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D&D > Off Topic > Tabletop RPGAug 5, 2020 5:00 pm CT

Play a necromantic Warlock or a spirit-summoning Bard in new D&D Unearthed Arcana

It’s that time again: D&D has released new Unearthed Arcana. The latest UA playtest content, we have two new subclasses with the the Undead patron for Warlocks and the College of Spirits for the Bard.

We all knew this day would come. Of all the various patrons for a Warlock, from powerful Fey to terrifying Fiends, there was always a glaring hole in the ranks. A force that would allow the Warlock to stand as a force of undeath itself with a powerful Undead patron. And not to be left out of the spooky fun, the Bard College of Spirits lets them to learn from what are basically dead people — although there’s some room to maneuver here in how you describe it.

But just what powers will these new subclasses gain and how will they play? Let’s take an in-depth look.

Undead Warlocks serve (and channel) the powers of Death

We’ll start with the Warlock first, because there’s no dressing this one up. The Undead patron is exactly what it sounds like — you made a pact with an entity of Undeath, one of the ancient and powerful of that particular category of beings. The description particularly mentions entities like Lord Soth, Acerack, and Strahd von Zarovich, so we know they’re not fooling around here. Personally, I recommend you don’t go with Acerack: that guy’s infamous for killing people who come to see him.

The Undead patron grants a variety of abilities:

  • The Form of Dread ability at level 1 lets you essentially mimic being undead, gaining temporary XP and immunity to being frightened, while also allowing you to impose frightened on those that attack you in melee.
  • The Grave Touched ability comes in at level 6 and makes it less like mimicry, as you no longer need to eat or drink or even breathe. Also, you can choose to replace any attack damage you inflict (be it a melee strike or Force damage from Eldritch Blast) with Necrotic damage, and deal extra Necrotic damage when in Form of Dread.
  • Mortal Husk at level 10 grants resistance to Necrotic damage, which becomes Immunity when you take on Form of Dread, and you can choose to explode when you are reduced to 0 HP, dealing 2d10 + your Warlock level in Necrotic damage to everything within 30 feet of you and returning to life with 1 HP. Sadly, you can’t repeat this one very often — it takes you 1d4 long rests to regain this power once you use it.
  • Finally, there’s Spirit Projection, which comes in at level 14 and lets you take a walkabout from your own body. It has a number of cool permutations, including being able to choose between instantly returning to your body or teleporting your body to where your spirit is once you stop projecting it.

I mean, if you’ve been wanting to make a Death Knight in D&D? This is definitely a way to do it. Go Pact of the Blade, take a couple of levels of Paladin, and then run up the Undead patron for all sorts of DKish fun. Or if you’d rather play the Necromancer from Diablo 2 and 3? This subclass could do that very easily.

Bards wield the power of the spirits

The College of Spirits Bard is less servant of unholy power that mocks the line between life and death and more I can summon spirits from the vasty deeps, and yes, they do come when I call them, thanks for asking, Hotspur. I’ve never really played a Bard in 5e, but I’m curious about this subclass. It feels like it would have a lot of interesting flavor and could be used to represent an interesting array of characters.

It, too, comes with some interesting abilities:

  • Spiritual Focus starts at level 3 and is a pretty standard “weird fortuneteller” set of items you can attune to serve as a spellcasting focus, stuff like crystal balls, tarokka decks, and that sort of thing. At 6th level, when you cast a bard spell that deals damage or restores hit points through the Spiritual Focus, roll a d6, and you gain a bonus to one roll of the spell equal to the number rolled. That’s pretty cool.
  • Tales from Beyond at level 3 is a really fun — though possibly overly complicated and random — ability that lets you reach out to various Spirits to learn their tales. You trade a use of Bardic Inspiration to contact these spirits and gain the benefit listed on the table included in the Subclass entry. Since Bardic Inspiration dice increase as you increase in level, and since there are 12 possible rolls on the chart, this is a power that scales up as you do — your level 3 Bard can only reach a few of these spirits, but as you increase in level, the spirits whose stories you can tell and whose powers you can tap into grow more potent as well. Since you’re rolling on a die, you never really know what you’re going to get when you use this ability.
  • Spirit Session at level 6 is basically the ultimate in Bard versatility — you do a one hour ritual using your Spiritual Focus to commune with a spirit, and then can learn a spell from any class’ spell lists. You can only learn a spell of a level up to the number of people who participate in the ritual with you, you can’t learn a spell that’s higher level than you can cast, and it must be a Necromancy or Divination spell. I feel like that last one needs to go, personally, but it’s still a spell other Bards can’t cast and there’s a lot of potential here. Whatever spell you choose, you hold on to it until you cast it or finish a long rest.
  • Finally at level 14 you get Mystical Connection. Instead of using a Bardic Inspiration die, you can just roll a d6 and use that instead with Tales from Beyond. The wording of the ability here is a bit confusing to me:

Your connection to spirits has become semipermanent. Whenever you use your Tales from Beyond feature, you can roll a d6 and use it instead of expending a Bardic Inspiration die. You still use your Bardic Inspiration die for the tale’s effect, without expending it. 

I’m not sure if this means I roll a d6 instead of my Bardic Inspiration die, or if I have a higher die like a d8 or d12, do I roll that instead but not count it as expended? But either way it’s a cool way to make Tales from Beyond more useful.

Both of these subclasses seem cool to me

The Undead patron feels a lot more concise and focused on a theme, while the College of Spirits Bard can be a variety of things depending on how you play it — a Roman Haruspex, a card-reader, a gambler with fate, a spirit-speaker for a nomadic group. They’re both pretty interesting and I’m definitely considering seeing if I can explore them as NPC’s in one of my campaigns. I run a lot of campaigns.

What I really like about these subclasses is how easily I can see using them to adapt characters from various CRPG’s I’ve played over the years. The Undead patron works extremely well for various kinds of Death Knights (especially paired with Paladin or Eldritch Knight Fighters, but I’d go with Paladin since both use Charisma as their spellcasting modifier) and the College of Spirit Bard would merge extremely well with Sorcerer for a whole variety of Shaman or Spirit Talker options. Either option could work as a Diablo Necromancer with some tweaking as well.

I’m looking forward to playing with these.

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