D&D 5E [Let's Read] The Delver's Guide to Beast World

So unless they're in part 2, no marsupials or monotremes? [sad Australian face...]


Bovines are physically-imposing people who have a natural connection with the Beast World’s plant life. Their traits reflect this, such as the species gaining advantage on melee attacks if they move at least 10 feet towards a creature they’re attacking, or the bison subspecies being able to wield two-handed weapons in one hand and treating versatile weapons as being two-handed even when wielded in one hand.

I've seen this racial ability before in 3pp material, notably in the Ogrun from Iron Kingdoms. I don't think it's remotely balanced and I'd never allow it at table. It's a massive power boost to two-weapon fighters in particular, and I'm not even much of a character optimiser - there's probably some truly gross combinations that a dedicated minmaxer could spring on their unsuspecting DM.

Oh, and I strongly suspect that any/all of the weapons table, Versatile weapons, and the two-weapon fighting rules are in line to be changed come 5.5e, so it's anyone's guess how this will all hang together then. Though of course this project started development long before 5.5 was announced, so there's not much that Heartleaf could have done about that.
 

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Libertad

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Tenebrines are raccoons and possums, Beasts who are traditionally active during the night. Their people can be found everywhere in appreciable numbers in the Beast World, but are the most common in Vinyot’s cities. They greatly prefer urban centers over rural areas, having an indescribable love for cities for which they feel truly alive during nightfall. Their main species has darkvision, are immune to diseases both magical and nonmagical, and when in a settlement of at least 10,000 people they can reroll an attack, ability check, or saving throw once per long rest. Raccoons have great tactile senses, having advantage on checks to open locks if they previously felt the teeth of a key used to open it and automatically open locks they successfully opened before, while possums can use their tails as a bonus action to knock a target prone with a contested Athletics or Acrobatics vs the target’s Strength save along with dealing +1d4 damage to prone opponents. Their homeland traits are in line with the large population centers of their region, such as Oric tenebrines being trained by War Mages. This gives them double proficiency when using Stealth to blend in with crowds, and attacks they make with daggers and shortswords while hidden and can delay their damage and the target noticing for 1 round.

Thoughts: The raccoon’s lockpicking bonus feels too situational to be useful, but the possum’s tail trip attack is really good for just about any build that relies on melee combat. They also have Darkvision, which makes them good scouts in dungeons and other light-poor environments. Their homeland traits are pretty situational and of limited utility save for certain kinds of adventures.

Ursines are a strong people who have been divinely blessed with long memories. They are most common in Oria, and their culture places a high degree on honor and bringing pride to the family name via trophies and titles from great deeds and competitions. They are a single subspecies race, that being Bear. They have eidetic memories which allow them to accurately recall anything they’ve seen, and can commit spells they witnessed to memory which in the case of being used to copy what they witnessed into spellbooks can be done at a library or university within 7 days and an Arcana check. Their subspecies trait is more physical, allowing them to spend Hit Dice upon rolling initiative to add the results (not modified by Constitution) as temporary hit points for 10 minutes. Their homeland traits reflect how they committed their strong minds to use, such as Allemagnian usrine substituting their Intelligence in place of Charisma for Performance and Persuasion, and once per long rest can grant a nearby ally a second save vs charming effects via an encouraging word.

Thoughts: The ursine’s amazing memory is great for wizards, and their subspecies even has a +1 Intelligence bonus. Ironically none of their species or homeland traits are specifically combat-related, with Arneria being the exception (proficient with war picks and deal +2d6 piercing if you hit a creature during the first round of combat). This pushes them more into being brainy mages. Trading out Hit Dice for temporary hit points can be useful to extend their survivability if a short rest isn’t guaranteed.

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Vulpines are tradewind (red) foxes and desert fennecs, their traditional homelands being Vinyot and Beylik respectively. Both people are known for their cleverness and seemingly-supernatural senses to monitor instances of cause and effect. The base species can discern the direction of north at any time, can make an Intelligence saving throw to extend a concentration spell beyond its normal duration with a newer, more difficult save every round after, and once per long rest can make an Intelligence check to gain information from the GM about the result of an action when presented with multiple choices. Tradewind foxes are capable of detecting illusions as a bonus action and have advantage on Investigation checks to suss them out, along with substituting an Intelligence save with a Dexterity save once per long rest. Desert foxes who don’t move for an hour can sense any creature within a 90 foot radius arriving in the area, and can choose to wake up upon such a creature’s arrival. Their homeland traits draw upon their innate senses and cleverness, such as a Vinyotian fox having a limited number of “emergency fund” gold pieces if unable to access their main source of wealth and can use any combination of ability and skill for the purposes of negotiating costs and services. An example used is a fox using Intelligence (Athletics) to give a merchant advice for a diet regimen in order to get a better deal on food.

Thoughts: The desert fox’s senses effectively act as a nonmagical alarm spell, and their Intelligence bonus pushes them towards being wizards, artificers, or eldritch knights/arcane tricksters. Their deduction abilities are broadly useful for just about any character concept, although several of their homeland traits are rather situational.

Bats are the newest species to the Beast World, where one of their number against all odds managed to find said world afloat in the Astral Sea. Their existence has been of great curiosity to the other civilizations, for the Astral Sea isn’t known to have any quiet-minded bats, and the bats themselves were initially unaware of other gods and don’t worship any of their own. They’re the only willful species in that plane, and due to their natural talent at Astralcraft they do not want for space nor resources. So without having to spend much of their existence to survive, they prioritize the arts and shaping astra into aesthetically pleasing shapes and patterns. And while they can track time, bats don’t have a cultural concept of history, having skills passed down by parents and caring mostly about firsthand knowledge. Those bats who do go to the Beast World are curious explorers, arriving in a portal at the Junction in the city of Patrae.

Bats have no subspecies, and their only homeland trait is the Astral Sea. Those not in the Astral Sea have a cheiropocket, an extradimensional space connected to the membrane of their wings which they can use to store nonliving objects, and have a glide speed outside the Astral Sea but a flying speed while in it. A limited number of times per long rest they can create a supersonic shriek which in the Beast World causes creatures of the Astral Sea to be visible to them, but gain blindsense out to 120 feet while in the Astral Sea. Finally, their sole homeland trait lets them add their proficiency bonus to Astralcrafting checks, and they also know the Charles’ Chunk cantrip which basically lets them summon a piece of solid Arcana they can reshape to a limited extent.

Thoughts: Overall, the bat species is kind of underwhelming unless the DM makes heavy use of invisible extraplanar beings and adventures in the Astral Sea. The cheiropocket is the kind of thing that would be most useful in a game where encumbrance matters, although by the time the party gets a Bag of Holding (or can make one as an Artificer) it may peter off.

Brethren are a new but incredibly populous race, comprising 33% of willful creatures in the Beast World.* Twelve years ago almost all of them lived in the Broken World, but after that the survivors were rescued by Pirhoua to relocate into the Beast World. The Brethren soldiers who fought in the Invader Wars were forced to labor for seven years as reparations, being given tattoos as a mark of shame and are colloquially known as Reparators. Although there are still old wounds of those dark times, most Brethren have integrated into the wider society of the Beast World with the younger generations having never known life in the Broken World.

*This makes me wonder how the continent’s resources were able to adequately handle this huge population explosion. The book does explain it as the Jackals helping them out with magic and new engineering techniques, but it’s still a notable amount.

Brethren use the traits of Variant Humans from the Player’s Handbook. However, their homeland trait is the Broken World, giving them a curio for free. Curios tend to be handheld objects with a technology level akin to 1990s Earth, although some more advanced curios exist such as a solar-powered toaster. Generally speaking, curios that mimic the effects of a cantrip can operate indefinitely, but ones that mimic a 1st-level spell can be used once before needing to be recharged by switching out batteries (which are known as acid buttons). Acid buttons are also renewable, recharging when plugged into a curio after 8 hours of exposure to sunlight.

Thoughts: Just like the core rules, Brethrens are a great option in terms of power and versatility. On top of their bonus feat, they also get what is effectively a bonus cantrip or long rest-based 1st level spell.

Kobolds, particularly willful kobolds, are another of the newer guests of the Beast World, a lucky few having escaped notice of their draconic masters in the Ancestral Homeland. Generally speaking, a kobold is most likely to become willful when they gather in large numbers, as the mental enhancement of their minds coming together provides that special something to achieve self-awareness. There’s believed to be under a thousand named kobolds in the Beast World, and most others don’t know what to make of them or their simple-minded peers. In terms of stats kobolds are great at getting their hands on all sorts of things, letting them steal non-held objects from enemies in combat as a reaction to being attacked via Sleight of Hand. Additionally, they gain +1 to +5 on an ability check they don’t have existing bonuses on besides their ability modifier. This number is dependent on how many other kobolds are within 60 feet. Finally, they have no subspecies or homeland traits, instead having a lineage related to their draconic creators where they reduce damage taken from an elemental type chosen at character creation by 1d6 to 3d6 depending on their level.

Thoughts: Kobolds are rather underwhelming in that their most potentially powerful feature is one that really only works if you have a party of kobolds or kobold allies following you around. And even then, it won’t apply to checks you’re proficient in so it won’t be aiding the things at which you’re actually skilled. The damage reduction against a specific energy type probably won’t come up often unless you pick fire, and the “combat pickpocketing” may be highly situational in usefulness as it can’t be used to disarm an item the target is holding.

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The next two races are rather interesting in that they were explicitly made to be more powerful than the others, given that they have special places in the history of the Beast World. The book has a sidebar explaining to take caution with the power discrepancy, but also mentions doing lots of playtesting to ensure they don’t trivialize encounters either.

Jackals are the rarest species in the Beast World, long believed to be mythical creatures. They made their existence known at the end of the Invader War, with hundreds of jackals appearing to help resettle millions of brethren into the new world. Although they have worked as envoys and engineers for doing this monumental task, much about their culture and even their home cities are still kept secret, shrouded in ancient illusions. Jackals have a reputation for acting slowly and for being exceedingly polite and formal. Still, they do have leisurely activities, and one of their more famous games that has recently spread to the Beast World is the Three Acres War, a cross between a tabletop wargame and LARP whose players (mostly Jackals) organize conventions to meet up and play.

Jackals have no subspecies nor homeland traits. They are unique among the species in that they have a net +6 to ability scores, with +2 in Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom. Their immortal natures make them immune to age-based effects, and have double proficiency in one set of artisan’s tools and one of the knowledge-based skills (Medicine and all Intelligence-based ones save Investigation). They also can treat one non-heavy martial melee weapon as having the finesse and thrown property. They also get some bonus spells reflecting their connection to the Arcana, gaining Eldritch Blast, two wizard ritual spells, and once per long rest can cast the Dream spell that can additionally make the target forget about the Jackal’s presence if they fail an Intelligence saving throw.

Thoughts: Being able to treat a single non-heavy weapon as finesseable really opens up a lot of options, and there’s a variety of useful ritual spells. Alarm, Find Familiar, Identify, and Unseen Servant are pretty good choices. While the free Eldritch Blast may look tempting for a Warlock dip, Agonizing Blast still explicitly calls out Charisma which is a downside. Their more powerful version of Dream is pretty good, as it can really mess with a target by interrupting their rest if they get unlucky on a save; not something of great use in traditional battles and dungeon crawls, but can be useful for more intrigue-based campaigns.

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Dragons come in two varieties. Those elder wyrms still in the Ancestral Homeland and those eldest who escaped are closer gamewise to Monster Manual dragons, and the descendants of those who resettled in the Beast World are a better representation of the playable options. While the latter may be Medium size, they still possess the might of the creatures that bear their name. Newborn dragons have translucent skin and become metallic or chromatic based on the moral choices they make in life, which are their subspecies. Their lineage is their homeland trait equivalent, which is based on the environment of their parents’ lairs.

In terms of stats dragons gain +2 to a single ability score of their choice, and have +3 to another ability score depending on their subspecies. They are the only species besides bats to have a natural flying speed, and unlike bats have no restriction on when it can be used. They have natural weapons and natural armor which make them formidable foes even without equipment, and the maximum for all of their ability scores is 22.

There are five subspecies, each of which have a metallic and chromatic type to which I assume most readers are familiar. Each subspecies grants +3 to a relevant ability score, proficiency in two skills or appropriate tools, and one 1st level spell at 1st level and a unique kind of dragon magic spell that only dragons can learn at 5th level. The subspecies are Monarch (all about impressing people with your sheer presence), Bulwark (bulky scales to better protect you), Dancing (agile movement and fine-tuned breath weapon shapes), Scholar (skills and spells for knowing and identifying stuff plus limited Metamagic options), and Whispering (social knowledge, can hear through stone and solid barriers and have venomous claws). The lineage options determine a dragon’s breath weapon, special movement modes beyond just flight, and what damage type they are resistant towards. The breath weapons are the most notable feature, being pretty powerful effects of various shapes and ranges whose uses per long rest are based on their proficiency bonus. Most breath weapons have a secondary effect beyond damage, such as a Glacier lineage’s cold breath being capable of creating solid cubes of ice, or Cove’s acid breath dealing half damage to targets adjacent to the primary target.

Thoughts: As the book says, dragons are really powerful. The most powerful species in this book, I might add. There’s enough subspecies and lineage combinations to make them good at just about every role, and their breath weapons are effectively free uses of powerful AoE damaging spells that scale with level. Add a fly speed on top of that and you really can’t go wrong in picking them.

Thoughts So Far: While it’s virtually impossible to do a holistic overview of every anthropomorphic creature type, this chapter did a good job at giving stats for the more popular species. I also like the separation between biological abilities and more cultural homeland traits, and the latter had several options which played against type so many of the animals aren’t pigeonholed into certain predetermined roles. The setting is rather mammal-heavy, and I feel that a few of the choices are a bit unbalanced. That being said, I felt that most of the “races” had some features and roles at which they could excel, and with 18 main species there’s more than enough options to not feel sparse.

Join us next time as we explore new and existing options of might and magic in Chapter 11: Classes!
 

Libertad

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So unless they're in part 2, no marsupials or monotremes? [sad Australian face...]




I've seen this racial ability before in 3pp material, notably in the Ogrun from Iron Kingdoms. I don't think it's remotely balanced and I'd never allow it at table. It's a massive power boost to two-weapon fighters in particular, and I'm not even much of a character optimiser - there's probably some truly gross combinations that a dedicated minmaxer could spring on their unsuspecting DM.

Oh, and I strongly suspect that any/all of the weapons table, Versatile weapons, and the two-weapon fighting rules are in line to be changed come 5.5e, so it's anyone's guess how this will all hang together then. Though of course this project started development long before 5.5 was announced, so there's not much that Heartleaf could have done about that.

Sadly, there isn't much in the way of representation Down Under.

Edit: Opossums are marsupials, but they're not native to Australia.

There is part of me that would like to try a deeper dive on sussing out the optimization potential of the various races, although I feel that is better served as its own project vs a more general review.
 
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Libertad

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Chapter 11: Classes

This chapter is rather self-explanatory: it goes over how the various classes fit into the Beast World along with a new subclass for each of them. Artificer is an exception, for that class isn’t OGL.

Barbarians aren’t technologically-primitive warriors too undisciplined to learn more “proper” fighting styles. In the Beast World, they come from all walks of life, but what unites them is harnessing a rage that is a form of ego death which strips away part of their willful nature in order to focus on sheer might and power. The Path of Thought’s Tremor is a representation of this trance, and its features initially include explicitly physical abilities such as adding one’s Constitution modifier to melee damage on the first 1-2 hits when raging depending on level, doing bonus psychic damage on a critical hit, and at higher levels levels gain preternatural senses such as always active tremorsense and being able to form a Telepathic Bond when raging.

Thoughts: Flavorwise I like how the setting is divorcing the Barbarian class from the unfortunate implications of technologically primitive people being prone to anger and lacking knowledge in more “refined” forms of combat. As for the subclass, Strength and Constitution are almost always going to be the highest ability scores of the Barbarian, so this subclass makes them better at doing what they do best: damage. The tremorsense feature is permanent and isn’t dependent on raging, so it also turns the Barbarian into a rather good scout/“ghost-slayer.”

Bards interpret the power of Arcana as a Universal Symphony of rhythm connecting all facets of creation, and influence this force by eliciting emotion from magic itself. Bards in the Beast World are evenly split between learning their powers via formal colleges vs informal self-taught techniques. The College of Witches specializes in using magic to gain influence over the ghosts of the Netherworld. Initially they can call a ghost into service for one hour that acts as a harmless scout, and can attract a limited number of ghosts to haunt creatures or objects as part of a long rest. These latter kinds of ghosts have Essences which provide minor bonuses and features to creatures or objects they haunt for 1 minute via Bardic Inspiration, such as the Scoundrel granting a bonus to ability checks and +1d6 force damage on a hit. At higher levels they can temporarily learn spells they don’t know from ghosts as part of a long rest, and can create ghosts from dying humanoids to perform special actions the creature possesses.

Thoughts: The ghost scout is like a more limited version of the Echo Knight’s phantom double, but even then it can be useful for scouting purposes. The class feature doesn’t explicitly say that it is incorporeal, so that makes it less powerful it may initially sound. The ability to learn bonus bard spells is extremely strong; unlike the Lore Bard they can only learn from their own class’ spell list, but they can learn a much higher number in being equal to half their bard level minus one. The capstone ability can be abusable a la the Bag of Rats trick, but the text does mention that creatures who know they will be resurrected via Revivify will not produce a ghost. Overall a really strong subclass.

Clerics serve the various gods of the Beast World (and potentially in worlds beyond), and Pirhoua has the most clerics due to having a close motherly bond with her creations. The Mercy domain represents those souls who seek to to turn the defeated to a brighter path and bring down death as a last resort. At 1st level they are proficient in Persuasion and have a longer-range multitarget Sanctuary, their Channel Divinity can negate the damage from a melee attack as a reaction, and at higher levels they can bestow providence on themselves or a friendly creature (treat a d20 roll as a 15) whenever a hostile creature surrenders or dissolves hostilities. At higher levels they can have all of their damaging spells be nonlethal in nature, and at 17th level has their Sanctuary cause attackers to autofail Wisdom saves when they attack the spell’s target.

Thoughts: The thing with the Mercy domain is that a player who chooses it is communicating that they want to play a particular type of game, one that would require more input from fellow players than other subclass options. While there is no penalty for choosing violence, a fair amount of its features revolve around avoiding death and being reactive rather than proactive. The book does mention these considerations in a sidebar to an extent, but its usefulness will really depend on the DM as much as the player.

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Druids most commonly live in forests and spend their whole lives in the shadows of the trees. They are organized into circles who induct members by burying them alive beneath a tree, after which they are reborn in a seed pod. Druids are horrified at the Dungeon’s existence, viewing it as an affront to nature, swelling the ranks of Delvers with their kind.

The Circle of the Wild Card represents those druids who follow Varasta’s example and emphasize nature’s unpredictability. Their main feature involves crafting a special deck of magical Wild Cards which can be randomly drawn from a limited number of times per long rest based on their level. At higher levels they gain features to better control the odds at what card results they get. There are 23 different card results, and include a variety of features such as summoning a scimitar of moonlight that can be used in melee or expel a slash of light as a ranged attack, one where the druid and their allied creatures can communicate as though they were adjacent to each other for the next 8 hours, can turn their body incorporeal for 1 minute, and growing magical fruits which cause those who eat them to recover the maximum possible die results from healing spells.

Thoughts: The good thing about this subclass is that when you draw a card, you don’t have to immediately activate its powers, instead being any time until the next long rest. Barring a few exceptions you can’t use the cards or have the ability persist while you’re wildshaped, which thus makes the Wild Card druid more of a “classical caster.” The deck’s randomization and wide abilities hurt it a bit in that you can’t always guarantee you’ll get exactly what you need, although given you can “hold onto” a card’s use this lets you save it up for the right moment much like prepared spells.

Fighters are the most varied of adventurers, reflecting a diverse array of combat styles across countless cultures. Most fighters who were old enough fought in the Invader War, and many who survived became Delvers upon discovery of the Dungeon. The Main Event martial archetype reflects a professional wrestler of the Storied Histories League, who mixes special moves and grapples with showmanship. Their main ability involves generating points known as Heat, which have a variety of ways to be gained such as an ally hitting an enemy you have grappled or successfully hitting with an attack roll that has disadvantage. At higher levels the subclass grants them additional ways to gain Heat. Heat can be spent on special moves known as Spots, such as Hot Tag where you touch a creature which then uses its reaction to move and melee attack a target, or Clothesline where you spend a reaction to make a melee attack against a creature entering your reach and reducing their speed to 0 feet while knocking them prone. Gimmicks are basically more advanced Spots, which include passive effects as well as a more powerful Finisher move.

Thoughts: One cannot help but draw comparisons to the Battlemaster Fighter in that both subclasses learn special moves as they level up. However, unlike the Battlemaster Fighter the Main Event requires generating Heat before they can be used as opposed to automatically using them, and Heat is lost as soon as the battle is over and must be built up again during the next battle. As such it is a less attractive choice in its abilities being more situational.

Monks aren’t formal mystical fighters performing rote exercises and meditation to achieve enlightenment. Or at least, that is but one of many possible ways of mastering themselves. What unites monks is discovery of a process where they separate themselves from the world, glancing at hidden truths impossible to understand via conventional perception. The Way of the Kidney Punch are those who glanced upon a rather controversial truth, that to win fights is the greatest goal. They start out with being able to make a special Kidney Punch unarmed attack by spending ki, imposing one level of Exhaustion on the target if they fail a Constitution save. At higher levels they can reduce the damage of incoming melee attacks in much the same way Deflect Missiles works for ranged attacks, can waive the ki point requirement for Kidney Punches if they hit with their first unarmed strike in a Flurry of Blows, and at 17th level they can gain additional unarmed strikes by spending 3 ki points per bonus attack.

Thoughts: Being able to “deflect melee blows” is an extremely useful ability, as most monks will be punching up close. Although still requiring a reaction to activate, it makes Kidney Punch Monks reliable tanks when engaging 1 on 1. Exhaustion is a pretty good condition to inflict on enemies, although requiring a Constitution save means that a lot of big monsters will be resistant to it.

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Paladins are those empowered by appropriate gods to use their might and skills to make the world a better place. They have high standards to live up to, but it is these standards which have communities place their trust in them in the first place. Before the Dungeon’s arrival undead and demons could only enter the Beast World by those making offers to Veronette, but the Dungeon provides a worrying new way for such creatures to menace mortals. This has caused paladins to take an intense interest in the Delve.

The Oath of Revolution Paladins are the checks and balances against the political leaders of the Beast World, having sworn oaths to empower and uplift the meek of the earth. Their bonus spells tend towards divinatory aims, such as Comprehend Languages, Speak with Dead, and Scrying. Their channel divinity can force a target to kneel prone for 1 minute and answer questions truthfully for the duration (can save each round to end the effect), as well as an Evincive Strike they can make the result of a d20 attack roll they just made usable by friendly creatures in treating it as their own attack roll until the start of their next turn. At higher levels they get an aura granting a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls to friendly creatures (up to a mile at 18th level), can detect lies and become immune to charm, and at 20th level can sing a song granting them free uses of Divine Word, a fly speed, and allied creatures can reroll the result of a d20 roll once.

Thoughts: This is what I’d call a role-play heavy class, in that it emphasizes more non-combat and investigative abilities for the paladin. The Channel Divinity is kind of weak in that there are spells like Hold Person, Entangle, and Zone of Truth which can achieve similar effects but require spell slots rather than being one use per rest. The Evincive Strike is so-so. If you crit with it, then you can share the benefits with nearby allies; parties with rogues and mages with spells requiring attack rolls will see a very nice boost to their damage when this occurs. But as you must declare your use of the strike before making the roll, this is rather unreliable and is thus better used to ensure that party members are guaranteed to hit a well-defended opponent instead.

Rangers are the protectors of the road and its travelers, learning the magic of the wilds to better protect both it and the civilized world from each other. The Carrion Master ranger archetype are those doomed souls who decide to enter into a pact with Veronette. Their bonus spells are appropriately necromantic, such as False Life, Animate Dead, and Death Ward, their magic can affect undead as though they were of the Beast type, and they have the ability to transform a corpse of a Beast type creature into a Carrion Companion which is like an animal companion but undead. Every long rest the Ranger can choose a different carrion companion provided they have access to an appropriate corpse, and there are different stat blocks with their own special abilities and attacks. At higher levels they can turn the corpses of Humanoid and Beast type creatures into zombies, choose from more powerful stat blocks for their Carrion Companion, can graft body parts onto said companion to give them new abilities such as a scorpion sting or wings for a fly speed, and at 15th level the ranger can gain some of the benefits of being undead for a short time and they can order commands to their companion and undead without spending a bonus action.

Thoughts: This subclass immediately invites comparisons to the Beastmaster Ranger, but I’ll be comparing it to the revised version on account that the original is nigh useless. The Carrion Master’s companion can be easily revived and/or replaced if destroyed, and combined with raising undead they have a reliable supply of meat shields although by the time they get these features regular zombies and skeletons are pretty weak companions. Conjure Animals is a more reliable means of generating meat shields to be honest, although raising zombies isn’t limited-use which works in its favor.* The carrion companion stat blocks have a few clear winners, which tend to be the higher-level ones: ghoul-touched have paralytic claws much like the monster, but have a weak non-increasing DC 10 Constitution save, and the mummy-touch has a dreadful glare ranged attack that can impose the frightened condition. As such, it’s a rather strong subclass due to the action economy.

*They’re still limited in how many zombies they can raise.

Rogues come from a wide variety of backgrounds, but are united by those who prefer finesse and panache as problem-solving tools, ranging from conventional criminals to smooth-talking politicians. This entry talks briefly about crime in the Beast World, notably that prisons are rare as punitive justice is the exception rather than the norm, and legal penalties vary ranging from hard labor to tattoos marking criminals as a felon.

Fell Infiltrators are those rogues who learn and use the powers of demons to better fight them…or so they say. Initially they gain proficiency in Religion and fiendish languages, and for a number of hours based on their rogue level can take the form of a demon which grants them a variety of benefits, such as turning the Sneak Attack dice into d8s instead of d6s, resistance to cold and poison (damage and condition), and darkvision. They can also generate an aura of silence on a creature they deal Sneak Attack damage towards until the end of their next turn once per short or long rest. At higher levels they gain features such as becoming immune to Zone of Truth and being able to shield themselves and nearby allies against divination spells, and can inscribe demonic sigils into objects and creatures with a variety of effects such as rotting away from necrotic damage each round.

Thoughts: Increasing your Sneak Attack damage is a very attractive option, and given the rarity of Darkvision among species this helps the Rogue act as a competent scout in nocturnal and dungeon-like environments. The downside is more role-play related as fiends and fiendish-looking creatures are as disliked in the Beast World as they are in other campaign settings; perhaps even more so, as tieflings aren’t a “common race.” The higher-level abilities are more situational, particularly the sigils and immunity to specific spells. As its lower level features are broadly useful, this is a dip-friendly subclass.

Sorcerers are those with inborn arcane magic, not necessarily from ancestry but being born in a magic-rich environment or influenced by a force manipulating the fundamentals of Arcana. If anything, sorcerers are extra real in that they create magic through their own existence, and the world attempts to overcorrect them. The Frosturn Eclipse sorcerous origin are those who follow Aubade’s example and use the state of Sunblood to enhance their magic. They are Muscle Wizards, using Strength instead of Charisma for their spells and abilities, and gain proficiency in light armor and Aubade’s trademark war pick and morningstar. They also have abilities that encourage them to fight in melee, such as ignoring disadvantage on ranged spell attacks when adjacent to a hostile target and can spend sorcery points to continue staying conscious if reduced to 0 hit points. At higher levels they gain Extra Attack and can enter a special state known as Eclipse if they deal fire or cold damage to an adjacent enemy, which has several of the benefits of Haste plus dealing additional damage with melee attacks and gaining temporary hit points. Their 14th and 18th level abilities grant them the Penetrating Spell metamagic option (downgrade immunity to resistance and resistance to normal) and can cast a cantrip in place of a weapon attack.

Thoughts: Dispensing Charisma to use Strength makes this subclass an attractive choice for melee-focused builds that aren’t Valor Bards and Paladins. However, multiclassing may be more or less required to get the full benefits, as being proficient with just light armor and a puny d6 Hit Die makes the Frostburn Eclipse Sorcerer a surprisingly fragile fighter. Staying conscious at 0 hit points isn’t as attractive an option given that sorcery points are a precious resource, and a party with Healing Word can reliably get you back into the waking world if the group needs you up and running.

Warlocks gain their magic from patrons, creatures that don’t fit within the cosmic understanding of gods and mortals. As such, many people are suspicious of warlocks, leading many to believe that their powers come from demons…which can be true or not true depending on the warlock in question. Patrons can differ in personality and goals, but their alien minds make for strained relationships between them and their servants, often expressing impatience due to a different perception of time.

Warlocks with the Ghost God as their patron were chosen from a young age, expressed in unpleasant ways such as migraines and nightmares as a result of the pseudo-deity calling from across the cosmos. Their bonus spells don’t really have any consistent theme and include such options as Enlarge/Reduce, Sending, Confusion, Geas, and Fabricate. Hey, I thought that last one wasn’t available! Initially they can shift into the Broken World while holding an object bearing their likeness and are immune to the negative effects of that plane’s environment. They can also gather material during a long rest in the Broken World that adds +1 to their spell attack rolls and save DCs of warlock spells. At higher levels they can twist space and time as a bonus action a limited number of times per long rest to teleport or force creatures to spend extra movement, can create a 120 foot cube of safe space in the Broken World, empower an NPC to become a 1st level Ghost God Warlock who gains a level every time you do, and at 14th level once per long rest can cast Banishment on multiple targets to send them to the Broken World.

Thoughts: Being able to add +1 to spell attacks and save DCs is already a strong bonus, and as it costs virtually nothing there’s no real downside to it either. Getting an NPC warlock who levels up with you may be good depending on how they’re built, although as they are 9 levels lower you’re most likely going to keep them out of combat and rely on more utility talents. Being immune to the Broken World’s environmental dangers and ability to set up a safe zone will only be of use if the DM decides to have adventures centering around exploring that plane. As a result, the most useful features of the Ghost God Warlock come in at the early levels, making it another very dip-friendly option.

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Wizards are scholarly mages who use spellbooks to perform mental exercises, holding a thought in their minds to be released as a spell at a later time. The Somnomancy arcane tradition was created by sloths studying the Dreaming, realizing that the plane’s connection to the thoughts of all living creatures can allow them to bestow the powers of wizardry onto others. Initially they cannot be magically put to sleep and recover one level of exhaustion on a short rest instead of a long one, and during a long rest gain bonus spell slots that they can only use in granting to other creatures albeit they use the wizard’s attack bonus and save DC. At higher levels they can make it so that such shared spells can be cast as a bonus action if they’re normally cast as an action, can fall unconscious* as a bonus action to gain blindsight to 60 feet, and at 14th level they can create a remote sensor they can view through while in such an unconscious state.

*Same as the condition, but with less penalties.

Thoughts: Sharing spell slots is by far the most broadly useful and potentially abusable ability. While the number and level of spell slots is dependent on your Wizard level, the text doesn’t specify that the spells have to be Wizard spells, which opens up some interesting multiclass combinations. And even just with Wizard spells, there are some nice choices: you can’t really go wrong in giving the Shield spell to your allies, and letting fellow party members share the load in maintaining Concentration spells themselves rather than relying on you opens up a lot of possibilities.

Thoughts So Far: For the subclasses that are mechanically powerful and effective in conjunction with their parent class, the winners are the Thought’s Tremor Barbarian, Witch Bard, Kidney Punch Monk, Carrion Master Ranger, and Somnomancy Wizard. These subclasses all have good abilities in both low levels and high. The Fell Infiltrator Rogue and Ghost God Warlock suffer in that their best abilities are at the earliest levels, leaving the higher level ones feeling too little, too late. The Wild Card Druid is hard to judge at a glance without seeing it in play given its random nature, and the Main Event Fighter, Revolution Paladin, and Frostburn Eclipse Sorcerer feel the weakest of the lot. The Fighter in that the Battlemaster archetype feels more reliable and broad, and the Paladin and Sorcerer in not really synergizing with their main class’ strengths.

Join us next time as we learn about the delving crews’ homes on wheels in Chapter 12: Wagon Customization!
 

Libertad

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Chapter 12: Wagon Customization

”You’ll come for the beasts, but you’ll stay for the wagons.” The delver’s primary mode of transport isn’t just for getting to Point A to Point B: it’s a combination vehicle, base of operations, mobile weapons platform, and depending on the customizations can be all sorts of other things. The rules for wagons are in-depth in this chapter, from using them in combat and races to buying enhancements for them.

Delver wagons are special objects with their own rules: like PCs they gain levels in line with the party, which determines their hit points, Maneuverability (a special stat which can be spent to do fancy movement-based abilities), Adaptability (special stat that can be spent for a variety of things such as rerolling a drive check or making swift repairs), and the number of Attachments (basically customized enhancements) that can be placed onto the wagon. The rules are pretty detailed, ranging from existing and new Conditions that can affect the wagon’s function, special Drive checks for driving the wagon, and making repairs to the wagon via wainwright tools due to damage and Conditions. Draught is a term for animals, steam engines, or other things responsible for a wagon’s locomotion. With the aid of druids and rangers, all wagons are built with something known as a Ranger Fetish that safeguards draughts from harm. While a draught is hitched to a wagon, they are not treated as creatures and cannot be specifically targeted by attacks or effects that affect one creature.

The book notes that single-hand reins (for Drive checks) and wainwright’s tools (used to repair wagons) are tool checks, and suggests giving PCs free proficiency in one of them if the campaign plans on using wagon rules often. This is twofold, to prevent a “proficiency tax” for an important ability, and also making them not skills prevents Bards, Rogues, and characters with the Skill Expert feat from dominating wagon encounters. The book does mention as an optional rule to fold tinker’s tools into wainwright tools and land vehicles into single-hand reins if the DM would prefer to focus on existing tool proficiencies.

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There are three broad types of wagons that serve as “classes,” which provide their own unique benefits based on level. They do not have to be purchased like other attachments and are unique to that type alone. Windsprinters are sleek, swift wagons that prioritize maneuverability and speed but are the most fragile type: their special features include things such as +2 on Drive checks made to race, ignoring difficult terrain, and gaining Jackal-Reared Axe Beaks as special draughts which are the fastest known mounts in the Beast World. Ironaxles are slow, sturdy wagons built to dish out and withstand punishment, and their special features include a ram attack, gaining resistance to damage from nonmagical attacks, and a steam engine as a special draught. Rocksteadies are built for versatility and reliability: their special features include being able to make repair patches no matter where you are on the wagon (normally you have to do so at the service hatch), delaying the negative effects of a breakdown (the “bloodied” condition for wagons), and can gain a pair of autotrotter draughts that can act on their own like programmed constructs and store spells to be released at a later time.

On top of their practical functions, wagons provide a useful service for 5th Edition gaming groups: they give PCs something to spend money on! Wagons require gold pieces to gain levels, and on top of that attachments that customize the wagon also cost gold. It’s for this reason that a suggested “wealth by level” table was made based on dungeon delves and funds saved up. Special additions known as attachments can be added to wagons. It’s not enough to have the gold, for attachments are separated into Grades which can only be taken by wagons of sufficient level, and they also take up physical space so you’re also limited to space (measured in cubic feet) as well as weight. Some attachments can only be taken by certain wagon types: for instance, the cannon weapon can only be installed on an Ironaxle.

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Components are the first type of attachment, usually having abilities which require them to be used in order to gain their function. They include such options as various types of weapons such as ballistae and cannons, a quick-retract winch which if attached to a character allows them to be pulled to the wagon’s roof for no movement cost, metamagic crystals which if touched provide free sorcery points to apply to a metamagic ability possessed by the crystal, soul orbs fueled by ki points that let the user create a distant image double they can attack through as if physically present, and a speed mirage which can create illusory duplicates of the wagon when Maneuverability is spent to gain extra movement.

Fittings are the second type of attachment, being passive or persistent effects. They include such options as an intruder chime that lets out a loud warning when certain creatures not specified as “safe” get adjacent to the wagon, a block of privacy to soundproof the wagon’s walls, an auto-raft and sail that allows the wagon to cross bodies of water, and tremor caps which give tremorsense to the wagon’s inhabitants if the vehicle is in contact with the ground.

There is one interesting attachment that defies the magical restrictions of the Beast World. Eighty-Eights are four wheels which contain one quarter of a teleportation circle, and as a reaction the driver can imagine a location the wagon has been to before and teleport to said location. As this attachment is a high Grade, functions only once a week, isn’t pinpoint perfect, and works well with the primary function of wagons (to travel) I can let this one slide.

Last but not least, Furnishings aren't attachments in that they aren’t limited by wagon level, but are mostly cosmetic features. They’re usually things that make wagons more comfortable spaces to live in, such as beds, storage spaces such as safes and crates, light sources such as oil lamps or permanent dancing lights cantrips, fold-out patios, built-in plumbing systems such as water tanks and baths, and work stations for various types of tool proficiencies.

For delving crews that have a lot of gold but are low on space, they can purchase extraspatial cubes that add more physical space within a wagon. The cubes’ prices increase exponentially, being affordable for just a few cubes but going into the thousands when you approach and exceed double digits. Extraspatial cubes are actually the product of the Broken World, with the cubes reaching into that plane’s existence to pull its space into them. Which sounds rather dangerous, although there are no negative side effects to using them in the rules.

Our section on wagons proper ends with stats for unhitched draught types. They aren’t anything to write home about, with dire horses known as Draydrivers being the default type and steam engines being huge objects instead of creatures.

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Wagon Encounters provide new rules and alterations designed in mind with vehicular play. The first rule, Enormous Enemies, is a special addition to all creatures that are naturally Huge and Gargantuan, where they take less damage from Large and smaller creatures until reduced to half their hit points, and automatically crit when attacking creatures in melee if the target is one size smaller. Most wagon weapons ignore Enormous creatures’ damage reduction, so this encourages gaming groups to use wagon weapons when fighting big enemies.

Mobile Encounters are a new encounter type representing larger-scale events such as races and battlefield skirmishes where tracking individual feet is impractical. Squares of terrain are expanded from 5 feet by 5 feet into 120 feet squares called “grounds.” Friendly creatures on the same ground collectively move and act as a “force.” There are new special actions, such as Scout where a creature can learn about hidden threats and creatures in nearby Grounds on an opposed Perception vs Stealth check, or Entrench which must be performed collectively and grants all members of a force cover until they spend movement. Movement and range involving attackers and targets are more fluid, represented as speed in grounds. For melee fighters and those who prefer to battle up close, there’s a special action known as Pass where spending a ground of movement plus contested Dexterity or Drive checks can narrow the gap and allow for advantage on melee attacks and opportunity attacks for the winning side.

We also have unique rules for racing, which are treated as a Condition where all focus is spent on movement and one can maintain this condition a number of minutes based on Constitution before suffering exhaustion. Rallies are a sample encounter for such races along with other events taking place on a straight path, and we have example rules along with visuals for how a rally may go down:

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Our final new rule is for Hordes, where many enemies are combined into a single force resolving actions collectively. A horde is a group of creatures acting together, and are typically used in concert with Mobile Encounters. There are three different horde types based on number: Ambush, Unit, and Mob. The larger types have more creatures and thus more potential attacks, but cannot take certain actions due to their size, such as hiding. Attacks are resolved based on the target’s AC minus the attack bonus of an attack type, which determines the number of attacks that hit. Hordes targeting wagons split their attacks based on wagon locations. Hordes can suffer morale losses, where they must make a saving throw based on the number of creatures killed, and on a failed save half their number will flee and scatter.

This sounds like quite the number of rules, right? Well this chapter thankfully ends in a Quick Reference covering them all, easily turned into handouts for gaming groups!

Thoughts So Far: The rules for wagons are involved to the point that I feel that I’d need to see them in actual play to find out how they work in practice. That being said, I do like how the authors didn’t scrimp on details in making wagons a useful feature for games. The vehicle weapons in particular have good damage, range, and debuffs to make relying on them in battle a viable option, and attachments such as Metamagic Crystals and Soul Orbs directly enhance existing capabilities and class features. PCs will surely appreciate wagons for being more than a simple house on wheels.

None of the rules are setting-specific, meaning that they can be transplanted into non-Beast World campaigns easily enough. I am a bit wary about the Enormous Enemies rule: such creatures tend to be pretty powerful already, and there will be times when parties run afoul of dinosaurs, giants, and other such creatures away from their wagon such as inside a dungeon. It’s another rule that ends up punishing melee characters, who will be the most likely to get critted in battles with them.

Join us next time as we finish this book in Chapter 13: Magic Items & Spells and the Appendices!
 

Libertad

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Chapter 13: Magic Items & Spells

It wouldn’t be a proper high magic setting without a chapter full of eldritch loot and tricks! This chapter is relatively short at 11 pages, but these pages are packed with 18 magic items and 27 new spells, so you get quite a lot in spite of its brevity.

Of the magic items, about 11 require attunement, and two of them can only be used by a limited number of classes. They range from common magical tools used by Delvers and people of the Beast World, to famous legendary items that have their own place in history. 6 of the magic items are legendary rarity, 4 are uncommon, 4 are rare, 3 are very rare, and one’s rarity varies depending upon the level of spell it can absorb (the Self-Teaching Scroll). Odd that we have none which are common…well, besides the Stone of Six Strengths which isn’t technically part of this chapter.

Some of the more interesting items include the Blanket of Safekeeping (teleports the attuned character to a bed it is spread across when they take damage), the Carrion Staff (a legendary item of Veronette that can spend charges to create undead beings but can “lie” about how many charges it restores due to the goddess’ spiteful ways), Jyristä the Lightning Blade of Oria (first item made in a covenant forge, +3 longsword that deals bonus lightning damage and can absorb and channel lightning attacks into it to supercharge melee attacks), Lantern of Nature’s Unveiling (undead, fiends, and creatures under their influence have black halos when within its light), Scrolls of Self-Teaching (wielder can spend a reaction to divert a spell cast on them into the spell scroll), Soil of Fecundity (plant-like teapot which can pour out emerald dust that makes farmland super-fertile), and Wiletaper the Contract Candle of Vinyot (candle used to enforce the most important contracts in the Beast World, has two creatures magically bound to an agreement with a variety of contingency-like effects regarding the contract’s enforcement/breach).

The spells are a different story: 11 are cantrips, 9 are 1st through 3rd level, and 5 are 6th to 9th level. So we have a bit of high-level magic, but an awful lot of easily-accessible spells. The more interesting spells include Borrow Concentration (4th level, shift the concentration restriction of a spell you’re maintaining to a friendly humanoid), Enthrall (9th level, permanently charm a humanoid and maintain a telepathic link with them), Forecast Harvest (1st level, learn qualities about nearby soil and the state of herd animals), Inflict Empathy (3rd level, target is charmed as long as you and your allies don’t attack it as they reflect on the harm they caused in the past), Mannequin Mage (9th level, friendly targets gains spell slots of a 7th level wizard which they can use to cast spells you prepared for an hour), Moment of Resolve (cantrip cast as bonus action, damage can’t break concentration on a spell until the end of your next turn), Provoke Hiccup (1st level, cast as a reaction and target must make a Charisma save to cast a spell with a verbal component), Stagecraft (cantrip, basically bardic prestidigitation/thaumaturgy that does things such as recording and play ingback a performance you do, or a magical camera transcribing whatever you see onto a sheet of blank paper), and Swift Invisibility (1st level, as Invisibility but cast as a bonus action, duration is one round, and doesn’t require concentration).

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Appendices

The final pages of our book end in four appendices. Only one appendix is of any notable length, having brief discussions and random tables for why your gaming group’s party of delvers decided to meet up together, along with some sample adventure hooks and common means of how delvers split up loot and magical items. Nothing exactly extraordinary. The remaining appendices include how to make pictos that were discussed way back in Chapter 2, an index of names and terms, and a character sheet for wagons including a pseudo-map for placement of components and the physical makeup of the vehicle.

Thoughts So Far: I like how the magic items include a range of unique treasures, ones practical to the adventuring lifestyle, and those more broadly reflective of regular life in a high magic setting. I would have preferred all of the magic items in the book to be located here, as some are spread out in prior chapters such as the Bubble Armor in Cosmology & Religions or the Stone of Six Strengths in Oria.

As for the magical spells, there are quite a few that are pretty powerful in being broad, although they have some built-in limitations. Borrow Concentration is pretty potent, but as it ends if you cast the same spell it is used for concentrating again, meaning you can’t do things like give every party member the benefits of Divine Word. Moment of Resolve lets you ignore damage for concentrating on a spell, but as it’s a cantrip with a bonus action you cannot cast any other “real spell” on the turn you cast it which makes it less useful for non-primary mages. It’s cleric-only, so the clerics most likely to use it are going to be warpriest types. Enthrall may seem potent, but as it can only affect Humanoids and even then only one at a time it is rather lacking in comparison to more broad spells of that level such as Shapechange, True Resurrection, and Wish. Swift Invisibility is a useful way to gain advantage on an attack or to quickly hide. And like Forecast Harvest, there are a number of spells that may not be immediately useful to typical adventuring crews but help flesh out the “practical magic” side of life in the Beast World. Overall I like this chapter.

Final Thoughts: There are many things to like about the Delver’s Guide to Beast World. It is a fully-imagined setting with a built-in rationale for the adventuring lifestyle, has unique things to set it apart from other settings on the market such as customizable wagons and humans being the exception rather than the norm, manages a good balance between macro-level surveys of realms and regions while having enough of a personal touch in the form of interesting NPCs and their establishments, and the author’s love and respect for the fandom he is part of shows through in his work. The new mechanical options have some unbalanced options here and there, but enough of the material looks steady enough to be usable in most games. It is for these reasons I highly recommend the Delver’s Guide to Beast World, be you a furry or a furless outsider!
 



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