Continuing this recent Wizards of the Coast trend of unleashing playtest materials and receiving feedback from the community, the Fighter received some new archetypes, two of them were long-awaited archetypes with two unexpected concepts. One of them has been a long time debated archetype, namely the Arcane Archer. The noble Knight brings back the concept of the “mark” from 4th Edition, the Samurai gets an interesting overhaul and we have an archetype that specializes in ranged combat with the Sharpshooter.

You can download the new Fighter Unearthed Arcana file here.

You can also do the survey for the previous Druid Unearthed Arcana here.

Arcane Archer – Back by Popular Demand! 

The Arcane Archer is an archetype that has been attempted as both a Fighter archetype and Ranger conclave, and in some instances even a Prestige class (check out my Arcane Archer article that includes other concepts from others here). This iteration of this popular concept is completely spell-less and instead implores a powerful ability that is generated through magic.

Arcane Arrow: To mitigate the need for spells, the arcane archer magically conjures a special magic arrow twice between short or long rests as a bonus action. The Arcane Archer can also make unique and specialized arrows through this features, gaining up to six features by 18th level. It fits the idea of an Arcane Archer creating and imbuing an arrow with powerful short-term magic. My only criticism about this feature is extending the amount of uses to an ability modifier, either Intelligence or Wisdom. It fits the idea of something like War God’s Blessing but a bit more potent. While there is a feature to regain more uses after expending the last one, it feels odd and somewhat out-of-place. Overall, the idea seems solid and I enjoyed the various arrows at the archer’s arsenal.

Arcane Lore: Any feature to get more skill proficiencies is a great one in my opinion, the list is solid for a magically inclined character but carries that elf warden feel to it.

Conjure Arrows: I love this feature especially if you have a DM that keeps track of those sort of things. Or even better when it’s used in the middle of combat and the archer needs more arrows to continue the fight. It’s both thematically, aesthetically, and mechanically relevant.

Ever-Ready Arrow: So this feature is supposedly designed to solve the issue about the small usages of the Arcane Arrow feature. Outside of combat without rest, this feels fine. In combat, it feels clunky and can feel wasteful especially if the archer misses their target. I feel that if mechanically we limited the number of uses than I would have to say that there needs to be a greater means to acquire more uses. Perhaps scoring a critical hit draws on the archer’s hidden reserves and gives them a boost to conjure another arcane arrow. It feels like a half complete feature here and perhaps just needs something additional to complement combat.

Deadly Arrow: As a capstone ability, this feels rather lackluster. So basically twice between short or long rest, all the arcane arrows deal 4d6 force damage. Granted it’s done this way since Fighters get four attacks by 20th level. Even at 18th level, that’s 3 attacks per Attack action with possibly another 3 using an Action Surge. Even so, that’s potentially 8d6 force damage should both Arcane Arrows hit plus the bow damage and whatever modifiers accompany it. I feel that there needs to be a greater boon to reward for all that level up. Rogues can deal 10d6 sneak attack damage per turn so long as an ally is adjacent to the target. The Arcane Archer needs something similar to keep up with the damage output.

Overall, compared to various iterations presented by others since the early days of 5th Edition, including the Arcane Archer feat from earlier playtests, this feels close to the idea and image of an Arcane Archer. Abeit it needs some buffs and means to compete against some of the casters, but seems to fall short to other martially inclined classes.

The Knight – Sir Shiny! 

This playtest offers the Knight and the Samurai archetypes, which Wizards has explained that these features resemble more from media and movies than from history. Their point was to emphasize the heroic aspects of these archetypes and less so their accuracy. One of the powerful features that came from 4th Edition, especially for tank roles, was the “mark” mechanic. Melee tanks would mark their enemies, making them focus on the tank or suffer a penalty if not. It changed the way the combat worked, especially for Dungeon Masters when operating the enemies and foes.

Born to the Saddle: There are a few artifacts from the Cavalier archetype (found the Kits of Old Unearthed Arcana here) that are transfixed to the Knight. From an aesthetic standpoint, it makes sense that a Knight is trained to ride a mount and be capable of not being dismounted against their will. From a design standpoint, it feels recycled but ultimately still fits the theme well.

Implacable Mark: So this is where the “mark” mechanic returns in 5th edition. The Knight can make 3 special attacks that if they hit a target, they are marked and have disadvantage on attack rolls when made on anything other than the Knight. Additionally, movement from the Knight or attacks other than the Knight causes the warrior to make an opportunity attack with advantage. Should that particular attack it, it deals additional damage equal to their Fighter level.

In 4th Edition, marking an opponent varied depending on the class and their own unique features using this mechanic. The knight here requires a successful strike unlike the 4th Edition Fighter only needing to attack and not hitting. From a tactical standpoint, the Knight hits a target like normal, and if the knight happens to catch the opponent move or attack someone else, they can really make it hurt up to 3 times. It’s not a bad way to empower the Knight and truly give the opponent something to think about. Let’s look at the math for a moment: a Knight with a longsword and shield, so 1d8+4 (assuming Strength of 18) averages to 8 damage per hit. Let’s say an 11th-level Knight hits with all three of their attacks, so that’s an average of 24 damage. The target is marked, and let’s say that it decides to strike the rogue instead because perhaps its proving to be a greater threat at the moment. The Knight decides to use its special attack, and now deals 1d8+15 damage on a hit (averaging 19 damage). Compared to a single strike, the potential damage output gets better at higher levels. The thing to consider with martial characters is that they are supposed to deal near consistent amounts of damage while full casters act as the artillery and drop buckets of dice on the table. Having a strong boost here and there goes a long way in the longer combat encounters that plague higher levels.

Noble Cavalry: Another feature that gives skills, which is something Fighters lack regarding options. Having this pushed back to being a 7th level feature may seem weak. I’m not a fan of features at this point in the game that do not have a huge impact, the Battle Master also had this same issue. From a thematic standpoint, it fits the aesthetic of a Knight but does nothing impactful other than skills or language. I would say add something about Charisma-checks when interacting with nobility or royalty (which ironically enough is covered in the Samurai archetype).

Hold the Line: Essentially, it functions very similarly to the Sentinel feat granted it does not cover Disengaged enemies, unless that was an oversight than the design is essentially the Sentinel feat. The name of the feature and the overall effect seem relevant but I feel that there should be something about the Knight becoming an unmovable object, so maybe advantage on saving throws against effects that push, shove, or knock prone the knight? Just an idea.

Rapid Strike: This is a new feature that gets copied and pasted across the Knight, Samurai, and Sharpshooter archetypes respective. Essentially by trading an attack that has advantage, the knight gains an extra attack using a bonus action. So the stipulation is that it has to be on your turn, which removes the ability to gain extra attacks from previous opportunity attacks from the Implacable Mark feature. So while it’s potentially useful, it does require a bit more work than what you may think initially. with so many of the Knight’s features using reactions, it’s unlikely this feature will be comboed with Rapid Strike. But utilizing the benefits of spell effects for allied spellcasters, this feature becomes potent and improves the damage consistency of the Knight.

Defender’s Blade: As a capstone, the ability to perform opportunity attacks even if the knight already used their reaction for the round. The wording for this ability seems odd at first, but upon further inspection I realized this feature can really go toe-to-toe against creatures with legendary actions. Here’s why: creatures with legendary actions can utilize them at the end of a creature’s turn. Some of these actions involve movement to optimize their positions and set themselves for a powerful counterattack. Even on your turn, technically you can still have reactions should something happen that would trigger said reaction. It’s very vague in terms of ruling for 5th Edition but it ultimately falls to a DM call occasionally. Ultimately, should said legendary creature (like a vampire) move at the end of the Knight’s turn, he can take a reaction to make an opportunity attack against it. Should the Knight do so, he can still make additional opportunity attacks outside their turn. The wording initially feels clunky, but the language is meant to inform the player/DM that the Knight has unlimited opportunity attacks outside their turn for the round. It’s still a powerful and fun ability, combined with the other features it solidifies the Knight as an archetype of attrition.

Overall the Knight has a few abilities and features that feel lackluster or recycled, but offers fresh ideas for a desired mechanic. This archetype utilizes and maximizes the use of opportunity attacks, making fleeing foes face the fear of deadly retaliation.

Samurai – Honorable Duty with Spirit

The Samurai had an interesting life cycle through D&D, when Wizards unveiled Oriental Adventures back in 3.5e, it was something different and flavorful. The original concept was a fanciful Fighter class, later it was revamped and given a full variety of features and skills. But there was a loss of identity with the concept of the Samurai between editions. In 4th Edition, the Samurai became only a background theme and not even a class option or paragon class. I was rather shocked that Wizards was going to attempt the Samurai again after such a long time out of the design concept.

Fighting Spirit: This feature is a pseudo-rage mechanic given to the Fighter with benefits of the Barbarian’s Reckless Attacks and then the damage resistance from raging. The only difference is that the benefits only last the end of their next turn, so it might stand to reason that the Samurai roars with vigor and charges valiantly into the battlefield, learning to take hits while striking true at their foes. The feature can be used three times and are replenished after a short or long rest.

Elegant Courtier: So while the Knight simply gets skills and possibly a language, the Samurai through their training and discipline learn the etiquette and manners to dealing with nobles and royals. This was something I had hoped to exist within a Knight but it was transfixed to the Samurai instead. Adding a bonus to skills that a Fighter class typically either does not use or not have access seems appropriate both thematically and mechanically. More skill proficiencies is always a good thing and I applaud when we do this for archetypes where it fits.

Unbreakable Will: One of the great weaknesses of a martial character is typically the lack of proficiency with mental saving throws since their focus traditionally is with physical traits. That makes sense, which generally creates this dichotomy where weak, frail casters versus strong warriors lead to many stereotypes. Having your tank fall prey to an enemy Crown of Madness is a terrifying prospect, especially if there are not a whole of martial characters in the group. As a DM, it’s a fair exploit that can implemented from well-informed foes, as for the players, it can be a tough a difficult challenge. Granting proficiency to Wisdom saving throws (or either Intelligence or Charisma if already proficient) is useful and impactful for a Fighter that competes against charm or fear effects.

Rapid Strike: So while the Knight had this feature, there was not a whole lot of means to situate themselves to gaining the advantage and then sacrificing it for an additional attack. Here the feature is potent and powerful, an 11th-level Samurai has three attacks on an attack action, using Fighting Spirit allows all those attacks to have advantage. The Samurai may sacrifice one of the advantage rolls and instead give themselves another attack, making it a total of four attacks during their turn with little fear of repercussions from the enemy (unless it’s spells) with three of them having advantage on their rolls. Again this makes the Samurai a pseudo-Barbarian but for one turn. In the mythology of a Samurai, it fits the motto: “measure twice, cut once”.

Strength Before Death: So this is an interesting ability that tries to workaround the Fighting Spirit mechanic into a possible death scenario. If the Samurai drops to 0 or less hit points but does not outright die, they can interrupt the turn and gain the opportunity to perform a bonus action before damage resolves. It’s like a reaction, but because the Fighting Spirit mechanic uses the bonus action economy, it has to be worded in a way to maximize its effects. So basically, the Samurai can apply the Fighting Spirit onto themselves before damage resolves and potentially mitigate a potentially fatal blow. Again it’s oddly worded but understandable that they word using the jargon presented through the Player’s Handbook albeit redundant or convoluted.

Overall, the Samurai is very flavorful and mechanically sound. The features work with each other from a combat perspective and even from an out of combat situation (Expert Courtier). The Rapid Strike feature is fully maximized within this archetype, which might explain why Wizards wanted to try to utilize this particular feature across so much of the playtest. It’s the most potent within this archetype, followed by the Knight, with the Sharpshooter receiving the least amount of benefits (more on that below).

Sharpshooter – Deadshot’s cousin 2.0

Ranged fighter classes are often understated or underused across D&D, iconic ranged martial tropes fall to the Ranger and the Rogue traditionally. Very rarely do you find a specialized ranged fighter but they can definitely use ranged weapons if needed. The Archery fighting style even gives a +2 bonus to damage when using ranged weapons, that is quite powerful and impactful for a minor feature at an early part of the character’s career. I feel that Wizards has been trying very hard to encourage ranged weapon users and reward them for their efforts, which sort of shows within this archetype.

Steady Aim: So using a bonus action to focus, a Sharpshooter can ignore cover (except full cover) and deal 2 + half their Fighter level in extra damage, using this feature three times between a short or long rest. So while within range, a target can still be struck while behind bits of cover and take a nice punch of damage. There are some bits where I felt this feature could’ve been empowered, especially since it’s supposedly emphasizing sniping and scouting tactics. I would imagine, especially to tie-in with the Rapid Strike this archetype receives, that maybe this feature grant advantage on attack rolls just like the Fighting Spirit in the Samurai archetype. I understand the ability to mitigate cover but honestly the advantage on attack rolls should create the same sort of feel. Granted the reason this was probably not implemented is due to the Sharpshooter feat in the PHB, with advantage and a -5 to attacks, the damage output is absurd. Let’s do some damage math: 11th-level Sharpshooter with a longbow = 1d8+4 (assuming Dexterity 18) with advantage and Sharpshooter feat along with Stead Aim equates to an average of 25 damage per hit, 1d8+4+7 (Steady Aim) + 10 (Sharpshooter). Even without the advantage to attack rolls, the potential 25 damage per hit outclasses the other archetypes presented so far. That’s a potential 75 points of damage within on Attack action not counting an Action Surge. So no advantage seems a fair judgement.

Careful Eyes: Another feature that gives some other skill proficiencies, but I do like the idea of using the Search action as a bonus action. It fits the idea of spotting their targets quickly and assessing the situation as well. There’s not much to say here that I already haven’t expressed multiple times in this review regarding additional skills for classes that need it.

Close-Quarter Shooting: This feature is practically the reward for a ranged specialist, normally characters suffer disadvantage on attack rolls when striking an adjacent foe. Now, the Sharpshooter is a force to be reckoned with even at close range. The added bonus of a creature hit by this particular attack causes the foe to not take reactions until the end of the turn, which is helpful for letting the Sharpshooter escape from harm. Ultimately this feature solidifies the payoff for this particular playstyle and makes it worthwhile.

Rapid Strike: This feature seems out-of-place given that the Sharpshooter does not have a bounty of opportunities to create advantage. This feels like Wizard’s attempt to try out a new mechanical concept and will ultimately be in the next survey. From a design perspective, it feels a bit long-winded and unnecessary though I understand that this is more for experimentation than anything else. Since the archetype doesn’t bolster or reinforce stealth tactics (which would be the likely means to generate advantage), it doesn’t seem as effective compared to the other archetypes this feature was presented. I think there should be some sort of benefit like reducing the critical hit range of a ranged weapon go to 19 and 20 like the Champion archetype. Again, anything to really reward the character for choosing such a narrow specialization.

Snap Shot: This capstone has the same feel from the Arcane Archer and seems underwhelming, but it states that during the first turn of combat for the Sharpshooter that so long as they use the Attack action, there is an additional attack on top of the rest. By 20th level, this archetype gets a 5th attack during the first turn of combat if they choose to Attack first. Here’s the thing, if the same Sharpshooter decides to unload their fury with an Action Surge, that’ll be ten attacks! TEN ATTACKS! Factoring Steady Aim for three of those attacks getting extra damage, it can look scary for a monster. This capstone actually potentially packs quite the punch if used comboed with other abilities.

Overall this archetype seemed to have a mix bag of development ideas and probably needs some fine-tuning (looking at your Rapid Strike). This archetype also rewards the players for their selection and choice on a narrow weapon specialization which should always be a precedence. Additionally some of the features seem underwhelming on paper but when testing the ideas with other features or feats, it can potentially be powerful. If you include firearms in your game, the Sharpshooter really gets interesting with damage output.

Final Impressions

  • The four archetypes bring unique flavor and concepts that thematically fit them.
  • Rapid Strike as a trial mechanic felt overused and not give enough design space for some of the archetypes presented.
  • Arcane Archer was a highly demanded archetype and finally saw some official ideas.
  • Bringing the Samurai and Knight back as archetypes showcased the return of older themes given new life.
  • The Knight’s Implacable Mark is a feature that calls back to 4e’s “mark” mechanic for tank roles
  • Many of the archetypes incorporated additional methods to bring more skill proficiencies to a class with a limited selection.
  • As playtest material, its good for the community to see where the design direction has been focused and where it can go following the next survey.

There are some things that I really liked in this Unearthed Arcana and obviously things I didn’t like. That’s the point of playtest material, the community goes through either trials or compares them to existing archetypes to assess their validity and balance. Wizards has taken many conservative approaches within several of these Unearthed Arcanas in the past and this a similar vein of thought. Depending on community feedback, I can expect some revisions on the Sharpshooter and possibly the Arcane Archer. The latter has a long history within D&D and will feel harsher criticism than some of the others, the Sharpshooter has many design choices that may need to be reexamined. The Knight didn’t make this list but does suffer the same issue of design recycling and doesn’t offer anything novel other than the new “mark” mechanic. Even its capstone wasn’t something new, it felt more like something from a race or existing class feature. I’m happy with the results nonetheless and enjoyed this rendition from Wizards, since we’re approaching these alphabetically, that would mean the Monk is the next class to get new ideas.

Again, you can download the new Fighter Unearthed Arcana file here.

Also you can do the survey for the previous Druid Unearthed Arcana here.

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