A circle of druids who champion decay as part of the natural order, with fungal spores and a sometimes strange relationship with the undead. An archetype of fighter who apply overwhelming strength and persistent durability to simply overcome their foes. A tradition of wizards that champion innovation and experimentation in magic who are regarded as (and just might be) utter lunatics. We’ve got our first Unearthed Arcana of 2018 folks, and so we have Three Subclasses to check out!
There’s no unifying theme behind this particular Unearthed Arcana, hence the somewhat uninspiring name. That being said, I am happy to see Unearthed Arcana still coming out with new player options after Xanathar’s Guide to Everything hit the shelves. New material for the playtesting circuit, continued growth for 5th Edition, and maybe even another book somewhere down the road. The options today range from the straightforward to the wacky, so let’s dig into them!
Circle of Spores
Druids of the Circle of Spores see life and death as a cycle instead of a binary system, and consequently view fungus and molds as nature’s way of continuing that cycle. Curiously, they also view undeath as a natural enough companion to that cycle . . . provided the undead don’t get ambitious and try to thwart the cycle completely or replace all life with undeath.
Appropriately enough, that means that the Circle’s Circle Spells have more than one spell of or commonly associated with necromancy. The Spores druid gains the chill touch cantrip at first level, and goes on to add spells like ray of enfeeblement, gentle repose, animate dead, and contagion. Generally speaking the spells are a mix of useful and the more . . . creepy side of dangerous.
At Level 2 a Spores druid gains a Halo of Spores, allowing them to spend their reaction on their turn to deal poison damage to a single creature within 10 feet. The damage starts off at a modest 3, but increases every few levels until it reaches 12 at Level 14. No save, no attack roll, just straight up extra damage without being overwhelming.
Level 2 also brings Symbiotic Entity, though, which kicks a few things into overdrive. When the druid Wild Shapes they add 3 temporary hit points per level of druid, the Halo of Spores damage doubles, and melee attacks gain an additional 1d6 poison damage. Druid builds can often be defined by how they balance being spellcasters and combative shapeshifters. This definitely provides some incentive to consider Wild Shape, especially at higher levels as Halo of Spores becomes more deadly.
At Level 6 the druid will gain the Fungal Infestation ability: whenever they kill a humanoid with Halo of Spores, the victim will rise as a relatively simple zombie at the end of the druid’s turn. The undead will last for an hour, has a single hit point, and can only Attack, but there’s no limit on how many can be made. I can see that getting out of hand pretty quickly, particularly if you’ve got an evil character who is willing to make a mess in the town square, but the limitations placed upon the zombies do look like they would serve to keep things decently contained.
At 10th Level the druid starts Spreading Spores, which lets them send out their spores in a 10 ft cube within 30 ft as a bonus action. Once you’ve done so you can’t use the Halo of Spores reaction, but any creature that starts their turn within the cube takes the Halo damage. If you use Spreading Spores again or a minute passes, the original cube vanishes. This feature is obviously a lot more of a situational use of the spores, and doesn’t exactly wow me, but it could work if the druid is tending to be more of a ranged combatant.
Finally, at Level 14 the druid gains a Fungal Body, being turned truly weird by the spores suffusing them. The druid can no longer be blinded, deafened, frightened, or poisoned, and critical hits against the druid do not deal extra damage. I like this a lot better than similar traits that grant immunities, and the critical hits thing is nice without being too overpowered.
Overall I’d say the Circle of Spores is definitely a flavorful variety of druid that’s also different. You could get some genuinely creepy or downright nasty druids out of this one, like the Children of Winter from the Eberron setting (not that I really need more reasons to find material for an Eberron game). I’d really want to see the Halo of Spores, particularly when it’s augmented by Symbiotic Entity, and Fungal Infestation stress-tested, though, and see if Spreading Spores is reliably useful.
The Brute is a fighter archetype, and there’s nothing particularly flashy about it. The text outright states that some Brute Fighters just hit things until they can’t hit back, no tactics or cunning required. Being straightforward doesn’t keep it from being effective, though.
Level 3’s Brute Force adds an extra die to every attack the fighter makes, starting with a d4 and growing to a d10 by Level 20. Level 7’s Brutish Durability adds 1d6 to every saving throw, and if that 1d6 brings a death saving throw to 20 or more than the fighter treats the roll as a natural 20. At Level 10 the fighter gains an Additional Fighting Style.
Level 15’s Devastating Critical adds bonus damage to critical hits equal to the character’s levels in fighter. Finally, Level 18 brings the Survivor trait. Providing the fighter isn’t at 0 HP or at more than half of total HP, they regain 5 + Con modifier HP at the start of each turn.
There really is nothing fancy about the Brute. Extra damage, extra resiliency, and that’s about it. It might come across as a little simple or boring to some, I suppose, and I’d probably not pick it myself . . . but for someone looking for a fighter who just gets into slugging matches and wins them, the Brute fits the bill. It seems pretty solidly designed, too; I can’t see anything that spikes as ‘broken’.
School of Invention
A new-to-us wizard tradition that claims to have discovered/invented the other arcane schools, the School of Invention is how you get mad science mixed with magic without getting a kooky artificer involved. They’re impulsive instead of bookish, wear armor they made themselves, and are largely regarded as crazy by their peers.
At Level 2, upon choosing the tradition, they gain Tools of the Inventor, Arcanomechanical Armor, and Reckless Casting. The Tools grant them proficiency with two types of tools, and the Armor both grants proficiency with light armor and creates the eponymous variety. The armor is a magic item that only the Invention wizard can attune, and provides AC 12 + Dex mod plus resistance to force damage. The wizard can make a new set relatively easily if they have to, and later use the armor with their spells.
Reckless Casting is the core of the build, and oh boy it’s a doozy. It lets the wizard attempt to cast a spell they don’t have prepared. If they want to cast a cantrip they can spend their action and roll on a 1d10 table of cantrips. For more power they can instead expend a spell slot and roll on a 1d10 table of spells of that level, up to 5th level. If they roll a 10 they get to roll twice and cast both cantrips/spells, but if they get another 10 on either of those rolls then the casting shorts out and costs them the action (but not the spell slot). A lot of the Reckless Casting spells are damage dealers, which might encourage Invention wizards to have their normal stock consist of utility spells, but talk about depending on lucky dice rolls. There’s a lot that could go wrong (needed to make an attack, got jump), but some rolls could be clutch, and it certainly looks exciting.
Level 6’s Alchemical Casting requires the Armor, and lets the wizard spend 1st and 2nd level spell slots to modify other spells: 1st level lets you change certain damage types, while 2nd level adds 2d10 force damage to a single target.
Prodigious Inspiration, gained at Level 10, lets the wizard spend a bonus action once per rest to switch out a prepared spell with another from their spellbook. Level 14’s Controlled Chaos boosts Reckless Casting by letting the wizard roll on the table for one level higher than the slot they expended.
The School of Innovation looks like it could be a lot of fun to play, but I have some doubts that it could fit into anything resembling a serious game. Then again, if I’m right and the contents of the Reckless Casting tables encourage the player to learn and prepare utility or otherwise unusual spells you might just see a very useful character who cuts loose in a fight. I think the contents of those tables is what’s going to really need to be looked at. My initial thought is to pull the few utility spells out of them and replace them with combat ones, but that might dampen some of the unpredictable fun of the build. Maybe the School doesn’t have to consider being in serious games anyways, and can just thrive in the wacky ones.
There are a couple of things that need field testing with these builds, but overall I’d say they’re solidly designed and will hold up well enough. The Brute I would almost say just gets the green light entirely, it’s the Circle of Spores and the School of Invention that need some testing and refinement. It’s also those two subclasses that stand out as having particularly interesting flavor to them, as they’re definitely going to stand out from their druid and wizard kin. If we’re going to get more theme-less Unearthed Arcanas like this, that’s what I want to see more than anything.
So, what do you think of the Circle of Spores, the Brute Fighter, and the School of Invention?