[5E] Review of Dawnforged's "WoW-style" Shaman class

niklinna

Explorer
I haven't enjoyed playing 5E much (at least it's better than 4E), but I recently stumbled across this 3rd-party class and it has really got me interested in trying 5E again. The author has posted a youtube video that covers the class in pretty good detail, with links to purchase. You can also find the older version for free with a little google-fu (the updates are pretty minor).

I figured I would do a writeup of the class for anybody else who might find it interesting. If you have actually played this class, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it!

Theme and Feel; Spells

The major aim of this class is to reproduce the general feel of totems from the World of Warcraft Shaman class, as well as its three specializations (Enhancement for buffing melee attacks, Elemental for caster & ranged, mostly elemental, DPS, and Restoration for healing). On paper at least, it seems to do that job quite well. The class format is modeled after the D&D Warlock, which is amusing to me, because I find the Warlock to be just a mess of cobbled-together bits that don't hold together well at all. And yet, for this Shaman class, it all seems to work.

The spell selection is pretty much what you would expect, a lot of buff/debuff and control/damage spells that work with elements (acid, earth, water, ice, air, thunder, lightning, fire), healing, divination, some summons of elementals, and planar travel. It manages to feel in many ways like blend of the World of Warcraft Shaman and a classical historical shaman (as well we can know them), taking some of what shamans are described as doing in their spirit journeys and translating it into the material world (since, you know, magic is for reals in D&D). The total number of spells available is ~130, which is pretty generous but still manages not to step hard on any of the core PHB classes.

Left out are most of the direct-from-the-caster attacks that the Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard claim (except of course for lightning bolt!), and nearly everything involving living animals and plants, which are pretty squarely in the domain of the Druid and Ranger. The Shaman does get find familiar, find steed, and find greater steed. I think a familiar is about as close as D&D can get to the classic idea of a shaman's spirit helper(s), so that seems fitting. A steed may seem to be robbing from the Paladin, but it's actually a big part of many shamanic traditions to have a spirit steed, often able to fly, to take them to the lower and upper worlds. This class just makes that concrete for D&D. The real tradeoff with these is that they chew up a precious spell known, so if you want that spirit helper or steed, you are definitely paying with good coin.

I really would have expected conjure animals or conjure woodland beings, because fey creatures are also close to spirit helpers in some sense. The latter actually was in the first version, but the author pulled it, claiming the need for balance (which you'll see is pretty funny, once we get to those totem specializations).

Features
The Shaman tops out with 1 more cantrip, spell known, and scaling spell slot (5, 16, 5) than the Warlock, with refresh after a short rest, but still gets only 1 each of spells from levels 6–9, with refresh after a long rest (though you get to retrain as you level up). He does not get a super attack cantrip like eldritch blast. At 1st level he learns Primordial and gets advantage on Charisma checks with spirits and elementals, and at 7th level he gets commune as a class feature, all very thematic with classical shamans.

And then there are the totems. These are basically throw-down Warlock Invocations, generally doing damage/healing, providing a buff or debuff, some interesting utility, or duplicating a limited spell effect. There are 25 to choose from, and you get 8 totems by 20th level, just as Warlocks get 8 Invocations. Totems are immobile, have a moderately small area of effect by default, and refresh after at least a short rest, with the powerful ones requiring a long rest before you can use them again, which is probably why Shamans get those extra castable spells. The 20th-level capstone reduces the refresh to at-will or a short rest, respectively, and you can plant your totems with a bonus action rather than an action. Pretty potent, but it is the capstone feature.

Nearly all of the totems are considered to be enhancement, elemental, or restoration (some have two types). There's enough variety that I won't go into detail, but the potentially overpowered standouts are the Skyfury totem, which grants anyone in its area an expanded crit range, and Windfury, which grants +2 AC and an extra weapon attack (each getting extra stuff from 10th level if you pick the appropriate subclass). Both refresh after a long rest.

How powerful these actually are will really depend on your party's field deployment, since totems affect a 15' radius until you hit 10th level, and then Elemental/Restoration totems have a radius of 30'. Basically, either your melee or your ranged folks, not both, are likely to gain the benefit of any given totem, depending on where you place yourself, and again they can't be moved, so you'll want to be careful about where you do put them.

Subclasses (Totemic Specialties)

The subclasses, or Totemic Specialties, pretty much give what you'd expect, and it's here I think the class both boxes itself in a little and goes off the rails in terms of power. You choose a specialty at 3rd level, which grants specific benefits, but all of them boost their respective totems at 10th level, providing additional benefits for each. As noted, and unlike Warlock Invocations, although none have a specialty as a prerequisite, all but one of them are associated with 1–2 specialties, and since the specialty benefits are nontrivial, you will be strongly motivated to pick only totems that go with your specialty. And so, at 10th level, you will have 5 totems, most of them likely tied to your specialty so you get as many boosts as you can, so you suddenly get a bunch of boosts all at once. I think getting 1 boost at a time along with basic specialty features would be less of a burst (and fewer boosts overall, also good for balance).

Enhancement is mostly about melee combat, so at 3rd level it grants proficiency in medium armor, shields, and martial weapons, plus one fighting style from three of the base Fighter styles. At 6th level you get a 2nd attack, and at 14th level you can summon a pair spectral animals that hound a nearby foe, granting advantage on melee attack rolls to your whole party for one round. You can summon them a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier, refreshing after a long rest. The spectal animals are both thematically cool and quite powerful, maybe too powerful. At 18th level, you can bump up a melee weapon hit with a bonus action, causing all of your totems to blast out 8d6 points of lightning damage to every foe in their individual radii of effect. But wait! You and your allies also get temporary hit points equal to the damage dealt to whoever took the most damage. You can do this every round. That's just a little crazy. Blasting the just foe you hit with extra damage seems like plenty, compared to other classes.

Elemental ups your elemental damage and adds rider effects. It notably does not grant medium armor, shields, or martial weapons. At 3rd level you add your Wisdom modifier to elemental damage dealt by a totem (not by any of your cantrips or spells), and you get resistance to one elemental type of damage. At low levels, you have few elemental damage totems, and they require a rest to refresh. This could be a problem. At 6th level, your elemental totems have a 30' radius instead of 15'; you probably need it. At 14th level, your totems add rider effects to any elemental damage they do (for example, reducing AC by 2, movement by 10', push, deafen). This is potentially adding a lot of conditions into a fight, which could be a bookkeeping headache. I quite prefer the Enhancement specialty's 14th-level feature. The 18th level feature is another damage overcharge, in which you can use an action to make all of your totems—not just the ones that normally do elemental damage—deal 1d4 of every elemental damage type (acid, cold, fire, lightning, thunder, or 5d4, each of which you may need to handle individuall for resistances/vulnerabilities) to every foe in their radii of effect. Not only is this is definitely a bookkeeping nightmare, but that additional damage triggers all the riders from the 14th-level subclass feature. I'm shocked the 18th-level feature even made it into the final version of this class.

Restoration is the healer build. You get proficiency with medium armor and shields (suck it, Elemental shamans), and your totems' healing adds your Wisdom modifier. At 6th level your restoration totems have a 30' radius of effect. At 14th level, you get advantage on death saving throws, or the option to just get healed for half your max HP. Who wants to be a reckless healer? You do, that's who! At 18th level, you can begin a rain dance with a bonus action, that allows you to use an action to heal everybody within 30' of you for 3d8 + your Wisdom modifier, and it lasts for 1 minute. Just in case your healing totems weren't enough. (I'm not sure why the rain dance feature isn't just another totem, but hey.) Actually the Restoration specialty seems pretty reasonable, compared to the other two, since the Shaman's other healing spells and totems scale pretty modestly.

As I see things, Enhancement is clearly the most powerful and flavorful subclass at all levels. Elemental starts out pretty constrained by comparison, but gets crazy (and crazy to manage) at high levels. Restoration clearly foregrounds the healing/defense role with its totems, but you can choose damaging spells to round things out if you want.

To Wrap Up

Dawnforged's Shaman class looks to be a pretty solid idea, with unique flavor not offerred by any of the core PHB classes, good battlefield control, excellent damage/healing, and some exploration/social stuff for those other two pillars I keep hearing people do in D&D (but rarely seeing in my play experience). Basing its format on the Warlock was an interesting choice, given the major differences between Invocations (character-based, many passive, at-will, or using a spell slot) and Totems (location-based, strictly limited in use until the capstone), but overall it seems to work.

The subclasses are where the Dawnforged Shaman pops the cap, however. Nearly all the totems have good benefits tied to their specialty, a burst of benefits at 10-th level that looks to get out of hand fast and strongly encourages the player to hyperspecialize. Many of the later specialty features amount to moar damage, a lot moar in the case of Enhancement & Elemental, which is both overpowered and kind of boring. When I bring this class up with my DM friend, I fully expect him to swing a nerf bat pretty hard here.

As for those totem boosts, I could see a specialty allowing you to pick a just some of your totems to get their associated boosts (maybe 1 each time you get a basic specialty feature, or even just at some of the levels you do so). And for the basic specialty features, to activate on just one totem/foe, rather than all of both. I'd even prefer that each specialty lets you boost one totem with a differen't specialty's feature, for a little less boxing-in.

These would be pretty straightforward mods, and who knows? Maybe it'll turn out in actual play that Enhancement & Elemental are indeed well-balanced. I look forward to finding out.

(Made some edits for clarity, added link to youtube video.)
 
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niklinna

Explorer
How does it compare to the Circle of the Shepherd Druid?
In terms of totems that is.
Circle of the Shepherd has, I believe 3 spirit totems that each give 1 or 2 minor benefits, using just two class features, because Druid is already a very full-featured class.

Dawnforged's Shaman has 25 different kinds of totems, many with substantial effects such as direct damage, pluses to hit, resistances, healing, traversing spaces, often more than one on a given totem in your specialty. You get 2 totems at 2nd level, and add more, up to 8 at 18th level.

Keep in mind that this is a Warlock-style class—you don't have the spell flexibility of Druid—so it's all about those totems.
 

aeyun

Villager
Hi!
I really appreciated this review, which I just found by way of Google - sorry to dig it up.
Do you have any more tips regarding a practical nerf - did you ever run it by your DM?
I'm a pretty new DM and have a new player who's dead set on basically playing this shaman with the druid spell list, which he prefers. Honestly I can't really estimate what the consequences of that would be, so if anyone has any input I'd really appreciate it.
 

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