Back when the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide was released, not only did it serve to be a great resource for expanding the lore of the Sword Coast for both new and veteran Dungeon Masters entering into the Forgotten Realms setting. Besides some new archetype options for several classes, there were additional cantrips featured for the Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard. Since then, there have been very few excerpts or materials for additional spells outside of the Elemental Evil supplement and Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. Players and DMs have been practically begging for more material (among other things).
The recent Unearthed Arcana brings new cantrips and 1st-level spells for all the classes. Some classes received plenty of new spells like the Cleric, Druid, Ranger, Warlock, and Wizard; while the Paladin and Sorcerer got the short end of new spells. While the Sorcerer has more cantrip options initially, the lack of spells comparative to the Wizard is a sharp contrast. The Paladin was the most conned out of this playtest, receiving only a singular spell. A spell, mind you, that only fits in a favor context and less so anywhere else.
You can download the Starter Spells Unearthed Arcana here.
Don’t forget to do the survey for previous UA for the Drunken Master, Oath of Redemption Paladin, and Monster Slayer Ranger here.
We’re going to review each spell and their overall impact in the game so far:
- Cause Fear. An old spell from the early days of D&D, it’s always nice to see some more 1st-level necromancy spells especially for the Nercomancer wizards. But bestowing fear on a big creature and having them removed from the fight, even for 1 or 2 rounds can make a difference. It’s great in early levels especially with the hit point threshold for disadvantage, even a creature reduced to that many hit points makes this spell relevant in later tiers of play.
- Ceremony. Holy cow, what a spell. There’s a lot of pieces to this ritual spell. It’s a great ritual for a Book of Shadows Warlock to take, granting short-term boons. The most powerful aspect would be the investiture component, wherein a spellcaster can impart a 1st-level spell and let the target cast it themselves. That’s great for giving either a healing word, cure wounds, or even a buff like bless to a party member to cast later to free up a cleric’s task management. Also, if you’ve read it, the marriage component. I’m only to reference it and let you read it yourself. It’s quite hilarious.
- Chaos Bolt. This is by far one of the most weird spells ever designed. But it’s very intriguing of a spell. So you make a ranged spell attack, if it hits, roll 2d8 damage. Choose one of the d8’s rolled and whatever result is there, the spell deals that relevant damage type based on the table. In other words, say you roll a 5 and an 8 on your 2d8 rolls, you can choose to make your spell deal lightning or thunder damage (respectively) upon resolution of the effects. The next fun bit, if you roll doubles, the spell ricochet to another target. If another double persists, the bolt finds a new target. If you were good at rolling doubles in Monopoly as a kid, this is a spell for you. Additionally, the caster can scale this spell to deal additional d6 worth of damage above 1st-level. It’s a fun damage spell that’s sure to annoy your DM but lead to great retelling moments.
- Guiding Hand. Essentially, it’s a waypoint spell in D&D. Want to find a particular landmark that’s supposedly been visited in the past by others or on a map? This spell will literally point and show you where to go. It’s a weird ritual, honestly I very little point in it except in urban settings where it’ll receive the most use. Like finding a famous tavern in town but not knowing where or getting lost with directions.
- Hand of Radiance. Finally! Another Cleric cantrip that deals damage! Sacred Flame is practically the most used Cleric cantrip solely because it’s the only one that deals damage. While not the greatest spell, it’s another spell to consider if the cleric believes itself to in the fray more often than traditional clerics. Damage is not as great as Sacred Flame, but this cantrip targets a different saving throw and traditionally it’s a modifier with usually a +0 or +1 (with the most being +2) bonus on most creatures anyway.
- Healing Elixir. Don’t have a primary healer in your group? Have way too many arcane spellcasters in your party? (Looking at your Team BAJA Season 1) Well fear not! Your Wizards and Warlocks can now conjure a Potion of Healing so long as they have spell slots and are not unconscious. This spell does not scale and thankfully, it shouldn’t. This is the sort of spell a Wizard or Warlock needs to cast for themselves when the Cleric is too preoccupied healing the main tank character.
- Infestation. An interesting cantrip for the more “diseased” or “plagued” sort of character archetypes. I will definitely use this for my Druids of Ebrus (God of Decay). It’s essentially a mini-Insect Plague minus the vision detriment and being a giant field that persists. Having the target that is dealt damage move randomly is both useful and annoying but may serve to unhinge enemies into more favorable locations or circumstances.
- Primal Savagery. I like this spell for both its flavor but giving the Druid another melee oriented cantrip. While the Shillelagh is a cantrip that empowers a club or quarterstaff, having a Druid gain sharp claws and teeth seem pretty cool. Plus this spell deals more damage than Shillelagh, as the damage dice for this spell starts as a d10.
- Puppet. I love this spell, it’s very powerful and lets the Bard, Warlock, and Wizard gain the upper hand with battlefield control. Very potent when trying to get a creature into range for another caster’s big area of effect spell OR moving a target closer to the Fighter to have their heads bashed in. Having the targets that fail their saving throw drop whatever they are holding is very good especially for melee combatants but also for those darn cultists with their crazy magical implements. This a strikingly useful spell and targets an ability score that usually has a mediocre bonus.
- Sense Emotion. This spell is somewhat useful for social encounters and even in roleplaying challenges where the party needs to deal with someone of a higher office or even an NPC they are not sure if they should trust. Essentially, you’re an Empath with this spell, or what I may refer to as a Deanna Troi. Not the best spell to waste on your spells known for the Bard and Warlock, a useful spell to keep in your back pocket for a Wizard if their scores in Wisdom and/or Charisma are not great.
- Snare. This is an interestingly fun spell. If the party manages to find a place to hold up in a dungeon, and the room has only one doorway in and out. The Druid, Ranger, or Wizard can set this spell and it will literally be a rope snare trap. While Dexterity is often an easier saving throw to make, if the target fails, it’s snared up and restrained by the magical rope until they succeed in saving throw in a later round(s). If they are with allies, the enemy can make an Intelligence (Arcana) check against your spell save DC to free their comrade. It’s funny and very entertaining of a spell to utilize. Not always practical but great when you don’t have access to Alarm until 2nd-level spells.
- Sudden Awakening. This is a very useful and powerful spell. It’s a great spell not for waking up sleeping allies but for making them stand up without wasting their movement. This is a very useful spell especially if you have a Barbarian or Monk, losing half their movement to get themselves up is a huge loss. This spell negates that flaw and optimally makes them deadly even in a situation where they would’ve been surprised.
- Toll the Dead. This is a very thematic cantrip that deals necrotic damage! First it grants the Clerics another damaging cantrip, which they desperately need. Additionally, it grants a thematic cantrip for Warlocks (especially for the Pact of the Raven Queen) and Necromancer Wizards. The spell deals more damage to targets that fail and are not at full hit points. In other words, this spell is great when the target has already taken a hit from either the fast Rogue. While this spell does target Wisdom saving throws, melee characters that have this ability score either low or mediocre will definitely feel the hurt from the caster of this spell.
- Unearthly Chorus. This is a great Bard spell, it’s thematically appropriate and plays well for both good and evil bards. An evil bard will tantalize their targets and then whisper to them sweet nothings to get what they want out them. While good bards are prone to beguile and entertain to extract the necessary information needed. This spell fits better in social encounters but works great if the bard happens to be at the top of the initiative order. The bard can perform and beguile the commander to stand down, and that might turn a deadly encounter into one wherein the commander is sympathetic to the party. A creative player can find a good use for this spell and it does indeed require some creativity to exploit this spell well.
- Virtue. I’m not a fan of cantrips where the effects only have a duration of 1 round, like Bladeward and a few others. Their effects almost seem pointless and honestly do little in the beginning. It’s unproductive and inefficient to grant minor buffs that last only 1 round when you could be proactive and deal damage. The amount of temporary hit points is useful in the beginning when you’re 1st level characters but ultimately fades as the characters reach past 3rd and 5th level. This cantrip also requires touching the target, which may put a caster into the risk of melee and get knock out. Not a great spell, but then again: “you have bad spells, so you know which are good spells”.
- Wild Cunning. This is a ritual for when your Druid and/or Ranger did not pick Wisdom (Survival) for their skill proficiency. Instead of being bad at the skill, they can now use magic to make themselves feel better about their lack of ability. But having spirits break down camp or set it up is quite useful, if your DM cares about that sort of thing. Knowing where clean water, edible foliage, and shelter are useful features of this spell but ultimately if your Druid and Ranger did not pick Survival as a skill, they might want to reconsider.
- Zephyr Strike. An interesting spell that lets a Ranger make weapon attacks with advantage on their first attack each turn and increase their movement by 30 feet. Additionally, all of this movement while the spell is in effect does not provoke opportunity attacks. This a great spell for Rangers to move out of melee range if they are focused on ranged combat, and this is especially powerful for Ranger that focus on melee combat since they can move in on a target, attack, and then move away with no risk. Very powerful, very useful, definitely helps change the way a Ranger fights and makes them quite potent in early levels. Even in later tiers of play, this spell grants the Ranger a lot of mobility than most items or class features can hope to grant.
Overall, there are some very useful and powerful spells presented in this Unearthed Arcana article. While some spells seemed more flavorful, they were not very impactful to the overall gameplay. The Paladin and Sorcerer both received the short straw of new spells granted to them, which is unfortunate since the Sorcerer is already boggled down with a limited spells known list, though the Paladin gains expanded spells through their oaths so that might seem as bad. The Cleric received two new damage dealing cantrips, which they sorely needed. The Druid and Ranger received some useful spells outside and during combat. The Bard did not receive a whole lot, much like the Warlock, but their spells did offer many playstyle options and changes that did not exist previously. The Wizard always wins out with more new spells, most of them were utility spells but that the class ultimately always relies on their utility more so than their damage dealing aspects. If this is a taste of new content from Wizards of the Coast for possibly future content in say a new Player’s Handbook 2 or campaign setting (crossing fingers for Eberron still), than I look forward to seeing if there will be additional spells for higher levels. We seriously need more 4th and 5th level spells for the Cleric and more options for 4th level spells in the Warlock. Additionally, 6th and 7th level spells for the Wizard only recently got better with the Elemental Evil supplement, but otherwise still could have some more room for improvement.
Don’t forget, you can download the Starter Spells Unearthed Arcana here.
Don’t forget to do the survey for previous UA for the Drunken Master, Oath of Redemption Paladin, and Monster Slayer Ranger here.
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