Persuasion Check: Unearthed Arcana 2020 – Subclasses, Part 4

Another Unearthed Arcana means another Persuasion Check! We’re continuing looking at new class options with Subclasses, Part 4 featuring the College of Spirits for Bards and The Undead for Warlocks! Things are about to get spooky!

As always, our Persuasion Check articles are less hardcore analysis and more commentary drawing insights and some light analysis where needed. If you want a more flavorful approach to opinions on playtest content backed up with some insights, this is the place for you! Now, follow along and let’s dig into these subclasses

Bard: College of Spirits
If you’re a Halfling Bard who follows the College of Spirits and are on the run from the law, you’d be a small medium at large. The College of Spirits transforms our usual lore and music-centric dabbler into a fortune teller and one who communes with the dead. It’s not a concept that I would have necessarily thought of, but if a Bard can charm the living, why not charm the dead as well! Let’s dive in and see mechanically how the class works.

Guiding Whispers & Spiritual Focus
Right off the bat, Guiding Whispers simply grants the Bard the guidance cantrip with a range of 60 feet instead of touch, plain and simple. It’s a nice workaround for essentially repurposing bardic inspiration into the subclasses other features and flavors nicely with the spirits guiding you and your allies.

Spirital Focus on the other hand does two things. First, at level 3, it adds to the list of spellcasting focuses that the Bard can choose from, adding candles, crystal balls, tarokka decks, skulls, and so on. Then at 6th level when a damaging or healing spell is cast with the focus, it does an additional d6 of damaging/healing, which is a nice buff. It doesn’t scale up from here, making this a nice extra cushion on the spells that may not be felt as much late game.

Overall, no issues so far. As a matter of fact, I like the idea of expanding spellcasting focuses for the Bard a lot, because now I’m imagining a Shakespearean Bard orating to a skull in their hand, and that’s something I want in my games.

Tales from Beyond
Tales from Beyond seems to be the meat of this subclass as it comes with a hefty table of effects and uses the Bard’s bardic inspiration. Each entry on this table represents a tale being told to the Bard by a spirit, from the tale of the Beast to the tale of the Hero and lastly the tale of the Unknown. The Bard can use their bardic inspiration die as a bonus action to roll on the table, granting the result as an action that the Bard has to use before being able to generate another one.

I like this a lot; while the random nature of it keeps it from being too overpowered (and the fact that it requires a bonus action and then an action) it is brimming with flavor of one who can talk to the spirits and channel their energy. I also love how masterfully they integrated the power of the table with the Bard’s bardic inspiration die, naturally granting more powerful possibilities as the Bard levels up. This is a big win design wise from me, and it’s worth taking the time to read through some of these abilities!

Spirit Session
If you ever wanted to conduct a seance in game, Spirit Session has you covered! For an hour, the Bard and up to as many creatures at their proficiency bonus can conduct a ritual. The Bard then learns any one spell of their choice that is a level they can cast, and has a level equal to or less than the total number of creatures who were in the ritual.

While I was hoping for a little more seance’y flavor and less “ritual gives you spell”, it can certainly be roleplayed the heck out of to derive some of the flavor that the rest of the class has been brimming with. And mechanically the feature is on point, taking on the knowledge and powers of the departed.

Mystical Connection
And lastly at level 14 we have Mystical Connection, which simply allows the Bard to use a d6 instead of expending one of their bardic inspiration dice to use Tales from Beyond. This gives the Bard unlimited uses of the first six tales, most of which aren’t too shabby. This seems to be an elegant way to not shut off the main feature of the class when inspiration runs dry, but playtesting will bring to light any issues with that.

Overall, I’m really digging the College of Spirits. So many ways to flavor the Bard, and so many cool roleplaying opportunities. It doesn’t scream “necromancer bard” and I think that’s an awesome thing for this subclass. Thumbs way up and I can’t wait for the Bards at my table to start bringing a skull with them to our games!

Warlock: The Undead
I’d say at long last we have an undead patron, but then I thought we already did. And… we kinda do? The Undying is in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, but I took a look and it’s very… blah. It focuses on just what it says, not dying, and doesn’t have a great undead feel to it despite naming Vecna and other liches as the patrons. The Undead however references Strahd as well as Acererak, meaning it includes but is not limited to liches. Overall there’s a lot of room for improvement over the Undying, so let’s undive in!

Expanded Spell List & Form of Dread
The Expanded Spell List for The Undead makes sense, including such staples as false lifespeak with dead, and death ward. Everything there checks out but is otherwise not noteworthy.

Form of Dread, however, forms the basis of the features of this class. Unlike what you would expect out of a necromancer, raising the dead and having their lifeless servants fight for them, a Warlock serving The Undead imbues themselves with unholy power to get the job done. As a bonus action they manifest their patron’s dread and gain a few benefits, namely temporary hit points, frightening creatures hit by an attack, and being immune to frightened themselves. It’s a good ability, especially at first level, and it only gets better and more uses as the Warlock levels up.

Grave Touched
At sixth level the Warlock takes on more undead aspects, such as never needing to eat, drink, or breathe, which is nifty and can come in handy during drawn out adventures. Additionally and mechanically more direct, the Warlock can replace the damage type of any attack they make with necrotic damage, which is both thematic and useful in a lot of cases. But what’s more, is if the Warlock is using their Form of Dread when they replace the damage with necrotic, they can add one additional damage die to the damage, upping their nastiness in combat.

An extra die and a slew of thematic and cool features has me loving this take on the Warlock serving an undead entity thus far, so let’s keep going!

Mortal Husk
Mortal Husk has two parts. The first is that the Warlock has resistance to necrotic damage and then immunity to it when using Form of Dread. The second is that, awesomely, when the Warlock is reduced to 0 hit points they can cause their body to explode with necrotic energy before reviving with 1 hit point and a level of exhaustion for their troubles. Of course, this then can’t be used again for 1d4 days so you can’t count on it often, but the mental image of the Warlock’s body exploding with undead energy and then reforming to continue to kick ass in an awesome and gruesome image, and for that alone I’m loving this!

Spirit Projection
And at the end we have Spirit Projection, allowing the Warlock to have a truly out-of-body experience. Leaving the Warlock’s body in a stasis, their spirit is free to roam around with a bunch of cool perks. In short, they gain:

  • resistance to slashing, piercing, and bludgeoning damage,
  • they don’t require most components of conjuration and necromancy spells,
  • gain a flying speed and can move through creatures and objects, and
  • heal half the amount of necrotic damage they deal while using Form of Dread

So essentially the Warlock is becomes more powerful out of their body, free to float where they desire and empowering their Form of Dread even more. As an added bonus, when the Spirit Projection ends or is broken, the Warlock can choose to either teleport their body to them or back to their body, meaning that they can do some nice infiltration and get out of wherever they may be in a snap.

What a great, flavorful, and also mechanically cool subclass. It is very much an improvement over The Undying and I’d welcome any Warlock that finds themselves at my table to use The Undead instead!

And that’s it for this spooky edition of Unearthed Arcana! I really enjoy both sublcasses presented here, and I hope that Wizards of the Coast continues to put subclasses out in themes like this here. I’d also like for them to stick to two subclasses at a time as I feel like I’m better able to focus on two than three (or even four!) especially when there’s some verbosity in the explanations of the class features.

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!

What did you think about this Unearthed Arcana? Be sure to join in the discussion over on our Discord channel where we talk tabletop!

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