We finish our tour of the class options from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything covering the Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard subclasses, including feats. Beyond that, we’ll discuss the DM tools presented by Wizards of the Coast in another article.
Rogue Archetypes – Swashbuckling, masterminding, investigative scouter
The Swashbuckler and Mastermind were introduced in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide (which I wrote my own review of the product here). The Swashbuckler has quite a lot of mobility and can invoke Sneak Attacks without relying on combat advantage or nearby allies. The Mastermind was a completely different angle of a Rogue playstyle, wherein the features assist allies more so than empower themselves. The Mastermind is a great choice if you do not have another character to act as the party face instead. They are both unique playstyles, and both are genuinely fun to interact and play as.
The Inquisitive was presented in a Gothic Horror UA article (which I reviewed here) as a character trope of the discoverer and delver of secrets. Eye for Detail doesn’t seem useful as a feature initially, it’s very situational but great when you have to find a switch or solve a puzzle in the midst of combat or to avoid a deadly hazard. This particular archetype uses a lot of bonus actions, which sort of interferes with the Rogue’s base Cunning Actions. Insightful Fighting makes the Inquisitive self-reliant on dealing a Sneak Attack when needed, mainly if an ally is preoccupied and cannot assist you right away. The best part of this feature? It have no encounter based cool down, the Rogue merely has to spend a bonus action, and the effect lasts up to a minute until a different target is selected. Steady Eye is great for dungeon crawling, finding and noticing traps and secret doors. Unerring Eye gains limited uses between rests which instead of being an unlimited feature, though the primary function did not waiver. Eye of Weakness got a bump on power, which is rare in many rewrites as sometimes abilities or features might need to reduce their potency. The extra die of damage isn’t really significant as it doesn’t fill the damage void of attacking with advantage. But it’s more damage per round for the Inquisitive Rogue at higher levels that do not rely on allies to be adjacent to their targets or advantage of their attack rolls, meaning they can be much more aggressive with hit-and-run tactics.
The Scout appeared in a Ranger & Rogue UA article (which I reviewed here), and for the most part, the subclass received very few changes, but its last two features got a significant overhaul on mechanics. Ambush Master no longer grants a weird +5 bonus to initiative rolls during a surprise round and a bonus to their walking speed. The feature now grants advantage on initiative rolls and the first creature the Scout hits during the first round of combat is “marked” and becomes easier for them and their allies to strike the creature. This feature is written oddly assuming that the Rogue has additional attacks, but it doesn’t unless you have two-weapon fighting and a weapon on your off-hand. The feature is quite restrictive that only the creature first hit by the Scout becomes the target and it also has to be in the first round of combat too. It’s useful for having a strong start against a powerful enemy like a solo right out of the gate, but it loses its usefulness beyond that point. Now, Ambush Master does work in conjunction with Sudden Strike BUT now the way you would hope for it to work. Sudden Strike rewards the Scout with an additional Sneak Attack per turn (if already used) with a bonus action attack that automatically gets the boon BUT you cannot use the Sneak Attack on the same target more than a turn. Meaning that with Ambush Master, say you hit and trigger Sneak Attack, great. But afterward, you cannot use Sudden Strike on that same target and have to choose another within range. So you cannot focus fire with Sudden Strike but can take out other threats if needed but they just within range. It thematic fits the bow-wielding scouts with their quick shots, or even martial ones who toss daggers at foes who thought they were preoccupied.
Overall, some of the changes seemed not as incredible as previously perceived, but the Inquisitive is one of my new favorite archetypes and sort of works well as a gumshoe sort of character.
Sorcerer Bloodlines – the Divine Storm of Shadows
So the Divine Soul Sorcerer was featured originally as the Favored Soul in an Unearthed Arcana article that I reviewed (click here) and the Storm Sorcery Sorcerer was not exclusively covered in my other reviews, and the Shadow Magic Sorcerer was a last minute addition from Wizards.
The Divine Soul’s Divine Magic feature is probably one of the best highlights of this option. The Sorcerer can now learn cleric spells and based on their divine affinity, they can learn an additional spell. The Favored by the Gods feature is mostly a bless spell on occasion but slightly better. Empowered Healing is not as powerful unless the Divine Soul sorcerer administers the healing spell, but if the party cleric or paladin is healing the sorcerer and rolled poorly, well this is a great time to improve the odds. The iconic wings return to the Divine Soul sorcerer, which was quite a mainstay in its original debut back in D&D 3.5e. Unearthly Recovery is a terrific ability for a sorcerer, notably, if the party composition is lacking a dedicated healer or the healer is indisposed at the moment, and the Divine Soul requires attention. It’s a great panic button feature.
I loved the original concept of Storm Sorcery from its original UA version than the published one. The Unearthed Arcana version had bonus spells for sorcerers that were added to their spell list, almost like domain spells. Sorcerers already have a severe limitation with their spell selection choices, giving them more options is never a bad thing. Heart of the Storm is a great battlefield control mechanic, dealing damage to surrounding enemies as a reward for casting spells that deal lightning or thunder damage. Storm Guide has situational utility but works great for a campaign featured in the seas. Storm’s Fury is mostly a free casting of the thunderwave spell whenever hit by a melee attack. Wind Soul is a unique capstone, its better flight than most other capstones but also, the Storm Sorcerer can grant this ability to allies by reducing their fly speed. Very useful when there is a need for verticality, but the imagery of a Storm Sorcerer using the wind to lift their allies onto an enemy ship is quite fun.
The Shadow Magic Sorcerer was conceived from the original Shadow Sorcerer UA and later absorbed some of the Hexblade Warlock materials, essentially this sorcerer has a strong connection with the dark energies from the Shadowfell. Strength of the Grave is a weaker version of the Half-Orc’s Relentless Endurance feature, but grants the Shadow Sorcerer better shot of surviving combat more frequently. By 6th level, the Hound of Ill Omens emerges, and the sorcerer can summon an ally that creates a powerful debuff for the target, great for focusing firing on enemy leaders or bosses. Very important for a Sorcerer since many of their powerful spells require saving throws can deal a substantial bit of damage. Shadow Walk is absolutely fantastic with its 120 feet of teleportation while in dim light or darkness, and there’s no limit to its uses. Umbral Form makes the Shadow Sorcerer a semi-tank and can handle more extended combat encounters with its resistance to all damages except for force and radiant.
Overall, the sorcerer bloodlines provided a unique flavor to their associated origins and showcased a variety of different playstyles through these options. The Shadow Magic sorcerer was the only option that had not receive any playtest material but emerged compatible with the other class options with its longevity and ability to debuff enemies, which are essential features and skills to consider for casters if they wish to play this route.
Warlock Pacts – Call of the Divine and the Shadows
The Celestial pact was first featured in a separate gothic related UA article that was initially called the Undying Light pact, and the Hexblade was introduced in a UA article before this product (see our review here).
This final iteration of the Celestial patron Warlock has a variety of spells focused on healing and dishing out divine fury via flame strike and wall of fire. The bonus cantrips are always lovely and were probably the two most notable cleric cantrips chosen. The Healing Light feature is a healing pool wherein the warlock can spend dice in this makeshift positive energy pool to heal allies. Radiant Soul follows behind the Draconic Sorcerer with resistance to radiant damage and dealing extra damage with spells that deal radiant or fire damage, like flame strike. Celestial Resilience is essentially the Inspiring Leader feat but better in that it relies more on static values like warlock level and their Charisma modifier to determine the temporary hit points gained after a short or long rest. Searing Vengeance is a great comeback mechanic wherein the warlock essentially blasts enemies close by with damage whenever the Celestial warlock would make a death saving throw. It heals the Warlock equal to half their hit point maximum and allows them to instantly stand up which can be vital in some combat situations. The other best part of this feature? Creatures in the area of effect of Searing Vengeance are blinded with no save, that is incredibly powerful.
The Hexblade has undergone quite a bit of revision, with some of its original features gutted and ported over to the Shadow Magic Sorcerer. The Hexblade warlock is expected to be in melee combat more frequently, wielding their sentient weapons, which is reflected very clearly in the expanded spell slots. The Hexblade’s Curse initially possesses a lot of useful boons but very limited in uses. The curse also heals the Hexblade which encourages that more martial playstyle. Hex Warrior grants the Hexblade additional proficiencies but also designates a weapon to use their Charisma modifier for attack and damage rolls instead of the clunky stats like Strength or Dexterity. Accursed Specter is not as helpful as the Hound of Ill Omens, even the bump on attack rolls for its Life Drain attack seems somewhat lackluster in comparison. The Armor of Hexes is excellent in combat situations wherein there is either only a single creature or if the Hexblade has to take on a partial tank role. Rolling a d6 and having the attack miss on a 4 or better from the cursed target is a strong 33% chance to trigger and causes the attack to miss regardless. The capstone, Master of Hexes for me is presented in a bittersweet way. The Hexblade’s Curse transfers to new targets within 30 feet of the Warlock after the original has died, but you no longer regain hit points from the deceased creature when you shift your curse this way. It kind of defeats this whole idea of a baleful warrior who tosses out curses and reaps on the benefits with each kill. Maybe it was deemed too good, it might require some playtesting to analyze the potential of this final feature.
The Warlock invocations presented in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything were presented in Unearthed Arcana initially with patron specific prerequisites but were later removed in their revised draft before receiving further changes at publication. Some noteworthy invocations include Aspect of the Moon, Gift of the Ever-Living Ones, Shroud of Shadow and Trickster’s Escape. Aspect of the Moon means you no longer need sleep and can spend your time instead reading and studying your Tome of Shadows or some other light activity. Gift of the Ever-Living Ones works excellent when expending hit dice from short rests but equally useful for Celestial Warlocks casting healing spells on themselves. Shroud of Shadow grants invisibility at will which is very potent from escaping combat to stealthing to setting complex scenarios with spells. Trickster’s Escape grants freedom of movement between every short or long rest, which is very relevant in higher tiers of play with terrain and obstacles more frequently implemented.
Overall the Warlock has received some new options with two very different styles of play but highlights the unique characteristics of the class with the variety of permutations based on pacts and pact boons along with invocation selections. While the capstones from both features are not as game-breaking as the Infernal or Great Old One pacts, they still highlight their respective capabilities and strengthen the playstyle of these new pacts.
Wizard Traditions – When Wizards try to be on the frontlines
The War Magic tradition was introduced in an Unearthed Arcana article (which I reviewed here), and honestly, the changes to this tradition are just underwhelming. Not many changes occurred in this iteration other than Power Surge has been changed to be used more frequently with uses stored after ending a spell via counterspell or dispel magic. Power Surge appears weaker compared to its original version, I would much rather deal extra die damage than a static value that’s only half your Wizard level, even at 20th level, the feature only yields 10 extra points of damage. The only real saving grace from this tradition is honestly Tactical Wits, which allows the War Wizard to add their Intelligence modifier to their Initiative rolls, and Durable Magic for the +2 bonus to AC and saving throws while concentrating on a spell. The Arcane Deflection feature is just not productive, I would rather sacrifice the spell slots for shield anyways instead of a reaction and the inability to cast spells beyond cantrips. Deflective Shroud got significantly nerfed from the range increase. Honestly, it was better off keeping the short range and selecting targets of the wizard’s choice. There was initially talk about incorporating aspects of the Lore Wizard tradition in the War Magic side, but it seems that it fell through and will be reincorporated perhaps in something else in the future. The problem with the war magic tradition is that you do not want to craft the wizard to be like the sorcerer because then you might as well play one. So crafting features that fit the playstyle and aesthetic can be a challenge from a design side, we may address the War Magic tradition another time in the blog, but for now, this iteration is probably almost more underwhelming than the School of Transmutation tradition.
Final Impressions (from all parts)
Overall, Wizards of the Coast had taken some serious thought when it came to crafting these new class options after so many playtest articles and receiving feedback from the community at large. While there are definite elements of 4th edition design philosophy with the return of arbitrary values, there are some hallmarks like “aura” effects making a strong comeback. The remaining playtest material that didn’t make it into this supplement will most assuredly be seen again in some shape or form in a future supplement so have faith if an idea from an Unearthed Arcana article did not make it to publication this time around.
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