Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted discuss Unearthed Arcana 2020, Subclasses Part 3. The latest playtest document for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons includes new subclasses for the artificer, druid and ranger. During our look through of this Unearthed Arcana it was the Circle of the Stars druid’s Starry Form feature that sparked a thought leading to uncovering the upcoming Mythic Odysseys of Theros book several days before the title leaked and was then officially announced. I wonder what the next leak will reveal? Until then, while Dave and Ted go over the Armorer, Circle of the Stars and Fey Wanderer in the video, over here we’ll continue looking at these 5E D&D playtest subclasses with curiosity about what sort of characters they might represent. So let’s get into it.
Way back in 2016 almost four years to the day in one of our all time top 10 posts, Dave speculated about a sixth edition D&D.
“The current version of the game has so much potential with the way it was designed. It’s very modular so I could see certain components taken out swapped out for different mechanic sets. The areas this works easily are race, class, background, multiclass and feats. That encompasses virtually every aspect of the game. For instance what if a new rule book came out for different genres of D&D that replaced or added to all the races, classes, feats, equipment and backgrounds to give it that feel? That is practically a new game. Sure, it’s been done in the past but I feel like it would be easier with 5E D&D than any other previous edition of the game. The way each module of 5E D&D works it just feels right to pull them apart and put them back together in different ways.”
The 5E D&D design team has grown since this time, adding new voices and perspectives to the content and direction of the game. The results are tremendous benefits to players around the world. Like Dave wrote, the 5E D&D system’s modular design means players can customize our experiences, settings and adventures in a way that’s baked into the game like no previous edition. Modular content works on both micro and macro levels. An individual character created using options beyond the Player’s Handbook presents an opportunity to bring something different to a standard setting. On a larger scale including a new option can represent a unique twist in a setting, an organization with special features, hidden or secret knowledge for characters to discover and many other ways that can become vibrant parts of a campaign world.
We know for certain some of the Unearthed Arcana subclasses will appear in Mythic Odysseys of Theros. The College of Eloquence bard and Oath of Glory paladin (Oath of Heroism in the UA) fit perfectly into the lands of Theros, a realm shaped by deities and the deeds of heroes. And I’ll be shocked if the Circle of the Stars doesn’t show up there too. Armorer artificers, Wild Soul barbarians, College of Creation bards, Unity clerics and Clockwork Soul sorcerers feel appropriate for a Throne of Eldraine inspired 5E D&D book. This Magic: the Gathering set focuses on a fairy tale setting and it quickly became one of my favorite M:tG sets ever so I’d love to see this speculation come true.
Between all the official 5E D&D content out there now, plus Unearthed Arcana options and the countless homebrew and third party creations available the design team definitely knocked it out of the park with the modular foundation of this edition of the game. Players can cobble together our own specific modules of content for our characters, adventures and campaign settings whether they’re lands inspired by mythological heroes, domains of dread, scorched worlds of dangerous psionics or entirely homemade stuff like our Nerdarchy team game.
The core of 5E D&D revolves around characters going on adventures, finding treasure and facing monsters together while growing in power as their story unfolds. The storytelling specifics take limitless forms, and each new Unearthed Arcana playtest document expands the possibilities for the kinds of stories players can tell. Who devotes their time, energy and purpose to forging a second skin, seeking to understand cosmic truths or walking the line between reality and whimsy?
“An artificer who specializes as an Armorer modifies armor to function almost like a second skin. The armor is enhanced to hone the artificer’s magic, unleash potent attacks, and generate a formidable defense. The artificer bonds with this armor, becoming one with it even as they experiment with it and refine its magical capabilities.”
There’s no denying this Artificer Specialist borrows heavily from the Iron Man tradition of characters constructing powerful suits of armor with integrated weaponry and features. Looking beyond the obvious comparison I can’t help but think this character either holds onto a great deal of fear, or puts their mind towards overcoming a physical challenge. The basis for this entire subclass starts with turning a suit of heavy armor into Power Armor, which you can then customize with increasingly powerful features. But for me the basic points of the Power Armor feature tell me everything I want to know.
- If the armor normally has a Strength requirement, the power armor lacks this requirement for you.
- You can use the power armor as a spellcasting focus for your artificer spells.
- The power armor attaches to you and can’t be removed against your will. It also expands to cover your entire body, and it replaces any missing limbs, functioning identically to a body part it is replacing.
The last point in particular speaks to me of a character who feels vulnerable. When an Armorer dons their magical Power Armor they’re creating a barrier between themselves and the world. Why? Obviously protection is a concern, and adventurers regularly find themselves in harm’s way. But there’s a zillion ways to protect yourself in a 5E D&D world. Focusing all your Intelligence towards creating a second skin to hide within makes me think this character’s got a bigger issue. Perhaps they experienced painful heartbreak, and their Power Armor is a physical representation of the hurt they feel inside.
Or maybe the Armorer has a mangled form they wish to conceal from the world.
I can’t help but think the most interesting aspect of this Unearthed Arcana subclass involves developing reasons how and why the character chooses to create this second skin. They might even wish to protect the outside world from themselves. Now that’s an interesting notion.
“An ancient lineage, the Circle of Stars allows druids to draw on the power of starlight. These druids have tracked heavenly patterns since time immemorial, discovering secrets hidden amid the constellations. By revealing and understanding these secrets, the Circle of the Stars seeks to harness the powers of the cosmos.”
I don’t care what the features might be, whenever I see any sort of cosmic subclasses I’m hooked. I love this sort of thing. Making it a druid Circle with a lot of support features wins me over even more. Wrapping it up with a variety of options for your Starry Form that uses your Wild Shape feature and tying things off with another great inclusion of visual representation incorporated into the ability feels like a specially gift wrapped subclass for me.
Any time a character concept draws on concepts like the vastness of space I imagine these characters possess broad — and strange — perspective. They’re looking to the cosmos and growing their understanding of the big picture. The scurrying of individual creatures might seem insignificant. At the very least I imagine a Circle of the Stars druid gives off an otherworldly vibe. They’ll speak in visionary terms, maybe in the third person, with an aloof quality. It’s a good bet they’ll see omens in everything. They might perceive everything as part of a great design, with the power to nudge things where they need to be or foretell events as they may come to pass.
I’d like to see the interaction between a Circle of the Stars druid and Norn warlock. Not mechanically, but narratively. The Norn Otherworldly Patron deals with fate and destiny, sort of in the same wheelhouse as this subclass. Circle of Stars also strikes me as such a broad concept to interact with a character’s background. A hermit’s Discovery feature could represent insight into the cosmos and any scholarly character may have come across astrological lore leading them down this path. For a different take a character like a soldier, noble, urchin or other character with a place in society might see the Circle of Stars as a way to leave that place behind and discover a greater destiny.
The Circle of Stars druid was far and away my favorite Unearthed Arcana subclass in a while, and that’s saying something considering how many amazing things we’ve seen. But I use the past tense because after watching the final video and hearing Dave and Ted discuss these new 5E D&D options I adore the final Unearthed Arcana subclass from this go around.
“As a Fey Wanderer, you guard the border between the Feywild and the Material Plane, guiding the lost out of the Feywild and preventing dangerous fey from damaging the Material Plane. Your experience with both domains makes you an exceptional negotiator between inhabitants of these worlds, as you understand both humanoid mindsets and the wiles of the fey courts.”
It’s a toss up what I like more: cosmic stuff or fey stuff and based on the 5E D&D games I’ve run or played in the last year or so, fey stuff comes out way ahead. The Fey Wanderer ranger charmed the heck out of me. Incidentally this is another Unearthed Arcana subclass I can easily see including in a Throne of Eldraine book, should such a thing ever come to pass.
There are other fey themed character options in 5E D&D but wowie wow wow this one tops them all. Everything short of a feature making your creature type fey gets rolled into this Ranger Archetype and I see this more as the Feywild choosing you at 3rd level. One of the interesting things about fey is while they appear glamourous and full of whimsy, they can be truly terrifying too. Remember when Frodo asked if Galadriel would take the One Ring?
The broad scope of fey personalities means the Fey Wanderer represents a wide variety of character personalities but more than likely extreme versions. Powerful emotions and passion fuel fey and a Fey Wanderer might come across self absorbed. In the text these rangers are meant to guard the border between the Feywild and the Material Plane, but come on — they’re practically fey themselves! This is a terrific avenue to explore for a character who might find themselves gaining more understanding and respect for the creature they’re meant to guard against.
With so many Unearthed Arcana documents including a ton of subclass options yet to see official release, I’m frankly astounded. The way 5E D&D continues to evolve is super exciting. I love the way the design team’s growth translates into imaginative new content for our games. Providing players with new options keeps things fresh. When players have as many tools in the toolbox as a Dungeon Master I think it helps promote more collaboration at the table. With very thematic subclass options players can help shape campaign settings by telegraphing interests. A player who comes to the table with an Armorer artificer tells the group the idea of arcane technology appeals to them. Players with Fey Wanderers probably enjoy fey related adventures and Circle of the Stars druids might be concerned with Big Picture stuff.
I definitely enjoyed Unearthed Arcana 2020, Subclasses Part 3. I’m pretty sure Circle of the Stars druid will be in Mythic Odysseys of Theros, and I hope there’s a Throne of Eldraine book in the future too. The storytelling potential continues to expand for 5E D&D and I feel like more character options gives players more voice and resources to interact with each other and Dungeon Masters. Have you checked out this new playtest material? What’s your favorite, and least favorite? Check out Unearthed Arcana 2020 — Subclasses Part 3 here.