Unearthed Arcana: Subclasses Part 4 Analysis

Two new subclasses, a College for the Bards and a Patron for Warlocks. Let’s take a look.

College of Spirits

A bard archetype focused on learning various stories from spirits, learning from the past and passing on that knowledge. An interesting subclass that does fit the bard’s theme.

Guiding Whispers (3rd level)

You learn the Guidance cantrip, and it has a range of 60ft. instead of touch. Guidance is an excellent support cantrip (+1d4 to an ability check), and while you probably won’t use it in combat, it’s an obvious option to help out your allies in many many situations: pick a lock, negotiate with someone, do some research, et cetera.

Spiritual Focus (3rd and 6th level)

At 3rd level, you simply get some more options for a spellcasting focus such as crystal ball or a tarokka deck. At 6th level however, whenever you cast a bard spell that deals damage or restores hit points, you roll a d6 and add the result to one roll of the spell; this means either the attack roll, if the spell needs one, or the healing/damage roll. In my opinion, this is a very very powerful feature; I think we have seen something similar in an earlier UA, but I can’t quite remember where. Essentially, it’s like you cast every spell at one level higher, which should make it obvious why I think so.

Tales from Beyond (3rd level)

This is sort of the signature feature of the subclass.You have a collection of spirit’s tales (12 of them – I’m not going to list them all) you can recount, affecting either an ally or an enemy depending on the tale. You don’t actually select a tale however; instead, you can use a bonus action to expend one use of your Bardic Inspiration and roll on the Spirit’s Tales table – but you don’t roll a d12, instead you roll your bardic inspiration die. You keep that tale in your mind until you use it on a creature (with a range of 30 feet), or you finish a short or long rest.

As a concept, I like this feature a lot. It gives a lot of options, offensive, defensive, and utility, plus it fits perfectly with the archetype’s theme. However the execution is a bit convoluted. I can accept the random selection, even though I think it would be better if you chose what tale you wanted – it might have been quite a bit stronger, but it could have other restrictions, e.g. being able to select each tale only once per long rest or something similar. I also get why you use your bardic inspiration die for the selection roll instead of a d12 – the tales in higher rolls are stronger and you get access to them in later levels, but it still seems a bit awkward and I had to re-read the feature a few times to understand how exactly it functions. 

Spirit Session (6th level)

You can conduct an hour-long ritual with a number of creatures equal to your proficiency modifier, yourself included. After the ritual, you can learn a spell of your choice from any class; you know it until you start a long rest, it counts as a bard spell, and it doesn’t count against the number of spells you know. However, the spell’s level must be equal to or less than the number of creatures that participated in the ritual (as well as being of a level that you can cast), and it can only be a divination or necromancy spell. An interesting feature to be sure, and again fitting in terms of flavor, but I’m unsure how often it will be used. On one hand, bards already have access to all spells through their Magical Secrets feature, and without the need to wrangle people to get them to participate in a ritual or restrictions on the type of spell. On the other hand, you get this ability at level 6 instead of level 10, you can select a different spell every time, and you can scale the spell’s level as well. Plus any way you look at it, it’s an extra spell, for free.

Mystical Connection (14th level)

When you use your Tales from Beyond feature, you can use a d6 instead of expending a Bardic Inspiration die for the selection roll. This definitely puts some things into perspective that I complained about that feature, but I’m still not 100% sold on its implementation. Regardless, this has some obvious upsides: you might not be able to use the more powerful tales, but there’s no guarantee you’d be able to anyway since it’s random, and it leaves all your bardic inspirations available.

Overall, even though I want to like the subclass (and I certainly do thematically), I am ambivalent. The randomness in Tales from Beyond is a big drawback from me, but the sheer power of Spiritual Focus will probably make up for it; I just think that it’s not ideal to have the signature feature of the archetype to be overshadowed by something else.

The Undead Patron

This seems like a reimagining of the Undying patron from SCAG – several mechanics seem similar, recycled, or moved around in different levels. It might seem a bit weird to do so, but I definitely think this version is much better. Let’s take a look.

Expanded Spell List (1st level)

Nothing special here, just the standard extra spells available to you. Mostly necromancies with some debuffs as well.

Form of Dread (1st level)

You can use a bonus action to transform for 1 minute. When transformed, you gain temporary HP equal to 1d10+your Warlock level, you are immune to the frightened condition, and once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with an attack you can force them to make a Wisdom saving throw or become frightened of you until the end of their next turn. 

Two notes here that make this quite powerful: first, you can use it a number of times equal to your proficiency modifier between long rests. While I was reading this feature, I assumed it would be once per long rest; or perhaps short rest. I don’t mind the way it is now, I don’t think it’s too powerful, but I do have some reservations. Second, and perhaps more important, is the fact that the fear effect on hit has no restriction; usually, succeeding on such a saving throw makes the target immune to the effect for 24 hours. This is not the case here, allowing you to potentially fear-lock a target for the whole duration. As a sidenote, the document doesn’t say what the DC for the saving throw is, but I assume it’s your spellcaster DC.

Grave Touched (6th level)

You don’t need to eat, drink, or breathe. Not something that usually comes into play in my experience, but fitting nonetheless. In addition, when you hit a creature with an attack that deals damage, you can replace the damage type with necrotic. If you are using Form of Dread, you can roll an additional die to determine the necrotic damage the target takes. I’m not 100% sure about how to interpret the wording, but I think the extra damage applies only when you use Form of Dread and not every time you deal necrotic damage in general.

Mortal Husk (10th level)

You have resistance to necrotic damage, which becomes immunity when in Form of Dread. In addition, when you fall to 0 hit points, you can deal 2d10+your warlock level necrotic damage to all creatures in 30 feet and drop to 1 hit point instead. Once you do so, you gain a level of exhaustion and can’t use this feature again until you complete 1d4 long rests. 

Hopefully not something you’ll have to use often, but again two points: First, it affects ALL creatures, allies included, so take care when you use it otherwise you might just do more damage to your team than the enemies. Which also ties to the second point: the damage doesn’t have a saving throw; no avoiding it, no half damage, everyone gets the full amount. So keep that in mind!

Spirit Projection (14th level)

Once per long rest, you can detach your spirit from your body for up to an hour or until your concentration is broken. When the effect ends, you can choose to instantly return to your body’s location, or have your body teleport to your spirit’s current position. During the effect, you gain the following benefits:

  • Your body and spirit have resistance to bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing damage. Not bad, gives you a lot of defense against weapons.
  • When you cast a necromancy or conjuration spell, it doesn’t require components that don’t have a gold cost (verbal, somatic, or material). A handy utility but nothing too exciting.
  • You have a flying speed equal to your walking speed and can hover. You can move through objects and creatures as if they were difficult terrain, but you take 1d10 force damage if you end your turn in one. Very useful, I have spoken many many times about how powerful flight is. Passing through objects is the cherry on top. 
  • While using Form of Dread, once every turn when you deal necrotic damage to a creature, you can regain hit points equal to half the necrotic damage dealt. Now this is perhaps the big deal. These types of “lifesteal” abilities are generally avoided in D&D, and I can see why; you can easily regain very large amounts of life that would normally need high-level spells. Warlocks aren’t exactly squishy, but they aren’t tanks either; this feature however can allow you to single-handedly power through almost anything in a protracted fight, especially considering that you can heal every turn when you use Grave Touched (assuming you hit of course).

Overall, a powerful feature that will definitely be used extensively. Something I am not sure about, however, is if you can use spells that require concentration when under the effect of this feature; the exact wording is: “Your spirit can remain outside your body for up to 1 hour or until your concentration is broken (as if concentrating on a spell).” Does that “as if concentrating” mean that it counts as a spell, or simply that you must follow the same mechanics for saving throws? I really can’t tell – it’s 50/50 for me, so please comment with your interpretation.

As I said earlier, this is most likely a rebuild of the Undying Pact that we already saw in SCAG. How do they compare? Well, this one is definitely stronger mechanically, and I’d say better in fluff as well for each of the features.

To wrap things up, this was a good edition of UA but I think it needed some more care in how certain mechanics are explained, because some people (me included) might get a bit confused.

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

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