Unearthed Arcana: Subclasses Revisited Analysis

Back once more, this UA takes a look at some subclasses presented in older UA installments, and gives them a new look.

In particular, we have the Phantom (from the Revived) for Rogues, the Genie Patron (from the Noble Genie) for Warlocks, and the Order of Scribes (from the Archivist) for Wizards.

Phantom

A Rogue archetype that’s an overhauled revisit of the Revived from last year, it changes both the fluff and the mechanics of the archetype quite a bit. Rather than being someone who’s actually been dead and came back, you now have some form of connection with the concept of death itself. This can be spontaneously discovered , but it can also be taught.

Whispers of the Dead (3rd level)

Whenever you finish a short or long rest, you can gain one skill or tool proficiency of your choice. Rogues already have the role of skill monkey, and this not only gives one more proficiency, but allows you to change it to whatever is needed at the time.

Wails from the Grave (3rd level)

When you deal sneak attack damage to a creature, you can target a second creature you can see within 30 feet of your original target. You roll ha;f the dice for your Sneak Attack rounded up, and deal that much psychic damage to them. You can use this ability a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, regaining all uses after a long rest. That’s quite a bit of extra damage, from 2d6 at level 3 (not that much, but it’s free extra damage) to 30d6 at level 19 in total. Plus, it’s psychic damage, which isn’t that common when it comes to resistances.

Tokens of the Departed (9th level)

Now this is an interesting feature. When a creature you can see dies within 30 feet of you, you gain a soul trinket, containing a small fragment of their life essence. You can hold a number of soul trinkets equal to your proficiency modifier, and they have two uses: First, while you have one on you, you get advantage on death and Constitution saving throws. A great bonus – constitution saving throws are incredibly common, and they can have some pretty bad outcomes if you fail. Second, you can destroy one of them, and ask the spirit associated with it one question – they do not have to answer truthfully, and their answer is pretty short. I like how they kept this aspect of the Revived in the Phantom, but removed the cheesy exploitation possibilities the previous version had. Also, the whole aspect of physical trinkets is a nice touch, that opens up a lot of roleplay possibilities. Does your character hide them away, or display them like some sort of macabre trophy? Do they all take similar forms, or is each one unique? And so on.

Ghost Walk (13th level)

As a bonus action, you gain a flying speed of 10 feet, you can hover, pass through objects, and attacks against you have disadvantage. This lasts for 10 minutes or until you end it. Obviously a great ability for any rogue, it allows you to infiltrate or escape almost anything and is phenomenal for combat. Normally, you can use it once per long rest – however, you can destroy one of your soul trinkets to regain a use.

Death Knell (17th level)

When you use your Wails from the Grave feature, you can now deal the psychic damage to both the first and the second creature. As mentioned in that feature as well, it’s good extra damage, but a bit bland. Maybe it could be so that with this feature, you can destroy a soul token, to regain a use of Wails from the Grave as well? I know that often in these UA articles I harp on about features being a bit boring or bland, even if they aren’t weak, but I feel that     giving something extra, particularly an “active” component, can make them feel a lot more impactful.

Overall, I would say that I appreciate the Phantom a lot more than the Revived. It fits more as a subclass and has better features, while still retaining that grim flavor of connection to the concept of death.

The Genie Patron

A revisit of the Noble Genie patron – as the name implies, it’s a Warlock archetype that gives you the option of having a powerful genie of any type as your patron and source of powers.

Expanded Spell List

Depending on the type of genie your patron is, you have access to additional spells – Dao get spells related to earth and stone, Djinni related to wind, Efreeti to fire, and Marid to water and ice (not really a surprise for any of them). Regardless of the type of your patron, you also get some more “mystic” spells like Phantasmal Force, Creation, and even Wish.

Genie’s Vessel (1st level)

You have a tiny object that acts as a magical vessel granted to you by your patron, which can also act as a spellcasting focus. You also get 2 additional abilities: Firstly, as an action, you can enter your vessel, appearing in a 20-foot radius and 20-feet high cylinder-shaped extradimensional space. You can remain for a number of hours equal to twice your proficiency bonus, and you can store items inside indefinitely. When you exit your vessel, you cannot enter it again until you finish a long rest. So essentially you have a big bag of holding, and a safe space (albeit only for you initially) to stay in. It might not seem like much, but it definitely helps with mundane utility. The second ability is much more suited to combat: Once on each of your turns, when you hit with an attack roll (weapon or spell, it doesn’t matter) you can deal extra damage equal to your proficiency bonus. The type of damage depends on your patron genie: bludgeoning for dao, thunder for djinni, fire for efreeti, and cold for marid. This is a LOT of extra damage: +2 on level 1 is incredible, and even at high levels, +6 every turn is quite significant – perhaps a bit too strong even, since I’m going to assume this is magic damage. Not sure how I would change that though – maybe a die that increases in size as you level.

Elemental Gift (6th level)

You gain resistance to the damage type associated with your genie patron. Additionally, as a bonus action, you can give yourself a flying speed of 30 feet (plus hover) for 10 minutes. You can use this ability a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, regaining all uses after a long rest. This seemed fine, until the number of times you can use it – just once would be fine, or perhaps once per short rest. There’s no need to add in the proficiency bonus, just like the extra damage from the previous feature it makes the ability unnecessarily powerful.

Sanctuary Vessel (10th level)

When you enter your Genie’s Vessel, you can choose up to 5 willing creatures to take with you. Now that it would make sense for them to use the proficiency bonus, instead they just give you a flat 5 people? Anyway… anyone who remains in the vessel for at least 10 minutes gets the benefits of a short rest, and can add your proficiency bonus to the number of hit points they regain if they spend any Hit Dice. From my understanding, this applies only once, so you don’t add the bonus for every hit dice you spend – otherwise you’d be swimming in hit points.

Limited Wish (14th level)

As an action, you can cast any spell of 6th level or lower with a casting time of 1 action, without any restrictions: it can be of any class, and you don’t need to meet the spellcasting components – even costly ones. Once you use this ability, you can’t use it again until you finish 1d4 long rests. An interesting ability that I really like – it gives Warlocks the ability to use another high-level spell, it offers incredible utility, and it requires you to actually think before using it, as you wont get it back immediately the next day – at least if you’re not lucky. A small note here is that you can benefit from a long rest only once every 24 hours, so if you roll a 4 don’t expect to be able to sit around for 32 hours and get the ability back. 

Overall, again I much prefer this version of the subclass. It avoids some of the weird mechanics the previous one had (like spending gold to regain uses of an ability) and has more flavor when it comes to genies, and what type of genie your patron is – although as I said earlier I do feel that some features could stand to lose a bit of power.

Order of Scribes

This is a revisit of an Artificer subclass called the Archivist, now changed into a Wizard archetype. It follows roughly the same idea, centering around spell scrolls as well as an AI-like entity inhabiting your spell book.

Wizardly Quill (2nd level)

As a bonus action, you can create a magical quill in your hand. It doesn’t require ink and can write in any color, you can erase any test you have written with it within 5 feet of you, and most importantly the gold and time you spend to copy a spell into your spellbook is halved. 

Awakened Spellbook (2nd level)

Your spellbook has an arcane sentience embedded in it, allowing you to use it as a spellcasting focus. In addition, when you cast a spell that deals damage, you can change its damage type to any other type, provided a spell that deals that damage type exists in your spellbook. A handy ability when faced with enemies with particular resistances or vulnerabilities, or you want to play a spellcaster focused on a very specific element. Finally, when you cast a wizard spell as a ritual, you can do so by only using the spell’s original casting time, rather than adding 10 minutes to it. You can do this once per long rest – a useful ability as well to save time and spell slots – seems kind of meh, but while rituals aren’t really all that special in RAW, you can expand them in your own campaigns.

Master Scrivener (6th level)

When you finish a long rest, you can select a spell of 1st or 2nd level with casting time of 1 action, and make a spell scroll of it. The scroll is usable only by you, it counts as one level higher than normal, and lasts until you use it or until your next long rest. When you first get this feature, it can be quite powerful, however I feel that it will quickly fall off as you level up. I think it should either allow another creature to cast the spell, or allow you to have more than one scroll. Another option would be to make it so that the maximum level of the spell you can store in the scroll is equal to your proficiency bonus. You also need only half the time and gold to create normal spell scrolls, which you probably expected for this archetype, and I don’t think I need to comment on.

Manifest Mind (10th level)

As a bonus action, you can manifest the mind embedded in your awakened spellbook as a Tiny construct within 60 feet of you. It occupies no space and sheds dim light in a 10-foot radius, uses your AC and saving throw modifiers, and has hit points equal to your wizard level plus your INT modifier. It can hear and see, with 60 feet of darkvision, and you can choose to use its senses instead of your own as an action. However, something that I’m not sure I agree with is that it requires concentration to do so, stopping you from using a spell that might also require it. In addition, when you cast a spell, you can choose to cast it from the mind’s location instead of your own. You can do this a number of times equal to your proficiency modifier, restoring the uses when you take a long rest. You can cause the manifested mind to hover up to 30 feet to an unoccupied space that you or it can see as a bonus action, allowing it to pass through creatures but not objects. The mind disappears if drops to 0 hit points, moves more than 300 feet away from you, you dismiss it with a bonus action, or you die.

Overall, I wouldn’t say it’s something impressive. Sure you can use it for scouting, but the range limitation and the light it gives off are big restrictions. The action cost to move it and look through it are too big to use it during combat. I can see two main uses for it (before you get another with the next feature): Use it to deliver touch-range spells from far away (i think most ranged spells have enough range that you can usually reach your target from a safe distance), or use it as a meat shield/distraction. You don’t have a restriction on how many times you can summon the manifestation, and it’s a bonus action as well – so you can constantly use it to trigger attacks of opportunity or distract opponents to draw their attacks. I don’t think this is the intended way to use this feature, but it’s probably the most efficient one.

One with the Word (14th level)

While you are holding your awakened spellbook and its mind is manifest, you can use an action to teleport and switch places. You can use this ability a number of times equal to your proficiency modifier, regaining the uses when you finish a long rest. Now this is a much more useful ability than the previous ones, allowing you to teleport to safety or move up to 300 feet with an action. It has a decent amount of uses without allowing you to spam it.

In addition, you have another ability: If you die but at least one spell remains in your spellbook, you can return to life 1 minute later within 1 foot of the book. You revive with 1 hit point, and then roll 3d6. The book loses spells of your choice that have a combined spell level equal to that roll or higher. Afterwards, you are incapable of casting these spells, even if you find them in a scroll or a different spellbook – the only way to get them back is to cast Wish, which only returns a single one.

Perhaps it’s a bit too harsh, but I would go as far as to call this ability borderline useless. You can’t really use it in battle, since by the time the full minute has passed (10 whole rounds!) the combat will most likely be over – if your side won, a Revivify spell (or scroll) will take care of you. If your side lost, I don’t see how you would be able to change that with 1 HP, except perhaps by instantly teleporting far away. If you aren’t in combat, again your friends can drag you to a cleric at their leisure. Perhaps if you are playing in a setting/campaign where resurrection is much more difficult to achieve this would be worth it, but then we get to the price you have to pay. I think the price is just too steep to consider it when there are other alternatives. Sure, wizards can learn a lot of spells, but in this way when you lose them, they’re gone forever. But you can get them back with Wish! No, not really. How many times will you risk casting Wish to get back spells (a single spell each time to boot), until you lose the ability to cast Wish as well? If I were to keep this ability roughly the same, I would suggest one of the following, or maybe even both: 

  • Wish restores more spells, or restores spells with the same mechanism they are lost – according to total spell level. E.g. you regain spells with a total spell level equal to your proficiency modifier, or half your wizard level, etc. Or:
  • You lose the ability to cast these spells temporarily – days, weeks, even months – but not forever. You can still get them back instantly with Wish.

Even so, I still wouldn’t see much reason to use it beyond the most extreme circumstances. My suggestion is to replace the resurrection aspect with something like the following: When you die, if the spellbook’s mind is manifest, you transfer your consciousness to it and assume direct control. You can only move and cast spells, not make weapon attacks or interact with objects etc. This effect lasts for 1 minute or until the manifest mind is reduced to 0 hit points. If the mind still has more than 0 hit points after 1 minute has passed, you come back to life with 0 hit points but stable. After you use this ability, you cannot use it or Manifest Mind again for 2d4 days.

I was going to go on about the ability, but I realized I’ve already talked too much about it, so I’ll just move on.

For this subclass, I do like the transition to a Wizard over an Artificer one, but I’m not fully satisfied with the mechanics. Perhaps I am looking at it in a vacuum without considering the whole Wizard class though.

To wrap things up, I like the subclasses presented here, and I find them a great improvement over their previous versions in all cases. However as I said previously, I’m not sure about how some of the features were implemented; in addition, it feels like they tried to use the proficiency bonus a bit too much, when in some cases it would make more sense to use some other limit. I understand that it’s probably a test to see how well it performs the role of “limit that scales with level”, but it’s already covered by using the levels themselves, so it comes off as being sort of forced in. I’m not against it being used though, and i hope that further experimentation will find the proper balance – after all, that’s why UA is here.

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

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