What Do I Know About First Impressions? Acadia Issue 12

Arcadia 12 CoverI’m a bit late on this month’s issue of Arcadia. Turns out, there was some kind of monster book that came out last week, and I may have had a game and an online convention to prep for and . . . look, I let you all down, and I’m submitting myself for the Atonement version of the ceremony spell.

That said, let’s dive in.

Disclaimer

This may sound familiar if you’ve been reading this for a while, but on one hand, I get an early review copy from MCDM, and on the other hand, I’m subscribed to the MCDM Patreon, so I get a consumer copy of the magazine as well.

I haven’t had a chance to use any of the material in this magazine, but as always with D&D 5e material, I’ve been running and playing the game almost since it was released, so I’ve got some familiarity with it.

Now, since we’ve got some older D&D style content in this magazine as well, I’ll also point out that I started playing D&D with the magenta Basic set before moving on to AD&D 1st edition. I didn’t run a lot of published adventures from that time, outside of part of the Isle of Dread, and some of the short adventures in the Dragonlance DL 15 and 16 compilations.

Between the Covers

This issue is 51 pages, and instead of the usual three articles, this issue includes a fourth article. The articles include the following:

  • So Your Best Friend is a Monster by Jessica Marcrum
  • Fey of the Shadowfell by Jonathan Conner Self
  • The Stuff of Nightmares by Carlos Cisco
  • The Dimensions of Dowda by Robert J. Kuntz (AD&D 1st Edition, with 5e conversion notes)

The magazine continues to have an impressive, colorful layout. It retains the two-column format, header, table, and stat block conventions like other D&D 5e products, while maintaining the unique fonts and colors that have been seen in previous issues of Arcadia.

So Your Best Friend is a Monster

This article addresses various monsters whose backstory involves a curse. In this case, instead of assuming characters are lost, this article looks at what it would take to remove the curse. It also touches on what happens to a PC that succumbs to one.

This is playing in the same space as previous issues of Arcadia and Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, introducing curses that aren’t easily removed with a remove curse spell alone. Before we dive too deeply into the article, we get a nice sidebar on using safety tools at the table, especially when dealing with situations where PCs might be cursed, or the effects of nasty curses might be explored.

The article specifically looks at driders, harpies, and medusa. It touches on the mythology that spawned the creatures to begin with, as well as the current D&D lore about these creatures. Each section details various items needed to perform a ritual to remove a curse, as well as rules for transferring a curse to another victim, possibly allowing a PC to sacrifice themself to save a friend.

In some cases, a curse may be held at bay by remove curse, without fully alleviating the curse itself. Each of these sections includes several bullet points on modifications to make to a player character to reflect their transformation (without fully adopting the monster’s stat block).

At the end of the article, there are also several tables summarizing how major curses might be removed by powerful creatures, and what those creatures will require to aid the player characters in removing the curse. These include tables for the following creatures:

  • Celestials
  • Hags
  • Archfiends
  • Archfey
  • Genies
  • Sphinx
  • Ancient Dragons

I love the concept of redeeming people that are cursed, instead of assuming that all such creatures need to be killed. I also appreciate that the various requirements to performing the detailed rituals allow for their own mini quests. Even the creatures that can help remove curses, and what they require to do so, are very evocative building blocks for adventures. I’m a fan of this article.

Fey of the Shadowfell

Well, hell, this article had me at the title. This is what the title says, various fey creatures that are connected to the Shadowfell. In addition to providing new monsters, the introduction to each monster section touches on the themes of various monsters and how to avoid the worst tropes associated with those themes.

The creatures detailed include the following:

  • Necrodryad
  • Red Hag (CR 9)
  • Storm Hag (CR 23)
  • Formorian Theurge (CR 10)
  • Bogie (CR 5)
  • Fachan (CR 4)
  • Lubberkin (CR 7)

The necrodryad is effectively a template for dryads, but it’s not formatted like a 5e template. It changes the dryad into an undead creature and swaps out various abilities to nastier variants.

Red hags are hags associated with diseases and blood, and they have a necrotic tongue attack. Storm hags are legendary creatures that emerge from the sea caves of the Shadowfell during powerful storms to cause havoc and can only be permanently killed on their home plane.

As someone that is already a fan of giants, formorians may be one of my favorite types of giants. The theurge variant of formorians are considered fey instead of giants, and have bargained with elemental forces to gain powerful abilities associated with acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder.

Bogies are creatures that can shapeshift into the greatest fear of their targets, and characters that are affected by this fear take extra damage from the bogies attacks. They may also be susceptible to a special psychic attack. Fachans are one-eyed, one-legged fey that like to jump out and scare others. They can teleport and possess a recharge ability that can stop an opponent’s heart. Lubberkin are large, hairy fey that spread chaos when they can get others to imbibe alcohol and are drawn to temping those who restrain their inhibitions.

No matter what edition I’ve played, there is some point at which I wish for more adversarial and malevolent fey to use as opponents. While I’m not overly drawn to the necrodryad, I like all of the other entries in this article. I especially like the bogies, as they use one of my favorite design concepts, being able to use special abilities once they inflict a condition on someone, making that condition even more meaningful.

This is by no means a problem with the article’s author, but apparently “red hag” is a very popular thing to name a hag variant, so if I end up using them, I’ll have to decide who gets to keep the name, and what to call the other hags of crimson association.

The Stuff of Nightmares

This article introduces two new monsters, but they are presented and framed for use in specific encounters. The article includes the Glass Ghost and the Hypnagoug. Both creatures play with the theme of sleeping and fear. The Glass Ghost scenario is a bit more specific than the Hypnagoug encounter. Both encounters are geared towards 7th to 9th level characters.

The Glass Ghost scenario involves characters stumbling across an inn, where the innkeeper bets them that they cannot stay the night in the haunted establishment. Even if they manage to do so, there are long-term effects to contacting the ghost of the lodging. Also, get ready for a lot of Nightmare on Elm Street callbacks.

With a few tweaks, it wouldn’t be too hard to turn this into a Domain of Dread, playing even more into the innkeeper’s obsession with watching what happens to people haunted by the ghost of the inn. The Glass Ghost also refers to The Dream Kin article from Arcadia Issue #3, as the titular ghost is the restless spirit of a sandspeaker.

The hypnagoug encounter is less specific, just needing a time where people are sleeping to start the process. Hypnogoug Anchors are minor manifestations of the greater creature, and the more levels of exhaustion the anchors gather, the faster the anchor can pull in the full-powered hypnagoug from the Astral Plane.

While the previous article presented monsters in more standard format, this article utilizes the villain actions that were introduced by MCDM in Kingdoms and Warfare. If you haven’t encountered these before, they aren’t too dissimilar to Legendary actions, except that only one triggers per combat round, and each one reframes the encounter in some manner, possibly changing the tactics or abilities of the monster progressively.

While I like the hypnagoug and it may be more generally useful, I am really drawn to tweaking the first scenario with The Glass Ghost as an adventure that maybe doesn’t start in the Domains of Dread, but potentially ends with the innkeeper and/or Glass Ghost being drawn into the mists as the adventurers confront the situation.

The Dimensions of Dowda

This article presents a magic item that is an adventure. There is a magical lantern with multi-colored glass on the outside. Characters can touch one of the panes to enter the dimension within the lantern and attempt to master the powers of the lantern.

Each face must be mastered separately, and after defeating each of the guardian eyes, characters get access to spirits that enhance the ability of the party when the spirit is summoned. Once the characters master all of the powers of the lantern, they gain access to a set of magical doors and a ring of keys to enter them. These give the characters the locations of six other magic items that can be claimed once they have survived the encounter framed around the location of the magic item.

The six iron doors and the encounters within them are only broadly described and will require the GM to flesh them out. The guardian eyes and the spirits the player characters gain access to by defeating the guardians are all presented with AD&D 1e statistics. To start the adventure, one character must enter the lantern alone and start the process of mastering the lantern, but once they have gained power over one of the sprits of the lamp, they can start bringing others into the lamp with them.

The fifth edition conversion information changes the requirement for a single character to enter and defeat a guardian alone and provides 5e stats for the eye guardians and the powers that the spirits provide to adventurers when summoned.

I think the idea of a magic item that requires multiple encounters to master and provides internal adventuring space is compelling. I’m not sure if I would make the iron doors locations for more magic items, but I might go with the doors opening up to a few set locations across the campaign setting.

So, I’m going to lose my old school cred here (if I had any) and admit I was actually kind of confused with how some of the encounters worked until I read the 5e conversion, and a few contextual clues made me think “oh, that’s what that meant.” There is something about how some older adventures are written that makes it hard for me to follow them, and is pretty much why I didn’t run that many published adventures when I first started to learn the game.

It’s a fun idea, and I would even be interested in using this item/set of encounters, but I’m not sure that the old school presentation of the adventure up front did much for me. I’m old, but I’ve lost some of my nostalgia when it comes to clarity and comfort with modern presentation.

Final Thoughts

I know one of the goals of MCDM in making Arcadia is to make table-ready content. This issue does manage to do that. Three out of four articles, while not being traditional adventures, provide lots of material for side-quests and ongoing encounters that can weave in between other adventures.

While those three articles have lost of utility, Fey of the Shadowfell is my favorite article. I can’t help it. I like the Shadowfell. I like giants. I like scary, malevolent fey. I was destined to enjoy this, and I’m already looking for circumstances where I can work some of these creatures into a game.

Future Wishes

The magazine continues to be a solid value for Patreon subscribers. It lives up to its credo of being actionable, cool shit right out of the box. I have a few minor quibbles, where I might like to see a little more formal framing of multipart adventures or templates if similar content shows up in the future.

While it was content over and above what we normally see from the three-article format of the magazine, I’m not sure I want to see a lot of “old school” callbacks, even with the 5e conversion. I have fond memories of playing D&D back in the day, but I’m not sure I have fond memories of the formatting or presentation of yesteryear.

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