What Do I Know About First Impressions? Arcadia Issue 8 (5e OGL)

Screenshot 2021-09-20 191928It’s that time again. I’ve got a review copy of Arcadia to look at, Issue 8, and I wanted to run down what we’re seeing this month. As always, if you haven’t read some of my previous articles about Arcadia, I’m a patron, but I also get a preview copy for review, so I get to look at it a few days early. This article is based on the early release preview provided to me by MCDM.

This Month’s Offering

This month’s issue of Arcadia is 46 pages, including a credits page, a table of contents, two pages of outside advertisements, a map, resource page with links, a page of author bios, and a full page OGL statement. The articles include the following:

  • Subclasses of the Hag
  • Monstrous Components
  • The Emerald Exchange

At this point, it goes without saying that the magazine looks great. Lots of original artwork, and slightly different formatting for each article, with lots of sidebars, tables, headers, and sub headers.

James Introcaso’s letter from the editor ruminates on monsters and mentions that MCDM is working on another new class, this time, the Beastmaster. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for that one in the future.

Subclasses of the Hag

This article introduces subclasses that are all themed around hags. In this case, we get subclasses for sorcerers, warlocks, and bards. Given the sinister and fey aspects of hags that we often see, these feel like the right subset of classes to interact with this theme (although druid is feeling left out).

I really like looking at subclasses, and I’m a big fan of fey adjacent content. I even had a player in my Tales of the Old Margreve who started off as a warlock whose patron was Baba Yaga, who then got caught up in some fey dealings that turned her into a sorcerer. Would this content have been good for that game? Well, let’s see.

One thing that I wanted to address up front is that some of the features of these subclasses are themed to fit existing hags in the 5e OGL. That means that sometimes there are different subdivisions based on green hags, night hags, sea hags, or a hag coven. This is perfectly functional, although I wish the divisions had been a little more thematic, rather than explicitly tied to existing hag types. It’s not uncommon to see 3rd party bestiaries expand the ranks of hags, and themes might allow for a tie to more creatures.

Another thing that’s kind of interesting is that the sorcerous origin, the Wicked Witch, is written to assume a hag ancestor. A lot of 5e sorcerer options have skewed towards “maybe you had X in your family, but maybe your family is just associated with a famous Y, or you just met a Z, and it awakened your powers.” I don’t think this is a huge problem, although I do think that some of this decoupling of literal bloodlines is an early attempt in 5e to move away from biological determinism.

Now with all that said, let’s jump in on subclasses.

Warlock, Hag Patron

  • 1st–Spell list (varies by hag type), vicious mockery cantrip, horrifying appearance
  • 6th–Auntie’s Travel Guide (extra power based on hag type)
  • 10th–Wicked Claws (bonus damage on claw attacks)
  • 14th–Grandmother’s Wrath (extra power based on hag type)

The spell lists are themed by the hag type, and what that hag does as some of their signature abilities. Sea hags and night hags get more destructive and creepy abilities, while green hags get more illusion and shapeshifting spells. I love the inclusion of vicious mockery as a cantrip across themes (although like other warlocks, I kind of wish some of the eldritch blast invocations worked with other thematic cantrips, but that’s a whole other discussion).

Horrifying appearance not only lets your warlock scare your enemies, but while you are scaring them, you get a pair of claws to use. You get this ability once per long or short rest, and at 10th level, if the target of your attack is afraid of you, you get to inflict bonus psychic damage. I’m a fan of “inflict a condition, add a kicker to another ability,” so I like this.

Auntie’s Travel Guide is interesting, because the powers you get vary a lot. The green hag option gives you a per proficiency bonus (YES!) ability, the sea hag option gives you something persistent with a long rest ability. Night hag and coven gives you a minor permanent magic item based on the concepts of heartstones and hag’s eyes. Grandmother’s Wrath is similar, in that there are different powers depending on the hag type chosen. Night hags and covens expand on the powers given to your special magic item, while green and sea hags either charm or cause fear, with a successful save doing significant psychic damage.

Sorcerer, Wicked Witch

  • 1st–Granny’s Gifts, Hag Ancestor, Granny’s Spells
  • 6th–Clever Little Witch
  • 14th–Fly, My Pretty
  • 18th–Coven Calling

Right off the bat, this is a sorcerer subclass, so it’s got to provide a lot of flavor between 1st and 6th level features, because 14th and 18th are both a long way away and may not be a plateau that your campaign manages to crest. Regarding the spell list, I kind of wish it had focused a bit more on hexes and curses in addition to what appears on the list.

The hag you are affiliated with determines a school of magic, a language, and a bonus proficiency, based on the spells the hag uses and the approach that they use. Unlike the hag patron, while different hags provide different abilities, the list of spells added is common across all hag ancestors.

Clever little witch gives you a “spell turning” ability that lets you reflect a spell cast on you or an ally as a reaction. You must spend sorcery points to do so, and if you are deflecting a spell from your ancestor’s favored magic school, you get a discount on the deflection ability.

Your higher-level abilities include an (14th level) ability to cause inanimate objects (like brooms) to fly and serve as aerial transports, while protecting those using it for flight from certain conditions. It also includes another ability (18th) that calls on the collective abilities of an extended coven to spend sorcery points to duplicate other spells and generate duplicates that both function as mirror images and spellcasting “nodes” that can cast spells if you spend sorcery points.

Given that you need to make the theme hit hard and fast when you have a gap between 6th and 14th level, I think a lesser version of Fly, My Pretty at 6th level, which gets more powerful at 14th level, would have been better. Otherwise, you are leaning hard on the expanded spell list and spell turning to sell the concept of a wicked witch, which I’m not feeling quite as much with those abilities.

Bardic College of Grandmother’s Tales

  • 3rd–Book of Tales, Have a Bite, Horrifying Performance
  • 6th–Granny’s Here
  • 14th–Poisonous Performanc

Remember when I said that sorcerers must make an impression hard and fast to nail home their theme, because there is a big gap between 6th and 14th level? Bards are like that, except 14th level is their last chance to get a specialized ability based on their college. This is a subclass of bards that revolves around telling (ahem) grim fairy tales that revolve around themes embodied by hags.

Your bard gets a focus that is a book of fairy tales. This is mainly a thematic affectation, but I like it. You get poison spray as a cantrip and can use bardic inspiration as a poisoned weapon against opponents, that may eventually also cause a target to be poisoned or become incapacitated. Ultimately, you gain a once per short or long rest ability to tell a story that frightens targets that you chose to affect.

At sixth level, you can summon an ethereal hag that treats you favorably if you have your storytelling focus. This uses the more recent concepts that you see with companions and summoning spells introduced in Tasha’s, basing the hag’s hit points and attacks on the caster’s level/proficiency bonus/spell attack bonus. At 14th level, you can use Have a Bite as a reaction when you affect a target with Horrifying Performance.

I really like the overall concept of a fairy tale affiliated bard, but I think the poison theme is “one step beyond” selling its inspiration. It’s very much a “Wicked Witch from Snow White” themed bard, rather than a fairy tale themed bard, which may be leaning too hard on Regina’s schtick. I almost wish we had gotten slightly different effects based on different fairy tale themes. That said, I really like the summoned hag and how it is executed mechanically.

Retainers of the Hag

It has become common to see options related to other MCDM products in these articles, and in this case, we get retainers in the format presented in Strongholds and Followers. This gives you stat blocks for a witch, grandchild, and folklorist, which emulate NPCs with the subclasses presented in this article.

Monstrous Components

There have been several takes on using monstrous body parts to boost spell potency over the years. This article revisits this concept for 5th edition and does so in a manner that somewhat mimics 5e’s treatment of magic items. By this, I mean that this article doesn’t assume that selling or buying these components is common enough that there are standardized prices.

The article posits that the abilities granted by these components may end up producing effects that can be powerful, but as consumables, this doesn’t permanently change the balance of power. While I do agree with this, since there are some generous guidelines for harvesting, that means these aren’t just consumables that can be found, but they are consumables where the players can drive the rate of acquisition.

Individual creatures have what items are useful, the number of those items that can be harvested, and the DC to harvest this item. I’ve seen other systems give you a narrow timeline to harvest these items, so that, for example, finding something killed an hour ago isn’t going to do you any good. That’s not the assumed paradigm of this article. Thankfully, when items are plentiful on a creature, there is often a limit to the number of items that can be harvested, indicating that only very special specimens are useful (for example, you can only harvest X number of feathers, not every feather the creature has).

The charts are divided by monster type, and generally, the more powerful the component, the higher the DC to harvest the item from the creature. In addition to OGL monsters, the charts have several MCDM creatures sprinkled in as well, including a few singular creatures, which feels just a wee bit strange.

I’m all for powerful material components and giving PCs a reason to harvest some creatures. I do get a little concerned that it will reward players for killing everything they meet, and slow things down as PCs want to harvest everything they kill. This is something you may want to touch on in a session zero if you are using these rules, especially if you want to address the morality and implications of harvesting sapient beings. Regarding the DCs and the effects of items, I’m all on board. I do wish that the components had been given a rarity like magic items, to help calculate throwing these items into magical hoards where they would be appropriate (let’s raid a lich’s laboratory!).

As someone that does kind of like the idea of random items having contraindicated interactions, I like the idea that this article contains a table for tracking the chance that using multiple components will trigger a wild magic surge.

The Emerald Exchange

The short blurb for this organization presents it as an organization interested in procuring and selling magic items. A little more reading reveals that there is a criminal enterprise hiding underneath the exchange. In addition to providing PCs a point of contact for acquiring magic items, it also serves as a plot point regarding stolen magic items or contracts to explore and retrieve various items for the head of the Exchange.

Emerald, the leader of the Exchange, isn’t the same Emerald that founded the organization. Dread Merchant Roberts doesn’t inspire brand loyalty for a merchant, however, so Emerald’s theme is to cover herself in skull themed makeup, making it difficult to tell that she isn’t the same Emerald that has been running the show from the beginning.

There are several plot hooks presented for encountering the Exchange, as well as different missions that Emerald might hired the PCs to perform. There is a chance that a stolen item purchased by the PC might attract it’s former owners, and there are several Emerald Exchange specific items provided in the article.

There is a chart that provides a price range and a length of time for the Exchange to find the items that the player characters may want to buy. This chart is based both on rarity, and on “grade,” broken up into Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3. This is something I know Brandes Stoddard has discussed in the past, where magic item rarity isn’t just about power, but also how common WOTC designers assume an item is. I like this secondary axis for measuring “value” within a band. When compared to the prices in in Xanathar’s Guide for “buying a magic item,” the lower end of Common and Uncommon items matches up, the upper end of Common is a little high, the upper end of Uncommon is a little low, and Very Rare is right out of the park.

I know that Xanathar’s isn’t OGL, but I would be more comfortable using those purchase prices as a base, with grades working as a multiplier to the base cost, but that’s my preference. Either way, I like the additional data point.

In addition to prices and plot hooks for the Emerald Exchange, there are statistics for Emerald herself, details for how much profit the Emerald Exchange generates if it becomes affiliated with your organization using the rules in Strongholds and Followers, and Realm statistics for the organization in the format presented in Kingdom and Warfare.

First Impressions

I am all in on hag themed subclasses, although I think the warlock patron works a bit better than the other two options. I love to see the “per proficiency bonus” and newer caster dependent stats for companion creatures being used in the article, as I think those are great developments in D&D 5e design.

I’m so torn on monster parts as material components, because I love the idea of “power components,” but I also don’t want to see too much encouragement of “killing for fun and profit,” beyond what already exists in the game. I would love to see these quantified in a manner like magic items and consumables, with rarities, and I would also like to see some expensive “power components” that are thematic and aren’t just harvested from dead monsters (gemstones from the outer planes, plants grown in a certain place in the feywild, etc.).

I’m enjoying the “setting agnostic” organizations that we’re starting to see. I like that these can serve as contacts, that they have their own specific goals and purpose, and that they are providing a lot of individual story hooks. It’s good, modular game content that I think can be very useful.

Future Wishes and Final Thoughts

Now that the wow factor of a brand-new magazine has died down a bit, the content coming out of Arcadia is still solid. We are seeing some MCDM specific personality becoming a regular aspect of the development process. I think we’ve seen enough issues now to know that not every issue will have something for everyone, but every issue will have a lot of craft and intentionality infusing the design.

I also think that at the current value of the Patreon subscription, its more than worth it to sign up and look at these as they come out, if you are interested in the style and personality of MCDM products. If nothing else, it’s a good showcase of the ideas that make it through the pitch, design, and development cycle.

We’ve seen a lot of utilization of retainers and realm abilities, but I would like to see some of the other MCDM specific mechanics, such as the action-oriented monster stat blocks, or even some demons that use the soul eating mechanic introduced in Kingdom and Warfare.

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