What Do I Know About First Impressions? Arcadia Issue 13 (5e OGL)

Arcadia 13 CoverIt’s time to take a look at the latest issue of Arcadia, moving into the second year of life for the magazine. I would feel the distinct encroachment of time if it weren’t for the fact that the last few years have scoured any sense of impending chronology from my psyche. That said, let’s dive into lucky number 13.

Disclaimer

As always, I want to mention up front that while I received this issue as a review copy, which let me write this review a little ahead of time, I also support the MCDM Patreon and would otherwise receive a copy of the issue. I haven’t had a chance to use any of the material in this issue (it would be super impressive if I manage to get something on the virtual table this quickly), but I am familiar with both playing and running Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition.

The Color Out of Cover

This issue is back to the standard three article format. It is 29 pages long, including a credits page, a table of contents, a letter from the editor, an “about the authors” page, and a one-page OGL statement. Just in case this is the first Arcadia article you have read from me, go back and read the rest of them. Okay, fine, don’t worry about it. These issues look great, from the colors to the artwork, to the layout. The cover switches up the usually colorful artwork for a black and white dragon with a splash of goldenrod.

Evolutions

I don’t always take a lot of time to talk about the letters from the editor, which shouldn’t be taken as a statement of quality, but rather me not spending more words talking about that introductory page than the introductory page uses. In this case, however, I wanted to point out that James Introcaso mentions that a change going forward in the magazine is to add content warnings to some articles that might have potentially emotionally charged material.

I wanted to mention this because I am a fan of widening the use of content warnings. One of the earliest examples of this I saw in 5e products was in various adventure anthologies, and I hope to see such warnings used more often. Good, positive change.

What’s Between the Covers

Our three articles for this month are as follows:

  • Group Maneuvers
  • Monsters of Wonderland
  • Poor Undead Souls

While we technically get two “monster” articles, there is an interesting twist when it comes to the theme of the articles that we’ll get to as we dive into the issue.

Group Maneuvers

Group Maneuvers are new rules, usually giving characters additional uses for their reactions that can trigger to enhance or take advantage of the actions of others. Maneuvers that require a saving throw are generated using either Strength, Dexterity, or Intelligence as the character employing the maneuver wishes.

Maneuvers are divided up between maneuvers that player characters can learn, and the following NPC/Monster focused groups:

  • Minion (reactions usually triggered by an ally doing something successful)
  • Brute (charging, throwing, and trampling others)
  • Leader (giving orders to others, negating surprise in minions, repositioning others)
  • Dragon (tag team breath effects and tearing apart carried victims)

If you are dealing with multiple dragons, you’re screwed to begin with, so no need to sweat the fact that they might get tag team abilities, right?

In addition to presenting a new mechanic in the form of maneuvers, there are also new class features that take these abilities into account, a new feat that bolsters the ability to use reactions, and four new magic items that grant knowledge of maneuvers, boost the DC of maneuver difficulties, deflect magical attacks, or teach new maneuvers.

The maneuvers that players can learn include the following

  • Alley-Oop (Let an ally catch a weapon or push it further away when an NPC is disarmed)
  • Arcane Echo (Cancel out part of an area effect spell with another spell)
  • Catapult Jump (Boosting someone for a longer/higher jump)
  • Charged Projectile (Add a cantrip to a ranged attack from an ally)
  • Cross Strike (Hit an opponent your ally just hit with a reaction)
  • Diversion (Move when an ally hits an opponent)
  • Dogpile (Grapple the target of a spell to make it harder for them to save)
  • Get Down (Limit the damage to an ally taking area damage to the damage you took)
  • Hail of Arrows (Fire a ranged projectile to do extra damage when an ally hits with a ranged weapon)
  • Juggler (Return a thrown weapon to an ally)
  • Reflect Magic (Give a missed ranged spell attack by an ally another chance to hit)
  • Spotter (Use reaction to negate cover for an ally)
  • Tabletop Trip (Drop prone to trip an opponent pushed by an ally)
  • Whirling Magic (Enchant an ally’s weapon to do force damage with a save instead of an attack)

Maneuvers must be learned. A character can only know a number of maneuvers equal to their proficiency bonus, and there are rules given for characters to learn maneuvers using downtime days. There are even Xanathar’s style complications for downtime for maneuver training.

I’m really leery to add too much combat complexity to D&D 5e, even when I feel like it could absorb a little more. Maybe I’m just worried about opening up a floodgate. That said, some of these feel a little too much like things a Battlemaster Fighter might be able to do, except that there isn’t a limit to how often they can be done, outside of spending a reaction. If you aren’t worried about stepping on the Battlemaster’s niche, these do present you with a lot of cinematic stunts that you see in popular action movies.

I think the Monstrous Maneuvers work fairly well as new traits to add to monsters, and I’m a fan of adding customized traits here or there to known stat blocks. Although those dragon maneuvers are kind of terrifying. I wonder if Tiamat could maneuver with her own heads. Wow, that’s a grim line of questioning.

Monsters of Wonderland

Remember when I looked at the last issue of Arcadia, and I said I couldn’t get enough potentially nefarious fey creatures? This article has more of them, but the twist this time is that all of them are inspired by Lewis Carroll’s work. That means we get the following monsters:

  • Bandersnatch (CR 5)
  • Hag Moth Caterpillar (CR 2)
  • Hag Moth (CR 4)
  • Mome Rath (CR 8)
  • Snark (CR 9)

The bandersnatch has legendary actions, and the hag moth, due to living in poisoned mushroom fields, has lair actions and regional effects. Mome rath’s are green boars with shark teeth that are often kept by swamp dwelling hags. Snarks have some built in tricks that explain why it is rarely caught and why people have a hard time describing them. They are naturally invisible, can project illusions of what they look like into other’s minds, and can project an antipathy/sympathy aura.

Reading through this article, it is extremely easy for me to come up with ways I would use all of these.They all sound fun (from a harrowing DM’s point of view). I love that the bandersnatch and the snark are both great for “mythic hunt” storylines, mome raths are great minion creatures, and hag moths/caterpillars are just a great feywild/ancient magical forest encounter to spring on lost PCs.

Big fan of this article. I remain an easy mark for potentially nasty fey creatures.

Poor Undead Souls

This article is our first with a content warning in Arcadia. In this case, it’s because the whole article is about ghosts, and the circumstances of some of the ghosts involve harm to children, mental illness, abusive treatment, and some harsh ways to become a ghost. I’m glad to see this up front. While it wasn’t something that kept me from enjoying the article, some of the ghost stories definitely pulled on a few sad heartstrings.

While the ghost variants in this article have some mechanical differences, a lot of this article is about categorizing ghosts by origin and motivation and discussing the differences between defeating and exorcizing the ghost. While there are broad categories presented, there are also example ghosts with their own stories, motivations, and means to be released, detailed individually.

The ghost types introduced include the following:

  • The Covetous (with an added luck rending ability)
  • The Devoted (added defenses near the object of their devotion)
  • The Disgraced (can cause opponents to blurt out shameful secrets)
  • The Jubilant (cause others to become obsessed with what fuels their passion)
  • The Restless (faster than normal and able to cause psychic damage)
  • The Sorrowful (mournful wail and a grappling touch attack)
  • The Vengeful (inspire rage in others nearby and cause others to rise as vengeful ghosts)

As someone that loves the monster hunting genre, I love the tropes surrounding what it takes to release a ghost from the mortal plane. The NPC examples are all engaging and each of them is essentially its own adventure plot.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think I would introduce maneuvers to my PCs. I know not everyone may have the same guarded stance that I do, but beyond protecting the Battlemaster’s niche, I am also a big fan of Rob Schwalb’s Warlord. I would be really interested to see some of these abilities worked in to being Battlemaster/Warlord abilities. From the monster point of view, I would use the monster maneuvers as potential traits to tack on to opponents.

I would love to use all the monsters presented in this volume. These monsters hit some flavor of my monster obsessions. I think it might be a little easier to work in the fey creatures as encounters all on their own, but that isn’t a slight to the ghosts. It’s just that the ghosts have the most impact when you work their stories into an ongoing campaign. The ghost, and potentially exorcizing it, are the adventure plot.

Future Wishes

I almost never get tired of monsters, but I couldn’t tell you for sure what kind of themes should be served next. On the monster front, I think I would be interested in either seeing variant versions of existing monsters specialized for certain tasks, or new actions and abilities to plug in to various monsters. For the record, still totally down for new mounts and new beast companions.

The maneuver article also reminds me that it might be fun to see more fighting styles just to see what else people can come up with in that design space. In fact, it might be interesting to see more feats specifically designed around representing different fighting disciplines.

At any rate, Arcadia remains enjoyable. I’m happy paying for this and I’m looking forward to new issues every month. I like the experimental nature of the articles, but for all that experimentation, there is a solid amount that clicks with me.

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