Review – Unearthed Arcana: Fighter

I love fighters. Paladins too, but I love fighters. Even when magic and other superpowers are available, I tend to play characters whose main mode of interaction with bad guys is to beat the bejeezus out of them. Partly this is a quirk of mine: when it comes time to sit down and game, I’m usually looking for  a way to unwind, and delving into “what spells or powers do I have now?” isn’t as fun for me as clever ways to do more direct action. When I played “Commander Samurai,” who usually just went by the title “The Commander,” in the GURPS Aeon Campaign, I mostly played him as Batman – ghosting into the situation with a ridiculously high Stealth skill, attacking with fists, guns, or telekinetically-enhanced versions of both, and then vanishing again. He had other powers; we eventually rewrote him because I didn’t use them.

Anyway: to return. I loves me some fighters. When I reposted my take on the Samurai from a year or two ago, a helpful poster aimed me at an Unearthed Arcana dedicated to the topic, specifically the samurai. I read through it, and had thoughts.

Fighter Archetypes

In 5e, what you’re really adding isn’t different character classes in most cases (this is good), but instead adding Fighter Archetypes – which basically means you’re adding thematically unified sets of powers that show up (for the fighter) at different levels. For fighter, you get Martial Archetype boosts at 3rd level (on selection), and then 7th, 10th, 15th, and 18th.

The 3rd level abilities usually define the archetype. The rest are power-ups.

The four new archetypes presented are the Arcane Archer, the Knight, the Samurai, and the Sharpshooter.

Arcane Archer

The Arcane Archer is a great concept. In GURPS, this sort of thing can be done in a few ways, but the best and most interesting is by the use of Imbuements, which allow you to empower arrows and other weapons with magical boosts.

So, what doe the archer give us?

Arcane Archer Powers

  • Arcane Arrow (3rd): create a magical arrow in your hand as a bonus action, it does 2d6 extra force damage. Twice per short rest.
  • Arcane Shot (3rd): you gain variations on that power, allowing other effects than just extra damage
  • Archer’s Lore (3rd): you gain two skills that will feel a lot like a Ranger.
  • Conjure Arrows (7th): You can create 20 mundane arrows that last for 10 minutes and then disappear.
  • 10th-Level Power-up (10th): Missing. Possibly because you get three 3rd level abilities instead of one or two.
  • Ever-Ready Arrow (15th): You regain one more use of Arcane Arrow a minute after you use up your second one. After that, you still need a short rest.
  • Deadly Arrow: (18th): Force damage increases to 4d6.

Well. Some cool stuff here, but mostly I see “huh, I’d do that differently.”

The arcane arrow base ability, that lets you do extra force damage is pretty much awesome. An arrow that is magical (and thus does damage to a lot of creatures that can only be hurt by magical weapons) is wicked cool. And the force damage? Nasty – almost as nasty as magic missile, for example: 1d4+1 force damage for the missile is about equal to 1d6 on the average, and so magic missile is three darts that always hit (ouch), whereas the arcane arrow is 2d6 (about two darts) that you can still miss with. Force damage is badass, though, so that’s a worthy power up.

The power variations are a nifty idea, though I might actually move those variations to the 10th level slot, since some of the variants are quite nifty. Or perhaps replace the current kinda-lame Conjure Arrows ability with the variant powers. Those powers need a reworking, though – I’ll get to that in a bit.

Archer’s Lore is a skill boost, which is nice, even if it encroaches into the ranger’s territory a bit. This is something that could easily be avoided, but was not. Not all archers are elves and not all archers have to be rangers or scouts. There are plenty of options for battlefield archers that are very fighter-like, and making all archers feel like rangers is a disservice to the many types of combat archers who aren’t rangers. Heck, that concept applies to the samurai, too, who were famously good archers. What I’d do here, though, is explicitly call out that the arcane archer can always find the materials to make mundane arrows, maybe with a DC 10 Nature check; make it with advantage if you’re in an area that has obviously plentiful materials availability. Maybe even make arrows seemingly out of nowhere with a disadvantaged check (like in the middle of a salt flat or scrub desert) but they might be crappy, giving disadvantage on attacks, but you can make ’em as if they sprung out of the air.

That ability obviates the need for the basicially-lame ability to conjure up 20 entirely mundane arrows at 7th level. And they disappear, too. Yeah, I’d either port the variant powers here, as noted, or invent something new. Heck, the Rapid Strike ability from other templates would be cool, as would looking carefully at what the sharpshooter can do. Heck, the Sharpshooter feat might go well here, or a stand-in for it, giving the arcane archer the ability to focus on something else; that being said, Sharpshooter as a feat is so delicious in most cases that the archer will have had it already. So find something else. But “can instantly make arrows which disappear” isn’t the kind of boost that I think a 7th level character will be looking for. On the other hand, being able to treat their normal fired arrows as magical weapons would be a good thing, and much more thematically appropriate.

The ever-ready arrow boost is . . . odd. You have two uses normally, and then short rest. This gives you a third . . . but only after a 1-minute power-up wait, which is 10 combat rounds. Either the combat is going to be over, or you will probably be able to take a short rest and get it anyway.

Honestly, either the arcane arrow should be usable a number of times equal to your proficiency between each short or long rest (or one plus half proficiency, which would be 2-4 uses), the damage should scale with level (again, 1 plus half proficiency would be cool, which is 2d6 at 1st-8th level, 3d6 at 9th through 16th level, and 4d6 at 17th and higher), or both. That might be overpowered, but maybe not.

Having the damage scale basically replaces the 18th level power-up, which is nice by itself, but many other powers (such as spells) can be cast with abilities that naturally get better over level, so burning your 18th level powerup to do an extra 2d6 force damage twice in a fight doesn’t seem like a good deal.

Arcane Shots

The variations that you can do other than “do more force damage” are neat in concept, but odd in execution – seemingly the theme of this Archetype.

Beguiling Arrow: makes a monster not attack a certain ally of yours for a bit.

Brute Bane: halves hit creature’s damage dealt on attacks, but only for one turn. This is a nice ability, though making the target make a CON save or something so it’s more than a one-turn thing would be good; I suspect most folks will take the 2d6 force damage over this every time.

Bursting Arrow: non-specific (will hit your friends), but basically you’d do this every single attack, because why not? No choices required, just increase the area of effect. This one should do full damage to the target, and either full damage with a DEX save for half damage, or just half damage. This wasn’t thought through. Choices should be choices, not “well, duh” auto-win options.

Defending Arrow: The arrow disrupts the foe’s magic, but causes disadvantage on attack rolls for a single turn. The curtains don’t match the drapes on this one. If you disrupt magic, then disrupt magic, and cause disadvantage on spell attack rolls, or give targets advantage on saving throws, for a certain period of time. Otherwise, disadvantage on attack rolls should be rephrased as Fear, or Hesitation, or whatever, or just drop the fluff entirely. But this one could easily be Shocking Arrow, or Stunning Arrow, and not invoke the magical disruption, and be a better choice for not causing a WTF eyebrow.

Grasping Arrow: Fantastic concept, and would be made even better with Dungeon Grappling and the control damage type. This conjures slashing thorns and slows you down. Unlike other effects, this lasts for a full minute (!), and if you move in nearly any way you take 2d6 slashing damage, no save. That’s 10 turns at 2d6 slashing, which is darn nasty. This is bordering on “I win!” for any creature that can’t absorb 20-120 HP of slashing damage. Which is probably most of them.

Piercing Arrow: This one’s cool, and basically allows you to attack a series of creatures who have “lined up nicely” but only within 30′. The odds of the nice line-up are low enough that I’d probably allow the effect to extend to the bow’s range. You’re using an expendable resource that may or may not hit; you can afford to be generous here.

Seeking Arrow: Seems cool.

Shadow Arrow: Most combats happen well within 30′. Just have the arrow impose Blindness for a few turns. Because “can’t see except for folks you’re already killing for one turn” sucks.

Arcane Upshot

Overall, I love the concept of the Arcane Archer. I think the execution here seems sloppy, but I could be wrong. The power-ups seem a mix of “that really doesn’t buy you much” and well, missing bits. Moving one of the 10th level power-ups to 3rd level (if that’s what was done) should be called out explicitly, and if so, then the abilities should scale so that you get nifty powers by the time you reach a level where your peers are getting more boosts.

For the arcane arrow types, they didn’t seem to get a lot of thought. Two of them are simply better than anything else, and the Grasping Arrow is shockingly powerful. Some of the others border on “why bother,” and still others are good ideas that need their fluff text adjusted. An expendable resource such as the arcane arrow should also have effects that last beyond one turn.

The Knight

This is interesting, because honestly when I think of a knight, I think of virtually every high-level fighter anyway. By the time you get to upper levels, you will be a mighty fighter, probably proficient on horseback. Champion fighters who are clad in gleaming maille will be paragons and on-the-spot leaders. Those that carefully manage and command will be Battle-Masters.

But still . . . let’s see what we’ve got, since the concept of a Knight is central to the vision of many fighters anyway.

The fluff text suggests a mix of barbarian defenses and paladin/defender protection. In battle, they’re designed to pin the enemy in place (a bit too akin to a video-game description for me, but fine). They’re emphasizing the ability to keep the rest of the party safe.

Well. That’s entirely not how I would go on this. A knight should be heavy cavalry, and when mounted (true, a liability in the dungeon) they should be doing devastating damage with ranged weapons such as a glaive or lance. The ability to shrug off weapon attacks when wearing heavy armor might come into play, and sure – toss in the ability to use the shield better on offense and defense. But already I  have a thematic issue with the framing – but that just means that I can create a Cavalier or Chevalier archetype instead.

So I’ll deal with it as presented and see how it fits.

Knightly Abilities

  • Born to the Saddle (3rd): Mounting and dismounting a horse costs you little movement; advantage on saving throws to avoid falling, and if you do fall, you take either no or less damage.
  • Implacable Mark (3rd): You can mark a target and . . . draw aggro? Really? This ability also introduces the ability to sort of have two reactions – you can do what might be considered an “offensive” reaction on your turn, but can still do a “defensive” reaction elsewhere in the round.
  • Noble Cavalry (7th): Skills or languages.
  • Hold the Line (10th): Ah, we didn’t forget the 10th level boost this time. You can use your reaction to hit for a bit more damage when someone moves and is also adjacent to you. This is very nearly “extra damage from opportunity attacks,” and might have been better phrased that way, but perhaps allowing opportunity attacks to be made on closing and retreating foes, or something else. Extra damage starts at 5 points (about a tetch more than a 1d8 equivalent, but not doubled on a crit), and goes up to 10 points with level (a bit less than 2d8).
  • Rapid Strike (15th): If you have advantage, you can give it up to make an extra attack as a bonus action. I like this, but will need to math it out to see if it’s a choice worth making, or if you do it all the time, or never do it. Basically, advantage will give you (roughly) a 25% increase in hits, or a potentially larger decrease in your miss rate depending on your foe’s AC. An extra attack will usually double your current damage output, so to speak. It’s probably always worth doing. This also feels like the kind of thing that anyone should be able to do – trade advantage for an extra attack, but perhaps with limited damage, and a Feat gives you the ability to plus-up the damage more.
  • Defender’s Blade (18th): An extra opportunity attack, so long as you haven’t used your reaction on your turn. Oh, and +1 to AC with heavy armor.

The differentiation between round and turn seems like a fine hair to split, though it is reasonably explicit in the rules. You can’t use two reactions on your action-declaration turn, but you sort of gain another one other than that condition. I think.

I’d have to look at the existing Archetypes to see how this compares, but there’s nothing here that screams “oh, yes, I have to get me some of that” to me. An underwhelming Archetype to me.

Samurai

Both knights and samurai are noted that they aren’t necessarily historically accurate in a brief box; this is a good use of words, and I said the same thing in my own writeup.

The Samurai has so many potential flavor pathways to take. They were mounted and foot archers, dangerous swordsmen, and yet strongly tied to feudal honor and obligation. Their discipline and focus – at least in literature and myth – are somewhat legendary, and this is the emphasis that the designers went with for this version. In my own version, I focused on how to flavor the existing Champion and Battle-Master archetypes with samurai sauce; this makes them an archetype by themselves.

Samurai Abilities

  • Fighting Spirit (3rd): You get one turn of advantage and resistance to mundane strikes. You can do this three times and then are recharged on a short rest.
  • Elegant Courtier (7th): Can add Wisdom modifier to CHA checks in somewhat limited circumstances (dealing with nobility). Also gain proficiency in a skill or language.
  • Unbreakable Will (10th): Gain proficiency in WIS saving throws, with backups to INT or CHA if you’ve already got that.
  • Rapid Strike (15th):  As with Knight.
  • Strength before Death (18th): You get one extra turn to do stuff before you die.

Fighting spirit seems worthwhile. In what seems to be a pattern for 7th level abilities with the fighter, Elegant Courtier doesn’t seem worthwhile. It’s great flavor, but this sort of ability seems to be something you should get at 3rd level and it shouldn’t replace a power-up. Still, I seem to recall that the 7th level power-up for Champion is the underwhelming Remarkable Athlete, so at least it’s consistently lame.

These power-ups are heavy on flavor and lack much bite. No real extra damage, bonuses to AC . . . just a bunch of stuff that may or may not be samurai-flavored. I think this one could have been done better. I’ll think more on how.

Sharpshooter

Well, aside from naming an Archetype the same basic name as a pre-existing Feat, which is not a great call, let’s see what this second archer variant has to offer.

Sniper and scout (come on! Not all archers are scouts!), and that’s pretty much all the fluff text. A bit about being very dangerous at range (well, yeah).

Sharpshooter Abilities

  • Steady Aim (3rd): With a bonus action, you get both of the available goodies. Ignore half and three-quarters cover, and extra damage. Usable three times, then short rest for recharge.
  • Careful Eyes (7th): Take the Search action as a bonus action; bonus proficiency in a choice of skills, including Perception.
  • Close-Quarters Shooting (10th): don’t take disadvantage for enemies in close. Hitting a creature who is in close denies them the use of their reaction.
  • Rapid Strike (15th): As with Knight and Samurai, but for bows.
  • Snap Shot (18th): One additional ranged weapon attack per combat, at the start of combat, but only if you attack as your first thing in the combat.

Huh. The stead aim is interesting, but I’d have thought that using your bonus action to get advantage on your next attack would be either an option or the way to go here. That’s what I do in Dragon Heresy, and it really works well. Careful Eyes is actually neat, and the existence of creatures that are naturally or skillfully camouflaged is a nice sniper/spotter ability.

Close-Quarters Shooting is one of the benefits of Crossbow Expert, plus the “deny reaction” thing. That’s a cool ability, but it flies in the face of the fluff text that says you need to keep your foes at a distance. I’d absolutely replace this with something that hews to that “hit ’em at range” thing – maybe the ability to declare a zone where you can take ranged opportunity attacks if a foe moves within it. But something at a distance, not up close.

Rapid strike but for archers needs the ability associated with it to gain the advantage that you have to giv eup in order to use the ability. That would tie in well with my “gain advantage by spending your bonus action” option for Steady Aim.

Snap Shot is . . . one additional attack? At the beginning of a combat only? At 18th level? That’s your crowning ability? Frankly, for this one I’d probably borrow the ability to score a Critical Hit, but only with ranged weapons, from the Champion. So double damage dice shooting weapons with the ammunition property if you roll an 18-20. So not thrown weapons, and not melee, but in your idiom, you’re amazing.

Parting Shot

I’ll admit, this Unearthed Arcana did not impress me. I understand it’s playtest material, and my experience with at-the-table play with 5e is limited enough to potentially lead me astray. But these just don’t seem that inspiring, and this is for several reasons.

The theme of the archetypes is often belied by the abilities gained. The sharpshooter, ranged combat master, is made a scout and a CQB master instead. Some of the power-ups seem barely worth it in places, while others, such as the Grasping Arrow from the Arcane Archer set, are over-the-top awesome. The samurai, for all of the “ethnic badass” treatments they’re given in other editions and games, gets a bit of short shrift, and I’d rather re-flavor the existing archetypes than use the abilities presented. The Knight . . . I’d have tried for “offensive powerhouse” while mounted for this archetype, but defensive bastion is a valid choice, especially buttressed by the protection fighting style.

Arcane Archer seems like “here’s extra damage and great abilities,” while the other three are fluff and flavor. That could be easily fixed, but wasn’t really addressed as such in the basic text.

All in all, I think these could, in many ways, be reframed to be very compelling, but for the moment, I’m not feeling it.

 

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