What Do I Know about First Impressions? Project Black Flag Playtest Packet #2, Part Two


Man of War, William O’Brien

Let’s get back to where we left off on the playtest. This time around, we’re going to look at the Wizard, the Arcane Traditions in this packet, the new and reprinted talents, and finally, the section on casting, including a few modified spells. If you started with this article, you may want to back up to part one.


Much like the fighter, the hit points, proficiencies, and equipment section aren’t radically different than in the 2014 version of the 5e SRD rules. I will say that with the big question mark still hanging over the One D&D Wizard, and how standardized they are making “you know your whole spell list, and you prepare a subset,” it was very nice to still see nice, familiar references to how the wizard’s spellbook works (although there is a change to one aspect, which we’ll get around to talking about). There is no change to the time or cost to transcribe spells from the 5e SRD.

As I alluded to in the previous part of this First Impression, the Wizard’s Arcane Tradition selection moves back to 3rd level from 2nd. This also changes the second feature of the Arcane Tradition from 6th level to 7th level.

Spellcasting progression remains the same compared to the SRD version of the class, at least up through 8th level, which is all we get in this document. The Wizard also retains access to Arcane Recovery which works the way it has since 2014. There is something new, however:

Ritual Casting (1st Level). In the playtest, there are no more spells that can be cast as rituals, there are only non-ritual spells and ritual spells. Wizards get a new column for Rituals Known, which starts at 1 and rises up to 5 by 8th level. Some of the example spells later in the document feature spells that have become either fully regular spells, or fully ritual spells. I’m not sure how I feel about this change. I don’t view it as a negative, but I guess my brain is still trying to think of all of the existing ritual spells and what this means for them, as well as what this opens up in the design space. It’s definitely an intriguing idea, although part of me wishes a wizard could just scribe as many rituals as they find just like regular spells.

Magic Sense (2nd Level). Effectively, this new ability is a one-round detect magic ability that you can use Proficiency Bonus +1 number of times per long rest. However, in addition to detecting spell effects or magic items, along with spells schools that may be associated with them, you can also detect beings with the ability to cast spells. Your range is only 30 feet, compared to the paladin’s 60 feet. I kind of like this ability, although I’m still trying to think if being able to detect spellcasters will be an unforeseen issue in emergent play.

Battle Mage

Battle Mage is an interesting composite of inspiration, with some abilities that are similar to the War Magic Arcane Tradition, with some Evocation thrown in for good measure. I’m wondering if we’re going to see Arcane Traditions based on the schools of magic, or if the School Specialization Talent is meant to represent the primary means of engaging with specialized training based on schools. If we aren’t going to see anything directly inspired by the schools of magic, here’s hoping that some of the good stuff from the Divination Wizard makes it into a subclass somewhere. Like the Spell Blade, the Battle Mage picks up access to both Martial and Magic Talents.

Spell Ward (3rd Level). The War Magic Wizard could trigger a bonus to AC or Saves, but you gave up casting anything other than cantrips until after your next turn. Spell Ward, by comparison, gives you a proficiency bonus boost to your AC and resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage, but only if you don’t have medium or heavy armor. You have a limit of doing this equal to your proficiency bonus per long rest, but you can maintain the ward as long as you cast a spell of 1st level (circle, we’ll get to that). In a way, it’s like an arcane rage, except you need to keep casting non-cantrip spells in order to maintain the ward. I like this much better than the War Magic ability. That does become a pretty hefty AC bonus at higher levels, so it may be a bit too much, but I want to see it in action.

Tactical Caster (3rd Level). Not only do you get the ability to exclude allies from your area attack spells, like the Evoker, but you also aren’t limited to the number of people that you can exclude by the level of the spell, you just exclude all allies you can see. They don’t even have to make a save to take no damage. On one hand, this is a bit of power creep compared to the Evoker, but I like it for simplicities sake. That said, for this level of upgrade, I think I would rather have a PB limiter, or once per short rest. We’ll see how it shakes out in play.

Contingency Plan (7th Level). If you miss your first target with a spell that you roll to hit with, you can arc it to hit someone else in range and roll an attack against them as well. I like this, but I’m wondering if it needs something to limit it if you hit with any of your attacks when you cast something that creates multiple rays, for example. I’m also wondering if this should work for cantrips. As written, if you somehow get the ability to make a spell attack with something that isn’t one of your spells, like from a magic item, this would work with that as well. I’m not saying it shouldn’t, I’m saying it does make this a very broadly useful ability. I like it, but like with some of the other things this time around, I kind of want to see how it shakes out in play. I like it, but it may need some guardrails.

Cantrip Adept

The Cantrip Adept Arcane Tradition is from the recently published Tome of Heroes, and there is a sidebar pointing out that Kobold Press wanted to use an existing subclass that they published to show that you can slot it into the new paradigm without much fuss. Given that Wizards move up their subclass levels from 2nd to 3rd and 6th to 7th, at these levels, the conversion doesn’t seem too radical.

The story of this class is a little strange, but not to the point that it bothers me. You are really good at using cantrips. You still have other spells, but wow, do you like your cantrips.

Arcane Alacrity (3rd Level). A number of times equal to your proficiency bonus you can change the casting time of a cantrip to a bonus action, and you get back uses of this ability on a long rest. This does make for some clutch two-spell rounds. Just remember that pesky “you only get two spells if one is a cantrip” rule (which I personally really like and please don’t touch it).

Cantrip Polymath (3rd Level). You get two new cantrips, but they can be from any spell list, and they count as Arcane for you. This ability has an odd commentary at the end, mentioning that not only do these cantrips count as Arcane, but the spells you get from a lineage or talent count as Arcane, and now I’m wondering why this rider was needed. It’s probably obvious, but I don’t get it right now.

Potent Spellcasting (7th Level). You get to add your proficiency bonus to your damage from cantrips at this level. It’s interesting that they went with proficiency bonus and not spellcasting statistic bonus. Obviously, that’s likely to be lower, because at 7th level, it’s pretty easy to have a +4 on damage if it were based on ability scores, and it could move up to +5 at 8th level. I would almost be willing to see how this works with an ability score bonus, just to make it work like most bonus damage to attacks, especially if we don’t mess with the 20 cap on ability scores (please don’t mess with the 20 cap on ability scores).


One thing I don’t think sunk in from the previous playtest document and the talents from there is that we didn’t have any talents that grant a +1 to an ability score as well as an additional effect. That’s because at every level where a character gets an advancement, they get a +1 to an ability score and a talent, and two of the talents in this section grant you a +1 to an ability score, meaning if you want a +2 to that ability score, you take that talent. The talents this time around are:

  • Magic Talents
    • Mental Fortitude (mental save reroll per long rest)
    • Mental Prowess (+1 to mental stat)
    • Ritualist (gain ritual spellcasting ability)
    • School Specialization (bonus to hit and save DC for a school)
  • Martial Talents
    • Artillerist (ignore loading and advantage with siege weapon attacks)
    • Hand to Hand (proficient with unarmed attacks, 1d6 unarmed damage, advantage on grappling)
    • Physical Prowess (+1 to physical stat)
  • Technical Talents
    • Touch of Luck (2 Luck Points whenever you gain Luck)

What’s interesting about this is that due to how the lists are restricted, there isn’t an ability score boosting talent for the classes restricted to Technical Talents, and I’ll be interested to see how they solve for that, because I can’t see intentionally designing the game so that the Rogue, for example, can’t get to Dexterity 20 as fast as the Fighter gets to Strength 20.

Another interaction that I’m wondering about is the additional talent that the Human Lineage gets because as it currently stands, that talent can come from any list. That means that a Human can start out with slightly higher stats than other characters, which feels like it’s running counter to removing ability score improvements from race/lineage.

Hand to Hand introduces the concept that people aren’t automatically proficient with unarmed attacks. I’m not arguing with the logic of this assertion, and I’m not sure that there are a ton of people who will be affected by suddenly losing proficiency with unarmed attacks, but there are some bits of the rules here and there that may be affected by this. For example, in this document, fighters aren’t noted as being proficient in unarmed strikes, but the Weapon Master gets an ability that lets them make an unarmed attack, meaning that they could be picking up an ability that is way less likely to hit than they expected.

Touch of Luck is noted in this document as not being strictly usable with the playtest material so far, since there are no classes with access to the Technical list so far, and neither of the backgrounds we’ve seen so far have Touch of Luck as an option. That said, a Human character actually could take this talent. This talent doubles your Luck points when you gain them and gives you a bonus +1 Luck point when they reset.

I’m torn on this design vector. On one hand, when I read that one of the design goals was to not force players to decide on an ability score boost or a feat/talent, I was afraid that everyone was going to get a feat/talent and a +2 ability score bonus, and I like the way this works much better than that broad power creep. That said, this also adds another layer of conversion if you are using feats from the current 5e rules, or feats designed under that paradigm, especially when you look at any that granted a +1 ability score bonus. Additionally, this means you have conversion work to do for current D&D 5e feats, and also warps compatibility with the 2024 rules regarding feats, since there that design paradigm seems to have moved to “1st level feats give you a thing, and 4th level feats give you a +1 ability score bonus and a thing.”


This is a long section that introduces the rules surrounding spellcasting and how magic works, according to the assumptions of this game. Some of this involves just reiterating the parts of a spell, how spell slots work, schools of magic, and so on.

A few new twists:

  • Spell Levels are now referred to as rings, so instead of a 1st level spell, it’s a 1st ring spell
  • Spells are organized into meta-spell lists called circles, which are Arcane, Divine, Primordial, and Wyrd

I don’t mind shifting the terminology from level to ring, except that if you start renaming too many things, it does start to affect the feel of the game, if you want to evoke the same feelings as the 2014 rules. This doesn’t push things too far for me, but I’m curious to see how many things get changed “because they make sense,” but maybe not because they cause any actual problems in the game.

Arcane, Divine, and Primordial spells are pretty much what they have been since D&D 4e (and even longer in the case of Arcane and Divine). Wyrd is new, and it seems to take its inspiration from the Occult source in Pathfinder. Basically, it’s an unnatural or wrong power from beyond this universe. There is also a note that Wyrd magic is usually antithetical to natural law, and one way to facilitate its use is by forging a pact with an extraplanar being.

I’m really hoping this isn’t signaling that Warlocks automatically use the Wyrd power source. It fits some Warlocks, but it doesn’t feel right for, say, Celestial or Fey Warlocks. I’m also concerned that if this is in conjunction with moving subclasses to 3rd level for everyone, the story of the Warlock changes to “they started using wrong bad power, and by 3rd level they have to find a patron to help them control it,” it’s going to pretty much rewrite the concept behind Warlocks. That’s a pretty big change since you can have a Warlock now that made a pact to do a thing they really felt needed to be done, regardless of the cost, but with this potential story, that changes to “every Warlock everywhere poked around in the unnatural, and then needs someone to help them fix it later.” I hope I’m not reading this foreshadowing properly.

Core_Fantasy-Stacked-BLACK-2048x1231Pedantic Corner, Please Ignore

It does kind of bother me that wyrd is kind of being used as a fancy way of spelling weird. Weird does kind of come to us via Wyrd, but that’s by way of “a mysterious unknowable thing.” Wyrd, traditionally, is kind of like Fate or Destiny. So while it could be power from beyond, it’s almost the opposite of “wrong bad power,” because its power from beyond that forces things onto a specific path.

Okay, Welcome Back

At the end of the document, we get to see some of the spells in the Arcane Circle, but only up to the 3rd Ring (which means if you are playtesting at 8th level, you just have to use the descriptive guidelines for what is in the 4th Arcane Ring).

Rituals get further clarified here. Alarm, Create Familiar, Identify, Illusory Script, Unseen Servant, Arcane Lock, Magic Aura, Magic Mouth, Animate Dead, Clairvoyance, Glyph of Warding, Magic Circle, Phantom Steed, and Tiny Hut are all ritual spells, and can only be cast as rituals. Comprehend Languages and Detect Magic are no longer ritual spells, and can only be cast with spell slots.

You may have noticed that the above paragraph says “Create Familiar” and not “Find Familiar.” The spell gets a rewrite. Unlike One D&D, this doesn’t involve giving the familiar a standardized stat block, although the spell does tell you what creatures you can have as a familiar. This time around, however, your familiar is a Construct, a creature that you make with a representative object and your own blood. You permanently lose 1 hit point as long as you have the familiar, but when it dies, you can reform it an hour later without casting the spell over again, and instead of popping in and out of the planes, it merges with you, since it’s kind of part of you.

I don’t want to change too many more things just for fun, but at the same time, I kind of love this version of the spell. It is a pain to keep casting Find Familiar every time your familiar pokes its nose where it shouldn’t. Trust me, I know, my 12th level Grave Cleric had a raven that I used to perch on party members in case I needed to heal, but still managed to get smooshed a lot. I’m not sure if that cleric would have made a familiar out of himself, rather than summoning something from the afterlife.

This version of the familiar still acts on its own turn, and I personally think that having the familiar as an extension of the caster makes an even better case than before for the familiar to go on your turn.

Final Wizard Thoughts

I’m not a fan of changing the subclass levels just for the sake of parity across all classes, but that doesn’t affect this version of the Wizard too much. I like Magic Sense, and I think I like Ritual Casting. When it comes to the Arcane Traditions, I like the thrust of what they do, although they may need some tweaks on the specifics.


While I like most of the talents presented, the overall trend of separating ability score bonuses from feats bothers me from a backward compatibility standpoint. It works for this, in isolation, but it creates an additional step when using older material. While I understand the logic behind removing unarmed proficiency, I’m also a little concerned that a lot of blue sky concepts are popping up, which may mess with some rules in other unforeseen places. But on their own, I like what I’m seeing. It does make me interested to see what the conversion rules mentioned in this document will look like.


I’m not going to rehash my concerns about meta-spell lists here. The new terminology is fine if it’s clear and doesn’t spread too deeply into all the rules. I really, really don’t want Warlocks to be pinned to the Wyrd power source, especially if it ends up changing the story of the class.

Next Steps

I’m cautious about this document, compared to the previous playtest document. I think there are good and exciting ideas, but there are some items that I think need to be fine-tuned, as well as a whole lot that I can’t fully predict until I see them in action. I have made four pre-generated characters using these rules to help me work through them, and I’m interested to see what dice on the (virtual) table reveal. I also respect that it’s really hard to draw that fine line between “cleaning up the rules after seeing best practices from the last decade” and “taking things in a new, exciting direction because it is a new game, even if it’s also built from an old game.”