Play Your Next 5E D&D Game as an MCDM Illrigger
Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted call on hellish powers to discuss the Illrigger, a custom homebrew class for Fifth Edition created by Matt Colville and his team at MCDM Productions. Now it’s my turn so let’s get into it.
Illrigger Order of Desolation
Before diving into the Illrigger class from MCDM I’m going to preface this post as I often do when taking a look at any material whether it’s official 5E D&D content or third party creations by pointing out I’m definitely not a numbers cruncher or optimizer. You won’t find analyses of things like damage per round or balance against the 5E system itself or any of the existing official character class options.
Creating a custom homebrew class for 5E represents the pinnacle of content creation. Developing a discrete class is an enormous undertaking even without considering steps in the process like extensive playtesting, which as I understand it MCDM followed through on. In many ways a creator who sets out to create such content invests much more than coming up with a strong theme supported by useful and fun to use features. A homebrew class reveals a lot about the designer and their approach to both running and playing the game.
The official (for lack of a better term) Illrigger class found in the supplement of the same name released a couple of weeks ago certainly prompted a tremendous volume of discourse. (If you haven’t yet seen the Illrigger supplement you can get a copy through the MCDM store here.) Debate about the merits, the balance, the power level and just about every other angle you can think of continues to be discussed and dissected by nerds everywhere.
Matt Colville and by extension MCDM represent a powerful emergent voice in the 5E D&D era so it’s only natural for tons of people to share their views on whatever they produce. As I mentioned creating a homebrew class really puts a creator out there so the already voluminous annals of conversation about anything Matt Colville says or does reach even greater substance as regards the Illrigger.
The thing is at this point in the 5E D&D timeline especially much of the strong convictions demonstrated in so many of these analyses are ultimately moot. So many people engage with 5E D&D in so many different ways these days that the experience is more subjective almost than ever before. For one group including an Illrigger among standard character options might wind up coming across incredibly overpowered while to another group could very well be met with a chorus of Meh.
More than anything else when I check out new content for 5E D&D the main question on my mind is if I can imagine a character for which the content helps achieve my vision and more importantly — is it cool? At the end of the day when I consider all the Illrigger presents the conclusion I arrive at is the class isn’t my cup of tea. I’m not into hellish stuff and the associated themes and the class mechanics themselves are too crunchy. Basically it’s just more work keeping track of everything than I care for as a player. This doesn’t mean I think it’s poorly designed or won’t be enormous fun for people to play in their games though.
To a lesser extent the Illrigger also falls into the category of being too good at too many things. We run into this scenario a lot particularly when developing our Character Build Guides when the goal is something like mastering all the skills in the game. It’s a fun exercise but in practice a character who is awesome at a bunch of things means more standard characters see their special strengths overshadowed by the character who does their schtick and several others better than all of them combined. At the same time this illustrates a quality found in many homebrew class creations in the sense they basically wind up looking like a multiclass combination within a single class. I bet this alone is what leaves so many people saying the Illrigger is overpowered. It’s like one of our CBGs except no multiclassing necessary.
All this said it’s time to rundown everything the Illrigger has to offer. Following the introduction from Matt Colville and the credits (wow this is a big team!) the supplement includes an evocative short story to illustrate an Illrigger in a campaign setting. Matt Colville is an accomplished fiction writer and it’s neat to incorporate this strength into the product.
- Forked Tongue. Similar to a rogue’s Reliable Talent but for Charisma skills plus grants the Infernal language. (I’m a little surprised the mechanical language deviates from standard 5E wording, especially in light of the large team and development process but nevertheless it’s clear how it works.)
- Infernal Conduit. A pool of points an Illrigger draws from to transfer hit points around between allies and enemies as an action. At higher levels it can inflict levels of exhaustion, which seems wonky to me since this mechanic carries much more water as a challenge for players as opposed to monsters who probably won’t beyond the next few seconds.
- Fighting Style. I’ll have to make an appointment to get Dave and Ted’s heads examined if they think Fighting Styles aren’t in the SRD. But these Fighting Styles are all new and developed exclusively for the Illrigger.
- Baleful Interdict. I want to call this the signature feature of the Illrigger, which is essentially a damage boost. Additional features apply to this one depending on the subclass.
- Hellsight. Dave and Ted probably called this a ribbon ability in the video. I could not disagree more — this is a wonderfully useful utility feature I can imagine getting used often. Sensing magically hidden or concealed creatures sounds really clutch!
- Diabolic Contract. This represents the Illrigger subclasses but also the Invoke Authority feature, which is also dependent on the subclass. It’s akin to Channel Divinity except there’s no general version of it for all Illriggers.
- Ability Score Improvement. Standard feature available to every 5E D&D class.
- Extra Attack. This tells me the intention for the Illrigger is primarily as a martial combat class. (It’s a standard feature available to several 5E D&D classes.)
- Aura of Despair. Basically an aura of the bane spell. So pretty potent stuff.
- Summon Hell. Conjures a bone devil to serve the Illrigger for one minute, once each week.
The title for the subclass options in the same way Sacred Oaths are for paladins, Circles are for druids and so forth. An Illrigger already cleaves to hellish themes and this step represents pledging themselves directly to various infernal entities. All three options are very flavorful and include Tenets similar to paladin oaths as well as details on the particulars of the contract. More than anything else the Illrigger offers these sections hold the least appeal to me. I’m just not into this sort of dark stuff. If I ever played an Illrigger I’d spend the majority of time reflavoring the entire thing. It’s mostly fluff anyway but it’s so specific, which is unlike standard 5E D&D class presentations.
- Painkiller. The melee tanks of the Illrigger class. There’s some cool control features along with a lot of ways to dish out devastating damage and protect themselves through both magical and mundane means. I find myself really wanting to express how incredibly powerful these features are and I stand by this but again, it’s all contextual. The playstyle I enjoy and usually engage with would not even have opportunities to really use these features to their fullest.
- Shadowmaster. The sneaky assassins of the Illrigger class. Except these assassins come packing magical powers and incorporating traits gained through one or more feats into a single class feature, which is kinda weird. This subclass is highly mobile and includes powerful defenses as well. The rules syntax nerd in me finds their truesight-like feature a bit strange and like with the Painkiller this one feels overwhelming to me.
- Architect of Ruin. The spellcasters of the Illrigger class. They gain up to 6th level spells and nearly all of their features improve spellcasting in some fashion. Tacking on spellcasting to an already robust class makes this one the most klugdy of the three. There are some very, very powerful features to make their spells and seals reach extremely deadly heights and at least one feature borrows from an existing feat.
In retrospect I recall in one of his videos Matt Colville shared that his games don’t include feats as character options. This makes a lot of sense for why several Illrigger features are more or less existing feats.
New Illrigger spells
Creating new spells for 5E D&D is one of the most challenging pieces of content creation to me.
- Aura of desecration. Deals necrotic damage in a 30 foot radius and heals the caster for the same amount and it lasts 10 minutes (what?!).
- Hell’s lash. Essentially witch bolt but deals fire damage instead
- Mote of hell. Essentially hunger of Hadar but hellishly themed instead of eldritch horror.
- Single combat. Compelled duel isn’t part of the SRD so here’s a hellish themed version of it for the Illrigger.
- Wall of death. Pretty standard wall family spell. This one deals necrotic damage (of course) with a one time healing feature for the caster when it first appears.
Calling back to the fiction from the beginning this section presents an NPC stat block for the Painkiller Illrigger and includes tips and guidance for how to use her in combat, which comes across like a quasi-Action Oriented monster but without hard mechanics in the stat block. (Saving the concept for a future product perhaps…?) Basically it’s an Illrigger in creature stat block form.
There’s also a page with Illrigger retainers, which use the rules for such found in Strongholds & Followers. There’s one for each subclass — Agent (Shadowmaster), Deceiver (Architect of Ruin) and Tyrant (Painkiller).
*Featured image — Illriggers are versatile armored warriors with a wide array of supernatural abilities that reflect the infernal source of their power. [Art by Grace Cheung]