Unearthed Arcana: Fiendish Options Analysis

This month’s Unearthed Arcana comes a bit late but makes up for it.

For the month of October we are presented with more race options but also with content that help us make our cults better. Let’s jump into it.

Tiefling Subraces

We get nine Tiefling subraces, each tied to a different Lord of the Nine Hells. The structure of the traits is the same for each subrace and includes and ability score increase and a set of spells, just like the PHB Tiefling.

Asmodeus. The PHB Tieflings are the ones connected to Asmodeus. I don’t really think there’s a need to cover that.

Baalzebul. Tieflings linked with this Lord have the ability to corrupt others, both physically and psychically.

  • Ability Score Increase. You gain +2 to Charisma and +1 to Intelligence. I think it’s on point with what the description of this subrace does.
  • Legacy of Maladomini. You gain the Thaumaturgy(PHB page 282) cantrip, at level 3 you can cast the spell Ray of Sickness(PHB page 271) as a 2nd level spell, and at level 5 you can cast the spell Crown of Madness(PHB page 229). The spells recharge after a long rest and your spellcasting ability for these spells is Charisma. Thaumaturgy is a handy cantrip and, personally, I like Ray of Sickness as a damaging spell. However, Crown of Madness isn’t the best charm effect out there. Its wording is a bit weird.

Dispater. Tieflings of Dispater are spies and infiltrators.

  • Ability Score Increase. You gain +2 to Charisma and +1 to Dexterity. That fits well with the spy idea.
  • Legacy of Dis. You gain the Thaumaturgy(PHB page 282) cantrip, as well as the spells Disguise Self(PHB page 233) and Invisibility(PHB page 254) on levels 3 and 5 respectively. The spells greatly fit to the idea of being an infiltrator. You don’t even need to hide if you can take someone else’s appearance or, even better, be invisible. Invisibility is a really good spell and is almost always going to be used.

Fierna. This lord’s Tieflings are master manipulators.

  • Ability Score Increase. You gain +2 to Charisma and +1 to Wisdom. Yup, these two scores are the best fit for it. Charisma is the obvious one, but Wisdom is also important because you need to be able to “read” someone in order to manipulate them.
  • Legacy of Phlegethos. You gain the Friends(PHB page 244) cantrip, as well as the spells Charm Person(PHB page 221) and Suggestion(PHB page 279) on levels 3 and 5 respectively. All the spells are meant to help you manipulate people so they fit the theme. Suggestion, however, isn’t easy to use because of its conditions.

Glasya. Glasya’s Tieflings are masters at heists.

  • Ability Score Increase. You gain +2 to Charisma and +1 to Dexterity. I believe that both ability scores fit the theme but, depending how someone defines a heist, one could debate that Charisma should get the +1 and Dexterity the +2.
  • Legacy of Malbolge. You gain the Minor Illusion(PHB page 260) cantrip, as well as the spells Disguise Self(PHB page 233) and Invisibility(PHB page 254) on levels 3 and 5 respectively. It’s similar to the spells granted by Dispater, but the themes are close so no judging here.

Levistus. This archdevil is known for offering bargains to those who face an inescapable doom.

  • Ability Score Increase. You gain +2 to Charisma and +1 to Constitution. I’m not sure how Constitution is tied to the theme, but I’m not complaining. Constitution is an ability score that every character benefits from.
  • Legacy of Stygia. You gain the Ray of Frost(PHB page 271) cantrip, as well as the spells Armor of Agathys(PHB page 215) and Darkness(PHB page 230) on levels 3 and 5 respectively. This is a really good set of spells. Ray of Frost is a nice damaging cantrip, and Armor of Agathys and Darkness can be useful, with Darkness being a bit more situational. Also the spells fit the theme of the frozen Stygia.

Mammon. The Tieflings linked to this devil are good at accumulating and safeguarding wealth.

  • Ability Score Increase. You gain +2 to Charisma and +1 to Intelligence.
  • Legacy of Minauros. You gain the Mage Hand(PHB page 256) cantrip, as well as the spells Tenser’s Floating Disk(PHB page 282) and Arcane Lock(PHB page 215) on levels 3 and 5 respectively. Of the three spells, the one that is the least situational is Mage Hand. The other two are really situational to the point that they may never be used. Compared to other sets of spells here, this one is the most disappointing, I believe. It’s not that it doesn’t fit the flavor, but it probably won’t help the players a lot.

Mephistopheles. This one is the most intriguing for me, I think. Tieflings of Mephistopheles are masters of arcane magic.

  • Ability Score Increase. You gain +2 to Charisma and +1 to Intelligence. I think it’s on point with what the description of this subrace does.
  • Legacy of Cania. You gain the Mage Hand(PHB page 256) cantrip, at level 3 you can cast the spell Magic Missile(PHB page 257) as a 2nd level spell, and at level 5 you can cast the spell Web(PHB page 287). That’s another nice set of spells. The whole arcane idea is broad enough to allow many to be part of this set, and these three are pretty good. Mage Hand is a nice utility, Magic Missile is basically guaranteed damage, and Web may be situational but has multiple uses on the right hands.

Zariel. Zariel makes Tieflings a bit stronger and grants powers that help them in battle.

  • Ability Score Increase. You gain +2 to Charisma and +1 to Strength.
  • Legacy of Maladomini. You gain the Thaumaturgy(PHB page 282) cantrip, at level 3 you can cast the spell Searing Smite(PHB page 274) as a 2nd level spell, and at level 5 you can cast the spell Branding Smite(PHB page 219).  Thaumaturgy can be useful and I definitely have no complaint about the smites.

And these are the new Tieflings subraces. Most of them are nice, but a couple of them could use some improvements on their spells, but overall they’re good.

Moving on, we have content for the Dungeon Master, because DMs are people too and they deserve some Unearthed Arcana goodies from time to time. What we get now is content that helps us make cults more interesting. Let’s take a look.

First, we get a small box that answers a really interesting question. Why devils like having cults? I really like that a reason is provided. After that, we get nine cults and their goals, the stats of a typical cultist, signature spells, and a trait a member may have as well as a trait for the leader of the cult.

Cult of Asmodeus. Okay, I lied. We don’t get all that stuff for all the nine cults. The cult of Asmodeus must be acknowledged by all who are part of one of the cults of the Nine. However, a cult leader that proves to be worthy gains the trait of cult of Asmodeus as well.

  • Demands of Nessus. This trait keeps the leader alive, at the cost of the lowest ranking members’ life. It’s not a lot of hit points but this can keep the leader alive longer, which may in turn cause more trouble to the characters. Plus, this can be used while the leader is incapacitated.

Cult of Baalzebul. The spells granted through the cult are much different than the ones provided in the Tiefling trait. However, if you combine them, they form a good toolbox in order to reach the goals set by the cult.

  • Path of Baalzebul. This trait works like the Demands of Nessus trait, meaning you increase your chances of survivability by lowering the ones of your allies. This one, in particular, grants you advantage on attack rolls and ability checks, by imposing disadvantage on an ally. Again, a leader may have a broader range of abilities and it’d better if they succeeded with them than a simple cultist hitting with their attack.

Cult of Dispater. Cultists of Dispater are pretty much information brokers, which is an idea that I really like. Also, the spells of the cult represent that idea really well.

  • Infernal Insight. This trait is for cult members. I guess it translates that the knowledge gained helps the cultists overcome situations. It kinda works. Considering only the mechanics of the trait, it’s good.
  • Vexing Escape. This allows the leader to prevent damage and move away from its source. While it’s a useful trait, I don’t think how it’s tied to Dispater. I guess you could say it Dis…places them?

Cult of Fierna. This cult grants the same spells as the the Tiefling variant, plus the Hypnotic Pattern spell. Cults of Fierna desire control over others, and the tools they have help them achieve exactly that.

  • Infernal Loyalty. Advantage is always nice. I like how the trait of a cult member is tied to the trait of the cult leader. Apart from adding to the flavor, it also hints on how cultists of Fierna should be used in combat.
  • Loyalty beyond Death. While other cult leader traits take advantage of others, this one rewards them for being close to the leader. Judging from the list of possible cult members, the leader can be a caster, or another squishy character with good abilities, that makes sure that there’s always a sturdier cult member close to them in order to protect them.

Cult of Geryon. There’s no Geryon related Tiefling but we get a cult for him. Cults of Geryon will probably look more like a warband than a cult. This can be good and bad for them, depending the situation. The spells provide an overall good way to enhance someone’s fighting abilities.

  • Crushing Blow. More damage means greater threat to the characters. Plus, it fits the theme really well.
  • Indomitable Strength. Increasing the survivability of the leader is pretty much the theme of the leaders’ traits so far. While others may do that indirectly(Loyalty beyond Death, for example), this ones does it directly, by slicing off some damage the leader may take.

Cult of Glasya. While the Tieflings of Glasya are good at heists, the cults are more interested in political power. The spells have some similarities with the Tiefling ones, but there some new ones as well. Overall, I think they work with the concept.

  • Step into Shadows. The interesting part about this trait is that it doesn’t say the invisibility is interrupted by actions like attacking or casting spells. The balancing factor is that it only lasts for a turn. Not bad.
  • Infernal Ring Leader. The idea of increasing the leaders’ survivability continues here as well. This one allows the leader to change the target of an attack on them with an ally.

Cult of Levistus. Levistus doesn’t really have cults, but individuals desperate enough to strike a bargain with him. Most of them need their help to immediately avoid perilous situations, but others request his help for a future date. The spells represent exactly that, offering escape options.

  • Path of Levistus. This one is the ultimate one-use panic button. However, there’s one restriction and one catch. The restriction is the maximum distance you can be teleported, but 1 mile is enough I think. The catch is that Levistus himself decides where you will be teleported. This may seem like a detail but don’t forget that we’re dealing with devils here.

Cult of Mammon. Cultists of Mammon seek to accumulate wealth and spread Mammon’s greed to others. The spell list resembles the one in the Tiefling trait, but has some others as well. However, they still follow the theme and, to be honest, they’re not that great.

  • Grasping Hands. It’s pretty much long range pickpocketing. Well, 15 feet aren’t that much but it’s better than having to be exactly next to the target. It ties well with Mammon’s first goal, which is accumulating wealth.
  • Promise of Wealth. This one tries to give a tool to further Mammon’s second goal, which is spreading greed. It’s sort of a command to attack a specific target.It fits well with the flavor and I like it. Also, it can be consider as a trait that increases the leader’s survivability because they can use it to make their allies attack the enemy that poses the greatest threat against them.

Cult of Mephistopheles. These cults seek magical powers in order to crush enemies. This also ties with the Tiefling flavor. However, the spell list here is much more aggressive than the Tiefling one, which offers some utility as well as offensive spells. Don’t get me wrong. This spell list is hot. Yes! Two puns in one article.

  • Spell Shield. The spell list of this cult may have only offensive spells, but this trait grants a really good defensive ability. Not only does it increases the chances of surviving a spell attack, but also give you hit points afterwards.
  • Spell Leech. Following the theme of helping the leader survive, this trait takes a spell slot from an ally and gives it to the leader. There are two restrictions here. The first one is obvious and is that you can only take the lowest level spell slot from a target. The second restriction is that the target must have a spell slot. The way I see it it can be useful in three situations. The first one is if the leader is a Sorcerer. This way they can get a low level spell slot and make it sorcery points. The second one is if most of the cultists are Warlocks. This kinda guarantees a useful spell slot because, even if the leader is more powerful than the other cultists, the spell slots of the other cultists may probably still be relevant. The third one is plain luck. If the leader has caster allies that have used up their lower level spell slots, then a higher level one is guaranteed. However, that needs luck compared to the other two situations and that’s why I’m not sure if it should be even mentioned.

Cult of Zariel. Cultists of Zariel seek conquest and glory in combat. Is that really bad? Not necessarily but it can turn bad really easily. The spell list here and the one on the Tiefling trait share no spells, but they definitely share the same theme, which is combat prowess.

  • Ferocious Surge. Turn a simple hit to a crit? Yes, please! This is an amazing trait and can pose a great danger for the characters when facing cultists of Zariel. C
  • Infernal Tactics. This has the potential of having the same effect with having the leader roll initiative with advantage. The only issue is that, in most cases, rolling one initiative for a group of enemies is a good idea to speed up combat. So, unless you’re using various types of enemies in an encounter, this trait may not achieve its full potential. Also, note that this trait allows to the leader to do the opposite as well. There may be some heavy hitters with really low initiative and the leader can give them a better one.

And that’s all the diabolic cults and the various traits they may grant. Overall, I’m very satisfied with them. This is a nice tool that may help the DM improve the quality of the game.

Demonic Boons

Demons are a lot more chaotic than devils, so it’s more likely to have individual followers than actual cults(that said, the boons have the same structure with the demonic cults, as in there’s a trait for the cultist and a trait for the cult leader). To those, demons can grant boons. It’s important to note that not only the Demon Lords can grant boons, but other demons as well. The difference is that the Demon Lords have no limit to the number of individuals they can grant boons at the same time. There are eight Demon Lords mentioned here.

Baphomet. Baphomet grants its followers the abilities needed to track down foes, and then end them.

  • Unerring Tracker. The name says it all, and the flavor is great.
  • Incite the Hunters. As I said, first track the enemy and then end them. I like how this one is connected with the cult member trait.
  • Labyrinthine Recall. While there’s a chance that you won’t make use of this trait, its existence adds a great amount of flavor.

Demogorgon. This guy gives a set of tools to killers to make their life, and the death of their victims, easier. Actually, the spell list gives the killer various ways to approach each killing. While it’s a bit creepy, at least for me, it fits the flavor.

  • Two Minds of Madness. Advantage to saving throws with ability scores associated with Demogorgon. The way I see it, this one makes it harder to reason with a paranoid killer. Spot on.

Fraz-Urb’luu. There are some similarities with this one and Glasya, as in they both deal with illusions. Followers of Fraz-Urb’luu are illusionists and masters of deceit, and the spell list proves that.

  • Liar’s Eye. That’s seriously good. Apart from the advantage on Insight and Perception rolls, which is big, you can also spend a bonus action to detect illusions and hidden creatures. Where do I sign up?

Graz’zt. Two things came to mind when I read this. The first one was the Acolyte of Pain card from Hearthstone, and the second one was Slaanesh from Warhammer.

  • Joy from Pain. Not bad. My only wish is that the creature can make the attack even if the damage received kills it. It would make this much more flavorful.
  • Master of Pleasures. This is translated to more hit points equals more fun. It fits the theme perfectly. Also, this forces the players to make a tactical decision. Take down the leader and face the slightly buffed up minions later, or finish the minions first in order to negate the leader’s trait at the cost of having the leader freely attack them with possibly more powerful abilities than the minions? That was a long sentence and I apologize for that.

Juiblex. That’s the first of the Demon Lords that gives a penalty to an ability score. However, the increase can go up to a +8, which crazy. This, however, makes me wonder if the ability score increases are actually restricted by the usual maximum 20. Also, reading the description of the followers of Juiblex reminded me of an enemy in Out of the Abyss. Finally, no spells are granted.

  • Liquid Movement. Weird mobility bonus granted by a weird ooze Demon Lord. I believe it fits.
  • Slimy Organs. Resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical attacks is nice and all, but it doesn’t stay relevant for long. However, the acid damage part sounds fun. Especially since the damage increases with the number of Hit Dice of the creature.

Orcus. Sometimes even Orcus needs an actual living follower to get the job done. Of course, the spell list is a nice collection of necromancy spells.

  • Undying Soul. It’s like the Undead Fortitude Zombies have, but this one needs to recharge. It’s a nice way to boost survivability.
  • Aura of Death. I’m not really impressed by this one. It does grant three good abilities but only one is kinda in flavor, if you assume that this aura grants features the undead have to the allies of the one with the aura. The undead in the Monster Manual(at least a lot of them, in case I missed any) don’t have immunity to fear. Also, in this edition the undead aren’t vulnerable to radiant damage. As for the disadvantage on death saving throws, I’m cool with that.

Yeenoghu. Another Demon Lord that reduces ability scores in exchange of increasing others. Followers of Yeenoghu are pretty much cannibals. The spell list offers various control abilities. It’s not the best but it’s fine. I like the synergy in the traits, though.

  • Gnashing Jaws. A melee attack. It’s not much by itself but it gets boosted by the other two traits.
  • Rampage. This one actually makes Gnashing Jaws useful. It allows you to move and attack with Gnashing Jaws, when you reduce a creature to 0 hit points.
  • Aura of Bloodthirst. And of course, the leader makes Gnashing Jaws even better. This has a small radius because it makes the Gnashing Jaws attack cost only a bonus action. As I said, I like the synergy of the traits.

Zuggtmoy. This one doesn’t really have followers, but more like mindless slaves created by spores. Of course, this one reduces ability scores in exchange an increase of another. You want spells? For what? You can’t even think by yourself.

  • Spore Kissed. How can you be frightened or charmed if you have lost your basic brain functions? Also, we get a Slimy Organs ability with upgraded radius. The 10 feet radius makes it much more dangerous, especially if there are other cultists nearby. And let’s face it, there probably will be.

Other Demons. Other demons that aren’t as powerful as the Demon Lords can try to create cults and grant boons.

  • Balor
    • Fiery Soul. Resistance to fire with an explosive finish. The radius of the explosion is good.
  • Goristro
    • Labyrinthine Recall. As a flavor trait it was good. As a main trait it’s borderline irrelevant, especially compared with other ones.
  • Marilith
    • Serpentine Reaction. A second reaction is promising but depends on who’s using it.
  • Nalfeshnee
    • Guarded Mind. Not bad. Not the best either.

Overall, I really like this Unearthed Arcana. Apart from the Tiefling subraces, it gives a ton of content for the DM. Not only have we received a bunch of templates for cults and cultists, but also a huge amount of ideas and possible plothooks. Of course, not everything is perfect mechanics wise, but the whole concept of this month’s Unearthed Arcana is great. I’m not going to say it’s my favorite one up until now, but it’s definitely in my top 5.

Anyway, that’s all for now. You can read the full article here and download the PDF here. Also, you should check out the video accompanying this Unearthed Arcana because, apparently, my wish has come true and we’re probably going to get videos like this for each new Unearthed Arcana from now on.

 

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