Re-Post: Unearthed Arcana Review: Waterborne Adventures

This is an interesting one. Two of the subclasses in this document, you see, actually made it into the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. It’s neat looking back and seeing what I thought of the Proto-versions of these subclasses, as compared to their final versions.

And I still love the minotaurs. Their culture continues to make me smile.

So…waterborne adventures. Let’s make something pretty clear from the beginning. When they say “waterborne,” what they mean is “high seas” adventures. This is not the document that gives you merfolk, sea elves, or sahuagin as playable races. Nor is this the document that gives us cool underwater feats and class options. This document is firmly placing its flag in the “Sinbad/Jack Sparrow/Odysseus” camp. Therefore, that’s how I’m judging it. As much as I might want cool rules for under-water campaigns, that is not the theme of this document, so I’m not going to bitch about those things not being present.

First up: Minotaurs? Regarding what is actually there…I like it! I don’t love it like I did the Eberron UA, and I think there could have been a bit more included, but I like it just the same. But enough of that. Let’s get into the nitty gritty.

(As always, you can download the document yourself HERE.)

The Minotaurs of Krynn

Confession: I know exactly dick about Dragonlance and the world of Krynn. And I’m, like, stupid-lazy, so I’m not about to look that stuff up. If I had to judge them based on this document, I’d say that they sound like dude-bros who watched Stand By Me a few too many times and now have kind of a warped, absolutist sense of honor. The only way they can advance is by beating each other up, and they’re super clique-y, only hanging out with other adventurers that embody their ideals of “might makes right”. I get the impression that a lot of minotaur conversations end with the phrase, “You wanna fight, bro!?”

Minotaur A: “You know who’s a total badass? Teskos. Bro, that dude was totally clutch! I’m totes calling myself Teskos, bro. It’s gonna be, like, so sweet.”I really dig the idea of how their clan names work, however. It really works with the rest of their attitude toward strength. It’s like they sat down and said,

Minotaur B: “Teskos is a punk, bro! I’m all about that Athak. Dude ROCKED the Circus back in the day. He was, like, the friggin’ Hercules of ‘taurs, man.”

Minotaur A: “Bro! You just call Teskos a punk?”

Minotaur B: “Damn straight! Fight me, bro!”

Minotaur A shotguns a beer. Epic, bloody conflict ensues.

That was fun.

Before I move onto minotaur stats, however, I’d like to note that they include special minotaur bonds (normally included in a character’s background). I like them, and think that including more bonds in future races can really help to influence gameplay in a positive way.

Anyway. Onto the actual mechanics of the minotaur.

  • Strength as an Ability Score is a given, and Conqueror’s Virtue lets you pick a second bonus from Intelligence, Wisdom, or Strength again. I didn’t like this at first, as I’m a big fan of subraces. However, it kind of makes sense. Minotaurs in Krynn don’t really HAVE subraces. They’re all basically part of the same group, so this allows them to diversify a bit. Plus, the minotaur is so jam-packed with crunchy goodness that adding other abilities onto a subrace might be overkill. Also, allowing Strength as an option was a good move, as it allows the PC to gain a +2 if they really want that added bonus.
  • Medium size…I guess it’s fine. In a world with PC minotaurs, though, I might call the actual monster version a “feral minotaur” or “minotaur monstrosity” in order to justify that larger size and monster status.
  • Horns, Goring Rush, and Hammering Horns all combine together to make minotaurs into really, REALLY formidable fighters. Though I do like the notation that Hammering Horns requires an Attack action, meaning that it’s incompatible with Goring Rush. Still, a Battle Master minotaur that specializes in his horns is going to completely ROCK your game table. And while some people might find that unbalancing, I love it, because it’s going to make that player feel like a total badass.
  • Labyrinthine Recall is an obvious nod to the greek myth origins of the minotaur. That said, it feels odd in this version that rarely sees anything other than open skies and high seas. There’s some lip service paid to this ability in the “Minotaurs in your Campaign” section, but it feels like a weird justification. That said, it plays to the Exploration pillar of the game, whereas the rest of this race is almost exclusively focused on combat. So, for that alone, I suppose it deserves a place here.
  • Sea Reaver is fine and obligatory. They spend a lot of time on the seas, so they get ship-based proficiencies.
  • Kind of surprised that minotaurs don’t gain their own language. They’re described as intelligent creatures (they get a potential bonus to Intelligence, after all), so I would expect them to have a thieves’ cant-style pirate language that they use during raids in order to keep their enemies from understanding their plans. I don’t know, just felt like an omission.

Overall, I feel like it’s a bit combat-heavy. I might have replaced Hammering Horns with something related to performance combat (they’re gladiators, after all) or a bonus to persuasion when negotiating terms, since it’s well known that a minotaur’s word is their bond. Your mileage may vary, but I’d probably do a little tinkering before adding them to my world.

Fighting Style: Mariner

First of all, I like adding more fighting styles. It’s a good way to increase options for martial characters without having to add entirely new class options. And I like that this one is available to fighters, paladins, and rangers. I think that all of the fighting styles should be available to all three classes (because why the hell should a ranger NOT get to specialize in two-handed weapons?), and this is a step in the right direction.

It’s a good ability. No complaints.Regarding the actual mechanics…I think it’s fine. It’s effectively the same as the Defense style, but with an armor restriction and a mobility kicker. Gaining +1 AC, a climb speed and a swim speed, but being unable to wear full plate while doing so, seems fair. The climb and swim speeds aren’t really likely to effect combat all that often, unless the Mariner is going after distant archers, and even then, they’d be putting themselves into the line of fire.

Roguish Archetype: Swashbuckler

First off, let me say that the rogue being the one that gets this archetype is probably going to be a little divisive. A lot of non-OSR folks grew up with 3.X D&D, where the Swashbuckler was a class obviously inspired by the fighter. However, with the form and function of classes in 5e (which is to say that Base Attack Bonus/thAC0 isn’t a thing), it makes sense to me. Especially with some of the “roguish” abilities, like Panache and Toujours l’Audace.

But onward, into the mechanics!

  • Overall, I like the archetype. A few of the abilities could stand to be a little more flavorful and tasty, but it almost does its job. Again. I’d at the very least add in the climb and swim speed thing. But other than that, I really do like what it has to offer.The Mariner fighting style is included nowhere in this archetype. HUGE. MISSED. OPPORTUNITY. This is supposed to be the class option that makes you feel like a high-seas adventurer, and yet the ability to cross the waters and scale the rigging is strangely absent. The only problem would be that the initial point of the style is to make a character choose between heavy armor and mobility, and the rogue doesn’t have to choose. It takes two feats to get it heavy armor (or multiclassing, but I’m not going there), so it doesn’t really need to worry about making that choice.
  • Fancy Footwork is essentially necessary in an archetype that turns the rogue into a front-lines fighter. I would have added a bonus to movement speed, personally. There’s some lip service in a design note about this ability allowing a rogue to dual-wield weapons without expending their bonus action to Disengage every round, but that only works if the enemy can’t chase you down and hack you to pieces on their turn, meaning that the rogue is probably going to be using his bonus action to Dash every round, anyway.
  • Toujours l’Audace is a reference to a quote often attributed to Georges Danton during the French Revolution. It means “Always Audacity,” and I think that fits pretty well for this ability. On a personal note, I LOVE ability names that are quotes or non-traditionally inspired. One of my favorite abilities from the 3.x era was the Bounty Hunter’s “Bring ‘em Back Alive,” just because of the name. But what does Toujours l’Audace actually do? Well, it’s arguably the most powerful ability a rogue has ever received. They add their Charisma bonus to their Initiative score (awesome) and add Sneak Attack damage to attacks made against enemies their allies are NOT fighting. Pardon my French, but HOLY. SHIT. This means that the swashbuckler gains Sneak Attack damage against all enemies they engage in melee. The first time I read this, I freaked out. How friggin’ BROKEN is that!? Then I let the first impression fade away and actually started thinking about it. And it’s totally not broken, guys. The swashbuckler is a melee front-line fighting class that basically gains THREE defensive abilities: Fancy Footwork, Uncanny Dodge, and Elusive. It doesn’t gain AC, or lots of HP, and has to rely on tactical movement in order to not die. And on top of that, it never gains an extra attack, meaning that it gets one REALLY SOLID hit each round, against a SINGLE enemy. And I am totally fine with that. It makes for a really non-traditional fighter, and that’s pretty cool in my book.
  • Panache is weird and awesome. At 9th level, this totally squishy rogue-fighter can provoke his enemies into attacking him, making him into a 4e Defender. WAT? And you have to use your action, meaning that you don’t get an attack that round. Talk about meaningful choices in class design. And, of course, it can also use this ability to charm non-hostile targets, making the fast-talking, über-charming rogue not only a possibility, but a near-certainty. I love this ability. I just straight-up love it. I love it so much that I might slap a +1 Charisma boost onto it and turn it into a feat for my games. I want a douchey paladin charming all the ladies and slinging insults at all the enemies. The only thing I’d change is that I’d give it to the class earlier. However, as a rogue archetype, that’s not really an option, since 9th level is really the earliest it could show up unless you wanted to front-load the CRAP out of this class.
  •  Elegant Maneuver seems a little underwhelming for a 13th level ability. But considering the power of Toujours l’Audace at level 3, I see that as a balance issue. It fits with the theme of the class, and adds mobility, so I can’t really complain.
  • Master Duelist allows you to re-roll any failed attack roll with advantage once per rest. I mean, it’s good. But it’s a little dry and tasteless, and feels like an ability that would be better suited around 10th level. But I guess that makes sense. You want to put the cool, interesting stuff early in a class’s development so that players gain access to the fun of a class as soon as possible.

Let’s finish this thing off with the Stormborn Sorcerer.

Sorcerous Origin: Storm

I first encountered the Stormborn concept in the 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide II as the “Stormtouched” unique ability for NPCs. It gave the character the ability to control weather and call lightning each once per week, along with electricity absorption, for the low-low price of a whopping +7 LEVEL ADJUSTMENT WHAT THE FRACK HOLY SHIP BATMAN! Yeah. Not exactly appropriately balanced. There was also the Stormlord prestige class in Complete Divine. But I never bought Complete Divine, so my familiarity with it is quite limited. It mostly focused on gaining special abilities that can only be used during storms, and thematic weapon ehancements.

There was also the Stormborn sorcerer in Pathfinder, I believe in the Advanced Player’s Guide. Checking the PRD, I can see that it feels like an appropriate blend. It gains bonuses in storms, can call down lightning, and transform weapons into living thunderbolts a la Zeus. It can also turn itself into a bolt of lightning for X rounds once per day, which is neat, but relies on your enemies lining up in front of you.

Tempestuous Magic is weird. I like the idea—you can fly 10 feet whenever you cast a non-cantrip—but only allowing you to move 10 feet seems kind of dumb. That’s two squares on a battle grid. I suppose any amount of mobility is welcome, but I would honestly increase it to 30 feet or your movement speed. Right now it just feels like you’re kind of hopping around as you cast spells, which is odd.So how does the Storm Origin measure up to what came before? Let’s find out.

  • Heart of the Storm, on the other hand, is wicked, and exactly what I want out of my Stormborn sorcerer. You gain resistance to thunder and lightning, and every time you cast a spell, lightning arcs out of your body and thunder buffets your enemies, dealing damage to any foes you choose within 10 feet of you. THAT is cool, and would be a very cool combo with Tempestuous Magic if you could fly more than 10 feet. It’s like the force of you casting a spell is so great that you can just kick off into the skies, Superman-style, dealing damage to enemies left in your wake.
  • Storm Guide is just neat. It’s an exploration-pillar effect that allows you to subtly control the weather, allowing you to change the direction of the wind or protect your party from the rain. Definitely cool, allowing some protection from harsh weather. And it accompanies Heart of the Storm, so it’s not like combat-centric games are missing out.
  • Storm’s Fury is awesome, and really lends itself to the overall flavor of the class option (which I’ll talk about later). Whenever you’re hit in melee, you reactively shock the foe with lightning, and potentially knock them back 20 feet with the jolt. You are inherently infused with the power of the storm, and it protects you even when you don’t ask it to. I love that.
  • Wind Soul is a perfect capstone to this origin. You gain immunity to thunder and lightning damage, and can fly with a 60 foot speed. You can also reduce your flying speed to 30 feet and grant it to allies within 30 feet of you. Awesome. It really sells the idea that you are bending the wind to your will, rather than just flying around like a superhero.

I really, REALLY dig this version of the Storm Sorcerer. It’s not quite as flashy as its counterparts, but I kind of love that about it. See, in the past, being Stormborn gave you super powers. You could call down the lightning , conjure storms, and transform yourself into pure energy. The 5e Stormborn, however, really sells the idea that you’re a cosmic accident. You can’t control this power you have, and it just kind of shows up when you cast spells, or leaps out to protect you when you’re harmed. I love the idea of a sorcerer who is just kind of trying to handle this power. She doesn’t really trust herself around other people, and has real issues with intimacy. She never knows when the powers will manifest, and is constantly worried about letting herself get close to other people. The progression of the class also conveys this, as you get more and more control over this power as you increase in level, to the point that you can even conjure the winds to lift yourself and your allies skyward at 18th level.

It’s a really great example of a class suggesting a narrative with its progression.

Also, can I just say how awesome it is that the D&D team is coming up with more Sorcerous Origins? And that they’re differentiated from Pathfinder’s Bloodlines? One of my worries was that, as we gain more origins, they would effectively be the same as the bloodlines. I love the idea that sorcerers gain their power not from genetics, but from exposure to magic itself. Born during a roaring gale, touched by the power of a god, infused with raw, protean magic, or…well, dragon blood. They can’t all be winners.


Overall, I like this Unearthed Arcana. It’s not the best in the world, but it has some places where it really shines, and shows that Mike Mearls and the D&D design team really know what they’re doing. The weakest point is probably the Swashbuckler, and the strongest is the Stormborn. The minotaur is well-designed, and I like it, but it feels more like the obligatory Campaign Setting inclusion. I would have preferred to see it in a Dragonlance-themed document with Kender and Draconians. The Mariner is…fine. It’s really well designed, but it’s so small that I feel like I can’t put it in a “best” slot. Especially considering the cool, evocative nature of the Storm sorcerer.

I would have liked to see rules for ship combat. I know that such a thing might warrant its own Unearthed Arcana, as mass combat did, and the D&D team is on a schedule with these documents, but I think a simple “how to handle ship battles” section with basic hit points for vehicles, damage for cannons, and boarding rules would have been a neat addition.

Overall, though, I got the Storm Sorcerer. So I’m happy.

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