I was going to do a review of the Ranger rework that Wizards just released, when I realised that I can do better than that! Three of the four players in my Curse of Strahd campaign are using character options from Unearthed Arcana. So let’s see how they’ve got on.
Undying Light Warlock
Let’s start with the easy one – the new Warlock patron. This was clearly meant to give players a ‘good’ patron (or at least related to light/life/positive energy), and have powers that are all about light, life and fire. So what do you get?
- Expanded spell list: Burning Hands, Flaming Sphere, Daylight, Fire Shield, Flame Strike
- Radiant soul (1st level): add your charisma modifier to fire or radiant damage spells, and gain the Light and Sacred Flame cantrips
- Searing Vengence (6th level): rather than making a death saving throw, you explode back to life, damaging and blinding foes around you
- I changed this so that enemies aren’t automatically blinded, but get a saving throw to your normal spell DC.
- Radiant Resilience (10th level): you and some friends gain temporary hit points at the start of the day
- Healing Light (14th level): gain 15d6 of lay-on-hands power
The campaign is currently at level 7, so we haven’t got to (and probably won’t get to) the last tow powers, but we’ve played enough to get a feel for the character.
First of all I must say that this character option is brilliant for Ravenloft! A character that is focused on light and life is obviously very useful in a dark, horror campaign; but there’s also plenty of scope for roleplaying (which the player does really well) a character who’s afraid of the dark, and get’s a bit twitchy in Barovia’s perpetual gloom.
In terms of gameplay and balance: it’s not bad. The features are cool – Searing Vengence has saved his life more than once, and adding modifiers to spell damage is always nice. I would however say that it’s perhaps too powerful. Gaining two free cantrips is a big deal at low levels, and auto blinding enemies is too much in my opinion – coming back to life is good enough!
It’s nice to see a Warlock that isn’t forced into using Eldritch Blast for all occasions, as the Radiant Soul feature makes Sacred Flame his go-to attack cantrip. However the spell list can be a bit jarring as the normal Warlock spells are often quite dark – a character who casts Arms of Hadar doesn’t seem the sort to then heal you with holy light!
I think it works as well as all the Warlock patrons: a player who dives into the background and flavour of the features will get a lot more out of it. Are you afraid of the dark?
Each of the Wizard schools is related to a type of magic – blasty, summoning, illusion, etc. An Artificer is different: they specialise in making things; starting with potions and scrolls, but eventually creating true permanent magic items. It was meant to fit into the high-magic, almost steampunk setting of Eberron, but it works just about anywhere. The features are:
- Infuse Potions (2nd level): expend a spell slot to turn a vial of water into a potion. The level of spell slot dictates the type of potion (e.g. 1st level for healing, 2nd for greater healing).
- Infuse Scrolls (2nd level):use the Arcane Recovery feature to scribe a scroll rather than regaining spell slots
- Infuse Weapons and Armour (6th level): spend spells slots to make weapons/armour magical. Again the spell level dictates the bonus, starting with 3rd level for a +1 weapon.
- Superior Artificer (10th level): can infuse two weapon/armours at a time, and produce an extra scroll or potion.
- Master Artificer (14th level): create a proper magic item! But only the little ones, like a bag of tricks or alchemy jug.
As before, I can’t go into personal experience on the level 10 and 14 abilities, although I think you can see what they do.
The Wizard in my campaign is very much the support character (a deliberate choice by the player for a party without a cleric or other healer type). At lower levels he used to spend the majority of his spell slots on potions to keep everyone alive. Being able to infuse magic into a weapon (without concentration) has also made some almost-impossible encounters, against creatures with damage resistances, winnable.
The class is self-balancing, in that all but the final feature is based on spell slots. I could see the production of magic items being a problem if someone really cheesed it, but at 14th level that’s probably the minimum of Wizard shenanigans you’d have to watch out for. Scribing scrolls is potentially the most interesting feature, as it allows you to keep a few emergency spells (like feather fall or water breathing) without needing to actually prepare them, and so gives the player a bit more flexibility.
My only complaint is that the features are a little dull. I’d like to see some more magical effects, rather than just +1 or +2 weapons and armour. Perhaps a larger list of spells than can be bottled, or allowing spells to be stored in weapons, so the fighter can run off an deliver that touch spell for you.
The New Ranger
You might have heard that there’s a new version of the Ranger? Just about everyone seems to be talking about it. The previous Ranger, especially the Beast Master archetype, was a bit rubbish, so Wizards have had multiple goes at fixing it. This seems to be their final attempt before it gets released in some more official capacity.
Tl;dr: the new Ranger is awesome, you should include it in your games.
This is a whole class rework, so I won’t go into masses of detail on the changes, but here’s the main points:
- Favoured Enemy is now not shit. In particular, as well as being better at tracking and knowing information about your enemies, you also gain a damage bonus: +2 at first, but increasing to +4 later (and you choose a second, more powerful favoured enemy type).
- Natural Explorer also gains a massive boost. There’s a few details to it, blah, blah, good a tracking and finding food, but also: advantage on initiative checks and advantage on attacks against enemies who haven’t acted in combat yet! Basically a Ranger hits first and hits well, just like a Ranger should.
- Primeval Awareness now fixes its one glaring flaw: you now know the direction of your enemy. Knowing that something you were tracking was within a 5 mile radius of you, BUT NOT THE DIRECTION was really dumb.
- You can dash as a bonus action at level 8, and hide at 18.
- The Beast Master (now a ‘conclave’) has been totally overhauled, I’ll cover that in detail.
- There’s a new conclave: the Deep Stalker. This is a rework of previous Unearthed Arcana release. Again, I’ll come to that.
The player in my campaign is a Hunter archetype, so the changes are actually quite small – just the first three points on the list. However I think that’s enough to take the Ranger from nature-themed-fighter-but-worse, to something that occupies its own unique role in the group, and has actual mechanical benefits as class features. Just don’t forget the bonus damage like he always does…
The new Beast Master looks amazing! You gain a true animal companion, with a personality and ability point increases and everything. You also now fight as a team, rather than the weird tag-team mechanics that existed before. A Beast Master is slightly weaker (on their own) than the other two archetypes – they don’t gain extra attack for example. But the beast companion is now the other half of your character, and acts like it. I can’t wait to see one in action, if I get chance to play as a player I’m making one!
The Deep Stalker is a bit of an oddity. It’s a Ranger who sticks to the shadows, casts more illusion spells, and has abilities to makes enemies miss and then strike on the counterattack. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just doesn’t quite ‘feel’ like a Ranger. Looks fun to play though.
Not Quite Perfect
I still have two gripes with the Ranger class: spellcasting, and choices for the Hunter conclave.
Why does a Ranger work on ‘spells known’ rather than prepared pells like a Paladin or Cleric? There’s loads of cool Ranger spells, like Jump or Water Walk, that will probably very rarely get used, but are helpful when they do. However because a Ranger only knows a small number of spells (5 at level 7 for example), they probably won’t choose these exploration spells, and will instead go for the old faithfuls like Cure Wounds or Hunter’s Mark.
Why does the Hunter have to choose one of two or three abilities in most cases? It’s especially glaring at level 11, where you have to decide between ranged or melee multiattack. No other class forces this, why not have both, they’re basically mutually exclusive anyway?
I’m such a lenient DM, allowing all these non-official class options! I must remember to kill them all to make up for it…