Warden of the Ancients Fighter Archetype 9

Like a lot of what I’m posting these days, this is content for Under the Seas of Vodari, written by me with a lot of development support from Shawn Ellsworth. It deals heavily in the setting lore, a little more of which you can see in this previous post.

It’s not too late to pre-order Under the Seas of Vodari!

Warden of the Ancients

Long ago the Ancients were torn apart by the gods, split into the Dakri and the Varu. Civil war erupted and both spent lifetimes developing fighting techniques to gain the upper hand in an endless series of conflicts. Varu golden sentinels countered the aggressive, predatory style developed by the dakri in the darkest waters. Following the wars, some dakri and varu joined together to learn from one another and merged their techniques into a single teaching. This tradition has been preserved among surviving descendants of this once great civilization and rediscovered by those who have delved into its ruins. Whether learned through training with a master or by deciphering murals and inscribed monoliths, all who learn these secrets techniques are its wardens.

Warden of the Ancients Features

Fighter LevelFeature
3rdAmong the Ruins, Traditions of the Forgotten Wars
7thMobile Tactics
10thAdvanced Warden Techniques
15thDisciplined Tactics
18thMaster Warden

Among the Ruins

3rd-level Warden of the Ancients feature

Your time spent in the ruins of the once-great cities of the Ancients has provided you with lost knowledge. You gain proficiency with one of the following skills of your choice: History, Investigation, Religion, and Survival. In addition, you learn Celestial or a language of your choice if you already know this language.

Traditions of Forgotten Wars

3rd-level Warden of the Ancients feature

You learn the three stances below, and you can use a bonus action to enter one of them. A stance lasts for 1 minute or until you are incapacitated. You can end a stance early as a free action. You can enter one of these stances twice, and you regain one use of this feature when you use your Action Surge or Second Wind features or finish a short rest. You regain all expended uses of this feature when you finish a long rest.

Swift Darkness Stance. While you are in this stance, your speed in all movement modes increases by 10 feet. When you start your turn with no hostile creatures adjacent to you and move at least 10 feet, you gain advantage on the first attack roll you make before the end of your turn.

Unbreaking Shell Stance. While you are in this stance, when a creature hits you with an attack, you gain resistance to damage dealt by all subsequent attacks made by that creature until the start of your next turn.

Golden Sentinel Stance. While you are in this stance, you deal an additional 1d8 damage when you hit a creature with an opportunity attack. Additionally, if you are wielding a ranged, reach, or thrown weapon, you can use a bonus action on your turn to choose one five-foot square you can see that is at least 10 feet from you, and in which a creature is taking cover. If the creature reduces the amount of cover it has, you can make an opportunity attack against it.

Mobile Tactics

7th-level Warden of the Ancients feature

When you use a bonus action to enter a stance, you can also move up to your speed.

Advanced Warden Techniques

10th-level Warden of the Ancients feature

When you use the stances of Traditions of Forgotten Wars, you gain the following additional features.

Swift Darkness Stance. Once per turn while you are in this stance, you can deal an additional 2d6 damage when you hit with an attack if you have advantage on the roll.

Unbreaking Shell Stance. While you are in this stance, when you take acid, cold, fire, force, lightning, necrotic, poison, psychic, radiant, or thunder damage, you deal 1d8 additional damage of that type the next time you hit with a weapon attack before the end of your next turn.

Golden Sentinel Stance. While you are in this stance, you gain blindsight out to a range of 15 feet.

Disciplined Tactics

15th-level Warden of the Ancients feature

When you roll initiative and have no uses of Traditions of Forgotten Wars remaining, you regain one use of it.

Master Warden

18th-level Warden of the Ancients feature

When you use the stances of Traditions of Forgotten Wars, you gain the following additional features.

Swift Darkness Stance. While you are in this stance, when you reduce a creature to 0 hit points, you can use your reaction to move up to half your speed and make one additional attack. If you are wielding natural weapons, you can make two additional attacks; if you are wielding two melee weapons, you can make one attack with each.

Unbreaking Shell Stance. While you are in this stance, when you succeed or fail a saving throw, you gain advantage on saving throws that you roll until the start of your next turn.

Golden Sentinel Stance. The additional damage you deal with opportunity attacks while you are in this stance increases to 2d8, and when you hit a creature with an opportunity attack, it has disadvantage on attacks it makes until the start of your next turn.

Design Notes

This version has some light changes from the first draft that I posted to my Patreon.

Stance-shifting is one of my favorite go-tos for building a playstyle in class or subclass, and I’ve tried to meld that into the lore here. One of the major challenges was using the fighter skill list and making these stances work without handing out three or more additional skill proficiencies in high-value skills. (Among many other problems, that would intrude on ranger and rogue in bad ways.)

That said, there’s one assault/DPS stance, one survivability stance, and one zone-control stance, each basically bulking up one aspect of the fighter class. 

My lingering doubts in the design focus on the function of Golden Sentinel stance at 3rd level, and the usage frequency of stances overall – I am well aware that current design is moving toward making everything PB uses/long rest, but I’m not sure that’s best for this case, so I’m trying something else.

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9 thoughts on “Warden of the Ancients Fighter Archetype

  • Tomas GR

    Is it intended for the Swift Darkness stance to sale burrow speed? I find it a bit weird, but I guess it could work.
    I really like the fact that within one subclass you can create very different kinds of characters. Great job on that!

    • Brandes Stoddard Post author

      You don’t gain movement modes you don’t otherwise have, but it increases the speed of things that aren’t linked to your walking speed (such as the fly spell).

  • Craig W Cormier

    I have to say that, given previous reviews I have read by you, I’m a little surprised to see an on-death effect for the capstone of Swift Darkness stance. It’s a really nice ability, and that is the DPS stance, so I guess you are more likely to get the killing blow, but it’s still kind of an issue. Not really sure how to solve it, or if it needs to be solved, but I know that a lot of people find this kind of feature unsatisfying in play.

    Overall I like both the stance-based build and the lore behind it. I think the recharge mechanic works fine, and I agree that PB usage would not work well here.

    I think this all works well for a martial archetype, but it did get me thinking about other design spaces that 5e either has not explored or decided it didn’t want to explore. Specifically, feat chains and prestige classes. I’m not really advocating including either of those things in the Vodari book, but this kind of setting-specific, lore-driven training is exactly the kind of niche that I think those ideas work in.

    • Brandes Stoddard Post author

      The reason the on-kill effect is there is that I wanted to figure out if this was, for me, the right time and place for something that I normally don’t like, based on the narrative and the effect it grants. Nothing is absolutely good or absolutely bad in design (aside from FATAL, but I digress) – things are good or bad depending on how they connect to everything else. On-kill effects just don’t connect well to other things very often, and I may or may not have achieved it here.

      The one place where I think 5e does call for a feat chain is in follow-on feats to Artificer Initiate/Magic Initiate/Fey-Touched/Shadow-Touched. I specifically think you should be able to keep investing feats to sustain a pseudo-multiclass into spellcaster. I haven’t seen a take on prestige classes that spoke to me yet for 5e, but that could always change…

      • Craig W Cormier

        I agree that very few designs are always good or bad (FATAL notwithstanding). I guess I’m trying to see how this application of an on-death effect is any different than others that have been presented in 5e so far.

        Feat chains to expand the pseudo-multiclass feats would be really fun. I especially like that in a game where multiclassing isn’t allowed. I already limit my players to a single multiclass choice, but if there was a robust feat selection for gaining bits from other classes I would probably pull MCing all together. I also agree that prestige classes have not been presented well so far in anything I’ve seen for 5e. I actually blame WotC for clipping this branch of the design tree. They received negative feedback on their one and only public-facing attempt at the idea and decided to abandon it rather than iterate on the idea. So now any time I see someone trying the idea out the overwhelming response from the community is “why don’t you just make this an X subclass?”, rather than helpful feedback.

        I don’t think all archetype ideas are best served by the subclass system because that system locks the archetype to a specific class. In keeping with your Warden archetype, I feel like you have managed to make a subclass that has broad appeal and a lot of room for customization of playstyle. It also has a set place in the fiction of the world, with a connection to deep history and an implied, loose organization. To me, that makes it ripe for a prestige class treatment where anyone can gain the training and learn the techniques.

        There are issues with things like qualifications for the class and the general player culture of character planning often extending through all 20 levels. I get why players don’t like the idea of a class option that might be locked behind a story requirement that may never come up in a given game, but I do feel like prestige classes were not given a fair shake. I guess I could also stop being lazy and make one myself…

        • Brandes Stoddard Post author

          Most on-kill effects (which I guess I should just call last-hit effects, for clarity) carry an ongoing benefit, such as the Fiend warlock’s temporary hit points, various last-hit healing effects, that kind of thing. The problem there is that it creates an incentive for other party members to reduce the enemy to 0 with nonlethal damage and let the characters with the last-hit features harvest them afterward. These features just aren’t as much fun as they could be. I’m hoping that this feels like “sometimes I get a cool damage output spike.” But it may still not work! That’s a possibility I’m prepared to address during playtesting, likely with a “when a creature you can see within 5 feet of you is reduced to 0 hit points, blah blah blah as a reaction.”

          The concept of prestige and DM permission are incredibly fraught in D&D, and for that matter in the broader TTRPG conversation where the authority of the DM is largely anathema. To put that another way, the player would have to want (or be incentivized somehow) to prefer difficulty and recognize situations where they haven’t yet done enough, so that there’s a narrative reversal to overcome. (Here I’m thinking of the many conversations I had in the early 2010s where the GM choosing the loot that went into the game was seen as a GM power trip. I’m happy that the Discourse has largely moved on.) Since players have, as a general statement, no motive to choose anything other than instant gratification, well, I’m not sure how you’d achieve this.

          Classes receiving different numbers of feats is a bit of a sore point for feat chains as multiclassing – why should fighters be better at splashing wizard or whatever with feats than a cleric or a druid?

          I dunno, these might be solvable, but I can’t see it from where I am right at this moment.

          • Craig W Cormier

            I do have to wonder if some of the issue comes from the name “prestige class”. The implication of special power or training, even though that is exactly what they are.

            I like to think of myself as an extremely permissive DM when it comes to player options. The only official rule I have requested that my players don’t use is the custom origins stuff from Tasha’s. I also include a list of several dozen 3rd-party and homebrew sources that people are free to pull from. In addition in my main campaign, there is a document of 200+ ancestries (races) and at least double that in subraces. All that to say that the mindset that the DM doesn’t have the final say and authority over what options do or do not make it into a campaign world baffles me. Bit of a tangent there, sorry.

            I think that, unfortunately, prestige classes are going to remain the providence of individual DM creations because as you say above, without the instant gratification of the more traditional design players have very little incentive to go after them. I can see the position that WotC is in here as well, they don’t want to “waste” design space on something that doesn’t have broad, nearly universal approval. The best place to have really tried out prestige classes as a story reward or element would have been in one of their big annual adventures. If they had started doing that immediately we might have 10 examples by now that all connect to FR organizations or locations.

            I guess I don’t see differing numbers of feats to be a reason or justification to not try something. I can think of story justifications for fighters being better at grabbing wizard abilities (mostly having to do with having more time to train in other areas than a person dedicated to a god or preserving the natural world), but I don’t even think they are necessary. The real justification is entirely mechanical and already exists, why have fighters been able to learn more feats up until this point? Because that is mechanical power that is built into their class.

            The REAL question about all of this is why can’t an Abjurer wizard multiclass into an Evoker wizard? Surely that is easier than a cleric or druid or fighter multiclassing into a wizard.

    • Brandes Stoddard Post author

      The fourth sentence of Traditions of Forgotten Wars starts with “You can enter one of these stances twice,” which is intended to express the use limit. It’s possible that I need to clarify that wording, or make it more prominent in the format?