What Do I Know About First Impressions? Unearthed Arcana: Expert Classes, Part One–Rules Glossary (D&D 5e)
I feel like I’ve been through a twelve-round fight, used up all my resources, and have only had a short rest. Why? Well, this Unearthed Arcana, called “Expert Classes,” is more than just presenting three redesigned classes and one subclass each, it’s delving into some revised rules, feats, spells, and spell lists. While we haven’t seen more than the three classes presented, this shows us some of the shape of what might be coming in the coming months.
What’s Really in Here
This Unearthed Arcana is 37 pages long. That’s a lot of playtesting, right there. Let’s see what this covers:
- Class Groups
- College of Lore
- Hunter Archetype
- Thief Archetype
- 1st Level Feats
- 4th Level Feats
- 20th Level Feats
- Spell Lists
- Arcane (0 through 9th)
- Divine (0 through 9th)
- Primal (0 through 9th)
- Rules Glossary
Much of the additional information included is relevant to the three classes presented in this document, so it makes sense that it appears, but it’s also a lot to take in. You may have noticed the Rules Glossary section, which the previous document also had.
This isn’t just an addition to the previous Rules Glossary. It is clarified in this document that whenever something appears in the Rules Glossary, the current assumption is that things work the way the most recent Rules Glossary supersedes the previous Rules Glossary.
That means that while WotC hasn’t presented alternatives to the races and backgrounds or the feats presented in that document, so all of that is still “ongoing,” the rules in this document are the rules frameworks to use with all ongoing material.
Because the rules influence so much that is in the classes, and the feats are tied to some of the rules, and feats are sometimes used to express class abilities, I’m actually going to look at this whole document backward. I’m going to look at the rules glossary first, then move on to the feats, then tackle the classes last.
We’re going to see this in the feats section as well, but every section of rules gets its own subtitle, which is bolded, breaking down the subsections of the expression of the rules.
Right off the bat, we jump into a new definition of Ability Checks. It still references d20 Tests as a unifying way to define the core resolution mechanic of D&D, but we’ve jettisoned the automatic failure on a 1 and an automatic success on a 20 for all d20 rolls, as well as removing the reference to all DCs being between 5 to 35.
I think there was a lot of confusion over what this meant, and I’m going to point this out . . . definitions are great as a quick reference but reading a glossary entry written as a reference as a means of learning a change to how the system works is kind of awkward. I don’t know that I have a better option. I just know that in a book, these concepts would be presented in context, with the glossary reminding you of the definition of a rule you saw in context in a rulebook. While I think that was an issue with the d20 Test Glossary issue last time, I think anything that is a new approach that is going to change an underlying system in the game is going to have the same problem.
This section mentions that ability checks require the use of an action, except when the rules say they don’t. This is a reverse of how ability checks have been presented in the past, where if an ability check is going to require an action, the rules will tell you. There are also a lot of ability checks/skill checks that are defined in these rules as specific actions. This feels like an approach where they are attempting to remove confusion with discreet definitions, but that makes it feel like the default expression of the rules is quantification. This may not even be the intention of the 2024 rules, but just a byproduct of how the Unearthed Arcana is presenting these rules, but we’ll touch on it more later.
The typical Difficulty Class chart that has appeared before is represented here, but there is also an interesting addition, saying that the default DC of an ability check is 15. That’s new, and I guess may be handy if designers want to call for an ability check and not use words on assigning a specific ability check. It also comes up later in the defined actions.
The example under skills points out that if a skill applies, the DM can say so, and then as an example shows a Strength Check (Acrobatics or Athletics). While it mentions that a DM determines if a skill is relevant to the check, when it mentions more than one skill applying, it says “if a rule refers to” a check, which feels like it’s telling you that the rules will provide you an answer on what skills to use with what ability scores under what circumstances, instead of reinforcing that it’s kind of a judgment call and contextual to what’s going on and what’s being attempted.
Armor proficiency is now called armor training. Once we establish that, the next rule mentions that if you don’t have armor training in the armor you are wearing, you have disadvantage on d20 Tests involving Strength and Dexterity, and shields don’t do you any good if you aren’t proficient. Also, you need to have the proper training to cast spells while wearing the armor type specified.
Shields being useless if you don’t have training is new and doesn’t quite feel right to me. You can wear full plate without training, you just aren’t going to be any good at making skill tests or swinging a sword while wearing it. Literally having a piece of metal or wood bigger than your torso between you and an enemy should still work even if you don’t know how to wear it properly, but I guess the armor penalties for lack of training doesn’t go far enough?
I will say this, saying you have disadvantage on d20 Tests using Strength or Dexterity does use a lot fewer words than spelling out saves, ability checks, and attacks separately.
Artisan’s Tools, Gaming Set, Musical Instrument [Tools]
No real changes to any of these, other than to standardize their prices, so that all the backgrounds in the previous UA provide the same gp values of equipment. It’s not terrible, but it does strain credulity a little for the sake of absolute parity.
The Attack action definition clarifies that you can equip or unequip one weapon as part of an attack action, even if you aren’t using that weapon for an attack. It also reiterates that hitting someone with an unarmed strike is an attack, and that you can move between your attacks.
Moving between an attack mentions Extra Attack, but I’m kind of surprised the base definition says “you can make one attack,” instead of something like “when you take the attack action, you can make a number attacks up to the number you are allowed as defined by your abilities” or something like that. Everything else has been precise about that kind of stuff.
This appears in the glossary this time around to remind you that an attack roll is a d20 Test, and that this time around, we’re rescinding the previous rules on critical hits and going with what the 2014 rules say. So, we’re back to doubling your dice if you crit on an attack roll, not just doubling weapon damage. Apparently, that wasn’t a particularly popular part of the previous playtest.
It’s also worth noting, for anyone wondering if the playtest is going to be responsive, that something that wasn’t well received was rolled back pretty quickly. Just something to keep in mind.
There is a spell list that goes all the way up to 9th level in this document, detailing what spells are considered Arcane spells. We also get the (unsurprising) information that Bards, Sorcerers, Warlocks, Wizards, and Artificers are all Arcane casters.
I was a little surprised that some spell revisions are going to show up in the Rules Glossary. If you watched the video where Jeremy Crawford discusses the Ranger that appears in this Unearthed Arcana, this spell is included because it’s considered a key tool for Rangers, at least as it has been reenvisioned.
Barkskin changes from one action to one bonus action to cast, no longer requires concentration, and grants temporary hit points. It also has an upcast to affect additional creatures.
No concentration makes this a lot more useful. I don’t mind the spell as it has been reformatted, however, there are so many temporary hit point granting abilities and spells, and since they don’t stack, it feels like there are going to be a lot of people with overlapping abilities regarding the granting of them.
Blindsight sounds functionally the same, granting the ability to perceive surroundings within a certain range without relying on sight. However, the new entry specifically mentions the Hidden and Invisible conditions, which are defined in this document. There are some clarifications that make the entry a little longer, like that you can’t see someone behind cover, and that darkness doesn’t affect you. This one shows up in the glossary both because it’s referencing some conditions defined in the document, and because it gets handed out in a few places.
The climb speed in the current rules mentions you can climb vertical surfaces without expending extra movement. This defines the same thing in the negative, by mentioning that without the Spider Climb trait, you can’t use it to work on the underside of horizontal surfaces. This shows up because some of the new class/subclass/feats in this document grant a climb speed.
Now, here is the tricky part. Climbing, as a type of movement, for people without a climb speed, has the following notes:
- Each foot of movement costs 1 extra foot (2 extra feet in difficult terrain) when you’re climbing, swimming, or crawling.
- You ignore this extra cost if you have a climbing speed and use it to climb, or a swimming speed and use it to swim.
- At the DM’s option, climbing a slippery vertical surface or one with few handholds requires a successful Strength (Athletics) check.
So, this opens a potential issue. Do you still call for Strength (Athletics) checks when someone has a climb speed? Most things with a climb speed are either monsters or gain it through supernatural means. A lot of things with a climb speed are just assumed to be able to climb a surface. I think handing this out to PCs as part of regular class abilities potentially opens a lot of climb debates, or a lot of climb movement rules definitions, which are better left unexplored.
This reiterates the creature types in the game, and that creature types don’t have rules themselves, but other rules may limit the effectiveness of other aspects of the rules in context of different creature types. I’m assuming this appears here because it appeared in the previous document, for origins. Spoilers–it doesn’t matter for Rangers.
This just reiterates the new umbrella term for ability checks, saves, and attack rolls being used in these rules, but changes one key aspect from the previous document. It shifts what grants Heroic Inspiration from rolling a 20 to rolling a 1. I don’t really have a problem with this, except I would probably call it something like Determination if you gained it when you fail. That might also be a nice change considering the multiple uses of the term Inspiration (even if you tack Heroic onto it).
Dash is referencing Move, so it appears here. It’s worth noting that the wording is “allows you to make a bonus Move,” but “a” indicates that move is a discreet thing, instead of a resource that you use all through your turn during a round.
The description for difficult terrain is pretty much what already exists, but it adds a few examples, as well as pointing out that you can’t have “double difficult” terrain. It’s either difficult or it’s not. Examples include moving through a square with a creature larger than tiny, snow, undergrowth, ice, liquid, narrow openings, rubble, slopes, and furniture.
The divine spell list goes all the way up to 9th level in this document, and we’re clued in that divine casters are Clerics and Paladins. Again, not much of a shock.
Exhaustion gets a big makeover here. You can still get levels of exhaustion, but you don’t die until you exceed 10 levels now. In addition, the effects of levels of exhaustion are now that you subtract your exhaustion level from your d20 Tests, and you subtract your exhaustion from your Spell Save DCs. You get back one level of exhaustion for every long rest you take.
I’m a big fan of this one. I like that it mirrors Stress in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, and I’m hoping that Stress becomes a standardized part of the core rules, as well. Enthusiastic fan of this one.
This was defined as a class feature previously, but all the Expert classes get access to this ability, and it’s also available through some feats now. The way it works is still the same, it doubles your proficiency bonus when you make checks with the skill in which you have Expertise.
Expertise, if it was a rare thing, isn’t a huge problem. Expertise, as something that is one of the core components of three classes and something people can pick up with feats is more than I’m comfortable with. Mainly because if you can cover too many bases with party members that have Expertise, bounded accuracy goes out the window and you either need to start throwing some ridiculous skill DCs at your players or accept that most of their checks are going to be perfunctory.
Honestly, when I saw some of the sub-classes giving out d4s to some skills, I really liked that idea, because it can break the skill ceiling, but doesn’t do so automatically with a set number. It also means that rolling dice still means more than the set bonus, which retains some degree of spontaneity. I wonder if you could create a pool of Expertise dice that you could choose to spend, so that you had the choice in a clutch situation. Anyway. . .
I’m pretty sure this is here because of the previous origins playtest, as well as the fact that this definition references the Incapacitated trait detailed in this Glossary. I’m a little surprised that Hover is defined as part of a fly speed instead of getting its own entry.
Grappled hasn’t changed from the previous playtest. It adds the Slowed condition and uses a Dexterity or Strength Saving Throw to escape instead of the 2014 opposed roll.
This doesn’t seem to be included because it’s a particular part of any class or feat presented, but just as something that seemed to be defined by Jeremy Crawford in one of the videos as closing a loophole that was being exploited in the spell. Now instead of being cast and granting a bonus, it is now a reaction when someone fails an Ability Check, which adds a d4 to the check, and can only work for an individual once per long rest.
This highlights the two separate functions of the action and clarifies that if you are using the Assist Ability Check function, you may only need to be close enough to provide verbal support, depending on the situation. However, it now restricts your ability to help to skills in which you have proficiency. The Assist Attack roll side of things is similar to the previous version, it just references the definition of Attack Roll.
The main change in this version of the rule is the previously mentioned shift from a 20 providing Inspiration to a 1 providing inspiration. It also clarifies that if, for example, you rolled a 1 on a test where you had advantage if you don’t use the 1, it doesn’t count. This section also includes the ability of the DM to award Heroic Inspiration if the PC does something suitably heroic or in character.
This breaks down exactly what is true about your character when they are hidden. You can’t be targeted by effects that require you to be seen, you have advantage on initiative, you get advantage on attacks, and attacks against you are at disadvantage, and you lose the hidden condition if you make a sound louder than a whisper, an enemy finds you, you make an attack roll, you cast a spell with a verbal component, or you aren’t heavily obscured or behind cover.
I’m really interested to see if there are going to be any proposed changes to surprise, as a concept, since one of the benefits of Hidden is listed as Surprise, and it’s just about getting advantage on the Initiative roll.
There are definitely some changes in this process now that the action is being quantified. If you are heavily obscured or behind three-quarters or more cover, you can make a DC 15 Dexterity (Stealth) check. If you look at the Hidden condition, this seems to mean you could hide behind three-quarter cover, then slide along half-cover. This also means that the people you are sneaking past don’t figure into your initial stealth roll
This is tricky, because against someone with a high perception, this is a much easier task, but against creatures with sad perception scores, it gets harder to make that initial stealth check. You do keep track of your total Dexterity (Stealth) check total, because if anyone looks for you, that’s their DC to find you.
However, unless you do something that makes them think someone is lurking, they don’t really have a reason to spend an action searching for someone.
This was defined in the previous document, but it covers the same ground this time around. No actions, reactions, no concentration, can’t speak, you have disadvantage on initiative checks.
Also, that last effect is called Surprised, which, again, makes me feel like maybe surprise is going to be going away except as something that determines advantage or disadvantage on initiative.
Most of this is porting the suggested means of adjudicating NPC attitudes found in the DMG and making it player-facing.
The biggest concerns I have about this are:
- Quantifying this as an action, which feels like it’s saying that any Influence Action is hard coded into the rules as taking an action.
- Making this player facing may set up expectations that an NPC has taken one of the two actions listed under the Influence Responses
Adding extra rules (like, say, the audience rules from some supplements) may rub players the wrong way if they perceive this as the way to adjudicate the Influence action.
Invisible is almost exactly the same as Hidden, except that it adds some details, like any equipment worn or carried is also invisible. We also get the same “surprised” language from Hidden. What is interesting is that comparing Invisible and Hidden, I wonder something.
An invisible creature is invisible, even if you know where they are. So, they would still get the benefit of advantage on attack rolls, or disadvantage on attacks against the invisible creature. But there isn’t anything in the Invisible condition about pinpointing an invisible creature.
Additionally, it makes sense that even if you know an invisible creature is there, while it’s invisible, it should still impose disadvantage on attacks against it. However, once someone that is Hidden is discovered, they wouldn’t be hidden, and therefore wouldn’t impose disadvantage. I can’t think of how you could pinpoint someone Hidden for an attack that would still allow them to remain Hidden.
Jump is now an action, so it’s not something you can do as part of your movement, but it is something that interacts with your movement. With me so far?
Currently, how high or how far you jump is a set value. Under these rules, you can only count on jumping five feet horizontally or vertically. You can make a Strength Athletics or Acrobatics check to increase this distance. This is a DC 10 check, and if you are successful, that’s your total for how far you can jump, or you can jump half that total vertically.
If you don’t move 10 feet before the check, you make it with disadvantage. You can’t jump further than your move speed, but you don’t spend any of your movement when jumping.
I’ve had a Goliath Monk save party members by picking them up, running at a wall, and jumping over it to escape a keep. This would have made that moment far less cool, since he would have had to stop at the wall and wait until he had another action before he could jump.
I’m wary that this is an action, but at the same time, I like that it reintroduces an Ability Check into the mix. I’m not sure that I like that when we’re defining things, we’re saying that Athletics or Acrobatics is equally viable, especially since Athletics may be getting much less useful as we hand out climb and swim speeds.
Light [Weapon Property]
I don’t know how this is going to affect the game, but it’s definitely a change. If you are holding two light weapons, you can make a second attack with your other weapon, as part of your attack action, not using your bonus action. You still can’t add your ability bonus to damage unless you have other two weapon talents from elsewhere.
The theory behind this is to allow Rangers and Rogues to fight with two weapons while not burning their bonus actions, since they have class features that depend on that bonus action. I’m just not sure how this will work out, although on some level, I like the idea that people need to make a tactical choice, rather than easing those decision points. It does seem like it will be a net gain to potential damage over time, since the extra attack means that Hunter’s Mark or Sneak Attack is more likely to matter if at least one of the attacks hits.
The potential benefits from a Long Rest, which might have been scattered in different effects, are all summarized here. For example, if your maximum hit points were reduced, they are reset unless the specific rule overrides this. If you had ability scores lowered, they return to normal.
You still can’t take more than one long rest per 24 hours. The rules from the last playtest document are still here, meaning you can’t do more than one hour of general activity, or if you have any kind of combat encounter, you don’t get your long rest, but you do get a short rest if you rested for at least an hour before the interruption.
What else? Well, instead of getting half your hit dice back on a long rest, you get all your hit points back. This could be because there are some abilities and feats in this document that let you spend hit dice outside of rest, but I suspect this might be one of those “people forget they only get half their hit dice back” design concerns.
Honestly, I’m not a hard-core killer DM, but I also think that challenge and potential death are part of D&D’s charm. I would rather you didn’t get any hit points back, but you got all of your hit dice, or we don’t inflate the number of hit dice recovered on a long rest. I mean, one of the reasons I like having more opportunities to spend hit dice outside of short rests is that they don’t always get used that often in some campaigns. Providing more hit dice and more opportunity to use them feels like adding too many variables at once.
This feels like a weird, recursive definition. The Magic Action allows you to cast a spell that has a casting time of one action or use a magic item that uses an Action to be activated. “That action that you need to do this thing, that we told you was an action, is, indeed, a magic action.”
This is where we get clarification that if you cast a spell that has a casting time of a minute or longer, you take the Magic action each turn, and maintain concentration. It also clarifies that if your concentration is broken before the spell is cast, you don’t lose the slot, you just need to start over.
I briefly thought this might be a solution to Counterspelling “non-spell” magic actions taken by NPCs and monsters, but that would be an awkward construction, using multiattack to take X attack and the Magic action to do Y.
So, when you move, you can break up your movement before and after any action you take. Pretty standard. You can move through allied spaces as difficult terrain, and you can move through spaces of creatures two sizes smaller or larger than yourself. Still with you. Can’t end in another creature’s space. All good.
We already saw the rule on Difficult Terrain defined previously, so this references that rule. It also tells us that Climbing and Swimming, if you don’t have a Climb or Swim speed, uses twice your movement. Then we get hit with “if you are climbing through difficult terrain or swimming through it, you spend 15 feet for every five feet you move.” I’m going to admit, I never thought about assigning some waterways or cliffsides as difficult terrain, probably because I was modeling that with a change to the DC of climbing or swimming using Strength (Athletics).
Now, we get to Special Speeds. If you have a special speed, like Climb, Fly, or Swim, once you start using one mode of movement, you can’t change. The only exception is if you use the Dash action to game more movement. So, if you have a fly speed and a movement of 40, you can’t walk 20 feet, then fly over a crevasse that’s 20 feet across, unless you burn your action that round in order to change movement types.
This is all kinds of confusing for me. I’ve seen lots of animals run up to the water and immediately start swimming, or hop a couple steps and start flying, and they didn’t seem like they had to effectively “prepare” themselves to change their movement type. You could even argue that if you have a Climb speed, you should always just declare you are Climbing, because you’re just climbing on the top side of a horizontal surface.
I don’t really know what this restriction does. It doesn’t sound fun. This is the kind of fiddly limitation that I remember from 3rd edition design, which seemed to exist mainly so that some feat or class feature could negate the restriction, even though the restriction doesn’t seem to exist other than to be a restriction. Maybe I’m missing the exploit in changing movement types.
The primal spell list goes all the way up to 9th level in this document, and our primal casters are Druids and Rangers. As expected.
Ritual casting still means you can cast a spell without expending a slot by taking longer to cast it. The main reason this is included is that now if you can cast a ritual spell, you don’t need the ritual caster ability to cast it as a ritual. I’m perfectly okay with this change. It was a fiddly requirement just to get a handy utility spell of varying power.
Okay, another function of an Ability Check that is formally quantified into an action. Also, all Search Actions are Wisdom (Skill) checks. There are examples of what you are searching for using Insight, Medicine, Perception, and Survival. This is setting up a rigid divide between Perception and Investigation, once we get to the Study Action. I’ve said this before, I’m just leery of overly quantifying some of these things as actions. Does it only take one action to Search a room? Toss a location in six seconds?
Shortswords are now simple weapons instead of martial weapons. I suspect this is because it makes it easier for classes like the bard or the monk to change their weapon proficiencies to broad categories.
I wasn’t happy with this when I first read it, and I wasn’t sure why. On one hand, I kind of feel like any sword is kind of a martial weapon, just because you carry a sword to do violence to other people, while an axe or a club is a tool that you can also use to do violence to other people.
I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t think it’s just about literally the short sword. It’s about the degree to which we’re seeing the rules streamlined. I get that some amount of “quantify this thing so we can refer to the quantified thing and save time and space” is a good thing. But I also worry that if everything fits neatly into boxes, and all the design is “this is a collection of these boxes,” it starts to become harder to look at the thing, and not the collection of boxes.
I’m still thinking about this one. I never promised you fully formed, well-reasoned thoughts. Or did I? I can’t remember.
This is the same condition that appeared last time around. Now that I wandered through the definitions of difficult terrain and the additional movement swimming and climbing require, I’m just thinking of some poor sod that gets slowed while they are swimming in a “rough terrain” river.
I do wonder how this condition will interact with the Slow spell. Also, don’t forget, you are only Slowed when you are grappled while you are moving. Important distinction, since slowed gives you disadvantage on Dex saves and attacks against you have advantage.
This is the action you take when you use Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature, and Religion. Investigation is specifically called out for traps, ciphers, riddles, and gadgetry. So carefully, methodically going through every nook and cranny is always going to be Perception if you are looking for something hidden. Also, does this mean it only takes an action to learn something worthwhile about all these topics (see also above)?
Also, I feel compelled to note that we’ve got a list of what skills are used for knowledge about what kind of creatures, which we haven’t had since 3rd edition, and I really hope that doesn’t lead to those static DC charts of “what you know about this monster,” at different DCs, because I really didn’t like those.
Swim Speed just mentions you can move through liquid without expending extra movement normally associated with swimming. It notably doesn’t mention being able to attack with non-piercing weapons underwater without disadvantage, but the swim speed in the Monster Manual doesn’t call this out either. Just wondering if the omission is a change, or just an assumption that aspect of a swim speed isn’t going to be housed with its definition in a glossary.
Tool Proficiency hasn’t changed much from last time. You can make a check with an appropriate tool with proficiency when making an Ability Check, and if a tool and a skill both apply to something you are attempting, you have advantage on that check. Interestingly, we don’t have any Tool Proficiency Actions listed in this document.
This just clarifies that you move from one spot to another without crossing the intervening space. You don’t provoke an Opportunity Attack when you teleport, your gear comes with you, but if you can bring anyone else with your or how well you need to know where you are going varies with the effect that grants the ability.
Tremorsense specifically says that it pinpoints the location of creatures or moving objects within range, and it specifically mentions that it doesn’t count as a form of sight, which now makes me wonder of someone hidden can be pinpointed, but still remain hidden, thus answering my question above about how someone Hidden could retain their Hidden status but still be a viable target for attack.
Unfortunately, this didn’t change. You can damage someone, or you can grapple them, but it takes an attack roll either way. No more opposed roll. You calculate your escape DC based on 8 + Strength Modifier + Proficiency Bonus. You can shove someone you hit instead of doing damage or grappling.
I’m pretty sure this was just an oversight, but I think it’s kind of amusing that levels of Exhaustion don’t affect your Grapple escape DC, just a Spell Save DC.
Time to Take a Breather
Okay, that was a lot of work. I didn’t want to miss any of the rules, because if they were included in this document, they were important enough that the designers felt they needed to be tinkered with. Some have a more obvious connection to the immediate rules in this document than others.
I respect the work that went into this document. I also appreciate trying to tie up loose ends by logically aligning rules and making them easier to reference. I hope none of my commentary on this process is too flippant or seems disrespectful.
I do think there is a counterintuitive conundrum at work with defining some aspects of the rules. By providing a single, specific definition, it might give you a specific focal point to refer to when that defined item is referenced. That said, if there is too much bound up in that definition, you must read all the threads connected to that definition to make sure you aren’t missing something, which isn’t something you have to do when plainly stated rules are stated wherever they are relevant.
I’m going to return to some of these themes as well look at the rest of this document, but my biggest wish is for more of a natural discussion of rules changes and the intention behind them, instead of relying on a heavily defined item in a glossary. While the intention behind a lot of these design choices isn’t hidden, it is something that’s not apparent in the document, but rather, in videos that have to be watched separately from the experience of ingesting the rules.
I’ll see you soon as we dive into the next part of the rules, and we’ll keep working back to front. Hope you stick around.