subclasses revolves around Infernal Conduit dice, and Interdictions. Infernal conduit dice allow the Illrigger to either use the dice as a vampiric syphon to bolster themselves, or to channel their own health into others. No free ride for healing, if you want to help someone else, it needs to be worth harming yourself.
The Illrigger increases the number of dice it gains for Infernal Conduit over time, going from 1 die, to 10 dice at 20th level. This ends up being a charisma-based attack if used offensively, and you don’t spend the dice if you flub your roll. Eventually, you can inflict exhaustion on people you hit with this, although you are limited to taking them up to three levels maximum. Three levels of exhaustion can be huge, but it doesn’t come into play until 11th level.
At second level, you get a fighting style, which is pretty standard for a “tank” class in 5e. In this case, however, they don’t gain any of the standard combat styles. The styles they get, treachery, bravado, schemes, and lies, are all thematically named. These do things like letting you do extra damage to opponents without allies adjacent, gaining a bonus to unarmored AC, the ability to shift away from an opponent without provoking an attack, and the ability to use two handed weapons with charisma.
Baleful Interdict gives you the ability to place seals on your enemies. When an enemy is hit, you can choose to consume the seal to do extra damage. Since it takes a bonus action to place a seal, this is kind of like a hybrid hunter’s mark/smite ability.
I feel like these fighting styles are working really hard to alleviate multiple attribute dependency for a combat class that has a lot of charisma-based abilities, and I’ll address that a bit later, but for now, lies, especially, feels a little off. Most combat styles, even when given to classes that have magical abilities, still feel “mundane.” I’m having a hard time seeing how attacking with a two-handed weapon using charisma is a “style” option. I’m not even against it as something that might not be granted by one of the subclasses, but I’d rather it felt a bit more overtly supernatural, rather than filling this combat style slot.
Hellsight lets you see through illusions a set number of times per day, and invoke authority is our mirror ability to Channel Divinity. As a primarily combat facing class, it gets an extra attack as part of its progression, and at high level, characters within an aura subtract a die from there to hit rolls and save rolls if they are hostile. Your capstone non-subclass ability is to summon a bone devil as your ally, that you can use once a week.
The subclasses for the Illrigger are all themed around the modus operandi of a given arch-devil, and they are as follows:
- Painkiller (soldier focused abilities)
- Shadowmaster (assassin focused abilities)
- Architect of Ruin (spellcasters)
Since each of the subclasses is derived from a specific contract, each contract has its own tenets, not unlike how paladin oaths are framed. These give you the “ideals” that the individual contracts prioritize.
Like paladins or clerics, each contract gives you a specialized use of Invoke Authority. These range from the following effects, based on the subclass:
- Extra attacks for allies
- Extra actions
- Rapid seal placement (the class feature, not the aquatic mammal)
- Succeed at a failed save
- Modified form of spellturning
Each subclass also provides a “kicker” ability that modifies the core use of seals. For example, you might gain increased damage, the ability to reflexively place seals, or the ability to cast a spell as part of placing a seal.
One of my favorite abilities for the Painkiller is the 13th level ability to yell at your allies when they reach 0 hit points, which puts them back at 1 hit point, because Bane hasn’t given them permission to die. Er . . . I mean, your infernal lord.
Shadowmasters get better at being sneaky, and Architects of Ruin gain advantage on concentrating on spells. Shadowmasters and Painkillers especially feel like they are multiclassing without multiclassing in their roles as “kind of assassins” and “kind of battlemasters.”
The capstone subclass abilities at 20th level allow the Illrigger to take the form of a devil, which varies based on the subclass. These aren’t existing devils, but rather, they follow a theme:
- Pain Devil (Extra damage, temp hit points, damaging psychic aura)
- Shadowform (Incorporeal movement, damage resistances, shadow-like strength drain)
- Lore Devil (Extra seals, special aura that interferes with spellcasting in your area, chance not to lose spell slots)
One thing to point out with the new spells introduced in this section is that they are all framed as only available to the Architects of Ruin. Some of these definitely feel as if they could have been opened up to other spellcasters.
Aura of Desecration creates an area of necrotic damage, and wall of death makes a wall of necrotic damage that functions similarly to a wall of fire, except that in addition to necrotic damage, it gives anyone dropping to 0 hit points a failed death save as well.
Mote of Hell summons magical darkness and hellfire from the lower planes, creating an area of darkness and fire damage, as well as wailing people. It’s very much the Hell rebrand of Hungar of Hadar, except it also heals devils that hang out in the area of effect.
Hell’s Lash is a spell that very similar to witchbolt, except it does maximum damage to opponents that bear a seal on them.
Single Combat is an OGL version of Compelled Duel. In fact, the overall theme of many of these spells is to create a hell-themed version of an existing spell. For that reason, I don’t think I would have a problem giving these spells to spellcasters that have the option of using the “baseline” from which these spells are derived.
I think WOTC is the only company that needs to contemplate if the public will perceive that a class is “needed,” although it is interesting to see something that technically could have been done with a paladin subclass being done with a parallel design.
From the standpoint of flavor, I wish the class hadn’t been presented as being as “all in” with Hell as it is. That doesn’t mean that the character wouldn’t be required to make a deal with Hell, but I would rather it be framed more as a temptation. “You seem like a good candidate, but you can try before you commit.” That puts this a little more on the warlock’s spectrum of “evil if you want it, but anti-hero flavored either way.” In fact, you could introduce a “free agent” subclass that is the thematic equivalent of the Oathbreaker, for those that don’t want to seal the deal.
I’d love to tack on a class feature where if you get brought back from the dead, you are subject to a geas to advance some goal for your contract holder (with some guidance on safety and buy in from the player). Then again, that would be fun for the warlock as well.
I love the idea of playing with seals and adding different kickers to those seals based on subclasses. In fact, this class gets a little closer to the 4e Avenger than anything I’ve seen so far, between the seals and the Invoke Authority abilities, and if it was just a wee bit less Hell-themed, and maybe just more “punishment arm of the faith” in execution, I would love it.
There are a few places where the design feels a little more twisty than it needs to be. Instead of getting spell turning, as defined by the magic item, the Architect of Ruin gets something that affects line spells, which might have some weird consequences. They also get an ability that mentions that they can be bound and gagged and still cast spells, when it feels like it could be simplified to “you don’t require any components and can cast while restrained.” I feel like there are a few “let’s mitigate needing a high charisma” abilities that might be alleviated by applying the more recent paradigm of granting class features that are limited by proficiency bonus instead of ability bonus.
This is a very flavorful class with lots of fun, “active” rules widgets to play with. I like the idea of placing and triggering seals as a core gameplay feature, and I enjoy the customizations that the class gets based on its contracts. The product looks amazing and has plenty of support material that makes it versatile, especially if you are already a fan of MCDM’s other products.
Hell is for Heroes
There are a few places where the rules are a bit circuitous, and the overall design, making an anti-paladin in an edition where paladin’s don’t have an alignment restriction, is already kind of idiosyncratic. While the story leans in the direction of giving an example of an Illrigger in a non-evil party, I feel like some safety, buy in, and campaign advice would have been good additional material.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
I don’t think anyone that likes D&D 5e would regret engaging with this product. It’s fun and imaginative and has a lot of solid work put into it. That said, it may have less utility than some other optional rules bits, due to the very narrow range of expected behavior for the characters, and the ties to expectations set by particular campaign assumptions.
Where the design is strongest is where it mirrors and subverts what the paladin does, in new and interesting ways. There are some twisty outlier bits that are a little less intuitive than the fun subversion bits.