Ok, fighter time. I’m not sure there’s a lot of preamble necessary, as this is possibly the most archetypical of characters. Dude wears armor and fights with badass weapons. Done. We’ve already seen the basics in the basic rules. Fighting styles let you skew the fighter in your preferred direction (including archery, which is welcome). They pick up a second wind ability, reminiscent of 4e, but only for fighters, which seems a nice compromise.
They also get action surge, which grants one extra action, once per rest. This doesn’t increase until level 17 (where you can do it twice) so while it has the structure of a currency move, it’s really not one. They pick up an extra attack at level 5, and at level 9, get to reroll saving throws. Pretty cool stuff, but clearly, there’s a lot more to be had in the subclass, the martial archetype (which, for those counting at home, are picked at 3 and get extra stuff at 7, 10, 15 and 18).
The archetype we’d seen previously, the champion, is pretty clearly the easy option. If you don’t want to fiddle with a lot of game mechanics, don’t want to worry about spells or currency, and just want to beat the crap out of stuff, this is the way to go. It may be the most straightforward class in the game.
This is in direct contrast to the Battle Master, which is one of the fiddliest (at least to set up). It’s got some little utility stuff – learn an artisan tool and study enemies to gauge their strength, but the real heart of it is the combat maneuvers and the superiority dice.
The superiority dice themselves start as d8s, but increase with level. You get 4 of them, and they refresh after a short of long rest, so fighters looking for some currency, this is it. These dice fuel the maneuvers – you start with 3 of them and gain more as you level up.
The maneuvers are combat effects which are akin to short feat chains in previous editions, but less potent than feats in 5e. They largely correspond to combat actions you might take, and let you spend a superiority die to help the roll. Precision Attack, for example, lets you add a superiority die to an attack roll, before or after you roll. Riposte lets you spend a die when something misses you to counterattack, and if you succeed, add the superiority die to your damage. Basically, you can combine these maneuvers to make the fighting style that suits your imagining of the character.
Notably, a few of the maneuvers will be familiar to fans of the 4e Warlord, including getting others to attack and granting temporary hit points. This makes me a little sad, since it suggests we may not see the Warlord again, but it’s nice to have an options to hit those notes.
The last archetype, the eldritch knight is kind of a fascinating acknowledge of realities of play, since it more or less gets you the fighter/magic-user (sorry, wizard) without needing to delve into multiclassing. That’s delightful. It also has a few notes of the swordmage, with a bonded weapon and eldritch strikes. There’s also combat casting for cantrips (and later, real spells) and can teleport a little.
But mostly, they get spells. Wizard spells, prepared like a bard or sorcerer, capped at level 4, with some limits on what to can learn that skew the pool towards abjuration and evocation.
As much as I love this conceptually, I admit, I’m mentally asking myself how this compares to going multiclass fighter/wizard (or fighter/sorcerer). At 10/10 F/W (vs L20 F with Eldritch Knight) I have lost Teleportation and the ability to make a melee attack when I cast a spell. I’ve also lost ~20 hitpoint (10d10 vs 10d6).
But I’ve gained 5th level spells, the benefits of a different fighter archetype and the class and subclass benefits of whatever caster class I chose. That seems to be a lot more gains than losses.
Now, I can see the eldritch knight working if you really just want to cast spells in melee, but otherwise, I think I may be missing the real reasons to go with this subclass (besides the non-trivial benefit of reduced bookkeeping)
Man, I thought that was going to be simple. I can now only imagine what the Monk has to offer.
The short answer is, “a ton”. The Monk has more fiddly bits then I will ever be able to list, but I’ll try to capture the high points.
The basic Monk abilities are Unarmored Defense (Unarmored AC is 10 + DEX + WIS) and Martial Arts (use dex instead of strength for attack and damage when unarmed or using monk weapons, but use your martial arts damage die instead). That adding dex to damage bit is a surprise to me, and offsets the fact that the first martial arts die is a d4. For a monk, d4 + DEX may well be better than d8 + STR. The damage die starts at a d4 and caps out at a d10, so the monk is never going to be landing the big single hits (which is find, since she’ll probably be throwing a lot of punches).
At second (non-poaching) level, they gain a speed bump and Ki powers. Ki is the monk currency, starting at 2, and eventually increasing to 20, it recharges after a short or long rest, and can be spent to fuel moves like flurry of blows or step of the wind.
They subsequently pick up more of the monk trademark stuff – deflecting missiles (which is pretty cool), falling safely, making extra attacks, stunning and magical fists, immunity to things like charm, fear, poisons and disease. Better saving throws. Wall and Water Walking. Basically, all the awesome monk stuff you expect (except perhaps quivering palm, see below). Also, notably, nothing that particularly improves AC, which is probably good, because that might be too scary.
The monk subclass is the monastic tradition (taken at 3, benefits at 6, 11 and 17). and at this point, I would expect them to be a little thin, since the monk is awash in abilities. But no, they’re pretty cool too.
The way of the open hand is most reminiscent of the classic D&D monk. You get to add knockback and such to your attacks, heal yourself, do cool peaceful meditation and, ultimately, use the deadly quivering palm. So, y’know, badass.
The way of shadow pretty much comes out and says what’s it’s for: Ninjas. Well, and shadowdancers. But it’s basically all spending ki for darkness and concealment, teleporting between shadows, hiding like a ninja and taking opportunity attacks. Seriously, I think the only think it’s missing is a shuriken ability. It’s definitely very focused, but if that’s the focus you want (because ninja), it delivers.
The way of the four elements is of comparable complexity and construction to the fighter’s battle master archetype. Like the battle master, it is composed of numerous pieces (powers, called disciplines) which you pick and combine to make your unique style. The disciplines largely revolve around adding elemental effects to your abilities, either in the form of spells or as specific effects. For example, Fist of Four Thunders lets you spend ki to cast thunderwave while Fangs of the Fire Snake extends flaming tendrils from your fists, extending your reach and doing extra damage. Basically, it’s like kung fu meets Avatar: the Last Airbender. Those are, of course, two great tastes that taste great together.
I think I can squeeze in the Paladin, so let’s hit it. Interestingly, the color text and core abilities really emphasize the lawful goodness of the class, but the oaths (more on those in a second) emphasize it’s not as clear cut as that. The baseline paladin looks familiar: heavy armor and weapons, Divine Sense (sort of a retuned Detect Evil) and laying on hands.
The lay hands mechanic is pretty sweet, as it gives the paladin a pool of healing equal to 5 x level. With a touch, he can basically heal any number of hit points, up to that amount, with the pool refreshing after a long rest. He can opt to spend 5 point to cure a disease or poison. I like this a lot – it’s simple to use, but feels unique and flavorful. It’s less of the “panic button” power, which some people might regret, but I prefer an ability which is actually used.
As they level, Paladins pick up a fighting style (like a fighter), clerical spells, the divine smite (burn spell slots for extra weapon damage) and immunity to disease. Later on the get an extra attack, a divine aura of courage and the ability to cleanse spell effects. All pretty cool.
The real meat of things, however, lies in the oath. This is the paladin subclass decision (happens at level 3, benefits at 7, 15 and 20). Mechanically, it lays down the tenets of your paladinhood, grants you the equivalent of domain spells, grants channel divinity effects and gives a few more powers. Conceptually, it defines the character. Paladins are no longer autotmatically following whatever definition your group uses of Lawful Good – rather, they are following the specific tenets of their oath, which may not be so morally straightforward.
To illustrate, the oath of vengeance demands the paladin fight the greater evil, grant no mercy for the wicked, win by any means necessary and pay restitution when you fail. That is not made of sweetness and light, and in fact it does not take much imagination to imagine this as the code of honor of a villain, not a hero. This is really interesting to me because it leaves the door open to Paladins of almost any ethos, but you need to be able to articulate it into a strong code. Also, it’s important to note, the relatively explicit nature of the oath makes the prospect of failing it a bit more concrete (and there’s a tease of oathbreaker paladin rules in the DMG that I’m very curious to see).
There are three oaths available, and the first is the oath of devotion. This is basically the classic lawful good paladin of old, swearing to honest, duty, courage, compassion, honor and duty. In keeping with that, the benefits are also nicely classic – you can use your divine channels to make your weapon divine or turn unholy creatures, generate a protective aura against charms, operate under protection from evil and good and ultimately have a minute of holy glowing awesomeness.
The Oath of the Ancients addresses an old bit of oddness of how you can have fey knights be paladins, since the priorities of the traditional paladin seem like a bit of a mismatch. These paladins are all about the idea of “the light”, which is (intentionally, I imagine) very loosely defined, but it sort of a mix of art, kindness, beauty, joy, love and goodness. A paladin of the ancients needs to kindle, shelter, preserve and ultimately be the light.
The spells granted are a little bit druidic, and the channels can be used for an entangle effect or to turn “the faithless”, which is to say fey and fiends (this is, I have to say, a fascinating distinction). They get a spell resistance aura, an ability to take more damage and ultimately, to assume the form of a champion of nature, basically kicking ass.
Even more than the nature cleric, the paladin of the ancients seems to be taking cues from the 4e Warden, which is not a bad thing at all, since that was a pretty fun class. More, this oath says interesting things about the world, so I admit it intrigues me.
I’ve already talked about the tenets of the oath of vengeance, but I will make a note about it: there’s a lot of reference to your sworn enemy, but nothing that particularly restrains that, so the paladin may have enemies of convenience at times. I imagine this is intentional, since that sort of abuse is exactly the risk of this sort of ethos.
These paladins can use their channels to abjure their enemy (basically, turn them) or to gain advantage against them. Subsequent abilities are all about kicking your enemy’s ass, culminating in turning into an avenging angel for an hour.
These are not nice guys, but I definitely know players who are going to gravitate to this oath.
(aside – I’m this far into the book, and I only just now noticed that each class has an icon in the upper corner of their first page. I’m not sure if these are used elsewhere, but they’re pretty neat).
- Which once again raises the specter of what an intelligence saving throw means ↩
- One of which, Rally, seems fairly abusable if you have a lot of time. You can stack temporary HP on someone, short rest, and repeat 3 or 4 times before they go off into battle. I actually don’t mind it being used once to spend all 4 superiority dice on a “pep talk” – that’s actually kind of awesome, but the cycling of it seems lame. ↩
- And this is quite interesting conceptually as well. The text makes it clear that the implications of this are open to interpretation, but it means those first two levels of paladin (before the oath is taken) are an interesting limbo. I like this a LOT, especially since it allows for “former paladins” who are not actually evil or oathbreakers, just folks who balked before they had to take that final leap of faith. ↩