A fighter whose armor and weapons glow with the power of runic magic, granting the strength of giants. A ranger who can call upon a swarm of spirits to aid them and tear their enemies to shreds. A rogue who is back from the dead but has no idea how they got there – or why. Unearthed Arcana completes the set for its latest wave of character options for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons with one each for the fighter, ranger, and rogue. Whether using the strength of titans, swarms of bees, or the knowledge of the dead, let’s see what they have to offer!
Rune Knight Fighter
The Rune Knight is a fighter who “discovered how to enhance [their] martial prowess using supernatural runes.” Specifically, this is a practice that got its start with giants. The Rune Knight may have learned their new craft directly from a giant Skiltgravr, second hand through a former apprentice, or even stumbled upon the runes in a cave during their adventures. However they picked it up, the Rune Knight is now carving runes into their own equipment and reaping the benefits.
If you’re going to be carving and applying giant-made runes into your gear you’re going to need to be able to . . . you know, actually do that. That’s where the 3rd level Bonus Proficiencies kick in, making the Rune Knight proficient with smith’s tools and fluent and literate in Giant.
3rd level Rune Magic is unsurprisingly the core of the archetype. First, you learn how to inscribe two runes of your choice on weapons, armor, and shields. More on those in a second. Whenever you finish a long rest you can touch a number of objects equal to the number of runes you know and inscribe a different rune on each. The objects in question have to be weapons, armor, or shields, an object can only bear a single rune each, and the runes last until you finish your next long rest. Every time you level up you can replace a rune that you know.
As for the actual runes, there are a total of six options. Each has a passive effect as well as an ability can be invoked – sometimes as a bonus action, sometimes triggered by some other event – once per short rest. The Hill Rune provides resistance to/advantage on saving throws against poison, and can be invoked to resist bludgeoning/piercing/slashing damage. The Fire Rune doubles your proficiency bonus for tools, and can be invoked to restrain and burn a struck enemy with fiery shackles. The Frost Rune grants advantage on Animal Handling and Intimidation checks, and can be invoked to increase your Strength score by 2 (even exceeding 20). The Cloud Rune grants advantage on Sleight of Hand and Deception checks, and can be invoked to redirect an attack away from yourself or another creature within 30’. The Stone Rune grants darkvision and advantage on Insight checks, and can be invoked to charm another creature. The Storm Rune grants advantage on Arcana checks and prevents being surprised so long as you’re not incapaciated, and can be invoked to use your reaction to grant advantage or disadvantage on others’ saving throws. Several of the invocations call for a saving throw, the DC of which is based off of your Intelligence.
I like these things! A wide variety of benefits to choose from, along with great-in-the-moment abilities. I might like to have a few more for variety’s sake, but then again I’m not sure how many more common giant types could contribute a rune.
Giant Might wraps up 3rd level with the Rune Knight hulking out. Twice per long rest, as a bonus action, the fighter can imbue themselves with the might of giants for 1 minute. First, if you’re not already Large you become Large. Second, you have advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws. Third, your weapon attacks deal an extra 1d6 damage. Nice little power-up.
Defensive Runes activate at 7th level: when another creature you can see within 60’ is hit by an attack, the Rune Knight can spend their reaction to grant that creature a bonus to AC against that attack equal to 1 + Intelligence modifier. A bit of a defender-shaped curveball for a build that’s been all about improving oneself, but a good one. Oh, also, you learn another rune (total of three).
Great Stature is a pretty literal 10th level feature: roll 3d4 and increase your height by that many inches! Aside from that bit of flavor, the simple but effective parts of the feature are that your Giant Might bonus damage increases to 1d8 and you learn another rune (total of four).
Rune Magic Mastery at 15th level let you invoke each of your runes twice per short rest, and all of your uses are regained upon resting. Oh, and you learn yet another rune (total of five).
Blessing of the All Father sends us off at 18th level by sharing the hulking. When you use your Giant Might feature you can choose a willing creature within 60’; they also gain the benefits of your Giant Might feature.
I really like this build, although I do have a few questions. If you give someone else an object with one of your runes, could they gain the benefit of the rune instead? There’s no written restriction on how many invoked abilities you can have active at once; should there be? Definitely notes I’ll toss into the survey when it goes live.
Alright, fine, so there’s a little bit more to it than that. Blame the Swarm Druid player character in my 4e game, that guy turns into bees that literally spit lightning all the time.
Anyways, what’s actually going on with the Swarmkeeper is that they “reach out through their magical connection to nature and gather a host of fey spirits, which take the form of swarming beasts.” These spirits could be birds, bugs [BEES], squid, whatever you prefer, really. Narratively Swarmkeepers are often hermits, as their abilities and guests can be a little on the creepy side, but just as often they apply the hive mentality to build strong communities with others.
Swarmkeeper Magic kicks in at 3rd level and threads its way through the entire character build. The Swarmkeeper learns the mage hand cantrip at 3rd, manifesting in the ‘form of swarming nature spirits.’ Then at 3rd, 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th level the spells faerie fire, web, gaseous form, giant insect, and insect plague respectively. A pretty thematically appropriate bunch, although obviously on paper they all lean rather heavily into the insectoid style of swarm – which was a thing with 4e’s Swarm Druid too, actually. Some reflavoring work might be appropriate here and there.
Gathered Storm is the 3rd level feature that encompasses the bond the ranger has with the fey spirits – “You magically attract a swarm of fey spirits that look like Tiny beasts of your choice.” That swarm stays in your space, either on you or simply zipping about near your person. As a bonus action you can agitate the swarm, which is probably one of the more ominous phrases I’ve seen used to bring a feature into play. For 1 minute after being agitated the swarm either clings to your weapons or follows your ammo: once per turn when you hit with a weapon you can deal an extra 1d6 force damage and move the target either closer to or farther away from you. That extra damage increases to 2d6 at 11th level, and you can agitate the swarm a number of times per long rest equal to your wisdom modifier. Stab people with spirit bees, shoot people with spirit mice, it’s all good.
Writing Tide gives a 7th level Swarmkeeper a bit of a push as the swarm bunches up and gives you some extra momentum. Whenever you activate your Gathered Swarm feature, you choose one of three options that last for the duration. One, your walking speed increases by 10’ and you can Disengage as a bonus action. Two, you gain a climb speed equal to your walking speed, and you can climb difficult surfaces and even ceilings without needing to make any sort of check. Third, you gain a flying speed of 10’ and can hover. At first glance these different options don’t feel compatible with one another, but then I remember that this is a spirit swarm, and if your spirit mice want to help you fly then they can. So there.
Scuttling Eyes is . . . certainly a disturbing term for an 11th level feature, but it ends up being quite the useful one. As an action one of your spirits is formed into the shape of a Tiny beast of your choice – a corporeal one instead of a spirit one, it would seem. The spirit sticks around like this for 1 hour or until you dismiss it; if you do dismiss it, you can teleport to within 5’ of where it was. It has a speed of 40, can walk/climb/fly/swim, and has your senses (telepathically communicating whatever it sees and hears to you). On the Swarmkeeper’s turn they can speak through the spirit, telepathically command it to move, and Hide the spirit using the ranger’s Stealth skill. The spirit has an AC of 18, and if it’s hit the ranger makes a Wisdom saving throw or else the spirits disappears. You can use this feature once per long rest, but you can use it more often if you’re willing to expend a spell slot of 3rd level of higher.
Of the ‘remote spy’ features in 5th Edition, this might be one of my favorites. It offers a few things that others don’t, like being able to talk through it and the dismiss-teleport option, which make it stand apart and diversifies its use.
Storm of Minions, at 15th level, is where the Swarmkeeper drops all pretense and makes like The Wicker Man or Hitchock’s The Birds. Once per long rest (or by expending a spell slot of 4th level or higher), the Swarmkeeper can create a magical sphere using an action: 10’ radius, within 120’, lasting for one minute, ‘a seething storm of spirits that drains the life from others.’ For creatures other than you and any creatures you expressly choose to not be affected, the sphere is several different flavors of bad news. First, it’s difficult terrain. Second, starting their turn within the sphere means they have to make a Constitution saving throw or take 2d8 necrotic damage and be blinded for a turn; succeeding means they can still see and they take half damage. At the start of the Swarmkeeper’s turn they regain 1d8 hit points if at least one Small or larger creature took necrotic damage from the swarm. The swarm can also be moved 30’ as a bonus action.
I’d play the heck out of this thing. The only problem would be keeping my mad cackling to a minimum so it doesn’t bother the rest of the table. The build has extra damage, very high utility, and crowd control. This is one ranger build that’s not a dud.
“This isn’t your first life; it might not even be your second.” The Revived Rogue comes to the unsettling realization that they’ve got a minimum of three consecutive failed death saving throws in their past: they died, and it’s not at all clear what their past life or lives were like and it’s especially not clear how or why they’ve found themselves back among the living. Did a deity answer your prayers? Was a fiendish deal made? An obscure artifact used? You’ll have to play to find out, it seems.
First of all, at 3rd level you start getting Tokens of Past Lives. When you finish a long rest, you gain proficiency with one skill or tool set of your choice, and you can switch that proficiency after every long rest.
Your Revived Nature grants a number of passive features at 3rd level, part of your newfound connection to death. First, advantage on saving throws against disease and being poisoned, and resistance to poison damage. Second, you don’t need to eat, drink, or breathe. Third, you don’t need to sleep, just remain inactive for four hours, during which time you can still hear your surroundings as per usual. Looks like you’ll be the one on watch the most.
Bolts from the Grave finishes out 3rd level by providing a new use for Cunning Action. After using that feature, you can make a ranged spell attack (based off of Dexterity) against a target within 30’ so long as you haven’t already used your Sneak Attack feature this turn. A hit inflicts your Sneak Attack damage + Dexterity modifier in necrotic damage against the target, using up the Sneak Attack feature for the turn in the process. Being able to lob you SA damage at range is pretty handy, especially since you still have your action to attack someone else with.
Connect with the Dead helps you get chatty with corpses at 9th level. Once per rest you can cast the speak with dead spell, using Intelligence and without needing a spell slot or any components. When you do, you also gain a randomly determined ability from a past life – could be yours, could be the corpse’s. This could be a language, a tool or skill proficiency, or a saving throw proficiency. That added ability lasts until the next time you finish a rest.
Audience with Death keeps up the cadaver chatter at 13th level, but it’s a much more personal conversation. The Revived has advantage on death saving throws, and whenever they make a death saving throw they can ask an ‘entity of death’ a question, which is then answered ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘unknown’. Said entity answers truthfully, because what would be the point otherwise, but what makes it interesting is that it does so “using the knowledge of all those who have died”. Need to interrogate someone, and they’re just not cooperating? Off them, then drown the rogue in a bucket for a few minutes and gets your answers that way.
Oh, and whenever you have 0 hit points and are healed or stabilized, you can change any of your personal characteristics (personality trait, ideal, bond, flaw). Self-awareness through near-death?
Ethereal Jaunt leaps across planar boundaries and into the action when 17th level is reached. Another use for Cunning Action, this one sends the Revived in and out of the ethereal plane to teleport up to 30’. Notably you don’t actually need to see your destination to do so, meaning teleporting right through walls is a totally viable tactic, although it comes with some extra rules. If your teleport would take you through a magical barrier, the teleport fails and you lose your bonus action, and if your target space is occupied by something you get shunted to the nearest unoccupied one and take some force damage.
This one doesn’t quite impress me as much as the others, I’m afraid.. Let me clarify: the flavor text for this build is awesome. Realizing you’ve lived a previous life that you only have glimpses of? Not knowing how you were brought back across the border from death? There is a ton of story potential there, and as with the rest of the latest UA options the Revived Rogue carries a very interesting vibe to it. But mechanically . . . eh? Being able to lob your sneak attack damage at a distance in necrotic form is pretty cool, and being to teleport blind is interesting, but the rest seem pretty situational and don’t make this feel like a rogue to me. If anything, for quite the blast from the Unearthed past, this feels more like another angle on a revenant or a prestige class. I will say that an investigative horror type of campaign, though, would love the Revived Rogue with its rotating skills and afterlife questioning.
It also feels a little Critical Role inspired, from both campaigns even. That’s not a bad thing, but after the Lurker in the Deep Warlock it’s got me squinting suspiciously and glancing back and forth between CR and Unearthed Arcana. Again, not in a bad way, but it is curious.
So, good news, every class has now received its own Unearthed Arcana treatment in this latest wave (well, except for the artificer, but that’s not even fully released yet). The otherworldly and extraplanar vibes continue as well, so at this point if we’re not getting a Manual of the Planes or other multiversal type of book somewhere down the road I have no idea what they’re up to.
What do you think of the Runic Knight, Swarmkeeper, and Revived? As per usual, the only way to know for sure is to get out and play them, so have some fun with runes, BEES, and chatty cadavers, and then let us know! Happy gaming!