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Review: Scholar Class

 Product Format: PDF

Method of Acquisition: Purchased (DM’s Guild)

One widespread flaw that fantasy RPGs in general and D&D (across multiple editions!) in particular have is the unexamined assumption that genius-level intellect = wizard. That makes a certain level of sense in some settings, particularly ones with technology equivalent to Earth around 1100 or earlier. However, even in those cases, it’s a bit of a stretch that an adventurous smart person would only ever study arcane magic 


So when I saw the Scholar class from Benjamin Huffman over on the DM’s Guild, I was intrigued.


Like all of Benjamin Huffman’s products over there, it’s a nicely-optimized, very professional-looking PDF. It renders smoothly on my desktop and tablet and despite only being 13 pages long, is still bookmarked. The art and layout are solid and very reminiscent of the first-party D&D books.


The core abilities of the base class all revolve around getting and/or granting various bonuses for analyzing circumstances or enemies on the fly. Scholars can boost the abilities of their party mates, do bonus damage based on sizing enemies up, and cram hard during a long rest to temporarily gain proficiencies they don’t have. 


The real “meat” of the class lies in its subclasses, however, and there are a half-dozen of them. In addition, there’s a class ability called “Erudite Applications” that lets you pick from a list of feat-like abilities and most of them are tied to a specific subclass. This combination means that all six subclasses feel significantly different from one another and have widely-varied capabilities. 


The subclasses are:

Culinarian: This is kind of a “battle chef” subclass, and revolves around using kitchen implements as weapons and cooking meals that function like buffing potions out of slain monsters. If you think it would be cool to get bonuses from owlbear steaks, this is a good subclass to pick. 


Diplomat: This would be a perfect class for the violence-averse party in City on a Hill Gaming, season 2. In addition to being an excellent social skills class, it also gains an ability early on to call detente as a reaction to a fight starting. The subclass also gets bonuses to traveling and resisting fear or compulsion effects as time goes on. 


Physician: If you want to play a healer that’s not tied to divine spellcasting (or any spellcasting at all, for that matter) this is a great way to do it, and combined with the base class abilities, you get a nice “dangerous surgeon” feel out of the class. Sure, they can patch you up, treat your disease, and so on, but they also know exactly where to stab someone. At high levels it also gains the ability to reactivate spent class abilities for other party members, which is a really neat option to have. 


Ritualist: I have to admit that out of the options presented, this is my least favorite. It’s a limited caster like the Eldritch Knight or Arcane Trickster subclasses for fighter and rogue, respectively, which is already not all that powerful, topping out at 4th-level spells. However, on top of that, almost all the spells you take have to have the ritual tag. The biggest problem here is that the ritual tag just isn’t very common in the core rules of 5e. If you’re using other material that expands the list of available spells significantly, this might be a better option. And frankly, if you want to play an intelligence-based arcane caster, that’s a wizard and a place where the wizard-as-default thinking actually works. That said, I think this archetype is probably still playable, it’s just a very strange choice to me.


Tactician: Unlike the ritualist, I really like this one. In fact, if you pinned me down to a favorite, this would probably be it. A high-level tactician can be a legendary general, but even a relatively small number of levels can make a competent NCO type. Mixing levels of this with levels of fighter (particularly with the Battlemaster subclass) can make a 5e approximation of the old warlord class from 4e. The subclass, as you’d expect, gets a bunch of battlefield command abilities, and it also gets a fighting style and a bunch of extra proficiencies that make it more survivable on the front lines.

Theologian: The theologian is kind of the divine version of the ritualist, but unlike the ritualist, not only are base cleric spells available to it, but domain lists too, which, not to put too fine a point on it, include fireball if the theologian is using the Light domain (and they can switch between them on every long rest). The loss of high-level spells keeps this from being overpowered, but even low-level buff and debuff spells stay effective well into the higher levels. The subclass is very good-aligned in its flavoring, which doesn’t bother me at all, but might be a little disappointing to those who want to use it in darker games or GMs making villains.

My lukewarm enthusiasm for the Ritualist subclass notwithstanding, this is one of my favorite third-party classes for 5e out there (which is why I chose it as one of my first reviews). Benjamin Huffman has made a really fun, interesting, versatile, and balanced class here, and I think it'd be a fantastic addition to almost any campaign setting.

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