What Do I Know About First Impressions? Unearthed Arcana 2022 Wonders of the Multiverse (D&D 5e)
“Oh my gosh, Jared, you haven’t written anything to post this week on the blog. Ah well, I guess we’ll just go without any CONTENT(!) this week.”
“What’s this . . . an Unearthed Arcana article? About the Wonders of the Multiverse? Why . . . this . . . THIS is something I could write about!”
Yeah, I’m being dramatic. We’ve got a new Unearthed Arcana to look at today, this time focusing on extraplanar themes and . . . more giants?
What’s In The Packet?
On one hand, a lot of this material feels like it’s leaning into a planar theme. On the other hand, there is what appears to be revised giant material, as well as a card-themed feat and card-themed spells, influenced by the Deck of Many Things.
- Glitchling (Race)
- The Fate Domain (Cleric Subclass)
- Gate Warden
- Giant Foundling
- Planar Philosopher
- Rune Carver
- Agent of Order
- Baleful Scion
- Cohort of Chaos
- Ember of the Fire Giant
- Fury of the Frost Giant
- Guile of the Cloud Giant
- Keenness of the Stone Giant
- Outlands Envoy
- Planar Wanderer
- Righteous Heritor
- Rune Carver Apprentice
- Rune Carver Adept
- Scion of Elemental Air
- Scion of Elemental Earth
- Scion of Elemental Fire
- Scion of Elemental Water
- Scion of the Outer Planes
- Soul of the Storm Giant
- Strike of the Giants
- Vigor of the Hill Giant
- House of Cards
- Spirit of Death
- Spray of Cards
- Summon Warrior Spirit
It’s almost a tradition now to guess at what kind of product an Unearthed Arcana release is hinting at. Last time around I pointed out that Ray Winninger was the writer of AD&D 2e’s Giantcraft. If all these items are going into the same product (and we know WotC has mixed and matched before to obfuscate things until official announcements), I’d guess it was a Planescape adventure that somehow featured Jotunheim and the Deck of Many Things.
On the other hand, who knows if all this stuff goes together at this point? It would be a lot of player facing material for an adventure, but on the other hand, it doesn’t seem likely that we would get a lot of giant themed options in a dedicated Planescape sourcebook. I do not currently have a Mimir around to consult.
Our race option in this UA (still waiting for an official alternate term here) is the glitchling. Glitchlings are lawful construct beings that are attempting to experience the multiverse. They also have small vestigial wings that allow them short bursts of flight. I am going to be shocked if these don’t turn out to be Rogue Modrons, although I can see Glitchling being the term for a Rogue Modron in 5e, to avoid the awkwardness that having the word “rogue” in a species name causes.
Glitchlings are constructs that are allowed to benefit from healing spells. They have a natural armor class when not wearing armor, and they have advantage on Insight checks and saves against being charmed. They get two “per proficiency” abilities, one that allows them to treat a 9 or lower as a 10 on a save or an attack, and another that allows them to fly.
I like the theme of most of what is going on. I’m pretty sure there are already more powerful options that have appeared in Monsters of the Multiverse, but my gut feeling is that I don’t like having two “per proficiency” abilities at the same time right from the start. If I didn’t think design was moving away from short rests, I would make the flight ability renew on a short or long rest. I’m not sure that a creature that was programmed to be part of a hive mind (okay, I’m making assumptions) should be resistant to charm due to having an ordered mind.
I wouldn’t be unhappy if this ends up being the final form of the race in question, despite my preferences. As with a lot of more recent design, there is a “flavor” table for determining an Orderly Quirk, and as usual, I really like how these tables convey at least as much in this format as paragraphs of texts might when it comes to roleplaying tips for this option.
I enjoy the “dice tricks” that D&D 5e has come up with to emulate divinations and seeing the future, rather than adding even more “hope the DM guesses the direction their own campaign will be headed and back them into a corner by casting a spell that makes that guess into the truth” spells. Ahem.
I noticed the Fate Domain Deities list didn’t add in any from our own past, although the Fates and the Norns would make perfect sense for this domain.
- 1st–Domain Spells, Omens and Portents, Ties that Bind
- 2nd–Channel Divinity: Strands of Fate
- 6th–Insightful Striking
- 8th–Potent Spellcasting
- 17th–Visions of the Future
I want to congratulate the team on adding a spell to the domain list that immediately sparked my imagination. Dissonant Whispers is already one of my favorite spells but including it on this spell list immediately had me picturing the look of horror on a target’s face when you start whispering things about their future straight into their minds.
I may be having a hard time remembering something that should be very obvious, but I can’t remember an ability that requires touch, which can be used against an unwilling target, which then requires a save DC. I think I would just require the target to be in reach and make the save DC, but it’s bugging me that I can’t think of any other ability with this same construction. Regardless, you get the ability to tie your fate to someone else, making it easier to know what direction they are and if they are moving, and you can also channel an extra die into healing or harming the target when you target them with spells.
Strands of Fate allows you to burn a Channel Divinity so that you can spend the next minute using reactions to grant advantage or disadvantage, triggered when you see someone make an ability check or an attack roll. It’s a nice ability, but it requires concentration, and clerics have some good concentration spells that they would be sacrificing to keep this active.
Insightful Striking lets you use a bonus action to add a die to an ally making an attack, or subtract a die from a save against a spell that you cast on them.
Potent Spellcasting [Insert Anything Ever Written About Cleric 8th Level Cantrip Options Here]
Visions of the Future lets you find out that Thrawn was actually not that bad, despite working for the horrible, evil fascists for most of his adult life. Sorry, other Visions of the Future, this one allows you to cast Foresight once without a spell slot with a 1-minute duration, which you can’t use again until you take a long rest.
I already mentioned the spell list and the dice shenanigans, which I like. This feels like a Fate domain cleric to me. If there is anything negative I would say, it’s just that clerics are one of those classes that really constrain what is expected out of a subclass.
All the backgrounds introduced in this playtest integrate the idea of getting an associated feat at 1st level. In addition, there is a note that if you allow these backgrounds, you should let players have a free feat from an included list if they don’t pick one of the backgrounds presented.
The list that is provided in this playtest includes the four Elemental Scion feats presented in this UA, as well as Skilled and Tough from the Player’s Handbook. Out of curiosity, I looked at the bonus feat list from the Heroes of Krynn UA. That list included Mobile, Sentinel, and War Caster. That makes me wonder if we’re going to get different lists based on different adventures/campaign sourcebooks, since the ones in this document feel more “general,” and the ones in the Heroes of Krynn UA sound more “people that have been fighting a war” themed.
I’m not going to dive too deeply into any of these backgrounds, other than to say that they all give you what you expect from a background (proficiencies, languages, equipment) except that your “feature” is your free feat.
All of the backgrounds get at least one chart of six personality traits. The giant foundling gets a table of suggested origins for their adoption into a giant family, while the rune carver gets a table of different approaches to carving and using runes. The planar philosopher and the gate warden both get their own unique trinket tables. As I said above, I think these lists are great shorthand for communicating information about these backgrounds.
The Planar Philosopher includes an additional feature beyond their Scion of the Outer Planes feat. They can count on modest lodging and food when they seek out other faction members. Which, along with every other planar reference in this UA, makes me think of Planescape, in this case, the different factions active in Sigil and the planes. The personality traits lean heavily towards the Athar, the Sensates, the Doomguard, the Fraternity of Order, the Xaositects, and the Harmonium . . . without specifically naming them.
Because a lot of people have been mentioning it, I should touch on what I’m thinking about the newer backgrounds and the granted feats. I don’t mind them, and I’m not against the potential for power creep. I’m all for making backgrounds more mechanically useful and relying less on narrative permissions that rely on the player bringing up that permission at the right place and time for the DM to implement.
That said, I think I would have rather just seen the features beefed up to provide benefits more in line with feats, rather than attaching feats to backgrounds. In that way, you can retain the idea of feats being optional, while still making backgrounds matter more in a mechanically reinforced way. But I get why this is being done, and I get that it works with making other backgrounds compatible, since you just need to attach a feat to them.
The first thing I wanted to do was to touch on those feats that got revised from the Giant Options Unearthed Arcana.
Ember of the Fire Giant–added prerequisite Strike of the Giants feat which is included with Giant Foundling, still has a level prerequisite, but it’s only 4th level now, added ability score kicker, damage lowered from 2d6 to 1d8. I understand not wanting this to just be another avenue of fire damage, but I still think the blinding effect is a bit too much, especially now that the ability score boost has been added.
Fury of the Frost Giant–added Strike of the Giants prerequisite, see above, kept 4th level prerequisite, added ability score increase. Instead of causing fear as a reaction to an attack, it now does cold damage (hooray!), and slows the target half their normal speed. Even rebalancing these feats, as written, this one doesn’t have the same potential power as Ember of the Fire Giant. There isn’t a chance that everyone in the party gets advantage on an opponent until your next turn, while suffering disadvantage. A movement penalty makes sense for cold, but doesn’t make an opponent unduly vulnerable. This only does damage on a failed save, while the save for Ember of the Fire Giant only halves damage. I’d probably bring both of these in line with an all or nothing save for both.
Guile of the Cloud Giant–added Strike of the Giants, moved prerequisite to 4th level, added an ability score increase, removed bonus proficiencies. Instead of casting a Blur spell that doesn’t require concentration, you can gain resistance to an attack that hits you and teleport 30 feet away (presumably being carried away in a misty/foggy/cloudlike manner). Unlike the previous ability, which was per long rest, this is a number equal to half (!) your proficiency bonus per long rest. This is another case where if they weren’t avoiding short rests, I would probably have gone with a short rest recharge instead of splitting the proficiency bonus.
Keenness of the Stone Giant–added Strike of Giants prerequisite, still requires 4th level, added ability score bonus. Kept the bonus darkvision, but instead of getting a number of divination spells, you can enchant rocks to do 1d10 damage and potentially knock targets over. It mentions that the rock is a magical thrown weapon, so I’m assuming that 1d10 includes a strength bonus. I imagine this was changed because not all stone giants are diviners, and throwing rocks is pretty stone giant like. You get a number of rocks equal to your proficiency bonus per long rest, and they lose their magic if you hit with them. I’m not sure how I feel about the darkvision kicker, because I feel like “everybody has darkvision” is kind of a fight that was already lost a while ago in 5e.
Soul of the Storm Giant–added Strike of Giants prerequisite, moved level requirement to 4th, added ability score bonus, removed the added divination ability. The Maelstrom Aura works mostly the same way, but instead of being a per long rest ability, it’s a per proficiency bonus ability. Imposing disadvantage is big, but now it only lasts until your next turn instead of for 1 minute, so it’s a quick debuff in this instance.
Vigor of the Hill Giant–added Strike of Giants prerequisite, added ability score bonus, kept the bulwark ability when you are subject to forced movement or being knocked prone, changed Hearty Health from a general boost to healing you receive to a boost to how much you heal during a short rest if you eat food while resting. A lot more thematic for the Hill Giant theme they were going for, without triggering healing spell shenanigans.
Rune Carver Apprentice–You still get to cast a spell for free based on the rune you are carrying, and can cast it using your spell slots, but the list of spells associated with runes lost the following spells: False Life, Fog Cloud, Bane, Bless, Burning Hands, Bless, Armor of Agathys, Goodberry, Guiding Bolt, Cure Wounds. I can understand losing a few of these, although Bane and Bless feel extremely on point for what a rune should be able to do. I’d also argue that the spells and the associated runes feel a little more strained in their associations now, but that’s a matter of polish, not mechanics.
Rune Carver Adept–Instead of allowing you more uses of your runes from the Rune Carver Apprentice feat, this now looks like it has rolled in the Runic Empowerment feature of the Runecrafter Wizard, which makes me wonder if the Runecrafter Wizard didn’t make the cut as a subclass. The abilities can be invoked when you cast a spell from your rune, or from the same school of magic as the spell on your rune. While I don’t think that’s too difficult to follow, I also wouldn’t mind if the individual runes were in a format of Rune Name/School of Magic/Granted Spell.
Scion of Elemental Air/Earth/Fire/Water–These are the reworked versions of the Elemental Touched feat from the Giant Options UA. Instead of giving everyone either Druidcraft or Thaumaturgy as a bonus cantrip, each element has its own cantrip now (minor illusion, druidcraft, dancing lights, and thaumaturgy). Instead of just creating rough terrain, Scion of Earth allows for barriers that create cover. Scion of Fire gets Produce Flame in addition to Dancing Lights.
And the Other Feats
Let’s see if we can pick up the pace covering the rest of these feats. These feats generally fall under “granted by a background” or “require a feat which is granted by a background,” and most of those “second stage” feats have a prerequisite of 4th level, which generally is only necessary because variant humans can have a bonus feat at 1st level. The exception is the Cartomancer, and we’ll get to that one.
Scion of the Outer Planes is the opening feat for a lot of those presented in the document, and this gives you damage resistance based on what plane has infused you with power, and a cantrip that is also based on that plane. These aren’t listed by exact plane, but rather “lawful plane,” “chaotic plane,” “evil plane,” etc. That means you can have two characters infused by Hell, one taking the “evil” option and the other taking the “lawful” option.
The “second stage” feats for this option are Agent of Order, Baleful Scion, Cohort of Chaos, and Righteous Heritor. Agents of Order can do force damage and potentially restrain a target they hit, Baleful Scions can drain hit points, Cohorts of Chaos can trigger a mini wild magic surge around them that may not hurt them but also potentially damages and shifts the play style of the peopel around them, and Righteous Heritors can use a reaction to reduce incoming damage to others. The Agent of Order feels on the powerful side doing damage and restraining someone. I might remove the extra damage and only remove a use of the ability if the target fails their save. Baleful Scion feels less fiendish and more vampiric, but I’m not sure what a good solution is without resorting to doing X damage type of damage, which is a design space that’s getting pretty tight in this document.
Speaking of extra damage, Strike of the Giants either does extra damage, or extra damage and a kicker effect when you use a bonus action to trigger these abilities. They are added to the next attack that you hit with when you are using a melee or thrown weapon, and you get them proficiency number of times per long rest.
Hill Giants, Stone Giants, and Storm Giants all do 1d6, and then add a knocked prone, push back, or disadvantage on attacks. Cloud Giants gain a 1d4 thunder damage and the ability to become invisible to the target you hit if they fail a save. Fire giants do 1d8 fire damage, and frost giants do 1d6 plus the potential to slow opponents to zero movement.
The biggest problem I have with these is where the kicker effect does something like what the “second stage” giant feats provide. For example, frost giants can slow someone to zero movement, then as a reaction, slow someone to half movement. It’s thematic, but almost too much so. I think I would rather see these all do 1d6 damage or the kicker effect, as an option, so if the character does get the next feat in line, they don’t have to engage with a similar mechanic.
Outlands Envoy has an ability score bonus, and grants misty step and tongues. Tongues can be cast without material components, and both spells can be used per long rest. You can use these spells with your own spell slots as well.
I wanted to save Cartomancer and Planar Wanderer for last, because both have what, to me, feels like an ability that you would normally build a subclass around. The tricky part being, of course, that if you build a subclass around it, only one class gets that ability.
Cartomancers can be Sorcerers, Warlocks, or Wizards, and I’m wondering if that Strixhaven multiple class subclasses had gone over, if the Cartomancer wouldn’t have been designed using that concept. You use cards as your spell focus, and once per long rest, you add a d4 to the damage that you do to a creature, but it’s worded in a very specific manner that I think is there to make sure you don’t add it to each instance of damage with a spell like magic missile or scorching ray. They get prestidigitation, but when they use it to do card tricks, they can conceal that they are casting a spell. They also get the ability to store a spell in a card and use a bonus action to cause that spell to go off. If only this had been a reaction instead of a bonus action, they could have called this ability You Just Activated My Trap Card!
Planar Wanderers can adapt a resistance to an elemental damage type, sense portals, and force open planar portals for which you don’t have a portal key. You can also seal portals, forcing anyone trying to use the portal to make an Intelligence (Arcana) check to undo your work. Now, if you fail to break that gate open, you take a big hit of force damage, but that’s the price you pay for planar freedom.
I love both the Cartomancer and the Planar Wanderer feats. I like that both really define what you will be doing with characters that take those abilities. I had a friend that was playing Alice in Wonderland as a Fey Pact Warlock, using player cards as their theme, and the Cartomancer and the spells in this article would have made so much sense for that character. I’m a big fan of both of these, although I wish Planar Wanderer had alternate prerequisites beyond just the Scion of the Outer Planes feat. Given that portal fantasy is a whole genre, it would be interesting to see a character that knew nothing about the planes that discovered their ability when they shattered a barrier to Somewhere Else.
Antagonize lets you flash a card with the image of a rogue on it, causing psychic damage to someone and forcing them to attack a target you designate. House of Cards creates a three-story defensive fortress made of giant cards that can grant you cover, but each card is easy to destroy, and for each card destroyed, there is a chance that the whole thing falls over. Spray of Cards lets you either blind someone by throwing magical cards in their face or unleash some force damage by hitting them with empowered cards. Insert some bad cajun accent commentary here, because Gambit.
Spirit of Death requires an expensive card depicting an Avatar of Death, which lets you summon a Reaper Spirit, which has stats based on the level of spell you cast to summon it and your proficiency bonus. It can cause fear on top of the necrotic damage from its scythe. Summon Warrior Spirit allows you to use a fancy card with a knight on it to summon either a Barbarian, Fighter, or Monk spirit. These have a different armor class and attack option based on which kind of warrior you summon. The fighter has a better armor class and can give out temporary hit points. The barbarian can use reckless strikes, and the monk gets flurry of blows and the ability to knock opponents prone.
I have no idea why there is such a heavy card presence in this UA, or why some of these spells are specifically tied to the Deck of Many Things, but I had a pretty easy time picturing a Tarot themed caster using these same spells.
So much stuff going on in this UA. First off, a lot of what I look for in D&D are things that will trigger my imagination and let me go off on a thematic tangent. I like the idea that even without using a specific ancestry, you could pull off a convincing half-giant with these options. I also like that you could recreate some of the other planetouched from previous editions that haven’t already shown up in D&D 5e.
I would also be interested in playing a Fate Domain cleric. As someone that likes playing support characters, I like being able to play dice shenanigans to help the rest of the party, on top of keeping them alive.
I really want to see the backgrounds with just a little more confirmation that they will be tied explicitly to planescape, because I think adding just a few more lore bits here or there about the factions and planar organizations will be a lot of fun.
I think the giant feats are almost zeroed in to what I want from them. I do like that it doesn’t feel like we’ve got 8th level feat prerequisites added in so they can be more powerful than other feats, because I’m just not a fan of that rules direction. It may just be because those themes are ones that resonate with me, but I really like the Cartomancer and the Planar Wanderers.
I do feel like we’re moving into a new phase of design with feats, and I would feel more comfortable if we had a better-defined idea of what feats should be doing. I recently looked at the Ruins of Symbaroum implementation of feats, and I liked that there was a clear division between feats are either a boon (ability score bonus plus another ability), a flaw (ability score bonus with a negative effect), or something that expands on an ancestry or class ability.
As much as I love the Cartomancer and the Planar Wanderer, I don’t know what’s next when you start having really flavorful, play driving abilities coming from feats instead of subclasses. It makes me feel like it would be easy for someone making a character to try and run in opposite directions between their subclass and their big feature feat. That leads to a lot more emphasis on system mastery.
I would argue that what bothers a lot of people about game rule expansions isn’t really power creep, it’s system mastery. That’s not just about optimization, however. It’s about needing to understand that if you take option A with option B, you will never get as much out of option B, and you may not get to use the neat stuff from option A enough. You’re going to be more likely to get use out of option A if you take option C, even though you want broader abilities, not deeper ones.
All of that said, the D&D team has talented, imaginative people, and part of what I really love about breaking down these Unearthed Arcana documents is that it is a window into something that is ongoing.