Unearthed Arcana Review: Light, Dark, Underdark!

Well, would you look at that? What’s that on the task bar, there? Is that…is that a Downloads button? Huh…wonder what could possibly be there. Might be worth checking out. Just a thought.

Anyway…

So, that was pretty quick. Originally, I was going to do a class analysis today. But the new Unearthed Arcana came out, and It’s actually pretty interesting.

I’ve always found the underdark to be an intriguing idea. A world beneath where all of the scariest, nastiest, most alien monsters live. It’s like the land-version of the deepest parts of the ocean, where our understanding of what organic life is has to adjust. In that way, it’s one of the most interesting places to travel as an adventurer, and it’s one of the most fun toolsets to play with as a DM.

That said, it’s not all perfect. Everyone has their own idea of what the underdark SHOULD be, and my experience is that far too many people think of one thing when they think Underdark: Drow. There’s nothing inherently wrong with drow, but they just do NOT fit with my perspective of the underdark as a strange and confusing place. Drow are…bland. And so are Duergar and Svirfneblin, frankly. Not as a rule, but compared to mindflayers, aboleths, beholders, and the other terrifying alien monstrosities that lurk in the shadow.

All of this has no bearing on the most recent Unearthed Arcana, however. It’s just a lead-in so that I can explain my feelings on the matter. And while this UA is connected to the Underdark, it’s all about the PCs, and how they interact with it.

A quick note before I begin. Brandes Stoddard’s Lantern Bearer archetype would fit perfectly among the options presented here.

Before we begin, you can download the PDF HERE.

Close Quarters Shooter and Tunnel Fighter

Close Quarters Shooter is nice. Negating the disadvantage at close range makes it a perfect option if you really want to play an all-the-time archer. Ignoring cover is nice, as well, and a +1 to attacks is just a neat little boost. Overall, this feels like a 5e Point Blank Shot, and is just fine as a fighting style.

Point Blank Shot

Tunnel Fighter, though, is a different story. Some folks have been talking about how to make a real 4e Defender in 5e. Well, here you go, boys and girls! The bonus action to enter a defensive stance is a neat idea, and I’d actually like to see more stance-work for the fighter in later updates. The actual defensive stance, at first glance, seems like it’s totally OP. Unlimited opportunity attacks, and an opportunity attack if an enemy moves more than 5 feet through your threatened area. However, in practice, I doubt that you’ll end up getting more than 2 opportunity in a round. The only exception I see is if you specifically set yourself up to do this, in which case you kind of deserve to reap the rewards of that setup.

More and more fighting styles keep coming out. And the more that do, the more I keep thinking that I’d like to see a 5e variant of Iron Heroes Man at Arms class, with a huge variety of fighting styles. As it stands, the most we can get is 4 with some SERIOUS multiclassing. It gives me some ideas, though…

Deep Stalker Ranger

It’s interesting to read a new ranger archetype after writing My Own Ranger. The first thing I think is always “can I fit this into my ranger?” The answer here is…kind of.

This is the first magical ranger archetype, which I find interesting. You only gain 5 new spells, but they fit well with the archetype’s theme as a dungeon explorer (were I to adapt it to my ranger, I’d probably allow each spell to be cast once per long rest).

Underdark Scout is a neat attempt at an ambush-based ability without the (admitted) clunkiness of Ambuscade. The free attack during a surprise round is pretty cool. Don’t be surprised if I steal it in some form or another the next time the Ranger Playtest pops up on this site. I’m not totally sure about the “hide as a bonus action, but ONLY at the end of your turn” bit, as it feels tacked on. It might be a little too powerful for the standard ranger, but adding a simple “hide as a bonus action” would be easier to remember.

Iron Mind is fine, and works as a defense against mindflayers, aboleths, and the other mind-controlling threats of the underdark. Plus, a free common saving throw is always awesome.

Stalker’s Flurry is pretty cool. A free attack if you missis mechanically unique, but I don’t know how it jives with the rest of the class’s theme, since it feels to me like wild swinging, and an underdark stalker should probably be more precise with their attacks.

Stalker’s Dodge is wicked. Seriously. The first time I read it, I immediately reacted by calling it overpowered. Imposing disadvantage on any attack that doesn’t already have advantage against you? Damn. Taking a breath and re-reading it, however, I don’t have the same reaction. Yes, it’s powerful. But it still requires a reaction—of which you only have one—and you can’t wait for a creature to hit you. It’s effectively the Protection fighting style, except you can only use it on yourself instead of someone else. AND it doesn’t work on attacks that have advantage. So, sure. It’s powerful. But it’s not going to break your game. Unless you think that Uncanny Dodge is already breaking it, since they’re effectively the same feature.

Shadow Sorcerer

The sorcerous origins are starting to become some of my favorite content in these Unearthed Arcana articles. Since seeing it in action, I have a new appreciation for the Favored Soul, and the Storm Sorcerer was always awesome. Now we have the Shadow Sorcerer, and I love it. To be fair, I’ve always loved real, genuine shadow magic in RPGs. I’m not talking about the crap that passes for shadow magic all too often, where you have an illusion that does 50% of the stuff that it’s trying to emulate. I’m talking about real shadow magic drawn from the plane of shadow. From darkness and death and the Grim Fucking Reaper, son!

And that’s exactly what this origin is. The quirks are awesome and hilarious, and I hope to see more and more of them as more class options go live. Eyes of the Dark is neat and definitely useful as a super-darkvision. I absolutely hate it as a DM, where it becomes plain annoying. But as a player, it’s the coolest thing in the world.

Strength of the Grave is interesting. I’ve seen it enough, as it’s the basic Zombie Resilience feature that all zombies have. However, seeing it for players makes me question it. For a zombie or some other undead, I get it. It’s to increase the staying power of fodder. For a player, though? Especially on a mage, I can see this feature making a party just a smidgeon too powerful for their own good. Especially considering that the sorcerer gains proficiency in Constitution saves from the start. Playtesting will bear this one out, I think.

Hound of Ill Omen is pretty damn cool. Mechanically, it’s pretty basic. You get a dire wolf that can move through enemy spaces and has one particular target. It’s like a free summoning spell that conjures a Black Dog. It’s jam-packed with mythological flavor, and I’ve always been one to appreciate references to myth in my games.

PZO1111DemonShadow
I’m not saying that you’re basically a shadow demon… But you’re basically a shadow demon.

Shadow Walk is the same as the Shadow Monk’s ability. It’s fine, and definitely makes this one of the most mobile classes in the game, and definitely the most mobile mage. Especially if you really are playing a game in the underdark, where the shadows are literally everywhere.

Shadow Form is neat, and turning into a wraith is a nice cap to the class. I think it should have also given you a fly speed, however. Just to drive the point home that you’re effectively turning into Danny Phantom.

Undying Light Patron

Do-You-Even-Praise-The-Sun

This one is really intriguing from a storytelling standpoint. Obviously, this is a mechanical attempt at creating a “light” warlock for those who don’t want to play evil, smarmy bastards (a concept I just don’t understand on a fundamental level). From a narrative perspective, though, I find this subclass to be fascinating. I’ve never been a huge fan of the traditional “planes” in D&D, and the “positive energy plane” especially has always seemed silly on its face. The idea of touching something so infused with light, however, that it changes you on a basic, primal level is intriguing. I love the flaws, and the thought that this thing—whatever it is—that you came into contact with has left you somehow worse off is brilliant. You carry this literal undying light with you, and yet you fear the dark. The power of radiance and goodness is yours to command, and yet you have an overwhelming, violent hatred for all things undead; even those that might be considered good. Imagine putting one of these guys together with a Shadow Sorcerer. It makes me want to BURST with excitement.

But I suppose there are some mechanics to go over, aren’t there?

The spell list seems heavy on the “fire” aspect. And while I’d get that if this were supposed to be a “solar” warlock, it’s supposed to be tied to the positive energy plane. That means radiant damage to me, not fire. I’d like to see some sunburst and sunbeam type spells in there. Radiant Soul helps with this a bit, giving you resistance to radiant damage, bonus damage on radiant and fire spells, and the Sacred Flame and Light cantrips for free. It automatically means that the Warlock’s Sacred Flame is better than the Cleric’s. But I don’t have a problem with that, since that’s kind of the warlock’s thing to begin with.

Searing Vengeance as a free revive to half health plus damage to foes is neat. I’m not sure how I feel about the damage being static, since that’s usually the purview of monsters and DM territory. I’d probably go with 2d8 + Charisma, rather than a static 10. Also, no save on being blinded bugs me.

Radiant Resilience is neat, and is a pretty cool Leader-type ability for the warlock. However, not putting a limit on how long the temporary hit points last—or a cap on how much you can get—is problematic for obvious reasons.

Healing light is cool, but I think comes far too late in the warlock’s progression to be really useful. By the time you reach 14th level, if you don’t have a reliable way to heal as a party, then you have a serious problem that outstrips the purview of this feature. Sure, it’s always nice to have extra healing. But I’d rather see this early on as a Lay on Hands-esque feature. Besides, I love the idea of an Undying Light warlock who hates the power they’ve been given suddenly finding out that they can help people in a really direct sense. If I were to re-write this, I’d probably switch it with Searing Vengeance, and adjust the features accordingly.

Conclusion

I liked this Unearthed Arcana. It’s nothing really too special, but it presented us with a lot of cool options for players. I particularly liked the Undying Light patron and the two new Fighting Styles, for the reasons listed above. Hopefully, if someone decides to run the Out of the Abyss adventure, or finds themselves with a DM who really likes exploring the Inner Darkness of their world, this UA will give them the edge they need.

In terms of negatives? Well, I did say that it’s nothing special, right? This UA is very much along the lines of Waterborne Adventures. Except, with that one, it gave me ideas on cool new campaigns I could run, with seaborne minotaurs, swashbucklers, and storm mages. This article…eh. I mean, it’s nice. Shadow Sorcerers are cool, and Undying Light-locks are rich and flavorful. But if this were a splat book, it’d be Complete Divine. A lot of new crunch with very little holding it together. I would have loved to see a Myconid player race or Illithid-kin. Something rich to get the creative juices flowing.

Unearthed Arcana, as I see it, is supposed to be a testing ground for new ideas. The Revised Ranger is a totally new take on an existing class. The Mystic is a whole new frigging class! Last month, we got a prestige class and a new type of magic. Before that, we got variant rules, a document on how to design new class options, and even a mass combat system. Even the most boring one—modern magic—was an attempt at exploring a whole new avenue of play. This one’s…just about the underdark. It could have been an Out of the Abyss player’s companion. It’s fine, and I’m sure it’ll get players excited. But it’s a bit of a disappointment.

What Do I Want to See?

If I’m going to bitch, of course, I should propose some solutions. Or I should, at least, propose some ideas of what I’d like to see from Unearthed Arcana in the future. Well, here’s a list of ideas I’d like to see explored.

  • Expanded Monster Design. The rules in the DMG are nice, but I’d like to see more. How to integrate class features into monsters (and therefore give them “class levels”), an expanded list of traits for determining how they effect CR, and maybe a discussion on Legendary actions.
  • More Psionics. I know that people are playtesting the Mystic right now, but I’d love to see an 11-level alpha version of it with all of its subclasses. I’d also like to see some psionic races to use in your games. And, speaking of Psionics…
  • Dark Sun. The very first Unearthed Arcana was on Eberron. The Waterborne Adventures document talked about Krynn. I want to see the world of Dark Sun brought into 5e.
  • DM Tools. With their Battlesystem, Class Design, and Variant Rules Unearthed Arcanum, they obviously aren’t afraid of catering to DMs as well as players. I’d love to see more of that. Maybe a Taint/Corruption system, a la Legend of the 5 Rings. Or perhaps ship combat—something sorely missing from the Waterborne Adventures playtest.
  • Aliens and Lasers. A lot of people hate spelljammer. Hell, I’m not a huge fan of the setting. But I would LOVE to see official rules for laser guns, interplanetary travel, and space-borne dogfights.

Hopefully that gives you all an idea of what I’m looking for in these Unearthed Arcana articles. If you agree, or if you’ve got more ideas that I didn’t think of, or if you think I’m totally off base, then say so in the comments below. I’ll see you all on Monday.

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