Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted continue their look through Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount with a look at the new fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons subclasses in the latest book. Echo Knight fighter, Chronurgy Magic wizard and Graviturgy Magic wizard join the ranks of official subclasses in the 5E D&D multiverse and the same things interest me about these options as the new races in the book. Shove all the crunchy bits aside, new character options present fantastic opportunities for worldbuilding and whether it starts with a Dungeon Master or the players in the adventuring party, any component of character creation or development becomes a wealth of ways for DMs and players to collaborate, explore and expand on a campaign setting together.
Worldbuilding with subclasses in 5E D&D
Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount does a wonderful job presenting these new subclass options for fighters and wizards part and parcel with the campaign setting itself. Truth be told this is another situation, same as when Wizards of the Coast releases new Unearthed Arcana, or I look through another creator’s content or when we create our own material at Nerdarchy — what does this tell me about the world and the adventurers who live there? Player characters represent the bridge between the campaign world and the people around the table. Naturally these characters expand the scope of worldbuilding simply by existing. It’s silly to assume a Dungeon Master conceived every facet of a world, so the barbarians, clerics, rogues and sorcerers in the adventuring party beg the question how these character classes fit into the big picture.
Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount is no different, and players who choose the Echo Knight Martial Archetype for their fighter at 3rd level, or the Chronurgy or Graviturgy Magic Arcane Traditions for their wizard at 2nd level begin to shape your setting when you consider their specialized training. Lots of warriors wield swords and serve as mercenaries, soldiers and action oriented explorers. A warrior who manipulates secret magic to attack with shades of themselves from divergent timelines is, as Matt Mercer would undoubtedly describe, esoteric. Likewise, wizards across the multiverse share familiarity with the traditions of magic centered on the eight known schools, and there are certainly spells dealing with temporal and gravitic forces. But a wizard wholly focused on controlling these aspects must have received very special tutelage. In fact, even in the Wildemount setting these subclasses come from they’re considered extremely rare!
Revisiting the classics — fighter and wizard
At the end of the day can it get any more iconic than fighter and wizard? Cleric shares a spot there too and if I’m honest I was a bit surprised (and disappointed) there were no new Divine Domains in EGtW but I’ll live. Both of the classic D&D character classes get new options and like we saw in Eberron: Rising from the Last War the book does a wonderful job providing context in the setting. All three subclasses draw on the power of dunamis, a new kind of magic from the world of Exandria.
“Dunamis is the primal magical energy of potentiality and actuality, an anticipatory arcane force that helps shape the multiverse and might very well be what holds its elements together, like an infinite web of unseen tethers.” — from Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount
Can you see the worldbuilding going on here? I’d describe Exandria as a standard D&D setting in terms of magic. The 5E D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide does a good job covering magic in your world in chapter 1 and the world of Critical Role fits the mold. This new kind of magic, dunamis, acts as a fantastic device to expand magic in the setting. Creating new character options based on it presents a great way to introduce these new concepts. If you are playing games set in Wildemount, the book helps guide players and DMs to understand the purpose and place, largely related to a particular region and people. Players can use the lore surrounding these subclasses (and the Heroic Chronicle system) to add new dimensions to their characters. But what about players adventuring in other campaign settings?
“A mysterious and feared frontline warrior of the Kryn Dynasty, the Echo Knight has mastered the art of using dunamis to summon the fading shades of unrealized timelines to aid them in battle. Surrounded by echoes of their own might, they charge into the fray as a cycling swarm of shadows and strikes.”
Echo Knight fighters closest Martial Archetype are Arcane Archers and Eldritch Knight, related in the fact all three employ magic in their fighting techniques. In this sense including Echo Knights in your own campaign setting offers a window to a larger organization where the character learned these unusual methods. This is a perfect place for players and DMs to collaborate.
If characters begin a campaign at 1st level and a players makes their desire to choose the Echo Knight Martial Archetype when they reach 3rd level, creating some context can be incredibly fun and rewarding. In our Fane of the Frost Wyrm adventure we created a new Primal Path for barbarians and the quest is designed for 2nd level characters so after it is completed they can level up and choose the new option presented in the material. Arranging a similar situation for an Echo Knight provides an experience for the whole party.
Working together, a DM and player can develop some ideas for Echo Knights in the setting. Asking some questions and coming up with answers together adds a rich detail to a campaign setting.:
- Who are the keepers of this knowledge?
- Are there many Echo Knights, or only a few?
- How does someone find them and learn the techniques?
- Do Echo Knights have particular enemies?
- Does the organization have rules, duties or other obligations?
- Do members include other classes and nonadventurers, or strictly Echo Knight fighters?
The first thing that comes to my mind is an order of warriors who protect Time. Since the subclass revolves around pulling shades of yourself from divergent timelines into your own to fight, I imagine Echo Knights maintain a very secret location where they monitor the multiverse. A character would have to prove themselves not only as a capable fighter but also someone who can aid the organization’s mission. Together with the player it would be a lot of fun for a DM to work on some of the details, and that way the player becomes more invested in their character and the larger world. Answering just a handful of questions together, like the examples above, gives the player an active role in worldbuilding and provides a DM with inspiration, adventure hooks, NPCs and more.
“Focusing on the manipulation of time, those who follow the Chronurgy tradition learn to alter the pace of reality to their liking. Using the ramping of anticipatory dunamis energy, these mages can bend the flow of time as adroitly as a skilled musician plays an instrument, lending themselves and their allies an advantage in the blink of an eye.”
Time magic! This concept has long been a favorite of mine and 5E D&D wizards who choose this Arcane Tradition receive some fantastic features. For me any new wizard subclass, which by default lies outside focused study on an established school of magic, translates into a rarity. Collaborative worldbuilding between a DM and player is almost a requirement for this one.
The focus for this collaboration would be working together to determine why a character desires to unlock these arcane mysteries. Becoming a wizard is difficult work enough. Discovering a completely different kind of magic and devoting your studies to magically manipulating time speaks to a very specific goal, and that’s where I’d start. Here’s some example questions a DM and player can answer together to introduce Chronurgy Magic into a campaign:
- Why does the character want to control or manipulate time?
- Did something happen in the character’s past, family history or distant past they wish to alter?
- Is there a great event foretold and the character desires to hasten, avoid or otherwise change the outcome?
- Is Chronurgy magic a new development or ancient knowledge? Is it widely known or kept secret?
- Is the character the only one with such magic, or are there others?
- Do Chronurgists take on responsibility for guarding their own timeline?
When I consider manipulating time I can’t help but think of the Marvel Comics villain Kang the Conqueror. A master of time travel Kang has muddled with time so much and created so many divergent versions of himself that there’s a Council of Cross-Time Kangs who meet to monitor all the various Kangs and their activity. The group was tricked by one of their own future counterparts into eliminating all divergent Kangs so his destiny ended with him becoming the one who tricked them in the first place. Is that amazing inspiration for a campaign villain or what?
“Understanding and mastering the forces that draw bodies of matter together or drive them apart, the students of the Graviturgy arcane tradition learn to further bend and manipulate the violent energy of gravity to their benefit, and the terrible detriment of their enemies.”
More good stuff, this time around wizards blur the line between magic and science even further and begin controlling fundamental forces of the universe (or multiverse as the case may be). The concepts here are Big Ideas and suggest wizards deeply understand not only magic but physics. Archimedes, Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton come to mind, and since we’re considering revolutionary scientists and thinkers whose work changed the world it segues nicely into worldbuilding.
For this collaboration a good place to start is thinking about if your campaign setting is ready for such new thinking. Looking at our own human history, scientific philosophies and breakthroughs shake up the status quo and people in power tend not to like this. In a 5E D&D campaign setting there’s even more at stake beyond disrupted established knowledge of the way things work in the physical world. Wizards themselves, who can control reality with magic, might take umbrage at upstart mages developing new ideas about science and arcane power. Is the Graviturgy wizard in your campaign ready to take on this position?
- What is the general consensus among wizards related to Graviturgy?
- How do academia, politics, religion and arcane study feel about this new approach to magic?
- Are other Graviturgists respected? Ridiculed? Living in seclusion or celebrated in society?
- Have Graviturgy applications fundamentally changed anything in the world?
- What is the character’s ultimate goal in studying Graviturgy?
- Are there opposing factions seeking to stifle this Arcane Tradition?
The opportunities to develop Graviturgy in your campaign open a window into all sorts of adventures, NPCs and situations. The character may need to present and defend their research and magic to ruling bodies of wizards. Governments may try to suppress these wizards — who are they to challenge accepted notions? A discovery by a powerful Graviturgist about the nature of the world itself can lead to all sorts of adventures. Maybe the campaign world is like Krypton and a small group of these wizards learns the planet is in peril but no one will believe them. The adventuring party, guided by the Graviturgy wizard in the group, could be working to learn more and convince powerful entities of the danger.
Collaborative worldbuilding for any character
The ideas explored here work well for me whenever players introduce new character options in my own campaign setting. In our Nerdarchy team game all the characters use options we’ve created in our products, videos or posts. It’s fun and rewarding to explore how these fit and any implications they represent. Dave’s character is a Circle of the Beyond druid, Megan plays a College of Rime bard, Ted is playing a Cat Lord warlock and Steven a Way of the Four Elements Reborn monk. All of those character options are available for free at the moment in one way or another.
You can do the same collaboration between players and DMs with the standard subclasses too. Even in a highly detailed campaign setting, no DM can account for an entire world of cultures, societies and civilizations so working together to develop how each character fits in the world becomes extremely valuable. For players it’s a chance to make their own mark and imagine their character beyond the sheet with all the modifiers, features and gear. And DMs get an opportunity to pick the players’ brains for fresh ideas. Hooking players with adventures grown directly from their individual characters is a fantastic way to get them invested.
Free content for 5E D&D
Before wrapping this up I want to let you know about some free content out there. While everyone does their best to follow guidelines and regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the tabletop roleplaying game community advocates more online gaming together with friends and family via the internet. Nerdarchy could not agree more! We made some free related content over on the website, and in case you missed it we created a special coupon to get more free stuff from our store — no strings attached! More about it here.
The Critical Role team also made a portion of Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount free too! The adventure Frozen Sick from the book is available online for free.
“Something is killing people in Palebank Village, and if the characters don’t stop it, they might be next. “Frozen Sick” is an adventure that takes characters from 1st to 3rd level and introduces them to the continent’s Biting North region—the bleak arctic realms of the Greying Wildlands and Eiselcross.”
During the course of the adventure, perhaps a wizard in the party becomes a Chronurgy or Graviturgy wizard and once it is complete maybe a fighter chooses the Echo Knight Martial Archetype. You can find Frozen Sick over on D&D Beyond here. In addition, Critical Role and Wizards of the Coast teamed up with Roll20 to offer Frozen Sick through the virtual tabletop as part of their Stay at Home, Play at Home initiative. You can find the adventure including four maps with monsters already placed for free in the Roll20 marketplace here.
Whether your adventurers take place in Wildemount, Forgotten Realms or any other campaign setting including your own world, collaborative worldbuilding between DMs and players enriches your games and gives all the participants fresh ideas and concepts to work with plus adds new dimensions and details to the setting. Everything from a Champion fighter to the most complicated multiclass character of all time can represent more to your world than an individual character. Collaborate and find out how, and of course, stay nerdy!