What is Unearthed Arcana in D&D 5e?
There’s a tradition behind Wizards of the Coast’s Unearthed Arcana which goes all the way back to the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons line of games, before even 2nd Edition AD&D or the consolidation of both lines into what we called 3rd Edition. The original and the 3rd Edition versions of Unearthed Arcana was a new rulebook that provided optional classes and rules for Dungeon Masters and players to use to change up their game — the original Barbarian and Cavalier, for example, were Unearthed Arcana classes back then.
But what is Unearthed Arcana in D&D 5e?
The modern incarnation of the concept isn’t a whole new rulebook, as it was before — it’s a series of playtest documents that offer the same basic concept but combine it with mechanics and features that aren’t fully shaken out yet. Essentially, it’s the Dungeons and Dragons version of a public test realm. By going to the Wizards of the Coast site, you can download PDFs for the latest Unearthed Arcana, which allows you to make changes to the way your game works. For example, there are variants to class features for certain classes, a new system to add a companion called a sidekick, and new subclasses to try out.
Just be aware that since this is playtest content it won’t be allowed in official D&D organized play like the Adventurer’s Guild, and it’s not required of your DM to allow any of it. But there’s no reason you can’t use it in your games at home, if your DM is amenable.
Essentially, what you get from Unearthed Arcana in D&D is a set of beta rules. The rules allow for class options not in the Player’s Handbook, new systems like Psionics, new feats and items — but always with the caveat that this may not be the final form of those rules, even if they are actually published in a D&D supplement. Unearthed Arcana is where ideas from older editions like class kits get a redesign for 5th Edition, for example.
If you want to use these ideas on D&D Beyond, you have to make sure you have Playtest Content enabled in the Character Creation preferences, on the home tab of the character builder. This doesn’t mean that every single option from Unearthed Arcana will be available there, but some will. For example, if you want to play the Psychic Warrior Martial Option from UA, you can use it in D&D Beyond as long as you activate playtest content in the character builder.
So that’s basically it — Unearthed Arcana is the PTR for your D&D game. Check out the latest UA on the Wizards of the Coast site and use it accordingly.
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