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D&D 5e Playtest: Gothic Heroes


This month's Unearthed Arcana offers playtest support for the new and widely popular (from all that I've heard) Curse of Strahd adventure. It is relatively brief - three pages, covering one new subrace that is available to many races, one fighter archetype and one rogue archetype. Let's go through it and see what we've got.

The Revenant

The theme behind a revenant PC is as excellent now as it was in 4e: something went wrong! You died horribly! Now you're back for vengeance! I mean, in most stories the revenant is the implacable antagonist, but this is D&D. Playing roles typically reserved for antagonists is an ancient tradition of our people.

The revenant's rules suggest the possibility of a long-term character becoming a revenant in the course of play as well, and I think that's pretty cool. For most of the races, it's as simple as dropping your subrace and filling in the revenant subrace features. I expect they really wish they had made every race with a clear subrace now, because they have to get into some awkward rules to make revenants work for humans and dragonborn. Tieflings got rewritten in a previous Unearthed Arcana. Half-elves, half-orcs, aarakocra, and goliaths get the shaft here. (As a side note, not to say a snide note, expectation of this problem governed my design of Aurikesh's player races.)

The changes to the human are such that 75% of the players I've seen choose human would never accept the revenant human. Specifically, the revenant human loses its bonus feat at 1st level. I don't think I go too far to say that the CharOp community had an aneurysm just looking at that. It isn't that the revenant's actual mechanics are bad; it's that they don't specifically help you execute your One Weird Trick sooner. Oh, and they lose their extra skill proficiency as well (but no one takes the Variant Human for that). Not too many people take the non-Variant human, either.

The changes to the dragonborn are a lighter touch, changing your breath weapon and resistance to necrotic (this is... mostly an upgrade!) and trading one point of Strength for one point of Constitution and the whole boat of revenant abilities. Dragonborn look like the A+ option for revenants. (Dracolichborn?)

The revenant offers:
The revenant's ultimate goal is to be dead again, having accomplished something left unfinished in life or righting some wrong. This is tricky in the span of a campaign, if that target is anything other than the main campaign goal. Narrative and game-friendly pacing issues abound if your vengeance is a side quest. (If your campaign doesn't have a single through-line plot and main bad guy, it's fine - that player should just count on rolling up a new character once the revenant's storyline is done.)

Overall, the revenant is mostly fine. I'd like to see the regeneration feature work differently somehow, so that it presents less mental load. I hope that any final release of the race would figure something out for the currently-excluded races, and give some real thought to just how overpowered the non-revenant Variant Human and the revenant dragonborn really are. I don't know that there's a rules-level fix for my issues around self-resurrection, but some kind of drawback if they turn away from their purpose might help. (It would also make them terrible members of a team where everyone has personal goals.) I dunno, the theme around revenants suggests that they should be single-minded, implacable, and filled with hatred - not exactly the best team player. There's bound to be problems when theme and gameplay are at odds.

Fighter Archetype: Monster Hunter

This archetype bothers me, but really only because of the context of the Kits of Old UA article. Specifically, it looks more and more like some Combat Superiority dice with a narrow list of applications has become their cookie cutter for additional fighter archetypes. My problem with this is that they're all so much narrower than the Battle Master - even with their different maneuvers, they kinda feel like subsets.

The Monster Hunter does what it says on the tin, without being narrowed down to a single type of monster (the perennial ranger problem). They gain:
On the whole, this archetype is not super exciting to me - I don't think they took a lot of risks in the design - but it is pretty good at what it does. Let's not lose sight of how balls-out overpowered Monster Slayer is, though. If it were up to me, I might have made this a retool of the Eldritch Knight rather than the Battle Master, expanding the theme that Hunter's Mysticism touches on.

Rogue Archetype: the Inquisitive

The last section of the article offers the Inquisitive, which is less inquisitor and more detective. I wrote my own version of an Investigator rogue; this angles toward a similar theme with a much simpler and less detective noir approach. I feel like the core story of the Inquisitive "should" trend toward discovering unwelcome, even unbearable, truths that get the character a new lodging... under six feet of dirt.

This subclass gets a large number of features, by the standards of rogue archetypes.

I get how this archetype makes the rogue great at the three detecting skills. I get how it connects their detecting skills to combat. It doesn't touch on lore mastery at all, though the flavor text suggests that it would. More so than a lot of rogues, the Sage background really cries out to be combined with the Inquisitive. "I have super-senses" seems like a fairly narrow concept, and I really would have expected some feature to tap into the strangeness and darkness of a Gothic horror setting.

Without a unified system for investigation challenges in 5e, it's hard to guess how often this archetype's special tricks will be useful in non-combat situations. Their combat tricks will definitely be useful, but more damage that is almost-always-on doesn't communicate a lot of flavor.


I'm curious to see how the community as a whole receives this packet. The revenant is well-realized, if overpowered in some cases, totally undesirable in others, and disallowed in several cases, while the two archetypes are oddly bland. There's just not that much that connects them to Gothic horror and Ravenloft, that I can see. Yes, the player and DM do a lot of the work of making the theme fit into the setting - but 5e's other classes and subclasses work a lot harder to point the player in the right direction and support genre conventions.

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