Monday, 8 January 2018

5e: Unearthed Arcana 08/01/2018 - Three Subclasses

Happy New Year everyone!

Originally, today's scheduled article was to be about devils. But with the release of a new Unearthed Arcana, I've decided to post about that while it's still relevant, pushing the devil article back to next week.

This will actually mark the first time I've written a post about an Unearthed Arcana article. I don't know yet whether it become a regular thing—in truth, I just felt I had a lot to say about today's release. If my thoughts on the content go over well with you, I may explore future Unearthed Arcana releases going forward.

As though Xanathar's Guide to Everything wasn't providing enough new official character subclass options, to say nothing of the plethora of unofficial products following in its wake (see Xanathar's Lost Notes to Everything Else, Sylgar's Guide to Everything Else, and the Player's Companion; all recently released on DMsGuild and representing 89 subclasses between them), today's Unearthed Arcana introduces three new subclasses to playtest at your tables.

The Circle of Spores

The fluff text of this Circle suggests druids of the Circle embrace the cycle of growth and rot, which makes sense given the ability of fungi to grow and thrive from among dead matter. These druids don't necessarily see undeath as an unnatural state, a philosophy which is very necessary given their 6th-level ability. However, they accept undeath only when it is not attempting to permanently and irrevocably alter the natural cycle. Undead that seek to forever avoid the grave, or to spread further undeath, are the enemies of the Circle of Spores.

This flavour text excites me with strong conceptual possibility. Let's see how well those possibilities are realised on the mechanical side.

Circle Spells

At 2nd level, this Circle is granted access to bonus prepared spells of 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th spell levels. Like the Circle of the Land, the only other druid Circle to grant this characteristic, the Circle of Spores is also given a bonus cantrip. In this case, it must be Chill Touch, which is not normally on the druid list. Chill Touch compares favourably to damaging druid cantrips, since most of your other options deal 1d6 damage not 1d8, except for Poison Spray which deals better damage but has a much more limited range. Although the 1d6 damage cantrips offer rider effects not 1d8 (Chill Touch doesn't unless the target happens to be undead), Chill Touch also has double the range of the previously best ranged Druid cantrip. Necrotic damage is also not-oft resisted. It's a strong option when compared to other choices, basically, but one extra cantrip is not going to break the balance of a class.

Looking ahead, it seems that Circle of Spores is given some encouragement not to Wild Shape, so may get more use out of this extra cantrip than you might suppose. However, the subclass features also suggest a melee focus, so that extra 60 ft. of range will only be situationally useful. More often than not, a Circle of Spores druid is probably more likely cast Poison Spray.

The Circle's 3rd level spells are gentle repose and ray of enfeeblement. At 5th level, they automatically prepare animate dead and gaseous form. At 7th, they get blight and confusion. Finally at 9th, they receive cloudkill and contagion. All these spells seem on-theme to me. Even better, with the exception of blight, confusion, and contagion, the list is full of spells a druid normally has no access to.

Halo of Spores

First things first, this feature's name is misleading. Although it suggests a circle or aura of spores around you, in fact this feature is a single-target ability. A name such as "Puff of Spores" might more accurately evoke what is actually happening with this feature.

You can use your reaction on your turn to deal a small amount of poison damage to one creature you see within 10 feet. It amount to an extra 3 damage per turn per heroic tier, increasing to 6 at 6th level, 9 at 10th, and 12 at 14th, at the expense of your reaction which you have little use for in many circumstances. Saving the reaction for an opportunity attack is likely a better choice at lower levels, but only if you're confident you'll get one. Any other time, this is guaranteed extra damage on every turn, and that's nothing to sneer at.

Symbiotic Entity

If you thought that was it for 2nd-level features, you're mistaken. This is an archetype that's frontloaded.

This feature gives you a new way to use your Wild Shape more in keeping with the theme of your Circle. Instead of transforming into an animal, when you spend your Wild Shape you awaken spores infused within you. There's a great visual here: I'm imagining mushrooms suddenly sprouting on your body. These symbiotes offer a number of benefits to you, including a buffer against harm and poisonous attacks. you gain a buffer of 3 temporary hit points per class level, you deal double damage with your Halo of Spores, and all your weapon attacks deal an extra 1d6 poison damage for ten minutes.

Just from eyeballing it, this seems highly competitive compared to a regular Wild Shape, meaning you'll only rarely want to turn into an animal. The wolf and brown bear, two of the best available wild shapes, offer only 11 hit points each (in other words, 22 hit points per short rest or between 44-66 per long rest). A brown bear can deal an average of 19 damage per round, plus a possible opportunity attack for another 11 if you're lucky. Your attack bonuses as a bear are capped at +5.

By comparison, you'll be exceeding the hit point buffer by 3rd-level and eventually far outstripping it. At 10th-level you'll be netting 30 hit points per short rest (or 60-90 per long), by 20th-level that'll be 60 per short rest(in other words 120-180 per long rest).

Using shillelagh, you'll deal 1d8 + Wisdom magical bludgeoning damage plus 1d6 poison damage plus your doubled Halo of Spores (6 to begin with, ultimately increasing to 24 at 14th-level). When you first pick this archetype, your average damage per round is 16, by the end of your career it'll be 33. And you'll be using your own Proficiency + Wisdom bonus for your shillelagh attacks.

But does this compare well to Circle of the Moon Wild Shape? Actually, yes. With the right animal, Circle of the Moon is certainly stronger A Circle of the Moon druid could, for instance, become a CR 6 mammoth 4+ times each day (126 hit points each time, plus 29 average damage with a +10 attack bonus). So that's slightly less damage but about double the hit points buffer. But consider the limitations of being in animal form compared to your normal form, not least of which is freedom to cast spells. Also consider the fact that a melee-built Circle of Spores druid will almost certainly have a better AC than a Wild Shape form (14 + Dex from Hide armour and Shield, at minimum). All in all, I would consider the Circle of Spores to be a strong competitor when choosing which druid subclass you want to use for a melee build.

Fungal Infestation

Okay, this is a fun one. At 6th-level, you get to create your own cordyceps zombies straight out of The Last of Us. Whenever you kill a creature using damage from your Halo of Spores, that creature becomes a 1 hit point zombie under your control.

"When you slay" features are always a bit iffy, because guaranteeing your character gets the kill shot can be difficult. In this case, however, the damage you deal with Halo of Spores increases with level, and you also double your damage whenever you use Symbiotic Entity. As you grow in power, your chances of getting to create at least one zombie in a combat also grow. Even so, will it happen as much as you'd like? Probably not. Playtesting will probably reveal how useful this feature actually is, but I strongly suspect 1 hit point is inadequate considering how rarely you'll actually get to create the zombie.

Spreading Spores

This is the area attack that Halo of Spores looked like it would be. Well, kind of. Rather than an aura around yourself, you throw fungal spores into a 10-foot cube up to 30 feet away.

The spores last for a minute, and a creature that starts its turn in that area takes your Halo damage. In theory, then, this is a means by which you could create more than one zombie. In practice, a 10-foot cube rarely contains more than 2 creatures, when it does, 1 of them is probably an ally, and situations where you can force creatures to remain within the area for more than one turn are limited. On the bright side, you can use this ability again and again as a bonus action (the last cube vanishes when you make a new one) meaning it is almost always superior to use Spreading Spores over Halo of Spores, unless you can't avoid putting an ally in the target area.

Fungal Body

The 14th-level ability alters your body to permanently prevent you from suffering from any of the following conditions: blinded, deafened, frightened, or poisoned. Furthermore, you don't take extra damage on a critical hit.

There is only one word for this feature: WOW. As a player, this is very attractive. As a DM, I'm skeptical. 5e's combat is not so chock-full of exciting options that it can afford to be so free with abilities that prevent interesting things happening, in my opinion. One condition immunity, or even two, is more than enough for a class to be granting. Four seems overkill (although, to be fair, deafened rarely comes up). Not taking crit damage is super strong. This feature is probably too good, but it certainly cements the archetype's role as a front-line combatant.


I'm a bit wary of that last feature and I think some of the other features could use some work (I'd like to see the Spore Halo as more of an aura, and I think zombies will be rare enough that 1 hit point before they die might be on the harsh side). On the whole though, I really like this archetype and its story potential. I'm not much of one for playing casters, but this subclass is giving me ideas about changing my ways just once.


With a name like Brute you'd expect this archetype to be a straightforward workhorse of a subclass. You'd be right. There's not much in the way of fluff, but there's not much to the concept. Plain and simple, a Brute is all about physical power.

Brute Force

At 3rd-level, you deal extra damage with a weapon attack. This extra damage starts with 1d4 and scales up a die size at 10th-, 16th-, and 20th-levels. This is simply superior to a Champion's Improved/Superior Critical. One die of extra damage on every hit, even when it's 1d4, is always better than twice damage dice on a critical, even if the chances of that critical are slightly improved. Assuming a 2d6 weapon and a Strength bonus of +3, a Brute's average damage on a regular attack is 12 (2d6 + 3 + 1d4) and their average damage on a critical, which happens one time out of 20, is 21 (4d6 + 3 + 2d4). The Brute's average damage per attack is 12. I won't list out all the attack and crit damages for the Brute as the extra damage die scales, but it's enough to know that the average damage per attack goes up by 1 each time (13 for 1d6, 14 for 1d8, and 15 for 1d10).

By contrast, a Champion deals 10 (2d6 + 3) damage per attack, except on a critical which happens two times out of 20, when they deal 17 (4d6 + 3) damage. Their average damage per attack is 11. Superior Critical fails to increase their average damage per attack by even a full point.

This is not necessarily proof that the Brute is too strong, so much as it stands as evidence that the Champion's main feature is actually underwhelming.

Brutal Durability

The 7th-level feature lets you add 1d6 to any saving throw you make. Think about that another way: an average of +3 is equivalent to your current Proficiency bonus (or half your ultimate Proficiency bonus) to all six saving throws, plus death saving throws. Make no mistake, this is a huge feature with this alone. On top of that, if your bonus 1d6 increases a death saving throw to 20 or over, you're treated as though you rolled a 20 on the die, which means you'll gain 1 hit point and be back in the fight.

By contrast, at this level the Champion is adding half their Proficiency bonus, rounded up (currently +2) to physical ability checks and getting to jump a little further. Heroic, certainly, but from a practical point of view you're probably better off with the bonuses that keep you alive over the ones that let you scale a cliff or hop a fence a little better than you otherwise would.

Additional Fighting Style

Pretty standard for 10th-level, you get to pick a second fighting style.

Devastating Critical

I've already pointed out that Brute Force is objectively superior to the Champion's Improved Critical and Superior Critical combined. Get ready for insult to be added to injury. Devastating Critical is gained at the same level the Champion would gain Superior Critical. Not only does the Brute have superior damage overall, whenever they do score a critical they now add extra damage equal to their class level.


Finally, at 18th-level, you gain the exact same feature that the Champion does at this level.


So, this archetype is so similar yet so superior to the Champion that it basically puts the Champion in its grave. The Champion has been much maligned since the release of 5e, to the point where this looks a lot like an attempt to develop a fix for it trying to fly under the radar in disguise as a new subclass for whatever reason.

If I'm wrong and the Brute is actually intended to stand alongside the Champion rather than replace it, then it needs a lot of work. More effort needs to be put in to justify it existing as a separate concept, at present it's just too similar, and overshadows the Champion completely.

School of Invention

The fluff for this wizard tradition says that it's all about pushing the limits of magical understanding and experimenting with new ways to cast spells. Cutting edge, experimental magic sounds exciting, and is something I've explored myself with my own Hedge Wizard. Unfortunately, the flavour text soon reveals that Wizards of the Coast have an extremely narrow idea of what experimenting with magic means—and to them it means combining magic with technology. I thought that was what the Artificer class they're working on was for?

Well, let's see what the archetype actually delivers:

Tools of the Inventor

The wizard gains proficiency with two tools.

Arcanomechanical Armor

The Inventor makes a set of arcane armour that only they can attune to. Basically it's studded leather armour which also grants force damage resistance.

If it's not already clear, I'm not keen on the thematic direction this archetype has been taken. But even assuming I liked the idea of a second gadgeteer other than the Artificer, I wouldn't be keen on the blanket assumption that every single member of this school makes armour. I'd want a choice of gadgets.

Aside from this, it's not really a very good feature. You'll still be wanting to cast mage armor (13 + Dex AC beats 12 + Dex AX, and you'll still be able to benefit from the force resistance), and hardly anything actually deals force damage anyway.

Reckless Casting

This is also a 2nd-level feature and it's from this point on the archetype begins to address the part of the theme I'm actually interested in: the experimental spells. You can attempt to cast a spell you don't have prepared, from a limited list. The catch? You roll randomly on that list twice, and then pick whichever of the two results you want to use. Even with two chances, the spell you actually get might be wildly inappropriate for your situation. There's also a 1 in 10 possibility of casting two spells at once, or a 1 in 100 possibility of casting nothing. Essentially, it's a tamer version of a wild magic sorcerer.

Thematically, I think this misses the mark by quite a stretch. A wizard inventing a spell on the fly has access to fundamental knowledge. If they want to cast a lightning spell, for instance, it stands to reason that whether the spell works, fizzles, or has an unexpected result, it will at least deal lightning damage. Whereas, the wizard of the School of Invention is not actually inventing. They're not even making educated guesses. They're just saying random words and making random gestures and hoping nothing explodes (or something explodes... you know, depending on the result they were actually hoping for).

Alchemical Casting

The 6th-level feature lets the wizard enhance their spells, ostensibly by channeling it through their arcanomechanical armour. This is kind of weird because both of the ways you can manipulate spells with this feature change the way it deals damage, adding further weight to my feeling that armour shouldn't be the only gadget option. They would suit a weapon better, although images of an Iron Man/Megaman style blaster arm come to mind.

By spending an additional 1st-level spell slot you can change a spell's damage type. By spending an additional 2nd-level spell slot you can deal an additional 2d10 force damage against one of a spell's targets.

These are okay, but the push to make the inventor wizard a blaster seems at odds with their random spellcasting mechanic. One thing to note is that you can use the spell damage switch as a form of damage control to correct a bad Reckless Casting, but since it costs a spell slot to do it you would almost always be better off changing the damage type of a spell you selected yourself specifically for the situation you're in.

Prodigious Inspiration

At 10th-level, the wizard can replace a prepared spell with another from their spellbook as a bonus action. This can be done once per short or long rest.

This is more like it! I like the idea that you can course correct for a unique problem you weren't expecting in your adventuring day.

Controlled Chaos

At 14th-level, the odds of your Reckless Casting gamble skew in your favour. Whatever spell you end up casting, you can at least be comforted in the knowledge that the spell will be one level higher than the slot you used to cast it.


It's probably quite clear that I don't find a lot to like about this archetype. I think experimenting with magic by combining it with material items and experimenting with magical spells are two different themes and should be expressed separately. As I noted, the former should be catered for by the Artificer class. The School of Invention ought to reserve itself for inventive spellcasting alone.

The "let's see what happens" Reckless Casting isn't what I want to see from a creative caster. Conceptually, I think a creative spellcaster should be very knowledgeable about the fundamentals, enough that they can experiment with confidence. I would rather see a system where you choose a base spell and then modify how it works by expending from a pool of points. I've toyed with similar ideas in the past. The aforementioned Hedge Wizard has access to Sorcerer-style metamagic, while my Dragonbound can spend points of Potency to improve their spell-like Breath Abilities in a multitude of ways.

What do you think?

What were your thoughts about today's Unearthed Arcana? Comment on this post to share them!

No comments:

Post a Comment