Unearthed Arcana #8 was a surprise bonus UA because the design team wanted to show off the new Bastion rules, and also cantrips were thrown in for some reason. The new Bastion mechanics are exciting and engaging, if a bit rough, and the changes to cantrips seek to improve many of the game’s least-used options.
According to the accompanying video, Bard, Ranger, Rogue, Paladin are done in UA for now. Their features and subclasses have been rated high enough across various versions that the design team can assemble full classes from the most satisfying versions of individual features.
Previous Playtest Rounds
- Character Origins
- Expert Classes
- The Cleric and Revised Species
- The Druid and Paladin
- Players Handbook #5 (Barbarian, Fighter, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard, introduction of Weapon Mastery)
- Players Handbook #6 (Bard, Cleric, Druid, Monk, Paladin, Ranger)
- Player’s Handbook #7 (Barbarian, Fighter, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard)
The Bastion rules are fully 20 pages of brand new rules content. The bastions themselves provide “opportunities for a character to craft magic items, conduct research, harvest poisons, build ships, and carry out a broad range of other activities.” It also gives them ways to spend gold, giving the game a much-needed gold sink (though that need may go away once we get magic item prices), and provides new downtime options that are a bit more appealing than carousing or getting a part-time job between adventures.
Considering that 5e has tried twice to give us rules for crafting magic items (DMG, Xanathar’s) and neither version worked well, I’m excited to see something more explicit. Rules for harvesting poisons are also exciting since players using poison has been so difficult in 5e, as we recently discussed on the RPGBOT.Podcast.
Players are given options to opt out of Bastions, to combine Bastions, and to abandon a Bastion either intentionally or by neglect, leaving their Bastion to burn down, fall over, then sink into the swamp.
Bastion Turns are taken every in-game week and give the players the option to accomplish something using their Bastion. The rules suggest six to eight Bastion Turns per level, which is comical considering that the xp budget rules in the DMG expect players to gain a level after at most 2.33 full adventuring days. This seems to indicate that WotC understands that the vast majority of parties operate on something like a 3-fight day with short rests in between each as is something we’ve discussed in various articles and as pairs neatly with the rules as depicted in Baldur’s Gate 3.
A new currency specifically used for your Bastion. You gain BP automatically from facilities in your Bastion and can spend it on things like magic items, raising your local reputation, and even respawning in your Bastion after you die.
Facilities range from mundane gardens that let you harvest sellable food, potions, and basic poison, all the way to crazy things like demiplanes which grant a massive amount of temporary hit points. Each facility has a unique order which you can issue to that facility and which grants you BP in addition to other benefits. Issuing the “Maintain” order produces the smallest amount of BP, so players are incentivized to return to the Bastion frequently to issue fresh orders.
Many of the facility options are gated behind specific class features, such as the ability to use a holy symbol as a spellcasting focus. This gives those facilities some thematic uniqueness.
After every Bastion Turn, the DM rolls a d20 to see if a random event occurs. There’s a 45% chance of an event, and this is done per bastion, so resolving this step may be time-consuming in practice.
Among these events is the possibility that your bastion is attacked, potentialy resulting in lost defenders and/or in facilities being temporarily disabled.
Historically, this has been hard to use to any great effect. I’ve used it a couple times to hit multiple targets, which felt really great, but it happened so rarely that it felt like a wasted cantrip slot. Changing it to a sphere instead of hitting two adjacent targets means hitting as many as 4 targets, which has felt amazing in Baldur’s Gate 3, so I’m excited to see the change here, too.
The best user of this cantrip is arguably the evocation wizard, and since this wasn’t an evocation spell they didn’t get as much benefit as you would expect. Changing the school makes sense thematically, but it’s also a nice buff to evokers.
Impose disadvantage on one melee attack as a Reaction. This is a huge defensive buff, so I can see any front-line character rushing to get this by any means.
Chill Touch’s name has been the subject of jokes since the 2014 PHB dropped because it both doesn’t chill things and isn’t a touch. Now it’s at least a touch. It also got a small buff raising the damage die from d8 to d10 to make up for the loss of range. I don’t expect this to see frequent use by sorcerers, wizards, and warlocks, unfortunately.
Seriously, rename it “Grave Touch” or something.
Now allows a save and uses the Charmed condition rather than having its own uniquely frustrating way to provide a charm-adjacent effect. It also no longer makes the target hostile, and unlike Charm Person it doesn’t let the target know that they were charmed when the spell ends. A 24-hour per-target cooldown has been added to prevent abuse.
Formerly plagued by 10-foot range and a Constitution save, Poison Spray got a huge buff. It now has 30-foot range and works on a spell attack, making it competitive with spells like Fire Bolt. You get a larger damage die, but the range is short and poison is a bad damage type, but at least it now has a niche.
It’s now a necromancy spell, and I’m not sure why.
Reworked, but conceptually similar. You now activate it as a Bonus Action and carry it around for up to 10 minutes, but can throw the flame as much as you want. However, it lost the ability to make a melee attack, which is disappointing.
Shillelagh now has the option to deal force damage and the damage die improves slightly as you gain levels. It doesn’t actually change any of the tactics around using Shillelagh, but it’s a great buff.
Previously we’ve been told that Shillelagh didn’t scale because it could scale by other means, but at the time there were no classes that got both Extra Attack and Shillelagh, so no one was sure what they meant. I think WotC realized the issue here and they’re trying to make Shillelagh work better without multiclassing.
Weirdly, this got nerfed. It now only prevents Opportunity Attacks rather than all Reactions. I’ve never seen this used to any meaningful effect, but this may have been the original intent. We’ve also seen some recent stat blocks where legendary creatures use Reactions rather than Legendary Actions, so this change might be in place to prevent players from locking out those actions.
Spare the Dying
In the 2014 rules Spare the Dying could be entirely replaced by carrying a Medicine Kit. No proficiencies needed. Now Spare the Dying has the added benefit of working at range, but that’s still not enough to make it good.
Functionally useless in the 2014 rules, True Strike is now a wildly different spell. It’s now an action to make a single weapon attack using your spellcasting ability plus a damage bonus which comes online at level 5 and scales with cantrip damage. It’s basically easy mode for gish characters.
I’m expecting to see a lot of clerics, eldritch knights, and rogues using this in much the same way that we see Booming Blade used now, except with the added benefit of only needing one high ability score.
Thoughts from the RPGBOT Team
I generally love the changes to cantrips, although I think Blade Ward is too strong in this incarnation. There are no other Reaction cantrips, and I don’t think one should exist as it becomes far too easy to optimize the hardest-to-use resource when a single level or feat can get you a very powerful defensive tool every turn at the cost of something many characters aren’t optimized to use frequently anyway.
Bastions, where to start. I love the opt-in complexity, but even more so than most such agency in dnd, not opting in is going to feel like a huge nerf in both character power and narrative control as other people get minutes devoted to their buildings, and perhaps even entire scenes if you take the rules’ advice about turning Bastion Events into cutscenes but don’t have enough relevant Hirelings to have each player participate.
The fact that so much text is spent talking about Bastion Defenders (including several buildings for whom their special abilities all focus on such people), when considered against the fact that they’re only going to be useful on 10% of bastion Events (and only required for 5%), feels like they’re basically a tax to avoid losing BP, but even so it’s only a 5% loss numerically which, if we do the math, means that equipping and feeding a dozen people for your entire adventuring life up to level 20 will save you slightly more BP than the cost of an Uncommon magic item, which probably would cost less than the gold it takes for this upkeep. (Characters will generate ~1550BP in such time assuming 7 Bastion Turns per level as recommended, and assuming getting a new Special Facility that produces a larger die when you achieve the appropriate level, but not replacing any older Facilities with new ones).
That’s a long-winded way of saying that, unless you really like the flavor of the martial aspects, mechanically there’s hardly any value in any of the buildings dedicated to them. I think WotC might want to have more events interact with them, or perhaps change the Request for Aid to be three times as likely, which would be completely in line with how local authorities should treat people running their own fiefdoms inside their borders. Even so, that only incentives with gold which is still questionable useful. It would at least bring it up to not feeling like a waste.
As a small aside, I think that the list of Bastion Event descriptions should be presented in the same order the table shows them rather than alphabetically so that finding them is a quicker and more intuitive task.
All-in-all, I generally think it’s a great system that just needs a few tweaks. I wrote our Practical Guide to Defending a Permanent Base, which I mentioned could pair very nicely with MCDM’s Stronghold rules and this presents a sort of “summarized” version of that book that feels very similar but without going nearly as mechanically deep. I believe that’s going to make it much more playable at many tables and I welcome the narrative diversity that will bring, particularly as it provides a strong disincentive for murder hoboing by neatly removing the hobo half of the equation and giving people NPCs to care about to make them think twice about the murder half.
Everything in the document feels like it’s moving in the right direction, but it needs more refinement. Random is absolutely right about Blade Ward being too strong and about the Bastion rules needing fine-tuning.
That said, I’m excited to see that the Bastion rules will be mechanically engaging, and I’m happy to see that cantrips are going to provide good reasons not to take Fire Bolt on every non-warlock.
True Strike MVP. Blade Ward is cool too, but that’s because I’m used to spending Reactions in PF2e on actually Blocking so it feels fine to me. Good use of Reactions and Cantrips.
I disagree with Random about the player opt-in part. This is DMG content, so the DM will be the one who decides the opting in or out with regards to Bastions.
This looks like another good preview. This is the first public draft of the Bastion rules, so the final ones will likely look very different, but it will be interesting to watch the public response.