Unearthed Arcana is flowing like elven wine! New playtest stuff for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons in the free Unearthed Arcana documents get all the D&D nerds excited. We’ve been enjoying the steady stream of cool new toys to wonder about, and the most recent share from Wizards of the Coast presents three new subclasses for D&D — Twilight Divine Domain for clerics, Circle of Wildfire for druids and Arcane Tradition Onomancy for wizards. Imagining how new content adds to a D&D campaign is always a lot of fun so let’s get into it.
The D&D design team has really been hitting some home runs with the recent batch of Unearthed Arcana. When I read over and play any of the new character options, I’m not considering them so much for mechanical (i.e. combat) balance, so spoilers no deep dive into the math or combat implications. Instead I like to wonder what sort of person these characters are to find themselves on this path to adventure. If I’m honest, the combat abilities of a new Unearthed Arcana subclass don’t really interest me as much as what they offer for exploration, how they support teammates and what sort of intriguing roleplaying opportunities they offer.
This is my favorite of the three new subclasses in the Unearthed Arcana — Cleric, Druid, and Wizard document released last week. Jeremy Crawford really won me over in his video interview with D&D Beyond’s Todd Kenreck. He explained how they’ve already created plenty of character options involving darkness that have some amount of sinister element to them like the Shadow Magic sorcerer, Way of the Shadow monk and so forth.
Instead, his approach for the design team was a cleric who represents the rest and comfort of nighttime, and also the bravery to travel in darkness knowing there dangers out there and also an aspect of dreams. That was enough for me!
More and more in my experience I’m seeing cleric characters really begin to emerge more often realized as the servants of the gods they are. Cleric characters who really lean into their faith and what their deity represents are a lot of fun to play. Clerics in general are a wonderful base class, and as Jeremy pointed out in the video, at the end of the day clerics are designed to aid their companions.
The Twilight Domain cleric does so by bolstering and guiding friends through the darkness, and this can be physical or metaphysical. If you can’t turn to a cleric for guidance, who can you turn to?
Twilight clerics get a great collection of features. Several of their domain spells are buffs, which are my favorite kinds of spells. Giving party members boosts is never a wasted spell slot — there’s no chance of failure! They’re proficient with heavy armor and martial weapons so they’re well equipped to lead allies through the perilous dark. They’ve got a bunch of great ways to aid allies in the dark and on top of all that still get access to all the awesome cleric magic.
At first glance I thought the Eyes of Night feature was a too much; darkvision is already pretty prevalent or easy to overcome. But here again, Jeremy made an excellent point. Again citing clerics’ design intention of empowering allies, they thought it would be ho-hum to give only the Twilight Domain cleric themselves the ability to see in the dark. I like the idea of a party traveling in darkness, and the Twilight cleric being the only one who can see in the dark. So they’re the only one who sees the terrible dangers all around them. But they can grant this sight to others and face the dangers together.
I really like this Divine Domain and the next time I have a chance to play a new character, Twilight cleric tops the list.
There’s a lot to love here! Right off the bat, like the Circle of Spores druid this subclass offers an alternative use for Wild Shape. Full disclosure: I’ve never really dug Wild Shape. It’s a cool feature for sure, but the fantasy of transforming into animals is one I’ve habitually bounced off of. Instead, this druid can summon a fiery spirit companion with their Wild Shape resource! This small elemental creature brings a lot of possibilities. It’s useful in combat (yay!) but it’s also intelligent and capable.
The concept of a druid using controlled flames to cultivate nature and incorporating themes of rebirth in fire sounds cool, and 100% this Druid Circle fits a great niche in my own campaign setting, but I’m not seeing anything in the subclass that excites me too much I’m afraid.
While there are a few Circle spells I like to see, something like locate animals or plants or plant growth doesn’t feel like it fits. The strong theme of the Wildfire druid looks like causing fire damage and renewal. More utility for the wildfire spirit in higher level abilities like if it stuck around longer would be neat. Also it’s got two attack type of abilities. Since it’s regular attack does fire damage, it might be more interesting if the Fiery Teleportation left behind healing flames instead of another source of fire damage.
Wildfire druid is a great concept. Druids have long been associated with primal elemental power and the idea of renewal through fire is super interesting to explore! The way Unearthed Arcana describes Circle of Wildfire druids controlling flame to help nature evoked more ideas of using flame in perhaps weird ways and more versatility from the wildfire spirit, and that’s a direction I’d go to tweak this content for my own games.
Nevertheless, a fire druid with a fiery elemental companion sounds fun to play if only to get inside the head of a person so fascinated by fire and the deeper meanings inside the flames.
No other Unearthed Arcana has touched on a concept so serendipitously for Nerdarchy before! Last week our live chat and our newsletter were both about the power of words! Then the new playtest material came out and there was a whole new aspect to consider.
But I’m not gonna touch on any of that because Onomancy has been cracking me up all morning since I thought about Usidore the Blue. One of the cast of the Hello from the Magic Tavern podcast, Usidore the Blue is a wizard with many names, including many secret names so powerful that saying them aloud causes untold destruction.
Twilight cleric still tops my list of characters I’d like to play, but if I played an Onomancer then 100% I’d take inspiration from this character.
“I am Usidore! Wizard of the 12th Realm of Ephysiyies, Master of Light and Shadow, Manipulator of Magical Delights, Devourer of Chaos, Champion of the Great Halls of Terr’akkas. The elves know me as Fi’ang Yalok. The dwarves know me as Zoenen Hoogstandjes. And I am also known in the Northeast as Gaismunēnas Meistar.”
But another way I’m thinking about Onomancy is a real book nerd. A scholar’s scholar, if you will. From a worldbuilding and roleplaying perspective, Onomancy is huge. A whole new kind of magic is a momentous discovery, and the Unearthed Arcana does a good job of demonstrating the power of true names.
I mentioned how I wouldn’t get into the crunchy bits but here I have to mention something only because it crossed my mind while reading to comprehend what Onomancy wizards do exactly. It seems to me they’d spend a lot of time using their bonus action to try and learn names, then immediately breaking the charmed condition (if successful to begin with) by casting a spell at that same target. This process feels clunky and not very reliable to me.
The proficiency with calligrapher’s tools intrigues me, and I imagine an Onomancy wizard very carefully recorded all the names they acquire in a very special book. The desire to learn these names would be a primary motivation for adventure. But like Usidore the Blue, an Onomancy wizard might also earn and disseminate a bunch of other names for themselves. Maybe they yearn to discover what their own true name is, or they already know and by keeping their identity fluid they’re keeping it a mystery.
At the end of the day, whenever there is new Unearthed Arcana content it’s a lot of fun to look through and imagine the sorts of characters we might play, or how we can grow our game worlds and campaign settings by finding a place for these options. What’s your favorite subclass in Unearthed Arcana — Clerics, Druids, and Wizards? Also, do you think all the recent Unearthed Arcana documents are related to a future product? What do you think it might be?