With the arrival of the new adventure Shadow of the Dragon Queen (affiliate link) for 5th Edition, we get several interesting and powerful character creation options. Notably, we get feat chains: a mechanic that hasn’t existed for over a decade of Dungeons and Dragons where one feat is a prerequisite for another feat. These were one of the big points of balancing and build complexity in 3.x, so seeing them come back even as WoTC is leaning harder into making first-time access to D&D easier and easier is an interesting choice. They’ve gated that behind requiring you to be in a Dragonlance campaign to even take them, so it feels like they’re saying “if you want the easiest version of the game while still maintaining player power balance between heavily optimized people and not, you can’t choose this setting.”
The other big thing is something they seem to be trialing for One D&D (hm, books at the end of an edition trialing things for the next edition, that feels familiar): every character getting a feat at first level. The setting-specific backgrounds grant setting-specific feats, but they also recognize that maybe you don’t want to play one of those backgrounds for whatever reason, so you’re given a pair of feats you can choose one of to start with if you select any other background. In a clear power spike compared to even what the One D&D Unearthed Arcana looked like, Dragonlance campaigns also give you an additional free feat at level 4 which can include staples like Sentinel and Warcaster, two very powerful feats that some builds struggle to fit in while staying optimized around the fundamental math.
This unfortunately means that the new feats (and the backgrounds by extension) have to be compared against getting free access to very powerful abilities.
Table of Contents
- Conclusion: Do these stand up to the other free feats?
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released, and the article will be updated accordingly as time allows.
The thing that makes the Dragonlance backgrounds immediately so powerful is that, because it doesn’t say you can’t, we can assume that you can use all the typical rules for customizing backgrounds available to the rest of them. This means that it’s basically just “this feat tree for free on top of whatever regular background stuff you want.” You’re free to keep the background’s Feature (feats in this case) but rearrange the proficiencies.
An interesting piece of this is that the backgrounds are also prerequisites for the feats, so you have to take them if you want access. This means that reviewing the backgrounds individually is somewhat pointless, so let’s dive into the feats.
Level 1 Feats
Initiate of High Sorcery
This, of course, draws immediate comparison to Magic Initiate and, while not strictly speaking a direct upgrade given that your spell options are locked to a set of choices off a list, the flexibility and power gained from it following the new templating of letting you select the mental stat it’s tied to and casting them again with your own slots is much, much greater than what you get from gaining the same spells through Magic Initiate. It also grants two 1st-level spells rather than two cantrips, which has upsides and downsides, but it does mean you get more free spells per day.
Nuitari is a hard sell. Hex is incredible, but none of the other choices are really worth taking. Just grab Fey Touched at level 4 instead. Lunitari, on the other hand, is pretty good. Getting access to a couple arcane staples on a divine caster (or on a Charisma caster that can’t afford to take them normally) is a great way to cover functionality gaps that can, in one instance, literally kill your party.
But then there’s Solinari. Putting free Shield on any number of builds is goofy. It lets Forge Clerics easily compete with Bladesingers for the highest AC out there and provides divine casters access to Comprehend Languages, something they greatly appreciate. I recently had to resort to having my Cleric cast Tongues and listen to an Orc read a letter that was written in Dwarven (which my DM let work because Orcish uses the Dwarven alphabet and so could be read phonetically) because we had no arcane caster in the party to be able to use this critical adventuring tool.
All in all, I think this will see a lot of use for many traditional caster builds who don’t care about Warcaster.
Squire of Solamnia
Compared to the caster feat, the martial one falls short. One bullet point will not matter to many characters ever, either because they don’t want to deal with how complicated mounts are and so they don’t use them, or because their DM doesn’t want to deal with how complicated mounts are and so they don’t allow them. Given that the feat is only two bullet points, one of them being irrelevant to everyone except some cavalier fighters is a pretty big deal. It’s also the case that, even for characters that do enjoy being mounted, most of them want to stay mounted all the time, so this “benefit” is questionable at best.
That means the entire good of this feat hinges on the second bullet point, and it’s almost good enough to carry the feat by itself. Advantage on demand is an incredible ability. Limiting it to PB/day feels like a good attempt to balance it, but they knew it wasn’t strong enough to carry the whole feat by itself, so they tacked on an extra d8 damage which feels like a kludge to make people want to take this over other options.
There are definitely builds that would love this feat. Rogues, especially Elven Accuracy Rogues, are likely to overwhelmingly take this over other backgrounds. Get Piercer, get free advantage with an extra die on top, crit, and throw a literal brick of dice at your DM.
I can see other uses for it too, but they’re less omnipresent than Initiate of High Sorcery. Battle Masters might want it so they don’t feel shoehorned into Precise Strike. Archery-focused Horizon Walkers could make good use of one big attack. But these are individual subclasses, not whole archetypes.
One other thing to call out is that, unlike Lucky for instance, this feat doesn’t get you anything but the extra damage if you already have advantage, and you have to decide you’re going to use it before you roll the die. Lucky also allows you to use the rerolls for saves, making it much more valuable as you gain levels when individual attacks stop mattering as much but failing a single save can kill you outright.
Level 4 Feats
: The Nuitari chain continues to be a hard sell. Anything that would want Hex doesn’t care so much about a free Necromancy or Enchantment spell. The best thing I can see to do with it is to put Crown of Madness on something like a Forge Cleric and walk up next to someone so it’s like Compelled Duel but weird. The bonus thing to do with Hit Dice is interesting, but, even though doing some more damage up front to a high-value target could be a good use of a resource casters don’t always spend, it doesn’t make this worth taking over either other choice.
Moon Druid so you can be a hard to hit tank, Enlarge/Reduce, Invisibility, Shadow Blade, Spider Climb, Spike Growth; the possibilities are nearly endless. Combine that with reliable talent on demand and you make a pretty strong case for this version.: Lunitari, on the other hand, gets you some excellent things. More arcane staples to put on divine casters like Blur or Mirror Image on your
: Once again, though, we get to Solitari. For reasons I can’t pretend to understand, one of the most broken spells in the game, Pass Without Trace, got coded Abjuration. It’s incredible and hard to get outside of nature-themed classes. If that doesn’t float your boat, Aid, Augury, Lesser Restoration, or See Invisibility are all great choices depending on your class’s access to them normally. Then, just tack on a truly astonishing secondary feature. It’s basically Healing Word, but better scaling, and as a Reaction. Plus, since the target never actually takes the damage, it reduces the severity or possibly even removes the need for them to make a Concentration save. In my opinion, this is the clear winner of the three.
All the Knight feats are hybrid feats, but the choices of ability score are strange.
: Only Knight of the Crown will help you keep pace with the fundamental math if you’re a martial character, but, then again, that means you could take Crown for free at 4 and take something else that doesn’t provide a stat bump (GWM, Polearm Master, Sharpshooter, etc.) and still stay on track. Apart from the hybrid aspect though, it’s basically just arguably-worse Martial Adept. You don’t have to sacrifice one of your own attacks as you would if you took Commander’s Strike and some other maneuver, but you do still have to sacrifice a bonus action, and you only get it PB/day.
: The next option is geared toward Paladins and maybe Spores druids. If you’re lacking things to do with your bonus action, this is a decent choice, but, again, it’s limited use. This makes it a hard sell when the same builds would probably benefit equally well from something like Shield Master or Telekinetic, and you could instead take Knight of the Crown and Shield Master at this level as a strength-based character and stay on fundamental math track.
Conquest Paladin that really, really doesn’t want to multiclass for Undead Warlock for some reason. Between this and Martial Adept you could probably cobble together enough fear effects to make it work, but that’s going really out of your way to avoid optimization. Frightened is a good debuff, but the duration just isn’t long enough without additional benefits.: The final option I can’t see much use for outside of a
While Augury is a pretty cool spell as I alluded to above, the rest of this feat is weird. It’s a mechanical choice tied to alignment, which is vanishingly rare in 5e (I can only think of Divine Souls for another). That said, it’s the easiest way I can think of to get Healing Word onto an arcane caster if you’ve managed to make it through 4 levels without having a standard healer, and that is a powerful thing. This is also a way to put Armor of Agathys on any character, which could see quite a bit of use on any Gish build. Outside of those uses, though, I think you’ll probably want to just use one of the adept trees instead.
Conclusion: Do these stand up to the other free feats?
In my opinion, the caster tree absolutely does, and the edge cases for Divinely Favored do. I don’t think any of the martial feats are particularly worth taking, but, if you’re playing something that doesn’t care about any of the replacements the book has to offer, go for it.