A human barbarian faced an approaching orc horde, nearly a hundred strong filled with bloodlust. The corpses of his brethren did little to phase the proud warrior, he closed his eyes and offered a silent prayer to his ancestors who made the valley their home. He could hear their spectral voices calling to him, when he opened his eyes again, there were nearly a dozen ghostly visages standing beside him. He channeled his primal rage and charged at the mass of orcs with the promise of death not far behind him.
New Barbarian Paths – Call of the Ancestors, Herald of the Storm, and the Divine Fury
Wizards of the Coast unveiled a flurry of new Unearthed Arcana material in the middle of November 2016, both nearly a week apart from each other. The new playtest material offers new paths for the Barbarian (a class that received the least amount of playtest material) and the Bard (a class that has received a good share of material). The material encompasses three barbarian themes: one dealing with spiritual ancestors summoned to protect and assault the barbarian’s enemies, an favored terrain barbarian with powerful boons, and a zealous barbarian warrior of the gods.
Path of the Ancestors – Call of the Coincidental Ideas
If you’re a regular subscriber to the blog, I recently posted an article with new barbarian paths. One of them was a barbarian that summoned the power of their ancestral spirits. You can find my article here. This take on the barbarian goes in a similar direction like mine where the barbarian summons spirits of their ancestors but the difference in there is very minor. One of the more unique ideas that Wizards implemented was the Ancestral Protectors feature, mechanically the barbarian gains the ability to as bonus action declare an adjacent single target and they have disadvantage on attack rolls against you. It’s a toned down version of having the ability to Dodge as a bonus action but proves very useful for the tank role for this class.
The Ancestral Shield feature gives the damage protection benefits of the barbarian’s rage to an ally within 30 feet. A helpful feature especially if the party consists of a bit more squishy characters like extra spellcasters or something. Protecting a fellow caster while they’re low of hit points and taking only half on bludgeoning, slashing, or piercing damage can make a difference. I think this feature gives the Barbarian a more protective aspect than some of the other paths offered so far. This is particularly especially where are not as many melee combatants in the group either.
The Consults the Spirits feature is very thematic and fits the class design philosophy where the 10th level feature is usually one dealing with exploration or interactions. I can easily see myself roleplay the three uses of this feature with three unique ancestral spirits giving their opinions.
The Vengeful Ancestors ability is an interesting take form the Berserker’s Retaliation feature but at a distance having the manifested spirits attack a foe within 30 feet. The 2d8 Force damage may initially feel subpar but ultimately consider that very few creatures in the current Monster Manual (and Volo’s Guide to Monsters) have resistance to force damage. Granted a barbarian with a greataxe and a high Strength score would be able to dish our 11 (1d12 + 5) damage per swing anyways so while Retaliation outperforms this feature, the consistent damage that is difficult to resist has some influence its capabilities.
Path of the Storm Herald – Better Favored Terrain on a Barbarian
Rangers, druids, and barbarians sometimes go hand in hand when it comes to their experiences out in nature or the wild. Storm Heralds channel their rage along with nature to create an elemental expression of their fury. Using the Path of the Totem Warrior design, the barbarian chooses between three types of terrain as their elemental expression. So like the totem spirit, the barbarian has a primal connection to an archetype that manifests while they are raging. The difference between the Totem Warrior and the Storm Herald is largely that the latter cannot change terrains once their choice is made since they become the embodiment of the desert, the tundra, or the sea.
Just like the Totem Warrior, there are serious potential to expand this path. You could have a forest/woodland path, you can even do a subterranean terrain. Granted it’s difficulty to imagine the elemental implications for either but that might be more a thematic or flavor adjustment if anything.
This thematically would be interesting with a genasi barbarian character, having the elemental energies expressed as an aura while raging is flavorful and overall the class seems strong with dealing consistent damage. Shield of the Storm grants an ally the benefits of the Storm Soul feature so long as they’re within the barbarian’s aura.
My one critique is that they would expand the radius of the aura at 14th level so that it feels compreable to a Paladin’s divine aura.
Path of the Zealot – Fury by Divinity
A barbarian marked by the gods seemed like an interesting take of incorporating the fury of gods of war, fury or righteousness. The Divine Fury feature adds more damage output for a raging barbarian, but unlike the elemental aura of the Storm Herald, this affects all creatures including allies. The Warrior of the Gods feature feels odd at first, but then again this isn’t a Bear Totem barbarian so the possibility of taking more damage is greatly met with the increase chance of death. This feature removes the costly portions of raising the barbarian from the dead which sometimes can be a deal breaker in some dire situations.
The Zealous Focus feature is practically a “get out of jail” card when a barbarian may suffer a mortally debilitating effect on a failed saving throw. Especially if they somehow fail their save against a Finger of Death and might die from the damage. Sacrificing the rage until they can finish a short or long rest emphasizes the power of this feature especially since it’s acquired so early.
Zealous Presence is a great feature as it reminds me of the Vow of Enmity and the Paladin’s various auras of protection but the barbarian can only use it once between long rests. It fits the motif of a champion of the gods, raising morale and shattering doubt with their loud battle cries.
Rage Beyond Death seems quite interesting since it gives the barbarian in the midst of combat and constant damage the ability to move beyond the point of death until their rage ends. Very similar the idea of a half-orc’s Relentless Endurance only this one lasts until the rage ends. Having a half-orc zealot of Gruumsh is very thematic and being able to rage and fight until the raging stops fits so appropriate that I really want to run an NPC against a party using this idea. The barbarian can still die if they take enough damage past 0 but they won’t die from failing death saving throws at the very least.
Final Impressions for Barbarian Paths: Well I like the direction that some of these paths went, the Storm Herald seems very generic in design and will want some readjustment. I understand that the desert and tundra elements are polar opposite but I would like some uniqueness between them besides dealing the same amount of elemental damage. The Path of the Ancestors surprisingly followed the flavor direction in my take of the path which ultimately led to a similar capstone ability or at least the same capstone idea. Implementation was vastly different between Wizards ans my version. The Path of the Zealot seems very interesting and prove to a powerful force especially if the group does not have a dedicated divine spellcaster like a cleric or druid to raise dead allies. It fits well with Rangers and Paladins but definitely more on the martial side of things. I do like that the 10th level features primarily focus on either exploration roles or granting a combat benefit to allies. The barbarian sometimes doesn’t possess a protection role as a tank melee character compared to the Fighter or the Paladin.
New Bardic Colleges – Sparkles and Shadows
Subsequently after the Barbarian paths were released from Unearthed Arcana, barely a week later new Bardic Colleges surfaced. The bardic colleges have varied greatly through the Unearthed Arcana run of articles, the most recent ones were the College of Blades and College of the Fool (or Jester). These new colleges emphasize magic from the fey with the other dealing with infiltration and assassination.
College of Glamour – A showtime spectacle
This particular college deals with outlandish displays that tantalize your allies and enthrall your foes. The further you go into this particular college, foes find it harder and more difficult to resist your charm and presence. The Mantle of Inspiration feature is quite interesting as it grants temporary hit points to allies but additionally these allies can use their reaction to move closer to the bard. From a combat perspective, the ability to move and shift your allies along the battlefield is powerful especially since this feature does not provoke opportunity attacks.
Enthralling Performance is quite useful outside of combat since the bard has to spend 10 minutes singing, dancing, or speaking. The features a number of humanoids equal to the bard’s Charisma modifier, once charmed the targets idolize the bard even possible for them to fight on your behalf if necessary. The one part of the feature I enjoy the most is the part where if the targets succeed on their saving throws, they are unaware of your attempts to charm them which is particularly useful and powerful for attempts at subterfuge and coercion.
The Mantle of Majesty is very unique since the bard adopts an appearance of unearthly grace and beauty, powerful enough to cause targets to listen to them as per the command spell as a bonus action which is cast without expending spell slots for 1 minute. This has many uses outside and inside of combat, especially if the bard seeks to find a way to escape a precarious situation. Having the bard still cast spells while casting the command spell for free seems extreme but then again the target has to still saving throws and could still run the chance of succeeding and wasting the effort.
Unbreakable Majesty is similar to the Mantle of Majesty but given greater power and opportunity for the bard to talk down their targets. Having them cast sanctuary on themselves for free seems powerful but since they can only use it once between short or long rests it. A creature that fails their saving throw against this feature gain disadvantage on saving throws made by the bard’s spells and the bard gains advantage on Charisma checks. So it’s almost like the target is already charmed by not quite the same way which can be useful against creatures that have advantage against being charmed or are immunity to it.
College of Whispers – The Dripping Shadows Consume You
So I also worked on an idea for a College of Deceit on the blog but the design direction was far different from this Unearthed Arcana concept. This concept seems to deal more with damage (which is a good thing) and deals favorably with subversion and coercion, especially with the final capstone ability.
The Venomous Blade feature grants the bard additional poison damage by sacrificing a bardic inspiration die. The best part is that the damage scales based on bard class levels.
Venomous Words is the feature that sows the seeds of dissension and paranoia. Just talking with a humanoid makes them susceptible to the effect, just like the College of Glamor, the target is not aware of the attempt should they succeed on their saving throw. This clause makes these features really useful and grants the Bard much more prowess in social encounters which is something they should inherently be good with given their role.
Mantle of Whispers captures the idea of a bard assassin that slays their target and then steals their form like a doppelganger but it only lasts for an hour. I can imagine a bard assassin of this college slaying guards and taking their forms to pass through the gates and inner sanctums to get to their target. While the feature explicit says that the bard does not gain any secrets, what that means for the character is that they need to coerce the information out of their intended targets before slaying them. Luckily as a bard, having various charm spells at their disposal should prove to be little of a hinderance.
The capstone, Shadow Lore is an interrogator’s dream come true, with strong roleplaying elements spliced into the mechanics for this feature. The creature is considered charmed even though the target is fearful of a secret the bard possesses, which is important especially for creatures that less likely if not immune to being frightened. This is a great means to coerce an item of importance from a target or to find out something else of greater importance. I almost want to rename this feature as Shadow of Doubt since it deals with the concept of fears, doubts, and secrets.
Final Conclusion for New Bardic Colleges: Overall, Wizards had really set these particular bardic colleges for a bard with a strong social playstyle. Many of the features listed specify humanoids, which does make it difficult for non-humanoid entities like fiends, fey, elementals, celestials, and whatever else has an intellect to converse. In a game where players have to deal with city folk more often than raiding dungeons and fighting orc hordes, these colleges excel extremely well in social engagement but the College of Whisper definitely has the ability to fend and handle itself like a rogue. Especially if the group lacks a rogue. The College of Glamour has a stronger social engagement than most bard colleges but it does offer itself some interesting potential plays for a half-elf bard or even a gnome bard. The two colleges look very entertaining and fun, definitely work a play and seem more put together than some of the barbarian paths.
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