There were some things I definately was not expecting during the keynote speech, least of all another playtest update that adds two new classes--the sorcerer and warlock--and an adventure. The good part is that it allows us to fiddle around with two alternative magic systems, on top of having something else to do besides select random caves filled with random humanoid types. The bad part, for me anyway, is that I was just about to post a heavily modified conversion of the first part of Keep on the Shadowfell, as well as update my homebrew warlock to level 5.
In 3rd Edition it was mentioned that sorcerers have magic in their blood, hinting at exotic ancestry like dragons (back when dragons could bone basically everything). As a bit of an anticlimax, this was just a way to introduce a variant spellcasting system that otherwise directly mimicked wizard spells, from blasting enemies with a handful of magic missiles a day, to summoning unseen servants. Really, there was not a lot of thematic synergies going on, here.
4th Edition gave every class its own list of things to do, and emphasized the bloodline aspect a bit more by giving us spell sources that not only provided unique bonuses, but also boosted specific spells (so a dragon sorcerer turning into a dragon was a bit better at it, and storm sorcerers were a bit better off with lightning/thunder spells). The problem was that, again, it was difficult to maintain a theme.
A did a blog post back in March (there might be more, but this is the big one I could find), where I went over how I would handle various arcane classes were I in charge. For the sorcerer, I mentioned how I would make them heavily defined by their bloodline, giving them limited magic that would not run out, and allowing them to boost it by exhausting themselves. I went on to describe a dragon sorcerer transforming her hands into claws to make melee attacks, use a breath weapon, and hardening her skin into scales.
Which, it seems, is kind of what we have so far.
Sorcerers have limited spells (2 at first level) and an origin that grants you specific powers (in this case dragon strength, breath weapon, and dragon scales). The spellcasting mechanic is basically what it was in 3rd Edition, just renamed. Instead of giving you slots per day, you get Willpower. Willpower is expended on a one-point-per-spell-level basis, and you get it back after a long rest. When you spend enough Willpower in a day, you start to transform, gaining a bonus to damage rolls at first, and eventually gaining damage resistance that varies on your heritage.
While I like that WotC is really trying to emphasize a theme here, I find it a bit odd that sorcerers become mentally exhausted the more they use their magic. Given that it is in their blood, I figured that it would be physically exhausted. I would have also like them to have the option to do the claw/scale bit as needed, though it is pretty fun to have an uncontrollable transformation happen as a result of using too much magic (though I would flavor it more as your heritage manifesting rather than overpowering you).
I also do not like the sorcerer spell list. I can get behind a dragon sorcerer using detect magic in a way that is explained as “smelling” magic, but magic missile and ghoul touch do not really evoke the whole draconic theme. This was a similar issue in 4th Edition, where I would want to make a dragon sorcerer and have to reskin powers with the preferred damage types, invent my own that I felt made more sense, or pick something else whether or not it made sense to me.
So, I would expand upon the sorcerer’s spell list so that there are a number of thematically appropriate options. Sorcerers with black dragon heritage should have some acid stuff, as well as the ability to breath underwater. Blue dragons could have the ability to dehydrate creatures, burrow, and lots of lightning. Green dragons could have some charm effects.
I would also move the Willpower mechanic over to the wizard (at least as a rules module), and give the sorcerer options to cast spells/boost magic by physically exhausting herself, getting nailed with conditions like stunned, or taking a variable amount of damage.
I do not remember much about how warlocks were explained in 3rd Edition, but I liked the flavor in 4th Edition, which seems to have been maintained. My issues with 4th Edition were that while you basically got power from something else, there was nothing that even really encouraged you to interact with it, which is a shame. There was also no cost, despite the flavor material kind of hinting at some kind of trade off.
In the same blog post I mentioned above, and in my warlock homebrew, I talked about making the patron a bigger part of the warlock. You would contact it for new spells, and could also ask for aid, a temporary power boost, and other favors. It would also provide a vehicle for adventure hooks, which had the added bonus of social roleplaying opportunities (especially if its interests or demands conflicted with yours, or someone in the party).
So, again, I am glad to see that they are going in a direction that I wanted.
Though there is only one pact and patron to choose from, it at least has a name. You get pact boons from your patron at specific levels, which also cause you to manifest physical signs of your allegiance (which is how I envisioned the Signs class feature to work). You also have invocations (which you might remember from the 3rd Edition warlock), and have access to spells (which are limited to those with ritual versions).
The warlock resource is Favors. You start with two, and they are used to power your lesser invocations and pact boons. Unlike the sorcerer’s Willpower, you regain them during a short or long rest by using a rite to contact your patron. Again, this is something I specifically wanted, and am kind of glad that there is no associated cost (in my version you had to spend like, 5 gp I think).
Basically the warlock has a flexible, encounter-based resource, which I like. I also like that each lesser invocation has a kind of social roleplaying cost associated with it. No hard mechanics, but something to add to your character, though I could see DMs enforcing things from time to time. The problem is that some of them, like eldritch blast and visage of the summer court, are pretty potent. Eldritch blast deals 3d6 damage from the start, while visage lets you charm everything within 30 feet.
Visage might not be so bad given that creatures that save against it cannot be affected again for 24 hours (another 3rd Edition thing) and costs a Favor, but eldritch blast has no restrictions or limitations. It also scales up to 4d6 at level 3.
Anywho the warlock looks pretty good, though as with the sorcerer I would move away from using wizard spells and just create warlock-specific rituals. I would also remove the spellbook, representing them as things that the warlock just knows how to do. Finally, make enough pact-thematic invocations so we will not have to “settle” on a choice.