Tuesday, February 18, 2020

What Do I Know About Pop-Culture? The Emerging Story of Jason Todd

I’m not sure why this is, but it seems like Batman’s history, especially, is prone to retcons. I don’t mean IN the comics, I mean retcons ABOUT the comics. I won’t go into too many details, but one of the biggest ongoing bits of modified history revolves around Batman being the light-hearted, silly character from the 60s right up until the release of Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, completely ignoring the work that Denny O’Neil and other creators did in the 70s onward.

Of Red Hoods and Phone Polls

Recently, I saw an article that reminded me of another one of these revisions to Batman’s history. In this particular case, the revision is about Jason Todd, the second Robin, and who the character was at the time of his death in the comics.

The narrative that often evolves is that Jason Todd was an abrasive character that was wildly unpopular, which is what prompted DC Comics to do the poll to determine if Jason lived or died. There is some truth to that narrative, but it misses a whole lot of context about what happened.

For much of his history, Jason Todd wasn’t really any more rebellious or abrasive than Dick Grayson had been. He was the plucky kid sidekick, but the nuance introduced by Doug Moench’s run with the character (the era I was most familiar with), is that Jason was wrestling with feelings about his adopted supervillain mother Nocturna, as well as potentially retiring from being Robin now that Batman had Catwoman as a partner.

A History of Violence

For purposes of timeline clarification, here are some touchstones:

  • In 1986, The Dark Knight Returns was published--In addition to introducing the “Batman is for adults” era of fandom, DKR also introduced the idea that, in this future, Jason Todd is dead
  • In March of 1988, The Killing Joke came out, where the Joker cripples Barbara Gordon
  • The Batman movie wouldn’t come out until 1989, but it was already known that the movie was going to move away from introducing Robin
  • In December of 1988, A Death in the Family was published

Jason’s conflicted history with Nocturna and thoughts of retiring from being Robin were left behind when the post-Crisis Batman stories began to reestablish the new normal for Batman, concurrent to and after Batman Year One saw publication.

Emergent History

Tangential to the Jason Todd storyline, but worth noting because of the tangential nature of Catwoman being Batman’s new partner, Catwoman was mind-wiped and returned to being a criminal by Joker. This was a horrible storyline. Catwoman’s character development was reversed without any agency of her own. The common thread to all of this era of Batman’s history, however, is Joker doing horrible things.

Regardless, Jason didn’t have the “does Batman need two partners” question to lean on anymore. Max Allen Collins revised Jason’s history to be less like Dick Grayson’s. Previously, Jason was also a circus orphan, whose parents were killed by Killer Croc, and who was adopted by the supervillainess Nocturna before Batman took him in and made him Robin.

To make his history more streamlined, distinct, and “gritty,” Jason became the child of a career criminal killed by Two-Face, who met Batman when stealing the tires off the Batmobile. Max Allen Collins introduced Jason’s personality as “hard luck kid with a criminal past,” and at this point Jason did become less upbeat and more surly.

This is where we need to address the fact that Jason wasn’t being consistently rewritten in this new personality. While Max Allen Collins was writing more street level crime stories in Batman, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle were writing a slightly different version of Batman and Robin in Detective Comics. This version was a bit more in line with the pre-Crisis Batman tone, where the story could be dark and grim, but also touched on superheroics and big, colorful supervillains as well.

Jason in the Grant and Breyfogle Detective stories was generally an enthusiastic kid that wasn’t any more likely to ignore Batman’s orders or talk back than Dick Grayson had ever been. One of the biggest hooks that this version of Jason had was interacting with Leslie Thompkins, the doctor introduced as Batman’s secret physician, who was concerned with Jason’s well-being as a young person being put in dangerous situations.

Narrative Inertia

Not only had the idea of Jason dying been hinted at in Dark Knight Returns, but the idea of Batman as a loner was becoming more and more popular. More stories went off on tangents about Batman solving cases on his own. Even the extended Bat-family was being developed, with the crippling of Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke at the beginning of 1988. The momentum was already moving towards telling the story of Jason’s death, and Batman’s transition to a solo hero.

While Max Allen Collins moved Jason towards being more abrasive, it wasn’t a consistent portrayal of the character. By the time the phone poll for Jason’s fate came about, the momentum for Jason being dead, Bruce being a loner again, and Joker causing mass calamity to Batman’s world were all in place. Putting the onus solely on Jason’s characterization in one Batman book is missing the wider view of what was going on in Batman’s world at the time.

Jason’s death happened at the confluence of the emerging concept of “Batman isn’t for kids,” where fans seemed almost desperate to prove how adult and serious the concept of Batman could be. I would argue there was as much if not more hostility towards the Batman television series as there was toward Jason, specifically.

Modern Joker

This is also the lynchpin of Joker’s emergence from “best known Batman villain” to “villain whose credibility is based on how horrible his actions are.” It may not have been planned that Joker would mind-wipe Catwoman, cripple Barbara Gordon, and kill Jason Todd, but once all of that happened, Joker’s defining characteristic to many readers was now “Batman villain with the highest body count.”

Resurrections: Details Don’t Matter

Not entirely unlike Maul in the Clone Wars, Jason Todd’s return left a lot to be desired as originally envisioned. A blip in time created by a mega-crossover brought him back originally, but the emergent story of an abandoned child trying to reconnect with the world that left him behind was powerful. Jason’s life has been redefined as continually being put in the worst possible circumstances, and not having the support that other members of the Bat-family have had in those moments, making him a great contrast to some of the other characters. But the idea that Jason “had” to develop this direction misses a lot of the actual work to change Jason from a character born of multiple false starts into a consistent flawed, damaged, and ultimately sympathetic character.

Oversimplifying the history erases the important aspects of comics and the continual struggle against massive revisions for the sake of novelty, versus creating an intentionally developed character with nuance and resonance over time. Jason Todd deserved better, but he eventually got an actual narrative that matched the meta-narrative of his arc.



Wednesday, February 12, 2020

What Do I Know About Reviews? 5e Hardcore Mode (Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition)


Sometimes, you just want to pick up a product that is all about tinkering with rules and rules assumptions, and that’s where I found myself when I picked up 5e Hardcore Mode from Runehammer Games (producers of the Index Card RPG).

This product was pitched as an option for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition games when your group has started to get set in their ways.

Hardcore Designs

5e Hardcore Mode is a 23-page PDF. Interestingly, um, there isn’t an OGL statement in this product. Maybe that’s an intentional challenge, maybe it’s an omission. Not sure about that.

I really like the formatting of this product. It uses public domain artwork, but there is some nice use of red and black color schemes and stylized sidebars with bold headers, arranged in two column style.

Contents

The product is arranged with the following sections:


  • Introduction
  • Heroes
  • The Enemy
  • A GM Style
  • The Darkness


Right off the bat, it is interesting that the assumption that this product is based on is that this product is for a group that has been playing 5e for a while, and that the tactical challenges of 5e aren’t satisfactory anymore. That’s an interesting assumption for me, and it hearkens to a wide range of opinions I have heard about 5e over the years. I know there is a contingent of people that have always felt that 5e was more forgiving than other editions. This hasn’t been my experience, but at the same time, I’m not arguing one way or the other, just framing that some of this product’s assumptions may not be speaking to me.

There is a summary page that also serves as a handout for players that are going to adopt “Hardcore Mode,” that shows the rules that are being introduced in this book.

Heroes

This section details how Hardcore Mode modifies player characters. The assumption here is that you will be using 3d6 in order for ability scores, rolling for hit points with no constitution bonus, that non-proficiency rolls will not only not receive a proficiency bonus, but also won’t receive an ability score bonus.

 It also introduces the injured condition, and the assumptions surrounding death, which include only making a single death save, and introducing the idea that even if your PC is at zero and makes their death save, if they don’t get up to 1 or more hit points after three rounds, they die.

Hardcore Mode also includes the concept of a candle that creates a fixed point in time, so long as it keeps burning, which allows a group to start over at that spot, even if they all get wiped out. Because it’s a fixed point in time, everything will unfold the way it would otherwise have unfolded, with the only variable being the player’s actions. It’s literally a save point.

There are alternate spellcasting rules that introduce (reintroduce?) the concept that you only get X number of slots per level when you get a new level of spells, and also introduces an optional rule that requires an ability check to cast any spell, with an accompanying mercurial magic table. It also suggests that in order to keep spellcasters from taking too long in play, all spells can only be cast at their native level, which at least to me, really guts the flexibility of 5e spellcasting, and speaks to an issue I haven’t seen in play often (I’ve seen players not know what spell to cast, but not what level to cast that spell at).

There is a section discussion using advantage and disadvantage to model “the upper hand,” which is essentially a way of modeling a whole range of circumstances that might favor one side of the conflict over another. The group might always be rolling with advantage because they have “the upper hand” because they brought a lot of hirelings with them, rather than keeping track of those hirelings, as an example.

Finally, do you miss older editions variable experience points for different classes to level? This introduces a chart that reintroduces this concept, up to 10th level (which is the cap of Hardcore Mode play).

So, that’s a lot to jump into. I think, overall, what is weird to me with all of this is how much of it is bolting on the assumptions from previous editions of D&D rather than tinkering with the framework of 5e itself. I’ll be honest, I’d be a bigger fan of lowering the points to buy ability scores, raising the DC of death saves, and changing options and assumptions that already exist in the game. Given how much this section harkens back to previous editions, this feels less like keeping 5e fresh, and more that it’s making 5e into another edition because it was never a good fit for the table.

The variable XP by class is a good example of this. First, it skips warlocks and sorcerers, because they didn’t exist when variable XP by class was a thing. Second, it’s running with assumptions that aren’t in evidence in the game any longer. Bards are full casters now, but progress faster than any other full casters. Rangers and paladins need more XP than fighters and barbarians, I guess because eventually they get spells? But if that’s the case, what about a fighter that takes the eldritch knight subclass? Other than saying “remember when this was a thing,” I’m not really sure what the logic is on this particular rules module.

Probably the most intriguing bit, to me, is the introduction of the “save point” candle. It is definitely a video game concession, but the flavor bits around it remind me specifically of a Dark Souls style game, and it also introduces the nasty concept of what might happen if you find another adventurer’s candle left burning in an area. I may need to play with this concept a bit.

I really like the simplified concept of injuries versus the more granular, possibly more narrative version in the Dungeon Master’s guide. I’m not sure I would have it trigger at the same point the text suggests, but instead using it in conjunction with critical hits or dropping to zero hit points.

The Enemy

This section introduces the concept that all monsters of a given challenge rating should have set AC, hit points, and bonuses. It also introduces an alternate XP value based directly on CR rather than relative encounter difficulty.

There is a section on randomizing monster AI for their abilities, the environment as an enemy, and how to simulate hordes of monsters using the CR based stats introduced in this section.

I’m not sure I’m on board with overriding an existing monster’s stats with this new assumption, but I do really like the idea of having an even quicker means of generating generic monster stats than looking up the assumption by level table in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, although this method doesn’t really address damage assumptions by level.

I’m also interested to see how well this method of creating a horde holds up to actual play. It’s a pretty simple trick, but I’m also not sure how well it plays with the actual math of the system (+1 on checks, and +1 on damage for each additional version of the monster in the horde). It does have the same limitation that mobs in the Genesys system have, i.e. if the base monster doesn’t have multi-attack, apparently everyone in the horde is attacking the same person.

A GM Style

This section introduces rules for movement, zones, and “agreed initiative.”

Movement is not entirely unlike 13th Age’s means of tracking movement, with characters either here or there (as opposed to 13th Age’s near or far). Zones adopt the concept from Fate that different immediate areas are just zones where a character can move to that might have a different descriptive bent to them.

The movement and zone section also assumes you are going to be doing away with opportunity attacks and counting everything in an area as being in range. There isn’t any discussion of how all of this interacts with area of effect (although the Dungeon Master’s Guide does have a section on just this sort of thing).

Agreed Initiative is another way of saying “side-based initiative,” with all of PCs going in whatever order they wish on their turn, and all the DM’s characters going in whatever order they wish on their turn. There is a brief mention of the PCs using their initiative bonus, but it’s never explicitly stated who gets to add what to this roll. My assumption would be that each side is using their most advantageous roll. This section mentions that this initiative system will cut down on held actions, reactions, and bonus actions slowing down play, but it really only eliminates held actions, unless the implication is to disallow reactions and bonus actions as part of this procedure as well.

This section is meant to be a means of streamlining the game, but it still feels like there are some bits that could use some more explanation. Do monks that end up with double the movement speed of other PCs just not get any benefit from that ability? If you do away with reactions, do all the class abilities that rely on those just not function? Is any of this meant to interact with rules that halve your movement rate, like standing up from prone? I get that this is meant to streamline combat, but it almost feels too streamlined at this point.

I am a huge fan of using zones to emulate areas, and the example areas they give in the zones section are fun and evocative, using just a few bullet points. I like the quick and dirty estimation that a zone is 30’ x 30’, but after introducing this concept, that useful shorthand isn’t utilized.

The Darkness

Outside of the conclusion, the final section of this product is the The Darkness, a section that describes the feel that this set of rules is trying to convey. Remember when I thought the candle reminded me of Dark Souls? While it’s not explicitly stated, a lot of what this section describes seems to be going for that Dark Souls vibe.

In addition to describing the feel that these rules seek to emulate, there are four paragraph long summaries of adventures to convey the feeling of a game using these rules. Three out of four of these seem to involve the undead (and four might, depending on how you interpret the predator described).

We Have the Upper Hand!

This product looks great and is very easy to follow. There are a ton of ideas presented that get you thinking about what levers you can pull and what dials you can turn in a D&D 5e game in order to produce different results. I love ideas like the save point candle, zones, and CR benchmarked monsters.

We Lost the Upper Hand!

Some of these ideas feel like they need just a little bit more added to them to really make them go from conceptual to fully implemented. A lot of them feel like they are fighting against the established system of 5e, instead of working within it to achieve very similar results. In some cases, I wish there had been more discussion of what a rules element was seeking to achieve, beyond just making things more difficult. That’s not meant as a jab, I was just intrigued enough by some of the concepts that I wanted more on the thought process behind them.

Tenuous Recommendation--The product has positive aspects, but buyers may want to make sure the positive aspects align with their tastes before moving this up their list of what to purchase next.

There are a lot of evocative ideas in this book, but many of them feel like they need just a little nudge, a little more fleshing out to make them feel like they are playing with the 5e rules, instead of fighting against them. If you want to get some ideas for where to tinker with the rules, it’s a fun product, but I’m not sure it’s a great candidate for 1 to 1 adoption in a game.

What I am thinking is that these options, coupled with something like the streamlined rules in something like Five Torches Deep, may make for a more satisfying synergy.





Thursday, February 6, 2020

What Do I Know About Second (?) Looks? Unearthed Arcana 2020 Subclasses Part 2 (D&D 5e) This Time, Officially Released


I'm doing something a little strange today. I'm reposting a blog, because I've already written a first impression of the topic. In this case, the Unearthed Arcana Subclasses 2020 Part 2 document was OFFICIALLY released by WOTC now, and it has some changes from the leaked version from earlier this week.

Before I start, however, I wanted to restate something I had said previously on social media elsewhere--there were some thematic problems I had with the Love Domain, and the CONTEXT of collecting the game mechanics that were collected made the domain worth discussing, and was something WOTC should have thought about when publishing.

However, none of the mechanics of the domain did anything that isn't already present in the Dungeons and Dragons rules. No one is doing something untoward in the space of time it takes to admire someone during a reaction, and all of the spells granted by the domain already exist in the game.

Nothing introduced in the previous version of this Unearthed Arcana radically altered Dungeons and Dragons. The best discussion should have come from how thematic elements can look differently based on the context in which they are arranged. Instead, a lot of internet comments made some extreme assertions about the rules, which many that didn't see the document took as a given and pass along in a game of hyperbolic telephone. 


To be clear, if someone told me they wouldn't feel safe playing in a game with the Love domain, as presented, I respect that, and understand that. But implying that the domain, divorced of actual play, was one of the most outrageous things to be introduced into the play space is disingenuous, and the commentary took on a life of its own, that still hasn't died down.

What follows is my original first impression, with red text to indicate where the final version of the Unearthed Arcana has changed.


I’ve been paying fairly close attention when new Unearthed Arcana drops, because I’ve been pretty fascinated with the most recent releases. For whatever reason, I didn’t even see the latest one until I found a link to it in Brandes Stoddard’s review on Tribality. I held off on reading his review until I finished mine, but I’m 100% certain you should read his, and it will be a much more reasoned approach to whatever I’m trying to say here. That said, let’s dig in.

Bard

The new bard subclass is the College of Creation, which evokes lore about connecting with the ancient song of creation to bring about manifestations through song. So far, I like the theme, and that’s been a something all of the recent Unearthed Arcana has been good at . . . having a strong theme for the subclasses.

  • At 3rd level, the bard creates a floating, magical note that orbits the recipient of their inspiration die. That note can be expended to produce a “kicker” effect depending on how the inspiration is applied:  extra damage if the inspiration was used for an attack, temporary hit points if it was used for a save, and for a reroll on the inspiration die when making an ability check.
  • I kind of like the whimsy of the floating magical note, and it’s a neat mechanical trick to add a kicker based on the way the inspiration is being used, but it does make me wonder how someone is going to feel if they had those temp hit points floating, just out of reach, because they never had to make a save. The reroll of the inspiration die is the least exciting, but it makes sense for that application of the inspiration die. I do think that it’s odd that Note of Protection mentions you only get temporary hit points if you don’t already have them. Almost every other temporary hit point effect in the game doesn’t care if you already have them, because if you accept the new temporary hit points, they replace the previous ones, and can’t be added to them. In fact, this section doesn’t have the usual temporary hit point disclaimer that shows up in these Unearthed Arcana articles.
  • At 6th level, you get Performance of Creation. You can temporarily create an item out of thin air, which, if you concentrate on it long enough, can exist for up to 10 minutes. This feels very much like something that is in keeping with the theme, but given the number of bardic colleges that get a directly combat effective ability at 6th level, I’m not sure how compelling this feature is going to be. I know, not everything is about combat, but at the same time, who wants to be the one person playing 100% to theme when everyone else is getting cool toys to blast monsters with? (This ability has been moved to 14th level, and expanded a bit. It still creates a temporary item, but the gp range is a little different, and it sticks around for a number of hours equal to your bard level--meaning you can definitely use this to play fairy godparent and whip up a coach for someone in need eventually)
  • Animating performance at 14th level lets you sing a non-magical item to life, which you can spend a bonus action on to direct it to do an action in its stat block, or Dash, Disengage, Help, Hide, or Search. It has variable hit points based on your level, and if it attacks, I can use its bonus action to dodge. I like this, and I wish we had this for our Disney Princess Curse of Strahd campaign, although this is a little bit late in the game to get a really neat toy like this. I wonder what a scaled-down version of this ability might look like in place of the 6th level ability. (This ability has been moved all the way down to 6th level. Given that the hit points of the object scale with your level, this most likely works--I'd have to see it in play, because it's a very nice combat "pet" ability)

Cleric

This Unearthed Arcana has a Love domain for clerics. It lists a lot of established deities from D&D and elsewhere that might have the domain, and then lists the domain spells.

Before I get too far into this, I want to throw out my idea about domains versus “regular” divine spells. Domains are the power of your religion that you are making manifest. Anything you get from your regular spell slots is “general” divine manifestation, but what you get from your Domain spells says something about your connection to that aspect of your god.

About half the spells on the domain list are spells that take away another character’s agency. I also want to point out that while a lot of deities that have Love as a domain also have Beauty as a domain, those are separate concepts. The description of the domain directly proceeding this list of spells even discusses that the domain is about nurturing emotional bonds, although it also mentions “confounding foes.”

In other words, any spell under the “Love” domain that is forcing someone to act against their will is effectively saying that “Love” is an offensive weapon, and I’m not sure I like that as a theme of the domain. I don’t think that is what the designers are trying to say. Rather, I think this is a matter of trying to balance “active” options with “passive” options when it comes to a support-oriented domain. (This domain has been renamed the Unity domain, and some of the example deities were reworked. The charm/hold spells on the list have been swapped out for spells like shield of faith, and aid, and honestly, for how they described the Love domain in the previous version, the name change probably wasn't needed, except maybe due to the ratio of negative commentary.)
  • Emboldening Bond is a 1st level feature that lets you bond two allies together, and gives them a bonus die to roll whenever they are within 30 feet of one another. You get it once per rest, but you can burn spell slots to do it more often. So far, so good.
  • Channel Divinity: Impulsive Infatuation is your alternate Channel Divinity option for this domain. You make someone love you so hard they are willing to kill for you if they fail a wisdom save. In that case, they use their reaction to make an attack on a target you direct. You can use this on allies, to give them an attack option with their reaction.
  • I don’t like weaponizing love. I get that D&D is a game where combat happens a lot, and I get that bolstering allies through “love” might make it easier to attack foes threatening you, but directly getting an enemy to “love” you for the purposes of attacking others you point them towards feels like you are equating love with manipulation. Not a fan. (For anyone wondering, this was the degree to which I was criticing to domain feature--I wasn't thrilled wish it, wished it said something different thematically. At any rate, this whole feature is gone, so I'm going to present the replacement in its own phantom bullet point.)
  • Even if you only use this feature on allies, they end up charmed by you until their next turn, and they use their reaction to admire you. That doesn’t feel like a great way to build genuine love and emotional bonds between party members.
  • I could see if this effect either allowed you to just cause an enemy to care about you enough that they just couldn’t attack. I could also see if you could use your action to allow one of your allies to make a reaction to attack to defend another ally being attacked. But redirecting artificial love into a directed attack feels wrong here to me.
  • Channel Divinity: Shared Burden lets you use your reaction to spend a use of your channel divinity power to distribute the damage a creature is taking across a number of willing recipients equal to your wisdom bonus--this is a pretty nice ability for building party bonds, and this would be a fun ability to use at the table. 
  • Protective Bond is the 6th level domain feature, which allows the people with Emboldening Bond to spend a reaction to grant that ally resistance until the end of the current turn. I like this, except it might be really easy for the bonded pair to forget they have this ability, especially if they aren’t caster types used this kind of resource tracking. Also, I have a little bit more on the overall domain that touches on this at the end.
  • At 8th level, the Love Domain gains Potent Spellcasting, which adds ability damage to cantrips. Not especially “Love” related, but in 5e, 8th level is usually either Potent Spellcasting or Divine Strike, so I guess it works here. (This ability is unchanged, but its worth noting that there is a sidebar that mentions all domains either get Divine Strike or Potent Spellcasting at this level. I wonder if people were harping on this as being another damaging option that proved that WOTC doesn't know what love is? I was just point out in the original version that, yeah, I get it, this level does one or the other, because that's an established pattern.)
  • Enduring Unity is the 17th level ability, and it also touches on the Emboldening Bond feature. This extends the distance of that link, and grants them advantage, damage resistance, and the ability to touch their bonded partner to let them spend hit dice if they drop to 0 hit points. People can point out where I might have missed a trick of wording, but since you can expend a spell slot to use this ability, at this level you could have a network of bonded party members that get this benefit, if you are willing to cull some of your lower-level spells.

Roleplaying Nitpicks: In addition to not being a fan of the “Love as Manipulation” that some of the spells and the Channel Divinity add in to this domain, I would love for Emboldening Bond to require the bonded PCs to speak something about one another that they care about, and for them to cite that bond when triggering their reaction for Protective Bond. It’s a minor thing, and it may be a thing that a lot of tables handwave, but I think it helps define what is actually happening with the bonds that the Love domain cleric is fostering.

Sorcerer

The sorcerer subclass that we get for this Unearthed Arcana is the Clockwork Soul, a sorcerer whose bloodline has a tie to the plane of Mechanus and the order of Primus and the Modrons. This subclass features the return of something I enjoyed from many of the recent UA subclasses, the table of manifestations, which are, in this case, all tied to clocks, gears, or geometry.
  • Restore Balance is the 1st level feature, and it’s worked in a way that I think is technically correct, but more confusing for that correctness. If someone is making a roll with advantage or disadvantage, you can grant them advantage AND disadvantage. Because having advantage and disadvantage cancel one another out in the rules, once both are applied to the same roll, everything is a wash and nothing is applied. I assume that the intent of this ability is to make sure that not only do you remove the advantage or disadvantage, but nothing else can apply advantage or disadvantage to that roll, and while I get that is how the rule works, I almost think it would be easier just to say that you cancel out advantage and disadvantage, and neither can be applied to the roll going forward. Maybe it's just me. (The new version of this ability does, indeed, say that you cancel advantage or disadvantage with your reaction, preventing the roll from being affected by either.)
  • Bulwark of Law is the 6th level feature. You can spend up to five sorcery points, and create one ward for each point spent, represented with a d6. This can be for you, or another creature. When you take damage, you can use that d6 to reduce it. I like warding abilities, and I like mechanics that use dice to physically represent something that is “in effect” around a character. The effect doesn’t mention it, but I would totally picture the caster having glowing gears hovering around them that move in between themselves and danger when the ward is expended. (This ability was boosted from d6s to d8s--I can say that it felt weak before, but I can't say that this won't work either, without seeing it in play, but I still really like this thematically.)
  • Trance of Order is an ability for 14th level, which allows you to spend 5 sorcery points to enter a trance that makes you immune to anyone attacking you with advantage, and lets you default to 10 on your rolls. This one is kind of hard to judge compared to other sorcerer abilities. Most of the official sorcerer abilities offer a limited use “free” extra movement mode at this level, and Aberrant Mind costs 1 sorcery point to activate its 14th level transformation feature. Automatic 10s are nice (and if you roll higher, you can still use the higher number), but that’s a lot of sorcery points, especially if you also like your wards being in place. (This one has been modified to give you the first use for free, per long rest, with the option of using it again for 5 sorcery points.)
  • Clockwork Cavalcade is the 18th level feature, which you get per long rest, or if you spend 5 sorcery points (spending them for the 18th level feature is WAY more common, and you get the first one free here). You make a 30-foot cube of friendly (benignly pre-programmed?) machine spirits that stabilize everyone in the cube, repair all damaged objects in the cube, and remove 5th level or lower spells on everyone in the cube. This is a useful multi-functional ability, but I’m not sure the specific circumstances when you are going to have your incapacitated allies, and your allies afflicted by 5th level spells all in the right place to drop this spell will work out. (This ability now also lets you use it once per long rest, with the option of spending 7 sorcery points to call on it early, bumps up the 5th level spell removal to 6th level, and adds in 100 hit points of healing done by your summoned Constructicons.)

Conclusion
I’ve only had minor quibbles with a lot of the recent subclasses, but these don’t feel as solid to me. The themes are all great, but there seems to be an ability in each of them that either isn’t workable for adventuring or deviates a bit too much from what the theme seems to be. I think the Clockwork Soul holds up the best of all of them, especially since the main quibble I have is that its abilities are expensive compared to similar sorcerer abilities at that level.

I’m hoping this round gets a little bit more tinkering than the last few rounds of subclasses.

(It's really fascinating to see similar building blocks rearrange a bit and bring home a different feel. I like the College of Creation much more by swapping out a combat useful ability into the 6th level slot, so the college feels less like a thematic choice that will get left behind by the more obviously martial bards, and I really like the mental image of the bard summoning a vehicle or big-ticket item to use for a few hours when you really need it short term.

I get why they wanted to scale back on even using the name Love after the backlash online, but had they left the Unity domain the Love domain, and made the changes they did, I would have loved it, especially since the domain, as originally described, was about fostering the love of companions as well as other forms of love. Slotting the ability to distribute damage into the Channel Divinity spot was a great rework of the original concept.

I already liked the Clockwork Soul, and my only concern was the sorcery point economy of the subclass, which the reworks of the main abilities address, and in addition, I like that Clockwork Cavalcade made it's very useful 18th level feature more expensive to trigger again, after allowing the once per long rest option. That seems more than fair.

I really like to cover these Unearthed Arcana articles, but if there is going to be the backlash that this one received going forward, I may have to bow out. I can't handle the stress, and it makes me wonder how willing WOTC is going to be with future public playtests if they have so many people lined up to assume the worst.)