December 6, 2016

[Unearthing the Arcana] Fighter: Martial Archetypes

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.

Coming off from last week's Unearthed Arcana for Druids, this week we go into the pit with new Martial Archetypes for the Fighter. Fighters have been one of the few classes in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons that I find to have endless possibilities. With the amount of ideas and concept that could fit into a Fighter's definition, it is one class that could benefit from having many different subtypes for players to find one that fits them. I think this is something that the designers realised and that is why we have 4 new Martial Archetypes for this class that feel a little more specialised.

So let's draw steel and find out more about the Arcane Archer, Knight, Samurai and Sharpshooter archetypes.

Arcane Archer

  • An old favourite of mine back in the 3.x days, and it is quite surprising to see it again given that it could have been replicated somewhat with the Eldritch Knight archetype. I wouldn't have complained if it had a racial restriction like the Battlerager had in Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, but having it opened to other races doesn't feel too bad.
  • I would have preferred a more tiered progression to the number of uses of Arcane Arrows that an Arcane Archer can use, rather than a fixed number of twice per rest which can feel too little in the long run. Maybe something structured to the Battle Master's Superiority Dice could work better and have something to look forward to. 
  • Archer's Lore seems a little too generous to give 2 skill proficiency when compared to the Battle Master's Student of War only grants proficiency to 1 tool. The selection for Archer's Lore is also too good since it also allows for the Fighter to pick some of the skills they didn't pick at 1st level.
  • Conjure Arrows make it imperative that players and DMs are tracking the number of ammunition they have left on the table - which is not something every table will do. Might have preferred a feature that allows for something more magical to be done on the arrows.
  • Ever-Ready Arrow has an effect that is supposed to feel like the Battle Master's Relentless, and it could use a different mechanic to regain a use of Arcane Arrow, rather than tracking for 1 minute. 
  • Dealing 4d6 Force damage at 18th level with Deadly Arrow doesn't feel like too much to ask. No worries on that.
  • I'm generally alright with most of the Arcane Shots, with some slight concern for Grasping Arrow being a little overpowered and Seeking Arrow having some complications with Invisible/Hiding and line of sight rules. 


  • Born to the Saddle looks natural to have for a mount-based archetype.
  • Implacable Mark reads like a combination of the Mark variant of combat rules from the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Sentinel feat. I wasn't a biggest fan of the Marking mechanic from 4th Edition because of the additional tracking in combat, but I guess it is an acceptable feature to differentiate it from the other Martial Archetypes.
  • Noble Calvary is a strange feature to be getting at 7th level. I would have liked to see it at 3rd level, and only granting one skill proficiency.
  • Hold the Line combined with Implacable Mark is almost effectively the Sentinel feat with some extra bonuses. This is an interesting design approach to the features, though I'm not sure if players are willing to wait 7 levels to get a free complete feat.
  • Some might think that Rapid Strike can be used together with Implacable Mark's Advantage on Opportunity Attacks, but it requires a Bonus Action and not a Reaction, so it will need to gain Advantage from another source.
  • In the end, I might have been hoping the Knight archetype to be more of a mounted combat-based archetype, but instead what it looks like is a Defender type that is very good and tying enemies down. If the designers were looking to achieve that with the features, this archetype could easily be its own archetype without using the name of the Knight.


  • Fighting Spirit seems a little too great to grant both benefits of Advantage and Resistance, and regained after a short rest. I would have preferred if it only grants one of the benefits or is only regained after a long rest. 
  • Despite being able to add their Wisdom modifier to a specific Charisma check, Elegant Courtier only allows the Samurai to learn one skill proficiency or language. 
  • No comments on Unbreakable Will except it is an interesting proficiency to give for Fighters, since they are not proficient with any of the 3 saving throws. 
  • Again with Rapid Strike, but this one being able to benefit from the free Advantage it gains from Fighting Spirit.
  • Strength Before Death is an interesting feature that lets the Samurai almost become a raging barbarian with Relentless Rage. A planned player might reserve an Action Surge to go with this feature, effectively giving the character two bonus turns. The calculation of damage after the end of the bonus turn might be a hassle afterwards, so it might benefit from having the effects made clearer.


  • Steady Aim has a component of the Sharpshooter feat and deals additional damage on each hit rather than the first attack, which can come in handy when the Fighter gets Extra Attack later on. Again, not in favour of having a fixed number of use and would preferred a tiered progression.
  • Careful Eyes is an interesting feature that might be overlooked by many DMs. Not sure why Survival is among the selection though.
  • Close-Quarters Shooting is another feature that is based on the Crossbow Expert feat with additional effects.
  •  I'm not entirely sure why Rapid Strike is here again, but the Sharpshooter doesn't have a self sustaining means of granting itself Advantage.
  • Snap Shot looks like an interesting feature that would amount up to 4 attacks with the Attack action on the Sharpshooter's first turn in combat at 18th level. 
  • As much as I like the archetype, I'm not sure if I would enjoy the mini versions of Sharpshooter and Crossbow Expert, which doesn't give the full benefits of those feats. It could be quite a dilemma to decide whether to take those feats on top of the features, because there aren't a lot of other ranged related feats to take other than those two. 

While I was most excited to see new Martial Archetypes, these 4 have only given me a mixed reaction. Some like the Arcane Archer and Samurai could use a little more thought and work put into them to make them more attractive, but others like the Knight and Sharpshooter just seemed more confused in the design. I would definitely expect to see more iterations of these archetypes and here's to hoping that other players feel the same when the next survey comes about.

Up next is the class that some have considered to have some of the most under-powered subclasses, so it would be interesting to see what the designers have come up with for the Monk.

Last Updated: 6/12/16

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