Fighters imbued with magic, Rangers covered in bees, Rogues, back from the dead. Here’s Jeremy Crawford on why Unearthed Arcana is gloriously weird.
The three newest subclasses for Unearthed Arcana provide new options for Rogues, Rangers, and Fighters giving us a glimpse into the direction D&D is heading. With the latest batch of options, each of the 11 original classes now has a new archetype that explores a strange new space on the tabletop, and according to Jeremy Crawford, this has allowed the design team to branch out in interesting directions. And looking back on the classes that have come out gives us some great insight as to where the D&D Team is hoping to explore next. Here’s Jeremy Crawford talking about the latest classes:
We’re starting with the big one here. The Revived embodies one of the biggest weirdest places to step into–the Revived is a class that’s based around coming to the slow realization that you’ve lived another life before. That whatever your memories are, you’ve had more than one life. How and why you were brought back to life is up to you to figure out over the course of the game, but it’s an interesting place to explore with a class because as many people have pointed out, the Revived sounds like it could be a player’s core race/species. Much like the Revenant, the Revived doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s tied to the Rogue at first blush.
But as Crawford points out, there’s a big reason to tie this to class–and it’s because just like in real life, the thing that matters most is your class. That is to say, choosing to be an Elf or whatever gives you a few abilities at the start of your adventuring career, and then that’s it. But in D&D, your class is one of the ways you can grow over the course of the game. Which allows the Revived to develop a deeper understanding of their powers that’s tied to the already extant progression system in D&D–as you level up you become more powerful, and this can ordinarily mean something like ‘learning new spells’ or ‘how to fight better’ but I really like this option of ‘exploring your connections more.’
It feels like something out of a Planescape Torment or other big narrative-driven game. And the Revived in particular seems like a perfect extension of the core 5th Edition tenet of “each subclass has its own story.” So as you level up, your mastery over your Revived nature/connection to the powers of Death is able to be mastered, which you see in the Revived’s ability to teleport real good and in dramatic ways that are hard to replicate.
The Rune Knight Fighter is another great example of magic seeping into the other classes. Which, if there was one big way to summarize the last eleven Unearthed Arcana releases it would be–everyone can be a little magical. Well, okay actually it would be “hey these subclasses seem to have a lot of planar connections, do you think D&D is about due for the Manual of the Planes?” but this is a close second.
Instead of Wizards and Sorcerers hogging all the good stuff, we’re seeing Fighters get more options besides “be a wizard also” with their martial prowess. The Rune Knight adds a lot of versatility and surprising utility that results in straight up magical effects. I like that you don’t have to be a spellcasting class to cast spells–I think this is a big move for the D&D team. You can see the beginning experiments with it in subclasses like the Way of the Four Elements, but that has its own problems, despite how much I love it. But here we have a Fighter that uses magic without using Vancian spells and slots and so forth. It’s a huge step in a new direction.
Finally we have the Bee-stmaster Ranger, who exemplifies the weird ways that you can represent the encroachment of magic into a class. Without a huge change to the Ranger’s class, they add a feature that gives a whole new angle–and one that banks upon the player investing their own descriptors. The swarm can look like whatever the player decides. This descriptive power exists, but this subclass (and the Artificer) are explicitly relying on the player’s input to get players thinking more about the characters they are creating.
We’re starting to see more of this, more ways for your own imagination to manifest–explicitly called for by the rules–as D&D moves into the next five years of 5th Edition. Whatever comes next, feels like it’ll be aimed heavily at players. So keep an eye out for big news, probably around summer 2020.