What Do I Know About Reviews? Arcadia (MCDM 5e Third Party Magazine)
I love magazine content to fuel my RPG obsession. Unfortunately, there isn’t much out there these days since Dungeon Magazine and Dragon Magazine were shuttered. I subscribed to D&D Insider, so I read many issues of the 4e version of Dragon Magazine, but that content always felt, I don’t know . . . safe? I enjoy Dragon+, but it also feels more like a collection of web articles funneled through an app. Possibly because it is.
In the interim, I picked up issues of Kobold Quarterly and Gygax Magazine. I enjoyed KQ more than Gygax Magazine, although I enjoyed elements of both. That said, neither one was focused on a specific edition or even set of game rules, so at times it was hard to wade through the shifting tones and expectations for different editions and retro-clones. Kobold Quarterly gave way to the excellent Warlock ‘zine, and while I love Warlock, I do tend to associate it heavily with Midgard specifically.
Tales of Arcadia
That brings me to Arcadia, the new magazine being produced by MCDM. This is a magazine that will be released for a three-issue run as a trial, which may turn into a longer-term periodical. This will be available through MCDM’s patreon, as well as their webstore.
For a little more about how and why the magazine came to be, you can watch a video made my Matt Colville here:
For the quick synopsis, in the interim of other content coming out from MCDM, Matt Colville wanted something to offer Patreon backers, and has James Introcaso acting as the editor of the magazine, drawing on his knowledge of and contacts with freelancers.
Disclosure: while I was interested in picking up a copy of this magazine for the reasons detailed above, James provided me with a review copy to look at.
The PDF is 43 pages long, and is full color. When I say full color, I mean, this book is very colorful, and has some genuinely nice artwork. While all the headers and charts are similarly formatted, the color palette changes based on the individual articles. Most of the articles have at least ¾ page artwork taken from the article’s theme, and the adventure includes several pages of encounter maps and handouts.
There is a page of credits, a table of contents, an “About the Author” page, a page with resource links, and a full page OGL statement. Oh, and I don’t get to say this often enough, but there are also two links in one of the articles that redirect to audio clips associated with the article.
If you watch Matt Colville’s introduction video, you will know that the general plan for the magazine is to have three articles per issue, but in this instance, the content expands out to four. There are some “bonus content” areas for some of these articles, however, which I’ll mention as we look at the individual sections.
The articles include:
- The Workshop Watches (Adventure)
- Titan Heart (Sorcerer Subclass)
- Jumping on Mounted Combat (Rules content with supporting short adventure)
- Uqaviel, The Recreant (two NPC stat blocks with suggested campaign hooks to incorporate them)
The Workshop Watches
This adventure is designed for 5th level characters, and includes two separate adventure hooks, one that is more straightforward, and another one that might make the developments slightly more of a surprise.
This is a spin on the “rogue AI” storyline, which I can appreciate living right next door to Urbana, Illinois. Characters will end up interacting with a wizard’s lab that is sapient, and trying to learn about humanoid behavior, but may cause potentially dangerous and deadly things to happen. Depending on how the various interactions go throughout the lab, PCs may learn different things that the AI has done, which may shade their opinions of the lab. All this builds towards a final face to face meeting that could have quite different resolutions.
I appreciate the somewhat bleak humor, expressed through the AI not fully realizing how living things work, although I’m not a huge fan of the modernized terminology and name used for the AI. I think this would be a fun adventure to run, and it’s easy to turn up the creepiness with just a few tweaks (for example, swap out the Shield Guardian for a more Flesh Golem appearance for the encounter that features this, and this can easily be a Ravenloft excursion).
In addition to the adventure, there are some encounter maps and handouts included.
This article details a new sorcerer subclass, this one based on a sorcerer that has inherited the power of a Titan. The class features that this subclass grants are the following:
- 1st–Ancient Knowledge, Titan Manifestation
- 6th–Strength of Magic, Toughened Grace
- 14th–Titan’s Will
- 18th–Ancient Colossus
Ancient knowledge gives you the ability to speak Primordial, and specifically calls out the ability to speak and understand the dialects of Aquan, Auran, Ignan, and Terran. The whole relationship between Primordial and the elemental dialects continues to be a bit strange to me, but it’s nice to get a clarification.
Titan Manifestation is kind of the core feature of the class, which you can use twice per long rest. When you trigger this manifestation, you become large, have higher armor class, substitute your Charisma for melee attacks, get a kicker to weapon damage due to size, and you basically become a siege monster.
You also get access to five first level spells: blaze, cataclysm, daybreak, glacier, and quake. These aren’t new spells that anyone can learn. You can only access them if you have Titan Manifestation triggered.
Strength of magic plays with your Charisma bonus and Strength saves, and Toughened Grace boosts some of your features when you trigger Titan Manifestation.
Titan’s Will boosts your form to Huge, gives you a stomp action powered by your spell slots, and gives you bonus sorcery points with a new metamagic effect that only works in this form. Ancient Colossus gives you extra benefits when making a strength check, and it boosts the minimum level for your primordial spells. You can also burn your remaining time in Titan form to maximize a spell.
I like giants, so by extension, I like titans a bit as well. I am interested in this subclass, and I like its theme, but some of the construction feels strange. It pushes in new directions, but it feels like it’s really new directions. The bonuses to melee combat seem to really favor using cataclysm, a bonus action spell, but cataclysm suffers from the bane of 5e combat spells, being a concentration spell. Additionally, it feels strange to have five spells that only exist for one subclass.
The other thing that is interesting about this subclass is that instead of using “per ability bonus” uses or “per proficiency bonus” uses as newer 5e subclasses have, the number of uses per long rest grow specifically in a manner called out at the descriptions of the new special abilities.
Despite some of the construction questions I have with this class, it’s compelling enough that I would like to see it in action. Is it satisfying for the sorcerer to bulk up and kick around opponents a few times per day? Will they want to risk their lower hit points with the only trade off being increased armor class? Can I convince two players to play siblings, with one playing a Titan Heart sorcerer and the other playing a Rune Knight fighter?
Much like the support material for the previous chapter’s adventure, this includes multiple “riders” to the article. One is an NPC that is a member of the subclass that can be used in a campaign, and the other is a retainer version of a Titan Heart, using the rules from Strongholds and Followers, the Titanic Mage.
The rules for retainers aren’t reprinted, but I appreciate that in a company magazine, there is support for the mechanics that the company has introduced in other products.
Jumping on Mounted Combat
This article expands the mounted combat rules for D&D 5e. In doing so, it restates how mounted combat works currently, then presents the new optional rules. These rules don’t supersede the existing rules, but they do add a new action option for riders, some taming rules, and special stat blocks for trained animals.
These special versions of trained animals get a stat block similar to some of the newer summoned creatures that have appeared in D&D 5e in sources like Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. In this case, the trained mount stat blocks include + proficiency bonus kickers to armor class, saves, and skills, as well as temporary hit points based on the rider’s level.
In addition, these trained mount stat blocks include actions that can be triggered by their riders spending a bonus action to trigger them. The mounts detailed in the article include the following creatures:
- Basilisk Mount (CR 3)
- Giant Toad Mount (CR 1)
- Hippogriff Mount (CR 1)
- Nightmare Mount (CR 3)
- Owlbear Mount (CR 3)
- Warhorse Mount (CR 1)
Several of these creatures have been rebalanced for their use as a mount. For example, the basilisk has abilities that can slow opponents, and if its petrification ability is triggered after multiple saves, it’s only a temporary effect. Nightmares do slightly less damage, but they get a 3/day ability to make a more potent charge.
In addition to the mounts themselves, there is a short sample adventure that revolves around mounts. PCs arrive at a town populated by orcs and hobgoblins, on the edge of the desert. There is a local rally that involves a challenge (not really a race) involving mounts. The area is haunted by a former local, and the PCs can participate in the rally, tame one of the more exotic mounts, and potentially put an undead to rest.
I really enjoy how this shows off the mount rules, and I really like the idea of a hobgoblin/orc town that isn’t assumed to be a fortress of evil, which even has a local custom associated with it. Looking at the mount rules themselves, I like that they echo the development trends for summoning creatures, and it makes me not only want to play with them, but also to see more creatures given mount statistics. I’d pay for a product that expands this list, using these rules.
Uqaviel the Recreant
The core concept of this article is presenting two powerful NPC creatures, Uqaviel (CR 23) and Anahita (CR 24). These are two celestials that are enemies due to Anahita’s betrayal of Uqaviel. Anahita was jealous of Uqaviel’s position and wanted to add its purview to her own, and framed Uqaviel for a crime that got him cast out of Heaven.
The article spells out a broad outline for how to include these two characters in a campaign, and how that campaign would unfold. Uqaviel isn’t evil, but he does want revenge, and might do something dangerous and disastrous to get back at Anahita if the PCs can’t convince him to attempt a more measured approach to bringing her to justice.
Uqaviel’s plan is spelled out, as is the means of proving Anahita’s guilt, and it’s up to the DM to present these plot points, and the PCs to resolve them, to see if they are dealing with one villain or two.
I like the idea of celestials that have “fallen,” but haven’t become some other type of creature . . . yet. It fits with my thoughts on how celestials “fall” by losing their perspective on their role in the cosmos, rather than just by turning evil. I also like the idea of campaign outlines to give DMs ideas, without fleshing out specific adventures. In some cases, for higher level games, it might even be easier to use the plot without an assumed path to each plot point.
So Red the Rose
This PDF looks beautiful, and I love the layout. It’s very pleasant to look at, and it makes you want to read it. The ideas bounce around just enough to keep my attention, and much like Matt Colville says in his introductory video, these are all easy articles to plug into a campaign. The wide range of topics makes it easier to find something you can use more immediately for most D&D 5e campaigns.
. . . But There Are Dangers
There are a few anachronistic references in the two adventures, which may or may not be an issue for individual tables. It depends on how much acronyms or the old west fit in with your existing campaigns. The Titan Heart is compelling, but it still feels “loose” around the edges when it comes to implementation.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
I think this is an exciting starting point for something new, and if you are a fan of more experimental D&D concepts that may never get fully explored in core material, you will likely be happy picking this up.
While I’m not usually one to point out pricing in a review article, getting the magazine through the Patreon is potentially a better value, and may give you access to more direct means of providing feedback on what you like and don’t like in the articles.