A barbarian who brings the spirits of her ancestors wherever she goes, leading them to protect her allies. A bard who almost seems to prefer a sword to a song, a consummate swashbuckling duelist. A fighter whose arrows are steeped in magic, with every shot visiting a different sort of arcane assault upon his foes. A monk who has studied the martial arts of weaponry, and is one with her blades. A sorcerer who taps into the divine blood within her to heal her allies and strike down her foes. The flurry of weekly Unearthed Arcana for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition has come to an end, but that doesn’t mean Mearls and Crawford are done giving us material to chew on. Five different builds have returned from their original UA foray, so let’s Meet the Party and see what changed!
I’ve often extolled the virtues of Unearthed Arcana as a concept, a sort of rolling playtest that keeps the player base supplied with new material while safely exposing said material to reality and collecting feedback so it can be improved. This most recent round, however, definitely feels like the later stages of the D&D Next tests that got us to 5th Edition: they’ve gotten a feel for what works, and are in the final stages of seeing what might earn its way to the printed page. Quite a few of these builds are already in the Meet the Party archives, so it’s exciting to see what they do, how they’ve changed, and whether or not that change is for the better. Let’s (re)meet the Ancestral Guardian Barbarian, College of Swords Bard, Arcane Archer Fighter, Way of the Kensei Monk, and Favored Soul Sorcerer!
Uadjit Kimbatuul, Bronze Dragonborn– Level 18 Ancestral Guardian Barbarian
HP: 201 AC: 16
Str: 20 Con: 18 Dex: 14 Int: 8 Wis: 12 Cha: 11
Racial/Class/Background Features: Draconic Ancestry: Bronze, Breath Weapon, Damage Resistance: Lightning, Rage, Unarmored Defense, Reckless Attack, Danger Sense, Primal Path: Ancestral Guardian, Ancestral Protectors, Extra Attack, Fast Movement, Spirit Shield (4d8), Feral Instinct, Brutal Critical (3 dice), Consult the Spirits, Relentless Rage, Vengeful Ancestors, Persistent Rage, Indomitable Might, Background: Outlander, Extra Language, Wanderer
Gear: Greatsword, Handaxes x2, Explorer’s Pack, Javelins x4, Staff, Hunting Trap, Trophy from an Animal Kill, Traveler’s Clothes, Belt Pouch with 10 GP
Skill Proficiencies: Intimidation, Perception, Athletics, Survival
Tool Proficiencies: Drum
Saving Throws: Strength, Constitution
Uadjit Kimatuul isn’t just great at slaying her enemies, which is something every Barbarian can do. As a follower of the Path of the Ancestral Guardian, she also excels at protecting her fellow adventurers, in spirit if not mechanics harkening back to 4e’s Warden. Ancestral Protectors sets those spirits of Uadjit’s long-gone kin upon the first target she hits in a turn while raging, giving them disadvantage on any attacks not targeting Uadjit and granting targets other than Uadjit resistance to their attacks. Level 6’s Spirit Shield grants Uadjit a number of dice that can be used as a reaction to reduce damage done to another creature within 30 feet of her. Consult the Spirits at Level 10 grants Uadjit access to the clairvoyance spell. Finally, Vengeful Ancestors tacks on to Spirit Shield, dealing damage to the attacker equal to the damage reduced by Spirit Shield.
The original version of Ancestral Protectors used a bonus action rather than a hit, and hampered the target’s speed when using the Disengage action rather than granting allies damage resistance. Spirit Shield replaces Ancestral Shield, which would move the resistances from the barbarian’s Rage to the ally for a turn. The old Consult the Spirits instead granted you advantage on Intelligence and Wisdom checks three times per long rest, rather than granting a spell. The old Vengeful Ancestors functioned much the same, but wasn’t tied to Ancestral Shield (meaning that you could only choose one or the other, since both cost a reaction), and did less damage.
Generally speaking it looks like the Path of the Ancestral Guardian was revised to have fewer moving parts, and to be generally more helpful to your allies. You don’t need to spend a bonus action to place disadvantage on an enemy’s attack rolls if they target your friends, you don’t have to choose between two different reaction options, and you don’t need to track how many times you’ve used Consult the Spirits. The resistance granted by Ancestral Protectors is more useful than slowing an enemy down when they Disengage, Spirit Shield is more useful since it reduces all types of damage instead of being restricted to bludgeoning/piercing/slashing, and Vengeful Ancestors ups damage output while further encouraging enemies to ignore your allies. Having clairvoyance available might not seem as useful as getting Advantage on rolls, and its reliant upon your Wisdom modifier, but it does at least seem more interesting and flavorful.
Quest, Tiefling– Level 18 Swords Bard
HP: 111 AC: 15
Str: 8 Con: 13 Dex: 18 Int: 14 Wis: 10 Cha: 20
Racial/Class/Background Features: Darkvision, Hellish Resistance, Infernal Legacy, Spellcasting, Bardic Inspiration (d12), Jack of All Trades, Song of Rest (d12), Bard College: Swords, Bonus Proficienices, Fighting Style: Dueling, Blade Flourish, Expertise (Persuasion, Deception, Insight, Performance), Font of Inspiration, Countercharm, Cunning Flourish, Magical Secrets, Master’s Flourish, Background: Entertainer, By Popular Demand
Gear: Rapier, Entertainer’s Pack, Lute, Leather Armor, Dagger, Drum, Favor of an Admirer, Costume, Belt Pouch with 15 GP
Skill Proficiencies: Persuasion, Insight, Deception, Athletics, Performance
Tool Proficiencies: Lute, Drum, Bagpipes Disguise Kit, Lyre
Saving Throws: Dexterity, Charisma
Quest is a bard who will revel in fighting at the front lines of his adventuring group. His Bonus Proficiencies make him skilled with medium armor and scimitars, and lets him use weapons as a spellcasting focus for bard spells. His Fighting Style gives him a damage bonus when fighting with a weapon in one hand, Blade Flourish grants him all sorts of options: he makes a single attack, increase his movement by 10′, and can either boost his AC using a Bardic Inspiration die, do damage to a second opponent using a Bardic Inspiration die, or use a Bardic Inspiration die to push the target and then pursue them. Cunning Flourish allows Quest to make two attacks when using Blade Flourish (although he can still choose only one of the additional options). Finally Master’s Flourish lets Quest use a d6 for his Blade Flourish abilities instead of spending a Bardic Inspiration die, if he so chooses.
The original Fighting Style choices for the College of Swords only had Two-Weapon Fighting, while the new version adds Dueling. Blade Flourish had different options, with a ranged dagger attack bonus and a frightening-a-downed-enemy ability instead of the secondary target and pushing options. The old version gained an Extra Attack instead of Cunning Flourish, making the Swords bard choose between Blade Flourish and making two attacks. Instead of Master’s Flourish the old version had Battle Magic, which let it make an Attack action as a bonus action after casting a spell.
Again with fewer moving parts and not having to choose between options! The College of Swords also feels like it moved away from a sort of jack-of-all-trades sort of fighting bard to a truly dedicated swordsperson. Whether making Blade Flourish more likely to be chosen was, and whether or not the changes to the Blade Flourish options are good, is a matter of opinion. For the most part, I do think they are improvements. Having to choose between class features is rarely fun, and the replaced Blade Flourish options were quite niche. I have to say I don’t really get the Bonus Proficiencies, which remained the same across versions. Medium Armor seems a waste of time with a class that’s likely to have a good Dexterity score, and the scimitar doesn’t seem as good as the rapier bards already have access to . . . but I suppose a bard using Strength for their attacks would like the feature, and the scimitar’s light property might make it more appealing to halflings and gnomes.
Aust Siannodel, High Elf– Level 18 Arcane Archer Fighter
HP: 199 AC: 16
Str: 8 Con: 20 Dex: 20 Int: 17 Wis: 12 Cha: 10
Racial/Class/Background Features: Darkvision, Keen Senses, Fey Ancestry, Trance, Elf Weapon Training, Cantrip, Extra Language, Fighting Style: Archery, Second, Action Surge x2, Martial Arcehtype: Arcane Archer, Magic Arrow, Arcane Shot (x6), Arcane Archer’s Lore, Extra Attack x2, Curving Shot, Indomitable x3, Ever-Ready Shot, Background: Noble, Extra Language, Position of Privilege
Gear: Leather Armor, Longbow with 20 Arrows, Rapier, Whip, Light Crossbow with 20 Bolts, Dungeoneer’s Pack, Fine Clothes, Signet Ring, Scroll of Pedigree, Purse with 25 GP
Skill Proficiencies: Perception, Athletics, Acrobatics, History Persuasion, Arcana,
Tool Proficiencies: Chess
Saving Throws: Strength, Constitution
Aust Siannodel will rain down magical arrows upon his enemies to their extreme and varied detriment. Magic Arrow makes every arrow he fires from a shortbow or longbow a +1 magical arrow. Arcane Shot grants him a number of options for infusing more magic into his arrows, and Aust can choose which option to use upon making a hit. He can do this twice between each short/long rest, gains more options as he levels up, and improves every Arcane Shot he knows at Level 18. Arcane Archer’s Lore lets him gain proficiency in either Arcana or Nature. Curving Shot lets him spend a bonus action to send a missed attack heading for a second target. Ever-Ready Shot keeps Arcane Shot in the game: if Aust rolls initiative and has no uses of Arcane Shot left, he regains one.
A lot of tweaks to the Arcane Archer Fighter, and most seem to be diversifying the abilities and reducing the number of moving parts (I’m sensing a pattern, here). Rather than a +1 magical arrow every time the Arcane Archer shoots the old version had to use a bonus action to make it magical, did an extra 2d6 force damage instead of the +1, and included the Arcane Shot options when you created a magic arrow instead of letting you choose when you hit. Archer’s Lore had more skills to choose from, and there used to be a Conjure Arrows ability to make more non-magical arrows for the Fighter to use. Every-Ready Arrow, instead of triggering at the start of initiative, instead recharged a use of Arcane Arrow 1 minute after the last use was expended. Finally, instead of every Arcane Shot improving uniquely at Level 18, Deadly Shot instead just granted all of them extra force damage. There were also a lot of adjustments to the types and details of the various Arcane Shot abilities.
By and large I like the look of the changes, particularly the fact that making the magic arrows doesn’t take a bonus action any more. I think maybe Conjure Arrows might have been a nice thing to hang on to, though. What the Arcane Archer’s fate will really come down to, I think, will be the changes to the various Arcane Shots and whether or not they are an improvement. I can say that every Shot upgrading in its own way rather than each getting the same flat damage bonus makes choosing which shots to have much more interesting.
Enna Oakenheel, Wood Elf– Level 18 Kensei Monk
HP: 111 AC: 20
Str: 10 Con: 13 Dex: 20 Int: 12 Wis: 20 Cha: 8
Racial/Class/Background Features: Darkvision, Keen Senses, Fey Ancestry, Trance, Elf Weapon Training, Mask of the Wild, Unarmored Defense, Martial Artist, Ki, Unarmored Movement, Monastic Tradition: Kensei, Path of the Kensei (Scimitar, Longbow, Rapier, Net, Dagger), Deflect Missiles, Slow Fall, Extra Attack, Stunning Strike, Ki-Empowered Strike, One with the Blade, Evasion, Stillness of the Mind, Purity of Body, Sharpen the Blade, Tongue of the Sun and Moon, Diamond Soul, Timeless Body, Unerring Accuracy, Empty Body, Background: Hermit, Extra Language, Discovery
Gear: Scimitar, Longbow with 20 Arrows, Explorer’s Pack, Darts x10, Scroll Case Full of Notes, Winter Blanket, Common Clothes, Herbalism Kit, 5 GP
Skill Proficiencies: Acrobatics, Stealth, Medicine, Religion
Tool Proficiencies: Woodcarver’s Tools, Herbalism Kit
Saving Throws: Strength, Dexterity
Enna Oakenheel has mastered the martial arts of her various weapons and is a deadly whirlwind on the battlefield. Path of the Kensei grants her proficiency with her chosen weapons, making them into kensei weapons. It also gives her a way to boost AC if she makes an unarmed attack while holding a kensei weapon, and she can spend a bonus action to make a ranged kensei weapon more deadly. One with the Blade makes her kensei weapons count as magical weapons, and also lets her spend a ki point to deal extra damage with a kensei weapon hit. Sharpen the Blade lets Enna spend up to three ki points to grant a weapon an equal bonus to attack and damage rolls with it for a minute or until she uses the feature again. Finally Unerring Accuracy allows Enna to reroll a single missed attack every one of her turns.
The Way of the Kensei didn’t change as much as the previous revised subclasses did. Sharpen the Blade and Unerring Accuracy were largely unchanged aside from some clarifications (Sharpen the Blade can be used on a different weapon, Unerring Accuracy requires a monk weapon). The Precise Strike part of One with the Blade spent a bonus action instead of ki points, and doubled proficiency bonus instead of a +1 to attack and damage. Path of the Kensei actually changed the most, ditching the option to use Dexterity or Strength, increasing the number of kensei weapons learned while also opening up ranged weapons as a requirement/option, and having a melee damage boost option instead of a ranged damage boost option.
The Kensei monk was obviously a success the first time out if so little actually changed. The clarifications are quite nice, though, and I approve of the changes to One with the Blade’s Precise Strike.; doubling proficiency bonuses for attacks rolls is nasty, and spending ki points lets the feature be used more often instead of needing a short or long rest to get it back.
Shawna Deliron, Human– Level 18 Favored Soul Sorcerer
HP: 110 AC: 13
Str: 13 Con: 16 Dex: 16 Int: 11 Wis: 10 Cha: 20
Racial/Class/Background Features: Spellcasting, Sorcerous Origin: Favored Soul, Divine Magic, Favored by the Gods, Font of Magic, Metamagic x4, Empowered Healing, Angelic Form, Unearthly Recovery, Background: Acolyte, Extra Languages x2, Shelter of the Faithful
Gear: Light Crossbow with 20 Bolts, Arcane Focus, Explorer’s Pack, Daggers x2, Holy Symbol, Prayer Book, Sticks of Incense x5, Vestments, Common Clothes, Belt Pouch with 15 GP
Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, Persuasion, Insight, Religion
Tool Proficiencies: N/A
Saving Throws: Constitution, Charisma
Shawna Deliron brings the Favored Soul mix of arcane and divine magic to the party. Divine Magic grants her the ability to essentially count the entire cleric spell list as part of the sorcerer spell list, and she learns cure wounds right off the bat without it counting against her number of known sorcerer spells. Favored by the Gods lets her add 2d4 to a failed saving throw or missed attack roll once per short/long rest. Empowered Healing lets Shawna spend a sorcery point to reroll dice when using a sorcerer spell to heal, potentially increasing the amount of HP restored. Angelic Form grants Shawna an otherworldly appearance and a bonus action that grants her a fly speed of 30′. Finally, Unearthly Recovery gives a Level 18 Shawna a bonus action, once per long rest, that lets her regain HP equal to half of her max HP so long as she is below half of her total hit points.
Divine Magic, largely the core of the build, remains unchanged except for the addition of knowing cure wounds immediately. This give the Favored Soul a bit more flexibility, since it doesn’t have to spend a Known Spell to get the healing magic. Favored by the Gods remains unchanged, although the Favored Soul did lose the extra HP granted by Supernatural Resilience. The otherworldly appearance of Blessed Countenance ended up in Angelic Form, and the doubling of proficiency to all Charisma checks has vanished. Divine Purity has vanished as well, taking its various immunities with it. Unearthly Recovery remains the same as it used to be.
The Favored Soul is squishier than it used to be, and lacks the social utility that Blessed Countenance once granted it. The latter seems like a bit of a loss, but the fly speed is pretty fun and I don’t mourn the removal of immunity to disease and poison conditions/damage. The changes also put more emphasis on the sorcerer being a healer, and make that part of the build idiot proof by including cure wounds right away.
Some pretty interesting changes, some pretty drastic and some that don’t rate much more of a moniker than ‘minor tweak’. It’s interesting that some of these builds are very recent, part of the period of weekly Unearthed Arcana, while the original College of Swords for the bard is almost a year and a half old at this point. Regardless, I think that for the most part the builds are moving in the right direction, and get the feeling that these subclasses were chosen for revision because they were already on the top of the pile. A lot could still change, however, once the builds are put through the paces on the tabletop. Thankfully we have a month until the next Unearthed Arcana, and the survey for these builds is already up in the same article as them.
Will these characters stand up to the crucible of actual play? Will they cross that mysterious threshold from playtest material to a new Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition book? That’s for you (and your dice) to determine!