Sunday, July 3, 2016

Hints of abandoned sub-classes in the 5e Player's Handbook?

Reading through the players handbook a bit lately (my Princes of the Apocalypse character was trapped in the plane of Air by Yan-C-Bin so I think I'm making a new character, at least temporarily), I remembered something I thought was strange. There's a pretty clear hint at the storm sorcerer in the flavor introduction to the sorcerer. I know that, by and large, the classes are introduced by flavor text for 3 of the iconic builds, but it struck me that storm sorcerer was seemingly included in the flavor but the subclass was left out.

It immediately made me look at the druid and bard options because they were also only two-subclass classes and I was wondering what else I'd find. Indeed, one of the bard options could be read as a College of Guile/Subterfuge/Chicanery and there's a possibility that a third druid circle would be some sort of druidic avenger/warden. I'm not sure of a good name for this druid, I'd tentatively call it Circle of the Storm to indicate nature's fury but that's likely to give people the impression that its all about lightning and thunder when its about being a warrior druid.

Looking at the others, we see a dwarf battlerager described in the barbarian intro. Cleric lists three iconic domains. Fighter is a laundry list. Monk lists the three monastic traditions. Paladin lists the three oaths. Ranger, oddly, seems to list two types of hunter and the beastmaster, possibly harkening to a time when there were more subclasses that got condensed. Rogue, warlock, and wizard also follow suit by listing three examples from their subclasses.

Intriguing, but I'm not sure if that means a College of Guile bard or drudic Avenger/Warden were planned but not released yet or abandoned as they didn't make the cut. I'm guessing they were half-baked but due to space some things needed to be cut. The storm sorcerer saw a release in Unearthed Arcana and was later toned down slightly (such a waste, they could have just given the storm sorcerer 5-ish thematic utility spells and it would have been perfect, or perhaps just feather fall (1), gust of wind (2), and wind wall (3) to solidify the storm theme with spells that are thematic but you just don't have room for in your build).

So the druidic avenger (let's stick with Circle of the Storm) is pretty easy to mock up. Take the Valor bard's features as a base: extra weapons/armor plus bardic inspiration uses at 3, extra attack at 6, and cantrip/attack mix at 14. You have to modify it a bit, so the main circle feature is probably a couple ranger hunter-type spells and a melee damage boost at level 2 and/or a bit of extra land speed, extra attack at 6, land's stride at 10, and the bonus action spellcasting at 14. Spells might include: ensnaring strike (1), hunter's mark (1), find steed (2), silence (2), elemental weapon (3), nondetection (3), fire shield (4), locate creature (4),  contagion (5), geas (5). I tried to pick only things that worked on melee and missile attacks and mostly spells from off the druid's normal list. So you end up with a caster using the druid list, who's about as good as a valor bard at melee attacks but with more weapon-enhancing spells and a mount. They're probably about on-par with some clerics, and will be using spell slots to cast spells augmenting their melee attacks. This does make for an interesting variant of the 4e Warden class though without the war-forms. It could be a nice alternative to the ancients paladin, totem barbarian, or ranger for a wilderness character.

A guile bard isn't as straitforward. They're superficially similar to the lore bard, you'd assume they'd get expertise in deception and slight of hand maybe plus something like mage hand. But that's really similar to the Lore bard's training just more specific. And its not really clear how to modify their bardic inspiration here. Lore bard uses inspiration to hinder foes and valor uses it to boost allies. This makes me think that they just said the lore bard basically covers what a guile bard would need, and the guile bard was aborted because the lore bard killed it and took its stuff. One could potentially poach some Arcane Trickster features, but that actually also covers much of the same ground as a guile bard would. The college of satire bard from unearthed arcana (and college of blades bard too mabye) also suggests that if they did consider a guile bard concept initially they abandoned it.

What's odd here is that the battlerager was clearly forseen and released in the SCAG where it maybe belongs (really wish they had just renamed the class berserker still). The storm sorcerer looks like it wasn't done in time for the main book, which also makes sense why it would be left out. They only had so much time to test it and so much space in the book: they just happened to leave the flavor text in. These are obviously things the designers considered and found worked well or otherwise filled a niche. The druidic avenger could just have been a nod towards a land-druid who liked flame blade (following their rule of threes for the class intros) but it is a reasonably obvious concept that would add a bit more diversity to the druid and wouldn't take up that much space in the book. And the druid is the only class other than the ranger that is left with only two subclasses after the SCAG came out, though the circle of the land does have many sub-options within it. There's easily space for another druid build, especially a smaller one like what I sketched out above. So I'm not sure why it wasn't fleshed out unless I'm totally misinterpreting the signs here. Finally, the guild bard seems like a viable option, but maybe less so once the lore bard was finished  and they moved on to some other directions that seemed more viable.

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