Is this homebrew Holy Archer class ready for playtest?


Background

So, after lots of thought I decided to present my homebrew class for review. The background on why I made it is here, but, in short, one of my players wanted to play a paladin-like ranged class. By the time, I did not consider the War Cleric or the Celestial Warlock, which were very good options for it, and instead I homebrew this Holy Archer class. Even with the options presented, I do feel like there is a place for a ranged paladin class, with similar features (divine smite and auras, for example) but more fit for ranged combat. At the very least, I like the concept of this class and I would like to make it playable, and I hope this is enough of a reason to create it.

As I shared in the meta, I was concerned that a whole class review would be hard, so I will structure the question in the following way:

  • I will present the feature and explain why I think it fits well for that level (i.e., is balanced) and why it fits well for the concept.
  • By the end of the question, I will share the comparisons I have made against other classes, and why so far I think the class is fairly balanced.

The reasons I need help are:

  • Spellcasting classes are fairly harder to balance, IMO, since the utility of spells is not easy to quantify.
  • I might have missed some obvious broken iterations or (as per the previous bullet) overestimated the usefulness of spells.

No more delays, I present you the Holy Archer. If you prefer to read it in a nicely edited PDF, this is an external link to my OneDrive with it.

For the question, I will highlight features that I am more concerned about. I will super highlight what I feel really needs a second opinion. In particular, these are the features at 3rd, 6th, 9th and 10th level.

As a final comment, this class was initially considered for Curse of Strahd, which runs from 1st to 10th level. For that reason, I have put more thought and effort on the 1st to 10th levels, and these are the ones I would like a review on. Once these levels are playtested and fairly balanced, I will move on to the next tiers. The PDF has a sketch on the higher levels but please ignore it.

Line of Thought

I used the Paladin as a base-line. You will notice many features are changes to Paladin features, and/or features I felt fit in the class concept (e.g. slightly modified Improved Crit from Champion or Guided Strike from War Cleric). The reason I have preferred to use modified (or even as is) features from other classes is that they have obviously been playtested already, and I felt they were fitting as they were.

Basic Features

The class gets d8 as their hit dice, which seems appropriate for a ranged class (same as the rogue, specifically). They have proficiency in Light and medium armor, in simple weapons and in martial ranged weapons. The saving throws are Dex and Cha, following the concept of "one good and one bad ST", and they get 2 proficiencies, chosen from Acrobatics, Insight, Medicine, Persuasion, Religion, Stealth. So far, I think these are fair additions that need little explanation and hardly will make it imbalanced in any way.

They are half-casters (as Paladins), so they get their spellcasting at 2nd level and get up to 5th level spell slots. Their spellcasting ability is Charisma. The reason I chose Charisma over Wisdom is that I did not want to give them two "more useful" primary abilities. Allowing them to focus on Dex, Wisdom and Con would allow them to focus on the 3 major Saving Throws, and Wisdom is also useful for Perception. With Cha, the player has to choose between better saving throws and perception or better spellcasting, from my point of view.

As for equipment, they start with a Longbow or a Light Crossbow, a dagger, Leather or Hide armor and a Holy Symbol. Usually my campaigns don’t have a problem with gold, so starting with a longbow rather than a shortbow seemed fine. I usually allow rogues to start with light crossbow as well. And I do not keep track of ammo.

Features per level

As per @Molot suggestion, this is a table of the features in the class up to 10th level, compared to Paladin’s features (both get the same spellcasting slots).

$ $ \begin{array}{cll} \textbf{Level} & \textbf{Holy Archer} & \textbf{Paladin} \ \hline 1 & \text{Divine Sense, Archery} & \text{Divine Sense, Lay on Hands}\ 2 & \text{Spellcasting, Holy Arrow} & \text{Spellcasting, Divine Smite, Fighting Style}\ 3 & \text{Sacred Oath} & \text{Sacred Oath}\ 4 & \text{ASI} & \text{ASI}\ 5 & \text{Extra Attack} & \text{Extra Attack}\ 6 & \text{Modified Aura of Protection} & \text{Aura of Protection}\ 7 & \text{Purifier of Evil (extra damage} & \text{Oath Feature}\ 8 & \text{ASI} & \text{ASI} \ 9 & \text{Retreat} & \text{Nothing} \ 10 & \text{Aura of Encouragement} & \text{Aura of Courage} \end{array} $ $

1st

At first level, I gave them Archery and Divine Sense. Since it is more of a damage-dealing class than a tank-utility (Paladin), I chose to take away Lay on Hands. With the Fighting Style at 2nd level, I felt the class was too bad for 1st level, so I moved it to 1st level (which Fighters already get too, so I don’t think it is a problem).

2nd

At this level, they get Spellcasting and Holy Arrow, which is simply the Paladin’s Divine Smite, but for ranged weapon attacks. Usually that’s what half-casters get (and the fighting stlye already given at 1st level), so far so good for me.

3rd

They get their Sacred Oath. So far I have only made one choice for it, and I think presenting more than one would be bad either way. The Oath gives the following two options of Channel Divinity (similar to a Paladin having 2 choices):

  • +10 to hit after rolling (same as Guided Strike from Cleric)
  • Choice to make a 18 or 19 a critical hit. This is chosen after seeing the roll as well.

Note that this can only be done once per short rest. I particularly like the second option because Critical hits + Divine smites are one of the funniest moments for Paladin players. I am a little concerned that it might be too much, but with one use per short rest I don’t see it as game breaking. Some other subclasses of the Paladin, such as the Vengeance, can use their CD to get advantage on every attack, which will arguably lead to a critical hit eventually, as well. Anyway, this is the first feature that makes me not too sure.

For the spell list of the Oath, they are as follows:

  • 3rd: hunter’s mark, sanctuary. One good spell and one thematic/situational/decent spell. I may reflavor hunter’s mark for something more… Divine.
  • 5th: Misty step, magic weapon. Again, one good spell and one thematic/situational spell.
  • 9th: Haste, Dispel Magic. I am concerned about Haste here. It is a very good concentration option for a ranged class (which should not be attacked too often), and Dispel Magic is also a very decent spell (although situational).

4th level

They get ASI at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th and 19th level, as usual. I will skip these.

5th level

Extra attack. Not much to say, this is mainly a martial class and they should get more attacks at 5th level.

6th level

Aura of Protection – but different from the Paladin one.

Beginning at 6th level, you can release an aura of protection against evil spells. Using an action, you create a 10 ft. aura that protects you and your allies from area of effect spells. When you or your allies are subjected to an area of effect that allows you to make a saving throw to take only half damage, you instead take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, and only half damage if you fail.

You can use this feature once per long rest.

At 18th level, the range increases to 30 ft and you restore the feature once per short rest.

At 20th level, the range increases to 60 ft. and the aura is permanent.

Obviously, this is based on Evasion from Rogue, but also an aura-like from the Paladin. Giving an AoE permanent Evasion would obviously shadow the Rogue feature heavily, so I decided to make it cost an action to "activate" and only usable once per long rest. At the level they get it, it’s quite counter-intuitive, as it’s useful against AoE spells (say Fireball), but the range is so small they force their allies to be close (thus being more susceptible to Fireball).

In terms of Flavor, rather than an "evasion", the aura makes the spell itself weaker (be it divine intervention or what else), which is the reason it works for any AoE, not only Dex-based saves.

The auras (this one and others that will follow) are my major concern on this class. Once per long rest may be too few uses for a 6th level feature, while a permanent aura would be obviously broken, and I am not sure how the middle behaves. Maybe "Charisma modifier" times per long rest would fit better?

7th level

This one is straight forward: extra 1d8 against Undead and Fiend. This is a nice feature against these enemies and so far I think they have been gaining very useful features for any combat, so I wanted to give them something more situational and thematic. At 7th level they get an extra spell slot as well (half-caster), so I don’t feel bad about giving them "only this".

9th level

Originally, I was not going to give them anything, as they already get 3rd level spell slots and oath spells. But so far they have not gained any use for their reaction. They don’t get opportunity attacks because they are ranged, they don’t get Uncanny Dodge to halve damage, and if I am not mistaken, absolutely no spell in the Paladin list has a reaction casting time. So I gave them the ability to retreat

Beginning at 9th level, when an enemy gets within 10 ft. of you, you can use your reaction to move away from it up to half your speed. If the enemy is an Undead, you can move up to your full speed.

This is similar to a feature from a Rogue subclass in Xanathar.

So far, I am concerned that I might be giving them too many useful features, but I will talk about it in the comparison with other classes later.

10th level

Aura of Encouragement.

Beginning at 10th level, you can release an aura of encouragement towards your allies. Whenever an ally within 10 ft. (does not include you) fails an attack roll, ability check or saving throw, they may choose to re-roll. This feature can only be used once per short rest (for each ally using the feature).

At 18th level, the range of this aura increases to 30 ft. and the feature can be used twice per short rest.

At 20th level, the range of this aura increases to 60 ft. and the feature can be used once per minute.

I really like this feature. It’s a full support feature (note that it does not apply to yourself), and my hopes with this feature is to make the party go "THANK TYR WE HAVE THIS GUY HERE IN OUR PARTY". It’s essentially a free reroll to each member of the party, which may save them in crucial times.

Again, I am concerned about this because it’s quite a new mechanic. Players will be rolling lots of dice and rerolling one of these rolls doesn’t seem concerning, but maybe I am missing some feat or other feature that this completely overshadows, or maybe this is not enough for a 10th level feature.

Compared to Aura of Courage, it certainly feels more generally useful.

I was also thinking about adding something along the lines of "Against undead or fiends, the first reroll is free", going back to the theme of undead/fiend slayer, but I thought it may be too much.

Comparison to other classes

So, the classes I feel should be considered for comparison are Paladin (duh), Fighter, Ranger and Rogue. I don’t see much point in comparing against full spellcasters, and I don’t think there is really much to compare between this and Barbarian, Monk or Warlock, as they fit completely different concepts, even though they are "martial" classes. These comparisons are my main notion of "balance", as per How can I check to make sure my homebrew class is balanced compared to pre-existing classes? and especially this answer.

Paladin

Well, the whole idea is that they are conceptually different. While the Paladin is a melee tank frontliner, the Holy Archer is a ranged damage dealer with some utility. If the player wants the tank version, they pick paladin. If they want the ranged DDer, they pick the holy archer.

Fighter

Usually Ranged Fighters are not exactly optimal, but are certainly an option. Still, I would choose the Fighter if I want to make a feat-based character (let’s put Sharpshooter and Lucky in this build, shall we?), which is something the Holy Archer would struggle to do, as it requires a fair amount of attributes and gets the standard amount of ASIs. They also can be very competitive with Battle Maneuvers as a Battle Master.

On the other hand, the Holy Acher has nice spells, utility for the party and probably can outdamage a standard Fighter build (i.e. without Sharpshooter at least) with some uses of the Holy Arrow (which is stronger than battle maneuvers).

Overall, I think the Holy Archer is better than a ranged Fighter, but the latter still has its niche with feat-based builds and, even then, the Fighter class as a whole still has their use as melee fighters.

Rogue

So, here, I started by computing the damage output. So, basically, I compared a Rogue that is consistently getting Advantage (through his use of Bonus Action for Hiding) against the Holy Archer in a few uses of his spells:

  • For consistent damage against high AC monsters and helping the party, Bless.
  • For consistent damage alone, Hunter’s Mark.
  • For burst damage, Holy Arrow (Divine Smite).
  • Not using any spell slot.

In all levels, except for levels 5 and 6, the Rogue can deal more consistent damage than the Holy Archer, while obviously the Holy Archer can output a higher burst damage (especially by using his Channel Divinity to force a critical hit more often). At 5th and 6th, the Holy Archer outdamages the rogue due to the extra attack being considerably better than just +1d6 for the Sneak attack, however, at 7th level the Rogue comes back on top again.

However, in combat, the holy archer provides more utility to the party (either by bless, healing or the auras), which, in my opinion, make them on par. However, this utility is hard to quantify, which is one of the reasons I am asking for a review here.

Outside combat, the Rogue has more proficiencies and expertise, while the Holy Archer has Charisma as a primary stat and, well, spells. Again, I believe both are on par here.

But since spells are hard to quantify, this is the main comparison I would like to hear a review on.

Ranger

I will be fair: I would pick the holy archer above the ranger most of the time. But I don’t believe this is reason to say the archer is overpowered, rather, I believe the ranger to be underpowered in 5e. None of my groups would pick ranger to begin with (most of them tried at least once, and felt really bad and disappointed about it). In particular, I feel like giving this class Hunter’s Mark completely makes the Ranger useless, except if you go for Dual Wielding ranger, which then is conceptually different than the archer version.

Nonetheless, the Ranger has higher hit dice, can go for a dual wielding option (thus not being completely wasted) which is superior in lower levels, and can focus on Wisdom, thus arguably being more resilient in saving throws, more useful against surprise attacks and still has the ranger flavor which does not overlap with my homebrew in any way.

So, although I believe mechanically the Holy Archer outshines the Ranger, I would say the same for the Rogue and even for a Fighter.

Final Comments

As expected, this became a large question. I hope I could convey my line of thought and concerns and show that I have put some thought on it and, to the best of my abilities, ran through the number crunching of damage dealing in order to balance it. If the answers say that the class is ready for playtest, or that small changes are required in order to playtest it, I will be providing it as an option for a group that is starting CoS soon, otherwise, I will carefully try to understand the criticisms and may post a new version with the feedback I receive.