Roleplaying

Unearthed Arcana Review: Aberrant Mind Sorcerer

A sorcerer with psychic energy radiating from them.
Sorcerers have come a long way since the release of 5E. From living under the wizard’s shadow to being a spellcasting powerhouse in their own right, I’m glad to have another viable arcane caster when creating a character. Unfortunately, this is not due to general class improvements that give the sorcerer its own identity. No, this power increase is due entirely to the Divine Soul subclass that grants access to the cleric’s spell list alongside the sorcerer’s. While I’m glad to see at least one sorcerer subclass I feel good playing, this leaves future subclasses in the same weak position the class started in. To see if Aberrant Mind manages to provide another viable option, let’s take a look at the subclass’s features, starting at level 1.

Level 1 – Invasive Thoughts

At 1st level, you gain the ability to use a bonus action to magically create a telepathic link with one creature you can see within 30 feet of you. Until the link ends, you can telepathically speak to the target through the link, and if it understands at least one language, it can speak telepathically to you. The link lasts for 10 minutes, and it ends early if you are incapacitated or die, or if you use another bonus action to break the link or to establish this link with a different creature.

This feature is fine, if unexciting. On-call telepathy is nice for handling any language barrier problems you might run into. It’s also good if your GM enforces strict “table talk can’t be used in game” rules. On its own, this ability would be far too weak, but as one of three it’s fine.

Level 1 – Psionic Spells

Starting at 1st level, your aberrant nature changes your mind in subtle but profound ways. You learn additional spells when you reach certain levels in this class, as shown on the Psionic Spells table. The spell counts as a sorcerer spell for you, but it doesn’t count against the number of sorcerer spells you know.

Sorcerer Level Spells
1st arms of Hadar, dissonant whispers
3rd calm emotions, detect thoughts
5th hunger of Hadar, sending
7th compulsion, Evard’s black tentacles
9th modify memory, Rary’s telepathic bond

A grab bag of wizard, bard, and warlock spells that, even on their own, don’t impress me. When I compare it to the entire cleric spell list the Divine Soul gains access to, it pales even further. Most of these spells are subpar at the levels they’re gained, and they have little to no scaling. The best option on this list is Rary’s Telepathic Bond, a spell similar to the subclass’s Invasive Thoughts feature. Unfortunately, one decent spell does not make a good spell list.

Level 1 – Warped Being

Starting at 1st level, your aberrant origin protects you from harm. Your body might have a coating of viscous slime, tough hide, scales, or an invisible psionic barrier (choose the form of protection when you gain this feature). Whatever form the protection takes, your AC equals 13 + your Dexterity modifier while you aren’t wearing armor.

Auto-Mage Armor, this time with ooze! A feature seen before from the Draconic Bloodline subclass, this feature is fine, if uninspiring. While in theory a sorcerer with 20 dexterity would have 18 armor class using this feature, casters rarely invest heavily in dexterity. The fluff for this ability is also a bit odd. I’m guess 90% of players will pick the invisible psionic barrier, with the remaining 10% being very in your face about how they are covered in slime and how this imposes no mechanical penalties.

Level 6 – Psionic Sorcery

Beginning at 6th level, when you cast any of the spells gained from your Psionic Spells feature, you can cast it by expending a spell slot as normal or by spending a number of sorcery points equal to the spell’s level. If you cast the spell using sorcery points, it requires no components.

This feature essentially allows for more efficient use of Sorcery Points when casting Psionic Spells. For example, with this feature, a level 5 spell slot normally costing 7 Sorcery Points to create now only costs 5 Sorcery Points. The lack of components is also a small upgrade, as enemies that would normally be able to counterspell can’t do so if they can’t tell you’re casting a spell.

Unfortunately, this feature relies entirely on the Psionic Spells available. Those spells are bad, and so is this feature. Sorcery Points are a precious resource that power metamagics like Twinned and Quickened Spell. These abilities are so strong that spending Sorcery Points on subpar spells is almost never worth it. Improved efficiency and no components are nice bonuses, but they don’t come close to balancing the cost involved.

Level 6 – Psychic Defenses

At 6th level, you gain resistance to psychic damage, and you have advantage on saving throws against being charmed or frightened.

A decent feature, I like how this provides two situational bonuses that together mean most characters will get at least some value from it. Unfortunately, psychic damage is a rare damage type, so unless you’re fighting lots of mind flayers, that piece of the ability probably won’t see much use. Advantage against being charmed or frightened is much more broadly useful, as many powerful enemies make use of at least one of those conditions. One small issue is that half elves, a common sorcerer race due to their charisma bonus, already gain advantage against being charmed, which won’t stack with this feature.

Level 14 – Revelation in Flesh

Beginning at 14th level, you can unleash the aberrant truth hidden within your flesh. As a bonus action, you can spend 1 or more sorcery points to magically transform your body for 1 minute. For each sorcery point you spend, you can gain one of the following benefits of your choice, the effects of which last until the transformation ends:

  • You gain a swimming speed equal to your walking speed and the ability to breathe water. Gills grow from your neck or fan out from behind your ears, your fingers become webbed, or you grow lashing cilia that extend through your clothing.
  • You gain a flying speed equal to your walking speed and can hover. As you fly, your skin glistens with mucus.
  • Your body, along with any equipment you are wearing or carrying, becomes slimy and pliable. You can move through any space as narrow as 1 inch without squeezing, and you can spend 5 feet of movement to escape from nonmagical restraints or being grappled.
  • Your eyes turn black or become writhing sensory tendrils. You are aware of the location of any hidden or invisible creature within 60 feet of you.

As I’ve stated before, Sorcery Points are the sorcerer’s most important resource. Nothing this feature grants comes close to being better than what all sorcerers have access to. Being able to fly or see hidden or invisible creatures on command is nice, but let’s look at what other sorcerers are doing at this point.

Both Divine Soul and Draconic sorcerers have gained permanent flight, and Shadow sorcerers have unlimited 120-foot teleports in low-light areas. Revelation in Flesh is laughably weak compared to these features. I will admit it is stronger than what Storm and Wild sorcerers get, but that is a low bar to jump. This feature also forces the gross slime aesthetic onto any character using this ability, regardless of the visual choices the player had made for previous abilities.*

Level 18 – Warp Reality

At 18th level, you become the focal point of a reality-warping anomaly. As an action, you can magically radiate a transparent, 20-foot-radius aura for 1 minute. This might take the form of a sphere of rippling psychic energy, a fluctuating amoebic gel, an extrusion of ephemeral parasites, or some other manifestation. Other creatures treat the aura as difficult terrain, and when they start their turn in it, they take 2d10 psychic damage. When you activate this feature, you can choose any number of creatures you can see to be unaffected by the aura.

As a bonus action, you can end the aura early. If you do so, you and any number of creatures you choose within the aura are teleported to a location you can see within 1 mile of you. Each creature must appear within 20 feet of you and in an unoccupied space. An unwilling creature that succeeds on a Charisma saving throw against your spell save DC is not teleported. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.

Wizards of the Coast really needs to stop releasing capstone damage abilities that are orders of magnitude weaker than Spirit Guardians. At level 18, 2d10 damage is laughable, and while the teleportation feature is… interesting, at this level that type of action can already be taken with spells like Teleport. Overall, this weird pairing of two noncomplementary mechanics is a weak conclusion to a disappointing subclass.

Aberrant Mind is yet another subclass I’m not fond of. However, this time I think the fault lies more with the base sorcerer class than the specific mechanics of the Aberrant Mind. For all non-Divine Soul sorcerers, the only thing they do better than wizards is due to Sorcery Points and Meta Magics. This means that any subclass feature that uses Sorcery Points needs to be incredibly powerful to get a lot of use. Divine Soul got around this by bolting an entire second spell list to the sorcerer, but that’s not something every subclass can do. For subclasses like the Aberrant Mind, this leads to features that are situational at best.

What I’d Change

If I had the time, I would suggest a complete overhaul of the sorcerer class, reducing the power of things like Twinned and Quickened Spell while buffing the class’s base spell list alongside a host of subclass features. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of time, so I’ll settle for tweaking this subclass to make it less awful.

Starting with the level 3 features, I’d expand the subclass’s Psionic Spell list. While not an exhaustive list, entries like Cause Fear, Command, and Tasha’s Hideous Laughter come to mind as good candidates to add to it. I believe Wizards needs to move away from strictly limiting the number of subclass-added spells. If a subclass needs more spells to be viable, they should get more spells. I would also modify Warped Being, removing the Mage Armor bonus in favor of something more unique. I’m currently leaning toward some form of damage resistance while not wearing armor. Resistance to nonmagical slashing, piercing, and bludgeoning damage would make the feature not only more unique but also powerful enough to compete with the Divine Soul.

For Revelation in Flesh, I would simply modify its activation cost from one Sorcery Point per feature to one Sorcery Point for all features. Even together, these bonuses aren’t particularly strong, and I see no reason to further punish players who have taken this subclass.

Lastly, I’d massively increase the damage and modify the teleport mechanic of Warp Reality. A capstone ability like this should be doing at least 5d10, if not more. Any sorcerer that places themself close enough to enemies to trigger this damage should be heavily rewarded. As for the teleport mechanic, I would make it a constant effect of the aura. The sorcerer can choose to teleport any creature that enters the aura or starts its turn within it up to 120 feet away, with unwilling creatures able to make a charisma saving throw to resist the effect. With that we conclude our look at the Aberrant Mind, and here’s hoping the warlock offering is more exciting.

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Comments

  1. Esoteric Chorus

    I don’t disagree with the higher two features, but saving spell slots for AC is generally useful. And calling Evard’s Black Tentacles a bad spell is absolutely bananas to me, it’s one of the premiere at-level battlefield control spells. Early level for this looks honestly very good to me.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Which AC boost are you referring to?

      Tentacles. while not without value, is sub-par for a 4th level spell. Its damage is paltry for the level it is gained and the 1st level Web spell exists if you want to impose the restrain condition.

      I just can’t help but compare this to what Divine Soul is up to at similar levels, and that point it’s not even a contest.

      • Esoteric Chorus

        Warped Being.

        Still disagree. The damage isn’t high, but it’s a nice rider for battlefield control. Especially because you’re not using it to lock down an above-CR boss monster, you’re using it against mooks, and their HP is likely enough that 3d6 per turn has real effect. That, and it doesn’t obscure the area you cast it on and you can AOE into it without destroying your locked-down area. That’s handy, respectively, for getting in good at any big monster caught in it who DOES laugh off its damage or cleaning up a large group. AND it doesn’t need to be anchored to things, which is admittedly a corner case, but I still would argue it counts. Web is good at controlling, Black Tentacles can control and also allow advantageous interaction with targets, which Web makes more challenging. Not that Web is bad, but I’ll take Evard’s Black Tentacles any day of the week, and other Level 1 spells have better returns for other spell roles than Web once you’re getting access to Level 3+ spells. And for at-level comparison, Wall of Fire is too likely to be tanked by a Fire resistance or immunity, and if someone’s feeling saucy, one instance of 5d8 is a decent risk to otherwise negate the effects of a Level 4 spell by just crossing it. I won’t lie that it’s not good against minions, but it’s less versatile and subject to the sweeping amount of fire durability so many things get. Hallucinatory Terrain can be superior, but unfortunately, it relies a bit too heavily on your extant environment. Ice Storm is bad, full stop.

        Okay, but comparing anything to “any Cleric spell,” for spell selection is going to be a huge collapse. It’s an outlandishly busted feature that I’m surprised made the cut, and I’m convinced only did so because there was so much busted stuff from Favored Soul to cut already.

        • Ari Ashkenazi

          Ah, yeah Warped Being is okay, just not great, at low AC +1 or 2 isn’t worth a whole lot, hence why I advocate for damage reduction that isn’t based around AC.

          Back to tentacles, it’s not that it’s a useless spell, it’s just that there are other options available that are more efficient for their cost. Web is a worse spell in terms of pure power, but it’s also 3 slot levels lower, 3d6 damage with an additional 3d6 on a failed save is not worth 3 spell leves. If you want to blow up mooks just use fireball, it’s a lower spell level and does way more damage. For Divine Soul Sorcs they can use Spirit Guardians which does way more damage and imposes movement difficulties. If you want CC then Web or Hypnotic Pattern exists. HP in particular is a crazy powerful spell all Sorcs have access to.

          You’re right that Divine Soul is busted, but it’s an option for the class that all other subclasses needed to be compared to. Aberrant Mind simply doesn’t come close and that’s a problem, as many players don’t enjoy playing an obviously inferior subclass.

  2. Neverendrr

    There are quite a few enemies that wouldn’t particularly enjoy being teleported a mile straight up in the sky.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      Falling damage maxes out at 20d6 in 5e, which while not bad, is only okay damage at level 18. Combine that with the requirement that they be clustered around you and you have to teleport, and they have to fail a save, still leaves this as an unimpressive ability. There’s also the problem that many dnd encounters happen inside, where this strategy doesn’t work.

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