Persuasion Check: Unearthed Arcana – Sidekicks

It’s December, and our friends at Wizards of the Coast have gifted us another Unearthed Arcana! This time they’ve given our characters a gift as well, as Sidekicks are December’s topic!

What are sidekicks? Well, have you ever wanted a dog for your character but didn’t play a character with that feature? Or maybe your party made friends with an upstart adventurer who wants to come along and learn the ropes! Whatever the case, Sidekicks allow you to bring along, and level up, companions in one of three Sidekick Classes! These are actually lifted from the 3.5 ‘Generic Classes’, which use the same names of Warrior, Expert, and Spellcaster.

Sidekick Stats
There’s a short list of prerequisites you need to meet in order to turn that creature you found into your sidekick. The first is that it needs to be challenge rating 1 or lower, as to prevent super powerful sidekicks, and the second is that the creature and the player must be friends. Beyond this there’s no other restrictions. Any alignment, any creature type, even if it doesn’t speak any languages it can be a sidekick.

After you gain a sidekick, you first have to choose one of the three new Sidekick Classes to give it, which are detailed deeper in the article. These classes are catchalls- the Warrior, Expert, and Spellcaster classes effectively cover all flavors of player classes, in a more general or hybridized sense.

Changing the stats
Once you’ve chosen the class for your sidekick, it levels up whenever you level up, even if they aren’t with you on the adventure as it’s assumed they’re doing their own training while you’re away. What this doesn’t make clear, is if you get a sidekick when you’re level 3, if they’re automatically level 3 in their class, or if it’s just a lot better to get a sidekick at a lower level.

Whenever they do level, they simply gain another Hit Die as it is in their statblock, rolling it and adding their Constitution modifier to the roll. So if they use a d10, regardless of class they get d10+Con hit points. Their proficiency bonus also increases as they level, and it is added to all to-hit modifiers and save DCs of its abilities. And lastly, depending on their class they will get ability score improvements at different times, at which point you should adjust their attacks and skills accordingly.

As a note, they mention that the Extra Attack ability doesn’t work with Multiattack, just normal Attack actions, so if your Sidekick has and uses Multiattack they don’t get any bonuses from Extra Attack.

Initial thoughts one each class follow the brief summaries, and my overall thoughts on the material in the conclusion!

Warrior is the choice for everything from the bear cub you rescued and raised to the aspiring knight in training you agreed to take from their job at the stables. It shares many features with the Fighter and Barbarian classes, so it covers a decent range of character types.

At level one the sidekick has choice of proficiency in saving throw of Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution as well as a few skills from a select list. Additionally, if they’re humanoid they also get to use all armor, shield, and simple and martial weapons as though they were a Fighter. Not bad, and gives you a lot of options on how to equip said sidekick. Don’t forget for the non-humanoids, barding is a thing. What’s a warhound without dog-armor and a spiked collar?

As for the rest of the features, they have a decent assortment. These all function as they do in their class, but here’s a quick rundown: Second Wind allows healing as a bonus action, Danger Sense helps with Dexterity saving throws, Improved Critical extends criticals to a 19, Extra Attack gives, well, extra attacks (up to 3 extra at level 20), Battle Readiness gives advantages on initiative, Indomitable allows them to reroll saves, Improved Defense increases their AC by 1, and Superior Critical lets them crit on an 18-20. Whew!

That’s a lot to unpack, but it’s a cherry-picked assortment of all-purpose abilities for a martial class. I like this grouping of them personally, and while I think the Barbarian and Fighter specific subclasses and abilities are better together, this is not the worst grouping of them there could be. So far, thumbs up.

The Expert is your sidekick who is not going headlong into combat but doesn’t have the aptitude for magic. As a note, only creatures who can speak are able to become experts, so no dog experts, unfortunately. Experts make great scouts, merchants, burglars, and musicians just to name a few. They take their design cues from the Rogue and Bard sans any magic, using their skill and cunning to get by.

Much like the Warrior, the Expert chooses saving throw proficiency in either Dexterity, Intelligence, or Charisma, in addition to proficiency in a whopping 5 skills of your choice from the entire list. In humanoid, they also are able to use light armor, simple weapons, and become proficient in two tools of your choice, further getting another skill and tool proficiency at level 13.

Much like the Warrior, here’s the rapid fire in case you’re not familiar with what everything does: Expertise gives them double proficiency in two skills of their choice at level one and even more as they level, Helpful allows them to use the Help action as a bonus action, Cunning Action lets them Dash, Disengage, or Hide as a bonus action, Jack of Many Trades lets them get half proficiency with any skills they’re not proficient with, Extra Attack, again, gives an extra attack, Evasion lets them take half or no damage from Dexterity saving throws instead of full or half, Inspiring Help adds 1d6 or eventually 2d6 to a skill check, attack, or damage roll when using Help, Reliable Talent lets them treat skill checks of 9 or lower as a 10, Sharp Mind gives them proficiency in saving throws of either Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma, and finally Stroke of Luck, which allows them to once per rest turn a miss into a hit or a skill check into a natural 20. Whew, indeed. Some new skills in there with Inspiring Help, which could prove to be decently useful in the right circumstance.

Even more to unpack than the Warrior, but this maybe over-prepares a sidekick to help out in any skill-related pickle. When I think of an sidekick, I think of someone very good at a niche, not a jack of all trades who can solve any problem my character cannot. Still, for something closer to a Scout or other somewhat combat oriented character, the inclusion of Cunning Action, Helpful, and Inspiring Help really help give them a boost enough in combat to make them stand on their own. Thumb most of the way up.

And finally we come to Spellcaster, who is the stand in for Bard, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizards. Or, for those who are more than just spellcasters, their spellcasting parts. They trade a plethora of skills and combat prowess for their magic (making this list relatively short), with the ability to draw their spells from one of the aforementioned classes of choice.

As we’ve seen twice now, the Spellcaster picks one of three saving throws to have proficiency in out of Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma. They also get three skill proficiencies from a small list, as well as proficiency with simple weapons and light armor.

Of course, Spellcasting is the first feature for Spellcasters. They essentially follow the same spellcasting table that Wizards and Sorcerers (and by extension, most of the classes) already do as for cantrips known, spells known, and spells per day. The only real difference here is that they pick one of the six aforementioned classes to use the spell list from. Gaining, casting, preparing, etc of the spells works exactly the same as any other spellcasting class. Then they get Magical Recovery which replenishes some spell slots once per long rest, followed by Potent Cantrips which adds ability modifier damage to them, Empowered Spells which allows the Spellcaster to add their modifier to any damage or healing spell in a school of their choice, Focused Casting which gives them advantage when maintaining concentration, and finally Signature Spells which lets them cast a few low level spells without using spell slots.

Obviously, this it the jack of all magic, and it does an okay job here. The inclusion of light armor is good, as most of the classes can wear armor as it is, some even medium or heavy armor. The spells match up with the player spellcasting so they’re just as potent, and by applying some basic features such as spell slot recovery, cantrip modifiers, and advantage on concentration you have the recipe for an all around spellcaster. It work, it gets a thumbs up.

I must stress, that while I gave each individual class a thumbs up, I’m really not sold on this month’s Unearthed Arcana. Whenever I’ve given my group an NPC to tag along, they’ve almost never been as strong as the players. The few times I have, it was temporary and built into the encounters the NPC was along for. I don’t like the idea of my players essentially playing two characters (they sometimes struggle with coming up with action and combat for their one character!), nor do I like basically being forced to play a DMPC because they thought the boy that was wiping the floors of the tavern would solve their problem of no one wanting to play a cleric.

Also, this is too powerful. If you are level 12, and your sidekick is level 12, they aren’t a sidekick. They’re a party member. They can slay dragons and cast magic just as well as you can, and calling them a sidekick rubs me the wrong way. I wish there was a cap on the levels, or maybe for every 2-3 levels the player gains the sidekick gains one, up to a max of level 10. There’s no reason why the stray dog you picked up session 1 should ever be able to level an entire village by herself just because you hit level 10 and now so did she.

I hate to say it, but as intended, I give this month’s UA a thumbs down. But all isn’t lost! I like the Sidekick Classes a lot, actually, and will be implementing them into NPCs in my campaigns who may plausibly find themselves in combat or needing a stat block beyond what is readily available as they themselves get stronger. For the design of the classes themselves, I’ll give a small thumbs up.

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