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 

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