Unearthed Arcana Archetypes part 2: Fighters, Monks, Paladins, and Rangers

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After a brief break over the holidays, Unearthed Arcana are now two thirds of the way through supplying optional archetypes for the base Classes (you can find my review of the first four Classes here.) Which puts we players and DMs in a bit of a tricky spot. Do we start using them now, or wait until they’re all released? After all, surely it’s better to have all the options available before we introduce them to our games, right?

Don’t use any of the bloody things, I say; in fact, if you’re playing in the officially sanctioned Adventurer’s League you aren’t even allowed to use them, so it’s a moot point there. But they do give an insight into what could be included in later revisions of the game, and I have to confess that some of it has been quite impressive. Much better than expected anyway.

There have been some wacky rules that need fixing, but for the most part I’m more concerned about flavour and necessity. Is an archetype contributing something that is different, or is it simply a variant on something already available? Is it filling an overlooked character concept, or is it simply filing off the serial numbers and stealing another Class’/the Cleric’s schtick?

I was generally impressed with the first four. Can they maintain the standard?

 

fighterFighter Martial Archetypes: The Fighter is the benchmark Class of D&D and has been since Chainmail, so it’s always the first Class I look at when a new edition comes out. I consider the three archetypes for the Fighter to be a perfect example of how to construct archetypes for a Class (the Rogue is equally good.) We got the Champion (a perfect class for newbies) the Battle Master (for more experienced players who want to build their own Fighter) and the Eldritch Knight (which covers all the fighter-mage/spellsword/elf-bullshit stuff.) Pretty sweet.

We now get to play with an old 3rd ed Prestige class; the Arcane Archer, which is basically a Ranger type with the elf-nonsense turned up to 11. It pulls magical arrows out of the air and then starts adding crazy effects to them, turning the PC into a living magic weapon rather than a protagonist. Now I do like the idea of a ranged combat Martial Archetype, but the Arcane Archer doesn’t feel like a Fighter at all. It’s almost like a very specialised Eldritch Knight, but the Ranger influence is hard to shake. And of course, one of the things people want is for a Ranger option that is less magical. This Arcane Archer nonsense is simply here to appease those who liked it in previous editions, and those people were always more interested in the crazy powers rather than any thematic concepts.

The remaining three Martial Archetypes are a lot better, but hardly as developed. They each seem to be variants on Champion in that they are solid in their design and fairly simplistic, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The Knight, Samurai, and Sharpshooter are great options for those who know what they want to play but don’t want to customise the Battle Master. Both Knight and Samurai are classic takes on their tropes but some may find them a little restrictive. The Sharpshooter is welcome and one of the few ways one can play a dedicated archer character without being forced to use magic (and is far more acceptable than the Arcane A-Hole.)

  • Shag the Knight, Samurai, and Sharpshooter. Good easy builds for new or casual players.
  • Marry none of them (though the three above make decent NPC templates.)
  • Kill the Arcane Archer. It’s a completely masturbatory character type and absolutely unnecessary, especially because the Ranger or even the Warlock should be covering this area.

 

monkMonk Monastic Traditions: The standard Monk options are respectable in the PHB. You get the Kung Fu master (Open Hand) the ninja (Shadow) and the super saiyan (Four Elements.) In design terms you could easily call them the monk-monk, the rogue-monk, and the wizard/sorceror-monk, and this multiclassing mindset continues on as we now get the fighter-monk and cleric-monk.

The Way of the Kensai focuses on the iconic non-weapon aspect of the Monk by throwing it out the window and handing the character three martial weapons to use instead of their fists. It basically turns your monk into a specialised Battle Master, and it actually works. It removes some of the defensive benefits of Open Hand and replaces them with some Fighter abilities and doesn’t seem as overpowered as it sounds. But I still can’t tell if I love it or hate it.

I’m similarly divided on the Way of Tranquility, which is a wonderful idea! Pacifistic options are in short supply in D&D and the monk just might be the place for one. However, this build feels clunky (Ki should have been the basis of the healing rules, if any) and I can’t help but feel it’s missing some elements (shouldn’t there be some Languages or Skill Proficiencies given to such diplomatic characters?) Then again, it succeeds in borrowing from the Cleric without trying to make it redundant (and we’ve seen how hard that can be.) It’s almost a neutral-good Paladin type… I wonder what the Paladin options will be like…

  • Shag both, and preferably together.
  • Marry neither, despite how nice they might be. They just don’t quite match the suitors in the PHB.
  • Kill neither, but flip a coin if you had to choose.

 

pallyPaladin Oaths: Now I was looking forward to seeing a new Paladin Oath. Though I love both the “defend the innocent” Oath of Devotion and the “punish the guilty” Oath of Vengeance, I thought that more could be done with the “protect the sacred” Oath of the Ancients. It was slightly too specialised, and I thought that with the introduction of the Protection Cleric Domain we might see a Paladin built around the more general ideas of being a “sacred guardian.”

But instead we’re getting something much worse. As bad as evil, in fact, as the two new Oaths are archetypes for fallen Paladins, and that’s pretty bad. Marginally better of the two is the lawful-evil Oath of Conquest, which at least tries to remember that the great fallen paragons (Lucifer, Lord Soth, Vader) all maintained some warped form of nobility. But the Oath of Conquest fails to present any loyalty or chivalry (I would have loved to have seen something about accepting an honourable challenge.) It’s pretty much Exhibit C in sabotaging the Cleric, this time by overshadowing the War Domain.

Worse is the Oath of Treachery, the chaotic-evil option, and this is openly a tweak on the equally ugly Oathbreaker in the DMG. Introducing tenets was a great tool for Paladins and corrupting those beliefs should be the heart of a tragic Paladin tale. This whole Bizarro Anti-Paladin with no morality might have the occasional good concept floated, but many things that float end up sinking to the bottom of the barrel. Where they fester. And then get scraped up by the desperate.

Even if you do like both or either of these, they scream of being mostly DM-controlled NPC classes, and that’s disappointing. Every other Class so far has been offered something that their DM might be tempted to allow, but Paladin has dropped the ball. This isn’t a potential addition to the PHB but the DMG, and that ain’t what we came here a’lookin’ fer, folks.

  • Shag the Oath of Conquest, but it might need grooming… eww…
  • Marry neither, unless you’re really into your anti-paladins. Enjoy that.
  • Kill the Oath of Treachery. Kill the Oathbreaker while you’re at it.

 

ranger2Ranger Archetypes: It should be noted that UA has bundled Ranger with Rogue (which I’ll be reviewing in part three) and this has something to do with the fact that they’ve had a stab at playing with both of these Classes before. Ranger in particular has seen a lot of tweaking, partly due to the fact that it is underpowered and partly because nobody seems to have a clue what to do with it. The only times it has worked was back in 2nd ed (where it allowed you to do things the rest of the game had no rules for) and in 4th ed (where they took magic off it and thus became just about the only thing that 4th did right.)

The lack of a non-spellcasting archetype was glaringly notable in the PHB, and the Hunter and Beast Master are both fairly enjoyable on the whole, but neither really feel like the classic ranger-types of myth and literature (Orion, Robin Hood, and Aragorn are ready examples.) This is effectively the fourth attempt for UA to play with the Class, and it very well might be the worst so far.

Just look at these options. The Horizon Walker is as navel-gazing as it sounds; a Ranger of the planes, seeking to prevent intrusions from other dimensions. There’s the smell of the witch-hunter about this archetype, but it should probably be restricted to settings like Planescape and other trans-reality games. Even worse is the Primeval Guardian, which lets you turn into a tree monster.

Now there’s already a Class that turns into monsters to defend the wild places and that’s the Druid. If Druid had an archetype where they swapped their beast forms for plant features then I’d be all for it (it certainly would have been better than the Circle of the Shepherd.) Making the Ranger more like the Druid is no way to make the Ranger a unique and interesting Class. Maybe, if anything, it needs to be more like the Rogue….

  • Shag the Horizon Walker. At the very least, it does encourage the player to follow the DM’s plot hooks.
  • Marry neither. It’s almost impossible to consider either of these guys seriously.
  • Kill the Primeval Guardian, but I appreciate the Ranger showing the Druid what it feels like to be the Cleric. How do YOU like it when another Class steals your stuff, eh? Sucks, don’t it fella?

 

Unearthed Arcana can be found on the D&D website dnd.wizards.com and a different Class is being spotlit each week. Or thereabouts. You can even give your feedback to the designers through their regular surveys. In Part 3 we’ll finish off with Rogues, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards.

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