Unearthed Arcana Archetypes Part 3: Rogues, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards (and summary)

unearthed arcana

If you’re starting to get bored of the Unearthed Arcana experiment into creating new class archetype options then you’re in good company because the designers seem to be of largely the same disposition. Even they’ve lost momentum over the holiday break and are now bundling offerings together in order to get it all out of the way.

But was it actually a failed experiment? And what did we learn in the previous two parts? (They’re found here and here, in case you need them.)

Best to hold off until we’ve seen the last four. So three guesses as to what we’re doing today.

 

rogueRoguish Archetypes: In case you wondered what happened to the solitary Rogue option, it got lumped in with Ranger. Which isn’t so bad, except that the Scout Rogue utterly humiliates all the work done on the Ranger by being by far the best “rangery” character we’ve been offered.

Think about it. It has wilderness skills, a very respectable ability to attack from ambush, a reliance on Dexterity, and a lack of heavy armour. It hardly needs the extra Hit Points, and it ditches the magic that has always been so incongruous. Seriously, this is really, really close to the non-magical Ranger we’ve been gagging for.

I didn’t think there was much further to go after the three excellent options for Rogue in the PHB. The Assassin and Thief were both classic directions for the Rogue, and the multiclass mage-rogue was given a welcome lick of paint with the Trickster monicker. But this Scout for Rogue (UA has released a previous Scout for Fighter in the past) has opened my mind and I absolutely see a place for a Scout archetype (despite it currently being a little too close to the Thief mechanically.)

However, it isn’t the place of the Rogue Class to cover for the mistakes of another, and the Scout continues to highlight the difficulties with the Ranger. Maybe the Ranger is best off not being a Class of its own, but should be relegated to being a thematic direction for Fighter, Rogue, and Druid archetypes (that is if the Druids aren’t too busy strip-mining whatever interesting ideas remain on the Cleric’s well-ravaged corpse.) Maybe it really is just a “kit” after all.

Shag the Scout if you’re considering killing the Ranger.
Marry the Scout if you’ve already killed the Ranger.
Kill the Ranger.

 

sorcSorcerous Origins: Though the Draconic Bloodline and Wild Magic gave us a good taste as to the kinds of possibilities available for sorcery, it left us hungry for more, so the Sorcerer was one of the Classes I was looking forward to in this experiment. But if I’ve learned anything at all from the approach taken so far, the first thing I was expecting was Exhibit D in Cleric-plundering, maybe by swapping in some divine spells for arcane abilities.

Called it! The Favored Soul is blessed by the gods, or maybe even descended from them, and it would certainly be amusing to watch a fellow party member praying fervently to your dad for a spell that you can use and abuse at whim. Regardless, the archetype is actually great for those lucky star, “seventh child of a seventh child” hero sorts, and I’m rather enamoured of it, really.

Phoenix Sorcery gives you phoenix powers, just like the Draconic Bloodline gave you dragon powers, and it seems like this approach could go on forever. How long until we see Kraken Sorcery, or Tarrasque Incantations, or Owlbear Alchemy? But at least it has flavour and personality covering what is otherwise simply a fire-based elemental Sorcerer.

If you want a water-based or earth-based option, the completely unimaginatively titled Sea Sorcery and Stone Sorcery are thrown in, and their descriptions are equally devoid of actual character. Air seems forgotten and fire seems to be covered by the far more interesting Phoenix, which makes me wonder why they didn’t simply look at djinn when elemental sorcerers were being tabled.

Shag the Favored Soul, particularly for a fairytale game.
Marry the Phoenix. A reasonable alternative to Draconic Sorcery.
Kill Sea and Stone. Kraken Sorcery might not be such a dumb idea…

 

warlockWarlock Otherworldly Patrons: Now I don’t dislike Warlocks, but I do have a problem with the lack of consequence for their strange pacts. I don’t mind having a PC in the group who has made a deal with the devil, but at some stage the devil (or demon, or space god, or fairy queen) has got to come calling for their due. We just don’t get that sort of mechanic to play with outside of DM fiat.

But the Warlock isn’t spoiled for interesting patrons, and I think we can all agree that the Archfey, Fiend, and Great Old One were all evocative and interesting without being restrictive. I can’t say that either the Hexblade and Raven Queen quite manage to tick all of the same boxes.

The Hexblade pact is a deal with a powerful magic item, resulting in you selling your soul to Stormbringer, basically, and it sort of turns you into an Eldritch Knight who can “mark” target enemies for later effects. Oh, and one bizarre power lets you turn your shadow into a dog which then goes and hides in someone else’s shadow. Though interesting, this isn’t the Shadow Doggie Patron, and it can’t help but feel a little silly.

The Raven Queen isn’t so bad, but it’s so restrictive to one entity that it becomes Exhibit E in our ongoing investigation into the Case of the Purloined Padre. If this were rebadged as some form of Grim Reaper or Spectre of Death or even Gravelord patron I’d likely be on board. But, like the Hexblade before it, the Raven Queen doesn’t offer the ability to personalise the identity of your warlock’s master like the original three patrons do.

It should be noted that a slew of new Eldritch Invocations have been supplied, many of them quite interesting. Though I appreciate them, this approach runs the risk of eventually having too many options available. Remember what we learned with Feats, guys?

Shag the Raven Queen if you dare.
Marry the homebrew design you’ve whipped up for a mate’s character that doesn’t quite fit the original three in the PHB, but just swaps around a few spells or something, so it’s pretty close.
Kill the Hexblade before it kills you.

 

partyWizard Arcane Traditions: Aaaand finally we get to the Wizard (hastily stuffed in with the Warlock, which is why we get a stock image) and this is actually the Class I’ve most been looking forward to seeing. Not because it means the series is finished (well done, you jokers at the back of the room) but because I didn’t have a clue what they were going to do for it. The Wizard is pretty complete as it stands.

Maybe in a previous edition we would have seen Divination and Necromancy held off to be sold to us in another book (such as the DMG or The Completist’s Tomebook of Arcane Secrets Vol IV) but the 5th ed PHB was wonderful in that it gave us all eight of the classic schools right off the bat (the old ninth school of Lesser Divination was rendered obsolete when cantrips were introduced.) So where could the designers go? After all, it’s highly unlikely they’d introduce a brand new school of magic. And resorting to highly specific setting-based archetypes (like the rainbow moon wizards of Dragon HeroesTM or whatever) would be a massive cop-out.

What I least suspected was that they’d fundamentally review their whole approach to the magic system. Lore Mastery is a mechanics-customisation approach to the Wizard, allowing you to enhance and adapt spells in a number of ways. It’s reminiscent of Metamagic Feats in 3rd ed and company, and it makes me hope that designers Mearls and Crawford are considering ways to overhaul or even remove the “Vancian” magic system and its innumerable spell lists that has always been a problem for D&D.

Not to say that the Lore Master is a great archetype. It has some serious balance questions (trading a 3rd level spell for +2 on a DC? I’ll throw another Fireball, thanks) and Spell Secrets may result in immunities and resistances becoming a non-issue for most encounters, but I do like it. It puts the power of spellcrafting in the hands of the player (like Ars Magicka, or Savage Worlds) and that can create some true magic.

Shag the Lore Master if you’ve played a few wizards before.
Marry the designers for having given us that fantastic dowry in the PHB.
Kill the rainbow moon wizards of Dragon HeroesTM.

 

So. What have we learned?

Well, we’ve learned that Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford did a great job with the PHB. Even though there might be the occasional place where you wonder if another Barbarian Path or Cleric Domain might be nice, there’s nothing utterly missing. At the very least, they didn’t throw in extra archetypes just to fill a quota.

These ten installments (two double-ups) aren’t a complete supplement even when collated. References to earlier Unearthed Arcana explorations pop up semi-regularly. They aren’t entirely balanced (immunities always raise a red flag) and some are far more developed than others. The assortment is unfocused; some are homages to previous editions, some are blatant multi-classing ideas, while others offer a sincere alternative to an overlooked Class identity.

And to their immense credit, the designers have never claimed that the work in Unearthed Arcana should be treated as anything other than an opportunity to peek inside their notebook and be inspired by their ideas. These aren’t sanctioned rules, nor are they training guides for an upcoming setting. It’s a hodgepodge mix which could really not have existed anywhere other than in a format like Unearthed Arcana. I’m grateful for it, and appreciate the value (free).

As a whole, the set gets a Shag rating. It isn’t always amazing, and is sometimes downright disappointing, but there are some really exciting things in among the awkward bits. The best Shag lessons came from the old “full party” of Cleric, Fighter, Rogue and Ranger, which is hardly surprising since it seems that every other Class seems to want to get a piece of them.

But there were Marry and Kill moments, and they were each at their most interesting when they should have been with a different partner. The Scout should be inverted and put in Ranger, the Paladin needs an Oath of Protection, and the Druid is the ONLY place for the Primeval Guardian. The Storm Herald could have filled that missing “air elementalist” spot, and the Grave Domain could have been repurposed over in Warlock (but surely just having an “Aura of Dark Shadowy Death” Background option would have saved a lot of time spent on building a third of these archetypes.)

And what will we see coming into 5.whatever? Hopefully the Zealot (along with the Elk and Tiger Totems) and College of Glamour. Increasingly less likely is a Ranger that doesn’t suck. A Sorcerer, maybe two, and probably a couple of Cleric Domains (Creation and a retooled Death would be high on my list). Probably Warlock Invocations, because we can’t get away from bloody Warlocks. And maybe another Druid simply because they seem to be subject to a different set of rules to everyone else.

But we don’t really need much more. My calculator tells me that there are 1404 different combinations of base Class, Race, and Background given in the PHB. If you include the various archetypes, subraces, and variant Backgrounds, that number increases to a staggering 10800. And that isn’t even accounting for the different Druid Terrains, Dragonborn and Sorcerer draconic branches, Barbarian Totems, and whatnot. How many more options do you really need?

Well, one, I guess. A decent non-magic Ranger would be nice…

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