We continue our review of Wizards of the Coast’s latest D&D 5th edition supplement, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, starting where we left off in last week’s post.
Fighter Archetypes – From Arcane bows to Knights and Samurai
First up to bat, the Arcane Archer. I have spent practically years analyzing the various attempts to return this iconic archetype into the 5th Edition ruleset. It was torn between by a Fighter, a Ranger, or even a Wizard. Ultimately, the concept was finalized to a Fighter base though there might still be some variations that fit closer to the original aesthetic from editions of yore. I have gone on multiple articles on the topic to the point that I feel like I’ve been beating a dead horse for two years. While there have been reworks on the Eldritch Knight Fighter to become more of an Eldritch Warrior and thereby grant abilities and features that work for ranged or melee combat, this iteration of Arcane Archer is honestly my least favorite interpretation but it more on that later. The design direction of this Arcane Archer was merely this: “have a true archer but with some special magical arrows infused with the arcane energy.” From the revised UA material, this final version is not much different other than additional Arcane Shot options, and some got renamed since playtesting. The Arcane Shot options were expanded to encompass all eight schools of magic, imparting some measure of arcane knowledge from the archer onto the arrows shot. While nowhere near the utility of even the Eldritch Knight (which by the way was meager at best), it still has removal of a particular capacity. Banishing arrow is extremely powerful for the Arcane Archer to snipe out potential enemy tanks, Shadow Arrow is equally potent against tanks and even some striker role characters like barbarians or rogues with low wisdom. This hasn’t been my favorite iteration of the iconic class trope, primarily since the Arcane Shot options did not increase outside of two uses between short or long rests. Even if you include Ever-Ready Shot, there is not enough value in the main feature. In higher level combat, a martial character will dish out anywhere from 12 to 20 attack rolls. A 19th-level fighter has 4 attacks per Attack Action not including their Action Surges. Restricting the uses of Arcane Shot to only two instances of a long combat encounter is realistically underwhelming. My personal advice: increase the Arcane Shot uses as the Arcane Archer levels up, I would even refer to the Superiority Dice progression for guidance.
The Cavalier has gone through several name changes but ultimately settled with its true heritage. While still a mount specialist, this iteration remains a potent tank combatant. The only changes from the UA material would be the 15th level feature, now the Ferocious Charger, and the loss of a +1 to AC from the capstone. In the playtest, the “Knight” felt very little like a cavalry specialist was just an all-around warrior who marked their foes and defended allies while having occasional bonuses for having a mount. I enjoy the Ferocious Charger feature, it emphasizes a particular fighting style and way to play your Fighter that’s still iconic and familiar with unique in its own right.
The Samurai has gone through some significant changes in their features. Notably, their Fighting Spirit has become a combined feature of advantage on attacks until the end of the current turn and temporary hit points that scale based on Fighter level. Additionally, the Samurai gains more skill proficiencies which is always a great boon. Elegant Courier was also revised and allows the Samurai to acquire proficiency in Wisdom saving throws, if already proficient they can choose between Intelligence or Charisma. This feature counters the old concept of “big dumb fighter” and really allows for a more, cunning and wise warrior. Unbreakable Will was replaced with Tireless Spirit to grant Fighting Spirit uses if none when rolling initiative. Rapid Strike no longer uses a bonus action on the action economy and just becomes part of the attack action but only once per turn. Even so, this feature proves quite compelling, a Samurai at 19th level with four attack rolls per Attack Action plus this feature can yield 5 attacks, if they are duel-wielding they get 6 (from bonus action). Additionally, on an Action Surge turn, that becomes 10 attacks total. That quite the substantial amount of attack rolls, with most of them, made with advantage. Something is going to feel the hurt. Strength Before Death remains mostly unchanged with the added clause of the Samurai still having 0 hit points at the end of the extra turn, they will fall unconscious. Overall, the Samurai has indeed been polished since its UA days and proves to be quite the contender.
Monk Traditions – Drunks, Perfectionists, and Sun what?
The Drunken Master is an iconic monk trope made famous in Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master, we have seen the Drunken Master since the early days of 3.5e, and it has continued as a staple for “fallen” monks. The Drunken Technique remains mostly unchanged other than separating the Performance skill proficiency for clarity purposes. Tipsy Sway has been split into two subfeatures, essentially granting the ability to get out of prone easily plus the redirecting attack that now costs 1 ki point (which removed the short/long rest cooldown from the playtest). Drunkard’s Luck has been improved to include attack and ability rolls while increasing the cost to 2 ki points but only to cancel disadvantage. Intoxicating Frenzy remains the same as the playtest. Older editions of the Drunken Master granted a flame breath effect but spitting out alcohol through a flame, while it was underwhelming in older editions it was a fun ability to give. This Drunken Master is a lean, mean fighting machine and feels more at home to Jackie Chan’s rendition.
The Kensei has undergone a lot of changes across its UA existence with its initial offering being extraordinarily underwhelming and confusing with some of the rule texts. Up until the revised subclass playtest, this iteration of the Kensei remains mostly unchanged from that iteration. The only real change was renaming Precise Strike to Deft Strike for the One With the Blade feature.
The last monk offering is an old repeat from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, the Sun Soul. I’m honestly not going to review it since there were no changes from its original printing. The only reason for its inclusion is to allow for it be used under Adventurer Leagues (Wizards of the Coast’s official D&D organized play) as the extra +1 supplement book to bring besides the Player’s Handbook.
Overall, the monk has gotten its fair share of upgrades through the Way of the Open Hand monk is still the most potent out of the choices currently available. The Elemental Monk requires an extensive revision to be made viable again, but the Shadow Monk is considered reliable. The Long Death Monk and Sun Soul Monk are two different playstyles that emphasize killing opponents and bursting with radiant damage respectively. I’ve attempted my own version of the Kensei previously on this blog, so I revisit the idea again and see if there were any way to bring back to the concept of a Kensei closer to its original intent.
Paladin Oaths – Of Conquests and Redemption
The Oath of Conquest is what I could call the “Darth Vader” of Paladins, it is the quintessential blackguard concept. Spreading fear and ruling over others with it. Only a few oath spells were changed from the playtest, namely blight and insect plague being replaced by stoneskin and cloudkill. The changes fit more aesthetically but also the playstyle of the class which focused on reducing movement and escape for frightened foes. Conquering Strike became Conquering Presence which is mostly a Channe Divinity feature that causes a fear effect within 30 feet. Aura of Conquest now only works on creatures frightened by you and deals psychic damage equal to half your Paladin level. While the damage isn’t thrilling, it does pose to be a significant detractor against mages, especially those that fail their fear effects. Impacable Spirit was replaced with Scornful Rebuke, which now deals psychic damage whenever the Conquest Paladin is hit by an attack (this includes spell attacks). I like this a lot more as it encourages the Paladin to be in the thick of combat and dish out punishment against their foes. Also, it adds more to the Paladin’s DPR (damage per round) and makes them a significant threat, sadly it still feels more like an NPC option more than an actual character option, unless you’re playing an evil campaign in which case this will be great for that.
The Oath of Redemption Paladin also experienced some fine-tuning. This oath lost the Armor of Peace and Warrior of Reconciliation, which honestly didn’t seem to fit well overall as mechanics though they are flavorful aligned with the concept. The channel divinity options remained the same as the playtest. Aura of the Guardian remains mostly unchanged other than the increase added to the range at 18th-level. Protective Spirit and the Emissary of Redemption capstone remained unchanged.
I love the modifications to the Conquest Paladin, and the Redemption Paladin seems more consistent than the original version.
Ranger Archetypes – The stepchild of the Player’s Handbook
The Ranger has gotten a lot of smack across the life of 5th edition for its underwhelming options and lack of benefits of fighting against their favored enemies. There was even a revised Ranger write up which has had mixed reactions from the community at large though any specifics have been left behind the curtain of Wizards of the Coast. The Gloom Stalker was initially the Dark Stalker, and there have some changes since that UA article. The new spells fit better with a Ranger meant to infiltrate and be unseen, the Dread Ambusher feature is the old Underdark Scout but fits the scout style of combat with movement and added momentum quantified as damage. Umbral Sight is a very dangerous ability for a Ranger to possess, especially for even a Drow Elf character. Additional 30 feet of Darkvision if already possessing it, or Darkvision 60 feet, but while in darkness, the Gloom Stalker is invisible to creatures with darkvision. This is the highlight of the class, it is a true stalker of the night. Iron Mind has been enhanced to grant saving throws to Intelligence or Charisma if the Gloom Stalker is already proficient in Wisdom saving throws. Stalker’s Flurry remains unchanged other than more explicit language. Shadowy Dodge also continued unchanged, and it’s quite a useful feature especially at higher levels of play.
The Horizon Walker was a planar ranger in concept, in older versions, it didn’t quite possess the abilities or features that we might associate with a walker of the planes. Portal Lore was changed to Detect Portal, the range has been increased to 1 mile from 1000 feet, but we lose a lot of the insightful parts of the original feature. Whether or not that was the intention, I cannot guess, but it feels as if it might have been too much information for a 3rd level character to possess so early in their career. Planar Warrior has been improved with a higher damage die, but also it scales and deals more damage based on Ranger level. The remaining features: Ethereal Step, Distant Strike, and Spectral Defense remained unchanged from their original inception.
The Monster Slayer has had considerable upgrades from its original concept as a Fighter Archetype, which now belongs more comfortably under the Ranger’s arsenal. Again, we are given new spells that are auto-included to the Ranger’s spell list once they reach the appropriate level. Hunter’s Sense has its reach reduced to 60 feet from the original 120 and all relevant information about immunities, resistances, or vulnerabilities of a creature which can be used several times and replenished after a short or long rest. Slayer’s Eye was changed to Slayer’s Prey and mainly covers the extra damage dealt to a selected target. The Magic-User’s Nemesis feature is probably one of the most poorly named features, just saying. The feature has been streamlined from the original version with an improved range of 60 feet. Slayer’s Counter remains unchanged from the original version.
Many of the new Ranger options genuinely try to expand the Ranger’s utility inside and outside of combat. From new spells to features relevant to the archetype’s playstyles, the Ranger feels much more focused than the original options presented in the Player’s Handbook.
Current Final Impressions
Overall, the changes from the playtest to the published materials have proven to be polished. Except for the Arcane Archer, of which, I have many personal dispositions against, but that matter could cover another article in of itself.
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