Persuasion Check: Unearthed Arcana 2020 – Subclasses, Part 1

New Year, new Unearthed Arcana! It seems Wizards of the Coast is giving us more love in the form of new subclasses, and this time we have a healthy heaping of four! One each for the Barbarian, Monk, Paladin, and Warlock.

If this is your first time joining us or just coming back after our brief break in December, our Persuasion Check articles are less hardcore analysis and more commentary drawing insights and some direct analysis where needed. If you’re looking for how to make the hardest hitting Warlock ever, there’s plenty of places that can help you! If you want a more flavorful approach to opinions on playtest content backed up with some insights, this is the place for you!

Barbarian: Path of the Beast
Barbarians who follow the Path of the Beast have something deep inside them; a primal, bestial soul that comes out during the Barbarian’s rage-fueled destruction. I like that they provided an origin table for this path, including such options as one of the Barbarian’s parents being a lycanthrope or you were gifted by the fey; while the ends are the same it opens up a lot of means for players wanting to flavor this their own.

Form of the Beast
When the Barbarian enters their rage, they can choose from one of three natural melee weapons to manifest on their body. Bite does 1d8 damage and restores hit points once per turn on attack, claws do 1d6 damage but can attack a second time as part of the Attack action, and Tail does 1d12 damage with the reach property.

Overall, basic but decent utility. Assuming you’re a greataxe-toting Barbarian, bite allows you to stay in good health for less damage, while claws would allow you potentially split the damage between two targets (or deal a more consistent damage against one target, applying your strength modifier twice). The tail is a little more situational, and would be great for keeping the Barbarian’s hands free to do something else while keeping the same damage with added range. I like this so far, let’s keep going!

Bestial Soul
Once a Barbarian gets Bestial Soul, the aforementioned natural weapons count as magical, as well as an additional benefit each time they rest. After every short or long rest and until the next rest they take, a Barbarian can either gain a swimming speed and ability to breathe underwater, gain a climbing speed and the ability to stick to walls a la spider climb, or taking an extra big leap every time they jump with an Athletics check.

Not bad options for an always-on ability that can change within the day, allowing the Barbarian to be in whatever climate best fits them. It also helps with taking out enemies up high in a cave or with a similar climbing ability. I’m trying hard to find a downside to these, and I can’t find any obvious ones, but let me know if you see something I don’t!

Infectious Fury
At 10th level the Barbarian now has an additional tool in its arsenal thanks to this ability. Further augmenting their natural weapons, whenever they hit with one of the weapons, they can choose to try and curse their enemy to one of two effects. The more straight-forward option is, to after a failed Wisdom saving throw, deal 2d12 psychic damage! The second, also after a saving throw, is that the target must use its reaction to make a melee attack against another creature of the Barbarian’s choice that they can see.

The second option opens up a lot of potential, because suddenly biting a Frost Giant and having them swing their weapon at another giant can be a big win. It also uses up the enemies reaction, which is a great bonus if you’re afraid of the enemy using it otherwise. This option can only be used a number of times equal to the Barbarian’s constitution modifier per long rest, which feels appropriate. And to go back to the psychic damage, well, it’s extra damage so it’s also a good feature against lone, big monsters.

Call the Hunt
The last feature for Path of the Beast is Call the Hunt, where the Barbarian can grant allies (up to their Constitution modifier and within 30 feet) the ability to gain Reckless Attack and advantage on saving throws versus being frightened. As a further ability, the Barbarian gains 5 temporary hit points per creature that accepts, so a 20 Consitution Barbarian can count on 25 temporary hit points before a crucial fight.

As this is also a once per long rest ability, I think it’s fitting. Coming in at level 14, it’s less “primal” than the others but I like when a class like Barbarian can also use their abilities to support other players or the party in total. Overall, I’m in.

So that’s Path of the Beast, and as I said, I like it. Nothing seems broken, and I can’t think of why any other official subclass completely outdoes this one, especially when the flavor of it is so good. It seems to have a lot of versatility and tools for different situations, which is something I’ve seen other Barbarians struggle with from time to time.

Monk: Way of Mercy
When a Monk follows the Way of Mercy, they take on a duty to heal those that they can, and put those they can’t out of their misery. Many choose to wear masks and longer robes, but they can appear in many forms and personalities. The Way of Mercy doesn’t turn Monks into healers like some other subclasses have done to other classes, but rather allows them to walk the link of Monk, Cleric, and Paladin all at once. It’s interesting for sure, so let’s dive into the specifics.

Implements of Mercy, Hands of Healing, & Hands of Harm
At third level Monks gain access to a flurry of abilities. Implements of Mercy simply provides proficiencies with the herbalism and poisoner’s kit, as well as the choice of Insight of Medicine checks. Hands of Healing and Hands of Harm are a little more interactive.

Hands of Healing allows the Monk to spend 1 ki point and touch a creature to restore hit points equal to their Martial Arts die plus their wisdom modifier, and they can even replace one attack during a Flurry of Blows action at no charge with this. As you’ll find, this will never grow into multiple dice, meaning that this never runs away and becomes the core tenet of the class. Hands of Harm on the other hand allows the Monk to spend a ki point to inflict extra necrotic damage equal to their Martials Arts die whenever they hit with an unarmed strike. If the creature they hit is poisoned or incapacitated, they take three times as much damage instead.

Off the bat, I already like this. It’s familiar and new all at once. The healing doesn’t run away so the monk stays what I think the monk has always been- an auxiliary melee combatant with good supporting features. The Hands of Harm ability adds in some extra damage to counter the healing and encourages putting effects onto your enemies for extra damage. The Monk can also help keep the party alive at low levels and save the need for a death saving throw at higher levels.

Noxious Aura
At a higher level, the Monk gains access to this Noxious Aura which will not just help them but will also synergize with Hands of Harm. For a ki point the aura of miasma extends around the monk, giving ranged attacks disadvantage or poisons those in melee on a failed Constitution saving throw.

That poison lasts until the end of the Monk’s next turn, and off the bat they take poison damage equal to the Monk’s Wisdom modifier. But not just that, now that the enemy is poisoned Hands of Harm does three times as much damage, making for a nasty attack. Again, so far so good, with no over emphasis on the healing.

Healing Technique
At eleventh level, Healing Technique gives Hands of Healing an additional use. Whenever it is used, it can also cure one disease or remove one condition such as blinded, deafened, paralyzed, or poisoned from the target.

This doesn’t break the bank as a party this level should have plenty of ways already to deal with these effects, so it’s just a nice bonus perk. If anything I would have liked this to be the point that the healing effectiveness improves somewhat, but overall I’m still pleased with it.

Hand of Mercy
By far the most interesting ability, Hand of Mercy allows the Monk to essentially place a target, willing or othewise, into a magical stasis. For 4 ki points, the creature enters this state for a number of days equal to the Monk’s level, and the Monk can only have one creature under this effect at a time. While in this stasis, the creature is paralized, immune to damage, and any curses, diseases, or poisons affecting it are suspended. They also appear dead, which is cool, even to magic.

This is quite the ability with a ton of uses. It can keep a nearly dead character from dying. It can be used to freeze an enemy and prepare to unleash your fury on them or imprison them. It can be used to smuggle a person of great renown or infamy through hostile lands. The possibilities are endless, and I really dig what can be done with it.

I think at the end of it, I like the Way of Mercy. I’m not one hundred percent sold, but I am ninety percent sold. Some of the abilities have great synergy while the theme seems scattered across the duality of the theme. Not sure what they can do, but I’d love to hear in the comments your thoughts on why it’s great as-is or how they can improve it!

Paladin: Oath of the Watcher
Those Paladins that follow the Oath of the Watcher defend the mortal realms against extraplanar threats. Their tenets are vigilance, loyalty, and discipline- keeping an open eye and a closed mind regarding fiends and fey alike. They view themselves as a bulwark against unknown and untold terrors, and it’s a decent concept. I’m not sure why these Paladins hate pixies as much as demons, but hey, they’re entitled to their opinion.

Oath Spells & Channel Divinty
Unsurprisingly, their oath spells include such spells as alarmbanishment, and hold monster. I also like the inclusion of chromatic orb as that can overcome whatever potential resistances or immunities such a creature could have, as well as counterspell because as we’ll see, those that take Oath of the Watcher also become decent anti-mages.

Their Channel Divinity has two options- Watcher’s Will, which gives chosen nearby creatures advantages on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws, and Abjure the Extraplanar, which can turn elementals, fey, fiends, and aberrations in a 30 foot radius.

While straightforward both of these options play wonderfully into the theme, which so far feels slightly like a reskinning from undead to extraplanar. Not a bad thing, just doesn’t rile me up.

Aura of the Sentinel
At seventh level these Watchers give themselves and any creature of their choice a bonus to their initiative equal to their Charimsa modifier. The range is 10 feet initially, but extends to 30 feet at 18th level. Again, it fits the theme by allowing them and an ally to react quickly to danger, so I’m for it so far as it also deviates from a standard idea of a Paladin here.

Vigilant Rebuke
Fifteenth level is where the magic happens- or rather, where it doesn’t. When the Paladin or a creature they can see succeeds on a saving throw against a spell, the Paladin can use their reaction to deal 2d8 plus their Charisma modifier in force damage to the caster of the spell.

I get that extraplanar creatures tend to the more magical, but this seems like an awesome ability to give a subclass, maybe a Fighter subclass even, meant to hunt mages. It doesn’t feel too off brand for the Oath of the Watcher theme, but it isn’t quite on point to me. Overall mechanically I think it’s fine though, so we’re still in the clear.

Mortal Bulwark
Once per long rest, with this feature gained at level 20, the Paladin can use their bonus action to gain a plethora of benefits for one minute. These include having truesight in a 120 foot radius, advantage on attack rolls against elementals, fey, fiends, and aberrations, and the ability to banish a creature to it’s native plane of existence on a failed Charisma saving throw following a successful hit.

That’s a lot to digest, and luckily it’s for one minute during a long rest. That banishment ability could come in clutch, especially when a max level party is facing off against some pretty intense threats. As it is a max level ability I don’t like to compare too much, so I’ll leave it at it is a very flavorful end to the Oath of the Watchers, and overall I think I would pass the class option.

I’m very interested to hear others’ thoughts on this subclass in particular. I think the theme needs some ironing across the class features as I think anti-magic isn’t exactly protection from extraplanar threats. At the same time, I am curious about the power of this subclass and how you think it stacks up to other Paladin options out there!

Warlock: The Noble Genie
Whenever a new Warlock subclass comes out, my thought process is always “what new otherworldly entity can grant my eldritch blast-slinging caster power now?” And just like now, I’m usually not disappointed! I think the Noble Genie is a great addition to the list, and perusing the abilities makes it seem like it is pretty on point for both fluff and power. As an added bonus, you can make your vessel look like anything from a traditional oil lamp to just a hollow statue!

Expanded Spell List & Collector’s Vessel
Not to start off on a sour note, but the Expanded Spell List seems a little all over the place. I’m not really getting “Genie” from it, but maybe I’m missing some common denominator among the spells. If you can see what I can’t, please open my eyes! The spell selection itself is fine and all seem like fine additions to the Warlock list.

Collector’s Vessel seems like a pretty solid ability that will be built on as the class grows stronger. It allows the Warlock to create a tethering bond to friendly creature giving the Warlock a small bonus to Perception checks equal to their Charisma modifier, as well as being able to cast a spell from the bound creature’s space. The bond lasts for one hour, ending early in a few scenarios including the creature being over 100 feet away.

We’ll see how Collector’s Vessel grows as the Warlock levels up, but at level one I don’t see anything extraordinary about the subclass.

Elemental Resistance
Elemental Resistance grants resistance to acid, cold, fire, or lightning damage and can be changed each long rest the Warlock takes. It also plays with Collector’s Vessel, granting the same resistance to the tethered creature. This is a great supportive feature when a known damage type is coming to threaten the party, be it magic or dragon’s breath.

Protective Wish
Another expansion of Collector’s Vessel, at tenth level when this is gained the Warlock can use their reaction to swap places with the tethered creature when one of them is hit by attack, causing the one being switched in to be hit with the attack instead.

This is great when either the Warlock or other party member might be low and the other could take a hit. It also could be great for swapping places with your Barbarian so they can rip apart your enemies for you. I love this idea and while I’m sure there may be some mild exploits of it, I don’t sense any game-breaking issues, but if you see any be sure to comment them!

Genie’s Entertainment
Also gained at tenth level is Genie’s Entertainment, which allows the Warlock to use the action to try and capture a creature inside of the vessel and send them to their patron’s court. After a failed saving throw, they are sucked inside and are stunned but no other harm comes to them. The creature can reattempt the save at the end of each of their turns in order to reappear outside of the vessel. This can be used once per long rest, but if the creature stays in the vessel for a full minute the patron releases them and grants another usage of the ability back to the Warlock.

What a cool concept, and a great way to temporarily pull an enemy out of the fight. I also like that the Warlock can potentially get another use of the ability if the creature continues to fail to escape, making it a nice little variable in the equation.

Collector’s Call
Finally, once per long rest at level fourteen, the Warlock can attempt to call on more power from their Genie. They can make a Persuasion Check against their own spell save DC and choose one of three effects on a success; they can heal 8d6 hit points and cure one disease or condition on a creature within 60 feet, they can grant a creature within 60 feet disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws until the start of the Warlock’s next turn, or they can cast legend lore without and material components. They can also channel for a minute next to 500gp worth of treasure and sacrifice it to their patron in exchange for another usage of it that day, which is very thematic.

I’m having a hard time deciding where this ability falls in the scheme of power as I wasn’t too keen to run much analysis on this set of playtest options, but I can’t help but feel that this ability is slightly underpowered. Don’t get me wrong, the healing is fine and I think the class overall is great, but I’m not sold too hard on what you can do with it.

Overall, I think the class is thematic as heck and the abilities match it nicely. Plenty of room for roleplaying while also having some cool mechanical possibilities, so we’ll end this quick review on a positive and give the Noble Genie patron a thumbs up!

What a great way to kick off the new year! We have four solid subclasses, all of which seem playable and most of which are brimming with flavor. Personally I think the Path of the Beast and The Noble Genie options provide the most flavor-to-mechanic matching which is a big thing for me, while the Way of Mercy and Oath of the Watchers fall just a hair shorter while still delivering the goods!

Be sure to give these class options a try and give Wizards of the Coast your feedback with their usual post-Unearthed Arcana surveys so that these options can get refined and added to the game!

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