Something I like about the modular nature of D&D 5e subclasses is their ability to explore niche or situational archetypes. The great thing about subclasses is, nothing is lost by having them available! Nobody is forcing you to play one if it’s a bad fit for your game.
As the library of official subclasses gets larger and larger, I think there’s more room to explore and embrace these niche characters types. An aquatic-focused Druid, for instance, is a poor choice for most campaigns, but in an adventure where it can really shine, it can be a ton of fun to play.
Druid Circle of the Depths
The Circle of the Depths is made up of Druids that share a greater affinity to the sea than the land. These druids protect the oceans, rivers and lakes in the same manner than another Circle may safeguard a forest. Swift and sure, members of the Circle of the Depths are at their strongest near a water source. It is from these natural waters that they draw the power to give life, protect, and defend, and their most powerful bestial forms are those that inhabit the deep waters of the world.
Starting at 2nd level, you gain a Swim Speed equal to your base speed.
Mantle of Waves
Also at 2nd Level, you can protect yourself by producing a roiling current of water around your body. As a bonus action, you can adopt a Mantle of Waves for 1 minute. While this effect is active, if you are not wearing armor, your armor class equals 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your Wisdom modifier. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short rest.
Child of the Sea
Starting at 6th level, you can breathe underwater. In addition, when you use Wild Shape you can transform into a beast with a challenge rating as high as your druid level divided by 3, rounded down, as long as that creature has a swim speed and no other movement speed listed.
At 10th level, you can cast Water Breathing, Water Walk, or Control Water once without expending a Spell Slot. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short rest.
Font of Life
At 14th level, your swim speed is increased to double your base speed. In addition, you heal 1 HP every round when submerged in water.
What can I say about this one? I always liked the odd medieval specificity of this domain in 3e, and I was sad to see it so long-absent from 5th. So here it is, my take on a classic.
Cleric Domain of Travel
Some Clerics travel the world, preaching the message of their diety. Others accompany ships or caravans to see their passage is safe and fortunate. Even some simply worship a patron of travelers, and make it their mission to ensure they have safe places to stay, and provisions for their journey. In any case, Clerics of the Travel domain are fortuitous allies, providing protection and wisdom to those often in greatest need of it.
At 1st level, you gain proficiency with martial weapons and heavy armor.
Also at 1st level, your divine mandate to travel freely extends even to battles. You may use your Reaction to prevent a single opportunity attack taken against you or another target within 5 ft. The creature attempting the opportunity attack still uses their Reaction if it is prevented in this way.
Channel Divinity: Place of Respite
Starting at 2nd level, you can you can use your Channel Divinity to create a safe space to rest. As an action, you create a 20ft radius sphere centered on your location that lasts for 12 hours. This field provides safety against a number of non-magical effects.: it remains a comfortable temperature and has breathable air, and creatures in it can see clearly to the edges of the sphere, despite fog or darkness. Creatures in this radius can also sleep while wearing armor with no penalty.
The Place of Respite does not prevent any magical effects that would change the environment of the sphere, such as magical darkness or magical environmental effects.
Channel Divinity: Aura of Alacrity
At 6th level, you can you can use your Channel Divinity to increase the speed and acuity of those around you. As an action, create a 40ft aura that remains centered on you for 1 minute. While in this aura, friendly creatures have their movement speed increased by 10 feet, and gain advantage on Dexterity saving throws.
At 8th level, you gain the ability to infuse your weapon strikes with divine energy. Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can cause the attack to deal an extra 1d8 force damage to the target. When you reach 14th level, the extra damage increases to 2d8.
Flicker of Exile
At 17th Level, when you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack, you may use your bonus action to force the target to make a Wisdom Saving throw. If the creature fails, your attach deals an additional 2d8 force damage and you may teleport that creature 15 feet in any direction into an unoccupied space. You can use this ability a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of once), and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
The reference wormed itself into my head because it was a novel idea for me. Microscope and Kingdom are games that are branded as RPGs but your goal is not, as it is in most RPGs, to control and develop a single character, or group of characters, and their individual story. In Kingdom your goal is to develop the story of an entire community and in Microscope your goal is to develop an entire history.
About a year ago, my gaming circle was tossing around the idea of a rotating-DM game as something to do in off-weeks where someone couldn’t make our main game. Our characters could be members of a mercenary company and different teams would go on different adventures, depending on who wants to DM and who is available. Nice and easy.
I suggested that we try Microscope to create a shared world to use. A small group of us went through the rules trying to figure things out, and played a few sample rounds. Players start by writing the broad strokes of events, and then drilling in deeper and deeper until you are actively adopting characters to act out individual events and interactions. It’s a really interesting mechanic from a game design perspective. In practice though, we didn’t feel like we were playing a game. It felt like an improv exercise. Microscope is pleasingly abstract, and different, but it’s honestly too removed from the basic structures of goal and reward that I recognize and enjoy in games.
Microscope wasn’t to our taste. I was still impressed enough at the design philosophy that I wanted to try Kingdoms but… honestly. The Kingdoms handbook is 176 pages, and I was not prepared to do that amount of prep for a game I would likely run either once or, like Microscope, not at all.
Having read the game since, I will admit that the rules section of Kingdom is only 80 pages, roughly the length of Microscope. It has added structure to the character building and introduction of conflict, but ultimately the abstractness, complexity, and theatricality still create a real puzzle for me regarding whether or not it would actually be fun to play.
Dawn of Worlds
I don’t recall where or when exactly, I stumbled uponDawn of Worlds, but it’s at this point in our framing story that it reoccurred to me. It seemed to be exactly what we were looking for. The rulebook is a humble 12 pages, free, and a seemingly perfect commitment for something you’re likely to only play once or twice. It exists on a funny, half-finished and remarkably dated website with a bafflingly unfortunate name, but I was certainly prepared to look beyond that.
Like Microscope and Kingdom, Dawn of Worlds is a collaborative world-building game. The first two games, however, are explicitly role-playing games: gameplay focuses around assuming the role of different characters and playing out the results of scenarios and conflicts. In contrast, Dawn of Worlds has exactly zero explicit roleplaying, except to the extent to which you ostensibly play the role of a deity in your world.
Dawn of Worlds embraces the gamification of worldbuilding, and play unfolds in a way that’s instantly recognizable if you’ve ever played other 4X turn-based empire-building games, such as the Civilization series, with which I am very familiar. The only striking difference is that no player in Dawn of Worlds explicitly controls a single faction.
The world creation is split into 3 ages, the players roll to accumulate points, and on their turns these points can be spent to shape the world to their desires. You spend these points to add or erase details to the world, building off what players did before you. It lacks explicit competition or goals, aside from creating an interesting world, but as other players come up with ideas you like or dislike, goal-setting becomes an emergent activity.
For all the praise Microscope has received, Dawn of Worlds was, to my group, way more fun to play, which is worth something.
I would give Dawn of Worlds a strong recommendation, it certainly filled the role we were looking for, but as I played it I couldn’t help but notice gaps in design. The main gap was conflict:
Nobody wanted to save up points for Events and Catastophes, because they were expensive and didn’t necessarily permanently add something to the game world in the same way a new race or city would.
Combat was awkward and not particularly fun to resolve.
The game was framed as cooperative, so spending your own resources specifically to interfere with another players’ plans, just for the sake of it, felt mean.
As a result, we had a game world with little to no conflict in it! Nearing the end, we decided to give every player a free Catastrophe, just to add more points of interest.
The pacing didn’t feel good. The turn order changed every round, there was a degree of bookkeeping involved with the amount of points you accumulate every round, and voting to proceed to the next age is interesting in theory but unwieldy in practice.
It was difficult to judge how large the map should be, and shaping the land/climate felt way too slow (we adjusted the cost to include multiple hexes to speed up play early on).
Although it’s not a competitive game, there were still “balance” gaps – it was far too efficient to create avatars and use avatar actions to increase the amount you can do on your turn. Players who chose not to play this way consequently did less.
It felt very implicit, geared towards the groups that made it, rather than explicit for an audience that may not share the same assumptions. Purification and corruption, the difference between a Race and a Civilization, the scopes of the various command actions… they weren’t well defined.
The World-Building Game as a Genre
All that said, we still had loads of fun. I think Dawn of Worlds is a unique and important game because it essentially carves out a genre all its own. It’s not an RPG – you don’t play characters and you are largely not concerned with the stories of individuals. But it’s also not a Strategy game because you don’t have explicit goals, ownership of game pieces, or win conditions. It is a World-Building Game where you exercise the same tools as you would in an RPG, collaboratively, and on a completely different scope.
There is so much design space in this genre that is unexplored. Dawn of Worlds came out in 2005 and the design hasn’t, to my knowledge, been iterated upon in a meaningful way. Why though? Despite all the problems I had with it, I would recommend it to most gaming groups. Even though the world we made is goofy and stupid, there’s an odd sense of investment in all the adventures we run there.
There is so much room to apply different game mechanics and different player motivators to this basic skeleton and produce really interesting gaming experiences – and really interesting shared worlds.
Land & Legend
I’m currently working on my own take on this underdeveloped genre. I made a very, very rough draft shortly after playing Dawn of Worlds, mainly just editing some of the things in that game that I didn’t think worked, and I went back to it recently. I’ve made four or five very major revisions and rewrites with a lot of very deliberate changes that really re-frame the main goals of the game in interesting ways. It really doesn’t have anything common with Dawn of Worlds now, aside from the premise.
I am all about finishing projects these days, so playtesting has started on that. I might consider streaming it or something, I probably see value in that, or getting the first draft of the ruleset out for feedback. Really excited to see how it evolves as polish is applied.
I feel like the trend lately has been to downplay the toot toot magic flute aspects of the bard and instead endeavor to create cool, edgy bards that are spies or duelists or magical historians or somesuch. I’m not about that life. I like my bards to be flamboyant entertainers, more often than not at least.
This subclass takes the core identity of the bard as an entertainer in a natural but slightly unexpected direction. If you want to consider really embracing the party-child vibe that I think has been sorely missing from a lot of the bards I’ve partied-up with lately, I present for your enjoyment the bardic college of revelry.
Bard College of Revelry
Whether it’s a young couple’s wedding, a village’s harvest festival, or a king’s coronation, people in all stations of life make time to celebration. The College of Revelry produces the entertainers most sought-after to facilitate these events.
The skills and affectations employed by bards of revelry are unmatched when it comes to turning the mundane to the extraordinary. They are masters of celebration, and those around them can’t help but loosen up and lower their guard when confronted with them. When such a bard makes an appearance, they are the heart of the party, Songs, stories, feasts and drinks shared by bards of revelry become unforgettable features in treasured memories of good times.
When you join the College of Revelry at 3rd level, your experience attending long celebrations and consuming various intoxicants grants you proficiency in Constitution saving throws.
Also starting at 3rd level, you have become a master of mixing magical brews. As an action, you may use a bardic inspiration and touch 1 vial of water or other potable non-magical liquid to create a magical potion. When a creature drinks this potion, they gain temporary HP equal to your Bardic Inspiration die and have advantage on saving throws against magical fear, sleep, and charm effects for one minute.
Starting at 6th level, you have the ability to exude an aura of intoxicating psychic energy as an action. For one minute, you creatures you choose within 30 ft of you have their movement speed halved. They also suffer disadvantage on wisdom and dexterity checks, and on ranged weapon attacks. Creatures immune to poison are immune to this effect.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
Distillation of Regret
Starting at 14th level, you can channel a devastating psychic lance of regret and shame onto the targets of your spells. As a bonus action, whenever a spell you cast this turn deals damage to a creature, you may deal an extra 2d8 Psychic damage. Creatures affected by this are Poisoned until end of their next turn. You can use this ability a number of times equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum of once), and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
It’s Sunday – and you don’t know what that means, because I haven’t posted one of these yet!
For the next 12 Sundays I will be posting a new subclass for a different core class in D&D 5e. First, a new Barbarian that channels the energy of an ancient, titanic entity to get swole and boost their grappling and unarmed combat.
Fun Fact: Midway through design, I realized that I was actually basically making the Juggernaut. I leaned into this.
Barbarian – Path of the Titan
For some Barbarians, power is valued above all else. The single-minded pursuit of strength has lead these barbarians worship ancient embodiments of power incarnate. As you channel the essence of a primal avatar of power, a Titan, your body lends itself their impressive qualities.
Starting when you choose this path at 3rd level, your body grows to become giant when raging. For the duration of your rage, you double in all dimensions, and your weight is multiplied by eight. If there isn’t enough room to double your size, you attain the maximum possible size in the space available. Your equipment grows to match your new size. While you are titanic, your size increases by one category and your weapon attacks deal 1d4 extra damage.
Fists like Boulders
At 6th level, you gain the ability to clench your fists as hard as stones. While raging, your unarmed strikes count as magical for the purpose of overcoming resistance and immunity to nonmagical attacks and damage. Your unarmed attacks deal 1d4 damage while raging. This damage increases when you reach certain levels in this class, increasing to 1d6 at 10th level, and 1d8 at 14th level.
Starting at 10th level, you are immune to Petrification. While raging, your movement is unaffected by difficult terrain, and spells and other magical effects can’t reduce the your speed.
At 14th level, you become able to squeeze the life out of your foes. When you succeed an unarmed attack you may use your bonus action to attempt to grapple or shove the target. If you are grappling a creature, that creature takes damage equal to your strength modifier at the beginning of your turn.