Unearthed Arcana 2021 — Gothic Lineages Presents New Direction for 5E D&D Characters
The first Unearthed Arcana playtest document of 2021 arrived today. Gothic Lineages presents three fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons character options, which build on the optional material found in last year’s Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Dhampir, Hexblood and Reborn illustrate three new special race options to playtest taking a different approach. Players can choose one of these options at character creation or during an ongoing campaign to transform their character at an appropriate time. So let’s get into it.
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New approach to 5E D&D character creation
You can find Unearthed Arcana 2021 — Gothic Lineages here. At this time the material is not yet included at D&D Beyond. [NERDITOR’S NOTE: Right after publishing I read that you can now use the Custom Lineage options from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything directly in DDB character sheets though, so yay!]
The very first thing to note when it comes to this content is the Design Note: Changes to Racial Traits sidebar, which highlights how this Unearthed Arcana material follows in the footsteps of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Going forward race options in 5E D&D books won’t include the Ability Score Increase, Language and Alignment traits as well as any other purely cultural trait — only physical or magical traits like darkvision or innate magical ability. The sidebar also makes a distinction with the race term, noting it refers only to the suite of game features applicable to player characters and not monsters and NPCs.
Creating Your Character following the direction presented in Unearthed Arcana 2021 — Gothic Lineages steps away from the traditional method and guides players to think of their characters as individuals rather than members of an established culture or society. For an individual’s Ability Score Increases the player increases one score by 2 and a different one by 1 to a maximum 20 score and for language a character can speak, read and write Common plus one other appropriate language. There’s also a section on Creature Type, which further differentiates this new direction from the traditional 5E D&D process. While most characters remain the humanoid type the options in this document include other creature types with potentially multiple types for a single character.
Wanna play a vampire in 5E D&D? The dhampir lineage provides this option! (Don’t worry — you can still try one of the methods we came up with for playing vampires, werewolves and basically any other sort of creature!) A dhampir’s ties to the undead manifest as a powerful hunger and a table with a variety of temptations runs the gamut from blood to psychic energy while a table of origins kickstarts the imagination with suggestions for how a character gained this lineage.
A dhampir character can make a couple of choices in traits when it comes to type and size. Along with these variable traits all dhampir possess darkvision. That’s when things get weird. At 3rd level a dhampir gains the Spider Climb trait. This powerful feature allows these characters to move up, down and across vertical surfaces and upside down along ceilings while leaving their hands free. I might have to go back and revise the post about D&Dized Spider-Man. Dhampir characters also have the Vampiric Bite trait. This one grants a character an empowering bite attack with powerful effects. It also dips a toe into the 4E D&D pool with a mechanic activating when the character is missing half or more of their hit points.
Warlocks in 5E D&D not warlocky enough for you? Now you can make a pact with an eldritch entity before choosing a character class. A hexblood carries ties to the fey in their essence, which can manifest after making a deal with a hag or revealing itself naturally as the character ages. Hags feature prominently here and a sidebar even describes how a hexblood can become a straight up hag. Once this takes place though a character emerges as a hag NPC. The origins of a hexblood offer a number of suggestions for how a character becomes such a lineage.
Like dhampir a hexblood can make a couple of choices in traits when it comes to type and size as well as having darkvision and a variety of weird traits beyond this. Fey Resilience bolsters a hexblood against the charmed condition and Hex Magic grants the character the ability to cast disguise self and hex. A hexblood’s most prominent trait is Magic Token allowing the character to create such an item, which functions similar to a Hag Eye.
Perfect for 5E D&D characters with death in their past (or present!) a reborn character experienced death but yet continue to live through unnatural means. A reborn character leans into either magic or science as the means to becoming reborn and take hold of whatever new life they now posses to seek experiences and answers. The interruption of their physical state results in memory loss described as Faded Memories and includes a table with suggestions for such Lost Memories. A table of Reborn Origins presents similar suggestions for the circumstances of the rebirth.
It should come as no surprise by now the reborn can make a couple of choices in traits when it comes to type and size while also having darkvision. Because darkvision. The Deathless Nature of reborn characters provides several benefits (but not as cool or powerful as their dhampir or hexblood cohorts). Finally their Knowledge from a Past Life puts them in the running for the ultimate master of skills in 5E D&D with a huge bonus to any ability check that uses a skill.
Unearthed Arcana 2021 — Gothic Lineages final thoughts
I’m on the fence about the content in Unearthed Arcana 2021 — Gothic Lineages. My first thought is this feels like video game DLC the developer could have included with the initial release. While I enjoy Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything tremendously and did not share the same frankly bizarre criticisms many of my colleagues express I do recall wondering why the book didn’t include any examples exactly like the dhampir, hexblood and reborn. These Gothic Lineages go a step further by incorporating brand new traits wholecloth but still, if Wizards of the Coast planned to move in this direction it would have been nice to see a few included in the book.
Also for the first time in my 5E D&D experiences I can acquiesce to the perspective of power creep. This may be unfounded or a kneejerk reaction but moving into territory where characters have different creature types and what I consider very powerful lineage traits just feels weird. Not 24 hours ago during our weekly live chat we touched on how 5E D&D characters start their adventuring careers at 1st level much more superheroically than edition’s past, which is something I had no problem with whatsoever. But I can’t shake the feeling this seems like a humongous step in that direction and I can’t reconcile it yet. To be fair though this Unearthed Arcana only released about an hour ago at the time of this writing.
One thing I really dig and something we see more and more often in 5E D&D character options are plentiful suggestions for storytelling components. These sorts of things move the pendulum even further towards equal participation among all the players in a game including the Dungeon Master. I’d go so far as to say continuing in this direction might mean revising the basic pattern of play altogether as players gain more and more footing through collaboration with DMs both implied and explicit in the rules. On a deep level it feels like 5E D&D is moving to a position frighteningly similar to 3.5 D&D in the sense players seem to be acquiring more influence over the game than the DM. The distinct difference now is this influence breaks more towards the narrative side of things than mechanically.
But what do you think? If you haven’t yet checked out Unearthed Arcana 2021 — Gothic Lineages you should certainly do so! There’s a lot to unpack and consider here and not just from a perspective of new 5E D&D character options. As a lifelong D&D fan my inclination is to be thrilled with any new content and maybe I’m simply in a mood today but this one makes me feel a bit apprehensive. Now it’s your turn to share your thoughts and give me some different perspectives. So get to it and as always, stay nerdy!