So Wizards of the Coast are busy pouring out Unearthed Arcana articles, their playtest material articles that give us access to things like new spells, rules, magic items, races, and subclasses that allow us to make an ever more diverse cast of characters to bring to the table. And currently subclasses is the key term, the pace of articles has picked up with a new subclass introduced for two classes a time, so far:
Barbarian – Path of the Wild Soul The barbarian has a definite theme of feral brutality, and so far the builds available to us give us options to embrace the image of a tribal warrior dressed in wolf pelts, calling upon their ancestors, an ancient god, or a bestial totem for tremendous power. This one… well flavourwise it draws power from the Feywild, a place of nature and magic… although it paints an image of cunning and subterfuge, wily feyfolk alongside beastial ferocity. So if you’re wanting to try a new kind of barbarian, one that shine with pretty colours as they rage, this is an interesting option.
You’ll be able to detect magic by the feel of hairs standing on the back of your neck, your rages do something random every time you use them, like teleportation, damage output (which barbarians really needed) or sudden ranged capabilities. Later you’ll also be a boon to your spellcasting friend, just handing them an extra spell slot or four just for the pleasure of your arcane company. You’re still the tank, but all of a sudden you’re a utility meatwall with entertainment value on the side.
Monk – Way of the Astral Self To say that I read this one and found myself thinking about Borderlands newest siren Amara. Both have very clearly drawn from south asian mythology. Former monks evoke images from every martial arts media, you can make Jackie Chan, Aang, or Goku if you so choose, but now here’s a new approach. You’ve always had the energy of your spirit to draw upon, now you can manifest your spirit into a semi-physical thing.
You conjure a cluster of spectral arms, the face of a godly creature, and eventually assume and almost entirely angelic or fiendish semblance. People have likened it to the Stands of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, I for one thought of Amara, and then later of Kung Fu Panda 3. In either case you summon an avatar with crazy bonuses, mostly the extra reach of your shiny arms, but also some crazy energy deflection powers.
Sorcerer – Aberrant Bloodline Did you want all of the gribbliness of being a warlock without the utility blaster and you get to keep spell slots? Why not be a tentacle sorcerer? Rather than making a pact, you’ve inherited the grossness and eldritch power from some genetic fiddling before your birth. Aboleths, beholders, and mindflayers (your basic horrors) tend to tamper with mortals like we do with domestic breeds, so there’s some great narrative options in there.
In addition to some useful if rather disgusting mutations, you gain some psychic powers that can draw straight from your pool of sorcery points rather than your spell slots, including an expanded spell list which is very different for sorcerers, who are used to being damage hoses rather than utility casting. You may be slimy, but you can bend mind, body, and reality in equally gross ways.
Warlock – Lurker in the Deep Is not an aberration like the Great Old One pact, this is a far tamer breed of warlock. They have so few options for “nice” pacts, most of your builds are with soul tearing, mind warping, life eating horrors, the closest things to “nice” are faeries or dead and forgotten gods… and I suppose krakens and deep water titans have similarly questionable morals. Here’s the pact for those with a love of tentacles without the need for insanity.
While it has a few perks for those playing in an ocean-heavy campaign, you can still use most of the features anywhere and everywhere, those features are mostly conjuring body parts of deep sea horrors to attempt to crush, smash, and eat enemies whole. There’s some serious Fjord overtones (if you like your Critical Role) to this one, mentioning the idea of being saved from drowning as the sealing of your pact.
Bard – College of Eloquence Bards may be some of the most incredibly diverse builds in terms of how the character looks and feels with the possible exception of clerics. Bards can be singers, but they can also be spies, pirates, battlemages, and scholars. Frankly, you barely need an instrument, it bugs me a little that everyone’s hung up on it sometimes, when you could be an actor, courtesan, dancer, or, in this case… a motivational speaker!
Your entire purpose here seems to be to defuse combat before it happens (your DM will thank you*) with language utility and the ability to cast Calm Emotions without spell slots. You can hurt your enemies feelings so badly it does damage, and you can be so very motivational that your inspiration dice stretch further by having them hop from player to player. Be sure to have plenty of speeches on hand if you bring an eloquence bard to my table, I’ll expect to feel pumped up like a crowd buying time shares.
Paladin – Oath of Heroism Because paladins simply aren’t white-knighty enough! You can devote yourself to a noble cause, be a warrior for the downtrodden, a champion of peace, a leader of war, so long as you polish your armour every day so it’s as sparkly as your smile. You can go grim-dark with it if you like, go all “hand of gods” on your foes, but your a noble champion who stands for something. Well now you can stand for posing on hilltops and spouting enthusiastic rhetoric, so long as you leave an epic story behind.
No really, this is the paladin for those who want to drop the pretence. Your abilities make winning so much more glorious, you start by using the power of gods to make you so much better at running and jumping and hitting things really hard, later on hitting things hard looks so awesome it heals your friends, and once you’ve reached the apex of the class you are so damn cool you can simply choose to just win all the time.
Ok, But Why?
Yeah, thanks for bearing with me so far.
Well, we still have… lets see, cleric, druid, fighter, ranger, rogue, and wizard still to go, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to think they’re on their way, and if they are, this pretty clearly screams “new book” to me, because it’s very similar to what we saw in the build up to Xanathar’s Guide to everything. They’re also requesting the feedback really quickly which makes me think there could be something interesting in the pipeline sometime early next year. I’m assuming none of it will be included in the upcoming Eberron book- oh hang on, I need to take a tangent.
NEW EBERRON BOOK, after my mini soapbox moment earlier this year I cannot begin to explain how excited I am to see a proper summary of the setting. I wasn’t expecting a setting book to be released for 5th edition… ever. I started on this site with reviews for the 5th edition books, that was a great many years ago at this point… like five… five years, and in that time we’ve seen some solid Faerun content but no maps or fixed lore.
Anyway, Eberron will certainly include one new class, the Artificer, who looks very close to complete based on a recent Unearthed Arcana. It may also include the Mystic, a psychic power wielder, and psychic power is pretty common in a world where a shadow war of dreams takes place in every mind.
But what we have so far… with the possible exception of the bard, doesn’t fit the noir magicpunk setting with its ambiguous morality and gritty trench-coat wearing aesthetic. All of the above smacks of something more dramatic, more overstated and vainglorious, even the more cephalopodic subclasses. Something like the new Magic: the Gathering set for example.
*Your DM will not thank you.