If you’re a big Jackie Chan or martial arts movie enthusiast like myself, one of the most iconic movies besides Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon would have to be Drunken Master. The movie followed the journey of the main protagonist who had a unique fighting style call the “drunken fist” which involves its wielder being intoxicated or inebriated to maximize the effects and proficiency. In other popular media, the anime series Naruto had the character Rock Lee (which was honestly a Bruce Lee reference) become a terrifying martial artist while drunk. I had been contemplating my own iteration of a “way of the drunken fist” Monk archetype and was pleasantly surprised to learn Wizards was also in the same thought pattern.
The remaining two archetypes presented within this playtest hearken to some older design ideas most likely inspired by previous archetypes. The Oath of Redemption Paladin has many philosophical pedigree to the Tranquil Way Monk (see our review here), seeking the path of peace while understanding that many creatures are inherently evil. The Monster Slayer Ranger has many concepts inspired by the Monster Hunter Fighter from the Gothic Heroes playtest (see our review here) to promote the release of Curse of Strahd, there are mystical elements to this Ranger conclave and adds some flavor features and abilities unlike the previous Monster Hunter incarnation.
Way of the Drunken Master – Legacy of the Drunken Fist
Devoted fans of drunken fist martial arts always involve a character with uncanny grace, stupid amounts of luck, flexibility, and the strength to topple foes of varying sizes. The drunken master’s jester-like performances hide an intricate and tactical mind with their overall combat prowess and abilities.
Drunken Technique. The first noticeable aspect this feature grants is the Performance skill to the monk. Mechanically, it does not influence any of the other features in this Monk tradition but it does fit the idea of a Drunk Master acting as a fool as to distract or give false impressions. The nice tacked-on feature with the drunken monk using Flurry of Blows is gaining the Disengage benefit (not take the Disengage action) and adding a 10 foot increase to movement on their turn. This is a very powerful improvement for the monk, moving across the field to their opponent to strike their foes, use the Flurry of Blows and subsequently have the ability to move away from the foe with additional movement if they already moved that turn.
Tipsy Sway. One of the key components of a drunken master is their ability to turn the momentum of combat into their favor, using the energy and force of their foes against each other or themselves. This feature tries to emulate that component of a drunken master fighting style, the only difference is that the drunken master can only do it once per short or long rest. The stipulation is that the attack has to miss the drunken monk before the feature can be utilized. This is a useful feature when the drunken monk gets swarmed by several enemies. It feels underwhelming, granted this feature can be quite potent but the idea of having a large creature missing the drunken monk and then having their attack redirected to a smaller foe is quite entertaining of a notion. My only criticism would be to have this feature use up some ki points to have it reusable instead of once in a single encounter. This feature is difficult to gauge since the encounter setups are under the purview of the Dungeon Master and therefore needs to be taken into account.
Drunkard’s Luck. Love everything about this feature. Spend a ki point, roll a saving throw with advantage. Granted it must be made before rolling but it’s nice to have this sort of feature, especially when a spell or ability targets one of the monk’s least likely used saving throws like Charisma or Intelligence. Definitely useful and fits the theme of the lucky drunk narrowly escaping a difficult predicament.
Intoxicated Frenzy. Drunks get angry sometimes, this is a great little ability to hit a swarm of enemies. It makes Flurry of Blows churn out three additional attacks instead of the normal two, adding the two attacks from the Attack action, we have a total of five strikes. Great for the drunken master monk when swarmed by enemies, this extra third attack is only triggered if there enough targets for the normal two attacks and Flurry of Blows to strike. In other words, this feature essentially says: “use your Flurry of Blows to strike three targets with one strike each.” That’s not too bad honestly, but not the most pivotal ability ever granted for an archetype. Let’s compare this feature to the Quivering Palm feature, which arguably is the most powerful monk feature allowing for a potential 10d10 necrotic damage on a successful Constitution saving throw. Let’s be real here, the potential damage output far exceeds this monk tradition, practically all other traditions as well. To that end, the drunken monk is stylized to interact with multiple foes. My only suggestion would be add something along the lines of “creatures you hit with your Flurry of Blows have disadvantage to attack and ability rolls until the start of your next turn.” This signifies the drunken master’s ability to distract and dumbfound the enemy combatants with their inebriated frenzy.
Oath of Redemption – “Bless your heart”
A peace-loving, peace-spreading, but nowhere pacifistic about this Paladin oath. This Paladin oath, upon further reading, gave me the impression of a Michael Carpenter sort of character (refer to the Dresden Files), which I was more than happy to accept once I looked it this oath from that point of view. Even a Paladin who views violence as a last resort does not skimp on the hurt, and this oath honestly can still pack the hurt while still helping out allies until mastering the ability to hurt foes without ever lifting a finger — a sort of “you did it to yourself” kinda of trait.
Redemption Spells. Many of the spells are means for the Paladin to nonviolently disable combatants or provide added protection. I like inclusion of spells like sleep and hypnotic pattern to quintessentially nullify an enemy. The added spells like wall of force and stoneskin are commonly expressed defensive spells.
Armor of Peace. I enjoy this feature, even if the Redemption Paladin walks into enemy territory unarmed, they are not completely defenseless. Essentially the Paladin still gains the benefit of wearing Chain Mail armor which is useful and does not completely take away from the Paladin trying to do the peaceful route without stupidly endangering themselves as often it would seem in the beginning.
Warrior Reconciliation. An interesting mechanic that essentially makes any enemy that has been literally “beaten into submission” be docile and cooperative with the Paladin. It’s a useful feature especially when the party needs information from an enemy, it’s a great mechanic to regulate the roleplaying aspects. There are avenues of play here and honestly has a great flavor to it while mechanically be useful.
Channel Divinity. The two channel divinity features honestly feel a little lackluster but given the direction and intention of the oath, it fits well. The Emissary of Peace grants a +5 bonus to Diplomacy checks, which is useful especially when tied with Warrior Reconciliation or even just general conversation moments. This is especially great in a social encounter role. Rebuke the Violent is an odd Channel Divinity feature, it essentially reads: “you want to hurt others? then feel how much it really hurts”. This is quite potent of a feature by itself, but I’m not completely convinced this feature fits the oath as well as it would seem on paper. Granted it does provide a larger role in combat instead of social situations, which is already done. I would have preferred something that emulated the calm emotions spell, if we really want to preach peace here.
Aura of the Guardian. Taking an action to take damage instead of the main healer or spellcaster is crucial, granted the aura only extends out to 10 feet but regardless, such an action can make or break an encounter situation. Using a reaction to take the damage is quite useful, while the ally still suffers any effects from the attack, shifting the damage can be crucial. I would like that this aura extended up to 30 feet much later, for scaling purposes but that’s a personal belief versus a design assessment.
Protective Spirit. A very useful feature that essentially grants a Paladin a sort of regenerative ability, especially when taking hits consistently with their Aura of the Guardian active. By the time the Paladin receives this feature, the ability heals 1d6 + 7 at the end of each combat round if the Paladin is under half their maximum hit points and isn’t incapacitated. Averaging 10 hit points replenished each turn is quite useful, this feature gives the Paladin a little bit of survivability and lets the healer focus on more important matters before shifting gears if things really get dicey.
Emissary of Redemption. Unlike several Paladin “avatar” capstones, this one is a passive feature that does not require any activation or time limit. The only stipulation is that if the Paladin attacks a creature and either deals damage or force them to make a saving throw, the creature ignores the two benefits from this feature. Essentially reads: “stop hitting yourself”. My only concern is the way the second benefit is written; since it says it deal half the damage dealt to the Paladin is dealt as radiant damage to the creature. The damage is already halved due to resistance to all damage, does that mean it gets halved again? If so, this really dampens the damage potentiality of this feature. Let’s think about this from a math sense, if a Lich launches a meteor swarm at the Paladin, assuming the Paladin fails their saving throw, they are dealt 20d6 fire and 20d6 bludgeoning damage which averages a total 140 damage so the Paladin takes half (due to resistance) and therefore takes 70. Assuming the Paladin survives this amount of damage. Following the logic of this feature, the Lich should take 35 points of damage as well. Now if the Lich has fire resistance, than it might reduce the damage further. Ultimately, dealing 35 damage for almost doing nothing is quite a nice feature but taking all that damage can be taxing. Useful when the Paladin is focused on being supportive and gets caught in the crossfire and not so much a mainstay feature.
Monster Slayer – Van Helsing meets D&D
When Curse of Strahd was initially released, there were several ideas tossed around for Gothic stylized heroes for 5th Edition that made it to the Unearthed Arcana articles. The Monster Hunter Fighter was an archetype that was presented to emphasize a martial discipline that dealt damage like no-one’s business and occasionally possess a few mystical features. Honestly, it dealt damage more so than be flavorfully relevant. You could practically rename it anything else, change a few features, and still feel exactly the same.
Slayer’s Mysticism. Giving the Ranger additional spells is always a good thing, this list fits the ideals of a mystical hunter or a hunter against the occult. Magic circle and banishment is great against those extraplanar entities like demons and angels, heck its good against elementals too.
Slayer’s Eye. Oh boy! A psuedo-Hunter’s Mark as a feature. Knowing immunities, resistance, and vulnerabilities is a great tool in combat. Dealing 1d6 extra damage per turn is useful, but most importantly it’s a feature that doesn’t require the Ranger to make Constitution saving throws to maintain concentration of a spell. But if a Ranger decided to add back Hunter’s Mark and cast the spell, between Slayer’s Eye and Hunter’s Mark, that creature so slowly looking more dead. My only concern is whether or not this feature should have scaled, dealing 1d8 and eventually 1d10? Or more dice damage, like 2d6 at some point.
Supernatural Defense. This is a great feature to tie in with Slayer’s Eye, whenever the targeted creature forces the Ranger to make a saving throw, roll 1d6 and add it to the result. Very useful, while minor it still can have an important part to play. It’s a lot easier to do than do something like double the proficiency bonus or something similar.
Relentless Slayer. An interesting feature that practically denies a creature from escaping the Ranger. Especially for Vampires trying to change their form, this feature is a stop-gap to prevent such actions. While it’s still a contested Wisdom check between the Ranger and the creature, it flavorfully fits with the mechanics and while not as useful anywhere else, it definitely fits the gothic style campaign niche quite well here.
Slayer’s Counter. Wow. I really believe this feature has some great advantages in combat and really rewards the Ranger for using their key feature: the Slayer’s Eye ability. Any creature that is under the Ranger’s Slayer’s Eye ability, that forces them to make a saving throw get an attack from the Ranger as a reaction. If the attack hits the creature, the Ranger automatically succeeds the saving throw. Note that the Ranger makes a weapon attack (either melee or ranged) on the creature. That truly expands this feature’s capability, especially if the Ranger is hit with a ranged ability and hopefully has their bow or crossbow out. While not explosively powerful, it rewards the Ranger for continuing to use their features and abilities. That is a design direction that should be considered more often.
I was rather overjoyed when the Drunken Master monk was mentioned for consideration for this recent Unearthed Arcana material, while it is not overwhelming powerful, it is quite sustainable. It is a consistent tradition that knows how to spread the damage and work well situations with multiple enemies, but after that it does not get much after that. The capstone was rather underwhelming and overall does not compete well against other monk traditions. The Oath of Redemption Paladin has many flavor and mechanic advantages and continues this wonderful theme of pacifism within D&D, which was a great theme in older editions. While the execution is not inherently powerful, the flavor fits the mechanics and still highlights the Paladin’s role of being a tank and support role. The Monster Slayer Ranger is definitely a step up from the Monster Hunter Fighter. It rewards the Ranger for doing what they are already good at doing, and additionally for using their main features from the conclave. This conclave is concerned with consistent damage, denying their mystical adversaries from escaping, and most importantly: protect the Ranger against their abilities. I really enjoy the Monster Slayer Ranger, there might be some need to improve damage for scaling purposes but that is a minor remedy.
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