What Do I Know About Reviews? Arcadia Issue 5 (5e OGL)

Picture1My how time flies. We’re halfway through 2021 (as of this writing) and the next issue of Arcadia from MCDM is out as well. I’m writing this review from the preview copy that MCDM has provided me, although, as I have mentioned in previous reviews, I’m also signed up for the company’s Patreon.

Arcadian Boundaries

This issue of Arcadia is 34 pages long, and like previous issues, the issue is filled with high quality, full color artwork, and thoughtful layout and formatting. This issue has a credits page, a table of contents, an “about the authors” page, and a full page OGL statement.

Last issue we saw the maps for various articles integrated into the issue, as well as having the standard page with links to those resources. This issue doesn’t have much in the way of maps, and there isn’t a resources page to provide links.

Structure and Content

This issue covers the following topics with articles:

  • Long-Term Curses
  • Goldmonger Subclasses
  • Alabaster’s Almanac

Long-Term Curses

This article details six long-term curses. In addition to being long term, progressive afflictions, these curses can’t be removed with a simple application of a spell, although in some cases spells can mitigate the particular effects of the curse. Since Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft just recently came out, and it also has a section on persistent curses, I thought I’d look at how these rules are presented.

Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft Long-Term Curses
Pronouncement Casting the Curse
Burden Effects of the Curse
Resolution Breaking the Curse

In broad strokes, while it uses slightly different language, the two presentations are very similar, so if you liked that format in Van Richten’s, this is probably good news. The curses presenting in this article includes the following:

  • Curse of the Betrayed
  • Curse of Cassandra
  • Curse of the Living Dead
  • Curse of Sordino
  • Slow Polymorph

The Curse of the Betrayed involves gaining additional curses from a list of ten different traits with varying degrees of paranoia about the loyalty of one’s companions. Remove curse or greater restoration can remove a flaw, but doesn’t remove the curse. Since I’m a fan of fears, stability, and stress being modeled with flaws, I like this particular curse. The flaw is true, but its in the hands of the player to act out the effects. I also like the idea that the implementation of the curse doesn’t entirely remove the utility of remove curse.

Picture2The Curse of Cassandra involves rolling on a subject table, and a prediction table, then rolling a die to determine how long until the prediction takes place. If you tell someone about this prediction, no one will believe you, and the only way to break the curse is to prevent one of your predictions.

The Curse of the Living Dead falls on a general area. Anyone that dies in a given area rises as an undead creature. There is a ritual given to exorcise the curse from the area, but the section on Zombie Animal Companions immediately made me think of how to use this particular curse to pull off a Pet Sematary scenario.

The Curse of Sordino is more of a poetic curse, making it impossible to make music in an area, unless the focus of the curse can be found and destroyed. Like the Curse of the Living Dead, this is a curse that’s more of an adventure element than one that’s going to follow the player character’s around while they adventure.

The Curse of the Watchers involves having a hostile swarm following a character around once they acquire an item that hasn’t been properly given to them. I particularly like the way this one resolves, because it’s a great way to both jump through some hoops to complete the steps, as well as providing a good roleplaying opportunity.

Slow Polymorph is a progressive transmutation that gives the character a monstrous appearance, scary but somewhat beneficial mutations, and the big downside of calling monsters to show up whenever the character is already in combat.

I enjoy all of these, although I have to mention that my favorite curses, the Curse of the Betrayed, and the Curse of Cassandra, really require the PCs to be onboard to roleplay curse elements that don’t have a hard mechanical reinforcing mechanism. I do wish there were a few more examples of how to get some functionality from remove curse for some of these curses without having it be a cure all.

Picture3Goldmongerer Subclasses

This article presents subclasses that involve greed, monetary gain, or warding valuable materials. The subclasses included are:

  • Avarice Domain (Cleric)
  • Circle of the Gilded (Druid)
  • Oath of Acquisitions (Paladin)

In addition to the character subclasses, there is also a god of deals presented, in case you don’t have a deity in mind for your setting that has wealth, commerce, or greed in their portfolios. My favorite aspect of this deity is the holy day defined for them, which requires everyone worshipping them to make a successful deal to keep deals across the cosmos from failing.

As promised in the previous issue, this player option article provides retainers in the format presented in Strongholds and Followers, representing a cleric, druid, or paladin inspired by these subclasses. There is also a cleric as avarice presented as a fully statted out CR 7 NPCs.

The Avarice Domain provides the following abilities when the cleric gains subclass abilities:

  • 1st—Domain Spells, Prophet Motive
  • 2nd—Channel Divinity: Object of Desire
  • 6th—Divine Kleptocracy
  • 8th—Potent Spellcasting
  • 17th—Avatar of Excess

Prophet Motive allows you to duplicate spells you cast on others so that they also benefit you as well. Object of Desire can stun a target by showing them what they want most. Divine Kleptocracy allows you to duplicate a spell cast by someone else, on someone else, to affect you as well, as a reaction. Avatar of Excess sounds pretty grandiose, but it mainly allows you to maintain spells you duplicated without requiring concentration.

The Circle of the Gilded might require a little more explanation. Gilded druids protect places that have a great deal of natural material wealth. This means they might be guarding caverns filled gems and minerals, and those materials affect your abilities. Their subclass features are:

  • 2nd—Elemental Extremis, Gilded Transference
  • 6th—Core Value
  • 10th—Pineal Precious
  • 14th—Prismatic Form

Elemental Extremis allows you to embed a gem attuned to some energy type in your skin, allowing you to add that damage to spells. This damage increases over time, and can be boosted by using Wild Shape to charge the gem. You can shift damage to a type associated with your gem. Core Value allows you to embed precious metals and gems into your body to give you a bonus to armor class, which can be charged to give you a damaging aura. Pineal Precious lets you focus a ray of damage from a gem embedded in your head. Prismatic Form allows you to activate all of your gems embedded in your body to boost your armor class further, and boost your weapon damage.

The Oath of Acquisitions is a paladin that is all about getting paid for acting as a hero. The subclass abilities are:

  • 3rd—Oath Spells, Channel Divinity
  • 7th—Aura of Opportunity
  • 15th—The Bigger the Smile, The Sharper the Sword
  • 20th—Greed is Good

For Channel Divinity options, Acquisition paladins can either grant themselves advantage to negotiate on business deals, or by imposing disadvantage on another character’s save. Aura of Opportunity makes you a big target, so that attacking anyone else imposes disadvantage. The Bigger the Smile, the Sharper the Sword lets you damage charmed creatures by imposing vulnerability to your damage. Greed is Good makes you gold and shiny, giving you advantage on Charisma checks, allowing you to charm those attempting to attack you, and giving you unlimited access to The Bigger the Smile, The Sharper the Sword while this ability is active.

First off, I’m going to get my biases off my chest. There are nods to Prosperity Gospel and Objectivism in this article, and since I’m not a fan of either of them, those notes fall a little flat for me. Mainly when anything in the article tries to frame someone using these as potentially “good.” I’m not against someone using this material in a campaign, but you aren’t going to get me to even moderately agree that practicing Objectivism is going to let you call yourself good.

The Avarice domain works well for me, although the terminology of one of the class features feels a little off. I like the Circle of the Gilded, and I’m pretty satisfied with the justification of gold and gems equaling a druid subclass, but as guardians of places that are kind of set in location, it’s harder for me to picture them actually traveling far from their caverns to adventure.

My biggest issues are with the Oath of Acquisitions. Paladins, regardless of alignment, believe in their Oaths. This Oath’s powers are more about tricking others into revealing weaknesses, and the tenets of the Oath are more like truisms than things the paladin swears to do or not to do. In fact, this feels a lot like “lets turn the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition into a subclass,” and that flavor is stronger than the class feel of paladins.

Most of the class abilities with “limiters” are still using ability score bonuses, rather than proficiency bonuses, which has become more of the standard with official WOTC offerings lately. The Circle of the Gilded, however, does have a mechanism for spending one class resource to boost another, which is definitely becoming more common in subclass design.

Picture5Alabaster’s Almanac

This section is narrated by a wizard, Alabaster, who is presenting the spells that they have developed to the reader. As someone that jumped into AD&D around the time when Elminster was still presenting spellbooks from the Forgotten Realms in Dragon Magazine, I kind of like this format. There is at least some context to the thought process behind the spells being presented which can make a drier catalog of new spells more interesting.

The spells included in this article appear on the Bard, Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard spell lists, although not all of the spells appear on all of those lists. Alabaster specifically mentions in the introduction that at least for this article, the spells don’t follow a specific theme.

The spells included in this article are:

  • Alabaster’s Adaptation (World Below)—6th (druid, wizard)
  • Alabaster’s Adjacent Acquisition—1st (sorcerer, wizard)
  • Animate Echoes—3rd (warlock, wizard)
  • Compelling Propulsion—2nd (bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
  • Gaze of Venom—6th (bard, druid, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
  • Realize Image—9th (wizard)
  • Scryspike—3rd (sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
  • Shadowslip—2nd (sorcerer, warlock, wizard)
  • Wielding—1st (bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)

These spells allow the caster to do various tasks, such as–modify a creature to better navigate the underdark with various mutations; pull objects to their hand; read recent events in an area; shove creatures away from you with a reaction; gain a gaze attack that does psychic and poison damage; temporarily make illusions real; thwart scrying spells; meld into your shadow; and animate and use weapons.

My favorites from this list are scryspike, and wielding. I like the concept of a wizard animating a sword or an axe to do their “dirty work,” and since I’m a terrible person, I keep thinking of a campaign where the party wizard sent his divination sensors all over the place, and I’m picturing what it would have looked like to have someone skewer those sensors with a blade of force. I also like the twist in the shadowslip spell, where you can potentially loose your shadow and you make death saves with disadvantage until you get it back.

This is a nice selection of imaginative and utilitarian spells, and these are the kinds of spells that would be fun not only to give to player characters, but to swap out into NPC spell lists.

Elevation

The curses in this issue are great roleplaying drivers and story elements, and I would love to get a chance to use them at the appropriate time. I need to write up that Pet Sematary scenario! As soon as I read about the Circle of the Gilded, I started picturing all kinds of drow, gnome, and dwarf characters guarding sacred places. There are definitely some spells that I want to drop into various spellcaster’s lists from Alabaster’s article.

Descent

I wish there were more uses for remove curse to mitigate, if not eliminate the long term curses. The one example was great, but I like the idea of not just negating the PCs options, just modifying how effective they are. The Oath of Acquisition doesn’t feel like its telling the story of a hero sworn to acquire wealth by acting heroic, and it plays with it’s meta-inspiration more than presenting a strongly unified theme.

Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.

This is still a very strong showing, but the Goldmongerer subclasses feel like they are working hard to be a proof of concept based on a theme, and I would have liked to have seen other “wealth” based subclasses that might have taken less effort to realize.

I doubt anyone that appreciates strong D&D 5e material will have a problem with this issue, and I may be letting my knee jerk reaction to all things Objectivism make me a bit more exacting than usual. There is still a lot of fun, imaginative material to use for a D&D campaign between the covers.

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