Unearthed Arcana Digest (Part 2)
In the previous article in this series, we took a look at a dragon’s hoard of new or enhanced features for the nine core classes of D&D 5e. Now that we’ve officially passed 5e’s birthday (what a precocious little six-year-old), let’s take a look at some of the most recent class archetypes (aka subclasses) that have come out from Unearthed Arcana.
The newest UA material looks to me like it’s going to be a blast! In Subclasses04, we get two new archetypes: the College of Spirits for the Bard and the Undead Patron for the Warlock. WotC seemed to be in a thematic mood for this one (maybe because of the release of their updated Curse of Strahd campaign?). Both of these archetypes have to do with the (un)dead. Follow along in the document as we take a look at these spooky new options.
College of the Spirits
Right off the bat, the flavor of this archetype is incredibly appealing. A Bard who learns their spell/lore/music-craft from the spirits of the dead? Hells yeah!! First-off, a free guidance cantrip with an improved range: sweeeet! Next, they get new spellcasting focus options. Perhaps a little mundane, but it sounds pretty cool to use a SKULL for your focus, or a tarokka (Tarot) deck, or talking (Ouija) board. I invite you to imagine a Bard wielding a skull like a hand puppet, miming the verbal components. . . How awesome is that? What’s more, this Spiritual Focus ability is upgraded at level 6: when using one of those foci, spells you cast do 1d6 more damage or healing. That’s a nice little boost for the versatility of the Bard!
But the highlight of this archetype is Tales from the Beyond: basically the ability to channel the stories of the dead to boost your allies or sew discord among your foes. This ability uses your Bardic Inspiration to have the spirits impart a lost tale to your mind. Anytime before your next rest, you can use an action and designate a creature to be the target of the tale: maybe the character (self, friend, or foe) reminds the spirits of a long-lost hero or tragic figure. You roll your Inspiration die and generate a result from a 12-option table.
Since you roll your Inspiration die to see which kind of tale comes up, it means you won’t get to use some of the most powerful ones until higher levels (which makes sense). But even by level 5, you’ll have access to 2/3rds of the chart, so there’s still a great amount of variety. Right at the start of the chart, meaning you have access to it as soon as you get this archetype (3rd level), is a tale of a clever Beast. For a minute, you give the target of the tale advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks and Pack Tactics! Give those Rogues advantage for devastating crits or to a Ranger fighting alongside their animal companion. One of my favorites!
Others deal damage in multiples of your Inspiration die plus your Charisma mod. Other tales heal the party, grant temp HP, or have your party (probably your whole party, unless you have a larger group) each misty step as a reaction! Others inflict conditions - and you know I’m all about that (The Game Must Flow, The Conditions Combo). Once you hit level 10, you’ll be able to give someone a 30-ft. cone breath weapon! All that and more. This is such a neat ability, and frankly, one that I’ve been looking for in a Bard archetype. The tale/story based Bard is one that hasn’t received too much attention, and gathering stories from the spirits of the dead is just so cool.
All of these abilities are accessible right from level 3 (aside from the more advanced Tales). At 6th level, you can conduct a ceremony with your friends and allies to learn a single spell (divination or necromancy) from ANY spell list. Not the most flashy schools of magic, but again it’s huge versatility since you could get a new one each day. The final archetype ability allows you unlimited uses of the first six tales: no need to spend Inspiration!
Overall, this is the archetype I’ll be choosing for the next time I roll up a Bard. The mechanics offer fun roleplaying opportunities (seeding you with ideas for lost tales) in addition to the cool mechanical benefits. It’s true that this featured ability has built-in randomness - you never know which kind of story the spirits are going to give you - but it allows you to do so much more with your Inspiration dice! This is especially nice once you hit level 5 and are restoring your Inspiration every short rest. Kudos to WotC for this archetype design.
The Undead (Warlock Patron)
For all you Warlock-lovers out there, this patron sets itself apart from the others. Instead of your patron being some otherworldly entity or extraplanar being, it is instead a powerful undead being such as a lich, vampire, mummy, etc. This archetype would be perfect for a Ravenloft or Tomb of Annihilation campaign, where your patron is an undead being opposing or “allied with” the main adversaries.
The expanded spell list is quite good, including several of the spells that I’ve made special mention of in prior articles: bane, blindness/deafness, phantasmal force. And those are just the lower levels! For 4th and 5th-level spells, you get access to greater invisibility (always good!) and cloudkill.
But the crowning glory of this archetype is Form of Dread, an ability to take on a sinister, undead-themed mantle related to your patron. In addition to a healthy pool of temp HP and immunity to being frightened, you’re able to temporarily frighten one enemy per round on a successful attack. Naturally, this is a fantastic pairing with the Warlock’s trust eldritch blast cantrip or anyone using Pact of the Blade. Since you get this ability at LEVEL 1, this is a superb ability to do a multiclass splash. The number of times you can transform is equal to your proficiency bonus and the frightening effect applies to any kind of attack. A fighter with one level of this can strike fear into their enemies every round - huzzah for more conditions!
As you gain levels in Warlock, the archetype abilities continue to enhance Form of Dread. At 6th-level, you become Grave Touched, no longer needing to eat, drink, or breathe. Super fluffy. AND you can choose to make any damaging spell deal necrotic damage (instead of the usual damage type), which also deals an additional die of damage while in your dread form! Granted, most of the bonus spells for this archetype aren’t damage-dealers (that’s what your other known spells can be for). But consider this: you manifest your dreadful guise (did I mention this is a BONUS action?!), cast your eldritch blast (each attack dealing 2d10 if you opt for necrotic damage), then next round cast your hex and hit with eldritch blast again (each dealing 2d10+1d6 to your hexed target). On top of all that, you can frighten someone and apply any other effects from your Invocations. Deal some crazy cantrip damage, push your target back (Repelling Blast), and frighten a target so they can’t move closer to you (or anyone else in your direction). (Un)holy moly!
At 10th-level, you get full immunity to necrotic damage while in your Form of Dread and even get a death burst that leaves you standing at 1 HP after dealing an average of at least 21 necrotic damage to everything within 30 feet. That one recharges every 1d4 long rests, but damn, that’s still cool. Just use your greater invisibility after that. The last feature of this archetype gives your Warlock an astral projection ability, allowing your spirit to leave your body and granting you a plethora of bonuses. Resistance to physical damage, fly through objects and walls, and regain HP when dealing necrotic damage!
All in all, a cool addition to the already expansive Warlock repertoire. For my money, Warlock is one of the best multi-class dips for just one or two levels, and with Form of Dread at 1st-level, that makes the deal even sweeter. I think this archetype also offers a unique kind of patron, one that could make for a very interesting love-hate dynamic throughout your campaign.
Next, we’ll look at three archetypes that allow you to explore the domain of psionics in D&D 5e. As discussed at the beginning of the Psionic Options supplement, psionics has received a mixed reception in the past (both in 5e and previous editions). WotC presented us with the Mystic class (which I won’t be talking about here) back in 2017 that was the pure version of a psionicist: a very versatile class that was generally viewed as too complicated/powerful and might tread on the toes of other classes. So now we have archetypes for the Fighter, Rogue, and Sorcerer that allow you to bring psionics into your game in a more limited capacity. Some may not think this type of magic/power fits into the general D&D milieu, but I encourage everyone to keep an open mind, as we’ll see some pretty sweet abilities.
Our first stop is the archetype for the Fighter, which starts with three Psionic Talents that are fueled by a Psionic Talent die. In some ways, these Talents are similar to Battle Master maneuvers, where you spend a die to roll it and use the result for the effects of that maneuver. At level 3, your options are damage reduction (die roll + Int mod) to a target within 30 feet: pretty damn good, especially with that nice little range. A huge boost to your jumping ability (2x die roll + 2x Int mod extrafeet) which only costs ONE foot of movement: a Jedi-style Force leap! Lastly, a damage boost (equal to the die roll) up to once per round. This last one is the most boring of the basic Talents - but the Fighter doesn’t need help dealing damage anyway - I like that they made it applicable up to a target you hit within 30 feet, so it’s also helping ranged Fighters.
But the coolest aspect of the Psionic Talent die is that it works a little differently from usual maneuvers. Instead of having a pool of dice to spend, you have a single die which starts as a d6 after each long rest (the starting size also increases as you level). BUT, when you roll the maximum result when using a Psionic Talent, the die size decreases by one step (d8 -> d6 -> d4). On the other hand, when you roll a 1, the die increases in size. The die becomes unusable once you roll a 4 on the d4, but there is no maximum size limit (RaW) for the die. Though this would mean you’re rolling a lot of 1’s if the die is getting huge.
We all know how I lovingly endorse narrative flow, and I think the Psionic Talent die is a perfect example of how a game mechanic can support this idea. After your Fighter does a heroic leap by rolling the max on the Talent die, her mental energy is strained and she cannot put as much psionic effort into the next Talent, and vice versa. Although there may come a point when you don’t want to risk losing your Talent die for the day, you can also reset it to its starting size once per long rest. I think this gives you enough uses - unless you’re getting very lucky, or perhaps unlucky depending on your point of view - throughout the day. Note that you always have an equal chance of the die increasing/decreasing in size. And for the majority of Psionic Talent rolls, the die will remain the same size.
Phew, that was a lot to say about the Psi Knight’s basic feature. At higher levels, your new abilities augment the core Talents. At 7th-level, you can knock a creature prone or push it back when dealing extra damage, or move a loose object or CREATURE (Large or smaller) 30 feet in any direction. (Definitely feeling the Jedi vibes here.) Still higher, you gain resistance to poison and psychic damage and are immune to being poisoned. At 15, you can give yourself and allies constant half-cover, and the final feature at 18 allows you to use telekinesis as long as you have your Psionic Talent die available.
I didn’t get into the nitty-gritty of the latter features since they’re pretty straightforward, but some of them require you to reduce the size of your Talent die when you use them. Ultimately, not a great cost for all the fun you can have with this archetype. It feels very different from a lot of other Fighter subclasses and I can’t overstate how marvelous I think the Talent die is for adding narrative flow to your game.
This is the archetype for the Rogue and is a name we’ve seen before in previous versions/editions of psionic rules. Simply put, it’s a classic. All the psionic archetypes I’m covering here use the Psionic Talent die feature, which functions just the same as I described above. Each of these subclasses just gets different uses for their Talent die. So far, so awesome! The Rogue’s first Psionic Talent allows you to add the result of your die roll to a failed ability check (using a skill or tool). A nice little way to make the difference between success and failure when you need an ability check to count (not losing your balance on a treacherous cliff, disabling a dastardly trap just in time, etc.). The second talent is to form a telepathic link between you and other characters (equal to your die roll) which you can use to talk while within 1 mile of each other. The nice thing about this one is that you and the other creatures don’t need to share a language.
The real signature ability for the Soulknife is their. . . soul knives, I mean “Psychic Blades” (who knew?). Instead of attacking with physical blades, you can manifest them in your bare hand(s). You get the equivalent of a shortsword that can be thrown up to 60 feet (no long-range) and deals psychic damage. And if you’re the dual-wielding type, you can create a second one in your off-hand, though it only deals 1d4 base damage instead of 1d6. A finesse and thrown weapon that can go 60 feet is pretty fantastic, though you do lose the ability to increase your attack and damage bonuses by not having magical weapons. The coolest (and fluffiest) thing about this ability is that the blades completely disappear after you strike with them AND they leave no marks or wounds on your victim. . . I mean, target. A sweet ability for a Rogue who wants to sew confusion among their enemies by causing mysterious deaths.
At level 9, you gain some new ways to use your Talent die. The first is to add the result to a missed attack roll when using your Psychic Blades - though scoring a hit reduces your die size, no matter the result. Handy for sure, but something you have to be a little careful in using since it could deplete your Talent die very quickly. The other Talent is a 40-foot (farther at later levels) teleport as a bonus action, also decreasing your die size. The flavor for this ability is great too: you throw a psychic blade and teleport anywhere within range along its trajectory. RaW, it’s unclear whether you need a clear line of effect to the targeted space. Can you teleport to a space you can see on the other side of a window, for instance? The Talent says “you throw it at an unoccupied space that you can see,” but doesn’t say the blade must reach that space. Either way, a sweet pair of abilities.
At 13, you can become invisible for 10 minutes once per long rest (though you can use it again by decreasing your Talent die size). Invisibility is always a Rogue’s friend. Last, but not least, at level 17, you can force a target you hit to make a Wisdom save or become stunned. The DC is based on your Dexterity, so that’s awesome. If you want to use it multiple times per long rest, you must decrease your die size.
Overall, these are pretty cool new features for the Rogue (no ways to inflict conditions though, womp womp, aside from stunning at level 17). I would’ve expected a little more mental manipulation from a psychic assassin: mentally blinding or poisoning a creature temporarily, maybe? Also, compared to the Psi Knight, it seems much more difficult for the Soulknife to increase the size of their Talent die. The only opportunity you have to do this is creating your telepathic link (and rolling a 1) or failing an ability check (and rolling a 1). I guess this encourages you to seek out ways to make more ability checks or mess with NPCs by speaking with them telepathically. (However, this latter option isn’t feasible because linked creatures can just leave the telepathic chat room at will.) BUT, those methods just seem like you’re trying to game the system to keep your mechanical bonus higher rather than adding to the narrative flow that seems to work so well with the Fighter archetype. Also, was it really necessary to make the off-hand attack deal less damage? Rogues are already underpowered damage dealers, and WotC could’ve just kept both blades at a d6 without a problem.
At last, we get to the Sorcerer, so let’s dive right into the Psionic Talents. First off, you can learn any divination or enchantment spell from the Sorcerer’s spell list, which lasts a number of hours equal to your Psionic Talent die roll. More spell versatility for the Sorcerer: I’m in! Next, we have a Talent which allows you to cast without any verbal component AND if you roll at least equal to the level of the spell, it requires no somatic or material components either. RaW, this includes the possibility of ignoring expensive material components! Granted, the more expensive spells don’t come until higher levels, but it’s still a possibility as long as your Talent die is large enough. The Sorcerer gets a telepathic link ability too: this one differs from the Rogue’s because it only affects one other creature that must share a language with you, but you can speak over longer distances (miles equal to your roll).
At level 6, you gain a new talent to add extra psychic damage (equal to your die roll) to a damaging spell, as long as you had used a spell slot to cast it. This is just a pretty standard damage boost like the Psi Knight’s talent. The neat thing here is that you can do this up to once per turn. Meaning, if you have spell effects that are damaging creatures on THEIR turns, you can add extra damage to it. Not too shabby to combo with a flaming sphere, wall of fire, or the like.
At level 14, you get the option for a lot more versatility. You spend sorcery points equal to the number of features you want to manifest, which last for a number of hours equal to your Talent die roll. These options are: see invisible creatures, gain a flying speed with hover, gain a fast swim speed with underwater breathing, and rubberizing your body to squeeze or stretch through small spaces or easily slip out of restraints/grapples. Each of these options is a bit specific, but you probably don’t need to use them for long. Thus, rolling a 1 on your Talent die when activating them is fine with me.
The Sorcerer’s final feature is to create a 30-foot aura, allowing you to spend your Talent die to deal psychic damage (roll plus Charisma mod) and halve the speed of creatures entering or starting their turn within the aura. Since your die will start as a d12 after each long rest, this could be some fairly hefty damage if you aren’t rolling max damage too often. For an 18th-level ability, however, it does feel a little weak. But hey, by this point you’re casting 9th-level spells, so what other help do you need?
While I wouldn’t say that I’m overly impressed with the Psionic Soul, I’m not too disappointed either. Again, we see WotC giving the Sorcerer a good boost in what the class needs: versatility. This includes the ability to learn new spells (although a limitation on which schools), cast without spell components, or alter your physical form and mobility by spending your (by that point) huge pool of sorcery points. This archetype doesn’t particularly pique my interest, but not every class archetype has to.
We’ve seen five different archetypes in this digest and I think the majority of them offer the potential for new, fun ways to spice up your adventuring party. The non-psionic subclasses are right on the money in terms of a balance between flavor and cool mechanics. The College of Spirits is a strong contender for the next character I roll up, though the Psi Knight is incredibly appealing too. There are also a few new spells that have psionic flavors, as well as some Feats related to telepathy, telekinetic abilities, or straight-up willpower. I’ll let you investigate those on your own.
The only Feat I will directly address is Wild Talent, which grants anyone a Psionic Talent die, along with a pair of Talents to use with it. When you take the Feat, you choose one ability score to increase by 1 and that ability becomes tied to these Talents. You can use your Talent die to add the die result to an ability check (using the chosen ability) or replace one of your damage dice from an attack with the result of the Talent die (using the chosen ability). These Talents are a little more restricted than what you see in the archetypes but would come in handy for pretty much any class.
I hope you enjoyed this UA Digest as much as I did! Maybe we’ll take a gander at some other archetypes, features, and Feats in the future. For now, farewell and awesome adventuring, my friends!