The Universal Subclass

Imagine a universal subclass that any character can choose, be they Barbarian, Cleric, Bard, or anything else!

Chapter X: The Physician, Or, Droc’Tar The Barbarian

A grizzled old man sits alone, crosslegged, near the centre of a canvas pavilion. A small pot of medicinal herbs simmers, over a fire, in front of him.

Suddenly, the colourful fabric curtains covering the entrance are flung aside daylight floods the tent.

“Droc’Tar, they’re here,” bawls a boy at the threshold, before sprinting away, “come quickly!”

Another damn battle… Sighing wearily, the tent’s occupant pours a handy bucket of water onto the fire. Then, he slings a small pouch that contains his cordials and salves across his chest, pulls himself to his feet, and secures a notched battle axe at his waist. Thus outfitted, he makes his shambling way outside.

Designing a Universal Subclass Template

Traditionally, DnD characters have all been specialists. Each member of an adventuring party has a role to play.1 Barbarians rage, clerics heal, bards… well, not even the party’s bard is a true jack of all trades.2

Sometimes however, an adventuring party is short a role. The classic example: nobody wanted to play the cleric. But (as everyone knows), clerics heal people. And unfortunately, without a designated “healer” the rest of the party can find itself in an unstoppable death-spiral. TPK3 here we come!

Of course, even if the party has everything it needs to succeed, some players may have character concepts that lie outside a single class (or subclass).

Fifth Edition offers two main avenues for parties that looking to cover their bases and players who are looking to broaden their character’s bailiwick: multiclassing and feats.

Multiclassing

By definition, multiclassing grants players the ability to mix the specialities of more than one class. However, it can also leave their characters underpowered. At least compared to the rest of an adventuring party. This can be particularly noticeable at the 3rd, 5th, 11th, and 17th levels.

Feats

For players who are not willing to pay the price of multiclassing, feats like Healer, Magic Initiate, and Martial Adept can offer a taste of an additional class’s abilities. Appropriately, these feats have a commensurately modest cost: players only give up an opportunity for an ability score improvement.

Universal Subclasses

Multiclassing and feats are both solid choices. Nevertheless, universal subclasses offer a third way. As might be expected, their benefits and costs lie somewhere between the two official options.

Terminology

  • Class — a character’s vocation and special talents.

Fifth Edition has thirteen official classes: Artificer, Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard. Typically, characters belong to one class, however it is possible to multiclass.

  • Subclass — a character’s specialization within a class.

Each class has unique specializations. For example, the Player’s Handbook (PHB) offers barbarians two subclasses: Path of the Berserker and Path of the Totem Warrior. Members of other classes cannot choose these subclasses.

Also, character’s may only choose one subclass for each class they belong to. Thus, a barbarian cannot be both a berserker and a totem warrior.

  • Universal Subclass — a subclass that can be chosen by a member of any class.

Character’s may choose a universal subclass instead of an official subclass. For instance, rather than choosing a “Path,” a barbarian can choose a universal subclass, such as Physician.

As with the official subclasses, characters may only choose one universal subclass for each class they belong to.

  • Primary Class — the class associated with a character’s subclass.

Every class is the default primary class for its official subclasses. For example, Barbarian is the primary class for all the Path subclasses.

However, by definition, universal classes do not have a default primary class. Any class can become a universal subclasses primary class. Thus, if a barbarian chooses Physician instead of a Path, Barbarian becomes Physician’s primary class.

Importantly, characters only gain a universal subclass’s features when they reach specific levels in the associated primary class.

  • Feature — a special ability granted by a class or subclass.

As characters gain levels in a class (and choose a subclass), they gain the features associated with that class and subclass.

  • Numbered Level — a measure of character experience.

Each class has 20 levels and characters can gain a total of 20 levels. Thus, for example, a 5th level character might be a 5th level barbarian, but they might also be a 2nd level barbarian, a 2nd level cleric, and a 1st level bard.

  • Lettered Tier — a selection of numbered levels that vary by primary class

Each class gains subclass features at different levels. Additionally, classes have an uneven amount of subclass features.

For instance, barbarians choose their subclass4 at 3rd level and gain additional subclass features at the 6th, 10th, and 14th levels. On the other hand, clerics choose their subclass5 at 1st level and gain additional subclass features at the 2nd, 6th, 8th, and 17th levels.

Because universal subclasses can replace any class’s official subclass, they need to accommodate this variation in subclass levels. To accomplish this, universal subclass features are granted at five lettered tiers: A, B, C, D, and E. These tiers are associated with the various primary classes’ subclass levels.

For example, when they choose a universal subclass, barbarians forgo the subclass features normally received at 3rd, 6th, 10th, and 14th levels. Instead, when they become a level 3 barbarian, they acquire the tier A and B features. At 6th level, they receive the tier C feature. The feature for tier D is granted when they reach the 10th. Finally, at 14th level barbarians gain the tier E feature.

Alternately, clerics receive the tier A feature at 1st level. And, the features for tiers B, C, D, and E are granted at druid levels 2, 6, 8, and 17 respectively.

Universal Subclass Tiers

Primary ClassABCDE
Artificer335915
Barbarian3361014
Bard3361414
Cleric126817
Druid2261014
Fighter37101518
Monk3361117
Paladin3371520
Ranger3371115
Rogue3391317
Sorcerer1161418
Warlock1161014
Wizard2261014
Minimum Level115814

Additional Considerations: Character level

As I mentioned, different classes get subclass features at different levels. The final row of the Universal Subclass Tiers table indicates the lowest level that each tier becomes available.

Clerics, Sorcerer’s and Warlocks receive Tier A features at 1st level. Sorcerer’s and Warlocks are also granted Tier B features at level 1. At 5th level, Artificers are the first to gain Tier C features. Clerics advance to Tier D at level 8. And, a host of classes access Tier E features at 14th level.

In principle, the features granted at each tier must be appropriate for a character at the lowest level possible.6 That means that Tier A and Tier B features need to be appropriate for 1st level characters. Tier C features should be suitable for 5th level characters. And Tier D and E features should be a good fit for 8th and 14th level characters respectively.

Additional Considerations: Spellcasting

5th Edition has two well established examples of spellcasting subclasses. Namely, the Eldritch Knight and the Arcane Trickster. These two subclasses are relatively conservative when doling out spellcasting abilities; following the, so called, 1/3 caster template.

Similarly, magical abilities granted by universal subclasses should be reasonably modest.

Additional Considerations: Spell Slots & Multi(sub)classing

If you only have spell slots from a single universal subclass, use its Spellcasting table to determine your spell slots.

Otherwise, you determine your available spell slots by adding together all your levels from your bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer and wizard levels, half your artificer levels (rounded up), half your levels (rounded down) in the paladin and ranger classes, a third of your fighter or rogue levels (rounded down) if you have the Eldritch Knight or Arcane Trickster feature, and a third of your barbarian, fighter, monk, rogue, or warlock levels (rounded down) if they are the primary class for a universal subclass with a Spellcasting feature. Use this total to determine your spell slots by consulting the Multiclass Spellcaster table.

Spell Slot Formula

Levels AddedClass
# levels x 1Bard, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Wizard
# levels x 1/2 (rounded up)Artificer
# levels x 1/2 (rounded down)Paladin, Ranger
# levels x 1/3 (rounded down)Barbarian*, Fighter*, Monk*, Rogue*, Warlock*

The Multiclass Spellcaster table might give you spell slots of a level that is higher than the spells you know. You can use those slots, but only to cast your lower-level spells. If a lower-level spell that you cast has an enhanced effect when cast using a higher-level slot, you can use the enhanced effect, even though you don’t have any spells of that higher level.

If you have both the Spellcasting universal subclass feature and the Pact Magic class feature from the warlock class, you can use the spell slots you gain from the Pact Magic feature to cast to cast spells you know or have prepared from universal subclasses with the Spellcasting subclass feature, and you can use the spell slots you gain from the Spellcasting universal subclass feature to cast warlock spells you know.

Multiclass Spellcaster: Spell Slots per Spell Level

Level1st2nd3rd4th5th6th7th8th9th
1st2
2nd3
3rd42
4th43
5th432
6th433
7th4331
8th4332
9th43331
10th43332
11th433321
12th433321
13th4333211
14th4333211
15th43332111
16th43332111
17th433321111
18th433331111
19th433332111
20th433332211

Additional Considerations: Prerequisites

Characters are required to meet certain minimum ability scores7 in order to multiclass. For instance, a Barbarian/Cleric must have a Strength and a Wisdom score of 13.

Similarly, some feats, such as Elemental Adept, have prerequisites characters must meet in order to take them.

Thus, it is reasonable for universal subclasses to also require prerequisites.

Universal Subclass Example: The Physician

Having defined set our goals, defined our terms, and enumerated our provisos, let’s look at an example: The Physician Universal Subclass.

The archetypical physician devotes themselves to the study of the medical arts, both mundane and arcane.

Tier A: Physician Spellcaster

Like Eldritch Knights and Arcane Tricksters, physicians learn their spells through study and memorization. Therefore, it stands to reason that their spellcasting ability is Intelligence. Also, as a prerequisite, characters who choose the Physician subclass must have an Intelligence score of 13.

Spell Slots

Primary
Class
Level
Cantrips
Known
Spells
Known
1st2nd3rd4th
1st111
2nd221
3rd332
4th343
5th343
6th343
7th3542
8th3642
9th3642
10th4743
11th4843
12th4843
13th49432
14th410432
15th410432
16th411433
17th411433
18th411433
19th4124331
20th4134331

Spell List

For the most part, the physician’s spell list is focused on healing spells. They can cast their spells as rituals. However, they must always use a component pouch for spells with material components. No spellcasting focuses for these guys.

Cantrip1st2nd3rd4th
LightCure WoundsAidBeacon of HopeBlight
MendingDetect Poison and DiseaseEnhance AbilityMass Healing WordDeath Ward
PrestidigitationFalse LifeGentle ReposeRemove Curse
ResistanceGoodberryLesser RestorationRevivify
Spare the DyingHealing WordPrayer of HealingSpeak with Dead
HeroismProtection form PoisonVampiric Touch
Purify Food and Drink

Bonus Proficiencies

As might be expected, in addition to spellcasting, physicians gain proficiency with the Medicine skill and Healer’s Kit.

Tier B: Medical Expertise

Since Tier B is also available at 1st level for some classes, its feature is also relatively modest. A physician’s proficiency bonus is doubled for ability checks made with the Medicine skill or a Healer’s Kit.

Tier C: Battle Medic

Since physicians are likely to be working in the heat of battle, I wanted to give them a little extra protection. Thus, when a physician uses a Healer’s Kit, administers a healing potion, or casts one of their spells they can also use a bonus action to dash, disengage, or dodge.

Tier D: Deep Healing

It would make sense for physicians to use a medical kit to restore hit points. But, I didn’t want to step on the Healer feat’s toes. So, rather than restoring hit points directly, a physician can spend an hour to restore up to 1d4 hit dice. The patient must be taking a short rest while they are being treated. Obviously, physicians don’t get to benefit from the short rest themselves — they are busy tending to their patient!

Tier E: Perfect Health

I think physicians should also be able to tackle long term medical issues. So, once per short rest, they can suppress the effects of the poisoned condition, a disease, or a “biological curse” such as lycanthropy. Their “cure” is temporary, but at the GM’s discretion, physicians can use this feature to cure a patient outright.

Additional Reading

The Physician Subclass The Physician Universal Subclass PDF.

Dungeons & Dragons: 15 Best Healing Subclasses A quick look subclasses that offer some healing abilities, by Paul DiSalvo (staff writer at TheGamer).

Notes

  1. No pun intended?
  2. Bards actually have a 2nd level feature called “Jack of All Trades.” So… pun intended!
  3. Total Party Kill.
  4. A barbarian’s subclass is called a Path.
  5. Cleric subclasses are called Domains.
  6. Clearly, this will put some classes at a disadvantage. For instance, Fighters will receive a Tier B feature appropriate for a 1st level character when they reach 7th level.
  7. See Multiclassing Prerequisites on page 163 of the PHB.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *