Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted take a look at Unearthed Arcana 2020, Subclasses Part 2. The playtest document from the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons team presents new subclasses for bards, clerics and sorcerers. Once again we were in the midst of our weekly video planning meeting when a new Unearthed Arcana showed up via social media, but it turns out this was a leak! Someone took an educated guess at the URL for a follow up to Unearthed Arcana 2020, Subclasses Part 1 and they were right, sort of. There was a playtest document but it was not a version Wizards of the Coast planned to release. So Dave and Ted headed back to the set to film a new discussion about the College of Creation, Unity Domain and Clockwork Soul. And since we dig themed series of things around here, I’m curious what sort of characters represent these exciting new subclass options. So let’s get into it.
The 5E D&D design team continues to expand the boundaries and scope of the game with each new release, official or otherwise. Looking at new content of holds an additional layer of interest for anyone who enjoys creating their own game material too. Whether you create your own monsters, magic items, character options or whatever for use with your friends at home or you’re a company producing third party products to sell to consumers, new content explores new approaches to game mechanics and storytelling resources. It’s fun, useful and inspiring to see what can be done with 5E D&D.
At the heart 5E D&D is a game about characters going on adventures together, discovering treasures and facing dangers as a party and growing in power as their story deepens and threats become greater. This can take so many forms, and with each new batch of Unearthed Arcana subclasses I’m seeing greater possibilities for the kinds of stories players can tell around the gaming table. What kind of characters choose to study the music of the multiverse, serve the gods of community or find themselves tethered to the cosmic order, and what kinds of stories might emerge from their adventures?
“Bards believe the multiverse was given existence through word and sound, esoteric harmonies that continue to resound through existence: the Song of Creation.”
The trippy introduction for the Bard College of Creation makes me think immediately of Red Rocket 7, a comic book limited series by Mike Allred. In the story, an alien clone comes to Earth to make totally cool music and experiences the history of rock n’ roll as it happens. The hero encounters every legend from the birth of rock in the ’50s, through the British invasion of the ’60s, through the advent of Heavy Metal and Glam rock in the ’70s, the New Wave of the ’80s, the Grunge Rock and Indie/Alt. scene in the ’90s.
A College of Creation bard brings this same vibe of cosmic musicality to the class, with a signature ability to create a visible Note of Potential whenever Bardic Inspiration is given. Later on these bards can pluck the lute strings of reality to animate objects with their music and even create objects out of thin air. Worth noting is a College of Creation bard could use their Performance of Creation to make a Large object they can then bring to life with their own Animating Performance.
Like a lot of Unearthed Arcana in the last several months and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything before them this bard subclass reaches deep into the fantasy well for 5E D&D. The flavor text introduction suggests characters from another time, world or plane of existence tapping into these powers. Creating a new character high enough in level to include a Bard College leaves the door open to some truly spectacular backstory possibilities, but it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for a character to discover this fantastic note after a few sessions of play either. A College of Creation bard strikes me as an obscure subclass from a campaign setting perspective. This is some highly specialized knowledge. A player character might be the only one in the world, which speaks even more to the visitor from elsewhere trope. But one day other bards start showing up with the same unique powers… (Maybe it turns out the PC is an alien clone just like in Red Rocket 7?)
Personally I enjoy playing bards as support characters focusing more on their magical Performances so I really dig this College of Creation. I like the idea of a character out of their element who finds themselves in the company of adventurers. They just want to understand the rhythm of the multiverse and create beautiful cosmic music. Along the way, what do you know they figured out the vibrational frequency and perfect pitch to bring inanimate objects to life.
“A sense of oneness shines at the heart of healthy communities, whether bound together by friendship, blood, faith, or some other uniting force.”
Have I mentioned my affection for support characters? One of the reasons I enjoy playing a supporting role is the opportunities to interact with another player. Especially in games with people I’ve never played with before, using my characters’ skills and abilities to boost allies is a great way to create a positive interaction for player and character alike. Looking over the Unity Domain for clerics I’m thinking wow, this subclass offers a way to boost two different characters at the same time!
The Unity Domain spells are an abundance of great spells to empower allies like heroism and aid plus fun utility magic like sending and Rary’s telepathic bond. Along with their Channel Divinity and other subclass features this cleric really exemplifies what an adventuring party is all about. Adventurers work together and overcome challenges through the strength of their bonds and teamwork. A Unity Domain cleric could certainly take on a parental position with their fellow adventurers, beaming with pride at their accomplishments. But these community advocates can also apply their divine powers to themselves, creating magical bonds with another character.
A Unity cleric suggests stories both epic and everyday. The gods of unity might call on such a cleric in dark times to bring a message of hope and togetherness to people across the land. There may be great deeds in need of doing, and this cleric’s divine power must be brought to bear helping heroes accomplish mighty tasks. But bonds of friendship, camaraderie and other uniting forces are parts of life on a daily basis too. A Unity cleric is a reminder that togetherness is a powerful thing. Fighting evil monsters and stopping dark curses certainly makes the world a better place, but presiding over a marriage and helping a village repair a neighbor’s home can do the same.
Sorcerers are interesting from a character perspective because unlike basically every other class a sorcerer character doesn’t choose to learn, hone or develop abilities. They just happen. So there’s always a great dichotomy to explore. Take Calianna, Mark Hulmes’ character from his appearance on Critical Role. As a Draconic Bloodline sorcerer Calianna didn’t choose to develop draconic traits like a scaled dragon arm or reptilian dragon eye, and part of her backstory is evil cultists taking advantage of her circumstances. In a similar way a sorcerer can very easily possess powers they have no desire to be endowed with and perhaps are diametrically different than. A Wild Magic sorcerer might abhor chaos, a Shadow Magic sorcerer could be bright and cheery and a Storm Sorcery sorcerer maybe jumps in fright at a thunderclap.
A Clockwork Soul sorcerer’s being is infused with energy from Mechanus, the plane of utmost order. So naturally a disorganized, absent-minded person seems like the perfect fit for this Sorcerous Origin! Unearthed Arcana’s Manifestations of Mechanus table includes some ideas for how to show your connection to cosmic law and order. The relationship between a sorcerer and their Sorcerous Origin seems like a great resource for a player to mine for character moments and also for Dungeon Masters. A Clockwork Soul sorcerer essentially sees the nuts and bolts of reality, sort of like Neo in The Matrix, and similarly has the power to put them in a more beneficial order. Likewise a DM might reveal disturbances in the cosmic order to these characters, creating a path to some unusual stories and adventures.
A Clockwork Soul sorcerer also includes an element of subtlety. Their Clockwork Spells list isn’t flashy, and their other features don’t create spectacular visual effects either. Well, Bulwark of Law describes a shimmering shield of order but that’s easy enough to reflavor as invisible workings of the multiverse. Clockwork Soul sorcerers see how everything operates and learn to tweak the mechanics of reality to create more favorable circumstances.
Overall I enjoyed the content in Unearthed Arcana 2020, Subclasses Part 2. The games I run and play in tend to focus overwhelmingly on social interactions and exploration so I look at new material with this perspective. How any of these subclasses operate in combat and compare to other options I have no clue. But I enjoy what I see in terms of potential stories to spin from these new kinds of characters. Even better, since most of the time I am the DM for games I’m looking at these new subclass features as a brand new toybox of traits and abilities I can apply to creatures and magic items, create environments and generally use to reward or challenge adventurers. Have you checked out this new playtest material? What’s your favorite, and least favorite? Check out Unearthed Arcana 2020 — Subclasses Part 1 here.