Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
|Dungeons & Dragons|
|RPG published by
Wizards of the Coast
|Authors||Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford|
Announced under the working title of D&D Next, the 5th edition of Wizards of the Coast's Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game is the Coca-Cola Classic to 4E's new coke, where they had a long period of playtesting instead of
computer simulations World of Warcraft. It is available as a free 110-page *.pdf with a subset of the rules, and in the usual three hardcover tomes: Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual. 5th edition took dramatic steps to regain the "feel" of older editions, hoping to bring Pathfinder expats back into the fold without alienating the minority of players who liked Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, and maybe, just maybe even woo back some of the TSR grognards.
On the January 12, 2016, Wizards of the Coast released the Systems Reference Document, 5th Edition under the Open Gaming License- effectively making the core rules and much of the more generic fantasy content in 5th edition free.
- 1 What's The Same
- 2 What's Different (from 3E)
- 3 Noticeably Missing
- 4 4e's Legacy
- 5 Magic/Spellcasting
- 6 Combat
- 7 Setting
- 8 Races
- 8.1 Core
- 8.2 Eberron Unearthed Arcana
- 8.3 Elemental Evil Player's Guide
- 8.4 Unearthed Arcana Waterborne Adventures
- 8.5 Unearthed Arcana Gothic Heroes
- 8.6 Plane Shift: Zendikar
- 8.7 Plane Shift: Innistrad
- 8.8 Volo's Guide to Monsters
- 8.9 Plane Shift: Kaladesh
- 8.10 Plane Shift: Amonkhet
- 9 Classes
- 10 Prestige Classes
- 11 Backgrounds
- 12 See also
- 13 Online Support
What's The Same
Player classes are still the classics (Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard in free version, plus Paladin, Warlock, Sorcerer, Bard, Barbarian, Ranger, Monk, and Druid in full PHB), players have the archetypal races (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling and Human in free version, adding subraces such as Mountain/Hill Dwarves, Forests/Rocks Gnomes, Forests/High/Dark Elves, two versions of the Halfling, also Tieflings, Half-Orcs and Dragonborns). Strength, Int, Wis, Dex, Con, Charisma. Ability scores can give small bonuses to your dice rolls. Characters can be skilled at predefined tasks like 'acrobatics' or 'intimidation' to get bonus to rolls. Universal d20-based system of roll-over target numbers. Experience points, with every class requiring the same number of EXP's to advance to the next level. Classes get features as they reach new class levels. Hit points, class-based hit dice. 10 silver pieces = 1 gold piece. In combat, targets have armor class to-hit numbers determined by armor & stuff.
What's Different (from 3E)
A big change is the advantage/disadvantage mechanic, which collapses a lot of the circumstance bonuses. If a character has an 'advantage' for a skill roll or combat roll, the player rolls two d20 and takes the better one. If a character has a 'disadvantage', roll two d20 and take the worse one. These advantages and disadvantages cancel each other out, and do not accumulate; you will only ever roll two d20 and choose one.
Attributes are the same ol' six, but more important than before. They're used for skills checks and saving throws. Ability score increases are now class features, meaning that you have the potential to lose them if you multiclass. Most classes get 5 ASIs, at levels 4, 8, 12, 16, and 19. Rogues get a couple extra, and Fighters get a couple more than Rogues.
Feats are now fewer in number and more potent. If a character wants to obtain a Feat, they have to give up one of their Ability Score Increases to gain access to it.
In order to maintain the 'bounded accuracy' system described above, ability scores have a 'soft cap' of 20, which can only be broken using (rare) magic items, or exceptional circumstances such as the Barbarian's level 20 feature. There is a hard cap of 30, which cannot be exceeded by any means.
Target numbers including Armor Class are capped hard; no more DC 80 skill rolls, no more AC 120 monsters. Goblins can still hit you when you're a level 20 paladin, they just do weaksauce damage (Fixed damages to make the combats faster are also suggested/used for the weakest creatures). Swarms are still a problem, as are clever little shits like Tucker's Kobolds; no more Superman characters.
No more skill points; either you have proficiency in a skill, or you don't. As you level up, you get a 'proficiency bonus' (roundUp((level)/4)+1) you add to any rolls for those skill checks you're proficient in. Seems small, but see above about skill checks and ACs not getting stupid large even at high levels.
Saving throws are like skills checks. Each class is proficient in two attributes for saving throws, so they get to add their proficiency bonus. So when a Cleric gets hit by a charm spell, that's a wisdom save: d20 + wisdom bonus + proficiency, versus the spell DC (explained below). No more 'fort','reflex','will' per level, although Constitution, Dexterity, and Wisdom are still the three most common saves. Each class gets two saving throw proficiencies, one "common" and one "uncommon."
Races come with racial bonuses, but some races also choose a racial sub-type. I.e. all dwarves get bonuses to save vs. poison, but Hill Dwarfs get +1 Wisdom and extra hitpoints while Mountain Dwarfs get +2 Strength and medium armor training. This has been around since Dragon Magazine was still a print magazine, but it's codified right there at character generation. The exceptions are humans, half-elves, half-orcs, and tieflings.
Spellcasting is through spell slots used to cast the known/daily prepared spells as many times as there are slots available (essentially, you no longer have to assign a spell to each spell slot). It is very similar to 3e Sorcerers. Older players may recognize this system from the Final Fantasy 1 and Wizardry vidyas.
Each class has a subtype called "archetype" you choose at 1st, 2nd or 3rd level, depending on the class. This lets you choose some of the class features you get as you level up. For Clerics this would be their god's domain that the Cleric is gonna be all about (Basic Set only has "Life" domain). For Wizards it's the school of magic (Basic Set only has "Evocation"). Paladins have the Oath they swear, bards have the College they join, etc.
Character background is now a mandatory part of character generation. A Background includes additional skill and tool proficiencies, and even bonus equipment, as well as a "Feature" that gives some sort of social advantage. For example, a Criminal has a contact in the criminal underground, or a Sailor being able to get free passage for their party in exchange for assisting the ship's crew. Backgrounds also have tables players will roll on to get two Personality Traits, one Ideal, one Bond, and one Flaw, though like most tables of this nature the player can just choose whatever sounds best to them (or come up with their own that fit the background 'cause this is a roleplaying game).
When you role-play well, the DM can give you an "inspiration" token you can spend to gain advantage on a d20 roll, or pass it off to another player in the group. This has often been a house rule but now it's codified and it will likely push people into using the fanmail mechanic more often, and roleplaying for benefits instead of being entitled to a hero point with every long rest. Additionally, you can only ever have one inspiration token at any given time, effectively incentivizing you to spend it quickly and not hoard it. Presumably this is all to help out new players with the idea of playing a character that isn't of their own personality, but it also probably helps the players who view their characters as walking stat blocks with little to no personality into trying actual roleplaying for once. The PHB even explicitly suggests working with your DM to come up with a custom background if none of the ones in the book really fit your character. The basic set comes with five pre-made character backgrounds, and tables so you can roll the "traits" "ideal" etc. Notably, the bard's performance can also grant inspiration.
Starting equipment is now decided with the use of a list for a given class, as well as equipment granted by choosing a background. Some things in a list give you an option, such as choosing between two kinds of weapons or item packs. It's an awfully generous amount of items to start with when you add it all up. Of course, you can roll for starting gp like in older editions, but you stand a decent chance of rolling poorly, and considering how the monk's starting item set alone has the potential to be worth more than the maximum roll for their starting money (22.5 vs. 20 gp, without even taking background equipment into account) you'd be stupid not to take items from the list, unless some rule passed this writer's knowledge.
Electrum pieces are once again acknowledged as existing in D&D.
None of the core books have rules for playing as "monster races." A few were released in Volo's, but about half of them are widely-disliked, have flagrant balance issues, or both, and none from outside that book's purview (such as setting-specific races like thri-kreen or warforged and plane-specific options like githyanki and githzerai). Official online supplements are being released to cover some of this (with the first one including all the Eberron-specific races as options), and the DMG does offer very free-form rules for homebrewing new races off the template of the old.
Exotic/Superior weapons are absent from the core books entirely, with the Player's Handbook listing only simple weapons and martial weapons. Bastard swords and spiked chains are nowhere to be found. 3rd edition's Dwarven waraxe, two-bladed sword, Gnome hooked hammer, and a bunch of others weren't invited to the party. Hand crossbows are now martial weapons (after 4th edition downgraded them from exotic to simple). Instead, the rules tell the player to use equivalents for flavor (katanas are just longswords, etc.) and not sweat the small stuff.
Psionics haven't reared their head yet, save for a brief mention that Illithids are "Psionic Commanders" and possess "psionic powers" with no further description for what that means to the player (some other monsters also mention possible psionic powers, for example quaggoth and gray ooze). In the Unearthed Arcana article for Eberron, it was mentioned that rules for psionic classes would be published "once such rules are made available," implying that WotC is working implementing a Psionic class and as of this writing there is currently a rough draft of psionics in existence.
The Warlord has yet to make a 5e appearance despite the battlemaster being the Eldritch Knight to its wizard and the Warlord being a core class from 4e.
No epic progression. The DMG has rules for epic boons, but there's not much support beyond this. Consequentially the Monster Manual lacks epic monsters like Atropals and Orcus.
5e plays, looks and feels a hell of a lot more like 3rd edition than 4th, but make no mistake, a lot of stuff carries over from 4th edition, for good or ill.
Character alignment has no mechanical effect; basically character mindset/flavor only. No more "Barbarians must be Chaotic, Bards must be Chaotic, Druids must be Neutral, Paladins must be Lawful Stupid". Paladin flavor definitely leans towards the Good alignments, but focus is given on following their archetype's Oath rather than a specific alignment. DM is still given permission to drop a mechanical penalty on a player who is purposely breaking/ignoring their oath, but at least is given the option to switch over to the Blackguard-ish "Oathbreaker Paladin" archetype instead of forcing the player to become a different class instead.
PC racial traits are more like 4E than other editions. There are no ability score penalties, level adjustments, or favored classes.
Dragonborn and Tieflings remain core races, appearing in the PHB1 race lineup alongside the iconic human/dwarf/elf/halfling/gnome/half-elf/half-orc setup. Both races retain aspects of their 4e lore as well, tieflings moreso than dragonborn -- dragonborn, in fact, have been made somewhat closer to the half-dragons/draconic template of older editions in that they need to choose which of the iconic chromatic/metallic dragons they resemble. However, races outside the standard Dwarf/Elf/Halfling/Human are now considered uncommon where small town and villages treat them with suspicion.
Second Wind lives on as a class feature for Fighters. Bits and pieces of Defender Marking also turn up (such as Protection fighting style and Sentinel feat). Action Points live on in the Fighter as well, in the form of Action Surge, which lets a Fighter make a second action on their turn, but needs a short rest before getting this extra action back.
Speaking of short rest, many class-related feature-powers are designated as needing either "a short rest or a long rest", or "a long rest" to recharge after being used. This is essentially a fancier/less universal version of 4E's encounter power & daily power set-up (although 3.5 did have some abilities that were "once per encounter", like Barbarian Rage, and "once per day" has been around forever). 5E also has at-will attack cantrips for casters, so AEDU's influence definitely shows.
On the other hand, the definition of "Short Rest" has changed a bit. In 4e, a short rest was a 5-minute breather, and it was generally assumed that you'd get a short rest after every encounter. In 5e, a short rest is more like a 1-hour lunch break, so you won't get them as often.
"Recharge 5-6" was retained for not-quite at-will abilities (like dragon breath) instead of 3E's "wait 1d4 rounds" mechanic.
The use of hit dice to regain hit points during a short rest is based on 4th edition's healing surges. The death/dying mechanic, in which you need three "saving throw" successes or failures at 0 HP to either live or die still remains.
The skill list is almost identical to 4E, and proficiency is a yes/no binary rather than skill points, though this was first introduced back in Star Wars Saga Edition (aka D&D 3.75).
Psychic damage type is still here. Poison is also a damage type in this edition, but since Poison damage was a 2e thing that 3e chucked out for some absurd reason, it doesn't really count.
Lightning and Thunder damage retain their 4E names (instead of Electric and Sonic). Likewise, Necrotic and Radiant energy survived the edition change, though they are tied to the old "Positive Energy Plane" and "Negative Energy Plane", which are here imagined as secondary planes beyond even the Outer Planes.
Feywild, Shadowfell and Elemental Chaos have all survived the transition.
Nine spell levels return from previous editions, but as in 4E, spell effects don't scale with caster level, other than the aforementioned attack cantrips. Instead, lower-level spells can be cast in higher-level slots for more potent returns, like targeting additional enemies or dealing more damage.
Cleric's Channel Divinity and the 'ritual' mechanic for spells were also introduced in 4th edition.
The idea of superpowerful "Epic Boons" being awarded for hitting level 20+ appears in the DMG as a homage to 4e and its Epic Destinies.
All ability scores are used for saving throws (although not the same way as 4E).
The Swordmage's iconic cantrips appeared as available to wizards, sorcerers and warlocks in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, along with a Wizard archetype that roughly fits their M.O.
Spells don't vanish like Vancian spellcasting "fire-and-forget". Spellcasters get a small number of 'cantrips' that they can cast at-will. The attacking ones are (sort of) equivalent to weapons, and scale up with level. Non-cantrip spells do not scale up their effect with character level, but they may have bigger effects if cast using a higher spell slot. For instance, the 1st-level spell Burning Hands (3d6 damage) does 4d6 when cast as a 2nd-level spell, 5d6 as a third-level, etc. The caster either prepares a number of different spells each day (cleric, druid, paladin, wizard) or uses all the spells in his repertoire (ranger, sorcerer, warlock, bard) which are then freely cast using spell slots. There is no "Improved Hold Person" instead you cast this 2nd level spell using a 3rd level slot to affect one additional person.
Some spells can be cast as rituals, usually utility stuff. They take an additional 10 minutes to cast as a ritual, but don't use a spell slot. Still needs to be on your spell list, but this means no more blowing an entire day's worth of spell slots on casting "Read Magic" and "Identify" just so you can assess loot.
Some spells, like buff enchantments or protection abjurations, have a continuous effect maintained by 'concentration'. The spellcaster can maintain concentration as a free action, but can only keep concentration going for one spell. No more heaping a bazillion enchantments or abjurations all at once. Concentration can also be broken by taking damage if the caster fails a Constitution saving throw.
Another change to spellcasting is that many spells have been compressed into one; instead of having six different buff spells, one for each stat, there is now one and you pick which stat to buff when you cast it. Examples of spells that have this are the Runes spell series and the Symbol spells.
Spells are no longer cast with XP as a required component. Wish, for example, does not require EXP to cast; however, it is much more dangerous to use (the caster has a 1/3 chance of never being able to cast it again).
Charge-based magic items such as wands, staves, etc have returned, but are no longer completely "fire and forget". If you use your last charge in such an item, there's a 1 in 20 chance that it will be destroyed (roll a D20 after charges drop to zero, item disintegrates after use if you roll a 1), but otherwise it will regain a number of charges based on the item each morning. So, if you're careful and lucky, you can keep using the same wand (or other item) throughout your career.
There's a "disengage" maneuver that lets you step away from an enemy without provoking an AoO. The "charge" maneuver is noticeably missing , but you can both move your speed and do all of your iterative attacks (which are now a class feature and not based on your to-hit roll.) In addition, you can now break up your movement over the course of your turn; do a partial move, action, then more moving instead of "move then attack." Two weapon fighting doesn't give you a huge minus to your attacks, you just need to use two light weapons and you don't get your usual attribute bonuses with the off-hand.
Combat is faster. The advantage/disadvantage mechanic speeds up combat by making situational modifiers simpler, and the Monster Manual offers the option to let monsters deal set damage per attack instead of rolling every time.
Resistance, vulnerability and immunity are simplified. Whereas before they used a numeric system, it's now a Pokemon-style double-damage/half-damage/no damage system. Also, any of these matters is applied explicitly after any circumstances - example given in the PHB is a character with Acid Resistance being hit for 25 Acid damage whilst under a spell that lowers damage by five, so the initial 25 damage is lowered by the spell first, then resistance gets applied, so only 10 Acid damage is inflicted.
Creatures and characters now have a set move speed per turn, instead of a move action, allowing them to split up their movement however they wish throughout their turn, including between attacks. Because moving is no longer a single action, the "five foot shift" maneuver is no longer present.
Special "legendary monsters", such as dragons or aboleths, can perform a single "legendary action" at the end of another character's turn, and may also use the ambient magic within their lairs to perform unique attacks. They can also affect their surroundings indirectly simply by existing.
Cosmological setup is basically the Great Wheel, but has some new features. Most notably, the Inner Planes have been changed to have an Exalted-esque "Border Elemental Plane/Elemental Plane/Elemental Chaos" layout. The Border Elemental Planes are closer to 4e's envisioning/reason for revamping the elemental planes; they resemble the material plane, but with the chosen element being more dominant. As one ventures "deeper" into the elemental plane, though, that element becomes more dominant, similar to approaching the Elemental Poles in Creation. Eventually, it's nothing but pure element wherever you look, unless you head back towards the Material Plane. And then, beyond the Elemental Planes, you have the Elemental Chaos, where they all go mad and become a swirling tide of insane elemental matter and energy, giving you stuff like 4e's Riverweb, mountains of burning ice, seas of liquid salt, storms of acid, etc. For an example; the Border Elemental Plane of Air would look like an infinite sky with lots of floating islands in it, perhaps even the size of continents. As you venture even deeper into the Plane of Air, those "earthbergs" become rarer and rarer, until eventually there's nothing but infinite, empty space all around you.
No official campaign setting; whereas 3e used "Greyhawk with the serial numbers filed off" and 4e used "Points of Light", 5e just includes basic suggestions so a variety of settings can be done, including Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Dragonlance and Eberron, as well as more than enough material to homebrew something.
Though Forgotten Realms is the setting for Organized Play, seeing as Forgotten Realms is one of the few settings to progress in time that isn't surprising. Dark Sun and Eberron are both deliberately anchored in time, to allow players to rise high and affect them without metaplot getting in the way.
The Forgotten Realms is the only campaign setting to get the equivalent of a dedicated splatbook thus far; the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide summarizes the fluff for the Sword Coast region as it stands in "the present", the novels having undone the events of 4e in their "Sundering" chronology, and adds some unique race and class options based on the setting.
The first non-FR adventure came out in March 2016; the Curse of Strahd sees Ravenloft make its way into, in the form of yet another retelling of the original adventure that started it all. Tales from the Yawning Portal adventure book includes classic adventures from the Greyhawk setting, but also offers suggestions in how to place them in other settings.
|Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Races|
|Player's Handbook:|| Dragonborn - Drow - Dwarf - Elf - Gnome |
Half-Elf - Half-Orc - Halfling - Human - Tiefling
|Dungeon Master's Guide:||Aasimar - Eladrin|
| Dwarf (Duergar) - Gnome (Svirfneblin) |
Halfling (Ghostwise) - Tiefling (Variants)
|Volo's Guide to Monsters:|| Aasimar - Bugbear - Firbolg - Goblin - Goliath - Hobgoblin - Kenku |
Kobold - Lizardfolk - Orc - Tabaxi - Triton - Yuan-Ti Pureblood
|Elemental Evil Player's Guide:||Aarakocra - Genasi - Goliath - Gnome (Svirfneblin)|
|Princes of the Apocalypse:||Genasi|
|Eberron Unearthed Arcana:||Changeling - Shifter - Warforged|
|That Old Black Magic
|Plane Shift: Amonkhet:|| Aven (Ibis-Headed, Hawk-Headed) - Khenra |
Minotaur (Amonkhetian) - Naga (Amonkhetian)
|Plane Shift: Innistrad:||Human (Gavony, Kessig, Nephalia, Stensia)|
|Plane Shift: Kaladesh:|| Aetherborn - Dwarf (Kaladeshian) - Elf (Bishtahar, Tirahar, Vahadard) |
Human (Kaladeshian) - Vedalken
|Plane Shift: Zendikar:|| Elf (Joraga, Mul Daya) - Goblin (Grotag, Lavastep, Tuktuk) - Human (Zendikaran) |
Kor - Merfolk (Emeria Creed, Ula Creed, Cosi Creed) - Vampire (Zendikaran)
The first PHB contains the eight iconic races of editions past, plus the 4e additions of Dragonborn and Tiefling.
Dwarves, elves, halflings and humans are all labeled as "common" races who will be seen practically everywhere (save the drow subrace for elves), whilst the others are labeled as being "uncommon" races.
Race design is similar to 4e, minus the "racial powers" setup due to the loss of that mechanic; all bonuses, no penalties - with a few subrace exceptions. This carries over the 4e philosophy of not completely screwing players who want to build something unconventional, like a halfling barbarian or a half-orc wizard.
Many races have subraces; they must choose to be a specific kind of that race for further added bonuses.
Added as the sample "create a race" to demonstrate the rules therefore in the DMG, the aasimar is built as a celestial counterpart to the tiefling; +1 Wisdom, +2 Charisma, Darkvision, resistance to necrotic and radiant damages, and the spell-like abilities Light (level 1), Lesser Restoration (1/day at level 3) and Daylight (1/day at level 5). It got an alternative write-up in Volo's Guide to Monsters that shares some, but not most, of the base race's traits.
Essentially, they are their 4e counterparts with vaguer backgrounds, dragonborn are still pretty close to what they were. +2 Strength, +1 Charisma, and choose one Chromatic or Metallic Dragon; they get a breath weapon shape, breath weapon damage, and damage resistance based on what they chose (cold for Silver Dragonborn, acid for Black, etc). Not terrible, even if laughably outclassed in almost every way by other races with similar stat bonuses.
Your standard dwarf. Short and stout, grumpy but loyal, love digging, and tough as a hammer sammich. They get a +2 bonus to Constitution, have Darkvision, protection against poison, training with axe and hammer weapons, training with several kinds of artisan's tools, the usual dwarven armored movement and stone knowledge. They get two subraces; Hill and Mountain.
- Hill dwarves are wiser (+1 Wisdom) and even tougher than regular dwarves, giving them extra maximum hit points equal to their character level.
- Mountain dwarves are more warlike, getting +2 Strength and free proficiency with light armor and medium armor. The *only* subrace to offer two +2 bonuses now, balanced by the fact that the armor training will almost certainly be completely redundant to any class that would realistically make use of those stats. However, it's a good choice for a squishy character who wants melee a bit, like a blade-pact warlock.
- Duergar, or "Gray Dwarves", appear in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. In addition to the base dwarf stuff, they get a boost to Strength, Superior Darkvision (so Darkvision 120 feet), Duergar Resilience (Advantage on saving throws against Charm, Illusion and Paralysis effects), and the spell-like abilities of Enlarge/Reduce (3rd level) and Invisibility (5th level), both usable once per long rest. They also get Sunlight Sensitivity, though tweaked slightly; in addition to taking disadvantage to attack rolls and Perception checks when they or their target is in direct sunlight, they can't use their spell-like abilities if they're in direct sunlight.
Still pretty standard; graceful, eerie, beautiful, mary-sueish bastards. Grace translates to a +2 bonus to Dexterity, keen senses give them Darkvision and proficiency in Perception, they are resistant to charming and immune to sleep, and they trance instead of sleeping. They get three subraces; high, wood and dark.
- High elves are the magically adept elite. They get +1 Intelligence, proficiency with long & short swords and bows, an extra language, and the ability to cast one wizard cantrip of the player's choice.
- Wood elves are the iconic forest-dwelling primal elves. +1 to Wisdom, same weapon proficiency as High Elves, even quicker (they have base speed 35 feet, making them the fastest of the default races), and they're extra adept at using natural phenomena for hiding.
- Dark elves have innate magic (Dancing Lights cantrip at level 1, Faerie Fire 1/day at level 3, Darkness 1/day at level 5), Superior Darkvision (Darkvision to 120 feet), +1 Charisma, proficiency with rapiers, shortswords and hand crossbows, and are the only (sub)race in the corebook with any kind of racial penalty; they take disadvantage to attack rolls and Perception checks when they or their target is in direct sunlight.
- The DMG-added Eladrin get the elf weapon proficiency (as per High/Wood Elves), +1 Intelligence, and Misty Step, like "Fey Step" from 4E.
Strangely, although the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide contains rules for Half-Elves of Aquatic Elf ancestry, there's no rules for a pure-blooded Aquatic Elf, but it's only logical that it'll come out in a following supplement or Unearthed Arcana. If it does, we at least know, from the way the other half-elf subraces worked, that it'll include a 30-ft swim speed.
Crazy, hyper-energetic and insatiably curious, gnomes are also the only uncommon race in the corebook with full subraces, assuming the dragonborn's choice of dragon doesn't count. +2 Intelligence, small-sized, Darkvision, and advantage to any saving throw against magic that relies on Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma.
- Forest Gnomes are the more mystical, nature-affiliated gnomes, gaining +1 Dexterity, having the minor illusion cantrip as a racial ability, and being able to speak with any natural animal that is Small or smaller. With Dragonlance supported, but the Kender race (thankfully) missing after playtest, these seem to hold up as the kender replacement.
- Rock Gnomes are the iconic tinker gnomes, gaining +1 Constitution, being more adept at puzzling out magic items, alchemical objects and technological devices, and starting the game with a set of tinker's tools that let them cobble together small, harmless gizmos like clockwork toys, fire starters and music boxes. In the corebook, it's explicitly stated that these should be used for playing Tinker Gnomes if you're running a Dragonlance game.
- Deep Gnomes got added by the Elemental Evil Player's Guide web-feature from the WoTC website. There was a printed reveal in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, but the versions are absolutely identical. These are the "svirfneblin", the Underdark-dwelling gnomes mentioned but mostly ignored in editions past. They get +1 Dexterity, Superior Darkvision (so they see in the dark 120ft instead of 60ft), and Stone Camouflage (advantage on Dexterity [Stealth] checks made in rocky terrain). If Feats are allowed, they have a racial one called Svirfneblin Magic that lets them cast Nondetection (self-only) at will and Blindness/Deafness, Blur and Disguise Self once per long rest.
Half-Elves gain +2 Charisma, making them natural diplomats, but also get +1 to two other ability scores of their choice, are automatically proficient in two skills of their choice, as well as retaining the darkvision and resistances to charming and sleep of their elven ancestors. They can also grow beards, something that may have been in previous editions, but is directly addressed in this one. The best PHB race for any Cha-based class, due to their tremendous versatility.
The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide includes rules for half-elf racial variants, allowing them to have sub-races like several other races. Basically, they can trade out their bonus skill proficiencies for the other elf races' bonuses.
Any kind of half-elf can trade for an upgrade to darkvision and proficiency in perception, half-high elves can gain a wizard cantrip, half-wood elves can gain a five foot speed boost or an improved ability to hide in the wild, and both of the above can gain elf weapon training. Meanwhile, half-drow gain drow magic, while half-Aquatic Elves have a 30-ft swim speed. (Whew!)
Big scary bruisers, half-orcs get +2 strength and +1 constitution, have darkvision, are automatically proficient in the Intimidation skill, are harder to kill than other races, and deal much nastier criticals with melee weapons. This effectively makes them the best barbarians in the game, and gives barbarian-lite abilities to any other classes. New design eliminates the culturally awkward standard of male orcs forcing themselves on human women, to the point of actually raising the idea that the race could be used for playing a half-dwarf, half-orc.
Small, cheerful, practical creatures, halflings try to make friends with anybody. They usually don't have any greater goal beyond a simple, pleasant life. They get +2 Dexterity, they're Small sized, their Lucky trait lets them reroll various results of 1, they're resistant to fear effects and they can move through spaces occupied by creatures that are Medium-sized or bigger. Their two subraces are lightfoot and stout.
- Lightfoot halflings are sneaky even by Halfling standards, able to use Medium-sized or bigger creatures to hide behind and gaining +1 Charisma.
- Stout halflings are rumored to have dwarf blood, and so they get +1 Constitution and identical poison protection.
- The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide includes the ghostwise halfing subrace, which gets +1 to Wisdom and the ability to telepathically communicate with one creature nearby creature at a time.
The playtest release featured the infamous Kender of Dragonlance as yet another halfling subrace. However, it failed to make it into the official book, perhaps because kender have never really differed that much from regular halflings beyond resistance/immunity to fear, a "taunt" ability, and sometimes mechanical enforcement of their "entire race of sickeningly cutesy Chaotic Stupid Rogues" fluff. Of course, if an official Dragonlance playbook ever comes out (doubtful, at this point, given the lackluster success of it in 3.5), you can sadly make a sure bet that Kender will be in it.
Humans are the versatile race once again. Either they get a +1 bonus to all ability scores (which is better than any previous edition of the game has trained you to believe, but still kinda bland), or they get +1 to any two ability scores they want, a free skill proficiency, and a free feat (which, as usual, rocks).
Following in the footsteps of 4e, with a unified (if still very variable) appearance and a tiefling racial backlore as "descendants of a cursed empire" rather than "spawn of a human and a fiend". +1 Intelligence, +2 Charisma, resistant to fire, darkvision and "Infernal Legacy", which gives them three warlock spells as racial abilities; the Thaumaturgy cantrip (level 1), Hellish Rebuke (1/day at level 3) and Darkness (1/day at level 5).
- Like half-elves, they got upgraded with subrace options in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. Specifically, aside from an official list of alternate physical traits (complete with 2e-esque "roll 1d4+1 and take that many traits"), they get an alternative ability score modifier set option (+1 Int, +2 Dex, for the ones that didn't get any monstergirl genes), and a series of tweaks to their racial magic. Hellfire simply replaces their Hellish Rebuke spell-like ability with Burning Hands, the Devil's Tongue option alters their list completely, trading in all their spells for mind-affecting choices, and choosing Winged means giving up all spells in exchange for a 30-ft fly speed, which is kickass.
- Adding to that, the Unearthed Arcana "That Old Black Magic" offers suggestions for defining diabolic tieflings vs. demonic ones. The corebook tiefling is used for the diabolic breed, but demonic tieflings get +1 Con instead of +1 Int, increase their hitpoints by half their character level (so a level 20 one gets an extra +10 HP), and randomly generate their spell-like abilities at the end of each long rest.
Eberron Unearthed Arcana
Brought back in the Eberron Unearthed Arcana on the WoTC website. Surprisingly simple and effective; +1 to Dexterity and Charisma, Duplicity (automatically proficient in Deception), and Shapechanger (can polymorph into any humanoid of your own size that you have seen, or back to your true form; your gear doesn't change, and you revert to your true form upon death).
Brought back in the Eberron Unearthed Arcana on the WoTC website. Pretty much all of the 3e variants made it through as sub-types. Basic racial profile is +1 Dexterity, Darkvision, and Shifting (bonus action, lasts for 1 minute, gain temp HP equal to level + Constitution bonus and a sub-race derived bonus, can shift once per short rest). Gotta pick a sub race from the following:
- Beasthide: +1 Constitution, shifting grants +1 AC. Boring, but hey. A +1 AC bonus is more than it sounds like in this edition.
- Cliffwalk: +1 Dexterity (so +2 Dex total), shifting grants a 30 ft climb speed. Nice utility, as all alternative movements are.
- Longstride: +1 Dexterity (so +2 Dex total), shifting grants ability to Dash as a bonus action. Good for other Dex-based classes, completely redundant for a rogue or high-level ranger.
- Longtooth: +1 Strength, shifting grants a 1d6 bite attack that automatically initiates a grapple when it hits. Good for a control fighter and the like.
- Razorclaw: +1 Dexterity (so +2 Dex total), shifting grants claw attacks, which can be used as bonus actions to make Dex-based unarmed strikes that deal slashing damage. Unarmed strikes may only deal a single point damage, but the real power of this ability is essentially two-weapon fighting without needing the fighting style to add the ability score modifier to the damage roll.
- Wildhunt: +1 Wisdom, shifting grants advantage on all Wisdom-based checks and saving throws. Good for mage-hunting and utility.
Same old magic robots. Very simple, yet very effective: +1 Strength and Constitution, a flat +1 AC bonus, and the benefits of being a robot. They don't need to eat or breathe, trance for 4 hours per day instead of sleeping for 8 hours, and immune to disease. All of these are somewhat abusable, so your DM might tone them down. On the plus side, they no longer have healing penalties and such.
Elemental Evil Player's Guide
Biiiiiiiiirdmaaaaaan! +2 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom, only 25 ft landspeed but a 50 ft fly speed (which doesn't mix well with armor heavier than light), and are automatically proficient in unarmed strikes, and unarmed strikes do 1d4 slashing damage). You're trading in a lOttttt for that flyspeed, so make sure your DM's actually going to let you use it.
Part of the Elemental Evil Player's Guide web-feature from the WoTC website, they were the only race from it to make it into the official Princes of the Apocalypse Elemental Evil adventure, which keeps them safe from DMs who insist "it's not in print, so it's not official". Only four varieties this time; Earth, Air, Water and Fire. All Genasi get +2 Constitution and racial magic (usually of the cantrip and/or "once per long rest" spells variety) determined by their subrace, which uses their Constitution.
- Air Genasi gain +1 Dexterity, have Unending Breath (can hold their breaths indefinitely when not incapacitated) and can cast levitate.
- Earth Genasi gain +1 Strength, ignore movement penalties from earth/stone-based difficult terrain, and can cast pass without trace.
- Fire Genasi gain +1 Intelligence, darkvision, fire resistance, and can cast the produce flame cantrip, plus burning hands at level 3.
- Water Genasi gain +1 Wisdom, can breathe water and air, have acid resistance and a 30 ft swim speed, and get the Shape Water cantrip, plus create or destroy water at level 3.
Yet another big bruiser race, Goliaths get +2 Strength, +1 Constitution, proficiency in athletics, the unique ability to use a reaction upon taking damage to roll a D12 and reduce that damage by [result + Constitution modifier] once per short rest, count as one size larger for carrying, dragging, pushing and lifting and are automatically acclimated to high altitude and naturally adapted to cold climates if your DM's using those rules.
Also, got a lot more cultural tweaks than just about anyone was expecting.
Unearthed Arcana Waterborne Adventures
Explicitly based on the Krynnish model, and to that end focused on sea-travel and brutal cunning as much as raw power, on the grounds that "We already have half-orcs and goliaths and don't really need just another big brutish monster race." They get a +1 to Strength, and then a +1 to either Strength, Intelligence, or Wisdom depending on which of the "three virtues" the character aspires to. They also have horns, which they are automatically proficient with, that deal 1d10 piercing damage, offer advantage on shoving checks, automatically shove when used as part of an Attack action, and can be used to gore an enemy as a bonus action even after a Dash. Finally, they have Labyrinthine Recall (giving them perfect recall of any path they've traveled down, land, dungeon, or sea) and Sea Reaver (proficiency with navigator's tools and waterborne vehicles).
Unearthed Arcana Gothic Heroes
The most exotic race to come out of 5e yet, the Revenant is a member of any of the other races that has died and then risen from the grave as an undead creature in order to pursue an all-compelling goal. It uses the subrace mechanics, with a sidebar explaining how to adjust it for human/dragonborn/tiefling revenants. A Revenant gets +1 Constitution and the Relentless trait, which lets you regenerate 1 HP per round once below half your max HP, makes you indestructible (you automatically rise from the dead 24 hours after being killed, and even completely vaporising your body won't stop this), and gives you plane-spanning "goal sense" abilities. The drawback is, once you complete the goal that brought you back from the grave, you die well and truly, passing on to the afterlife with no further possibility of resurrection.
Plane Shift: Zendikar
Appearing on the Magic: The Gathering website instead of the D&D one, this article basically consists of a booklet towards letting you run D&D games set in the world of Zendikar. As a result, it included assorted Zendikaran races, from humans and elves to goblins, vampires, merfolk and kor.
The White Mana-aligned nomads, Kor are sort of like Zendikaran Goliaths, but different. A Kor is a Medium sized creature with +2 Dexterity and +1 Wisdom, a base speed of 30 feet, a climb speed of 30 feet (can't use if encumbered or in heavy armor), free proficiency in Athletics and Acrobatics, and the Lucky and Brave traits as per your basic Halfling.
- Zendikaran Merfolk
The handbook's racial representative of Blue Mana. Unlike traditional Merfolk, these ones come with legs, so they can actually walk around on land like Tritons. They're Medium sized creatures with +1 Charisma, Amphibious (can breathe air and water), and a Swim speed of 30 feet on top of their base speed of 30 feet when walking on land. They have to pick one of the three Creeds to follow, which functions as a subrace choice. All cantrips cast with their highest racial bonus (so Wisdom for Emeria, Intelligence for Ula, Charisma for Cosi).
- Emeria Merfolk follow the Creed of Wind, giving them +2 Wisdom, free proficiency in Deception & Persuasion, and a Druid cantrip of their choice.
- Ula Merfolk follow the Creed of Water, giving them +2 Intelligence, free proficiency in navigator's tools and survival, and a Wizard cantrip of their choice.
- Cosi Merfolk follow the Creed of the Trickster, giving them +1 Charisma and +1 Intelligence, free proficiency in Slight of Hand and Stealth, and a Bard cantrip of their choice.
- Zendikaran Vampire
Aligned to Black Mana, Zendikaran Vampires are not undead, but infused with a necrotic disease that requires them to feed on the life-energy of others. Medium sized and with a base speed of 30 feet, they get +2 Charisma and +1 Intelligence, Darkvision, Resistance (Necrotic), and the Blood Drain ability. This is a special attack that they can only do on a target that is willing, restrained, grappled or incapacitated; it inflicts 1 piercing damage and D6 necrotic damage, which A: is deducted from the target's maximum hit point value and B: heals you of an equal amount of damage. The target can shake off this effect by taking a long rest, but if killed by this attack, then they become a Null (a unique sort of zombie, but which isn't statted in the booklet).
- Zendikaran Goblin
Aligned to Red Mana, these goblins are tough and hardy creatures. They are Small creatures with speed 25 feet, bolstered by having +2 Constitution, Darkvision, the Grit trait (resistance to Fire and Psychic damage, unarmored AC is 11+Dex modifier), and they have to choose one of the three Tribes to belong to, though none of them are really spectacular choices.
- Grotag Tribe Goblins receive free proficiency in Animal Handling.
- Lavastep Tribe Goblins have Advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks made in rocky or subterranean environments.
- Tuktuk Tribe Goblins receive free proficiency in thieves tools.
- Zendikaran Elves
What to really say about these guys? Medium sized, base speed 30 feet, +2 Wisdom, Darkvision, free proficiency in Perception, Fey Ancestry (so immune to magical sleep effects, resistance to charm effects), and three nationalities/subraces.
- Tajuru Elves gain +1 Charisma and two free proficiency slots, each of which can be spent on any skill or tool of your choice.
- Joraga Elves are basically corebook Wood Elves, but with +2 Wisdom and +1 Dexterity, instead of the +2 Dexterity/+1 Wisdom of the corebook version.
- Mul Daya Elves have +1 Strength, Superior Darkvision and Sunlight Sensitivity, free weapon proficiency in the longbow, longsword, shortbow & shortsword, and the Mul Daya Magic trait (know the Chill Touch cantrip, learn Hex as a 1/day spell like ability at level 3, learn Darkness as a 1/day spell-like ability at level 5, use Wisdom to cast with).
Plane Shift: Innistrad
Appearing on the Magic: The Gathering website instead of the D&D one, this article basically consists of a booklet towards letting you run D&D games set in the world of Innistrad. As a result, it doesn't have all of the exotic races of its Zendikar counterpart, seeing as how Innistrad is the "Gothic Horror" MtG realm and so, like Ravenloft, it's heavily biased towards humans. So instead you get an entirely new "human race", with assorted sub-races reflecting specific provinces of Innistrad.
- Innistrad Human
Still Medium sized and with a base speed of 30 feet, the big difference with Innistrad humans is that they're handled with the subrace mechanic, requiring you choose between the Gavony, Kessig, Nephalia or Stensia provinces to determine your abilities.
- Gavony follow the standard "+1 to all stats" approach of your vanilla PHB human.
- Kessigs get +1 Dexterity and Wisdom, proficiency in Survival, base speed of 40 feet, the ability to ignore difficult terrain when you dash, and the Spring Attack trait (if you land a melee attack on a creature, you can't provoke opportunity attacks from that creature for the rest of your turn).
- Nephalians gain +1 Intelligence and Charisma, as well as proficiency in any combination of four skills and/or tool kits that they desire.
- Stensians gain +1 Strength and Constitution, proficiency in Intimidation, and the Tough trait, which gives them +2 max HP at character creation and boosts it by a further +2 max HP each time you gain a level. Yes, this is basically the Mountain Dwarf's Dwarven Toughness racial feature but twice as good.
Volo's Guide to Monsters
Though officially a kind of Monster Manual 2, Volo's Guide earned extra interest by promising to contain fully-fledged monstrous PC races. In mid-September, it was revealed that the book would feature roughly a dozen "deeply detailed" monstrous PC races, and an undisclosed larger number of monsters given "quick rules" for PC use. However, this turned out to be WoTC playing it vague and the end result was that there were only thirteen races in it, one of which was effectively a reprint. In fairness to them, that's still a pretty large amount for what isn't a dedicated PC book, but still, fans were expecting Volo's Guide to be the 5e "Complete Book of Humanoids" and were... disappointed in a lot of ways.
The Monstrous Adventurers mark the first return in 5th edition of racial ability score penalties, something that brought a lot of rage and skub from those who hated this idea and those who loved it. Not helping is that of all the races in the book, only the orc and the kobold get these penalties. The designers essentially tried to sidestep some critiques of flagrant balance issues with the "monstrous" races by saying that they are not intended to be truly balanced, and that all DMs have free reign to modify or ban them.
Ironically, despite the fact that gnolls have been a playable race in every edition since 1e's "The Orcs of Thar", and were in fact first introduced in 3e as a PC race in the both the "Unapproachable East" splatbook for Forgotten Realms and the core Monster Manual, they received no stats in Volo's Guide. In fact, they were officially called out well before its release as not getting the PC treatment, due to being "too demonic," thanks to the lore that they're literal creations of a demon prince. Now, most fans of monstrous humanoids called bullshit on this reasoning, since 5e's lore was essentially the same lore as was used in 4th edition and they still got a PC writeup there, without the lore trying to claim they're unable to defy their evil nature like orcs. Hell, the yuan-ti pureblood got a writeup, and they're power-hungry manipulative sociopaths who only see other races as meat!
The rejection of gnolls did get a little more justified when the book came out and revealed the official 5e lore for gnolls was essentially 4e's lore, but doubling down on the demonic corruption angle and completely removing all the stuff about gnolls having free will and being able to reject Yeenoghu. Of course, this change in lore from 4e was met with huge amounts of skub.
Very, very different from their DMG examples. They're a multitudinous species divided into three subraces, Protector, Scourge and Fallen, rather than having switchable variant racial traits like the tiefling does. All Aasimar get +2 Charisma, are Medium sized with normal speed (30feet), have "Celestial Resistance" (Radiant and Necrotic resistance), can cast Light at will (Charisma) and once per day can heal another character with a touch, restoring HP equal to the Aasimar's Level. Each of the three subraces, at 3rd level, gets an "angelic manifestation", a transformation they can enter as an action and which lasts for 1 minute or until they end it, with bonuses depending on the subrace. Protector Aasimar get +1 Wisdom and their "Radiant Soul" gives them wings (30ft fly speed) and the ability to inflict bonus Radiant damage with attacks. Scourge Aasimar get +1 Constitution and their "Radiant Consumption" causes them to glow, automatically inflict Radiant damage on everyone within 10 feet (including themselves!) and inflict bonus Radiant damage like a Protector. Finally, Fallen Aasimars get +1 Strength, cause a fear check in anyone who sees them transform, and can inflict bonus Necrotic damage with their attacks whilst transformed.
A really surprising entry confirmed in the product announcement; firbolgs are a race of giant-kin from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons which can be roughly summed up as "generally benevolent 10ft tall Vikings with a bundle of druidic spell-like abilities". Naturally, they had to undergo a fair amount of changes, since 5e wants to avoid letting PCs be Large. +2 Wisdom, +1 Strength, the same Powerful Build trait as Goliaths, Bugbears and Orcs, Detect Magic and Disguise Self (with "appear as a human-sized being" as an extra option) once per short rest, turn invisible for 1 turn once per short rest, and talk with animals & plants.
Although they already appeared in the Elemental Evil Player's Guide, they got an official printed release here. Many grumbled about what the need for this was, given we'd already gotten perfectly good stats for them earlier, especially when it turned out that, unlike the aasimar, they'd received no changes of any kind. Not even in cultural information.
A surprisingly popular and requested choice, their presence in the book was first revealed as part of the D&D ExtraLife Twitch marathon of September. +2 Dex and +1 Wisdom, Medium, Normal Speed and Vision, Advantage on checks to produce forgeries and duplications, free proficiency in any two skills from a list of Acrobatics/Deception/Stealth/Sleight of Hand, and the ability to mimic sounds. Which is useful as you can't speak except through your mimicry trait, which is pretty much the only downside to the kenku.
Lizardfolk got quite a beefy racial writeup; +2 Constitution, +1 Wisdom, the ability to bite instead of unarmed striking, can digest what they bit off once per short rest for some temp hitpoints, Swim speed of 30 feet, hold breath for 15 minutes, free proficiency in any two skills from a list of Animal Handling/Perception/Nature/Stealth/Survival, natural AC of 13+Dex modifier, and can craft their own shields, clubs, javelins, darts and blowgun needles during a short rest if they can acquire raw materials.
When the existence of a "catfolk race" was teased on reddit, people really began to wonder, but it was eventually revealed in the D&D ExtraLife Twitch marathon of September that they were specifically going to be Tabaxi, a race of jaguar & leopard people first introduced in 1e's Fiend Folio, and then native to Forgotten Realms' tropical regions, most prominently Maztica. +2 Dex, +1 Cha, Medium, Normal Speed, Darkvision, the infamously leaked "Feline Agility" trait (double your speed for 1 turn, cannot use this trait again until you spend a turn without moving, because this is not considered an action you could argue that you can dash as well on the same turn, effectively quadrupling your speed for one turn), 1d4+Str modifier slashing damage with unarmed strikes, and free proficiency with Perception and Stealth. With the long-running stigma against furry races in D&D, plus the Tabaxi's lore as a highly chaotic, impulsive, curiosity-driven race, you just know there's going to be people turning them into nubile savage style dark-skinned blonde catgirls sooner or later...
A minor aquatic elemental race, the triton is probably going to be the closest we'll get to a 5e merfolk race, since they're like the Zendikaran merfolk and use legs rather than the awkward-for-land-adventuring tail. They are surprisingly fitting, since they were first introduced as a player character race in the Forgotten Realms setting. They're one of the few races that get +1 to three stats - Strength, Constitution and Charisma - instead of +2 to one stat and +1 to a second. Medium sized, 30ft land and swim speeds, amphibious, can cast Fog Cloud at will and Gust of Wind (at 3rd level) and Wall of Water (at 5th level) once per day with Charisma, telepathically talk to water-breathing creatures, are Resistant to Cold and immune to deep water environments.
Again, they're generally very much a subset of the "normal" races, with many having drastic power-differentials from the "core" races. Exactly which ones are broken is and forever will be skub, but general agreement is that the would-be orc and kobold will be far happier using re-colored half-orcs and halflings as a template, respectively, and that the yuan-ti pureblood is gob-smackingly powerful enough to make even the half-elf blush.
Stealthy but powerful bruisers, bugbears get +2 Str and +1 Dex, are Medium with 30ft land speed, have Darkvision, have +5 feet of reach with melee attacks, Powerful Build, free Stealth proficiency, and the ability to, once per combat, deal +2d6 damage to a creature on the first turn if they successfully pull off a surprise attack. Essentially, you've got a natural fighter base with a built in level of rogue.
With how strongly they dominated the polls for new races, it shouldn't be surprising that goblins were one of the most advertised entrants to Volo's Guide. They're actually surprisingly powerful; +2 Dexterity, +1 Constitution, speed 30 feet, Small, Darkvision, can do bonus damage equal to their level to a creature that's bigger than they are once per short rest, and retain their Nimble Escape feature from the Monster Manual. Many think a goblin rogue is kind of redundant, although actually it's just a case of good synchronization; being able to Disengage or Hide as a bonus action is hugely beneficial for any hit-and-run fighter.
The D&D Klingons, essentially; +2 Con, +1 Int, Medium, normal speed, Darkvision, and free proficiency with light armor and 2 martial weapons of your choice. One of the only monsters not to get their core racial power: instead of their faux-sneak attack, they get the "Saving Face" racial trait, which lets them, once per short rest, reroll a failed attack, ability score check, or saving throw with a bonus equal to the number of friendlies they can see (max +5). It's become memetic that "hobgoblins are wizards now!", since their stat bonuses are a lot more useful for wizards than they, technically, are for fighters, and their free armor & weapon proficiency are not much use to a fighter. But +2 Con is good for anyone, and hobgoblins have always had a strong arcane tradition to them anyway.
/tg/'s memetically beloved shortstack scalies have finally made the leap into the game! ...Unfortunately, their stat blocks are rather less than fun as, much like in Pathfinder, they've been kind of gimped. +2 Dexterity, -2 Strength, Small, 30ft speed, Darkvision, can Grovel once per short rest to cause all enemies within 10 feet to give Advantage to all of your allies, have Sunlight Sensitivity, and retain their Pack Tactics trait from the Monster Manual. It's hard to say which has elicted more complaints; the triple-Jeopardy of negative traits (Small, Sunlight Sensitivity, -2 Strength) or the Grovel trait. In all fairness, Grovel is kind of powerful - a 10ft burst of combat advantage for allies once per encounter is seriously buffing them - but the flavor text is infuriating for anyone who, y'know, doesn't want to portray their kobold as a cowardly, snivelling joke character. That said, Pack Tactics is incredibly strong due to ANY form of advantage cancelling out disadvantage. What makes a kobold powerful is not that they have access to Advantage, but that they can pretty much never have Disadvantage when near an ally. This opens up a GWM kobold, or a long range sniper kobold as actually viable options. Put a Kobold on a Wolf mount for extra shenanigans.
Exactly how pureblood orcs were going to work in 5e when we already had Half-Orcs was anyone's guess... and then it turned out that they were basically inferior to Half-Orcs. +2 Str, +1 Con, -2 Int, Medium, Normal Speed, Darkvision, their Aggressive trait from the MM (can move as a bonus action IF you use it to move towards an enemy), free training in Intimidation, and the Powerful Build trait.
Perhaps the most surprising reveal, but not entirely unwarranted; Pureblood Yuan-ti have always been the most "human" of Faerun's snake-folk, and did in fact get a PC writeup in the Serpent Kingdoms sourcebook for that setting back in 3e. As for their crunch... put it like this; there's powerful, there's overpowered, and there's "holy fuck, what were you fucking thinking, WoTC?!" Yuan-ti fit pretty firmly into that last category: +2 Cha, +1 Int, Darkvision, Medium with Normal Speed, Poison Immunity, Poison Spray cantrip spell-like-ability, Suggestion 1/day, permanent Animal Friendship (snakes only) and, the cherry on top, "Magic Resistance: You have Advantage on all saving throws caused by spells and magical effects". Sweet crunchy christ...
Plane Shift: Kaladesh
When the Plane Shift: Kaladesh article came out on February 17 2017, it brought two of that plane's more unique races along with it. Aside from the new Vahadar subrace for elves (+1 Wis, 1 Druid cantrip of your choice cast with Wis), it featured...
Artificial humanoids that sometimes spontaneously form from the aether refinement process, aetherborn have extremely short lifespans (some live only a few months) who are driven to experience as much as they can in what time they have. Hedonistic and self-interested, an Aetherborn has Charisma +2, +1 to two ability scores of its choice, is a Medium creature with 30 feet base speed, and has the Darkvision, Menacing (free proficiency in Intimidate), and Born of Aether (Resist Necrotic) traits. Rules are also presented for "darkling" aetherborn, who have learned to suck the life from others in order to extend their own lives. An aetherborn can use the rules for inventing and manufacturing a magic item to transform itself irrevocably into a darkling, in which case it gains the Drain Life trait (a natural attack that inflicts 1d6 Necrotic damage on a victim and heals the aetherborn for that much). If the darkling goes 7 days without using this ability, it loses 1d6 maximum hit points per week without feeding; only feeding followed by a long rest will restore this degraded health.
Elf-like, inventive humanoids who perceive everything as imperfect and rejoice in the opportunities for improvement that presents. This leads to an irritating enthusiasm for criticising other people's approach/skills/personality. +2 Int, +1 Wis, Medium, Base speed 30 feet, Vedalken Cunning (advantange on Int, Wis and Cha saves vs. magic) and Aether Lore (double Proficiency bonus on Int (History) checks relating to magical items or aether-powered technological devices).
Plane Shift: Amonkhet
This article was a furry wet dream, as it introduced four beastfolk races to 5th edition, alongside Naktamun's human population, who are simply Variant Humans from the PHB. Weirdly, despite the fact that one of the Five Gods is Oketra the True, the catgirl God of Solidarity, there is no catgirl or catfolk race in this booklet.
Similar to the Aarakocra, the Aven are bird-people, but in this case they resemble humans with the heads and wings of birds. There are two kinds of Aven; the more scholarly ibis-headed, who are naturally drawn to revering Kefnet, the God of Knowledge whom they resemble, and the more war-like hawk-headed, who tend to devote themselves to Oketra, God of Solidarity (who is, ironically, a goddess depicted as a catgirl. All Aven get +2 Dexterity, are Medium sized, have a base land speed of 25 feet, and a Fly speed of 30 feet, but they can't fly if wearing medium or heavy armor, or if they're encumbered.
- Ibis-Headed Aven get +1 Intelligence and Kefnet's Blessing, which lets them add half their Proficiency Bonus, rounded down, when making an Int check for a skill they don't have Proficiency in.
- Hawk-Headed Aven get +2 Wisdom and the Hawkeyed trait, which grants them free Perception Proficiency and negates the long-range attack penalties when using ranged weapons.
Made in the image of Hazrozet the Fervent, God of Zeal, the Khenra are a race of graceful humanoid jackals who, for some reason, are almost always born as fraternal or identical twins. This leads to strong, culturally encouraged, ties between siblings, and even impacts their stats. Khenras are a Medium-sized race with +2 Dexterity and +1 Strength, a speed of 35 feet, the Khera Weapon Training feature, which gives them free proficiency in the khopesh, spear and javelin, and the Khenra Twins feature - which requires you to decide at character creation if you have a twin. If your twin is alive, so long as you are within sight of your twin, you can reroll results of a 1 for attack rolls, ability checks and saving throws (second result stands). If your twin is dead, or you were one of the rare singleton births, you're Immune to Fear. Of course, making use of your twin being alive can be tricky unless either another player wants to be a Khenra and roleplay as your sibling, or the DM is willing to be flexible
- Amonkhetian Minotaur
Vibrant, boisterous, rowdy humanoids, the Amonkhetian Minotaur bears the head of a curly-horned sheep rather than the traditional bovine head. +2 Strength, +1 Constitution, Medium, 30 feet speed, and as for features? They get the half-orc's Menacing (free Proficiency in Intimidate), Relentless Endurance (shake off a fatal blow and stand at 1 hit point 1/day) and Savage Attacks (+1 damage dice on a crit with a melee weapon) racial traits, plus the Natural Weapon (Horns) trait, which lets them choose to do 1d6 + Str modifier bludgeoning damage with their unarmed strikes.
Made in the image of Rhonas the Indomitable, cobra-headed God of Strength, the nagas also deeply revere the God of Knowledge, Kefnet, pursuing a philosophy that mind and body must be of equal strength to work in harmony. They stand unique amongst the races of 5e so far because they're the first non-bipedal race to get an official writeup; these serpentfolk resemble the iconic Yuan-ti Abomination, having a humanoid upper torso, a cobra's head, and a slithering tail in lieu of legs. They get +2 Consitution and +1 Intelligence, are Medium sized, and have a base speed of 30 feet. Their Speed Burst feature lets them choose to spend a bonus action to lower their torso to the ground and pull themselves along with their hands, increasing their speed by +5 feet for the turn due to the boost - of course, they need to have both hands free before they can do this. Poison Immunity speaks for itself, and Poisoner's Affinity gives them free proficiency with the poisoner's kit. Finally, they have two Natural Weapons; Bite and Constrict. Both can be used as an option for an unarmed strike. A Bite Attack deals 1d4 + Str mod Piercing damage and forces the victim to make a Constitution save (DC 8 + naga's Con modifier + naga's Proficiency bonus) or take 1d4 Poison damage. A Constrict Attack deals 1d6 + Str mod bludgeoning damage and automatically grapples the target (DC to escape is 8 + naga's Str modifier + naga's Proficiency bonus). So long as they have someone grappled in this way, the target is restrained, but the naga can't make another Constrict Attack until they let them go.
|Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Classes|
| Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Warlock - Wizard
|Artificer - Mystic|
Iconic array of classes, plus the Warlock. (<- i see what you did there.)
Classes have a customization "path" option similar to Pathfinder, where player chooses which of an archetype of their class they want to follow - the Berserker Barbarian, the Evoker Wizard, the Wild Magic Sorcerer, the Beastmaster Ranger, etc. This archetype defines a lot of the special abilities that the class gets, and usually starts making itself felt on second or third level.
In a blast to the past, multiclassing requires a certain level of ability scores before a player can choose to multiclass. Much simpler than 2e's dual-classing mechanic, though; all of the core PHB classes only require a 13 in the necessary stat, and apart from the Monk, Paladin and Ranger (who need 13s in two stats) and the Fighter (requires either Strength or Dex), the classes only need one sufficiently high stat.
Still the melee powerhouse, still rages. Now gains armor from Con when not wearing armor, so you can roleplay Conan if you want. Also offers critical damage bonuses, the ability to survive anything that doesn't kill you outright at one hitpoint (with the DC going up until you get medical attention), and the usual barbarian super-speed and dodge bonuses.
Has two archetype paths - Berserker and Totem Warrior.
- The Berserker offers the standard rage boosts, but the exhaustion after one of their core archetype features, Frenzy, is more serious than it used to be since it now applies multiple stacking levels, and each one requires a separate long rest to strip off. Plus, if you stack up three, you're at disadvantage on all saves and attacks. Still, the other features aren't bad, and nobody's making you Frenzy every combat.
- Totem Warrior, who is guided by spirits which grant him semi-magical abilities while raging based on the animal spirit he invokes (Eagle offers super-vision and the eventual ability to fly, Wolf helps you track and support your party as a pack hunter, Bear actually makes you a pretty good tank) and an overall mystical druidic flavour, including a few druid's rituals. Mix-and-matching totem animals by selecting different powers at different levels is technically allowed by the book, though it makes a point of noting that doing so is rare. New totem spirits are offered as part of the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, specifically the Elk and the Tiger, which give powers relating to augmented movement and enhanced jumping respectively, which is honestly a little silly. A sidebar on Uthgardt totems shows how swapping abilities around can be used to make more unique totems; specific examples include the Skypony Totem (Eagle totem, but replace level 6 feature with that of the Elk totem), the Thunderbeast Totem (Bear totem, but replace the level 14 power with that of the Tiger totem) and the Treeghost Totem (Bear totem, but replace Speak With Beasts with Speak With Plants).
The first official new path for Barbarians came in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, in the form of the Battlerager. Despite the name, it has little to do with the 4e Fighter path and instead owes more to the "dwarf barbarian" characters from the later Drizzt stories. Like the Bladesinger wizard it has a recommended racial restriction (dwarves only), and it grants proficiency with spiked armor, enhanced abilities for attacking with spiked armor and permits Dashes whilst raging, and changes the temp HP from using Reckless Attack to the user's Con modifier. It's suggested, under the guidelines for reskinning it for other campaign settings, that a Krynnish Battlerager is probably wearing some dumb tinker gnome contraption, and that his or her boundless rage stems from having to work with those chucklefucks on a regular basis.
The Barbarian UA adds three new paths: Ancestral Guardian, Storm Herald and Zealot. The Ancestral Guardian summons the spirits of ancestors to aid him. The Storm Herald creates an aura around him that hurts enemies and aids the barbarian and allies, with different effects based on the type of storm the Storm Herald can conjure: Desert, Sea or Tundra. The Zealot channels divine powers, giving both offensive and defensive benefits.
The Ancestral Guardian path was one of the five subclasses reworked in the May 2017 Unearthed Arcana.
Still a jack of all trades, but a comprehensive regimen of buffs has made them positively terrifying. Now can routinely get spells from other classes' spell lists, plus some rogue skillmonkey powers, all on top of their own unique musical abilities. The ability to cherry pick spells is amazing, since each class has a few broken options. Swift quiver nets you four attacks at level 10, animate dead gives you your own personal army, etc. Hilariously, this means that one of the most often-derided classes in the game is now one of the best picks for people more interested in breaking the game than playing it.
Like all other 5e classes, it has built-in class archetypes you gotta choose early on. The Bard's branches are known as Colleges, and the corebook has only two; Lore and Valor.
- Lore is a standard bardic boost to their skillmonkey and caster powers.
- Valor offers extra weapon profiencies, an extra attack, and combat-buffing, culminating in the ability to attack with a weapon and a spell on the same turn.
The College of Swords Bard is, like the Valor Bard, a beefed up combatant, but this time focused on directly enhancing the Bard's fighting skill along Swashbuckler lines, as opposed to the more Warlord-like Valor Bard. Taking the College of Swords gives your bard free proficiency with scimitars and medium armor, the Two-Weapon Fighting Style class feature, the Blade Flourish ability, an extra attack, and the ability to attack with a weapon and a spell on the same turn. The Blade Flourish is its most distinctive class skill; three new uses for Bardic Inspiration that requires you to be wielding a dagger, longsword, rapier, scimitar, or shortsword - Defensive Flourish boosts AC, Trick Shooter's Flourish enhances your ability to accurately throw a dagger, and Unnerving Flourish lets you frighten a creature into telling you stuff instead of killing it.
In May 2017, the College of Swords got a revamp: it now gets free proficiency with Medium Armor and Scimitars, the ability to use Simple & Martial melee weapons as implements for bardic spells, the ability to pick either the Dueling (+2 to damage when wielding a one-handed melee weapon and keeping your hand free) or Two-Weapon Fighting Styles at level 3, a revamped version of Blade Flourish that functions as a new attack option at level 3, the ability to make two attacks as part of Blade Flourish at level 6, and the ability to use a free d6 instead of a Bardic Inspiration dice for Blade Flourishes at level 14.
The College of Satire Bard is a nimble, lucky bastard, specializing in trolling enemies. Aside from free proficiency with thieves tools, Sleight of Hand and one other bonus skill, it gains the Tumbling Fool ability (spend a bonus action to Tumble, which lets you either combine the Dash & Disengage actions, gain a Climb speed, or take half falling damage), Fool's Insight ability (cast Detect Thoughts Cha modifier times per long rest, targets that resist immediately do something embarrassing, like burping, pratfalling, etc), and Fool's Luck ability (burn Bardic Inspiration to try and fix a failed check, at the price of penalizing your next check).
November 2016 gave us two new Bardic Colleges via Unearthed Arcana, both with a real emphasis on mind-controlling magic.
The College of Glamour is your classic enchanter-bard, with features like bestowing temp HP on your allies, being able to Charm Person with your performances, don a "Mantle of Majesty" once per day that lets you throw around Command spells as you please for a minute, and a super-charged Sanctuary spell that you can pull out once per encounter.
The College of Whispers, meanwhile, is more of a Dark Sun-style assassin-bard, with the ability to conjure poison on its weapons, plant magical seeds of paranoia in peoples' brains, wear the shadows of people they kill in order to steal their appearance & memories for a while, and the ability to use a sort of suped-up Charm Person spell once per day.
Domains, domain spells, domain bonus proficiencies and once-per-rest abilities, all the common stuff. Still the best healer with the Life domain. Former Turn Undead now became Channel Divinity, which has a number of uses - including turning undead. Domains grant additional ways to use Channel Divinity. Basic clerics are no longer so heavily-armoured like before, and have access to basic weapons only, so they don't make paladins look like copycats. Don't worry, War and Tempest domains grants both Heavy Armor and martial weapons back, while Life domain grants heavy armour and Death martial weapons.
Domains are archetypes for clerics, and are very numerous (Knowledge, Life, Light, Nature, Tempest, Trickery, War, and Death). They offer a lot of versatility, losing out to the wizard only because of a somewhat less-comprehensive spell list.
One of the two classes with a "villainous option" that only appears in the DMG - specifically, the necromancy-focused Death domain, which doesn't make you a minion-master like the Necromancer Wizard -- not even giving you Command Undead, which means the Necro-Wizard is finally better at being a necromancer than a Death Cleric -- the way it did in editions past, but gives you some bonus necromantic spells and features revolving around pumping out necrotic damage. Hilariously, the PHB itself acknowledges that death and its clerics aren't necessarily evil, and lists multiple non-evil death gods in its various appendices.
Got a City domain in "Unearthed Arcana: Modern Magic". Enhanced Charisma, Perception, and Insight in urban areas, a Channel Divinity that lets you mentally control all city utilities (and knock over or grab enemies by making the city grab them), bonus Psychic damage with melee attacks, and free teleportation between mass transit points (so bus stops, subway entrances, train stations, etc).
The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide adds the Arcane domain, for a little more of a Mystic Theurge feel to the cleric. Wizard cantrips, the ability to Turn aberrations, celestials, fae, elements and fiends, add Wisdom to cantrips, and gaining 1 Wizard spell from each of the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th level options, which don't count against your daily prepared allotment, at 17th level.
For their November Unearthed Arcana article, they got three new domains; Forge, Grave, and Protection.
Forge Clerics worship smithing creator deities like Moradin, and so they get bonus spells relating to manipulating fire, augmenting gear, and creating stuff, like Heat Metal, Searing Smite, Animate Objects, Magic Weapon, etc. They get bonus proficiency with heavy armor, the ability to turn a non-magical weapon or suit of armor into a +1 version for a day, which is a power they can only use once per day, the ability to create simple items as part of a short rest (no, there's no real mechanical bonus to that), +1 AC in Medium or Heavy Armor, Fire Resistance (which ultimately improves itself to Fire Immunity), a once-per-turn Divine Strike that lets yo deal bonus fire damage, and the ability to gain Resistance to non-magical physical damage whilst wearing heavy armor.
Grave Clerics are, as you'd expect, the "non-evil necromancy clerics!" domain; whilst Death is mechanically aimed at gods of the undead, murder and other "death as an evil force to be feared" deities, the Grave Domain is aimed at gods of "death as a natural part of the cycle", like Kelemvor, Pharasma and Wee Jas. They get bonus spells relating to "good" necromancy (false life, gentle repose, antilife shell) and "neutral" necromancy (blight, animate dead, bane), the Spare The Dying cantrip for free, the ability to always heal maximum damage with their healing spells, the ability to spend 1 minute to sense all undead within 1 mile once per day, the ability to use Channel Divinity to remove immunity/resistance (if present) or grant vulnerability to the next attack to strike that creature, the ability to negate a critical hit on an ally once per short rest, a Divine Strike that ca deal bonus necrotic damage, and the ability to give themselves or an ally some free healing in response to an enemy's death once per turn.
Protection Clerics worship guardian deities, obviously, and so their powers basically make them more castery paladins. They get protective bonus spells, the ability to impose disadvantage on combat rolls by enemies within 5 feet who're attacking someone else, a Channel Divinity that lets you armor an ally with an aura that burns the next guy to strike that ally, gaining healing when you cast a heal-spell on others, a radiant damage Divine Strike, and the ability to gain two damage resistances from the list of Slashing, Piercing, Bludgeoning, Necrotic and Radiant, which you can change every short rest and which you can transfer to someone else with a touch.
Given that Plane Shift: Amonkhet takes place on a world ruled by worship of five gods, you shouldn't be surprised that there are new Cleric Domains to be had from it; Solidarity, Strength, Ambition, and Zeal. There's also a God of Knowledge, but that's in the PHB.
The Solidarity Domain is a sort of cross between the War and Life Domains, as it's all about fostering team-work and unity. Its bonus spells relate to group-targeting heals and buffs, such as Bless, Guiding Bolt, etc. It grants proficiency in Heavy Armor and several features. At level 1, Solidarity's Action lets you spend a bonus action when using Help to assist an ally's attack to make a weapon attack of your own, which you can do Wis bonus times (minimum once) per day. At level 2, you get the Channel Divinity feature "Preserve Life", which lets you heal others as a bonus action without expending a spell slot. At level 6, Channel Divinity "Oketra's Blessing" lets you spend a Channel Divinity use as a reaction to a creature within 30 feet of you make an attack roll; this grants them a +10 bonus to their roll. At 8th level, you get Divine Strike, which lets you bump up the damage on one weapon attack per turn by +1d8 (+2d8 after you hit level 14). Finally, at level 17, you get Supreme Healing, where you automatically heal the maximum possible amount when using a random roll-based healing effect.
The Strength Domain is all about proving your strength, physically and mentally. As such, its bonus spells are an odd mix of physical boosters, protective buffs, and also includes the Dominate Beast and Insect Plague spells. At level 1, you gain Acolyte of Strength (1 Druid cantrip, Proficiency in 1 of Animal Handling, Athletics, Nature or Survival) and proficiency in Heavy Armor. At level 2, your first Channel Divinity, "Feat of Strength", allows you to use Channel Divinity to grant yourself a +10 bonus to any Strength based check. The level 6 version, "Rhonas's Blessing", is the same thing, but targeting somebody else within 30 feet instead. You get the same Divine Strike feature as the Solidarity Domain at level 8, and finally, level 17 gives you Avatar of Battle; permanent resistance to all physical damage that comes from non-magical sources.
The Ambition Domain is the most evil-flavored Domain, because of course wanting to push yourself to the top is most appealing to selfish jerkasses. Its bonus spells are all about cheating or manipulating; Bane, Ray of Enfeeblement, Vampiric Touch, Dominate Person, etc. At level 1, you get the Warding Flare ability, which you can use 1 or Wisdom modifier times per day, whichever is greater. This lets you impose Disadvantage on an assailant's attack roll against you as a reaction, provided that you can see them and they're within 30 feet - oh, and they're not immune to being blinded. Your level 2 Channel Divinity is "Invoke Duplicity", which lets you use your CD to create an illusionary double, which is sustained as per a Concentration spell. Aside from the obvious misleading effects, although it's only got a 120 range, you can cast spells through it, and you can tag-team with it to gain advantage on attack rolls. In comparison, your level 6 Channel Divinity, "Cloak of Shadows, is much simpler: you turn invisible, until your next turn ends, you attack somebody, or cast a spell. Level 8 gives you the Potent Spellcasting feature, where your offensive Cleric cantrips inflict +Wisdom modifier bonus damage. Finally, at level 17, Improved Duplicity lets you make up to 4 duplicates with Channel Divinity instead of 1.
The Zeal Domain is a weird mixture of the War and Tempest Domains, in practice. Its bonus spells are all offensive based, either directly (Destructive Wave) or indirectly (Searing Smite), and heavy on the thunder and fire damage. You get free proficiencies with martial weapons and heavy armor, and the Priest of Zeal feature at level 1. Usable 1 or Wisdom modifier (use the higher of the two) times per day, it lets you use a bonus action after making an attack to make an extra weapon attack. Your level 2 Channel Divinity, Consuming Fervor, lets you spend Channel Divinity uses to maximize fire and thunder damage. At level 6, you get Resounding Strike, which means your thunder attacks will knock any target that is Large or smaller back 10 feet when they hit. At level 8, you get Divine Strike, which functions the same as Solidarity and Strength's version. Finally, at level 17, you get Blaze of Glory: once per day, when reduced to 0 hit points by an attacker that you can see, you can use your reaction to move at full speed towards that bastard and make a melee weapon attack with Advantage that deals +5D10 (weapon damage type) damage and +5d10 fire damage if it hits. Whether it hits or not, you then collapse on the spot, either dead or dying, depending on how badly hurt you were beforehand.
Still here, not quite as eco-terrorist-y, and fully loosening most alignment restrictions. Proportionately less powerful than they used to be, but still enjoy all the power and versatility of being a full caster.
Their archetypes are the Circle of the Land and Circle of the Moon
- Circle of the Land, which is used to make a caster Druid, with a number of cleric-style "domains" representing Druid's native land - like swamp, forest or even the Underdark, plus some passive resistances to poison, disease, fey-charms, soothing the aggression of natural creatures, etc.
- Circle of the Moon, creates a Druid focused on shapeshifting and fighting in animal forms, though they only get one roleplaying benefit, and it only happens when you learn how to turn into people at level 14. Also Archdruids of the Moon have an obscene amount of hit points. Can expend spellslots to heal themselves in animal form. Combined with turning into a bear, this makes them pretty good tanks. Infamous for the "angry onion" build, which involves dipping juuuuuust far enough into barbarian to get access to the bear totem, and through it resistance to all damage but psychic while raging, since the druid *can* shapeshift and use slots to heal him or herself while raging. As a result, any enemy will have to "peel away the layers" as the druid pops into different animal forms full of expendable hitpoints, all the while the druid whales on them.
Their November 2016 Unearthed Arcana was good to them, with three new Circles and optional new rules for governing acquiring Wild Shapes at a slower, easier to follow rate.
- Circle of Dreams druids have come to share good terms with the "nature spirit" type fae, such as dryads or treemen or nymphs, and this gives them more fae-like powers due to emulating the fundamental nature of those spirits. They're characterised with rather hippy-esque overtones, much like the Oath of Ancients Paladin. They have a feature that lets them heal others for a given amount per day, the ability to create an illusion-veiled campsite that's hard to find and which gives them and their buddies home-court advantage in combat, an at-will teleport feature with a d4 turn cooldown, and the ability to stack on a dispel magic on a healing spell three times per long rest.
- Circle of the Shepherd druids are essentially the animal companion druids of 4e, with a dash of 4e Shaman. Spirit Bond lets them summon an animal spirit once per short rest, which effectively creates a 30ft buffing zone for 1 minute that gives a boost depending on what spirit they summon - Bear gives temporary hitpoints and advantage on Strength checks & saving throws, Hawk gives advantage on ranged attacks on enemies in the zone, and Wolf gives advantage on detecting checks and causes healing spells to "spread" to other allies in the aura. Beast Speech is a permanent Talk With Animals spell, Mighty Summoner causes the druid's summoned/conjured animals to have increased health and have attacks that count as magical, Guardian Spirit gives them a 24-hour-long Deathwatch spell each time they finish a long rest, and Faithful Summons causes them to reflexively cast a (free) Conjure Animals with a 9th level slot the first time they drop to zero HP, with the resultant summons guarding the druid.
- Circle of Twilight druids are druids who have chosen to specialize in hunting down the undead, whom druids have traditionally been quite opposed to. They get a pool of dice they can use to deal bonus necrotic damage with their offensive spells (which generates healing if the spell kills any of its targets), the ability to cast Speak With Dead and, at a higher level, Etherealness as a spell-like ability once per short rest, resistance to necrotic & radiant damage, and their mere presence gives allies advantage on death saving throws.
- The optional rule for wildshape gives 3 "basic" forms according to climate, and new forms require at least an hour of observation followed by a DC 15 Intelligence (Nature) check, or a shorter time in interaction followed by a DC 15 Wisdom (Animal Handling) Check. This keeps the druid for being stupid awesome at polymorphing. Notably, there is an absence of the Dire Wolf among the lists (arguably the best early wild shape form).
The Circle of the Shepherd got a reprise as part of the June 2017 UA. Spirit Bond now calls forth a Bear, a Hawk or a Unicorn, with the newcomer granting Advantage to Perception checks and essentially turning your healing spells into group-targeting spells for free. Also, Guardian Spirit now provides free healing to your summoned beasts and faeries, restoring HP equal to half your druid level each turn they end within the aura of your Spirit Totem.
Better than the 3.5 version, worse than the 4e version, fighters get their own unique goodies from sub-classes, plus the only real Healing Surge left in the game, have an ability boost/extra feat every few levels (ensuring that almost no build is too MAD for a properly leveled fighter, and directly allowing them to benefit from the beefy boosts to feats this edition), and gain crazy amounts of extra attacks. Who's a glorified dip class now? That said, if one wants to dip fighter, it's certainly worth attempting, as it offers a lot of powerful benefits at relatively low levels.
Many versions of the fighter make use of a special resource called Combat Superiority dice, which are d8s (upgrading to d10s at level 10 and d12s at level 18) that they can burn to fuel certain combat maneuvers. Those that do share the level 15 "Relentless" feature, which gives them 1 Superiority die each time they gain initiative and have none left.
Archetypes include the Champion, Battle Master and Eldritch Knight.
- The Champion is simplest fighter archetype, offering crit range boosts, extra fighting styles, benefits to the athletic aspects of being a fighter, including jumps and initiative checks, and, eventually, fast healing when injured. There aren't any active components to it, but, again, it's a simple archetype.
- Battle Master, who gains access to various "martial maneuvers" powered by "superiority dice," plus several flavor abilities clearly intending to focus on the idea of an intellectual and artistic personality who also happens to be a muscular badass. The more complex of the two non-spellcasting core fighters, with the ability to play more of a support character or status-effect monkey while still wearing heavy armor and smashing shit up with whatever weapon you like.
- Eldritch Knight, who, hilariously, is channeling the duskblade rather than its namesake prestige class, and is a great method to make a proper battle mage. It starts off slow but gradually gets a bunch of useful spells, particularly when they can pick a limited number outside the abjuration and evocation schools at higher levels. The SCAG also pumped them up like a big syringe full of 'roids, because one of their signature abilities is cast a cantrip followed by a weapon attack and the SCAG added a couple spells with built-in melee attacks.
The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide adds a new Purple Dragon Knight / Bannerette class path, which basically lets the Fighter allow other members of the party to share in the Fighter's class abilities. For example, if a Purple Dragon Knight uses her second wind, then three allies within 60 feet also gain health as if they'd done the same thing.
The Underdark Characters UA adds two new Fighting Styles that the Fighter, Paladin and Ranger can all take. The first is the Close Quarters Shooter fighting style, which as you might expect gives bonuses to using ranged weapons even when you're up close and personal, and is a pretty decent reskin for a pistol-packing Gunslinger type character. The second is the Tunnel Fighter, who can go into a defensive stance that lets them freely strike at anything that gets too close or tries to move around them.
The Cavalier gets 2 free proficiencies in any combination of Animal Handling, Insight, Performance or Persuasion, the Born to the Saddle Feature (easier time staying on a mount, quicker at mounting/dismounting, always land on your feet if you fall off your mount), the ability to use Combat Superiority dice to enhance riding abilities, increase attack rolls, knock an enemy prone whilst using a lance from a steed, or to boost AC (and half damage if the attack still lands) whilst mounted, and the Ferocious Charger ability (increases your aforementioned special lance attack). As you can see, it still falls into the same old pitfall of the Cavalier, in that it's not much use if you're not playing a game where it can't have a steed to run around with.
The Scout is your basic ranged weapon fighter, and at least manages to be an actually competent non-spellcasting version of the Ranger. You get three choices of free proficiency between Acrobatics, Athletics, Investigation, Medicine, Nature, Perception, Stealth or Survival, the ability to burn Superiority dice on the aforementioned checks, the ability to boost attack rolls with Superiority dice, the ability to boost AC and half damage if the attack still hits whilst wearing light or medium armor, and the Ranger's Natural Explorer feature, except you get new terrains at levels 7 and 15.
The Gothic Heroes Unearthed Arcana article adds the Monster Hunter archetype, which makes you better at fighting monstrosities, with tricks like free Knowledge proficiencies, the ability to spend superiority dice for increased attacking accuracy and power, enhanced protection, or increased perception, and spell-like abilities of detect magic and protection from evil/good.
The Arcane Archer is, as you expected, a bow-wielding analogue to the Eldritch Knight. Its core trick is summoning an Arcane Arrow, a magical arrow that counts as magical (no duh) and does 2d6 force damage (upgrading to 4D6 at level 18). An Arcane Arrow can also have one of the "Arcane Shot" special attributes applied to it; initially, an Arcane Archer only knows two Arcane Shots, but it picks up four more as it levels up. Initially, it can only fire 2 Arcane Arrows per short rest, but at 15th level, it now recharges its last Arcane Arrow after 1 minute. It also gains the ability to conjure a bundle of 20 non-magical arrows for 10 minutes at 7th level, and two bonus skills out of Arcana, Athletics, Nature, Perception, Stealth and Survival. For Arcane Shots, it's got Beguiling Arrow (charm the target so it can't attack one of your arrows), Brute Bane Arrow (target's physical damage is halved until the end of your next turn), Bursting Arrow (explodes in a 10ft blast on a hit), Defending Arrow (impose Disadvantage on the target's next attack), Grasping Arrow (wraps the target in brambles that slow it and inflict slashing damage if it moves, unless it spends an action ripping them all off), Piercing Arrow (blasts through all targets in a 30ft line), Seeking Arrow (fire a homing arrow) and Shadow Arrow (reduces the target's visual range).
This archetype was so weak that it got a revamp in May 2017.
The Knight is actually a throw-back to the 4th edition Fighter, with a dose of Cavalier for good measure. Born to the Saddle makes a knight more adept at mounted combat, in that mounting/dismounting only costs 5 feet of movement, it has advantage on saves to avoid being knocked off, and it always land on its feet if knocked off, providing it's not incapacitated and it doesn't fall more than 10 feet in the process. Implacable Mark lets it "mark" a target with a melee attack three times per short rest, so long as the target isn't immune to fear. A marked creature suffers Disadvantage when not attacking targets that marked it, and if it moves whilst within five feet of the knight, the knight can use its reaction to make a melee attack with advantage that does (+ level) bonus damage on a hit, though this "bonus" reaction can only be done once per round. Noble Cavalry gives the knight its choice of either two bonus skills from the list of Animal Handling, History, Insight, Persuasion or Religion, or else a bonus language. Hold the Line means that when an enemy moves within 5 feet of the Knight, the knight can use its reaction to deliver a melee attack that does (+ 1/2 level) bonus damage and immediately stops it from moving. Rapid Strike lets a knight trade off having combat advantage on a weapon attack to instead make an extra bonus attack. Finally, Defender's Blade lets it use its per-round reaction to deliver an opportunity attack and gives it +1 AC when wearing heavy armor.
The Samurai is a super-tanky fighter. Fighting Spirit lets it gain Resistance against Bludgeoning, Piercing and Slashing damage for 1 turn three times per short rest. Elegant Courtier lets a samurai add its Wisdom bonus to its Charisma bonus when making Charisma checks to please or persuade a member of a high social class, and also grants the samurai its choice of either a bonus skill (History, Insight, or Persuasion) or a bonus language. Unbreakable Will gives the samurai proficiency in Wisdom saves (or in its choice of Intelligence or Charisma saves, if it's already got the Wisdom proficiency). Rapid Strike lets a samurai trade off having combat advantage on a weapon attack to instead make an extra bonus attack. Finally, Strength Before Death lets a samurai that has been reduced to zero hitpoints gain an "interruptive" bonus turn, not taking the damage until it ends this bonus turn - and yes, using Fighting Spirit or other effects to lower the damage taken is allowed.
The Sharpshooter is, of course, a ranged weapon master. Its Steady Aim feature lets it take extra-careful aim three times per short rest, which lets it both ignore half & three-quarters cover and deal (2 + fighter level) bonus damage on a successful hit. Careful Eyes lets it take Search checks as a bonus action and gives it proficiency in one skill from Perception, Investigation or Survival. Close-Quarters Shooting means that not only does the sharpshooter not suffer combat disadvantage for firing on someone within 5 feet, but if it hits a close-ranged opponent with its ranged attack, that creature can't take reactions until the end of the turn. Rapid Strike, yet again, lets a sharpshooter trade off having combat advantage on a weapon attack to instead make an extra bonus attack. Finally, Snap Shot means that if the sharpshooter takes the Attack action on the first turn of combat, it can make an additional ranged weapon attack as part of that action.
The Cavalier got a reprise as part of the June 2017 UA, and is essentially more of a mounted Battlemaster than anything.
Uses dexterity for attack AND damage rolls at level one, cutting down on the class's infamous multiple ability dependency, and now has a "Martial Arts" bonus that lets them deal the same scaling damage with all their weapons, not just their bare hands. As before, Monks have a resource called Ki, which they use on a number of abilities granted by their archetype. Their archetypes are the Open Palm, Shadow and Four Elements.
- Open Palm is your classic kung-fu master monk, complete with the famous quivering palm save-or-die power
- Shadow grants all sorts of stealth bonuses, explicitly turning the monk into a ninja (reinforced by the fact typical ninja weapons - like kama or nunchucks - are called "monk weapons" here)
- Four Elements allows the monk to cast and make certain spells and attacks with elemental themes using Ki, appealing to Avatar: The Last Airbender fans.
The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide adds the Ways of the Long Death and the Sun Soul to the Monk's archetype options:
- The Way of the Long Death has the ability to heal itself by killing enemies like a Fiend pact Warlock, a fear effect, a powerful grab attack, and the ability to spend a ki point to keep on fighting at one hitpoint when an attack would normally knock them out.
- The Way of the Sun Soul is... well, it's sort of a "Dragonball Z martial artist path," though grumpy purists will point out it actually predates DBZ. Sun Soul monks get ranged attacks, letting them throw bolts of magical radiance around whenever they want to (naturally, they're proficient in such attacks). They can spend ki to spam these energy blasts like regular monk fists, spend ki to mimic the effect of Burning Hands after they hit someone, they develop what amounts to a fireball attack that does Radiant damage, which can be further enhanced with ki, and they eventually can set up an aura of light that has the added effect of being able to burn someone who hits you in melee. Holds up well as the long-time undead-smiting monk sub-class.
Then, in December 2016's UA, they got two more Ways; Kensai and Tranquility.
- The Way of the Kensai, taking its name from an "unarmored samurai weapon-master" kit way back in the days of 1e, is a weapon-master monk, who gains free proficiency with three martial weapons and the ability to use weapons it's proficient with as "kensai weapons" - use Dex or Strength for attack & damage rolls, can substitute Martial Arts damage for the weapon's normal dice value, can deal +1d4 bludgeoning damage when striking with a kensai weapon, and can get +2 AC by forfeiting a strike with a wielded kensai weapon to instead make an unarmed strike. And that's just your first feature! It gets beefier thereafter; treating any kensai weapon it wields as being magical, being able to double its proficiency bonus for one attack roll once per short rest, spending ki points to buff attack & damage rolls, and finally being able to re-roll one missed attack per turn.
- The Way of Tranquility, in comparison, is a monk diplomancer; inclined towards pacifism, its powers mostly relate to non-violence - an inherent Sanctuary ability, what is essentially a Lay On Hands trait (cure HP damage, poison and disease with a touch), free proficiency with either Performance or Persuasion, advantage on sincere attempts to defuse impending violence with a Charisma check, an at-will charm effect that makes a victim incapable of attacking, and finally the ability to do a huge amount of bonus damage to someone they see kill somebody else.
Some minor tweaks were made to this one in the Unearthed Arcana for May 2017.
The monk was one of three classes to gain something special from the last Unearthed Arcana of March 2017, in the form of the Way of the Drunken Master. This is a fairly gimmicky sort of path, with no especially powerful tricks. Level 3's "Drunken Technique" grants it free Proficency in Performance and a boost to Flurry of Blows; the Drunken Master can, whilst using that feature, Disengage as a bonus action and boost their speed by 10 feet until the end of the turn when doing so. Level 6 gives them access to Tipsy Sway, which lets them, once per short rest, use a reaction to being missed by an enemy melee attack to make that attack instead hit a third individual within 5 feet. Drunkard's Luck, their 11th level feature, gives them the ability to spend 1 ki point before making a saving throw to gain Advantage on that save. Finally, at level 17 they gain Intoxicated Frenzy, which means they get +3 attacks (maximum of 5) whilst using Flurry of Blows, so long as they aim each attack at a different target.
Now has cooler flavor that finally makes them something more than gimped cleric and doesn't have alignment restrictions, as mentioned above, so no "be Lawful Good or else be a Blackguard/sucky-ass fighter" crap. The flavor of the default Oaths is clearly leaning towards either a Good (all) or Neutral (Ancients, Vengeance) alignment.
Smite now uses spell slots, and there is a number of Smite spells, allowing a paladin to burn his foes, hit them with lightning, or torment them for their sins on attack. Sadly, no ranged smites (aside from casting Branding Smite on a ranged weapon) and almost no ranged spells. Their famed lay on hands ability is now a kind of pool they can draw on in discrete intervals, and they eventually get some auras to buff their teammates.
Paladin's Vow is now tied to his archetype or Oath.
- Devotion makes you a classic lawful good paladin, bent on honor and duty, but with somewhat more freedom. Their buff aura and personal immunities let them shrug off mind-control, their capstone turns them into demon-and-undead-slaying living rod of sunlight, and their spells are basic religion stuff.
- Ancients makes you a sort of hippie knight, champion of light and life - imagine a stag-riding knight in green armour, with some druidic spells. Their aura grants resistance to all spell damage, which is sweet, one of their personal abilities slows their aging and lets them shrug off incapacitation once per day, and their capstone transforms them into a regenerating fast-spellcasting nightmare for the bad guys, who also get disadvantage on their saves vs. the pally's shit because fuck evil.
- Vengeance makes you a typical inquisitor - his oath basically says "for greater good" and "by any means necessary", which is cool. Blackguards wish they were this cool. Spells are hunting/ranger stuff, and they get a number of single-target fuck-you powers, but they don't get an aura like the others to support their team with.
The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide adds the Oath of the Crown, which is basically a civilization-supporting Paladin. Has a number of knight-type abilities, with powers like issuing challenges that force enemies to fight the paladin. Their Channel Divinity can mimic the effects of one of their spells, compel duel, and has the bonus of healing allies nearby. You can also intercept damage for an ally within 5 feet, and have advantage on saving throws vs. being paralyzed.
Speaking of Blackguards, the "Oathbreaker Paladin" class branch got slipped through the backdoor in the DMG. DMs are presented with the option to immediately switch a paladin who dramatically breaks their oath to an Oathbreaker instead of "just" depowering them, too. It quite amply fills the Blackguard's former shoes as a fiend and undead-cavorting, black magic-wielding black knight type character class. Oathbreaker paladin must be Evil, but there's actually nothing saying that other Paladins can't be evil so long as they still uphold their Oath (although once you break your oath, you cannot redeem yourself while evil - apparently, even if you began as an evil Vengeance paladin).
The Underdark Characters UA adds two new Fighting Styles that the Fighter, Paladin and Ranger can all take. The first is the Close Quarters Shooter fighting style, which as you might expect gives bonuses to using ranged weapons even when you're up close and personal, and is a pretty decent reskin for a pistol-packing Gunslinger type character. The second is the Tunnel Fighter, who can go into a defensive stance that lets them freely strike at anything that gets too close or tries to move around them.
In December 2016, the Blackguard got some more love with the addition of two new Evil-flavored Oaths; Conquest and Treachery.
- Conquest is a Lawful Evil Paladin, or at best a Hellknight out of Pathfinder, all focused on crushing the weak and exerting its own strength. It gets a bunch of warlock/enchantment spells, some terror-inflicting abilities, immunity to charm, and turning into an uber-warrior badass once per day.
- Treachery is outright referred to as the archetypical Chaotic Evil Demon Prince-aligned anti-paladin of old, with a bundle of illusion and misdirection related powers.
March 2017's Unearthed Arcana swung back to the light side of things with a new Oath of Redemption. Unfortunately, it has already been widely panned for being a huge throwback in flavor and abilities to the incredibly annoying "pacifist character" archetypes of old. These guys specialise in nonlethal ways to take down opponents, mixed with some tanky attributes in order to give them the guts they need to survive the effort.
The Oath of Conquest got a reprise as part of the June 2017 UA. As with the Cavalier, changes are fairly marginal.
Archetypes include Hunter and Beastmaster.
- Hunters are Drizzt-style "backdoor fighters," with access to a few "fighting styles" that make them rough customers, specializing in either big game hunting or cutting through hordes.
- Beastmaster gives you a bestial companion, which now behaves like a 4e summoned creature, requiring you to constantly remind it to attack every single round. And you can only start attacking too when you get the Extra Attack feature.
Rangers retain Favored Enemies, with a few social benefits included to make them less serial-killer-ish, and are pretty good at hiding (camouflage) and tracking things. Interesting new addition are druidic-flavored spells for arrows and attacks - like transforming your arrow into a hail of thorns, enchanting your quiver to produce ammo or summoning entangling vines from your weapon - most likely the remains of the Seeker, a 4e class created by splitting off the mystic aspects of the ranger and which had a similar "magical arrows and weapons" motif.
The "Designing Class Variants" UA article on the WotC website includes a "Magic-free Ranger" alternate class, for those who want a more Martial Ranger. It gets Combat Superiority (access to Fighter maneuvers), the ability to create Poultices (healing potions that also cure poison once you hit the proper level), venom resistance, the ability to summon animals from your surroundings 1/day, and an inability to run out of superiority dice. Beastmasters built from this variant get to halve damage their companion takes instead of sharing spells since, y'know, no spells to share.
The September 2015 UA article on WotC was dedicated to a revised low-level (1-5) Ranger class, based apparently on WoTC noting a lot of players were giving them the feedback that the Ranger was kind of weak and unsatisfying to play, with many class features feeling restrictive or difficult. This version of the Ranger gets Ambuscade (you get a special extra turn to Attack or Hide when you roll initiative) and Natural Explorer at level 1, Skirmisher's Stealth (a Ranger can choose one target to stay hidden from, no matter what else they do, during a turn, if they start that turn in hiding, and they can make a fresh Hide check at the end of their turn) at level 2, and a new mystical "Paladin of the woods" branching class feature at level 3. These Rangers can pick between the Guardian (dish out temporary hit points as a bonus action), Seeker (force a target to confer advantage) or Stalker (buff yourself or an ally to do extra damage with melee attacks). It also retains the Fighting Style, Natural Explorer, Primeval Awareness, Ability Score Improvement and Extra Attack class features from the vanilla Ranger. However, it has no spellcasting of any kind.
The Underdark Characters UA (November 2015) adds two new Fighting Styles that the Fighter, Paladin and Ranger can all take. The first is the Close Quarters Shooter fighting style, which as you might expect gives bonuses to using ranged weapons even when you're up close and personal, and is a pretty decent reskin for a pistol-packing Gunslinger type character. The second is the Tunnel Fighter, who can go into a defensive stance that lets them freely strike at anything that gets too close or tries to move around them.
Additionally, the same Unearthed Arcana gives Rangers a new Archetype in the form of the Deep Stalker. This Ranger specialises in ambushing and sneaky stuff, with tricks like a free speed boost in the first turn of combat, a bonus action that can be used to hide in all subsequent turns, free Darkvision at level 3, some illusion spells, a bonus attack if you miss at least one attack, and an enhanced dodging ability.
In September 2016, WotC published an Unearthed Arcana called "The Ranger, Revised", officially admitting that they were aware that people didn't like the Ranger and they were using playtesters to try and find a more agreeable format that they would eventually print and publish in an official book, although they emphasized that this wouldn't invalidate the original ranger. It has the same three subclasses as the original ranger, including the Deep Stalker, as "Ranger Conclaves," though only the beastmaster has been hugely remade. Notably, extra attack was excised from the class proper and given to every archetype but the beastmaster, favored enemy now comes with a baked-in damage bonus but only offers two choices in the class's entire lifespan, and Natural Explorer now works in any terrain. Some of their derpier abilities have had their cost reduced or been generally-reworked to be more useful.
The January UA for the class gave them two new archetypes, the Horizon Walker, who acts as border-patrol between the material plane and others, and gains class features based around limited dimensional hopping, and the Primeval Guardian, a ranger who goes balls-deep into the class's druidic flavor to gain the ability to shapeshift into a neigh-unkillable tree-form. The former was actually a Ranger prestige class back in 3rd edition, whilst the latter may borrow some ideas from 4th edition's Warden class, which was a shapeshifting ranger-like warrior.
March 2017's UA gives us the Conclave of the Monster Slayer, which WoTC admits is essentially a retread of the Monster Hunter subclass they did for fighters back in 2017. Armored with bonus spells relating to fighting powerful magical critters, it excels at fighting one particular creature at a time, with tricks like scouting out vulnerabilities, negating abilities that would let their victim flee from a fight, and enhanced killyness against their victim. Also, if you're using the Revised Ranger ruleset, they gain an Extra Attack at level 5 as well.
Still the best skillmonkeys in the game, with some unique powers to boost their dice and reroll when they get unlucky, still have lots of dodgy-bastard powers, and still get backstabbing sneak attack dice. Also have some very-appreciated boosts towards mental defense and the ability to fight invisible enemies with their keen ears, which are fun expansions of the idea for a class that frankly needed a bit of a boost even in Pathfinder. One of their iconic abilities, the Cunning Action, lets them Dash or Disengage as a bonus action every turn, which is insanely powerful for the hit-and-run applications alone.
- Thief (the standard model, with bonuses to actual stealing, the ability to use their Cunning Action to use items, make skill checks and, eventually, utilize wands, plus quick reflex powers).
- Assassin (porting over the best bits of the old prestige class for the sorts of rogues who are way too into killing dudes, with nasty ambush powers including the famed Death Attack at level 17 and social powers revolving around concealing your identity)
- Arcane Trickster (the obligatory spellcasting off-shoot, a combination of 3E's Arcane Trickster and Spellthief PRCs).
Rogue also ate the Swashbuckler class in an Unearthed Arcana, which lets you add your Charisma bonus to initiative, move without provoking attacks of opportunity from creatures you attack in melee, and sneak attack enemies that don't have any of your allies adjacent to them. At higher levels, you also get to taunt an enemy into attacking only you. The Swashbuckler got an official writeup in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, but outside of a few renamed abilities, it was basically the same.
Said Guide also included the Mastermind, a diabolical rogue who's way too good at manipulating people, lying, and even being immune to all telepathic magic. You can also find out if you're smarter than someone, so feel free to let your ego run wild.
The Gothic Heroes UA article gives you the Inquisitive archetype, which is sort of a Van Helsing meets Sherlock Holmes type, what with increased senses for deception and empowered Sneak Attacks.
The January Ranger UA has a single rogue archetype stapled to it: the scout. ...Which was released in an earlier UA as a fighter archetype, although admittedly scouts were a rogue variant back in the days of kits in AD&D. It represents a ranger-y kind of rogue, with super-speed and ambushing powers, free proficiency and expertise in both Nature and Survival, and, at 17th level, the ability to make an extra sneak attack on a second target.
Have access to essentially the same spell list as wizards (there is a ninety-some-odd percent overlap), but cast ad hoc from the whole list of spells known, rather than the wizards' spells prepared (which is a daily-chosen subset of their spells known). Though spontaneous spellcasting isn't what it used to be with the reworked preparation system and they get a very slim number of spells, with no mechanic to regenerate anything on a short rest until level 20, they do get additional versatility via access to "sorcery points" (yeah, a derpy name), which they can expend on metamagic (something only sorcerers get now), on converting into single-use spell slots, etc.
They're also the only full caster in the game to lack ritual casting. Then again, they're the only caster in the game to get natural proficiency in Constitution saves, which are needed to maintain Concentration, so there's that.
Initial archetypes are Dragon Ancestry and Wild Magic.
- Dragon Ancestry grants you draconic features and powers like armored skin, wings, etc. as you level, with a focus on one type of elemental damage. Unfortunately, because game designers don't pay attention, if you don't pick fire you're screwing yourself: it has almost half again as many eligible spells as lightning or cold, the next highest, while acid and poison may as well weep in the corner.
- Wild Magic produces all sorts of random effects as you cast spells, and by random I mean RANDOM - from creating illusory butterflies, to dropping a fireball centered on yourself, to regenerating health rapidly, to turning into a potted plant. Awesome.
The "Designing Class Variants" UA article on the WotC website brings back the Favored Soul by making it a new Sorcerer archetype, giving them enhanced fighting skills, Cleric Domain spells, flight and self-healing.
The later Waterborne Adventures UA gave them the Storm bloodline, offering boosts to lightning, constant swooping around with flight magic, and eventual constant flight with the option to give it out to the whole party. Also, the ability to control the wind and weather, because it was a nautical-themed UE, and that kind of thing is very useful for navigating a ship. As with the Swashbuckler above, it got a bump to official status with the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, but it also took a few nerfs, losing out on the "free" spells it always had prepared.
The November 2015 "Underdark Characters" UA gave a new bloodline, in the form of the Shadow bloodline. Drawing from the Shadowfell, it's a vaguely necromantic/Shadowcaster themed Sorcerer, sort of like the Dread Necromancer variant class. It gets no bonus spells, but it gains Darkvision, the ability to spend sorcery points for a free Darkness spell, the ability to summon a "hound of ill omen" (ghostly dire wolf), teleport between shadows, and turn into a ghost-like shadow form. It comes with a D6 optional table listing physical quirks, which emphasize the necromantic aspect of the Bloodline with traits like "you bleed very slowly" or "your heart beats only once per minute".
After a two-week delay, the 2017 Sorcerer UA expansion came out on February 7th with four new Sorcerous Origins: a revamped Favored Soul, and three elemental magics - Phoenix (fire), Sea (water) and Stone (earth).
- The revamped Favored Soul is no longer the direct "clerical sorcerer" it was back in 2015. This version can learn Cleric spells through levelling up, gains increased max hitpoints, can add a small amount of randomized points to a missed attack roll or failed save 1/short rest, double proficiency bonus on certain Charisma checks, immunity to disease/poison damage/the poisoned condition, and the ability to seriously heal themselves 1/day. All in all, this one is a lot more of a "divine sorcerer" than the "spontaneous caster cleric" of the original, which has attracted both praise and derision.
- The Phoenix Sorcerer uses fire elementalism with a healing twist; they can ignite flammable materials with a touch, summon a "Mantle of Fire" for 1 minute 1/day that is basically a free Fire Shield effect that boosts fire attack spells and, at 18th level, grants Fly 40ft (with hover) and Damage Resistance (Everything), a "Phoenix Spark" that lets them avoid dropping to 0 hit points 1/day and instead cause a burst of fire damage (more potent if their Mantle of Fire is Up), and a Nourishing Fire trait where they heal slot level + Charisma modifier hit points whenever they cast a fire spell. It's been fairly generally mocked; not so much for being kind of boring as for the fact it places all its emphasis on its Mantle of Fire, which it only gets to use once per day.
- The Sea Sorcerer uses water elementalism, which makes them a rather slippery customer. Soul of the Sea gives them the Amphibious trait and a free Swim speed. Curse of the Sea lets them buff up a spell that inflicts cold damage, lightning damage or forced movement 1/turn. Watery Defense gives them Fire Resistance and lets them use a "special reaction" to physical damage 1/encounter where they reduce the damage and make a free 30ft move. Shifting Form lets them halve damage from opportunity attacks, move through enemy spaces, and squeeze through openings that're 3 inches in diameter or larger. Finally, Water Soul basically turns them into a water elemental that happens to take a humanoid form, resisting all damage from physical attacks permanently and no longer needing to eat, drink or sleep. Generally held up as the most interesting, if not the best, of the variants included.
- The Stone Sorcerer uses earth elementalism to become a more martial sort of character. They gain proficiency with shields, simple weapons and martial weapons, increase their spell list with assorted weapon-focused spells (Compelled Duel, the various Smite spells, Magic Weapon and Elemental Weapon), and the traits of Stone's Durability (free hitpoint increase, plus the ability to boost default AC), Stone Aegis (surround an ally with a protective bubble, free teleport & weapon strike against someone who does a melee attack on that ally), Stone's Edge (bonus Force damage to one creature per spell when you cast a damaging spell), and Earth Master's Aegis (can apply Stone Aegis to up to three allies at once). Although given respect for its crunch, it's also pretty soundly mocked for the fact that, beyond the fluff of its AC-boosting trait, it has absolutely nothing to do with earth magic at all. If anything, it's essentially a 5e revamp of the Swordmage, complete with iconic aegis mechanics adapted for 5e.
Ironically, the Plane Shift: Kaladesh article had another "Pyromancer" origin for Sorcerers. This one gains the Heart of Fire (scorch all creatures of your choice within 10 feet with fire damage whenever you cast a fire spell), Fire In The Veins (gain Fire Resistance, ignore Fire Resistance when burninating others), Pyromancer's Fury (use a reaction when hit in melee to torch the attacker), and Fiery Soul (you're immune to fire, all fire effects from you ignore fire resistance, your fire attacks can burn Fire Immunity targets as if they were only Fire Resistant).
Yet another version of the Favored Soul was part of the "Revised Subclasses" UA for May 2017 - WoTC just can't seem to settle on what they want out of it, though you can probably give them credit for trying.
These too get fewer spells than wizards, but warlocks get a few neat unique spells, notably the sweet-ass eldritch blast cantrip, as well as some domain spells from their archetypes - i.e. beings they made their pacts with: Fiend, Archfey or Great Old One. Yes. You can make a pact with Cthulhu -- they literally mention him by name in the PHB.
In addition to their pact, they get additional customization through a pact boon - a spellbook with cantrips (which can be upgraded to include rituals), a magic weapon (mostly useful to take advantage of some of the fun magical weapons that require a caster to use, weaker than the others without a bunch of invocations bulking it up), or a more powerful familiar, such as a pseudodragon, imp, or quasit with some benefits over a normal one. Also, they have certain invocations/mini-feats, granting them normally unavailable spells, altering known spells, offering class features from other classes, etc. Several of them allow you to cast specific regular spells at-will (effectively turning them into higher level cantrips).
Worth noting also is that with the exception of the warlocks' solitary 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th level spells, all their spell slots are of the same level (capping at 5th) and regenerate every short rest, making them the best burst dungeon crawlers in the game.
The first "official" new pact option, the Undying Patron (made with a Lich, Vestige, or other powerful undead/abmortal entity), came out with the Sword Coast Adventurers Guide splatbook. On top of necromantic bonus spells and the spare the dying cantrip, they're somewhat resilient. They eventually come to resemble their undead masters, with advantage on saving throws against disease, slowed aging, the loss of bodily needs like food, sleep, breathing, and an number of regeneration powers to regrow lost limbs and recover hitpoints. Finally undead need to pass a saving throw before they can try and hit them eventually. Not as straightforwardly powerful as some of the others, but offers plenty of utility.
Got a "technomantic" option for more dungeonpunk, magitek or urban fantasy settings in the "Unearthed Arcana: Modern Magic" article, via the Ghost In The Machine Patron. Gains the ability to mentally control computers, teleport along electrical wires & data cables, resistance to magical forms of detection and information retrieval, and the ability to "infect" others with a techno-virus by touching them, which hurts them with Psychic damage and lets you control them like puppets.
The November 2015 "Underdark Characters" UA gave a new Pact in the form of the Undying Light patron. Contrasting the Undying patron from SCAG, and the Sorcerer's Shadow Bloodline, it's a bond to a powerful entity of fire or light, connecting the Warlock to positive energy. It comes with a D6 table of optional character flaws, all of which revolve in some way around fear of the dark or obsession with the light. It gets a bunch of fiery spells (Burning Hands, Flaming Sphere, Daylight, Fire Shield, Flamestrike), the Sacred Flame and Light cantrips, resistance to Radiant damage, extra oomph when dealing Fire or Radiant damage, increased reserves of life force, and culminating in the ability to heal others with a touch.
August 2016's Unearthed Arcana, "The Faithful", adds the Seeker patron, which is based on the Greyhawk deity of Celestian and represents a warlock who serves a usually inscrutable deity tied to gathering knowledge. It gets a mixture of advanced mobility spells like Feather Fall, Levitate and Passwall and some divination spells as its bonus stuff, a unique Pact Boon called the Pact of the Star Chain that gives them a magical item that boosts Intelligence checks and can cast Augury, the Astral Refuge ability (once per turn, can cast two self-targeting spells), resistance to fire & cold, no need to breathe, and finally gains the ability to shift to the Astral Plane once per long rest.
Sharing the February 2017 Unearthed Arcana with the Wizard, the Warlock benefited from gaining two new Patrons; the Hexblade and the Raven Queen, as well as a bundle of new pact and/or patron-based Invocations.
The Hexblade isn't limited to blade-pact warlocks, despite what you'd think. Rather, it represents a warlock who draws upon the power of an artifact-level magical weapon, using its strength to sustain itself. With Blackrazor called out as perhaps the definitive example of the kinds of blades who are power-sources for these warlocks, a blade pacted Hexblade is the perfect character for playing a expy of Elric of Melnibone. Aside from having a gishy array of bonus spells, like Shield, Magic Weapon, Smite, Blink and Destructive Wave, it's essentially a reiteration of the Hexblade from editions past, with maybe a touch of Swordmage. For 1st level features, it grants both Hex Warrior (proficiency with medium armor, shields, martial weapons; can use Cha for attack and damage rolls with a one-handed melee weapon you are proficient with) and Hexblade's Curse. This feature lets you curse a victim for 1 minute once per encounter, gaining a bonus to damage rolls against them, increased likelihood of dealing a critical hit to them, and some free healing if they die before the curse expires. Both of the Hexblade's higher level traits augment the curse; Armor of Hexes (level 10) lets you roll a D6 whenever a cursed victim attacks you and make them auto-miss on a 4+, whilst Master of Hexes (level 14) removes the recharge requirement for cursing somebody, though you can only have 1 cursed victim at a time - if you curse somebody else, the old curse ends. The only exception to this is the level 6 feature, Shadow Hound, which lets you animate your shadow as a spooky sentinel who can merge with an enemy's shadow to negate their cover bonus and let you always know exactly where they are.
The Raven Queen, meanwhile, is every 4rrie's favorite spooky spirit of death, winter and fate returned as a mysterious oracular being with her own secret agenda. Aside from a list of bonus spells that mingles "white" necromancy like false life and speak with dead with icy attack spells, she gives a weird mixture of traits. The 1st level feature, Sentinel Raven gives you a familiar raven (without needing the Pact of the Chain) that can boost your perception by sitting on your shoulder or become a flying spy, as well as instantly wake you up if somebody tries to shank you in your sleep - bonus is, it comes back to life on its own if it dies. The 6th level feature, Soul of the Raven, lets you turn into a raven whenever you like. Level 10 gives you death protection via the Raven's Shield, in the form of Advantage on Death Saving Throws, immunity to Fear, and Resistance to Necrotic Damage. Finally, at level 14, you become the Queen's Right Hand, which lets you cast Finger of Death once per day.
In June 2017, they revealed the Celestial Patron for Warlocks. Although this sounds new, in fact, it's actually not: it's an Undying Light Warlock given a new coat of fluff, a rename (which admittedly means at least you can't confuse it with the necro-lock's Undying Patron anymore), curative spells alongside the burninating ones, and a rearranged feature list: Healing Light is now its 1st level feature (with some mechanical tweaks), Radiant Soul is now its 6th level feature, and Searing Vengeance is its 14th level feature. Also, Radiant Resistance has been renamed to Celestial Resistance.
Knows a bag of holding worth of spells, can cast some spells without using up slots at higher levels, etc. Instead of filling each spell slot with a particular spell at the beginning of the day, he chooses a small set of spells from his spellbook to be his "prepared" spells for the day, and then uses these "prepared" spells as though he were a 3e Sorcerer.
Archetypes are named after schools of magic and grant awesome bonuses when casting spells from those schools - like allowing an Evoker to shape a fireball so it doesn't hurt allies or granting an Abjurer a damage-absorbing shield which recharges as he casts lots of abjurations. All archetypes also get to know spells of their school for cheaper, making spellbook-scribing less of a money-sink.
Not as overwhelmingly powerful as they were in 3.5, but they still have more options than pretty much anyone else, and still get ridiculous at high levels with the right mindset. Simulacrum + wish can bypass the usual restrictions on both spells for free wishes and infinite simulacra, true polymorph allows you to turn your entire party into pit fiends with no duration limit (if your DM is gullible enough to allow such shenanigans).
The Eberron Unearthed Arcana on the WoTC website adds a new Wizard Tradition - that is, an archetype you can take at level 2 instead of the standard Evoker, Transmuter, etc - called the Artificer. Yes, this is the "magic item maker" class that was its own thing in the last two editions. Gains the ability to create spell scrolls and potions, to temporarily enhance ammunition/armor/weapons, and finally to create permanent magical items, though it takes a week to make an item and after making one you need to rest for a month before you can regain the mojo to make another. It is worth noting that there is a very sharp limit on the strength of those items, and by the time you get this ability those items have long since ceased being useful.
The Modern Magic UE article, of course, adds a Technomancy Tradition. Tablet computer spellbooks, programming electronic gear to disperse spells, casting spells through electronic medium (so, yes, if you can see them on the security camera's monitor, you can blast them with a fireball) and ability to set a computer to concentrate on a spell for you.
The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide adds the Bladesinging tradition. Although based on Forgotten Realms lore, it may well remind players of the Swordmage. Officially comes with the fluff-based lore of "this should be restricted to elf and half-elf PCs", but the book admits the DM can waive this if they require - and, really, who would want to leave this cool class in the hands of elves? Best thing 4e did for the Swordmage vs. the Bladesinger was remove that stupid racial restriction. Anyway, it differs from the Eldritch Knight in that it's a full caster path that has some extra "oomph" in close quarters, thanks to its Bladesong class features.
August 2016's Unearthed Arcana, "The Faithful", adds the Theurgist tradition, which is an alternative take on the Mystic Theurge concept earlier covered by the Arcana Domain for Clerics. In essence, it lets you pick a Cleric Domain and gain that Domain's powers, though at a lower level than a Cleric would, as well as the ability to learn Cleric spells, although A: you need to learn all of your Domain Spells first before you can add other Cleric spells to your spellbook (so, if you didn't take the Life Domain, you can't learn Cure Wounds until around level 10), and B: other wizards can't copy your clerical spells out of your spellbook. It has been roundly denounced as the most broken Tradition in 5e so far, between arguments that, RAW, an Arcana Domain Theurgist gets Wish at level 14, and arguments about the potential to apply Spell Mastery to Cleric spells like Cure Wounds.
Sharing the February 2017 Unearthed Arcana with the Warlock, the Wizard gained a single new Tradition in the form of Lore Mastery, which is probably the closest thing we're going to get to the traditional "generalist" wizard in 5e. Fortunately, it's quite powerful. Its first 2nd level feature, Lore Master, doubles your proficiency bonus for Arcana, History, Nature and Religion checks (you still gotta be proficient in the first place) and lets you roll Initiative based on your choice of Int or Dex. The second level 2 feature, Spell Secrets, lets you change the change the damage types of elemental damage spells (that is, spells that inflict Acid, Cold, Fire, Force, Necrotic, Radiant or Thunder damage) at will, and change the saving throw type of a single spell per encounter. This means that not only could you throw around all of the "acid damage inflicting fireballs" that you want, you could also throw a fireball that is resisted with a Strength check once per encounter. Level 6's Alchemical Casting lets you modify certain spells by burning an extra spell slot; give up a 1st level spell slot when casting a spell that inflicts damage for +2d6 bonus Force damage, give up a 2nd level spell slot when casting a ranged spell of at least 30 feet to instead upgrade its range to 1 mile, and give up a 3rd level spell slot when casting a spell with a saving throw to increase its DC by +2. At level 10, you gain the Prodigious Memory trait, which lets you use a bonus action to swap one of your memorized spells out for a prepared spell instead once per encounter. Finally, level 14 makes you a Master of Magic, letting you cast 1 spell from any spell list (must be a level you can actually cast for, though) once per day. This tradition has received a huge outcry for effectively being better at magical flexibility than the entire Sorcerer class is.
The March 21 Unearthed Arcana of 2017 not only reprinted the entirely unchanged Theurgist, in order to gather playtest feedback on it, but also added the Warmage Tradition, which is weird at first glance due to how the class functioned more like a Sorcerer in 3e, but given it's based on extensive study and training, actually does make sense. Perhaps more surprising is that it's not redundant when compared to the Evoker; its powers actually make it more of a tank. Their first features, Arcane Deflection and Tactical Wit, give them the ability to spend a reaction to being hit or failing a Con save to grant themselves +2 AC or +4 to their Con save (at the cost of not being able to cast any spells more powerful than cantrips until the end of their next turn) and the ability to add their Int bonus to their Initiative rolls, respectively. Their second feature, Power Surge, lets them boost up a group-affecting damage-inflicting spell by doing +2 dice worth of damage once per short rest. Their next feature, Durable Magic, gives them +2 to AC and all saving throws whilst sustaining a Concentration spell. Finally, their last feature, Deflecting Shroud, lets them blast all enemies within 10 feet for half their level in Force damage each time they use Arcane Deflection.
A sample class released for playtesting as part of the Unearthed Arcana: Psionics article. This class seems to have replaced the Psion as the core psionics-using class, and in fact seems to be able to mimic several psionic classes of former editions, depending on which Psionic Order to chooses to follow. Only two are presented in the UA article, but two others are noted as planned. On that same note, the article only includes progression up to 5th level.
The Order of the Awakened Mystic is closest to the iconic Psion, with access to the disciplines of Conquering Mind (altering thoughts), Intellect Fortress (psionic counter-attacks), and Third Eye (enhanced sensory abilities). As innate abilities, it gets Mind Thrust (psychic blasting), Psychic Mind (telepathic communication) and Object Reading (postcognition).
The Order of the Immortal Mystic, on the other hand, is closer to the Battlemind or Soulknife, being a psychic who focuses on channelling psionic energy through their body. They get martial weapon & shield proficiency for free, Durable Mind (concentration can't be broken by taking damage) and Psionic Regeneration (regain missing hit points equal to half of Mystic level) for free, and their disciplines are Celerity (super-speed), Iron Durability (super toughness) and Psionic Weapon (channel psionic energy through a weapon to enhance it in various ways).
Got bumped up to a 10-level class in the February 2016 UA article, which tweaks the disciplines around and makes it more flexible.
The March 13th 2017 Unearthed Arcana finally saw the Mystic Mark 3, which brings the class to full 20th level. This brings it to full fruition; aside from having six subclasses, all Mystics now gain access to both Disciplines and Talents. Psionic Talents are essentially the Mystic's equivalents of cantrips, being at-will powers that the Mystic doesn't need to fuel with psi-points. Disciplines are psionic "stances", for lack of a better word; a Mystic can engage in one Discipline at a time, granting access to its passive bonus and allowing the Mystic to spend psi-points to activate various powers tied to that Discipline. This version also has six different subclasses; Avatar, Awakened, Immortal, Nomad, Soul Knife and Wu Jen. Most Mystic subclasses have "associated" Disciplines, forming a list they can take bonus Disciplines from, but all Mystics can freely take any and all of the various Disciplines. In fact, of six subclasses, only the Soul Knife lacks the Bonus Disciplines feature.
In June 2017, it was stated that the Mystic and Artificer were to be placed on the Dungeon Master's Guild website for further refining, after which WoTC would take the feedback and fandom support from those sites and use it to create the definitive official version of each.
Intitially released as a Tradition (subclass) for the Wizard in the much-maligned "Eberron Update" by WoTC, the Artificer was a shock revelation to /tg/ when it appeared as its own unique class, the first fully-developed alternative class of 5e, in the January 2017 Unearthed Arcana.
In June 2017, it was stated that the Mystic and Artificer were to be placed on the Dungeon Master's Guild website for further refining, after which WoTC would take the feedback and fandom support from those sites and use it to create the definitive official version of each.
This Artificer is an Intelligence based one-third caster, getting a mixture of Wizard and Cleric spells with a focus on buffing and boosting (alarm, cure wounds, protection from poison, etc). Although still the "magitek gadgetteer" class, the crafting rules have been drastically simplified; now, the Artificer creates their choice of specified magic items, gaining one at each of levels 2, 5, 10, 15 and 20. It hasn't been made clear if other characters can use these "homemade" magic devices or not, nor whether they can recreate them if destroyed or swap them out as strictly-better options become available. They also have the ability to attune a lot more magical items than other characters, and can "infuse" items, imbuing a spell of their choice into an object and then letting somebody else activate it later. Additionally, they get a pet golem at 6th level.
Alchemists get access to a special satchel full of various alchemical goodies, like flasks of fantasy napalm and acid, smoke bombs, concussion grenades and healing potions. Of course, they only get a small selection of recipes over the course of their career and they can't stockpile these; a given goody will magically vanish and return to the satchel after 1 minute if it hasn't been used. However, they can use all these tricks as often as they like.
Gunsmiths get a free handgun, a one-shot-then-reload rifle called a "Thunder Cannon", although DMs will probably agree to let a Gunsmith eventually trade it in for other guns in the right campaign. They get an Arcane Magazine that gives them a functionally-if-not-technically endless supply of bullets, and eventually the ability to shoot sonic bolts, cones of force, lightning bolts and fireballs out of their gun.
Like Paizo did before with Pathfinder, WoTC decided that the new archetype/path system all classes use had effectively superseded the need for prestige classes. Still, they addressed the idea mechanically in a UA article to allow for homebrewing, and included an example.
Rune scribes are, essentially, a second, better shot at making a 5e artificer class. Theirs is practically a lost art, at least partly because they are, like most wizards, secretive and ornery old fucks who hate sharing knowledge (and thus being less special) almost as much as they hate doing anything setting-shifting with the immense power they theoretically wield. To become one, a player must not only have reached fifth level, but managed to bribe, threaten, or cajole a more-powerful rune scribe into becoming their teacher, usually through finding a rune that isn't yet in their metaphorical stamp collection. How it is possible for anyone in the world to reach fifth level in the class when advancing requires a higher-level rune scribe is not addressed.
Their primary class features involve rune magic, altering the properties of physical objects (including, at 4th level and up, themselves) with various "runes" that they activate with spell slots. They also get a few runes for free, just in case the DM is the sort of asshole who likes to give out fun magic items for classes that aren't in the party and never lets them get any new ones.
Like most "sample classes" from the UA, it's a bit bare-bones and only advances to fifth level, but, since there's must-be-this-stronk-to-pass barriers on the class in the first place, it's not nearly as limited as, say, the psion or the rebuilt ranger in this regard. It's certainly a great proof of concept, and an excellent way to make a "building magic items" wizard.
A new addition to the character sheet, beyond race and class. A Background represents who you were before you took up adventuring. Backgrounds each offer two skill proficiencies, some mixture of new tool proficiencies, gaming set proficiencies, and languages, a bit of extra equipment and money, and a unique "background feature" that gives you some sort of unique advantage. Most of them offer benefits to the social aspect of the game, with Outlander and Uthgardt Tribesperson as the two outlying exceptions. Essentially, it's the Career system from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, only not tied to class progression.
Each also comes with some roleplaying suggestions to help flesh out your character, as well as ways to make the eviler-sounding background more palatable to goody-goodies.
This is probably the character component most friendly to homebrewing or personal interpretation, and the rules explicitly encourage this, with the usual DM approval clause.
- Acolyte: You are a part of, and possibly even raised by, a church or cult. You gain proficiency in Insight, naturally, Religion, and your background feature lets you ring up churches of your faith for free help for your party and freeload on their couch. It also lets you pick a single specific temple, somewhere in the world, where you can expect free assistance.
- Charlatan: A con-artist background, complete with proficiency in forgery and disguise kits. Naturally, it comes with proficiency in Deception and Sleight of Hand, a list of possible cons you're good at running, and a feature that lets you switch to a fake identity when the heat's on, as well as perfectly copy handwriting and statuary so long as you have a sample to study.
- Criminal: Just a regular ol' crook, though you can pick which kind from a list that includes blackmail, smuggling, burglary, or just plain hired murder. Proficiency in Deception and Stealth (what a surprise), with a background feature that gives you a reliable, trustworthy contact in the criminal underworld, and the ability to stay in touch with him wherever you go. (Honor among thieves and all that.)
- Spy: A "variant" criminal, who gets the same skillset, but uses it for espionage. Might be a loyal servant of your government or a free agent, and your "contact" is now your "handler."
- Entertainer: ...It's not just the bard background, okay? Covers a wide variety of different kinds of entertainer, from musician to storyteller to actor to fire-eater. Gains proficiency in Acrobatic and Performance, and has a fun background feature that lets them perform somewhere for free room and board, as well as improving their reputation in places they've performed before.
- Gladiator: A "variant" entertainer, who engages in a flashy kind of "performance" combat. They use their background feature in fight pits and arenas and get free medical care from battling there. Also, luchador or no guts.
- Folk Hero: One of the more "freeform" backgrounds. A folk hero is a lowly peasant kid who did something cool that sent them off on a life of adventure. You can pick what from a list or make up your own. You're proficient in Animal Handling and Survival, thanks to your blue collar roots, and the common people and peasantry love you and will do anything short of dying to protect you. You also gain proficiency in vehicles (land), so have fun in high-speed wagon chases.
- Guild Artisan: Not really a wild artiste type so much as a union man (or woman) through and through. You are proficient in not only the tools of your trade, but in Insight and Persuasion, because art is good and all but you gotta be good at selling it too. Your background feature gives you a huge list of benefits, and the ability to cozy up to bigger boys in the guild with donations of money and magic items: so long as you're in the union, the union's got your back. However, you also have to keep paying your union dues, or the union's gonna cut you off, so better hope you aren't stuck on one of those lame wilderness adventures where half the "social" background features are useless, because then you'll have to keep track of backpay.
- Guild Merchant: A variant, representing someone who buys and sells rather than manufactures and sells. You can swap out your tool proficiency for proficiency with navigator's tools, a vehicle, or an extra language, and can swap out your starting tool for a mule and cart.
- Hermit: Somebody who spent time in seclusion from the secular world, whether as a monk looking for spiritual enlightenment or a reclusive inventor or artist. You are proficient in Medicine and Religion (presumably from all that contemplation), and your Background feature is one of the weirdest in the game: some kind of "discovery." Exactly what this is supposed to do is maddeningly inexact, and it doesn't have a list of actual benefits like most of the other backgrounds, so much that the book outright admits that you should sit down with your DM and try to figure out what it actually does.
- Noble: The upper-crust background, covering all manner of nobles from the militaristic to the foppish. Proficiency in History and Persuasion from your classical education, and your background feature not only gives you some basic social benefits from being privileged (in the actual sense, which is the root of the tumblr sense), and you can get audiences with local nobles.
- Knight: Even moar military nobles. Instead of the noble's many social benefits, you gain three henchmen who can help you do things. They don't fight, and they'll bolt if you treat them like shit (meaning this is theoretically one of the few background features that can be permanently lost, although if that happens your DM is either a dick or you deserve it). But beyond that, they can do a lot of other mundane tasks, and can be given your signet ring and such to grease the wheels for the party.
- Outlander: The ranger to the Entertainer's bard, the Outlander is a backwoods country bumpkin who's used to hard living in the wilderness. Offers proficiency in Athletics and Survival, and has a background feature that, unlike the social benefits of others, improves your ability to navigate and lets you feed yourself and up to five people without skill checks required, so long as it's not an area of wasteland where nature's bounty is too scarce to allow that.
- Sage: The "went to college" background, meaning you can pick your major. You're proficient in Arcana and History, and your background feature gives you the ability to recall where, exactly, you can go to try to unearth information you might need, though it notes that this power can sometimes just tell you "I 'unno, lol." Most DMs will, hopefully, not screw you out of your background's big feature unless you try to ask for the secrets of the cosmos or something.
- Sailor: Just what it sounds like. Offers proficiency in navigator's tools and water vehicles along with Perception and Athletics. Your background feature lets you easily secure passage for your party during sea travel via your waterside connections, though doing so means that you'll have to help out along the way.
- Pirate: The obvious sailor variant. Instead of the sailor's background feature, you've got a reputation, deserved or not, as a mean son-of-a-bitch, meaning that you can get away with some minor criminal offenses, like breaking down doors or skipping out on your tavern bill, because people are too scared of you to confront you or to call the cops.
- Soldier: Hoo-hah. Another beautiful day outside of this man's army. You're proficient in Athletics and Intimidation, and you still have your old military rank, meaning you can throw some orders around and lower-ranking people will obey, you can temporarily requisition supplies like horses and carts, and you can usually get access to friendly military fortresses and checkpoints.
- Urchin: It's a hard knock life. (...Sorry.) Anyway, you grew up on the mean streets, and to get by you got proficient with Stealth, Sleight of Hand, and thieves' tools. You also have a cute pet mouse and a memento of your poor dead, dead parents, because d'awww. Your background feature lets you easily navigate urban environments, moving through them twice as fast as normal out of combat.
Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide:
Many of these backgrounds are explicitly intended for use in the Forgotten Realms, and will need rejiggering (some extreme rejiggering) to work elsewhere.
- City Watch: It ain't easy being the law. But you've decided, if you can't beat those pesky adventurers... join 'em. You gain proficiency in Athletics and Insight, and you can find both the local cops and the local crooks pretty easily from experience.
- Investigator: A variant for the detectives in the City Watch, rather than the beat cops. Instead of an alternate background feature, you swap out Athletics for Investigation.
- Clan Crafter: You trained under a master of dwarven crafts. Not technically dwarf-restricted, although non-dwarves can't take on apprentices of their own. You are proficient in History, Insight, and the tools of your trade, and your background feature gives you the undying admiration of all dwarves everywhere forever. Seriously, dwarves will fight over the privilege of giving you free room and board.
- Cloistered Scholar: If Sage is the "went to college" background, yours is the "spent all high-school prepping for college, then spent all college prepping for a Masters' degree" background. You gain proficiency in History and one of the other non-Investigation Intelligence skills of your choice, and your background feature is a mirror of the Sage's: while he gets a good idea of where to go and who to ask to learn vital information, you can easily access any library in the world, paying no fees, easily navigating any political or bureaucratic hold-ups therein, and having access to all but the most secret, sacred, or dangerous of knowledge.
- Courtier: The bureaucrat background. Unlike the poncy nobles, you earned your government job. You are proficient in Insight and Persuasion, and your background feature gives you an easy road map to navigating any political situation, knowing who to ask for what, and how to get ahold of things like records or minutes.
- Faction Agent: Meant to interact with the "faction" semi-mechanic from the Forgotten Realms, but works just as well with other settings' big international movers and shakers. You work for some kind of big international organization, like the Harpers, the Zhentarim, or the Lords' Alliance. To that end, you're proficient in Insight and any one mental skill of your choice (so long as it fits faction theming), and your background feature gives you access to things like safe houses or meetings with other operatives that can help you out with room and board and information, though they won't risk their lives for you.
- Far Traveler: The "dirty foreigner" background. You've moved into perpetually-Medieval not!Europe from somewhere else, whether not!Asia, not!Africa, the not!Middle East, etc. You are proficient in Insight, Persuasion, and some game or musical instrument native to your home country, and your background feature makes you a natural curiosity. This has a number of potential uses, whether in drawing attention in a crowd away from your sneaky friends, or being invited to parties for others to gawk at.
- Inheritor: Rivalling the Folk Hero for free-form-ness, this is one of the least-defined backgrounds in the game. You inheirited a thing. That's it. Its mechanical effect is just as maddeningly inexact and "I unno figure it out yourself or ask your DM lol" as the Hermit's. Anyway, you get Survival and one skill of your choice from among Arcana, History, or Religion, hopefully related to the whatever-the-fuck you inherited.
- Knight of the Order: A variant of a variant, the Knight of the Order is intended to slot into one of the many such organizations that exist in the Forgotten Realms. You are proficient in Persuasion, plus either Arcana, History, Nature, or Religion, depending on what kind of Order you joined, and your background feature is basically along the lines of the Acolyte's, though with a few modifications if your order is civic or philosophical rather than religious, and with the caveat that your supporters will risk their lives to help you escape or rally to your defense if they see you wavering.
- Mercenary Veteran: Technically tied to the Realms, but like the Knight Order, it's easily disentangled. You're a vet from a group of famous mercenaries, and you've decided to start freelancing. You're proficient in Persuasion, because mercs need to also be businessmen, and Athletics, and your background feature not only lets you identify and locate mercs and places where mercs meet, but to maintain a comfortable lifestyle at no additional cost between adventures by freelancing around.
- Urban Bounty Hunter: Awwww yeah, fantasy Boba Fett time! Well, sorta. You can flavor it different ways, depending on whether you hunt upper or lower crust targets. Anyway, you can pick two skills of your choice from a list of Deception, Insight, Persuasion, and Stealth, meaning it can be custom flavored for different methodologies. Your background feature gives you a contact in any city you visit who can brief you on the local people and places to best let you find your quarry.
- Uthgardt Tribe Member: Explicitly a generalized "barbarian tribesperson" background, rather than strictly tied to the Uthgardt. Very similar to the Outlander, you are trained in Athletics and Survival, and your background feature lets you find twice as much food and water when you forage in the wilderness. It also lets you gain hospitality from other barbarians or nature-loving hippies, and grants you a knowledge of the geography of the North. (Or, presumably, whatever other wilderness region you were from if you're not Uthgardt.)
- Waterdhavian Noble: You're a noble from the decadent city of Waterdeep, and one of the harder ones to homebrew outside of the Forgotten Realms unless a similar landscape is in play. While very similar to the Noble background, with proficiency in History and Persuasion, your background feature more-or-less just lets you live it up in the city of Waterdeep itself or the proximity thereoff without having to worry about money as your family foots the bill.
Curse of Strahd:
- Haunted One: You've seen some shit that'd turn others white. (...Look, it's a horror background from a horror campaign, let me have my Ghostbusters jokes!) You get to pick what, exactly, spooked you out, gain proficiency in two from your choice of Arcana, Investigation, Religion, and Survival, one "monster" language, like Abyssal, Draconic, or Undercommon, and your background feature lets you not only get commoners to help you, but rally them to your side in a torches-and-pitchforks mob.
Plane Shift: Innistrad
- Inquisitor: Burn the heretic. Kill the lycanthrope. Purge the unclean. You have proficiency in Investigation and Religion (duh) as well as Thieves’ tools and one set of artisan’s tools of your choice. Your background feature allows you to arrest, interrogate, pass judgment on, and execute all enemies of the church (so basically "I EM THE LAW!"). But be careful. Kill too many obvious innocents or abuse the power for personal gain too often, and the Inquisition will come for you.
Plane Shift: Amonkhet
- Initiate of the Five Gods: You're a devout worshipper of one of the Five Gods of Amonkhet, seeking to prove your worthiness to undergo the Trial of Zeal and earn a glorious death. You get proficiencies in Athletics, Intimidation, one type of gaming set, and the use of land vehicles. You start the game with a gaming set, a scroll containing the basic teachings of the Five Gods, a simple puzzle box, some clothes, 15 gold pieces, and potentially some cartouches, if you've completed some of the trials already. Your background feature gives you access to free room and board, but only so long as you follow the expectations of both an initiate and a citizen of Naktamun; if you fail to act like a proper citizen, you may end up being branded a Dissenter.
- Amonkheti Vizier: You are one of the priest-bureaucrats who serve the Five Gods of Amonkhet and oversee the Trials. You get free proficiencies in History, Religion, a set of artisan's tools and a musical instrument, you start the game with either artisan's tools or an instrument, a vizier's cartouche, a scroll of your god's teaching, some fine clothes, and 25 gold pieces. Your background feature allows you to command initiates and expect obedience, but be careful; abuse this, and your god may punish you for it. Personally.
- Naktamunian Dissenter: You don't buy into the whole Trials thing at all, and as far as the rest of Naktamun is concerned, that makes you a heretic. This Background actually builds from the others; you take either the Initiate or Vizier background to represent who you were before you fell from grace, but replace your background feature with "Shelter of Dissenters", which lets you tap into an underground network of dissenters who will provide you with what you need to avoid being killed for heresy.
Although Dragon Magazine remains lost, WoTC decided to continue its fascination with online media, in the form of the Articles section of their webpage: http://dnd.wizards.com/articles. The company has also released a downloadable smartphone app called Dragon+, designed to be the modern, digital equivalent to the magazines of old.
While much attention is given to fluff articles, some juicy crunch is there as well. The highly irregular, around once every week or two, Unearthed Arcana in particular is dedicated to giving out playtest rules for classes, magic, races and more.