Round 2 – Introduction
Just in time to still be in September, we’ve received the second round of Unearthed Arcana playtest material for the One D&D playtest. If you’re just learning about all of this, check our assessment of Unearthed Arcana: Character Origins. Keep in mind that this document is intended to be used in conjunction with the previous UA document, with the exception of the Rules Glossary (only use the newest one) and anything that replaces stuff from the previous documents (feats, etc.).
This month’s One D&D playtest document covers “expert classes”, which includes the Bard, the Ranger, and the Rogue. WotC has also updated the rules glossary, changing some of the new experimental core rules. As we did last month, we’ll dig into what changed, what it means, and what we think.
These classes are linked by filling the party’s highly-skilled role, iconically filled by the rogue in your classic cleric/fighter/rogue/wizard party. Mechanically, they’re linked by the Expertise feature. Where previously the Bard and the Rogue both got Expertise by default, the Ranger only got it via an Optional Class Feature or by taking a feat.
Please keep in mind that this is playtest content and we’re still nearly two full years away from the expected publication date for One D&D. Some of the stuff in these playtests may be intentionally weird, unbalanced, or otherwise problematic. We’re also missing a lot of context since we haven’t seen the rest of the playtest versions of classes. Be patient. Be polite. Share constructive feedback once the feedback survey opens.
Table of Contents
- Round 2 – Introduction
- Rules Glossary v2
- Spells and Spell Lists
- What’s Ahead
- Thoughts From the RPGBOT Team
Rules Glossary v2
Despite being all the way at the back of the document, we’re going to start with the rules glossary.
The text “Strength Check (Acrobatics or Athletics)” is buried in the explanation of ability checks. Curious. This could mean changes to skills, or WotC might just be leaning into the idea of mix-and-match ability score+skill pairings.
“Several of the named Actions—such as Hide and Influence—include Ability Checks.” Named actions are a new thing for 5e. 3.x had named actions, PF2’s actions are all named, and many other RPGs use named actions tied to skills. Having that mechanical certainty works super well, though it does require referencing rules text frequently. The difficulty comes with how many actions there are and how they’re spread across a mountain of supplements, which is what made 3.5 such a bloated mess late in its lifespan. This can absolutely work, and it’s working great for PF2 because they had all of 3.5 and PF1 to draw from, so it’s entirely possible that WotC can also make this work.
“The default DC for a check is 15” means that the prior expectation of succeeding on an 8 is out the window. A level 1 character with +3 from their ability score and proficiency in the check will succeed 50% of the time rather than 60% as was expected previously, although this is partially offset for the presented classes by all of them getting some Expertise at level 1. This might mean that you can fail a Stealth check to Hide regardless of whether or not you beat your observing opponent’s roll because not hitting a 15 means you don’t gain the Hidden condition.
Armor proficiency has been renamed armor training. This is likely due to many players being confused about where to apply their Proficiency Bonus to their AC. The answer has always been “you don’t”, which made armor unusual.
“You can equip or unequip one Weapon before or after any attack you make as part of this Action,”. This should make throwing weapons considerably easier since you can do this for each attack made. No more getting Extra Attack and deciding that throwing weapons suck.
Exhaustion is now numeric, running from 1 to 10. You die at 10, and until then you subtract the value from all of your d20 tests and your save DCs. It’s now an actual problem for spellcasters and berserker barbarians are no longer a deathtrap for new players to fall into.
“If you gain Expertise, you gain it in one Skill in which you have Proficiency.” No more expertise in tools?
Flight has gotten a buff that it did not need. Being knocked prone no longer causes you to fall. If you can hover, you can stay aloft while incapacitated, which is… odd. Conditions which make you incapacitated include paralyzed and unconscious. They’re generally off buttons for a creature. But they didn’t update status conditions in this document, so maybe there’s more in store.
Grapple hasn’t changed from the previous UA. I think I’m happy with that.
Help saw some wording changes. You can now only Help with ability checks if you’re proficient in an appropriate skill. This means that for ability checks where a skill does’t apply you simply can’t Help people. Hopefully things like breaking down doors are an Athletics check.
Hidden is a condition now! We discussed stealth mechanics on the podcast, and how well they work in PF2 by comparison. Adopting a formal, specifically-defined condition makes things much easier to manage mechanically. Similarly, the rules for hiding were improved. There’s now a minimum DC, so no more rolling a 10 to Hide and having an enemy with 8 Wisdom walk right past you while your toes stick out from under a curtain. It also means that level 1 characters who have 16 Dexterity proficiency in Stealth still only have a 50% chance to hide from any random passerby. Surprise parties are going to be very difficult.
Personally, I think a static DC to hide is both pointless and frustrating. There’s already an effective minimum DC of roughly 10 because of Passive Perception. Raising the DC to 15 just means that stealth is pointlessly difficult at low levels.
You also explicitly don’t roll an opposed check when creatures look for you, instead using the result of your initial roll as the DC for Wisdom (Perception) checks. This exact mechanic was unclear in the 2014 rules, but it’s how I’ve always handled things. It works well in my experience. There’s no explicit mention of how Passive Perception works here, either.
Incapacitated was updated. It’s not much different, but you do get Disadvantage on Initiative now.
“Influence” is another new named action covering social interactions. It notably includes the explicit text “it isn’t mind control”, which is a surprisingly necessary bit of rules text. This rules section takes up a full page, but provides much better detail on handling social situations than we’ve gotten previously.
Invisible got a very minor improvement: Being invisible now grants you Advantage on initiative. Personally I think that’s weird. They still haven’t fixed the issue that RAW invisibility’s effect on attacks doesn’t care if your target can see you anyway.
Jumping got weirder. For one thing, it’s now an action as opposed to simply being a part of movement. That, combined with the fact that it doesn’t consume any of your move speed means that it’s less a way to move and more the Dash action with a risk/reward mechanic. “On a failed check, you leap 5 feet horizontally or vertically.” We’re well into superheroic jump distances here. You jump your test result in feet horizontally or half that vertically, so a result of 20 means jumping 10 feet vertically. Any random human child can jump high enough into the air to suffer falling damage and kill themselves. Won’t someone think of the hypothetical children?
The “Light” weapon property was updated, and two-weapon fighting is rolled right into the property. Notably, the additional attack no longer eats your bonus action. WotC knows how big of a buff this is, and Craword acknowledged that the Bonus Action tax was a huge problem for two-weapon fighting builds that they wanted to remove.
They also used the text “That extra attack must be made with a different Light weapon in the other hand”, which feels like a poor choice of words since Thri-Kreen are a thing. This means it no longer only applies to melee weapons. Darts and Hand Crossbows also have the Light property. This makes Crossbow Expert less amazing for ranged builds (though it’s still required to ignore the Loading property), but it also means you don’t get Dex to damage on the bonus attack unless you take it. Still an easy way to apply Hunter’s Mark/Bugbear Surprise/etc. though.
Long rests have been clarified. Rather than making every “reduce your hp maximum” ability specify when it ended, that’s now standardized. Characters also get back both full hp and all hit dice on a long rest, so you no longer need two days to recover all of your hit dice after a hard day of adventuring. Long rests not being good enough never struck me as a problem, but the recovery rate for hit dice disproportionately punished martial characters.
“Magic” is now an action, which is weird because it’s not a verb. You can say “I attack” or “I move”, but “I magic” is weird. I anticipate years of memes about wizards not understanding basic English grammar, and if I’m wrong on that I’ll magic my hat.
Movement was clarified to use more specific, technical language. It also specifies what happens when climbing/swimming through difficult terrain. The two effects stack additively rather than multiplicatively. That sounds weirdly specific to care about, but 5e doesn’t have a general rule for stacking multipliers, so it may be more noteworthy than we realize. “Move” does not address standing from prone, which is worrying. I assume it’s intended to work the same way as it does under the 2014 rules, but it’s not mentioned, although the Athlete feat mentions that standing from prone with the feat only expends 5 feet of movement so it probably won’t change very much.
The ability to mix and match movement types was removed. That rule was always painful to apply, though the change does feel like an unfortunate limitation. The edge of a body of water now requires a separate Move to cross unless you’re using your regular speed to swim at half pace before walking the rest of the way. Example: Imagine that you have a Swim Speed of 30 feet and a Speed of 30 feet. You are 10 feet from the edge of a pool. If you use your Swim Speed to reach the edge, your movement is done and you need to spend your Action to Move again. If you use your regular Speed, you can move at double cost to the edge of the pool, climb out, then have 10 feet of movement remaining.
Ritual Casting is no longer a limited feature. If you can cast a ritual, you can cast it as a ritual. This adds a lot of utility to spellcasters and encourages using spells like Alarm which were basically only worthwhile for wizards.
Search is a new named action for making a Wisdom check, and covers searching for multiple things listed in a table. Notably it does not make any mention of Investigation for finding stuff because that is an Intelligence check (see “Study”). The confusion there has been a long-standing issue.
Slowed remains uncharted from the previous doc. I missed this last time, but since it uses the term “Speed” with a capital S, RAW being Slowed doesn’t affect your other movement types. I believe this is an error.
Study is another new named action for making an Intelligence check. It seems to work like PF2’s Recall Knowledge where you look at a thing or try to remember something to come up with facts about a subject. This covers knowledge skills (Arcana, History, etc.) but also includes Investigation because it’s an Intelligence check. Investigation seems to be the knowledge skill for mechanisms, puzzles, and riddles. I have no idea how this affects traps, but it seems like a Search using Perception would find the trap and a Study using Investigation would give you some trivia about traps. I’m still not quite sure the exact benefit of this action. It seems vague.
Tool proficiencies are largely unchanged, but the Xanathar’s rule for stacking skill+tool proficiencies to get Advantage is included, which means it’s now a core rule.
Unarmed strikes have not changed from the previous Unearthed Arcana because each new glossary supersedes all previous UAs so every changed rule must be reprinted in each new UA to be part of the playtest. The revised Grappler feat appearing in this UA refers to the new Unarmed Strikes rules and thus they have to be reprinted here. They still seem too powerful, in my opinion.
D20 Tests, Natural 1s, Natural 20s, Critical Hits
The controversial rules for automatic success/failure are gone, as are the changes to critical hits.
The first One D&D playtest doc granted inspiration when you rolled a natural 20. That has been inverted, instead granting inspiration on a natural 1. WotC is apparently trying to get a feel for what people prefer, but they definitely want inspiration to be easier to get without relying on the DM to grant it.
Inspiration has also been renamed to “Heroic Inspiration”. Hopefully that helps disambiguate it from Bardic Inspiration. I’ve had some new players get the two confused recently.
“Finally, to use the multiclassing rules, you must have at least a score of 13 in the primary ability of all your classes” implies that multiclassing is still a thing and works largely the same as it does in the 2014 rules.
Multiclassing is definitely still a thing. Each class has a section on multiclassing. It appears to follow the same rules as the 2014 PHB, and each class has an included section detailing exactly what you get when you multiclass into that class. No more weird section hidden at the end of a later chapter.
We’ve included links to the interview videos with Jeremy Crawford discussing the changes to the classes. Watching them is informative because Crawford details some of the design thinking behind the changes, including details like knowing that the updated ranger may be more powerful than they actually want it to be or that people really like rogues as they exist in the 2014 rules.
The new playtest document introduces the concept of “class groups”. These are thematically linked classes which share some fundamental features and a role within the party. We know of three named groups and can guess at a fourth:
- Experts: Classes with lots of skills. Artificer, Bard, Ranger, and Rogue.
- Mages: Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard.
- Priests: Cleric, Druid, Paladin.
- Warriors: Barbarian, Fighter, Monk.
Class groups may feel similar to the explicitly listed roles used in 4th edition. However, rather than describing their role in combat (defender, leader, striker, etc.), they describe a broad general role in the party. We’ve long used a system of party roles to describe broad capabilities for character builds, as well as drawing comparison to classes in the iconic cleric/fighter/rogue/wizard party. Codifying this concept may hit a good balance between overly-specific like 4e’s combat roles while also giving players a good idea of how to balance a party.
WotC plans to use class groups as prerequisites for certain feats and magic items, and rather than limiting those things to named classes they can limit them to class groups, allowing backwards compatibility if they later introduce new classes. We’ve only seen one non-core class in 5e’s run so far, but there’s no reason that couldn’t change. I imagine it’s also going to be helpful for homebrew and third-party designers.
Paladins being a priest and monks being a warrior makes sense. We get three classes in each class group. Monks moving more toward warrior hopefully means that they’ll be a bit less fragile than they currently are so that they can actually stand in for a fighter.
The Bard’s weapon proficiencies have been changed to just simple weapons. Historically, bards have had a handful of martial weapons. Their starting gear still lists a shortsword, which is now a simple weapon according to the rules glossary.
The change to Inspiration is phenomenal. Having it be usable as a heal as a reaction after someone takes damage means that a party with a Bard in it is going to be incredibly difficult to kill, especially past level 7 when Font of Bardic Inspiration comes online. Given that combat healing is largely a trap because of action economy, shifting it to happen outside your turn is excellent. Among other things, this will prevent anyone from getting multiattacked to immediate permadeath before you can stand them up on your turn. When an ally drops to 0 you can immediately heal them as a Reaction, returning them to consciousness before they have a chance to roll a death save.
The fact that Bardic Inspiration is now PB/day means 1-level dips into bard are suddenly very good. And that’s on top of light armor, a skill of your choice, and spellcasting.
Moving Bardic Inspiration to a reaction has some pros and cons. We can no longer preload our allies with inspiration before walking into a fight to keep our action economy flexible. But in return, our dice always get rolled. I’ve been in many parties where the bard would assign inspiration and watch in dismay as their previous inspiration dice were forgotten or encounters ended long before the recipient had an opportunity to use them.
The new additional property to Font of Inspiration means that, especially for the healing use, you generally prefer to roll a 1 because standing someone up with 1hp and 8hp are functionally identical, especially at higher levels when you’re going to then just going to drop a Heal on them when it gets to your turn if you’re going to bother continuing to heal them in combat at all. Honestly, with how good this use is, I expect we’ll see it used to power subclass features much less, which is a little disappointing. I hope they figure out a different mechanic for that.
The Bard’s spellcasting saw some major changes which are discussed below under Spellcasting.
Song of Rest was replaced with Songs of Restoration, which locks you into preparing staple healing spells like Healing Word and Lesser Restoration so you no longer feel like you’re paying a tax to bring those spells along. Much better than Song of Rest.
Magical Secrets got a major rework. Pick one of the three spell lists, and you can now prepare two of your spells from that spell list with no limitations. Once you get the second round, you can have spells from every spell list. You won’t quite get every spell, but no one else gets closer. The fact that you can change these spells daily means that your spell list is incomparably versatile at high levels.
Some existing features were shuffled around. Expertise at 2 and 8 instead of 3 and 10, Jack of All Trades from 3 to 5, Font of Bardic Inspiration from 5 to 7, Magical Secrets at 11 and 15 instead of 10, 14, and 18, and Superior Bardic Inspiration dropped from 20 to 18 (same for every class’s capstone).
Lore Bard lost its signature feature: extra magical secrets. I understand why, but now nothing about the lore bard except the skill proficiencies has anything to do with lore. It’s 3 skill proficiencies and a bunch of buffs to Bardic Inspiration. The buffs are great, but the subclass’s name doesn’t make sense anymore.
“The most new features… should be familiar if you have Tasha’s”
“Solid… perhaps too solid, all the way to 20th level.”
Rangers saw perhaps the largest changes, which makes sense considering how much they’ve struggled in 5e. The 2014 PHB contained two subclasses for the Ranger, and while the Hunter was fine, the combination of the Ranger having many borderline useless features and the Beast Master being difficult and ineffective made the Ranger everyone’s punching bag for several years until Tasha’s piled on replacement features. WotC has clearly learned quite a bit since 2014, and the updates to the design show it.
The optional class features introduced in Tasha’s were rolled right into the class, which isn’t a surprise. Some features which no one cared about were removed. Much of the explicit nature-related feature naming is gone, so conceptually the Ranger is much less “I go outside” and now it’s more “I go exploring”.
Rangers now get Expertise in 2 skills by default right at level 1. Good. They have always struggled to keep up with rogues despite filling the same role in the party. Canny helped, but what was the Ranger and their 8 Charisma going to do with two languages? Still better, you get another 2 at level 9.
Favored Enemy, which has been a massive frustration since at least 3.0, is really good now. It shares nothing conceptually with the previous versions of the feature, but I do not care in the slightest. They could rename this and I don’t think anyone would complain. Regardless, rangers now get Hunter’s Mark prepared for free and can cast it without concentrating. That means that the +1d6 damage is basically perpetual. You still need to spend a slot, but a 1st-level slot for an hour of bonus damage is a great trade. The Hunter also gets a cool rider effect, further improving what has long been a staple option for rangers.
The Ranger’s spellcasting saw the same updates as the bard. We’ll discuss that more below in the Spellcasting section. Notably, rangers get cantrips by default now. Between those two changes, the Ranger’s spellcasting now has much more room for utility and rangers are less locked into combat options.
Fighting Style has been updated to grant one of the new Fighting Style feats, and grants the Ranger the ability to ignore the requirement for the Warrior class group. This gives us a peak at how WotC might handle classes that blur the lines between groups. We might see Monks get access to Expert feats, for example.
Favored Terrain is gone. Good. No one enjoyed it.
Roving got a tiny buff: +10 move speed instead of +5.
Vanish was removed and replaced with Nature’s Veil, which lets you turn Invisible (the condition) until the end of your next turn, giving you almost two full turns of invisibility at the cost of a spell slot and a Bonus Action. Considering that most fights last roughly 3 turns, that means that for a single 1st-level spell slot you can spend most of a fight invisible.
Feral Senses, which previously tried very hard to not be blindsight, is now 30 ft. blindsight. Much simpler, though the limited range does mean that it’s less effective for fighting at long range.
Foe Slayer got a buff. Previously it was +Wis to damage once per turn, which was absolutely pitiful. Raising the Hunter’s Mark damage die’s size means that you can repeatedly apply the damage boost using your existing tactics. It’s still a weak capstone, but it is technically a buff.
Some existing features were shuffled around. Spellcasting was moved from 2 to 1, the Roving optional class feature was moved from 6 to 7, the Tireless optional class feature was moved from 10 to 11, Feral Senses was moved from 18 to 15, and Foe Slayer was moved from 20 to 18 alongside every other class’s capstones.
The Hunter got reworked. You no longer get decision points within the subclass. Instead, you’re locked into what was formerly Colossus Slayer at level 3. Hunters get a rider effect for Hunter’s Mark that lets you identify resistances and vulnerabilities. The Multiattack feature (which desperately needs to be renamed) was replaced with the spell Conjure Barrage, which the Hunter can downcast (see Spellcasting, below). Superior Hunter’s defense is now locked into what was Uncanny Dodge. WotC essentially picked the two best options from the first and last sets and locked players into them. Melee rangers might struggle to use Conjure Barrage, but otherwise I’m not upset.
The Rogue’s version of Expertise notably no longer lists Thieves’ Tools as an option. I hope that’s an oversight, because Expertise is really helpful if your rogue spends a lot of time picking locks and disabling traps. The Thief’s updated Fast Hands now specifies that Sleight of Hand is used to pick locks, relegated Thieves’ Tools to only disarming traps, which seems odd to me. But the grammar of how the feature is worded is a mess, so I’m not 100% certain. At that point, why not just roll Thieves’ Tools and Sleight of Hand into one skill like they did in DnD 4e or in PF2?
Sneak Attack has been limited to once on each of your turns when you take the Attack Action. This means no reaction sneak attacks (including the Haste+Ready trick) and no Booming Blade/Green-Flame Blade sneak attacks. Two-weapon fighting can increase your DPR because you have insurance if you miss, but you can’t outright double your DPR by abusing the action economy.
From what I’ve gathered, the existing tricks to get extra Sneak Attack (Commander’s Strike, Opportunity Attacks, Haste+Ready, etc.) were more “bug” than “feature” and the vast majority of tables didn’t use those options. I’m disappointed to see them go because they’re usually not some crazy abuse of the rules text (Haste+Ready is a little silly in my mind, but I’m splitting hairs), but I respect the decision to make the change.
Evasion was updated to not work while you’re Incapacited, so no more sleeping rogues taking half damage from a fireball.
Reliable talent now specifies that it only affects skills/tools. No more Reliable Talent on initiative checks or opposed ability checks to Counterspell or anything like that. I think this was always RAI, so the majority of players will never notice the difference here. Epic Boons being a guarantee at level 20 also means that you can get proficiency in all skills, making Epic Boon of Skill Proficiency very attractive.
Subtle Strike is new and awesome. Easy Advantage in the vast majority of fights. If you need help, grab your bag of rats or find a familiar or otherwise get a portable friend and strap them to your body. Between this and potentially two-weapon fighting, if you attack and don’t hit with Sneak Attack something has gone extremely wrong for you.
Slippery Mind now grants proficiency in Wisdom and Charisma saves instead of just Wisdom. Charisma saves are infrequent for most of the game, but at high levels where enemies are more reliant on spells and special abilities, they do come up. Grab the Resilient feat and you can have 5 saving throw proficiencies, second only to the Monk.
Elusive is exactly the same.
Stroke of luck got a massive buff. Previously you could auto-hit with an attack or get a 20 on an ability check. Now it’s an automatic natural 20 on any d20 Test. This means an automatic critical hit on an attack roll, near-guaranteed success on a save, and near-guaranteed success on an ability check. You also no longer need to fail the roll, so you could use this to get a 20 on initiative or to turn a well-timed attack into a guaranteed crit.
Some existing features were shuffled around. The second round of Expertise was moved from 6 to 7, Evasion was moved from 7 to 9, Elusive was moved from 18 to 17, and Stroke of Luck was moved from 20 to 18 alongside other capstone features.
The Thief got reworked. It has been basically ignored since the 2014 PHB was published, and until I dug into Fast Hands I was among the people who overlooked it. Well, Fast Hands no longer allows Use an Item. This is probably what WotC originally intended for Fast Hands in the 2014 rules, but throwing oil and alchemist’s fire was basically the only thing that made the subclass matter in combat beyond core rogue features. Instead, you can explicitly Search (the named action), pick a lock, disarm a trap, or pick a pocket. The wording around which things use Sleight of Hand and which use Thieves’ Tools is extremely confusing. The addition of Search as option is great because for everyone else, Search is an Action, which makes it extremely costly in combat for other characters.
Second Story Work’s changes are good. The 2014 version didn’t technically give you a climb speed, but the only difference was for the exceptionally rare rules pieces that cared if you had a climb speed. This is simpler and better. The changes to the jump benefit now mean that you can reliably high jump much better in addition to long jump.
Supreme Sneak is now just perpetual Advantage on Dexterity (Stealth). That’s much easier to deal with mechanically, but likely doesn’t make the rogue any more powerful. You also get it 3 levels sooner thanks to the subclass feature levels being standardized across classes.
Use Magic Device was reworked. You no longer get to ignore prerequisites, but the benefits there were unpredictable since players generally don’t get to pick the loot they find. Now, you can attune an extra item (amazing), have a 1 in 6 chance to not spend a charge when using a charged item like a wand or a ring of three wishes, and there are explicit rules for using spell scrolls which make them an intended go-to resource for high-level thieves.
At high levels you get to take extra bonus actions with Cunning Action a few times per day, so you can do things like Dash and Disengage both with Cunning Action and still leave your Action for other things.
Crawford described the idea of the Thief “cheating” being a central concept. The intended reaction to their features is “wait, you’re allowed to do that?” I think they got close. I’d like to see more options in Fast Hands, personally, but I really like the updates to Use Magic Device.
Comparing the Three Classes
To some degree, imbalance between the classes is inevitable. Unless everyone gets exactly the same features, there is going to be imbalance. What we want is for every class to excel at something that other characters can’t match, and we want every class to feel fun and satisfying to play.
In the 2014 rules, rangers struggled for a long time. They weren’t durable enough to replace a fighter despite d10 hit dice, they didn’t have enough skills to replace a rogue, and their spellcasting wasn’t good enough to replace a real caster. They needed to focus their spellcasting on combat options to stay competitive with other high-DPS builds, and even then a well-built fighter was frequently more effective at the same thing. Later subclasses like the Gloom Stalker and Optional Class Features did a ton for the Ranger. Introducing Expertise let them keep up with the Rogue without taking away the Rogue’s skill superiority, among other tactical options and damage boosts.
By comparison, rogues never really changed much. New subclasses offered different options, but there were never any massive power shifts. Generally rogues felt good to play, and their exceptionally good skills meant that they always had plenty to do both in and combat without a ton of work to optimize them.
The 2014 Bard certainly can compete with the rogue thanks to Expertise, and with full spellcasting they could arguably compete with sorcerers and wizards to some degree. They could do pretty much everything on their own (except swing a weapon well, despite two subclasses trying to make that happen).
UA: Expert Classes shakes up those comparisons to some degree. It’s honestly hard to compared the bard to the Ranger and the Rogue because the only overlap is with skills.
I think the Bard’s place in the meta doesn’t change significantly, but the ability to prepare spells will make them considerably more useful than they have been previously. The Bard’s ability to heal people as a Reaction is going to make killing players borderline impossible, making the Bard a more impactful healer than the Cleric without impacting what the Bard does on their turn. If you run out of Bardic Inspiration, you can fall back to Healing Word.
The biggest problems come in comparing the Ranger to the Rogue. The Ranger’s improved skill capabilities coupled with their updated spellcasting makes them outright better than the Rogue in terms of utility both in and out of combat, and the combination of the Light weapon updates and the updated Favored Enemy makes their damage output consistently better than the Rogue’s until at least level 11, and that’s before we consider spells and Fighting Style, which will easily put the Ranger ahead of the Rogue in terms of damage output.
|TWF Ranger w/HM
|TWF Rogue w/SA
|Fighting Style is intentionally ignored here
|6d6+10 (avg. 31)
|6d6+5 (avg. 26)
|6d6+10 (avg. 31)
|7d6+5 (avg. 29.5)
|6d6+10 (avg. 31)
|8d6+5 (avg. 33)
So where does that leave the Rogue? The Rogue is more durable, reliable, and sustainable than the Ranger. Sneak Attack only needs to hit once, and you can either use two-weapon fighting to get a second chance or use Cunning Action to hide for easy Advantage when using a ranged weapon. Uncanny Dodge, Evasion, and Slippery Mind make the Rogue hard to take down. Cunning Action gives them tactical advantages by moving and hiding, and Reliable Talent, Subtle Strikes, and Elusive make their skills and attacks reliable. The Ranger can likely match the Rogue in short bursts by using magic, but once their spell slots run short, the Rogue is at an advantage.
Of course, that’s the classic caster vs. martial disparity. Unless they make pacing easier, casters will continue to be at an advantage in most games because beyond low levels spellcasters rarely run out of spell slots between rests.
I think WotC intentionally made the Ranger too strong to see what people liked. In a vacuum, I like all of the changes. I think I’d like to see the ranger weakened slightly so that the Rogue has a clearer skill advantage for more of the level range so that the rogue still feels like they’re the best at something. Sustainability is great, but it doesn’t feel exciting, so people are going to look at rogues, shrug, and play rangers.
Feats haven’t changed conceptually from the previous UA, but they did add “Epic Boon Feats” and changed some of the listed options. Remember that the UA documents are intended to be used in conjunction, so any feat that doesn’t appear in the current document but which appeared in the previous document still uses the version from the previous document.
All of the 4th-level feats increase your ability scores, which is exciting. Starting with 17 in your primary ability (which is the default assumption for most optimized builds) means that a 4th-level feat will still keep you on the Fundamental Math. This makes feats extremely easy to fit into your build, but at the cost of some of these feats being reworked to account for this design change. As an example: Sharpshooter has lost its signature attack/damage trade.
Feats also now have a name for each of their benefits, which is going to make discussing them online much simpler. No more “the third bullet of sharpshooter” or whatever.
Ability Score Improvement
It’s a feat now, which doesn’t change how it works but does reflect the updated design thinking.
Still not amazing, but it might actually be useful. This will shine in social intrigue scenarios and infiltration missions. Mimicry could be used for some fun shenanigans.
A climb speed is cool for martial characters who can rarely fly. The ability to stand up for reduced cost is also neat since unarmed strikes can now knock creature prone so easily.
Definitely better than the original version of Charger because it doesn’t eat your Bonus Action and it doesn’t limit you to making a single attack. Those limitations made Charger functionally unusable in the 2014 rules. It’s still not amazing, but it’s certainly much better. Doubling the weapon damage dice would be a really cool improvement and would make it more appealing for high-risk, high-reward two-handed weapon builds.
This feat is also no longer limited to melee and the 10 feet in a straight line doesn’t have to be towards the target. You could move sideways or backwards 10 feet, fire a bow and either add +1d8 or push the target backwards 10 feet. I look forward to the crabwalk charge technique of moving 10 feet sideways in front of someone’s face being the new staple of martial combat.
Crossbow Expert’s signature extra attack has been moved to the Light weapon property, and as such must now be made with a second hand crossbow, no longer requiring this feat unless you need to make Extra Attacks with one of the two crossbows. You ignore the Loading property as you do with the 2014 version of the feat, but you notably don’t ignore the Ammunition property or the need for a free hand to reload the crossbow.
This means that you either need another hand (thanks, Thri-Kreen!) or juggle. Because weapon Attack now lets you draws/stow a weapon for each attack made as part of the action, you can fire all your regular attacks with one hand crossbow, put it away on the last attack, then pull out your other hand crossbow with your other hand to perform your dual wielding attack and fire that one while always having a free hand to load the crossbows.
I think WotC wanted to support the fantasy of firing two crossbows, but they forgot to handle the Ammunition property.
Basically the same, but you also get +1 Dexterity. It’s odd seeing a feat that can be fixed so simply, but I think I like it. I’ve always wanted to be able to make Defensive Duelist worthwhile, but it’s hard to fit it into a build.
This was never a great feat, mostly because two-weapon fighting has always been so weak. The changes to two-weapon fighting (see the Light property) mean that your Bonus Action is no longer a persistent tax, which makes TWF builds much more viable because you can still fit things like Hunter’s Mark into the same turn. As a result, Dual Wielder may actually need the changes it received.
Under the new version of the feat, an ASI is added, the AC bonus is removed, and you now get to use only one non-light weapon. So now you can do longsword+shortsword, but not two longswords. Considering that this change amounts to roughly one damage on average per turn, I’m surprised that they bothered with the limitation. Just let me swing two whips and leave me be.
The Quick Draw portion of the feat appears to be non-functional since the updated version of the Attack action should allow you to draw a weapon as part of each attack you make, including the additional attack for two-weapon fighting. But it turns out appearances can be deceiving. Being able to draw or stow two weapons per attack allows incredible weapon juggling. I can picture a fighter utilizing Crusher, Piercer, and Slasher all at once by being able to both stow and draw once per attack.
I would actually take this feat. The ability to consume hit dice without resting means that they’re dramatically more available, which is huge for front-line martial characters. I could see this being a go-to option for many barbarians who aren’t focusing on damage output.
Another feat that they just added an ability score increase to. This was another feat that was just never good enough to justify taking it. Even with this change, it’s not great. Maybe if it added a cantrip? They could grant a fixed list like acid splash, fire bolt, ray of frost, etc. and that would at least be more interesting.
Fighting Style (All of them)
Fighting styles are now all individual feats. The designers explicitly wanted players to have the option to easily have more than one. Most are unchanged.
Protection now applies a -2 penalty to a successful hit, potentially causing it to miss. This feels weaker than the existing version because the penalty is small, but remember that Protection previously needed to be used before the attack roll was made and the result determined.
Two-Weapon Fighting was updated to match changes to the Light property.
The new styles introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything do not appear. It’s unclear what will happen to them.
It finally doesn’t suck! This is a great way to turn a fight into a one-on-one slugfest, then have your allies join in while your grappled enemy can’t do much about it.
Great Weapon Master
The attack/damage trade is gone in favor of +PB to damage once per turn. It’s not as powerful as it was previously, but you get a Strength increase instead. This makes GWM more “I’m good with two-handed weapons” and less “I’m doing twice as much damage as I was a level before”.
Literally no change.
Heavy Armor Master
The damage reduction is now PB instead of a fixed 3, making this much more relevant at high levels.
Nerfed to 2d4+PB instead of level+Charisma. Probably the right choice.
+1 Int and either proficiency or Expertise in one skill. Study as a bonus action sounds neat, but the precise benefits of Study are extremely vague.
A great 1st-level feat for bards, sorcerers, warlocks, and wizards. Medium armor and shields is a huge defensive buff. Previously this took a class dip, a subclass like hexblade, or multiple feats, so I suspect that this will be the default go-to 1st-level feat for poorly-armored spellcasters.
It’s still not quite as good as a single level in cleric, but we also don’t have the context of the new version of the cleric.
An enticing option for front-line martial characters. The saving throw benefit isn’t exclusive to spells, so you need to worry less when you dump your mental stats.
Magic Initiate is omitted, which means that players are expected to use the version from the previous Unearthed Arcana document. We talked at length about the changes to this feat in our review of the first document and how it would propagate gish builds.
While WotC has made no changes to address that, the updates to Sneak Attack and to the Ranger mean that some of the largest beneficiaries of Magic Initiate now benefit much less.
Medium Armor Master
The ability to ignore Disadvantage from medium armor was removed in favor of +1 to Str or Dex. Why? Maybe we’ll see changes to armor?
Added a +1 ability score increase, but the ability to make targets against your mount target you instead now costs a Reaction. That was the only thing keeping your horse alive, so the moment Multiattack comes online, mounted combat goes out the window.
+1 ability score increases, one proficiency or Expertise, and Search as a bonus action. Search is how you find traps and invisible creatures, which is nice in combat. Unfortunately, you can put yourself in a situation when you have this and still have a -1 to Perception.
Now only works with weapons that have Heavy and Reach, so you’re limited to things like the Glaive. No more shield+quarterstaff, so no more shillelagh+polearm master. Importantly, the reaction to melee attack someone who enters your reach is no longer an opportunity attack. This prevents combining it with War Caster to cast something like Repelling Eldritch Blast on someone entering your reach or using Sentinel to stop their movement.
Unlike the changes to TWF in Light weapons or the rework on Shield Master, this feat still uses your Bonus Action for the additional attack. It will be funny if this and the Cleave feature of GWM are indications of the trend being reversed from TWF having a BA tax just to keep up to Heavy weapons being able to keep ahead but only at the cost of BAs.
Unchanged from 2014 rules except for the new 4th level prerequisite.
With the ability to cast spells as ritual available to everyone, the benefit of this feat is mostly around crossing spell list boundaries. I think this will be an intentionally niche feat, but I don’t think it needs any changes from how it’s written in the playtest document.
This was already a good feat and now it has a +1 ability score increase.
Like Great Weapon Master, the attack/damage trade is gone. Instead, you can make ranged attacks safely in melee and you get +1 Dexterity. I think this will become a feat that everyone nods and says “that sounds very nice” but can never actually fit into a build.
The 2014 version of Shield Master had a major flaw: You could knock enemies prone with the Shield as a Bonus Action that you couldn’t take until you finished executing the Attack action. This version both removes the Bonus Action cost and allows you to bash enemies immediately after your first successful attack. If you have Extra Attack, any remaining attacks can occur immediately after you knock your enemy prone, which is what people initially expected the 2014 version of the feat to do.
Blindsight at level 4 is absolutely amazing. Sure, it detects invisible creatures. But it also means that your party can abuse magical darkness.
Without Cunning Action, most characters will get little benefit from the Fog of War feature, and therefore won’t be able to consistently use Sniper. This is largely a rogue-only feat.
This is the Mobile feat but we lost the hit-and-run stuff that made Mobile good and got a +1 Dex increase instead. I don’t see anyone ever taking this feat.
Significantly changed from the 2014 version. An ASI was added, of course. You no longer get a free cantrip, but now you can cast safely in melee. The range change went from double to +60. Long-range options like Ray of Frost and Eldritch Blast lose, but short-ranged options like Acid Splash win. Obviously it’s not limited to cantrips, but those still serve as good examples.
No change except for a +1 ability score increase. I think War Caster was fine how it was. I don’t think this will break anything, but it was already an amazing feat for gish builds. Some of the combos like Polearm Master+War Caster have been removed due to wording changes in the feats, but War Caster was still fine on its own.
Unless martial weapons start meaning more than +1 damage over simple weapons, this will still never be taken by anyone ever. Sure, this is better than Weapon Master’s inexplicable 3 weapons, but it’s still so low impact that it doesn’t matter.
Epic Boon Feats
These are cool enough that I think they need their own section. See our Epic Boons Breakdown for comparison.
Note that many of these are limited to a class group.
Epic Boon of Combat Prowess
No change from the existing boon of the same name. It’s fine but the effects don’t feel very impactful.
Epic Boon of Dimensional Travel
A free Misty Step every encounter. It’s limited to experts and mages, which is a shame since warriors built for melee would absolutely love this.
Epic Boon of Energy Resistance
Permanent damage resistance and you can change the type when you rest. Excellent.
Epic Boon of Fortitude
The 2014 version of the boon just grants 40 hit points. The bonus healing effect is excellent, especially if you have a reliable source of hit point restoration like the updated Durable feat.
Epic Boon of Irresistible Offense
Limited to experts and warriors, so most casters can’t benefit from this.
Epic Boon of Luck
Limited to experts, but otherwise no change from the existing boon.
Epic Boon of the Night Spirit
Absolutely amazing for any character, but tragically limited to experts and mages.
Epic Boon of Peerless Aim
Much like with the original boons, I don’t understand why this is a separate from Epic Boon of Combat Prowess.
Epic Boon of Recovery
This will make it very difficult to die, but it won’t help you actually accomplish anything.
Epic Boon of Skill Proficiency
Excellent for rogues thanks to Reliable Talent.
Epic Boon of Speed
This will double your speed for most characters. Excellent if you’re built for melee. It does use capital S “Speed”, so I believe it only affects your land speed.
Epic Boon of Undetectability
You can still be heard, but this means that if you can hit the Stealth DC of 15 to hide, you can’t be seen. Combine this with Skulker and you’re in good shape.
Epic Boon of the Unfettered
Great if you want to hit-and-run tactics, but if you want that you probably have Cunning Action or something similar.
Spells and Spell Lists
“the Bard potentially uses all three, thanks to the Magical Secrets feature”
WotC is sticking to their guns on the consolidated spell lists, but we’re seeing more information on how the specifics will be handled. Bards get arcane spells, but only from Divination, Enchantment, Illusion, and Transmutation. Rangers get primal spells, but not Evocation spells.
“Spells known” seems to have been done away with completely as we see from both the Bard and the Ranger. All the classes that we’ve seen now prepare all spells (including cantrips!) rather than knowing them permanently, which is going to immensely increase party versatility at absolutely no mechanical cost to players. Crawford acknowledged in the bard video that players playing characters who know spells permanently almost exclusively choose combat spells because those choices keep you alive, and that decision meant that non-combat spells were almost never used. The designers want those non-combat spells to be more usable.
It will be interesting to see how they balance the game around these changes since players will now have better answers to problems when picking classes that were previously locked into their spells semi-permanently.
The rules for how many spells to prepare have been reworked, following the spell slots per level table. For example, after each Long Rest a 10th-level Ranger prepares 3 Cantrips, 4 1st-level spells, 3 2nd-level spells, and 2 3rd-level spells for the day. This means that players are locked into preparing a set number of spells of each level, rather than being given some number of prepared spells and then being left to sort it out on your own. This is likely a boon for players who already struggle for analysis paralysis, and it will prevent mistakes like preparing 4 9th-level spells when you only have one spell slot.
I’m curious to see the implications for sorcerers since a small number of known spells has been their signature distinction from the Wizard for a long time.
A handful of spells have noteworthy changes to their effects.
- Barkskin: I never once found a way to justify barkskin unless you were in wild shape, and even then it wasn’t amazing, so I’m excited to see change. A 1-hour duration and a generous pool of temporary hit points is a fantastic defensive buff for your party’s Defender.
- Conjure Barrage: Not listed in the rules glossary, but a new mechanic is introduced with the Hunter. The Hunter Ranger can now “downcast” Conjure Barrage, reducing the damage but using a lower-level spell slot. This is a playtest mechanic and has some cool implications. This could gate high-powered spells to a higher level, but once you get them they can become an inexpensive and powerful way to use a lower-level slot. As another example, Fireball could be changed to drop 3d6 damage for each slot level below 3rd, so you could drop 1st-level fireballs for 2d6 damage to get that big AOE.
- Guidance: Guidance got nerfed because it was too spammable. Now it’s a Reaction and creatures can only be affected once per long rest. I loved the new Reaction casting time, but that feels too limited. It also feels too conceptually close to the updated version of Bardic Inspiration, especially at low levels before Font of Inspiration comes online. Once per short rest feels better, in my opinion, but I’m also one of the people who has long advocated for spamming Guidance, so maybe I’m the problem here.
A number of spells also changed schools. Most of the changes are sensible, but it’s clear that some of them are being shuffled around to fit into schools solely to support certain classes being limited to specific schools of magic. As an example: healing spells are evocation in the 2014 rules, but they were changed to abjuration in the new UA document likely because bards and rangers don’t get access to evocation spells. Healing was Conjuration in 3.x, so in my lifetime with the game healing has been 3 different schools but somehow never necromancy despite necromancy being the magic of life and death.
The first page of the doc includes a bulleted list of what’s ahead in future UA documents:
- Revised versions of every Class from the 2014 Player’s Handbook. These are going to be meaty.
- Forty-eight Subclasses, including the Subclasses in this article. That’s an average of 4 for each core class. We might not get the Artificer in the new PHB, and some classes will have more/fewer subclasses. Clerics and Wizards had more than anyone else in the 2014 PHB and they may repeat that.
- New and revised Spells. Bring back bouncing lightning bolt. Make Magic Missile roll multiple dice. Nerf Spirit Guardians so clerics can justify doing literally anything else. There’s a ton to be done here. A lot of spells are just wildly out of balance or have frustrating, confusing text, and the fact that they haven’t issued Sage Advice errata for many of them 8 years later boggles the mind.
- New and revised Feats. This will likely be a continuous improvement cycle until right before launch. If we got a UA doc that’s nothing but feats, I wouldn’t be surprised.
- New Weapon options for certain Classes. I’m not entirely certain what this means, but Crawford teased that weapons will “do different things” when we get the Warrior classes playtest. I’m excited.
- A new system for creating a home base for your characters. Having a stronghold was baked right into character progression until 3rd edition, at which point player characters became professional murder hobos. A few 5e products like Out of the Abyss had some mechanics for bases, but something robust in the core rules would be really nice. It’s wonderful as a storytelling device and also as a gold sink in a game where gold isn’t especially useful.
- Revised encounter-building rules. Thank goodness. Balancing encounters has long been considered one of the worst parts of running 5e. The fractional method in Xanathar’s reduced the amount of number crunching, but most people don’t know it’s there and it didn’t actually solve the balance challenges.
- New and revised monsters. This is no surprise. Monsters of the Multiverse revised many non-core monsters, so a new Monster Manual will inevitably follow those design changes.
Thoughts From the RPGBOT Team
I’m excited about some of the balance changes that the playtests rules hint at. Spellcasters that previously knew spells permanently (bards, rangers, etc.) won’t face the opportunity cost problems that previously made them outright weaker than comparable prepared spellcasters. Changes to powerful combat feats like Crossbow Expert will mean that a handful of high-damage builds will no longer monopolize the play space. Two-weapon fighting is now very appealing. Things feel meaningfully different without being massively better or worse than other options.
That said, I do think there’s more work to be done. There is confusing or outright broken rules text in a handful of places like Fast Hands and Crossbow Expert. The Ranger still needs refinement to keep the Ranger and the Rogue conceptually and mechanically distinct. Some of the updated mechanics around skills (Search, Study, etc.) are the right idea but need some refinement and clarification.
Tools may be de-emphasized since Expertise no longer works on tools. I’m curious to see how that will work for the Artificer. I have no idea what to do with Thieves’ Tools now. The Thief’s Fast Hands feature is worded so it sounds like Thieves’ Tools only work for disarming traps, but might also work for picking pockets, but I think that was just a poor grammatical choice. Hopefully they’ll see the issue there and include clarification in the next rules glossary.
The wording on a lot of the newly-written stuff needs work. Stuff which has been updated from existing text like pre-existing class features is mostly in good shape despite a few outliers like Fast Hands. Stuff which has been completely rewritten like Charger (doesn’t require charging toward an enemy) and Great Weapon Master (partially works with heavy crossbows and longbows) needs some textual improvements.
But that’s stuff that’s easy to fix at this stage in the process. WotC hasn’t even fully reviewed the collected feedback from the first UA, so change is absolutely guaranteed. I’m optimistic so far, and I’m trying to keep an open mind about the changes that I don’t like.
There’s a lot to unpack in this update. With the changes to critical hits removed, we don’t get to see what they might have tried to do to a Rogue to put some of that DPR power back in, which is disappointing if they do end up keeping those core rule changes in the final release. The changes to the classes feel pretty great overall though. Standardizing the levels all classes get subclass features is awesome and going to allow for a much more finely-tuned level of balancing monsters to be CR-appropriate. I would be happy to play any of the classes presented with the given subclasses.
Turning many feats into hybrid feats while also rebalancing them has made many of them more usable, which I think will dramatically increase build diversity; always a good thing.
I think the change to Stealth is intuitively sensible but mechanically punishing, especially at low levels, and will either result in many less opportunities for reconnaissance to happen successfully, players sitting around rerolling Stealth to hide until they roll something they’re happy with before moving, or both. Neither of those are good outcomes in my book.
On that note, I think giving players named actions is actually a mistake. Because you can now say “I want to take the Study action,” you’re now expecting to roll a check with Intelligence. That’s much more limiting than the current rules where you just describe the action and the DM decides what you should be rolling. I won’t lie; I know that many tables are already functioning the way the rules are written in the playtest. But I wish they weren’t, because that opens up much broader interpretations and combinations like Rocco talked about in the Practical Guide to Impractical Skill Checks.
Homogenizing a lot of the shared structures of classes is something I find good about this update. All classes get subclasses so it will be great to see all classes get their subclass power spikes at the same level. It also means every class will get their subclass at 3rd level.
Moving all casters to prepared spellcasting is a good choice. Giving players the option to experiment each day and change the next day if they don’t like an option is a major quality of life improvement. Personally, picking spells for my subclass guides is the part I hate the most.
Bard has a solid redesign. Moving Bardic Inspiration to the reaction changes the action economy around it in ways I like, forcing it to compete with things like Shield and Counterspell instead of Healing Word. I actually like that Lore Bard doesn’t have Extra Magical Secrets because of the overall rework to Magical Secrets: Having even the small preparation access to all three lists of spells would be too much.
Ranger is quite honestly where it needs to be now. The special upgrade to Hunter’s Mark and spellcasting from 1st-level are great additions on their own, but combined with the rework to Two-Weapon fighting they really shine. Rangers are really making out like bandits in this playtest.
Rogues on the other hand, have had less sweeping changes, but the few changes have had an impact. Sneak Attack has had two major alterations to how it functions. Instead of “once per turn” it is “once on each of your turns”, which removes tricks like readying an action while also being Hasted or a Battle master using the Commander’s Strike Maneuver to get extra Sneak Attack damage each round. The other change in use that I think many people are going to miss is “when you take the Attack Action.” This small change eliminates being able to Sneak Attack with weapon cantrips like Booming Blade and Green-Flame Blade, which are now widely available through the Magic Initiate feat as a 1st-level feat (remember: if it’s not updated in this UA, WotC expects you to use stuff from the previous UA with the exception of the Rules Glossary).
On the feats, while many will bemoan the changes to Sharpshooter and Great Weapon Master, these are good changes. With the change to Light weapons, Sharpshooter couldn’t keep the -5/+10 feature due to abuse from Hand Crossbows (and potentially thrown weapons but that’s speculation on wording updates). With these changes, Heavy weapons and TWF Light weapons should be doing comparable DPR once you take the feats that either add PB to one Heavy attack or Ability mod to the TWF attack.
Moreover, the gambling nature of these feats often meant that without significant outside investment and assistance there was almost no gain on average. Instead, these feats now always provide a positive benefit. A bit of math even indicates that the new GWM is close enough in DPR to the old version that the difference is negligible in most situations. Only the Fighter loses out a tiny bit due to Extra Attack (3) and (4). On a side note: the Heavy Weapon Mastery feature of Great Weapon Master is not restricted to Melee, so it functions with Longbows and Heavy Crossbows. Side Note on the Side Note: Every subsection of a Feat having a name is the best QoL for discussions going forward.
I think it’s safe to say that the RPGBOT team feels positive about the changes in the UA overall. There are rough edges, there is a lot of room for improvement, and there are a few things that worry us, but overall there’s a lot to like.