Unearthing the Barbarian and Monk

A raging warrior influenced by a realm that abounds with beauty, unpredictable emotion, and rampant magic. A contemplative who focuses their meditations inwards, bringing forth their true self. We’ve been given some new player character options for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons in this week’s Unearthed Arcana, and neither one of them is tied as tightly to the Material Plane as your bog standard characters. How do they shape up, and what might their appearance on the playtesting table mean? Let’s find out as I go through feature by feature to examine the Path of the Wild Soul for the Barbarian and the Way of the Astral Self for the Monk!

Barbarian: Path of the Wild Soul

The flavor for this Barbarian Primal Path is all about the Feywild, the barbarian in question having been exposed to that realm, becoming saturated with magic and feeling their emotions very strongly as a result. I don’t think it would necessarily have to be limited to a barbarian exposed to the Feywild, though; a creature exposed to a mad wizard’s experiments would make just as much sense to me.

Lingering Magic, the first feature at Level 3, allows you to cast detect magic using your Constitution modifier a number of times per day equal to said modifier, without requiring any spell slots or components. The barbarian’s body glows in a color depending on what school of magic they detect (which colors correspond to which school being a fun little flavor choice you get to make). Free, literally colorful uses of detect magic aren’t anything to sneeze at.

Wild Surge is where it’s really at for Level 3, though. Whenever you rage, you roll on a 1d8 Wild Surge table to an effect as magic erupts from you. Effects include a burst of necrotic damage that nets you temp HP, a beam of radiant energy shooting out of your chest, rampant plant growth creating difficult terrain. This is why you play a Wild Soul barbarian – it’s why people play Chaos Sorcerers, after all – and it’s a neat feature. I would like to see a few more options, though, maybe give the d12 some more work at least, and some of the options could probably use some work. The 1d4 spirit flumphs that zip around in random directions before exploding . . . doesn’t seem up to the par with the others.

At Level 6 you gain Magic Reserves. As an action, you roll 1d4 and touch a creature, passing some of your magic to them. They can restore an expended spell slot with a level equal to the number you rolled; if they don’t have any expended spell slots at that level, then they gain five times the number rolled in temp HP. Either way, the barbarian is taking five times that number rolled in force damage. The die increases to 1d6 at Level 14.

Hmm, not sure about this one. I mean, it’s useful for the party, no doubt about that, but it’s not exactly exciting to spend a turn as a magical battery/shield generator. Eating up two of the build’s feature slots doesn’t help. Maybe if there were a number of uses equal to Constitution or they did something with hit dice instead of adding salt to the wound by damaging the barbarian, or it was a bonus action, I’d feel more kindly.

Anyways, Arcane Rebuke kicks in at Level 10. Whenever the barbarian is forced to make a saving throw while they are raging the ‘magic crackling within [their] soul lashes out’, dealing 3d6 force damage to whoever forced the throw to be made. That there’s no limit on how many times per day you can do this raised an eyebrow, but the damage never increases and it does require your reaction, so I’d say this stand as a pretty good deterrent feature.

Finally, at Level 14 the barbarian embraces Chaotic Fury. As a bonus action while raging, the barbarian can reroll on the Wild Surge table, replacing the current effect with a new one. This is very much on brand, and particularly useful if you got one of the one-off results the first time you rolled and are hoping to keep the magic rage train rolling. Would like more options on that Surge table even more now, though. D12 or bust!  

Overall I’d say this build looks like it would be fun to play, but I’d like to see some tweaks here and there and the envelope on the chaotic magic pushed a little farther.

Monk: Way of the Astral Self

This way of the monk considers their own ki to be a representation of who they truly are, their astral self, and all of the build’s features focus on manifesting that self to one degree or another. There are some interesting roleplaying opportutnies here, as the astral self is described in a sidebar as “a translucent embodiment of the monk’s psyche and soul”. So who is your monk, really, and what does that look like? Pretty cool idea. As for the actually imagery, well . . .

Warforged Monk, anyone?

Level 3 starts us off with Arms of the Astral Self, spending two ki points to summon the eponymous arms for ten minutes. As long as the arms are up, the monk gains a slew of benefits, a theme we’ll see carry through for all the other features in this build. The monk can use Wisdom instead of Strength when making checks and saving throws. The arms count as monk weapons, have a reach of 10’, deal radiant or necrotic damage as you prefer, and can use you Wisdom instead of Strength or Dexterity for attack and damage rolls. Finally, after attacking with your astral arms you may make one extra attack with them as a bonus action; you get a second extra attack at Level 11, and a third at Level 17.

Visage of the Astral Self at Level 6 costs one ki point and a bonus action to summon on its own, or you can simply spend three to summon the Arms and the Visage at the same time. Same ten minute duration, during which the monk has advantage on Insight and Intimidation checks and can see normally in both magical and non-magical darkness up to 120’ away.

Awakening of the Astral Self at Level 11 is a passive benefit that is active whenever you have both the Arms and Visage summoned, incentivizing you to have both up all the time. First, you can spend your reaction whenever you take acid/cold/fire/lightning/force damage to deflect it, reducing the damage. Once per turn when you hit with one of your astral arm attacks you deal extra damage equal to your Martial Arts die. Finally, you can make it so that only a chosen creature within 30’ can hear you . . . or make it so that everyone within 600’ can hear you.

Complete Astral Self tops it all off at Level 17: as a bonus action you can spend ten ki points to summon the Arms, Visage, and Body of your astral self for ten minutes, which ‘covers your physical form like a suit of armor’. In addition to everything else going on up above, the monk gains a +2 bonus to AC so long as they’re not incapacitated, can attack three times with their astral arms instead of twice whenever they use the Extra Action feature to attack, and can regain ki points equal to their Wisdom modifier as a reaction every time a creature within 10’ is reduced to 0 hit points.

I haven’t commented on every feature as I’ve gone through them, because I feel I can cover them together: this one is kind of bonkers, isn’t it? It doesn’t start off too crazy, but once Awakening of the Astral Self starts to string all the features into one mega feature . . . then Complete Astral Self pops up and you’re Assuming Your Final Form every encounter, because since you’re regaining presumably five ki points every time anyone near you drops there’s no reason not to. At the very least that feature needs some work; maybe change it to enemy creature, maybe make it so it’s when you reduce a creature to 0 hit points. As it stands the build looks flashy and probably a lot of fun to play, but wacky when it comes to balance, so in contrast to the Wild Soul the envelope could do with being pulled back a bit..

So I’d say my final conclusion is that both of the new builds have some good ideas going for them, but both need some definite work. What’s interesting, though, is that there’s work to be done at all! It’s been a long time – almost a year – since we got player character options in Unearthed Arcana that weren’t tied up with Ravnica or the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, and neither of these seem particularly Eberronian. This is sheer speculation, but could the Wild Soul Barbarian and Astral Self Monk herald another book like the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide or Xanathar’s Guide to Everything coming down the pike?

What do you think about the magical rage machine and the many-armed monk? Love them entirely, or think they need to go back to the drawing board? Well, there’s only one way to know for sure, so get out there and play some games and let us know what you think! Have fun!


4 thoughts on “Unearthing the Barbarian and Monk”

  1. I like the theme that goes on here, but I think Magic Reserves and Chaotic Fury need some measure of limitation. Getting accidentally murdered by the barbarian is a problem in some teams and fine in others, so make sure you know which kind you’re in.

    Liked by 1 person

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