Unearthed Arcana Review: Three Subclasses

Mike Mearls and the D&D Team are at it again, this month presenting us with a trio of new subclasses for our games: The druid’s Circle of Spores, the Brute fighter, and the wizard’s School of Invention. As much as those Unearthed-Arcana-by-class documents were nice last year, I actually prefer these variety packs. It always feels more raw and real, like these were just ideas swimming around in someone’s head around the office.

Link: Unearthed Arcana: Three Subclasses

The Circle of Spores

I really like the background for this subclass. Members of the Circle of Spores are druids who find beauty in all aspects of the circle of life, including decay. They view it as a transformation, rather than an end. They also view undeath in this same way: simply a transition, rather than an evil to be smote.

Their circle spells reflect this, getting things like animate dead and contagion. They also receive gentle repose, which I get is kind of a signature necromancer spell (and the Circle of Spores is the druidic necromancer), but doesn’t really fit into their ethos. Preserving the dead kind of goes against the natural order, after all. Let them rot, and let thrive that which comes next.

Its other features are all interesting and fun. Halo of Spores is a minor damaging ability that activates as a reaction. Symbiotic Entity spends uses of Wild Shape to grant temporary hit points, poison damage on attacks, and doubles the damage of Halo of Spores (making it very powerful at higher levels). Fungal infestation feels like a feature that someone came up with a long time ago that finally found a home (“what if you could create mushroom zombies, like those cordyceps ants, or those zombies from The Last of Us?”). Spreading Spores allows you to start using your Halo of Spores ability at range, and also as a trap for weakened foes. And fungal body is a basic but necessary bag of immunities for a subclass like this one.

From a thematic point of view, this subclass is obviously designed to capitalize on the idea of fungal necromancy. Mechanically, it’s designed to be a class whose features naturally combo into each other. You activate Symbiotic Entity, toss out a poisonous attack or a spell at one of the weaker foes, use your spores as a reaction, then throw them at a now-weakened opponent on your next turn. Then, when they die from it, they rise up as a zombie under your control. Rinse. Repeat.

Overall, I like it. It’s a neat idea and I think it could be very fun in a party. Especially since its ethos avoids a lot of the traditionally “evil” pitfalls of normal necromancers. Its lack of “per day” mechanics is also refreshing, since you get to actually use all your stuff all day long instead of worrying about when you should throw out your zombie bombs.

The Brute

The brute is exactly what it says on the tin. It hits hard and gets hit hard in response. And looking at its features, it’s basically just a bag of hit points and damage.

Brute Force grants extra damage on all melee attacks. Brutish Durability gives you an eternal bardic inspiration die to add to your saving throws. Devastating Critical adds your level to your critical hit damage. And both Additional Fighting Style and Survivor are lifted straight from the Champion subclass.

Gotta say, I had high hopes for this one, and I am disappointed. I was hoping for a subclass that imitated the classic thug archetype. I wanted a fighter that would be at home gathering protection money or fighting in an underground boxing league. What I got was Mr. Shakedown from Yakuza 0. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with being Mr. Shakedown, but it’s also pretty boring. This subclass is big, strong, and nothing else.

Is boring bad? Probably not. For players that don’t want to pay attention to various new and weird abilities, this subclass offers an option that just has you throwing a bunch of dice at the problem until it goes away. For players like me, though? I’ll take a Battle Master, Arcane Archer, Knight, or Samurai any day over something like this.

The School of Invention

If the brute was boring, then the school of invention is exactly the opposite. Wizards who claim to have invented the other schools of magic, and whose experimental nature leads to a form of controlled chaos. They’re mad geniuses in the vein of Doc Brown or Nikola Tesla, wielding magic with a kind of wide-eyed, scientific zeal.

Their features only further this idea. They gain two new tool proficiencies (which, thanks to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, come with a plethora of new uses)and can craft what they call Arcanomechanical Armor, which is essentially a magical hazmat suit. They can also channel spells through their arcanomechanical armor to manipulate their energies or add force damage. And their Prodigious Inspiration ability allows them once per rest to switch out one of their prepared spells as a bonus action.

Their signature ability, however, is Reckless Spellcasting. Through this feature, they can combine arcane energies on a whim to cast a select number of random spells, regardless of whether or not they even have the spells recorded in their spellbook. What makes the feature interesting is the fact that you roll twice for any spell of 1st level or higher, and then pick between the two spells rolled. And, on top of that, if you roll a 10 on any of the tables, you get to roll again twice and cast both spells rolled. To add onto this, their Controlled Chaos feature at 14th level actually lets you cast a random spell one level higher than the slot you sacrificed. This risk/reward mechanic is hilariously-fun to me, and I cannot wait to play an Inventor Wizard.

Conclusion

This is a VERY solid addition to the Unearthed Arcana back catalogue. Even if the Brute is a bit bland and potentially overpowered, the richness of the Circle of Spores and School of invention more than make up for it. I hope that we get more and more of this kind of content, moving forward.

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