Friday, November 15, 2019

Commentary on Unearthed Arcana: Class Feature Variants (Ranger-Warlock)

While I was on vacation a hefty Unearthed Arcana article dropped with playtest material that either enhances or replaces existing class features. Let's take a look at the options and see what they do, if they work, or if they might need a further iteration. Because this UA article is long, I'm splitting it up into sections; this time we're covering the fighter, monk, and paladin. The bard, barbarian, cleric, and druid were covered here. The fighter, monk, and paladin were covered here.

Ranger Features
Deft Explorer
1st-level ranger feature (replaces Natural Explorer)
You are an unsurpassed explorer and survivor. Choose one of the following benefits, and then choose another one at 6th and 10th level. 

Commentary. Let's be honest, Deft Explorer and Favored Foe are less "options" than they are opportunities to re-write the poorly conceived 1st level of the ranger class. I think we have to consider them in that light, which will color my evaluation of the individual benefits below.

Choose one skill: Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Investigation, Medicine, Nature, Perception, Stealth, or Survival. You gain proficiency in the chosen skill if you don’t already have it, and you can add double your proficiency bonus to ability checks using that skill. In addition, thanks to your extensive wandering, you are able to speak, read, and write two languages of your choice.

Commentary. One way the ranger was seemingly supposed to be differentiated from the fighter and the paladin was by being the more skill-focused of the martial classes, but the mechanical support for that isn't really there aside from a slightly more robust set of skills. This is a very welcome addition, but if I had to make a criticism here I'd push for this feature granting you double proficiency with two skills instead of just one.

Your walking speed increases by 5, and you gain a climbing speed and a swimming speed equal to your walking speed. 

Commentary. This is okay: nicely thematic, but also boring enough that this will almost certainly be every ranger's third pick from the list of Deft Explorer features.

As an action, you can give yourself a number of temporary hit points equal to 1d10 + your Wisdom modifier. You can use this special action a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (a minimum of once), and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest. In addition, whenever you finish a short rest, your exhaustion level, if any, is decreased by 1.

Commentary. This seems pretty powerful at 1st level, but it's pretty cool that it kinda-sorta replicates rangers starting with two hit dice as in early editions. I do wonder if this is so obviously good that it will everybody's first choice of the Deft Explorer features. It's essentially 15 extra hit points at 1st level. I'd hate to see Canny pushed to 6th level when it feels so central to emphasizing the ranger concept. Also, there is no way the exhaustion decrease will make it into the final version; it's too good as a one-level multiclass into ranger to provide a huge benefit to berserker barbarians and their Frenzy feature.

Favored Foe
1st-level ranger feature (replaces Favored Enemy)
You can call on your bond with nature to mark a creature as your favored enemy for a time: you know the hunter’s mark spell, and Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for it. You can use it a certain number of times without expending a spell slot and without requiring concentration—a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (a minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest. When you gain the Spellcasting feature at 2nd level, hunter’s mark doesn’t count against the number of ranger spells you know.

Commentary. The more I think about this one, the less I'm satisfied with it. It is a much better option than Favored Enemy, but as much as free hunter's mark without the burden of concentration is a step in the right direction, it doesn't address how pinched rangers are by their reliance on bonus actions, particularly if they are two-weapon specialists. 

This underlines something that seems more and more true: one of the ranger's biggest mechanical hurdles isn't in their class specifically: it's the way two-weapon fighting and the action economy functions in 5e as a whole. What we might really need to make this complete is a replacement for the Two-Weapon Fighting style. 

It also underlines that some things should have been class features instead of spells all along; hunter's mark and the warlock's hex and eldritch blast really stick out as "options" that should have been core, but I suspect that looked a little too much like 4e to pass muster.

In any case, I like the idea here but the execution isn't quite right yet. As it is right now, a concentration-free hunter's mark is too good as a one-level dip into ranger for classes that can stack other effects on top of it, such as the warlock's hex spell.

Primal Awareness
3rd-level ranger feature (replaces Primeval Awareness)
You can focus your awareness through the interconnections of nature: you learn additional spells when you reach certain levels in this class if you don’t already know them, as shown in the Primal Awareness Spells table. These spells don’t count against the number of ranger spells you know. Primal Awareness Spells: 3rd detect magic, speak with animals; 5th beast sense, locate animals or plants; 9th speak with plants; 13th locate creature; 17th commune with nature. You can cast each of these spells once without expending a spell slot. Once you cast a spell in this way, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest.

Commentary. Primeval Awareness is one of my least favorite features to adjudicate in play. There is zero chance that I have thought-out the kinds of monsters within a mile radius (and definitely not the six-mile radius) of any given location in my setting. Primal Awareness is an option I am much happier with, even though I'm surprised at the sheer number of spells its adds to the ranger's list. It's especially great for Hunter and Beast Master rangers, who really suffer from not gaining bonus spells as the newer archetypes do, but on top of those later archetypes it feels like it potentially over-emphasizes the ranger as a spellcaster.

Fade Away
10th-level ranger feature (replaces Hide in Plain Sight)
You can use a bonus action to magically become invisible, along with any equipment you are wearing or carrying, until the start of your next turn. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again
until you finish a short or long rest. 

Commentary. Any alternative to Hide in Plain Sight is welcome.

Ranger Companion Options
3rd-level Beast Master feature (enhances Ranger’s Companion)
(Two paragraphs of flavor text snipped.) The primal beast is a special creature that a Beast Master can choose for the Ranger’s Companion feature. When choosing such a creature, you decide whether it is a Beast of the Air or the Earth, and you determine its appearance. Stories describe primal beasts that mystically change form to align with the spirit of their companion. When a primal beast is met apart from a Beast Master, the creature takes the form a regular beast of challenge rating 1/4 or lower, as determined by the DM.

Commentary. What we have here is two beast companion templates to use in place of scouring the Monster Manual for a good beast to use with this feature. That is the way it should have been from the get-go, but again I suspect that Fear of Fourth Edition got in the way. (While we're here, this is also how the druid's Wild Shape should have worked as well.) 

There are some obvious boosts in using the primal beasts: they gain hit dice as you level up, they get saving throw proficiencies, and they let the companion attack as a bonus action. This makes the beast companion on par with two-weapon fighting, but also rule out two-weapon fighting for this kind of ranger, which is a fine trade-off but should be noted as it might otherwise be a trap for new players. Again, this feels more like a needed revision than an option, but it's pretty welcome. (And you can tell it's needed as this is the only subclass that the article addresses.)

Rogue Features
Cunning Action: Aim
2nd-level rogue feature (enhances Cunning Action)
You gain an additional way to use your Cunning Action: carefully aiming your next attack. As a bonus action, you give yourself advantage on your next attack roll on the current turn. You can
use this bonus action only if you haven’t moved during this turn, and after you use the bonus action, your speed is 0 until the end of the current turn.

Commentary. This is a strong addition, but since rogues are supposed to be able to use their Sneak Attack feature most rounds it probably contributes to the class working as intended. 

Sorcerer Features
Font of Magic Options
2nd-level sorcerer feature (enhances Font of Magic)
When you gain the Font of Magic feature, you get access to the following ways to spend your sorcery points.

Commentary. Imbuing Touch lets you make a weapon magical for two sorcery points, which feels like an ability only the most altruistic of sorcerers will use because they have cantrips for magical damage. Sorcerous Fortitude lets you gain 1d4 hit point for every sorcery point you use, which feels fairly lackluster. 1d4 + Cha modifier wouldn't feel out of order here.

Metamagic Options
3rd-level sorcerer feature (enhances Metamagic)
When you choose Metamagic options, you have access to the following additional options.

Commentary. Elemental Spell lets you change the damage type of a spell, which is situationally nice. Seeking Spell lets you ignore cover on your spells, which again is nice but situational. Unerring Spell lets you reroll a failed spell attack, which could be pretty clutch.

Warlock Features
Pact of the Talisman
Your patron gives you a special amulet, a talisman that can aid you, or anyone else who wears it, when the need is great. When the wearer makes an ability check with a skill in which they lack proficiency, they can add a d4 to the roll. If you lose the talisman, you can perform a 1-hour ceremony to receive a replacement from your patron. This ceremony can be performed during a short or long rest, and it destroys the previous amulet. The talisman turns to ash when you die.

Commentary. I'm all for new warlock pact features, but this one is deadly boring. There's also a bunch of Invocation options, but I'm not going through all those; they are the usual Invocation mixed bag.