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For an upcoming Strixhaven campaign, I have attempted to homebrew a Warlock subclass which is centered around a social media/influencer theme. The idea is to use the social medium itself a magical patron (called The Web). You have a popularity score on The Web, which introduces a resource minigame: High popularity confers some static bonuses, but you can choose to give up popularity in exchange for more powerful favors. Unlike other resources like superiority dice, popularity does not regenerate on long rests but is paced more slowly.

This is my first time properly homebrewing, so I'd ask for a general review especially in regards to overall balance and power level. I'm looking to keep the popularity minigame fun and rewarding, so the pacing between regenerating the points and the incentives for spending them is crucial.

It is meant to be lighthearted but not a joke character.


Warlock Patron: The Web

Like many in an ever growing circle of like-minded individuals, you entered a connection with a mysterious magical force which calls itself The Web. It is unknown who or what created The Web, or from where it originates, but one is clear: The Web thrives on attention, and it always seeks to expand its influence. Some even say it is sentient.

Expanded Spell List

Your connection to The Web lets you choose from an expanded list of spells. The following spells are added to the warlock spell list for you.

  • Level 1. Identify, Hideous Laughter
  • Level 2. Augury, Silence
  • Level 3. Sending, Motivational Speech
  • Level 4. Compulsion, Arcane Eye
  • Level 5. Modify Memory, Telepathic Bond

The Tablet

Starting at 1st level, you can summon a small obsidian tablet into your hand or dismiss it from anywhere as a free action. The tablet’s bond to The Web faintly illuminates it with magical energy and allows you to connect to other users of such tablets. If the tablet is broken, the pieces disappear, but an intact tablet can be resummoned without issue.

The tablet can act as your spellcasting focus. While holding it, you gain access to the Light and Message cantrips. You can use the tablet to find which way is north, and to determine the exact number of hours before the next sunrise and sunset.

Favor of the Web

Starting at 1st level, you have a certain popularity on The Web, which is measured on a scale of points from 0 (nobody), 1 (popular) to 2 (star).

Once per day, you can spend an action to share your adventures with The Web. Narrate a story to your Tablet and then roll a Charisma check. The DM may choose to give advantage or disadvantage to the roll depending on the novelty and appeal of the story (for example, sharing secrets confers advantage, outright lies confer disadvantage).

  • Natural 1, or < 5: One point lost
  • 5-9: No change
  • 10 and above: One point gained
  • Natural 20: Two points gained

Your popularity on The Web bolsters your confidence in real life, but also constantly pulls on your attention.

  • As long as you are popular, you have a +1 bonus to AC and Charisma-based skill checks. You have a -1 penalty on passive perception.
  • As long as you are a star, you have a +2 bonus to AC and Charisma-based skill checks. You have a -2 penalty passive perception.

You may beg the Web to help you out in a sticky situation. As a bonus action, you may give up 2 points of popularity to regenerate an expended spell slot.

Epic Win

Starting at 6th level, as long as you are at least popular, you can telepathically communicate to any creature you can see within 30ft and read their surface thoughts.

Whenever you make an attack roll, an ability check, or a saving throw, you can spend one point of popularity to roll an additional d20. You can do this after you roll the die, but before the outcome is determined. You choose which of the d20s is used for the attack roll, ability check, or saving throw.

Unfazed

Starting at 10th level, your popularity imbues you with unnatural resolve

  • As long as you are at least popular, you have resistance to psychic damage
  • As long as you are a star, you have proficiency in Dexterity saving throws and are immune to the frightened condition

Clout

Starting at 14th level, your popularity rubs off on those allied with you

  • as long as you are popular, friendly creatures within 30ft of you gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls and saving throws
  • as long as you are a star, friendly creatures within 30ft of you gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls and saving throws You must be conscious to confer these boni.

You can keep up to 3 popularity points stored (and you are a star with two or more points).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Whatever we do, we have a responsibility as a community to make this awesome idea work! Anonagon, great name, and great idea! \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Sep 27, 2023 at 11:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Tablet fluff is unclear: "allows you to connect to other users of such tablets", but no explanation of how; "Message" feels like it has some overlap with this, but doesn't generally do that connection. You might want to tighten this up. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 27, 2023 at 14:28

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This is very strong and could play monotonously

I'll get into the details below, but I think the main difficulty with this subclass (outside of being on the strong side) is that nearly all the benefits of being popular are static effects, and this means that most of the time you will not want to use one of the options to burn your popularity, so you just end up with a character with a lot of permanent buffs.

The mini-game

A starting character can be expected to have +3 stat bonus on Charisma. If they have a cleric in the group, you can expect that guidance will be cast before this ability check, every time. That means in many campaigns in effect the -1 only will happen on a natural 1. Feats like Lucky can help to make this check with advantage nearly all of the time, and you can have that feat from level 1 as a variant human, or you could play a halfling who is lucky, which would minimize the chances of a natural 1 to 1 in 400 times.

With an unoptimized character (no lucky) outside of the effect of a natural 1 or 20, you gain 1 point 70% of the time. If you add guidance, this moves to about 82%, once you have maximized your Charisma to 92%. You lose one point 5% of the time, and gain 2 5% of the time, so your expected gain is about 1 point per day.

Giving up a static bonus of +2 to AC is a big downside (the Charisma bonus only applies to skill checks, which is good; if it generally applied to ability checks, this would break the spellcasting DC math). As you move through the features that even gets reinforced: you get more and more awesome powers for staying at star level at each tier.

You can make only one check per day, and in practical terms cannot count on rolling a 1 or 20. So the likely way this feature will play is that you will have a character that works up to star level, and then stays there. I think it likely plays more boring than what you'd hope for, as it just boils down to permanent static bonuses, not something you do most of the time. The cost of giving up your bonus disincentivizes you to actually use it actively.

Giving up perpetual +2 to attacks and saves for all allies, +2 to AC, +2 to all Charisma skill checks, proficiency in Dex saves and immunity to frightened for a spell slot that you can just get back with a short rest anyways seems like a really bad trade. What level would a spell need to be that give you all those powers for the whole day?

You'll end up with someone on level 14 that accumulates all 3 points, then burns one point of popularity per day, so they can stay at star level and regain that point, in effect granting them 1/3 of a lucky feat per day on top of the other benefits.

Power evaluation

Expanded Spell List: Looks OK, 2 spells per level, a good mix, and very thematic.

Tablet. Similar to the Celestials Bonus cantrips, with a free spell focus thrown in. Looks OK.

Clarify the following language: "Starting at 1st level, you can summon a small obsidian tablet into your hand or dismiss it from anywhere as a free action. [...] If the tablet is broken, the pieces disappear, but an intact tablet can be resummoned without issue."

I think you mean there is no risk of ever losing the tablet, because you can just summon a new, working one. But this could also be read as you being able to dismiss and re-summon the tablet only if it is still intact, which of course would make this class even more vulnerable than a wizard losing their spellbook.

Favor of the Web: A permanent +2 to AC and all Charisma skill checks, with the option to give it up for a spell slot (that you can ignore) is very strong. (The perception downside does not matter that much, as you likely have someone with high Wisdom in the group whose job that is).

Epic Win: perpetual free telepathic communication and thought reading is also solid, the equivalent of an always-on detect thoughts, a level 2 spell. Compares this to the Misty Escape of the Archfey patron, which also gives the equivalent of a souped up misty step, but only once per short rest. The option for a 1/3 lucky feat is good too, and you don't have to use it.

Unfazed: Again, this is strong but static: psychic damage is not that common, so that one will rarely matter. A free good save is strong, and immunity to frightened is also strong.

Clout: permanent +2 to attack rolls and saving throws to the whole team is very strong. The paladin’s protective aura can grant a higher bonus, but only out to 10 feet and only to saving throws, and that is already strong. Adding the bonus to all attacks will stress bounded accuracy and add at least 10% more damage output to the whole fighting team.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! Good call doing the maths on how reliable the popularity gain is. I'm now thinking of ways of making it more dynamic and encouraging spending the points. First thing is that no boni should apply to the popularity roll (maybe not even CHA. It's a straight d20 roll with adv/dis given for narrative reasons). I could also turn popularity into a more standard resource system, where the PC starts out with some amount of points per day, spends them for temporary buffs/abilities, and the narrative option is a way to regenerate points. \$\endgroup\$
    – Anonagon
    Sep 27, 2023 at 10:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Anonagon I'm not sure that would fix the main issue -- making it less reliable to get pop back will mean people will be even less willing to spend it. It might help more for a V2 of this subclass, to exchange some of the static ongoing bonuses for unlocked abilities that you can do when you are popular, so it would be something that changes how the class plays, instead of playing the same and just being better at everything. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 27, 2023 at 12:43
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Overall this subclass is quite interesting. It has a wide range of uses and is incredibly thematic. Some minor adjustments would be putting up front how many points you can store at any given time. Also it would be wise to view how this interacts with the various Pact items. But there are some larger issues that I think may pose more risk to balance starting at Level 1. My answer will be primarily focused on these.

The Web's Sticking Points

The Tablet:

"You can use the tablet to find which way is north, and to determine the exact number of hours before the next sunrise and sunset." This is a portion of a Feat. Your Tablet is already granting Light and Message making it so that the Warlock has extra utility (this should include a line saying that these cantrips don't count against the number of warlock cantrips you know).

Favor of the Web:

I'll save the rant on tying buffs to rolls (e.g. Wild Magic sorcerer) and focus on it granting two separate buffs. The first is a general charisma skill buff and passive Perception debuff; the buff far outweighs the drawback because party members can pick up your slack while you act as the party's Face. Warlocks are already good at that role so there's no need to make them even better. And having +2 AC is just the icing on the cake for a class that already gets Light Armor proficiency. The second is truly just exchanging passive buffs for a spell slot. Having it as a bonus action also means it can be used in combat which is stronger than most full casters (e.g. Circle of Land Druids/Wizards). And while it's exchanging a passive buff for an active spell slot, it's rare that a DM will set up a diplomacy scene during the same day as a combat day that would require the extra spell slot.

Epic Win:

On the other end of the spectrum, Epic Win is kinda weak. The first half is found (mostly) in The Great Old One's first level feature. And Psuedo-advantage in exchange for 1 AC and 1 to Charisma skill checks is not the kind of deal I'd take. A fix here would be to move the second buff from level 1 here and lower the cost to 1 point of popularity. Level 6 would be about when warlocks start to have spell slot problems and this would be the best compromise. And even this loses value the higher you get up as being popular/a star become even more valuable.

The Power of The (World-Wide) Web

Overall, this is a Face forward subclass that excels at being just that. It lacks combat or control options and favors a subtle touch even late into the game. Due to that though, it is less effective as other warlock options for combat focused campaigns. However, it is an excellent team player for covert operations or diplomatic affairs and would fit right into an Eberron campaign. The changes I suggest would be to smooth the power curve so that it spikes later and therefore is more of a journey over something you dip into as another class. But it's thematic, interesting, and worth the extra polish.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Were you trying to make a comment on the ability due to it being "a portion of a Feat"? The two abilities they pulled are the most ribbony aspects of a mostly ribbon feat, so I wouldn't worry too much about it personally. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 27, 2023 at 0:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was mainly pointing out that it's part of a feat. It's the least powerful thing about the two level 1 abilities but it leads to the greater point that these abilities are overtuned for their level. If that and the light/message cantrip was the only thing given on level 1 then it would be completely fine. But it is the start of why this subclass needs some polish which is why it got included. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 27, 2023 at 6:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! I like the idea of swapping around some of the Level 1 and Level 6 features for balance. \$\endgroup\$
    – Anonagon
    Sep 27, 2023 at 10:47

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