After a long and hard Unearthed Arcana spree, we finally return to a bi-monthly release with Wizards of the Coast. After receiving feedback from DMs and players across their long string of Unearthed Arcana material, we are presented with some amendments to some subclasses. Specifically, five popular subclasses that were given a fresh approach for some, or rewrites on others. The fact that these popular subclasses got the first early treatment to revisions brings hope that they may appear in future products in the foreseeable future. I’m personally pleased with the great strides made to the College of Blades Bard, the Arcane Archer Fighter (really happy with the results), and the Way of the Kensei Monk. The Ancestral Guardian Barbarian also received some overhaul with their spiritual guardians, and the Favored Soul also received changes that granted secondary roles even.
Click here to see the Revised Subclass Unearthed Arcana material.
Path of the Ancestral Guardians – A Barbarian Remembers
Let’s a take look back at the original Ancestral Guardians Barbarian (click here for Unearthed Arcana), we even did a review for it (click here for review). I also made my own Ancestral Spirit Barbarian at the same time the Unearthed Arcana released, click here to check it out.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Spiritual Guardians feature at 3rd level will have to be the shortened paragraph. Why is that an issue? Well, the revision now has the spirits latch onto an enemy whenever the Barbarian hits with an attack roll while raging. In other words, this feature now rewards the Barbarian for doing what they are normally prone to do, attack things and hit them (especially when enablers like their Reckless Attack feature). The target has disadvantage on attack rolls against the Barbarian (which mitigates the Reckless Attack advantage if enabled), and other creatures that are not the Barbarian gain resistance to all of the target’s attacks. This definitely fits a more tank defined role, automatically triggering the effect whenever the Barbarian hits fits the profile much better here. Granted, the Barbarian loses out on the free opportunity attack if the target uses the Disengage action, but I think that’s fair given the circumstances.
The original Spirit Shield feature was rather lackluster, especially in the wake of elemental damage and magic itself. It was great against weapons since the damage was transferred to the Barbarian but seemed too situational to be beneficial. Enter the new Spirit Shield, now it’s set to a reaction for an ally within 30 feet, reducing the damage by 2d8 and scales to 4d8 by 14th level. It’s the greatest ability but definitely seems flavorful and mechanically “cleaner” from a design perspective. The original feature felt like a bad version of Warding Bond. The revision isn’t honestly the most thrilling feature but it’s clean and simple which is a win for development and design.
Consult the Spirits got much more functionality and better with the revision. Clairvoyance is a very useful spell, especially if the party does not have a rogue or ranger to help scout ahead. The original simply helped with Intelligence and Wisdom checks, which from a power level perspective seemed extremely lackluster compared to Berserker and Totem Warrior Barbarian subclasses.
Vengeful Ancestors largely kept to the same damage dice quality but instead has now become synonymous with Spirit Shield and therefore allows it to scale. So it Spirit Shield now not only protects an ally it damages the foe based on the amount prevented. The only downside is that this feature no longer applies to the Barbarian themselves compared the previous version but it seems like a worthwhile sacrifice to grant protective qualities in your tank.
College of Swords Bard – Dancing Blades
So the College of Swords actually came from an older Unearthed Arcana back in 2015 under the title: Kits of Old (click here to see the Unearthed Arcana material). We didn’t do a review for the Kits of Old Unearthed Arcana but we’ll cover both at the same time here. The history of this subclass stems from another named class type called Dervish which were scimitar wielding characters who used the art of dancing to supplement their combat capabilities.
Both versions offered additional proficiencies with medium armor and scimitars. The revised version tacks on the additional boon of allowing the Sword Bard to cast bard spells and use their weapons as a spellcasting focus. Nothing extravagant but mechanically still relevant.
The original Swords Bard only offered the Two-Weapon Fighting fighting style, but now the revised version offers Dueling as well. The ability to have a choice is quite useful, additionally, the point of this offering was to broaden the subclass from the original core identity of the duel wielding dervishes of old. Now it fits a variety of playstyles besides simply two-weapon fighting.
The calling card of this subclass were the Blade Flourishes that the Sword Bard would perform using their mastery of the sword. The only original flourish that made it to the revision was the Defensive Flourish. The previous versions took away from the Sword Bard’s focus of their mastery of the blade and while some of them were very novel in execution, they felt ill-suited here. The revision focuses more combat oriented powers, like the Slashing Flourish granting the Sword Bard to perform a whirlwind attack (a term burrowed from 3rd Edition based on a feat of the same name). The Mobile Flourish is an odd name but it does allow the Sword Bard to push the target away so they can freely move away if needed.
Extra Attack is still Extra Attack but now with a twist, it’s now named Cunning Flourish, namely it wass to address the original concern of applying multiple Blade Flourishes if both attacks hit. In the revision, the Bard can only use one Flourish per turn. We are quite thankful for that clarification.
Battle Magic was a catch-all ability that was granted to martial spellcaster classes and honestly seeing in the Kits of Old material made this subclass lackluster and almost begged the question of whether this was better than the College of Valor Bard. Thankfully in the revision, we were given some much more useful and meaningful for the flourishing Sword Bard since all their flourishes rely on expending Bardic Inspiration die. By substituting a d6 roll instead of expending a die, that’s a very useful and powerful feature. Since Bardic Inspiration die are not exactly plentiful, having something reward the character for their focus and dedication is extremely satisfying. It let’s the Sword Bard use their features more often and worthwhile to invest in the subclass.
Arcane Archer Fighter – How many times does it take?
Alright, I’ll admit, on this blog I’ve gone over the Arcane Archer as an archetype many times, both as a Ranger Conclave and a Fighter Archetype. In the end, Wizards chose to bestow the mantle to the Fighter.
In the original Arcane Archer, you had the Arcane Arrow feature grant magical arrows that dealt 2d6 Force damage but only twice between rests which I had stated it being an underwhelming feature. The Arcane Shot allowed the Arcane Archer to infuse types of magic to grant certain results based on the school of magic. By 18th level, the Arcane Archer would know at six of the eight Arcane Shot options which allowed for a variety of iterations based on player choice. Finally, the Arcane Archer gained new skill proficiencies from a sizable list in the original version. In the revised version, the Magic Arrow feature instantly grants nonmagical arrows fired from a bow a +1 bonus to attack and damage. It simplifies the emphasis that the arrows the Arcane Archer fires are magical in nature without making it seem overpowered. The Arcane Shot feature unfortunately got the carryover of the two uses from the original version which honestly felt far to restrictive when compared to the allotment of choices versus execution. I mean, six arcane shot options and only being able to use two of them between short and long rests? Really? While all the Arcane Shot options now have an 18th-level empowerment to help them scale for those higher levels of play. Let’s do some math first.
18th-level fighter as 3 Attacks when using the Attack action and assuming a Dexterity score of 18 using a Longbow.
Using Bursting Arrow, each arrow has to be magic which means +1, if all three attacks hit and if you choose to expend both uses of Arcane Shot for Bursting Arrow:
[Longbow damage x3] (3d10+15) + [Bursting Arrow] (4d6 Force damage) = average of 46 damage. [1st Round]
[Longbow damage x3] (3d10+15) + [Bursting Arrow] (4d6 Force damage) = average of 46 damage. [2nd Round]
Totalling an average of 92 damage.
A wizard casting Meteor Swarm deals an average of 140 damage on a failed save, and 70 on a successful one.
Both can only utilize this damage output once in a combat encounter, granted the Arcane Archer regains their uses after a short or long rest compared to the Wizard’s long rest. Also the Arcane Archer has to spend 2 rounds to deal this sort of damage compared the Wizard with one single spell cast. Looking at this perspective, the additional dice damage at 18th level vastly made the Arcane Archer much more sustainable compared to the original version. Whether or not I find the limited uses still an odd artifact from design, at least the conversation can be addressed about it compared to the previous discussion I gave for this archetype.
The Arcane Shots remained largely unchanged from the original version but instead now most of them deal damage that befits their school of magic and the 2d6 Force damage from the original Magic Arrow feature has been translated to the Arcane Shot options instead which I think makes them all viable in combat and removes some of the clutter in the language of the mechanics.
Curving Shot replaced Conjure Arrows, which honestly was a mechanic that was more for flavor and bookkeeping purposes that did little to influence the way the subclass ran. Instead now, the Arcane Archer can spend a bonus action to reroll their attack and direct it to a new target within 60 feet of the original. A nice feature but once the encounter devolves into a single enemy left (sometimes the big boss encounter), you start running out of targets and this feature sort of becomes dead in the water. Still nice in the early portions of most combat encounters.
Ever-Ready Shot solves a bit of my issues with the Arcane Shot feature for situations when the Arcane Archer runs out of Arcane Shot uses. Especially when the Arcane Archer doesn’t have the opportunity to take a short rest or get interrupted in the middle of one.
We lose the Deadly Arrow feature from the original as it became transplanted to all the Arcane Shot options instead. But honestly it feels aesthetically cleaner not having such a clunky ability there anymore, and since we simplified the language by incorporating one feature into another, it works out better and seems better organized. The best idea was the integrate the Magic Arrow feature from the original into all the shot options which made it feel less cluttered. If you read the original as is, it made it sound that making as if the Magic Arrow made any shot deal 2d6 Force damage OR you chose to make an Arcane Shot arrow. Now the creation of the Magic Arrow is automated and becomes seamlessly part of the action of using the Arcane Shot feature. I’m quite pleased with this evolution and revision, I personally would love to play this sort of class build and see how it handles compared to half-casters like Paladins who can equally explode in damage if needed.
Way of the Kensei Monk – Finding the Way
I’ve made several iterations of the Kensei both as a Fighter and Monk, they weren’t the greatest attempts I’ll admit. In fact, those iterations are probably the worse designs mechanically I’ve ever conceived across my time with homebrewing content. You can review the previous Kensei Unearthed Arcana here, along with my review of it here.
Looking back at my design, I can see some of my original elements in the original Kensei Unearthed Arcana but just like the previous version, we had some flaws to work out. The language in the original was very clunky and some of the features felt lackluster. Well Wizards upped the power level a little bit this time around and made wielding kensei weapons worthwhile.
The Path of the Kensei got some updates on its language, in the original version, there were stipulations that separated kensei weapons from monk weapons. But ultimately the simpler path was to make kensei weapons be monk weapons as they did in the revision. Additionally, kensei weapons now incorporate ranged weapons unlike the original which presumed only melee weaponry. There was also some changes with extra damage with kensei weapons, which was reincorporated into the Precise Strike option of One With the Blade. Ranged kensei weapons deal an extra 1d4 damage out of the gate instead of the weird verbage from before. Additionally, the kensei learns more weapons as they progress further into this subclass.
One With the Blade got some modifications with their Precise Strike option, which previously I felt lackluster with the double proficiency bonus to attack rolls. Instead, we reincorporated part of the old Path of the Kensei, which was the best damage dealing portion. Now, the Kensei spends 1 ki point to add their martial arts dice as extra damage whenever they hit with a kensei weapon once per turn. I believe that’s a much better turnaround from the previous way to handle it.
Sharpen the Blade actually remained unchanged, but I still love it for what’s worth.
Unerring Accuracy got some language adjustment now just stating it on monk weapons, which kensei weapons are also categorized as monk weapons. But it opens up the repertoire a lot more for the Kensei Monk since it can include the rest of the monk weapon list. I’m pleased with this change in language, as it was more an inclusive change that gave the Kensei more functionality instead of be limiting.
Favored Soul Sorcerer – Arcane Mercy?
So the Favored Soul was another heavily favorited subclass that did receive some worthwhile changes that actually granted it a secondary role. You can click here for the original Unearthed Arcana material, and we did a review for it here.
Divine Magic remained largely unchanged but had a freebie of the Cure Wounds spell for the Favored Soul. Free spells are always good for the Sorcerer class, granting Cure Wounds established the opportunity for the Favored Soul to take a secondary healer role. We did lose the Supernatural Resilience feature, which is a fair ability to lose since it felt counterintuitive to the philosophy of the class being a true caster. Plus we wanted to differentiate ourselves from the Dragonic Sorcerer.
Favored of the Gods remained unchanged, it’s actually a nifty feature as one of my playtesters recently discover in a our casual game.
We lose Bless Countenance and received Empowered Healing instead. I’m sort of on the fence with this change. I liked the Bless Countenance since the Favored Soul would have a divine presence that made others more susceptible to their charms. The Empowered Healing is a great feature and ties well with the free Cure Wounds spell added but it shifts the Favored Soul more to the secondary healer role and while that is a playstyle choice it does pigeon-hole into it. It works well if the party make either already has a true healer or needs a stronger application of a secondary healer if the party lacks a true healer.
We lost Divine Purity and received Angelic Form. So there goes me saying that we are trying to seem less Draconic Sorcerer and yet we have a feature that makes the Favored Soul more angelic in nature. Much like the Draconic Sorcerer’s Dragon Wings, the Angelic Form grants wings and flying speed. Mobility and height to distance the caster from foes is a great and useful feature, but the immunity to disease, poison damage, and the poisoned condition were honestly better in the long run.
Unearthly Recovery received no changes. It’s good and it’s useful, no need to fix it right?
I’m pleased that Wizards of the Coast reviewed the feedback from the community regarding the many Unearthed Arcana material they released. The changes do reflect some of the impressions felt by others, especially on Twitter. Overall, it’s a good step in the right direction, especially seeing the opinions having an impact. Some of the subclasses received miniscule changes but they still left quite an impact, even the change in wording and language made the features either run smoother or removed any previous confusion. The additional feedback from the community will help shape these subclasses to their final versions but I honestly feel that these may be the final versions. Only time and a proper publication release will tell. If you’re like me, you’re probably excited on what else awaits us in the coming months and when these classes will make their debut.
Again, click here to see the Revised Subclass Unearthed Arcana material.
What changes did you like? What did you not like? Share your comments and let’s discuss down below.
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