Now that Unearthed Arcana is back on a monthly release schedule, we have more time to look into and play with the material before the next set is thrown at us. That said, May’s article is a handful of revisions of previous subclasses released through Unearthed Arcana, so we wanted to dive in right away.
While these are all revisions and could be compared with their original forms, I’m going to try and take a fresh look at each one, since balance with the game is of more importance to me than the relative tweaks from last time.
Barbarian: Path of the Ancestral Guardian
I like the theme going on with this subclass, and I can easily see a dwarf or other ancestor-revering race taking it. It takes the normally hyper-offensive barbarian and gives them good defensive capabilities- that protect the rest of the party. From what I see, it makes it so that the barbarian is basically ‘tanking’ a monster, to borrow jargon from elsewhere, which isn’t the worst thing. I can see it being problematic for the DM in a one monster battle, such as a fight against a single dragon, but even then it shouldn’t be so bad that a DM can’t plan around it.
My main gripe here is the Spirit Shield ability, which allows the barbarian to use their reaction to reduce damage taken by a creature they see within 30 feet. At level 6 it starts off at 2d8, and eventually goes up to 4d8 at level 14. Now, that’s not a lot of damage reduction, but combining that with Ancestral Protectors and the rest of the party taking half damage from one source, it could potentially nullify a good bit of damage. I suppose that is the point, but I’d be interested in seeing how it plays out at different levels.
The free clairvoyance spell once per short rest isn’t that bad, and the dealing 4d8 damage to any creature protected by Spirit Shield doesn’t seem too bad at first glance; at level 14 that’s an average of 18 damage every turn. I’d like a saving throw here potentially, but all in all I think this is a great subclass and probably one I’d let my players try in my usually non-playtest campaign.
Bard: College of Swords
I must admit, at first glance this was the subclass I cared the least about. But, after reading it, I really want to play one. This takes the bard and, in my view, truly makes them the perfect 5th wheel in a party. I think, regardless of subclass, bards are solid arcane spellcasters, healers, and skill checkers. For me it was their martial ability that was a little weak, and while College of Swords pushes them a bit farther than I may have, it makes them a truly great all-around class.
From the get-go, the proficiencies with medium armor and scimitars is a nice touch, adding mostly to the defensive capabilities that will allow it to go into melee, and the choice of Dueling or Two-Weapon Fighting for fighting styles is very thematic, since I imagine bards going one of those two routes. The Blade Flourishes are obviously the meat, and the three options keep it simple, yet strategic; extra damage, extra AC, or push them away- all an amount equal to your Bardic Inspiration which places them on a nice curve as you level up. Adding the second attack to Blade Flourish at level 6 helps bring them to even pace with other martial classes, and the level 14 ability to allow them to use a d6 without Bardic Inspiration gives them high-level longevity.
Really, no complaints here. If I was to write a fantasy novel about a somewhat arrogant character who is truly a jack of all trades, it would be about a College of Swords Bard.
Fighter: Arcane Archer
I remember when I first cracked open my 3.0 Dungeon Master Guide and saw the Arcane Archer prestige class. I thought it was such a killer concept back then, and I still think that to this day. Needless to say, I’m very happy seeing it as a subclass in this group. Obviously translating a prestige class from an older edition to a subclass now takes some finesse, but I think they did a stellar job with it.
While I’m not a huge fan of now saying “all your arrows can be magical” I can somewhat understand it. That said, with the Archery fighting style Fighters (and Rangers) who use ranged weapons are already at the top of the group as far as their attack bonus goes, so adding another +1 to that seems a bit excessive to me. I do like all the Arcane Shot options. Seriously, I don’t think any one of them are bad; one or two are just a little bit blander than the others. On top of that, Curving Shot is a great thematic ability that doesn’t break anything, and the Ever-Ready Shot makes sure the Arcane Archer stays potent.
Without going through all of the Arcane Shot options, I will say that I found the Brute Bane Arrow to be the least exciting; 2d6 extra necrotic damage and if it fails a CON save, it does half damage until the start of the Arcane Archer’s next turn. Useful, but certainly not the most exciting. That said, I think the Banishing Arrow is excellent. A Charisma save, or be banished to the Feywild until the end of the target’s next turn. This is a great crowd control tactic and something not super prevalent at third level. All in all, I’d love to play an Arcane Archer or have one in my games.
Monk: Way of the Kensei
Again, points for thematic approach to the subclass. The correlations it makes to a weapon to a kensei monk being like a brush to a painter, an extension of their body, is awesome. Unfortunately, I don’t think the subclass is that great. While I think it stands up well in a usefulness test against the other subclasses, the abilities of the other monks are what make them fun and interesting, while I feel like this just makes the monk feel more like a fighter.
I will say that I like that it gives you a melee and ranged weapon to use, making the monk a bit more versatile in that aspect, and giving extra defense or damage respectively based on the type of weapon in certain circumstances. Your magic fists extend to your weapon at level 6, keeping that part of the core Monk class, and you get the ability to use ki to deal your martial die extra damage to enemies when you hit. At level 11 you can spend ki points to give a static attack and damage bonus for 1 minute, all the while adding more kensei weapons to your repertoire.
Overall, I think this just bumps the monk from what I would consider a great auxiliary fighter who brings different tactics based on their subclass to a semi-magic martial arts fighter wannabe.
Sorcerer: Favored Soul
Like the Arcane Archer, my first experience with the Favored Soul was back in 3.5. It came in the Complete Divine book, and operated like a sorcerer version of a cleric, not the cleric subclass of a sorcerer. That said, I’m glad to see it’s return, though I am most interested in seeing how this class plays out. I feel like it encroaches a bit on bard territory, casting both arcane and divine magic, but obviously giving up a lot of either Cleric or Sorcerer abilities in return.
The essential aspect of a Favored Soul, is that as a sorcerer it also has access to the entire cleric spell list. Unlike a cleric, it doesn’t retain that access and must choose its spells like a sorcerer (though it automatically gets Cure Wounds for free). The other level 1 ability is that it can add 2d4 to any failed saving throw or attack roll once per rest. I like this since it fits the theme that these are the most blessed of characters, and that some type of being is out there looking out for you. Beyond this, the character is basically a base sorcerer with some cool upgrades. At level 6, any time it casts a sorcerer healing spell, it can spend a sorcery point to reroll any of the dice and use the new rolls, meaning it has great potency. Level 14 grants it a qualitative type of otherworldly vision (with no real in game effect), while also granting it the ability to sprout angelic wings with a fly speed of 30 feet. Lastly, level 18 has what is maybe the most powerful ability in this playtest: once per long rest, when the Favored Soul is below half of it’s maximum, it can regain half of its maximum hit points as a bonus action. This keep them alive and able to heal others.
That last ability isn’t too bad for level 18 when the character are all no doubt extremely epic in their own right, and depending on the sorcerer’s limited spell selection it could be a much needed tool in their arsenal.
I see no reason that any of these classes aren’t publish ready, but only by playtesting them can we be sure. At the very least, they’re all as good or better than the “worst” subclass, and at most as powerful as the “best” subclass, both in my humble opinion. I would love to see another Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide type book with more subclasses like these, as well as some of the feats from the last two releases.