Hey, so uh, you ever noticed the Witch Class feat Eldritch Nails? Some would say it’s not a very good feat, but hey maybe in niche builds right?

Not quite. It is one of the few feats in the game that one might consider a “trap”, but not (at least not just) because it’s underpowered. Let’s take a look at it:

Alright so it does give you an Unarmed attack at 1d6 slashing with agile, that’s not nothing. Context is key though, and we’re getting this on a Witch. You know, the 6 HP class who needs to be in melee to even use this. Then we consider it’s agile (and not finesse), which means we’d have to swing with Strength instead of our likely second-highest value ability of Dexterity.

Alright, so the attack itself, unlikely to be useful and when you consider it’s a level 4 Class Feat, that’s a pretty hefty sum to pay when a level 1 Ancestry feat or even just multiclassing Monk might be less of an issue.

Still, it gives us more than that right?

OH SNAP! It gives me Hex Spellstrike basically through my nails! Wait… oh it can’t be a Hex cantrip. Well that’s okay I can just pick Elemental Betrayal and… hmmmm… two actions. That’s a bit more limited. Let me just look at the non-cantrip hexes that cost two actions to cast and see what I have working for me at level 4.

Would you look at that? Can you guess how many hexes you can use with Eldritch Nails to make such an attack at level 4 when you get this feat? Did you guess 0? That’s right. When you take this feat, you literally can’t use it with any hexes you could know at this level.

Alright alright, but level 4 is right before level 3 spells and at level 6 you can certainly go Greater Lesson and grab one of the hexes then. Surely there will be at least one hex I can use with this ability.

Hazzah! There actually is a hex you can pick. Personal Blizzard is unfortunately out due to being only 1 action, and then Deceiver’s Cloak isn’t compatible (unless you want to disguise your opponent as an ugly person for that extra flex).

That leaves us with Malicious Shadow, which is 2 actions to cast, is not a cantrip, and does not require a spell attack roll! So what do we gain from this?

Very little. Since Malicious Shadows uses and contributes to your multiple attack penalty, the second that you use Eldritch Nails to make this hex delivery, you increase your multiple attack penalty and make the following Strike from the shadow essentially ~50% less effective due to the -5. And on top of that, we risk losing the spell entirely if your Eldritch Nails strike fails to land.

So if we decide to use this, we trade a 1d10 + spellcasting modifier damage with a full INT bonus to the Strike for a 1d6 (potentially 2d6 if you invested in Striking)+ STR modifier in damage with at least a -10% effectiveness since your max STR is 16 (and likely much lower), because you could just make your Malicious Shadow Strike twice instead of making your nails attack in the first place since multiple sustains are allowed. And, if we miss, we lose the focus point costing spell entirely.

Big yikes.

Alright… so there’s literally no viable hexes to use with Eldritch nails for the first 3 tiers of hexes in the game.

What about Major? Do we at least have a savior at level 10 to make our level 4 Feat’s major feature actually function. And it turns out we have two.

Well one really, because one of them is Rare which would require a GM leniency. Should a GM allow a player access to Glacial Heart just so Eldritch Nails they purchased is viable? I might consider it just because of the 6 levels of suffering they had to endure to get here, but it’s certainly not guaranteed or expected.

And then there was one.

Curse of Death actually works. At least, it doesn’t have anything that actively makes it terrible to use with the Eldritch Nails combo attack outside of the miss potentially losing the spell (which is arguably the worst part of the whole thing, but I digress). You net yourself a sweet one additional Strike at your STR mod + spellcaster unarmed proficiency with 1d6 + STR mod damage.

Which honestly feels like you climbed through six levels and two class feats to get the mechanical equivalent of a broken cracker jack toy at the bottom of a box that went stale in 2010.

And you might be thinking, yeah so what? Some feats aren’t that good. You still get an unarmed attack! To which I say, the promise of the fantasy of the Feat itself is that I can use my hexes in my nails. This feat fails to deliver the promise for 6 levels you possess it by giving you an unarmed attack that most witches will likely never be able to use. Even if we consider ideal multiclass scenarios or archetypes like Sentinel, there are too many limitations that block you from even being able to take advantage of using your nails even on just an unarmed level.

Even if you could somehow make the choice of a level 4 Class Feat investment in melee 1d6 agile unarmed attack worth it, it still puts you ~10% less effective than just casting the Hex and relying on your INT. And then, the cherry on top is of course you lose the Hex, they still have to save against the effect (no dual result like Spellstrike or Eldritch Archer), and are then down a focus point all so you could get a maximum of 6/12/18/24 + STR mod in damage at levels 1/2/10/18 respectfully if you invested in Striking/Greater/Major runes to boost your nails.

If you think I hate this feat, well yes, but actually no! I loved this feat from the moment I saw it, but I find it to be one of the most frustrating ones in the game because of how hard I tried to make it at least somewhat palatable and utterly failed. I tried Swashbuckler MCD into Witch, Monk into Witch, straight Witch with Sentinel and STR focus, and various other combinations to try to pull out some kind of build that could make nails more than just a trap. And ultimately, no matter what I tried, I could not get past the limitations on the hex usage, the loss of the spell, and knowing that the only thing I was going to get out of it was a negligible amount of damage that I would almost certainly receive in kind the next turn by being in melee.

Thus I wrote this rant.

Posted in Author Insight.


Author Insight

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