Unearthed Arcana: Subclasses, Part 1 Analysis

Even more subclasses!

We’re close to catching up with the Unearthed Arcana installments. In this one we get four new subclasses; the Path of the Beast for the Barbarian, the Way of Mercy for the Monk, the Oath of the Watchers for the Paladin, and the Noble Genie for the Warlock. Let’s go!

Path of the Beast

A therianthropic archetype for the barbarian, allowing you to partially transform into an animal to gain new abilities. This can be due to multiple reasons, from being an actual werewolf (or other were-creature) to a druidic or fey connection.

Form of the Beast (3rd-level Path of the Beast feature)

When you rage, you can choose to manifest a natural melee weapon. Bite deals 1d8 damage and heals you for an amount equal to your Constitution modifier, Claws deals 1d6 damage and gives you an additional attack, and Tail deals 1d12 damage and has reach. This is a build-defining feature – it allows you to play without weapons, and offers great flexibility. Bite especially allows some serious sustain, especially once you get your extra attack as well.

Bestial Soul (6th-level Path of the Beast feature)

Your natural weapons count as magical, and once you finish a short or long rest you gain a mobility boost. You can choose between swimming, climbing, and jumping. Depending on your surroundings, this can make things considerably easier for you, although it is obviously quite situational. As for the magical weapons, it’s a feature that’s needed for any archetype that doesn’t rely on normal weapons (e.g. monk, or the soulknife from the previous UA, et cetera), since in the higher levels their damage output would plummet against certain creatures – so it’s pretty much expected.

Infectious Fury (10th-level Path of the Beast feature)

When you hit with your natural weapons, the target must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or take 2d12 psychic damage, or use its reaction to make an attack against a creature of your choice. You choose which of the two effects will apply, and you can use it a number of times equal to your Constitution modifier between long rests. Although the “friendly fire” option seems powerful, i don’t think many creatures can deal more than 2d12 damage – and since only the reaction is used, not a full action, it’s not as powerful. But I’m sure in the higher levels, if you’re facing a really powerful creature like a dragon or a high-level demon, it’ll be much better.

Call the Hunt (14th-level Path of the Beast feature)

When you enter your rage, you can choose a number of creatures equal to your Constitution modifier. They gain the Reckless Attack feature, as well as advantage on saving throws against being frightened. You also gain 5 temporary hit points for each creature you affect. Remember that Reckless Attack affects only melee weapons using Strength, so spellcasters or archers won’t get as much benefit from it, but the advantage against fear is always good and you also get some more HP. Depending on your party composition, this can wreck an enemy group really quickly.

Overall, an interesting and unique theme that fits very well with the barbarian and can offer a lot of opportunities for roleplay as well.

Way of Mercy

This is kind of a weird concept, it’s like a mix of healer, plague doctor, defender, and executioner. It’s definitely interesting, and I’m curious to see what people do with it.

Implements of Mercy (3rd-level Way of Mercy feature)

You gain proficiency with the Herbalism and Poisoner’s Kit, as well as Insight or Medicine (your choice). Nothing special here, expected proficiencies that fit the archetype.

Hands of Healing (3rd-level Way of Mercy feature)

You can use an action and spend 1 ki to heal someone for your Martial Arts die plus your Wisdom modifier. When you use Flurry of Blows, you can replace an attack with this ability without spending the ki point. A spammable, relatively cheap heal, that you can also combine with your attacks for no extra cost? This is a great feature, and even in the later levels 1d10+5 hit points every turn isn’t negligible.

Hands of Harm (3rd-level Way of Mercy feature)

This is obviously the opposite of the previous feature – when you hit a creature, you can spend 1 ki point to deal necrotic damage equal to your martial arts die. If the creature is incapacitated or poisoned, they take 3 rolls of the die instead. Considering how common both conditions are, you should get the triple damage quite often, especially since the next feature helps immensely with it.

Noxious Aura (6th-level Way of Mercy feature)

You can spend 1 ki point to create an aura 5 feet around you that lasts 1 minute. While active, ranged attacks have disadvantage against you, and creatures inside it must make a Constitution saving throw or become poisoned and take poison damage equal to your Wisdom modifier. An extremely powerful and very cheap ability, there’s no reason to not use this in every fight. It can cripple both melee and ranged opponents, and it also activates the extra damage for Hands of Harm as mentioned above.

Healing Technique (11th-level Way of Mercy feature)

When you use Hands of Healing, you can also end one disease or condition (between blinded, deafened, paralyzed, or poisoned). This can be quite useful against some enemies that repeatedly inflict those conditions, and is a good capability to have in general.

Hand of Mercy (17th-level Way of Mercy feature)

As an action, you can spend 4 ki points and touch a creature. They must make a Constitution saving throw, which they can choose to fail automatically. If they fail, they enter a sort of stasis, where they are paralyzed, immune to all damage, anything affecting them (like a curse or poison) is suspended, and they appear dead to any sort of examination, even magical. This lasts a number of days equal to your monk level. Obviously, this has a myriad of uses. You can instantly down a tough enemy to stall for time to prepare more effectively, you can put an ally into stasis if they are near death, and you can even trick people into thinking someone is dead. I’m not sure if it is intended or a mistake, but a paralyzed creature is not unconscious, so the “corpse” is still awake and aware of what’s happening. In addition, according to the ability’s wording, you can still affect the creature – e.g. heal, or cast spells like Detect Thoughts, or even Imprisonment. So this opens up a great new deal of options, if you use the ability this way.

Overall, again an interesting archetype thematically, with good features to support it. Hand of Mercy especially can have a lot of imaginative uses, as I talked about above.

Oath of the Watchers

A paladin archetype revolving entirely around extraplanar threats, such as fey, fiends, aberrations, or elementals. As such, we can expect a lot of banishing and offensive options against those particular creatures.

Oath Spells (3rd-level Oath of the Watchers feature)

As usual, paladins get some more spells depending on their oath. Here, we get several abjuration spells like Alarm and Counterspell, along with the pretty much mandatory for this archetype Banishment. Overall, the extra spells fit the theme as always.

Channel Divinity (3rd-level Oath of the Watchers feature)

You get two more options for using your Channel Divinity. One of them gives advantage to Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws to a number of creatures for 1 minute, a pretty strong buff, especially against the sort of creatures you’re meant to fight, who usually have a charm or fear effect or those types of saving throws in general. The second is similar to the cleric’s Turn Undead, only for the four extraplanar creature types mentioned above. The buff to saving throws will probably be a lot more common, but there are occasions where the second option would be particularly useful too.

Aura of the Sentinel (7th- and 18th-level Oath of the Watchers feature)

You have a 10-feet aura, increasing to 30 feet at level 18, that gives a bonus to Initiative rolls equal to your Charisma modifier. An alright feature, although i’d like to see it make it so that it’s harder to surprise you as well – perhaps not fully immune like the Alert feat, but some conditional bonus would be good.

Vigilant Rebuke (15th-level Oath of the Watchers feature)

Whenever you or another creature within 30 feet of you succeed on a saving throw against a spell, you can use your reaction to deal 2d8 plus your Charisma modifier force damage to the spellcaster. Without a use limit, this will do some serious damage against certain creatures, and with the paladin’s Aura of Protection and with a Bless on top, saving throws are most of the time perhaps not trivial to succeed, but definitely much easier.

Mortal Bulwark (20th-level Oath of the Watchers feature)

The classic 1-minute powerup transformation that all paladins have, this is specialized on extraplanar enemies. You gain truesight with a range of 120 feet, you have advantage on attack rolls against elementals, fey, fiends, and aberrations, and when you hit a creature you can force it to make a Charisma saving throw or be banished to its native plane of existence. This last ability won’t work on enemies originating from the same plane as the one you’re currently in, so this feature’s utility is severely diminished against them.

Overall, this is quite the specialized archetype, so i fear it will oscillate between “too strong” and “not as relevant” (never weak – paladins have so many tools and abilities, I’d rank them near the top when it comes to combat power). In certain campaigns, they might completely dominate (cough cough OotA), but I don’t see them being chosen that often.

The Noble Genie

You have made a pact with a powerful genie, being granted power in exchange for assisting in expanding their collection of riches and entertainment. The features lean mostly towards utility and control, rather than outright damage.

Collector’s Vessel (1st-level Noble Genie feature)

You are granted a tiny magical item that binds you to your patron, and can act as a spellcasting focus. As an action, you can tether between you that lasts for 1 hour, as long as you remain within 100 feet of each other. While the tether persists, you can add your Charisma modifier to Perception checks, and when you cast a spell, you can deliver it from the space of the tethered creature. Perception boosts are always welcome, and the range extension for your spells can also come in handy.

Elemental Resistance (6th-level Noble Genie feature)

When you finish a long rest, you can choose to gain resistance to acid, cold, fire, or lightning damage. If you have a tether active, the tethered creature also gains this resistance. A versatile defensive feature, although curiously thunder damage isn’t included.

Protective Wish (10th-level Noble Genie feature)

If you or your tethered creature is hit by an attack, you can use your reaction to teleport and switch places, as well as switching who is hit by the attack. An interesting defensive ability, but quite situational.

Genie’s Entertainment (10th-level Noble Genie feature)

As an action, you can force a creature to make a Charisma saving throw or be banished to your patron’s court in the Elemental Plane, where they are stunned for 1 minute. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of their turns, and you can use this ability once per long rest – however, if the target remains banished for 1 full minute, you regain the use of it. It’s doubtful this will happen often, requiring 10 consecutive failed saving throws, but it’s definitely possible. It’s still a good control ability – even a turn out of combat for an enemy can give you time to catch a breath so to speak, clearing out any other enemies or healing up and preparing.

Collector’s Call (14th-level Noble Genie feature)

As an action, you can make a Persuasion check against your own spell save DC. If you succeed, you can choose one of the following effects:

  • A creature you can see within 60 feet of you regains 8d6 hit points and ends one disease or condition afflicting it: blinded, charmed, deafened, frightened, paralyzed, or poisoned.
  • A creature you can see within 60 feet of you has disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws until the start of your next turn.
  • You cast the legend lore spell without material components.

You can normally use this ability once per long rest, but you can also regain a use of it by sacrificing nonmagical treasure worth at least 500gp to your patron. The effects are all quite nice, but i’m not sure how I feel about the whole aspect of spending gold to regain use of features. It can get quite powergame-y, it starts to feel like gambling, and I hope we don’t see it again. I also don’t quite get the point of making a check against yourself, especially when both the check and the DC have the same bonuses (Charisma modifier + proficiency bonus, assuming you are proficient with Persuasion – which you most likely are – and there aren’t any Expertise or other bonuses in play). It’s pretty much rolling a raw d20 and waiting for a result over 8. While it’s quite imaginative from a roleplay perspective, the feature’s mechanics aren’t my cup of tea.

And that’s all for this Unearthed Arcana installment. I like the flavour of all four subclasses, to be honest, and I’m looking forward to seeing the next updates on them. Because, yes, I do believe they still need some more work. What do you think?

Moreover, let me know if you want analysis articles on previous Unearthed Arcana installments we may have missed.

You can read the full article here, and download the PDF here.

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