I think the art looks good but – and maybe I’m biased or blinded by nostalgia – I just don’t think it’s great. Alright, the dragon one is pretty boss, but I’m not really wowed by the other samples. For now I will say that the artwork looks “decent,” and I’ll reserve final judgement until I get to actually flip through the players handbook. I don’t know how much artwork factors into someone’s decision to purchase this sort of thing, but it’s extremely doubtful that what I’ve seen thus far would put anyone off when it comes to buying the new books.
More interesting than the sample artwork, however, is the teaser page for the Warlock class. I think everyone knew that this class was going to make the jump from being an optional class to being a core class in this edition. Of course, you can argue – and Wizards of the Coast has said – that the “core” classes are those presented in the Basic PDF and that other classes presented in the Player’s Handbook are “optional.” Personally, and I don’t think I’m alone here, I feel like if it’s in the Player’s Handbook as an option then it’s a core class. I guess that’s all semantics, and neither here nor there. So let’s just talk about the warlock.
First, I just want to say that I’m not a fan of the warlock as a player character class. I don’t like it because even though there is some lip-service paid to how the patron could be a fey, or some other neutral or benign entity, the undertones and connotations of the class suggest a more malevolent entity. The class lends itself most readily to evil and corruption, and in my experience those elements in a character lend themselves to a shitty tabletop experience. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I like the characters in my game to be the “good guys.” Evil characters just aren’t as fun to have around, in my experience. Being an adventurer is tough enough without having to worry about whether the guy you’ve been travelling with is going to slit your throat and take your shit just because he can. Sure there could be some rich roleplaying to be had exploring that struggle with temptation, and where the line between good and evil really is, but I think in most cases you’ll probably just end up with some asshole that worships a demon and does asshole things to PCs and NPCs alike. Again, that’s just my personal take. On the other hand, I feel like these guys have a great place as villains, particularly if they are the sort of character that starts out as a genuinely good person who gets corrupted by the insidious influence of a malevolent patron.
I’m sure I’ll let someone play one of these guys at some point, and I’ll have high hopes for the character being conflicted and dynamic, struggling to find balance as he walks the line between light and dark, like Raistlin Majere or Inquisitor Eisenhorn, and I’m sure I’ll be disappointed by the outcome. He’ll probably wind up just stabbing an innkeeper for loose change. That’s often how these things go.
Personal opinions about the nature of the class aside, there is a lot going on here mechanically as well. Like previous iterations of the warlock, this class is a sort of narrowly defined fighter/mage, with the ability to wield magic and wear armor, and with a hit die that should give the warlock a hit point total slightly higher than a wizard and slightly lower than a fighter. We’ll have to wait a few more weeks to see what invocations look like and what they do to the balance between the warlock and other spell casting classes, so I don’t want to speculate on that now. Instead, let’s take a look at the cantrips and spell slots the warlock has.
The warlock stays one step behind the wizard when it comes to cantrips known, starting at two and maxing out at four, compared to three and five for the wizard. Far more interesting than that, however are the spells known/spell slots/slot level columns for the warlock class. It’s peculiar that the warlock’s number of spell slots rise as he gains levels, but he apparently never has more slots per spell level than the highest level spell he casts. So if a warlock wants to cast a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd level spell at level eight, he has no choice but to expend a 4th level spell slot, one of only two that he has. That’s a very limited spell casting ability. At twentieth level, the warlock can cast one more spell per day than a second level wizard. I’m very interested to see how these invocations work, and what mystic arcanum is. These would have to be some pretty cool class abilities to make playing a warlock more desirable than a multi-classed wizard. I guess I’ll know on or shortly after August 19, since I’ve already decided to pre-order the Player’s Handbook.
So there it is, folks, I guess I’m committed to riding this 5th edition train to wherever it takes me. Like Hunter Thompson once said: “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”