What Do I Know About Reviews? Arcadia Issue 3 (5e OGL)
For anyone following the MCDM experiment in D&D 5e content that is the PDF magazine Arcadia, you may remember that issue number three is where MCDM is planning on stopping and taking a breath and deciding where to go next. Don’t look now, but we are at issue number three, and given that the magazine is at its “contemplation point,” I wanted to make sure to cover this one with a review as well.
Full disclosure: As with the previous two issues of Arcadia, the MCDM editor in chief James Introcaso provided me with a review copy for this magazine. For more context, however, I have also become a patron of MCDM on Patreon to keep tabs on their products.
Issue 3 of 3 (For Now)
This issue of Arcadia is 40 pages long, in full color, with the same art heavy format as the previous two issues. This includes the standard OGL legal page, the page of resource links, a page of contributor bios, a credits page, and a table of contents. The covers continue to be striking, colorful, evocative pieces, and the rest of the magazine is a comfortable, attractive read.
Between the Covers
The magazine has an introduction, as well as four articles. This includes articles on ancestries, spells, aerial combat rules, and an adventure.
- The Dreamkin (three dream focused ancestries)
- Ten Spells You Need in 5e (updated spells from other editions that haven’t been officially added to the game yet)
- Aces High (representative aerial combat rules)
- A Diamond in the Rough (an investigative adventure, looking into some thefts, and family dynamics)
All of the ancestries presented in this article are associated with dreams in some capacity. While the article consistently uses “ancestry” as a term, they don’t take into account the newer philosophy that WOTC and other publishers, like Green Ronin, have adopted, by specifically detaching the ability score increases from the individual ancestries. There are also still alignment entries, although none of the ancestries are portrayed as being “bound” to specific behaviors.
Lucidlings are an ancestry that plays with the idea introduced in 5e that Beholders dream their own progeny into existence (without mentioning beholders) and expands it to aberrations in general. Lucidlings are all humanoids born of the dreams of aberrations, which spring to life fully formed after a particularly potent dream.
Lucidlings have a chart of “vestiges” included in their entry indicating the oddity of their appearances. Some of these have some clear connections to specific aberrations (eyes stalks, beaks, tentacles), others just have some strange elements to their appearance. In addition to ability bonuses, they have darkvision, and the ability to manifest an extra limb, flight, or a defensive damaging effect once per long rest. They are also able to communicate telepathically, cooperatively communicating with creatures with which they share a language. I feel like the special mutations they can manifest might be a little underserved by only being once per long rest rather than per ability bonus or proficiency bonus.
Sand Speakers are glass creatures that can enter the dreams of others, created when celestials clashed with aberrations at the edge of reality. They have darkvision and the ability to turn to sand form, granting them resistance to damage, but leaving them unable to do anything but move. They learn message, sleep, and silence at different levels, and can use each of them once per day. This is another “first wave” design that doesn’t make the spellcasting stat variable or add the spells to the character’s spell list. This isn’t a ding to any creator that is still basing their design on earlier 5e standards, just a note for anyone that has been seeing the evolution of WOTC designs and test runs in Unearthed Arcana.
Sand Speakers can also enter the dreams of anyone that is asleep and within 10 feet of them. The target can’t suffer any harm during this visitation, and the Sand Speaker can snap out of it whenever they wish. I like this ability, but the limitation of 10 feet feels very confining for the concept. I almost wish that there was a way for them to connect to at least some wider number of people over a larger distance.
Somnians are literal inhabitants of the Realm of Dreams that have physically manifested outside of their home. They appear in a manner that strongly resembles Eternity from Marvel Comics, or Kismet from DC Comics, having a body that is filled with stars. Right up front I wanted to touch on their biggest ability, because it’s not going to be one anyone uses a lot, but it’s impactful. The Somnians can sacrifice themselves (and can only be brought back by a wish spell) to resurrect another character. Talk about a player driven campaign changing ability.
The more common abilities are the ability to cast minor illusion, detect thoughts, and major image at higher levels. Each of these is a per long rest ability, as is their ability to manifest a nightmare to cause fear in one creature within 60 feet of the caster.
All of these are great, imaginative additions to player options. I remember the Diabolus from Dragon Magazine, another ancestry for previous editions that also came from the Demiplane of Dreams, and I wish I had the opportunity to use them. My only real concern with any of these is that I want their “dream theme” to be a little more available to them. I know a lot of more conventional ancestry abilities are more situational, passive benefits, but I really do like ancestry features that let the player do, rather than “be.”
Ten Spells You Need in 5e
This article revisits some spells that existed in previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons that haven’t been updated to 5e yet in any official capacity. These spells include the following:
- Attract Metal (2nd Level, Bard, Druid, Sorcerer, Wizard)
- Erase (1st Level, Bard, Cleric, Sorcerer, Wizard, Warlock)
- Glitterdust (3rd Level, Bard, Cleric, Sorcerer, Wizard)
- Nature’s Ladder (1st Level, Druid, Ranger)
- Permanency (8th Level, Wizard)
- Rainbow Recurve (6th Level, Bard, Sorcerer, Wizard)
- Shrink (3rd Level, Sorcerer, Wizard)
- Silver Wings (4th Level, Sorcerer, Wizard, Warlock)
- Stoneheart (7th Level, Druid, Wizard, Warlock)
- Walking Dead (3rd Level, Bard, Cleric, Wizard)
If I were a better person, I would track down all the original sources to compare more specifically what these spells did in previous editions. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to invest in that endeavor. While some of these spells have the same names as their previous edition counterparts, a few were tied up in IP, so they get an evocative substitution.
I like the challenge of seeing spells that existed in a different paradigm get upgraded to a new edition. Glitterdust, the bane of many 3rd edition encounters, allow those that fail a save the traditional “new save each round” stipulation of 5e. Shrink, oddly, doesn’t get this same addition. Walking Dead feels a little underpowered, as a largely utilitarian spell. Erase is a great, but limited spell to reintroduce.
Permanency could be tricky, as it effectively allows the caster to skirt the concentration rules for a spell that is made permanent. It does have a built-in limit of a single spell, meaning you won’t be breaking that concentration rule by much, and it still has a high price tag, and can be foiled with a simple dispel magic.
I love the image of Rainbow Recurve, and the story elements that can come from Stoneheart. Stoneheart feels like it’s going to be more useful as an NPC element due to the restriction on location. Silver Wings finally gives us a reason to use a joke about another mutant other than Psylocke, since it effectively makes you into Archangel. Go one specific incarnation of one of the teams known as X-Force!
Overall, I may have a few concerns with these. For some reason, it feels like Shrink could really lock down a fairly nasty boss with a bad d20 roll, even if they don’t lose any AC or hit points, especially since being tiny doesn’t really benefit them other than where they can fit. I may also have a few questions about what spell lists these fall in, but that’s a moving target across editions. I was immediately thinking of Cleric Domains or Warlock Patrons that might grant access to a few of these. I’m a fan, I like these spells, and I might give some of these a whirl in a campaign.
Some of the design in Strongholds and Followers, MCDM’s first major release, is quirky. By quirky, I mean that after years of seeing how D&D 5e expects you to resolve different abilities and subsystems, Strongholds and Followers introduces new mechanics and means of tracking effects that aren’t modeled anywhere by existing 5e mechanics.
I bring this up because a lot of the articles in Arcadia, up to this point, have been wonderfully imaginative, and well realized with D&D 5e rules, but they haven’t utilized the same concepts and alternate means of resolution pioneered in Strongholds and Followers. Aces High embraces some of these MCDM paradigms in its implementation of aerial combat rules.
Aces High attempts to create a means of adjudicating aerial combat that doesn’t require tracking exact distances on a map, and also seeks to make three dimensional space a consideration in air to air combat. I’m a fan of finding means of adjudicating complicated spatial combat in abstract ways that still provides a benefit for speed and size.
In broad strokes, using these rules, you will roll a number of d20s, plus a bonus based on speed and size, and pick the best one. You have 10 seconds to represent flying opponents circling around one another to jockey for position. Once you start playing out round by round combat, individual flyers track their altitude with a die, which can be decreased or increased by different means. There is also an additional phase to a character’s turn, the stunt round, where you gain a number of d4s equal to your bonus, and you can spend them to modify your turn. This effectively replaces your movement.
Stunt dice can be spent to move up or down on the altitude die, and if they are spent in threes and rolled in a certain combination, they can be used to gain additional attacks. They can also be spend for certain immediate reactions that don’t count against the character’s reaction total.
To keep all of this straight, I built a cheat sheet, and did some quick combat maneuvering, just to see what it would look like.
I like the core of what’s here, but I wish it was just a shade more traditional. For example, instead of using an altitude die, I would be fine with just ranking altitude from 1 to 12. I’m not a fan of rolling dice to see if you can get a better effect in a subsystem where you are also spending those dice. I’m really not a fan of the scramble to roll a number of dice under a time limit, since my anxiety means almost any kind of timing puts me on edge.
I’m intrigued enough by this one to give it a play through with a few modifications. I know that’s not always the best way to judge something, but I also have a hard time with some of the dice heavy resolutions within the system. I think you could do away with the 10 second scramble, and given how few stunt dice many characters are going to get, I feel like spending them without matching or sequencing them would work as well.
I also can’t help but feel like this system cribs a few notes from the dogfight system in the Fate Core game Tachyon Squadron, where initiative is about who is “ranked” above other participants, and that same ranking determines who can attack whom, and where repositioning is important to the unfolding combat. Seeing those bones in this system isn’t a bad thing, I’m just not sure the dice heavy implementation is for me.
A Diamond in the Rough
In this adventure, the characters get hired to investigate thefts at a rich family estate. There is one character that exists to draw suspicions, as well as some (intentionally) unlikable family members. The author specifically notes that the “mystery” isn’t meant to be overly difficult to solve, but it exists to give the PCs a chance to interact with various NPCs, so that once the mystery is revealed, they have a basis for making a decision.
I like that this starts with an “authorial intent” statement, because there are so many times when I wish an adventure writer would point out “this is why I’m doing this.” In addition, in an adventure where players are expected to interact with NPCs and gather opinions about them, there are sections for each of the family members citing what the character knows, clearly laid out in bullet points, and roleplaying notes.
It is possible that, depending on how the investigation unfolds, there may not be much in the way of combat in this adventure. If you are one of those DMs still invested in using XP, the adventure gives you guidelines for XP awards for various objectives along the way.
The mantra of this magazine is to produce cool shit that is immediately actionable at the table, and for the most part, I think it succeeds with this. The dreamkin are imaginative player options, there are spells that should be fun for just about anyone to utilize, and for anyone interested in a nice roleplaying heavy adventure, the included scenario is well structured for that.
The dreamkin are awesome, but I’m not sure if they get to use their toys enough to really appreciate their nature. When they are doing their thing, however, they look like a lot of fun. I think the aerial combat rules are worth trying out, but I think the engagement with them might vary a lot based on how much you enjoy content that “feels” like it follows the same pattern as other game rules. They also feel that they could get a bit complex to explain at the table.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’ll zoom out and look at this magazine run as a whole. I have enjoyed all the copies of Arcadia that I’ve read so far. There has been a great mixture of game rules and mechanics, player facing material, and adventures. Most of the material is fairly “plug and play,” and is easy to drop into a campaign.
Even the material that didn’t appeal to me “as is” managed to make me think about the game design behind those elements, why it didn’t work for me, and how I would approach a similar subject.
I think it’s fair to say that I would like to see future issues of Arcadia.