What Do I Know About First Impressions? Unearthed Arcana 2023 Player’s Handbook: Druid & Paladin, Part Two

TOA_Art4Okay, let’s tackle the next part of the recent Unearthed Arcana 2023 Player’s Handbook: Druid & Paladin. We touched on Druids in the last post, so I swear a sacred Oath that I will now cover the Paladin! Let’s smite this thing.

Dead Levels and the Commentators Who Reference Them

I received a few comments about the terminology of “dead levels,” and I wanted to clarify my personal feelings about what constitutes a dead level, versus what I’m addressing when I mention it. I, personally, am not bent out of shape if nothing appears in the Class Features column of the Class Table for a character class, and I also think that, especially for full casters, the first level that a caster gains access to a new spell level is enough of a paradigm changer that it should really be perceived as “getting something new.”

All of that said, I’ve seen a lot of comments online that define “dead levels” as any level where you don’t get a referenced ability in the Class Features column. I was using the term as a shorthand for my commentary, instead of using natural language that would have explicitly explained what I meant. I feel like there is a lesson there that we may have accidentally backed into.

The Baseline Paladin

When it comes to hit dice, hit points, proficiencies, and armor training, nothing changes for our friend the Paladin. They still have some of the most hit points in the game, have access to heavy armor and shields, and can use any weapons they get their hands on. Of course, now they can smite with a lot more of those, but we’ll get back to that.

Paladin Class Features

One of the things that is noteworthy about the Paladin class features table is that there is now a column for Channel Divinity. This works just like the Druid Channel Nature changes. The table shows how many Channel Divinity uses you get per long rest, and you get back a single use every time you take a short rest. As I said in the Druid post, I’m happy to see some more short rest recharge functionality returned to One D&D design.

Unlike the Druid (and as the article informs us, the updated playtest of the Cleric), the Paladin doesn’t get access to their Channel Divinity until 3rd level.

1st Level–Spellcasting is moved up to level one from level two, just like we saw with the Ranger. Also like the Ranger, we see Paladins get access to cantrips. The access to cantrips is a streamlining of the Blessed Warrior Optional Class Features from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.

Getting Lay on Hands at 1st level isn’t a change, but there is a change to how Lay on Hands works. The 2014 version of the ability allowed a paladin to remove diseases or neutralize poisons by spending 5 hit points of healing. The new version removes the Poisoned condition.

Okay, time to reverse-engineer some unexpressed design going on here. Many diseases might give you the Poisoned condition, in which case this does the same thing. But if a disease creates any other condition, the Paladin can’t do anything for the person suffering that affliction.

We’re seeing a shift from a narrative ability that tells a story (the paladin can cure disease or neutralize poison) to a rules element that interacts with another rules element, which only works when looking at the definitions of those rules elements.

Let’s extrapolate this. If you have a disease that gives you the Poisoned condition, and the Paladin removes the Poisoned condition, you still have the disease. If later on, you still need to make saves, you could regain that condition.

Additionally, if a poison causes a condition other than Poisoned, a Paladin might remove the Poisoned condition, but not, for example, Paralysis. To be clear, several types of poison in 5e are worded to remove an associated condition if the Poisoned condition is removed, but they aren’t universally expressed that way.

So instead of Paladins having the miraculous abilities of living saints, they can now treat very specified game-defined conditions. That feels a little less inspirational, and it’s a direction that a lot of One D&D game design has gone. We don’t get the ability to do something narratively, we can only do things that are defined in the rules, and are limited by the borders of what get defined by the rules.

Divine Sense was a 1st level ability, and it now gets rolled into Channel Divinity, so the new version of that ability doesn’t appear until 3rd level.

2nd Level–Divine Smite and Fighting Style both appear at this level, just as in the 2014 version of the class. There are a few tweaks to these abilities in One D&D.

Because Fighting Styles are feats now, and they are feats that require the Warrior group, Paladins get an exception to that restriction, in addition to getting access to a fighting style at this level, and they aren’t restricted in which ones they can pick–ahem, I’m still waiting for my Great Weapon Fighting Ranger so I can emulate Aragorn swinging Anduril two-handed.

You can only use Divine Smite once on your turn–unlike rogues, the Paladin doesn’t miss out on smiting when they can use a reaction to attack, for example, but no more multiple smites if you get more than one attack with your attack action. You also can’t cast a spell and Smite on the same turn, all of the Smite spells are operating distinctly from your normal Smite mechanic.

Part of why that Fighting Style is wide open for the Paladin is that the current version of Divine Smite works with any attack. That means unarmed attacks and ranged attacks as well as melee attacks. So your elf Oath of the Ancients Paladin (whatever that might look like) can smite with their snazzy bow as well.

3rd Level–This is where you pick your subclass, which has features at 3rd, 6th, 10th, and 14th levels, like every other class now. This is also where you get access to Channel Divinity. Channel Divinity has one unique option at this level for the Paladin, Divine Sense. Since this is pulling from the same pool as other Channel Divinity powers, you can now do this as a bonus action instead of an action, and it lasts for 10 minutes instead of being a quick burst ability.

I can understand the logic of rolling this into Channel Divinity since Paladins only have Channel Divinity in their subclasses in the 2014 design. It does, however, push this ability back two levels. I’m not sure how much this is going to change gameplay allowing this to be an ongoing effect versus a one-off focused detector.

You know what you don’t get at 3rd level? Divine Health. Paladins aren’t immune to disease now. Disease comes into play in D&D way more often as a weapon or a challenge in exploration than a common occurrence. I can see this one being a change that people miss if it isn’t called out.

5th Level–Paladins may be part of the Priest character group, but as front-line fighters, they get access to additional attacks, and this is where you start getting another attack when you take the attack action. Additionally, you get the ability to cast Find Steed without using a spell slot.

The 2014 rules added the traditional Paladin “find a mount” ability into a spell that the Paladin could cast, but didn’t give it any fanfare. This returns getting a special mount to a thing that is called out as special for the Paladin, even though the spell itself is now available to anyone that has access to the Divine spell list.

This is also the first place where we’re seeing something that appears elsewhere in the One D&D Paladin design, where they are given free castings of some spells, to make up for Paladins potentially using up their spell slots to Smite. I’m not sure how I feel about this, because I don’t think there is anything wrong with design that makes you think about doing something big and flashy, or saving resources for later, as long as you don’t always feel starved for resources.

7th Level–Aura of Protection moves up a level, from 6th to 7th level. Otherwise, it works pretty much the way you expect if you’ve played a 5e Paladin.

9th Level–Abjure Foes is an additional function of Channel Divinity added to the Paladin. Basically, instead of Turning Undead, you turn . . . everybody? Your limit is a number of targets equal to your Charisma bonus, and if your foes fail their save, they are both Dazed and Frightened, which is literally the same thing that happens with Turn Undead.

This one feels weird. I can see the focused story of the Cleric forcing souls that should be in the afterlife to run away. Hell, I could see the Druid getting a Channel Nature ability that lets them Turn Aberrations because they are forcing the unnatural away from nature. But this is just, “everybody is afraid of me!” It doesn’t have a “story,” and I’m not sure how useful it is for a front-line fighter to force people to run away from them.

11th Level–Radiant Strikes is a new name for Improved Divine Smite, probably renamed to make it clear that you aren’t using your Divine Smite ability to get this benefit, it’s just a bonus die of radiant damage to your attack. It’s probably worth noting to everyone excited that Paladins can smite with a head butt now, you expressly don’t get this extra damage unless you are using a Simple or Martial weapon.

13th Level–Aura of Courage functions very much like it did previously, but you also don’t get until 13th level, compared to 10th, which pushes this into the “a lot of campaigns don’t get to this level” territory. I guess it’s okay to be immune to fear when you’re retired? One clarification is that if you are frightened and enter the area, as an ally, you have the condition suppressed, but not removed, while in the aura.

15th Level–Restoring Touch is renamed from Cleansing Touch, but there are a few modifications. Cleansing Touch removed spells that are affecting a character, but Restoring Touch specifically removes conditions. Instead of getting a discreet number of uses, this works like the ability to remove the Poisoned condition in Lay on Hands.

There are so many ways that spells are formulated in D&D, so I’m really curious to see some of those spells that might come up where you can remove the condition they cause, without actually ending the spell. Depending on the wording, I could see instances where an ongoing spell might reapply a removed condition as its duration continues.

17th Level–Aura Expansion is a new version of Aura Improvements, which comes one level earlier, and does the same thing, changing your aura from 10 feet to 30 feet.

18th Level–Divine Conduit gives the Paladin the ability to regain a use of Channel Divinity when they roll initiative.

20th Level–Like the Druid, and presumable every other class we see from here out, unless this feature ends up being unpopular, in addition to getting an Epic Boon Feat, the character now gets a +2 bonus to an Ability Score, and the Ability Score cap changes from 20 to 30.

I’m not a huge fan of some of those abilities that shift three levels later in the class, mainly because I feel like those are just being shifted around to fill in . . . levels that some people might consider to be dead. It’s not done because “oh, this is too powerful at the current level, let’s bump it up,” it’s “they don’t get anything at this level, let’s push it back.” That feels like its making a prettier Class Features table but not a better gameplay experience at the table.

That said, where the Paladin changes, I understand those changes way more than some of the changes to the Druid, which feel like they are doing a lot of work to end up slightly behind where it was before. The tweaks to Smites and the consolidations of Channel Divinity uses and Lay on Hands are logical design changes to me, because streamlining the tracking of resources does seem like a useful quality-of-life design change for players. I’m not saying I agree with exactly how they are changed, but I understand the logic.

I don’t think someone playing this Paladin after playing a 2014 Paladin is going to be too disappointed, but I’m hoping to run a playtest for these eventually, so we may be revisiting that assumption.

Oath of Devotion

The Oath of Devotion is definitely a good candidate for “Paladin’s Paladin,” so it’s not shocking that the Paladin subclass devoted to serving others is our example for the playtest.

3rd Level–Oath Spells are the bonus spells that the Paladin gets that are always prepared, but the change this time around is that Paladins can cast each of these spells once for free (see that Find Steed ability above).

I don’t think this is going to break anything, I’m just kind of wondering where else in design you might start getting people pushing to use certain things for free instead of making a decision, and how much that starts to change expectations in the game.

The Oath of Devotion Paladin also gets Sacred Weapon, which the 2014 version also grants. The difference here is that instead of getting your Charisma bonus to hit and treating your weapon as magical, you do all of that and do Radiant damage with your weapon. I’m just going to say I don’t like moving away from magic as a determination of resistance or immunity, because I think when you try to express supernatural immunities with game definitions of damage types, something is going to be lost, and some storytelling is going to shift entirely to the implied than the explicit. I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot lately.

It’s also kind of strange that ending the Sacred Weapon ability in the 2014 rules (which you may want to do because your weapon is glowing) can be done as part of another action, whereas now, in the One D&D rules, you need to use a bonus action to end this effect early. I’m not sure what this is solving, other than assigning it a specific action type instead of kind of handwaving the ability to turn it off.

What don’t you get? Turn the Unholy! This feels kind of weird, because while I understand mainstreaming Channel Divinity into the class, I still expected to get an additional use of that ability in the subclass, especially something pretty standard for a Paladin, like turning fiends and undead creatures. Even if the concern was loading too much at 3rd level, pushing the ability back to 6th level seems like it would have been fine, especially since the core Paladin class gets a new Channel Divinity that doesn’t show up until 9th level.

6th Level–Smite of Protection is a new ability that didn’t appear in the 2014 version of the subclass. Now, when you smite, an ally within 30 feet of you gets healed based on how many slots you used for Divine Smite. I’m sure this is why Turn the Unholy went away, but it feels like a story missing a beat. We saw some powers like these in early 4e, where there wasn’t really a good “story” for why the character could do two things with one action, but it was meant to alleviate the action economy.

If you’re going to shift this to an ability to fortify your allies while smiting your foes, which does kind of make sense for an Oath devoted to serving others, I would rather this be a different Channel Divinity that the Paladin can choose to trigger when they smite.

10th Level–Aura of Devotion does the same thing it did previously, but with the clarification that if someone already charmed that is allied to you enters your aura, the condition is suppressed while in the aura. Because they changed the description of Auras in the base Paladin class, this one doesn’t note that your aura changes to 30 feet–that’s a given now.

14th Level–Holy Nimbus moves down to 14th level from 20th level. Instead of using an action to trigger it, it now only uses a bonus action, but you can suppress aspects of the Nimbus with further bonus actions. While the original version reset on a Long Rest, this one lets you reset the ability by expending a 4th-level spell slot. Since we’ve seen “spend a different resource to reset a limited resource” in recent designs, I’m kind of surprised we haven’t seen more of this in One D&D design.

The radiant damage changes from a static 10 to Charisma Bonus + Proficiency Bonus, which at 14th level may be slightly less damage, since Paladins may not be able to go all in on boosting their Charisma by this level. You also don’t get the advantage on saves against spells cast by fiends or undead.

I’m not going to argue that a Paladin’s 20th level subclass abilities were all as satisfying as they could be, but all of them were framed as the Paladin basically becoming the avatar of what it means to follow their Oath. It was a nice opportunity to make a statement on what that subclass was about, even if the Paladin never got to that level.

Shifting this down to 14th level, because all subclasses are standardized and 20th level benefits are reserved for class abilities rather than subclass abilities, makes this feature feel a little less special. There is something that made sense about the Paladin’s Oath being their ultimate expression of power, not a standardized ability of the Paladin.

Character Feats

I apologize to everyone reading this for insightful commentary. Okay, I apologize in general about that one, but specifically . . . I’ve got nothing really to say about the redesigned versions of Epic Boon of Fate, Epic Boon of Spell Recall, and Epic Boon of Truesight. I do continue to find it oddly restrictive that Epic Boon Feats are siloed by class groups.

Spell Descriptions

The Smite Spells–The biggest change to the Smite spells are the explanation of when they can be used. They now are all cast as a bonus action, which you take immediately after hitting a creature with a weapon or Unarmed Strike. Another change is that all of the Smite spells can now be upcast because you can’t Divine Smite the same round that you cast a spell.

Banishing Smite now works like the redesigned Banishment Spell that should be in the Rules Glossary, but isn’t. Glimmering Smite is a new version of Branding Smite, which grants anyone attacking the target advantage while the spell is active, beyond just making it impossible for the target to become invisible. Searing Smite removes the ability to put out the flames, only calling for a new save as long as the spell is active, until the target makes a successful save against the spell. Staggering Smite gets a subtle change that could make for a drastic difference. Instead of getting some of the aspects of being Stunned, they are stunned, and not until the end of their turn, until the end of the caster’s turn. Thunderous Smite and Wrathful Smite are unchanged other than the notes above.

Overall, None of the Smite changes jump out at me as an issue. They work well with the changes proposed for Divine Smite. Beyond that, I can’t comment too much, because most of the time I’ve seen Smite spells show up, it’s when a PC wants to do a specific kind of damage (i.e. keep that Troll from regenerating, etc.).

The Find Spells–Find Familiar and Find Steed both shift to producing a stat block, much like we’ve seen in summoning spells like those that showed up in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. The most noteworthy thing here is that the familiar stat block doesn’t have the “best of all worlds.” You aren’t going to get the benefit of picking a familiar with a better movement speed or better stats, because all Land, Air, or Water familiars will have the same stats and the same movement speed.

Both Otherworldly Familiars and Otherworldly Steeds now action the caster’s turn, which is a nice streamlining of how these work. Find Familiar expressly calls out that not only do you need to use a Reaction to deliver a spell through the familiar, but you need to use a reaction to get it to do its minimal attack.

Find Steed rolls in some of the functionality of Find Greater Steed, if the spell is cast with a 4th-level spell or higher. I like some of the additional options you have for a Celestial, Fey, or Fiendish steed, but the stat block feels fragile, even though it does benefit from healing magic cast on you. We also see the move away from considering attacks magical in this stat block, as different steeds do Radiant (Celestial), Necrotic (Fiend), or Psychic (Fey). I really don’t like the idea that because a steed is a creature from the Feywild, it’s magic damage, that has to be quantified by a damage type, is psychic damage. That’s such a massive story disconnect for me for a physical attack by a creature to do psychic damage, because psychic somehow got associated with fey creatures.

Spare the Dying–Spare the Dying can only be cast on a creature with the Dying Condition, because there is now a Dying condition, and gives 1 hit point instead of stabilizing the creature. Because stabilizing a creature is now a whole other thing.

Rules Glossary

Okay, you already got to see my commentary on the usability of the Rules Glossary with some of the changes they made. I may not touch on all of these, but there are some brand-new rule entries, and some very noteworthy modifications.

Highlights of Changes

The Jump action is gone. I am thrilled by this, because that was a mess. Also, all of the references to not being able to change a movement type within the same movement without taking the Dash action are now gone. Characters can move like action movie characters again, at least to some extent.

Did you like Inspiration on a 20? Did you like Inspiration on a 1? Well, too bad. Now you only get Heroic Advantage when you do something heroic or noteworthy with your roleplaying, or if you get it mechanically from some other source. To clarify the confusion of Inspiration being called Inspiration, instead of the previous new name, Heroic Inspiration, the playtest now clarifies the term by calling it Heroic Advantage, because thank goodness they didn’t name it after an already existing game term. Or, wait, what?

Unarmed Strike takes a half step back toward 2014. Instead of making attack actions to perform all of the functions of this, Grapple and Shove now just provoke a save from the target, which turns it from an opposed roll to a save. If you are grappled and you attempt to escape, you use your action and make a new save. I’m much happier with all of these changes. I didn’t think the rules from 2014 were bad, but I’m fine with having a set DC instead of an opposed roll.

New Entries

Dying is now a distinct condition. You have 0 hit points, have the Unconscious condition, and are making Death Saves. If you roll a 20, you still get 1 hit point, but if you make three Death Saves, you now also get 1 hit point, but are Unconscious and start a Short Rest. But you can wake up if someone makes a Medicine check or gives you more than 1 hit point.

This, of course, leads us to the Knocking a Creature Out section, which specifies that if you decide to knock a creature out instead of killing them, you reduce a character to 1 hit point, and then cause them to become Unconscious and immediately start a Short Rest.

Both of these bring us to the Unconscious condition, you have the Incapacitated and Prone conditions, and your speed is zero. You are also unaware of your surroundings.

And finally, all of that points us toward the new definition in the Rules Glossary for Short Rest. A Short Rest takes an hour, and you can’t do anything other than eating, drinking, reading, dozing (waiting for the dozing condition), or standing watch. You can spend a hit dice, and reset special features that reset on a Short Rest. A Short Rest ends when you roll Initiative, cast a spell other than a 0-level spell, or take any damage.

I know all of this needs to be explained in the 2024 rules, but seeing all of these chained-together conditions really makes me wonder if defining everything as a condition and defining a process via a cluster of defined conditions is the best way to go.

I have so many questions, mainly about what’s implied rather than how any of this is explained.

Why can people force someone to start a Short Rest? That feels very strange to me, and it feels like referencing a Short Rest when someone is stable is looking for some definition to anchor the process to, whether it needs another definition or not.

If you’re unaware of your surroundings while you are unconscious, presumable because we don’t want players to know what’s going on when their character is out, does that mean you can’t wake an ally up? I know it seems counterintuitive to say this, but when the process is built out of defined conditions, those gaps that assume you’ll use common sense seem to jump out at you.

Is it really less confusing to say that someone at 0 hit points can be stable or dying? It feels more confusing to introduce that you can have 1 hit point and be incapacitated, but you might have 1 hit point and be fine, than just knowing that 0 hit points means incapacitated, and maybe you do or don’t have the dying condition.

I’m not really sure what all of this effort surrounding these definitions is trying to accomplish. Is the assumption that new players will get confused by 0 hit points? I’m not sure how Schrodinger’s 1 hit point is a clearer state of design.

DnD_Ampersand_4c_8_RGBFinal Thoughts

I really hope the Druid goes through some revision that makes Wild Shape a little more robust, and gives the core Druid more abilities that do things not directly related to Wild Shape. It just feels like a very empty class, and stretching the same abilities over more levels just makes it feel more thinned out.

I have a few issues with individual changes, but generally, I like the Paladin. It feels like it’s moving in a clear direction, and while there may be some loopholes closed, it doesn’t feel like the drastic recalibration towards being less powerful that some classes are getting. I do think some of the Channel Divinity options both in the core class and the subclass gets some tweaks. I really wish the 20th-level ability to turn into an avatar of their Oath could be preserved, but that would take a bit more of a walk back of the standardized subclass levels, and we’ve seen enough classes now that it feels like that’s a hard line that isn’t getting moved.

Very happy to see Unarmed Strike and everything surrounding that has gotten a revisit, and I’m thrilled to see some of the stranger additions to movement rules get walked back. When it comes to the new entries, I’m just very confused about why dying and the whole process were addressed in this manner. The overreliance on definitions and conditions feels like trying to build a complicated model out of Legos without any special pieces. There are going to be rough edges, and some applications just need to be unique, instead of built from common pieces.

Curious to see how this unfolds. I’m guessing I have at least a month and a half to recover from this packet, which I’ll probably need if they continue to release bigger chunks.