Welcome to the first review in….a while. As a note before we begin there are a few reviews that ended up way on the back burner almost a year ago. At this point there is not use in denying that those have, sadly, been left behind. I may try to get back to them but my focus is more on moving forward and that means reviews when I can and when I want. This review was requested of me back in March by its author Jacob Kellog. You can find him over on Twitter or his website.
Manipulating The Essence of Magic
The aethermage is an entirely new class for 5th Edition D&D. It is a caster class whose concept comes not from a method of wielding magic or a source of magical power, but in the character’s ability to pull directly from the energies that lie under all magic be it divine or arcane. It does this specifically through the concept of the Weave of the Forgotten Realms, the underlying “thing” that casters manipulate to cast magic. Aethermages don’t use the Weave but reach beyond it.
The concept is sort of like a writer who doesn’t use words but pulls right out of the concept of language to share a story. I really enjoy the idea of someone who has discovered the common denominator and learned how to use that. It presents an interesting counterpoint to any discussions about sources of magic and what they mean.
Mechanically, the class is a bit of a warlock derivative with a hint of sorcerer. This caster class comes with a stable spell slot level, spell slots that refresh on short rests, and a point mechanic for ability manipulation. The idea is that you have a lot of flexibility in how you wield your spells. In fact, flexibility seems to be the core to what makes the class appealing. It leaves room for being a variety of caster-types including a battle-mage. The whole idea leave plenty of room for subclass flavors and that is wonderful!
Okay, so as far as actual abilities go I have some mixed feelings about the class. Aether Points give you the ability to maintain concentration through a failed roll and grab back onto the spell next turn instead of losing it. It also provides this class’s methodology for increasing spell slot levels and beef up some spells. Where a warlock is stuck with 5th level slots and a handful of high level single-casts, the Aethermage can use Aether Points to cast a 9th level fireball or 5th level burning hands. Sounds great right?
I am not so sure. Part of me says that is a lot of flexibility and, if you don’t just go crazy with level 9 castings you have a lot of room. But here’s the thing, you only get 28 Points (at level 20) and it will cost you 18 of them to cast one each of 6th through 9th level spells (like a warlock has). This leaves you with only enough points for your emergency capstone ability with none left over.
Perhaps that is what is hurting me for this class. That capstone is an ability that is good enough that 10 Aether Points just come off the table as available just in case. I’m not sure if that is worthwhile and maybe that capstone deserves to be separated from the points. If that was done those 10 points could be utilized for the other abilities like concentration or dealing psychic damage to an enemy who is concentrating on a spell. These are fun tools I want the room to use!
Which brings me to Ather Point usage. There are a couple of base uses which are really awesome but I feel like the usage is skimped on a bit. Ignoring the capstone Aether Points are a resource for two mechanics: high level spells and Aethermage abilities. I don’t have a problem with this but I would like to see the latter expanded upon a little bit to create some flexibility in the sub-class features.
I think Aethermage is well balanced when it comes down to it. The execution could use some tweaking. Aether Points are used to add flavor to the tweaked warlock-style short rest casting but make casting a little more complicated. The usage is balanced but I would like to see some separation between the two. Maybe reducing the point total you ever get and just giving long-rest associated spell slots of those higher levels so that you aren’t tracking ability to boost spells AND a resource to do so.
Balancing the extra 2 spells per short rest against base slot of 3rd level max is a pretty good choice. Overall it reduces the power of any given spell while giving you the endurance to cast more. I do worry about how powerful this would be at the table, but not too much. It really just comes down to my mixed feeling about the power of the class. Without playing it I am not sure if it would be over powered or under powered. Perhaps that is the point though, to force some hard decision making on your resources.
All in all, you should check out this class. It is an interesting concept with a lot of flexibility and unique features that allows caster to combat caster and even sit on the front lines. The more I ponder on it the more I believe my balance concerns are more a result of a flexible class having hard resource choices and less about a wonky balance system. Given some refining for the slightly clunky high-level casting, this is really well done and I look forward to seeing what Jacob tries to do with other new classes.
Have you played Aethermage?? Let me know how it went in the comments below!!