December 1, 2016

[Unearthing the Arcana] Druid Circles and Wild Shape, Part 2

Unearthing the Arcana is a column for me to study the design and thought process of the latest Unearthed Arcana rules put out by Wizards of the Coast. This column aims for me to point out some observations I've made on the rules, imagine its impact at the table and raise discussions of how it would be used or played if it becomes official.

My last post on the new Unearthed Arcana for druids covered the new Druid Circles that were introduced. That wasn't the only new things that were introduced in the Unearthed Arcana, however, as it also included an optional rule for druids to select their Wild Shape forms.

Initially I had thought it was going to be a variant of the Wild Shape feature, but after reading it through it was more of a codified way for DMs and players to decide on what Wild Shape forms that the Druid can have starting at 2nd level.

In the Player's Handbook, Druids were expected to seek out the beast form that they want to be able to Wild Shape into. In this optional rule, Druids can decide which beast forms they can wild shape into based on the terrain that the Druid is living in.

Without looking too deeply into the selection of beasts that the Druid can select from, I think this would be welcomed by any DM who wants to bypass the nitty gritty details of the Druid being able to wild shape into a certain beast or not. Not saying that some DMs or players would not find the original ruling in the Player's Handbook to be of less opportunity, but it's a fair alternative to have.

The rule that I appreciate more is how to gain extra beast shapes, which might not sit well with some players. Having to make an Intelligence (Nature) or Wisdom (Animal Handling) may seem to control the Challenge Rating of beasts that the Druid can take shape of, but also bear in mind that the highest Challenge Rating they can take is CR 1, so the highest DC that the Druid can shape into is 11. And for beasts with lower CR than 1, like 1/2 or 1/4, what should the DC be exactly?

So that's all I have to say about the new Druid Circle and the optional rules for Wild Shape. I'm already looking forward to the next Unearthed Arcana, which is for one of my favourite class.

See you in the next Unearthing the Arcana.

Last Updated: 1/12/16

November 29, 2016

[Unearthing the Arcana] Druid Circles and Wild Shape, Part 1

Unearthing the Arcana is a column for me to study the design and thought process of the latest Unearthed Arcana rules put out by Wizards of the Coast. This column aims for me to point out some observations I've made on the rules, imagine its impact at the table and raise discussions of how it would be used or played if it becomes official.

Moving down the alphabetic order from last week's Clerics, this week we have the Druids. Not only do we get 3 new Druid Circles, but we also get a new optional rule for Wild Shape Forms. So I will be doing a two-part series for this Unearthed Arcana, with this post covering my thoughts on the new Druid Circles, and the next one on the Wild Shape optional rules.

Now, onto joining the Circle of Dreams, Circle of the Shepherd, and Circle of Twilight.

Circle of Dreams

  • Introducing a dice pool mechanic with Balm of the Summer Court which already is deviating from the Druid's design from the Player's Handbook. Not always a big fan of new mechanics being added to the standard design, and it makes things worse with the additional calculations of how many dice does the Druid have and can spent, followed by how many hit points regained and temporary hit points granted. I don't mind the effects more than I mind how clunky and how many additional parts are added to do this. There is certainly a better way to do this. I would have preferred something more akin to Bard's Bardic Inspiration dice.
  • Hearth of Moonlight and Shadow is an odd feature but it certainly does make this Circle more attractive to have in a party, although as a DM I don't often use a party's campfire as attraction for random encounters.
  • Hidden Paths is effectively casting Misty Step on yourself or an ally, but I rather it be a feature that can only be used once, and then regained after a Short Rest than having to track 1d4 rounds later. 
  • Not sure how the name Purifying Light has anything to do with the Feywild, and it is also feels out of nature to this Circle's flavor. The wording is also a little unclear whether the Druid has to spend two spell slots to cast the healing spell and Dispel Magic (I'm assuming the Druid doesn't have to prepare Dispel Magic) or gets to cast it for free with its level equal to the spell slot of the healing spell cast. Does that mean when casting a healing spell on more than one target, the Druid has to expended the use of this feature, along with the number of spell slots for each target? And what if the Druid use this feature when casting a healing spell with a spell slot lower than 3rd level? 
  • This is the second class in this new series of Unearthed Arcana to have a Feywild flavor as a subclass, which is probably more fitting than the Bard. But I'm not feeling much of the Feywild vibe than I would like it to be. Maybe having some features related to Charms would spice things up a bit. 

Circle of the Shepherd

  • First off, I don't know how many players are not going to get laughed at for playing a Druid from this circle because of the name. I get the flavor the name is supposed to convey, and it is probably the animal companion Druid that 5th Edition has been waiting for, but it could certainly use a better name.
  • A good effort in imitating the Barbarian's Totem Spirit as a Spirit Bond which is slightly more powerful and boosts the party within a 30-foot radius.
  • The Beast Speech feature should be the same as the Warlock's invocation which is also called Beast Speech
  • Have not much to say about Mighty Summoner as it gives a fairly minor boost to Conjure Animals, but it does give a nice touch of making the summoned animals' attacks magical, which is similar to the Circle of the Moon's Primal Strike
  • No complaints for Guardian Spirit, which is comparable with the Circle of the Land's Nature's Ward.
  • Faithful Summons is an interesting feature with an interesting trigger. For those wondering why only CR 2 beasts, because that is what can be summoned with a 9th level spell slot. I might not mind that the summoned beast be able to stabilize or heal 1 hit point to the Druid, because the default position is that the summoned animals would be to protect the Druid who would not be able to command them without another party member bringing the Druid back up.
  • Why doesn't this Circle give the Druid an animal companion? 

Circle of Twilight

  • Again with the dice pool mechanic for Harvest's Scythe, with even more calculations to do and tracking for undeads killed and allies healed. No thanks.
  • Would have like to see Speech Beyond the Grave in the Unearthed Arcana Cleric's Grave domain (I mean it's already in the name), and the Druid can have the Grave domain's Eyes of the Grave feature in return.
  • Watcher at the Threshold is similar in design to the Circle of the Land's Nature's Ward and the Circle of Shepherd's Guardian Spirit, and the added Advantage to Death Saving Throws is huge.
  • Paths of the Dead could potentially be the most powerful of the 14th level features that a Druid gets, and I'm not sure if it should be regained after a short rest.  

This being the third Unearthed Arcana since the new schedule, I'm starting to notice that the designers are trying to push for additional mechanics to classes. Personally, I'm not a big fan to that approach to design because it is likely for it to go down the path of making future options to that class to supersede those that are in the core rulebooks. I much prefer sticking to basics like they did with the new cleric domains, and I had certainly hoped that 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragon would have stayed with the standardize approach with more diversity than complexity.

I know this is still supposedly a very early draft of the new class features, but I will definitely be sharing my thoughts on this when the next survey comes. However, I would also like to hear what you have to say about this as well, so don't be afraid to drop a few comments.

Stay tune for my next post on the new Wild Shape Form rules!

Last Updated: 29/11/16

November 22, 2016

[Unearthing the Arcana] Cleric: Divine Domains

Unearthing the Arcana is a column for me to study the design and thought process of the latest Unearthed Arcana rules put out by Wizards of the Coast. This column aims for me to point out some observations I've made on the rules, imagine its impact at the table and raise discussions of how it would be used or played if it becomes official.

Before I start, let me just say a few things. As [Unearthing the Arcana] will be a regular column in the foreseeable future, I have decided to try and find a suitable format that would be able to keep up with the new releases and meet with my own regular writing schedule. So you will be seeing frequent changes in the format of presentation in the next few posts for [Unearthing the Arcana], as I try to find a balance to be insightful and fast (one of which is likely to suffer for the sake of the other). I would greatly appreciate if you, my readers, would let me know (in the comments) which format is more friendly to your reading eyes, as they are written as much for you as they are for me, so that it would make it easier for me to know where the sweet spot is.

Now back to business.

After my less than enthusiastic reception towards the new Bard Colleges, we move to Clerics, with 3 new Divine Domains introduced in this week's Unearthed Arcana. Clerics have one of the most options from the get-go since the Player's Handbook, and the core design of Divine Domains has been consistent with slight variations for each domain. That might appear boring for some, but thankfully those core design principles have stayed with the Forge, Grave and Protection domains in the new Unearthed Arcana. So that's at least one less worry as a DM.

So let's see what the gods have bestowed on these Clerics.

Forge Domain

  • Domain Spells: A good selection befitting the flavor and concept, especially with Searing Smite from the Paladin's spell list and a few Wizard and Sorcerer spells like Fabricate and Creation.
  • Bonus Proficiency: No complaints. Makes a lot of sense for the flavor.
  • Blessing of the Forge: As a player, this is a very good feature that gives Clerics a Shillelagh equivalent and a little bit more. This is well balanced by the ability to only be able to enchant one weapon or armor between a Long Rest.
  • Channel Divinity: Artisan's Blessing: If read as an exception to the normal Crafting rules, being able to craft something what could take up to 20 downtime days, albeit it at full value of an item (rather than half), in the span of a Short Rest can feel a little excessive. I would probably like to see the value it can craft lowered, but require a longer period for crafting. However, given that it expends a use of the Cleric's Channel Divinity, it would probably go for the former. 
  • Soul of the Forge: Arguably one of the best domain feature to be gained at 6th level by a Cleric given the number of bonuses it grants, rather than an ability or Channel Divinity. 
  • Divine Strike: Standard issue for Clerics, but deals Fire damage. 
  • Saint of Forge and Fire: Similar to the War Domain's Avatar of War feature, with the additional benefit of being immune to Fire damage. Could make do without the Resistance to not overshadow the War Domain. 
An exciting domain to play, but could use a few more tweaks here and there as it already feels to be better than most other divine domains from a mechanical standpoint.

Grave Domain 

  • Domain Spells:No complaints for the most part, with spells like Ray of Enfeeblement, Vampiric Touch, Blight, and Antilife Shell not from the Cleric's spell list.
  • Bonus Proficiency: No complaints since Clerics from the Life, and Nature domains get the same proficiency in Heavy Armor. 
  • Circle of Mortality: An interesting twist when compared with the Life Domain's Disciple of Life. The combo with Spare the Dying is a well thought out feature to allow healing spells to be cast on the same turn.
  • Eyes of the Grave: Works similarly with the Ranger's Primeval Awareness as it is in the Player's Handbook, though without having to spend a spell slot which is a fairer trade-off. Could also be a better replacement for Detect Good and Evil and slightly better than the Paladin's Divine Sense for detecting undead. Although I'm not sure what it means to learn the creature type of the undead, I could do with or without the ability to know the highest challenge rating undead detected. 
  • Channel Divinity: Path to the Grave: A very cool ability that is controlled by expended use of Channel Divinity. Could be potentially dangerous at low levels, but it could be the ability that is needed in most parties.
  • Sentinel at Death's Door: Another cool ability that is unique, and being only able to do it once between Rests makes all the difference.
  • Divine Strike: Same as other Clerics, but deals necrotic damage.  
  • Keeper of Souls: An interesting ability with the amount of hit points regained almost inconsequential by the time this feature is gained. It might seem underpowered in general as it certainly doesn't compare well against the Life Domain's Supreme Healing. 
A concern of mine was how this divine domain was going to differentiate itself from the Life Domain, but the designers have certainly done a good job on this one. I would have liked to see a more powerful Channel Divinity ability to destroying Undead, but as it stands now this domain is fine as well.

Protection Domain

  • Domain Spells: The expected usual suspects from the Abjuration school, except for Slow. Would rather see Wind Wall instead.
  • Bonus Proficiency: Heavy armor proficiency seemed like a no-brainer for this domain. Wouldn't mind if it had Martial Weapon proficiency too.
  • Shield of the Faithful: This is also the same as the Protection Fighting Style of Fighters and Paladins without the Shield requirement.
  • Channel Divinity: Radiant Defense: An odd ability to grant protection to an ally, but this has similarities with the Light Domain's Channel Divinity: Radiance of the Dawn, except it deals the same amount of damage without any saving throws. 
  • Blessed Healer: Same as Life Domain.
  • Divine Strike: Same as Life Domain,
  • Indomitable Defense: Works similarly with the recent Barbarian's Ancestral Shield ability to grant resistances to an ally. Might have been better if it was granted at an earlier level then at 17th. Even so, in comparison with Ancestral Shield, it should be able to transfer that resistance as a Bonus Action, instead of an action.
The blandest of all the new domains and even the special features doesn't quite feel right with the theme of Protection. Most likely because of the same features it has taken from other domains that make it feel less distinct. I would say the designers for this domain are on the right track, but it hasn't been fully developed yet.

It's nice to see the designers sticking to basics, despite not having something remarkable. Clerics work best with only small differences between them and the makeup of their domain features is already robust and solid to let them stand on their own as it is. While the Protection Domain could use some more work, I don't expect the next iteration of it would differ wildly from what we seen here in terms of its structure. So, with 2 out of 3 hits, there are probably more good things to say, and still have room for some suggestions.

So until the next Unearthed Arcana that comes out next week for the Druid, see you in the next Unearthing the Arcana.

Last Updated: 22/11/2016 

November 20, 2016

[Unearthing the Arcana] Bard: Bard Colleges

Unearthing the Arcana is a column for me to study the design and thought process of the latest Unearthed Arcana rules put out by Wizards of the Coast. This column aims for me to point out some observations I've made on the rules, imagine its impact at the table and raise discussions of how it would be used or played if it becomes official.

With the new Primal Paths for Barbarians in the last installment, the next class to have new class options would be the Bard.

The first thing that I noticed in these new colleges is that their design is quite different than the ones in the Player's Handbook. All of the college features do not give an immediate or simple bonus to a base class feature, but are abilities on their own. While it's an interesting way to create new bard colleges, it also makes it quite hard to make a comparison and evaluation of these new colleges without a benchmark to work with.

So let's take a look at the College of Glamour and College of Whispers.  

College of Glamour

I've always wanted to see a performance-based Bard College that lets the Bard play up their charms, so the Fey-trained College of Glamour looks like a good fit. Mantle of Inspiration looks to have some interesting combat and tactical application, although it works better for DMs who run with a combat grid, and there is the additional book keeping it incurs given how Temporary Hit Points work.

Part of my concerns with these new Bard Colleges is that they give features that are too on-its-own, that is hard to gauge its effectiveness and usefulness to a player and DM. Enthralling Performance shows that vague application. Taking at least 10 minutes to have any effect means it's practically not to be used in combat, and induces the Charmed condition with additional effects that relies on open interpretation by the DM and/or player. This isn't something that neither of the Bard Colleges from the Player's Handbook have, so it's usefulness depends on the campaign the DM is running.

Mantle of Majesty and Unbreakable Majesty seem a little under-powered to be able to cast 1st level Cleric spells at the level they are gained, and the additional benefits don't seem to add anything significant to its usability that can't be achieved with the College of Lore.

I can't say I'm all excited with the College of Glamour because it doesn't quite do the things that I was hoping it would do, and the unnecessary complexity of its abilities doesn't quite add up to the awe and fear aspects of the Fey. I'm more inclined to the more traditional design of the Bard Colleges in the Player's Handbook, with just a few skills proficiencies swapped around and a couple of features to boost a certain aspect that the College is aspiring towards. 

College of Whispers

If I found the College of Glamour to have some concerns, I would say the College of Whispers is even more so. While it could easily be said that its features are just changing the Charm effects of the College of Glamour to being Frightened, the implication of doing that may be dangerous if a DM is not prepared to handle a fearful situation. In many ways, I see this college as the anti-Bard, just as anti-Paladins, which while giving an 'evil' flavored Bard class, may not be especially welcomed by some DMs.

While Venomous Blades is a straightforward and interesting feature, I feel that Venomous Words has the same problems as I stated for Entralling Performance. The second tier of features Mantle of Whispers and Shadow Lore are to me interesting features when used in a espionage-based campaign, but only creates more complexity in other campaigns.

As always I find the underpinning problem with both features is that there just too many moving parts that are open for DM and player interpretation that is hard to find a common ground on how it should actually work on the table. For example, given how Shadow Lore is worded, it could actually mean the Bard could extort shopkeepers to getting discounted (or free) services, thanks to the duration and its ability to be granted favors and gifts. Again, whether this is broken or not is entirely up to how the DM wants to handle such situations.

I won't say that I dislike both these colleges, especially the flavor of them (which I actually like in concept), but I dislike a design that creates more potential problems for the DM to control than necessary to cater to a very specific play style. Given the expectations I had with the Bard class, I would have liked to see more of the heavily subjective features to be weaker, or have its limitations very clearly worded. That's usually a treacherous path to thread down, but I'm not in charge of the overall design philosophy of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. If I were in charge, I would have went for something that went along the lines in the Player's Handbook

So that's all I have to say about the Bard Colleges, and would definitely like to hear someone give a contrasting opinion or how they would handle features like Enthralling Performance and Venomous Words, which can help me to appreciate them better.

See you in the next Unearthing the Arcana that is coming soon that most likely would be a few more domains for clerics. 

Last Updated: 20/11/2016 

November 17, 2016

[Unearthing the Arcana] Barbarian Primal Paths

Unearthing the Arcana is a column for me to study the design and thought process of the latest Unearthed Arcana rules put out by Wizards of the Coast. This column aims for me to point out some observations I've made on the rules, imagine its impact at the table and raise discussions of how it would be used or played if it becomes official.

Some big changes have been announced for the Unearthed Arcana column from Wizards recently at Gamehole Con. Instead of a monthly column, Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford have announced that they would be turning it into weekly column, which means there will be plenty of new rules and variants to play with in the coming months. I'm not sure if I and this column would be able to keep up with the schedule, so I most likely going to have a few gaps here and there, as new Unearthed Arcana rules are put out on faster rate.

Starting off in this new schedule is a new Unearthed Arcana with new Barbarian Primal Paths. The new Primal Paths are Path of the Ancestral Guardian, Path of the Storm Herald, and Path of the Zealot. Each of these are different flavored barbarians with some interesting mechanical features tied to them.

From a general outlook, I find that each of these Primal Paths imply a unique way of playing the Barbarian, as reflected by their mechanics and it would be interesting to see its iterations until it reaches official print. For this Unearthed Arcana, the designers do not seem to be setting out to change anything for the Barbarian but to give them new options. As a whole, these are definitely some welcomed options for the Barbarian class that can shift their role in the party.

Path of the Ancestral Guardian

Bound and protected by the spirits of their ancestors, the Path of the Ancestral Guardian seems to have a lot in common with the Path of the Totem Warrior, in terms of the flavor, and even their mechanics can feel a little similar too.

Ancestral Protectors is essentially marking mechanism that ties down a creature to the Barbarian as a Bonus Action while raging, granting disadvantage to attack at anyone else but the Barbarian, and even making it harder for the creature to disengage from the Barbarian, who can easily catch up with the Barbarian's Fast Movement at later levels.

Ancestral Shield is an interesting mechanic that allows it to transfer its damage resistances while raging as a bonus action to allies. This calls for some tactical decision as the Barbarian can give away its resistances to anyone as long as they are within range and in sight, as many times as they want during combat. 

Consult the Spirits looks like it was trying to be a variant of the Path of the Totem Warrior's Spirit Walker feature at 10th level. Rather than communing with the ancestral spirits, however, the Barbarian is granted advantage to its Intelligence and Wisdom checks as much as 3 times per Long Rest.  

Vengeful Ancestors adds a damaging element similar to the Ancestral Shield which deals damage to creatures that hit you or an ally within range and in sight. The use of a Reaction already limits how powerful it can be in combat (1/turn), and 2d8 Force damage may not put a big dent to the monsters that Barbarian would be facing at 14th level.

Aside from Consult the Spirits, the Path of the Ancestral Guardian puts an interesting twist to the protective role of the Barbarian that is taken by the Path of the Totem Warrior. Rather than being a powerful absorbent of damage like the Totem Warrior, the Path of the Ancestral Guardian is more tactical is pinning down powerful enemies with Ancestral Protectors, while still being able to protect squishier allies with Ancestral Shield. This would certainly make choosing between the two paths a little harder for players, but they should be glad to have both options. 

Path of the Storm Herald

Using their primal rage as a conduit for primal magic to be centered around them, I personally find the name a little tacky, but generally think a weather themed Primal Path seems almost natural for the Barbarian.

This one shares some similarities with the Path of the Totem Warrior, the same way that they have to select 3 different variations of their features. Instead of animal spirits, the Path of the Storm Herald selects between three terrains; Desert, Sea and Tundra, which can generally be remembered as Fire, Lightning or Cold for their effects. However, instead of being able to pick a different animal for each primal path feature in Path of the Totem Warrior, once the element is chosen, future primal path features are based on the element chosen for the rest of the primal path.

This path introduces an aura-mechanic that are similar to the Paladin class, but instead of buffing party members, the 10-feet radius aura emanates negative effects or protections based on the chosen elements. This aura only appears when the Barbarian is raging, except for one of the feature.

Storm of Fury deals damage to a single or any enemies  (depending on the damage type) within the aura based on the selected element.

Storm Soul grants the barbarian resistance against the chosen damage type, and an additional benefit against it. This is then granted to allies within the aura with Shield of the Storm.

Raging Storm turns the aura into dangerous area of effects that reduces mobility of enemies.

I personally have mixed feelings with the aura mechanic in general, so giving it to the Barbarian might seem like a logical choice of design, but not necessarily my favourite because of the additional book keeping it requires. The calculation of damage for Storm of Fury is very clunky, which could be refined with a tier-like structure or a similar mode of calculation that other classes and features might already be using. Having this feature early makes it significantly more useful (and powerful) than the Path of the Ancestral Guardian's Vengeful Ancestors so I think the designers will be thinking more on how to get the right amount of damage output.

Path of the Zealot 

This one is probably the most surprising theme for the Barbarian, but the simplicity of its mechanics is also my favourite out of the three. This may not be the first time I'm seeing a divinely guided Barbarian, but I can myself doing away with the divine connection, and apply them to something more spiritual or frenzy.

This is the only Primal Path that gets 2 primal path features upon reaching 3rd level, with Divine Fury and Warrior of the Gods. Divine Fury is a much more straightforward but also likely to be a more damaging version of Storm of Fury, that I'm not sure how the designers are going to balance between the two. Warrior of the Gods is a very nice feature to have for a class that is most likely to get killed, although I could use to have it a higher levels when spellcasters in the party would have access to the more expensive spells for bringing back the dead.

Zealous Focus is an interesting feature that could prematurely end the barbarian's rage, so it's hard to tell how effective it is without actually playing it on the table. If I was a player, I may only use it to end a Rage that is almost near the end of its duration, and I also save a Bonus Action to do that.

Zealous Presence looks a little out of place for me to fit with the flavor, but it's a feature that players would have no complaints about, especially since it doesn't require the Barbarian to be raging to use it. That is probably where the designers will look into, if they want to nerf it. There are no comparable class features at that level I could find that is comparable, so this one could be more on the high side of the power curve.

The idea of Rage Beyond Death is cool, but it completely makes the Barbarian's Persistent Rage base feature a level later redundant. It is possible that this was the intention of the designers to make this primal path more attractive, but I prefer class features to have more synergy.  

Aside from the flavor, I like the Path of the Zealot for being a die-hard barbarian, which makes features like Divine Fury and Zealous Presence seemed like a tacked on idea to the theme of the Path of the Zealot. It would be great if the designers refined the features of the Path of the Zealot to make it tougher and harder to kill.   

All in all, I like seeing these new Primal Paths for the Barbarians and granted that these are still first drafts, it is still too early to judge them for anything. There are certainly places that could be improved and refined for the mechanics, but the real work for me, I would think, is in hitting the right flavor of some of these Primal Paths. I'm in the direction I see the designers are taking with the class, so I would be interested to see where they would take it in the next iteration. 

So share your thoughts about these Primal Paths here and if you haven't already, the feedback survey for these primal paths is already up,

See you in the next Unearthing the Arcana where I go attend the new Bard Colleges

Last Updated: 17/11/2016