What Do I Know About First Impressions? Arcadia Issue 14 (5e OGL)

Arcadia14CoverIt’s Arcadia O’clock again, and we’re going to be looking at the fourteenth issue of MCDM’s D&D 5e . . . er . . . 5e OGL magazine. Have I ever mentioned how hard it is to come up with introductions for these reviews and first impressions? Well, now I have.

Disclaimer

While I am a member of the MCDM Patreon and would still receive copies of the magazine, I do receive review copies of Arcadia a few days early for review. While I haven’t used the material in the magazine, I am familiar with D&D 5e both as a player and as a DM.

The Magazine This Month

This month’s issue is 39-pages long and has the default three article format that most of the issues have had (when it’s not one of the longer four article issues). Never let it be said that Arcadia doesn’t have a noteworthy cover. Beyond that initial splash of artwork, there is a credits page, a table of contents, the letter from the editor, the resources page which as links to various maps and images from the magazine (19 links, including gridded and non-gridded maps for the encounters in the magazine), a page of author bios, and a full page OGL statement.

This Month’s Lineup

This month contains the following articles:

  • The Big and the Small (playable ancestries)
  • Botanical Undead (new undead and an encounter location)
  • The Afterparty (adventure)

The Big and the Small

The concept of this article is to introduce actual tiny and large ancestries to D&D, instead of the normal cap of small on the low end, and the alternate mechanics used to represent, “really big but not quite large” ancestries on the other end.

As part of this concept, we get introduced to the Lilliputian and Brobdingnagian traits. These create special rules for moving through other character’s spaces, as well as the concept of increasing or decreasing die types for weapons. For example, a tiny creature’s short sword will do 1d4 points of damage.

D&D 5e seems to be very concerned with giving out what amounts to the full benefits of larger sizes, for example, doubling the dice for large sized weapons. Brobdingnagian characters can use two handed weapons in one hand, and always use the best option for versatile weapons, but they still wield actual large weapons with disadvantage. Additionally, Brobdingnagian characters limit effects that emanate from them by an additional 5 feet, meaning that they can’t become more effective “aura” projectors due to their size.

There are also some relatively quick and dirty rules for resizing weapons and gear for characters that are tiny and large. Long story short, it takes some gold, but not much time, to get gear modified.

The new ancestries included in the article are as follows:

  • Coalders (Large humanoids that perform rituals to keep the Tarrasque sleeping)
  • Mousquetaires (Tiny objects or creatures possessed by extraplanar beings)
  • Ogres (Ogres . . . I don’t know what you were expecting)
  • Pixies (Giant combat robots that turn into tanks . . . not really, little fey creatures)
  • Gnome (Garden)
  • One-And-A-Halflings (Large sized halflings)
  • Implings (Tiny tieflings with imp traits)
  • Beeflings (Large tieflings with larger fiendish traits)

The stat blocks exclude any alignment entries, and the ability score increase section just mentions the free floating +1/+2 or +1/+1/+1 that is standard for new race entries going forward in D&D products.

Coalders can brace against damage from effects that call for dexterity saves and are immune to exhaustion from heat and cold. Mousquetaires gain different proficiencies depending on what the extra planar spirit is inhabiting, are immune to falling damage, and have a dual creature type based on the extraplanar creature and the item or creature being inhabited. Ogres are good at throwing things. Pixies can fly and can produce pixie dust, which adds a die to an allies rolls. Garden gnomes can use a reaction to ignore falling damage, as well as cause flowers to bloom as a form of locomotion. One-And-A-Halfling can sidestep an attack and cause it to hit someone else once per rest. Implings can add poison damage to attacks, and beeflings gain 3rd level cantrips, as well as the ability to build up a heat aura around their body.

While I was expecting the tiny and large ancestries, I wasn’t expecting what may be my favorite part of the article, the tarrascal. It’s a tiny monstrosity that looks like a miniature tarassque, and in addition to providing statistics for the creature, there is a full set of rules for using the tarrascal with the Beastheart rules published by MCDM, meaning you can use this as a special “animal” companion.

I wasn’t overly invested in tiny and large races, but this article caught my attention more than I expected. The Lilliputian and Brobdingnagian traits do a good job of addressing the issues that 5e design seems to be most concerned about when it comes to modifying the core “tiny” and “large” rules in the game.

I am surprised, with the Mousquetaires and Pixies having creature types other than humanoid, that neither the coalders nor ogres have the giant type. Coalders are new creatures, but ogres, at least, seem like they would be a good candidate for this expanded use of creature types.

Tastes are always going to vary, but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to go out of my way to introduce One-And-A-Halflings or Beeflings, but I appreciate where they are coming from. On the other hand, I absolutely love the lore behind the coalders, mousquetaires, and the tarasscal, and honestly, how can you hate tiny garden gnomes?

Botanical Undead

This is sort of a bestiary article, and sort of an adventure. The article presents an adventure site that is a corrupted forest. Player characters can travel to different sections of the forest to purge the corruption from the woods, and between the different parts of the forest, there are different undead encounters, as well as special environmental effects detailed in the article, which can hinder the player characters.

It’s an interesting way to present a new set of thematically linked creatures. The creatures themselves include the following:

  • Fungal Zombie (CR 2)
  • Shambling Corpse Mound (CR 7)
  • Thorn Skeletons (CR 2)
  • Treant Zombie (CR 12)
  • Vine Ghast (CR 6)

Fungal zombies have a vomit attack and can release poison spores when destroyed. Corpse mounds can disgorge skeletons and absorb corpses to regain hit points. Thorn skeletons are vine wrapped skeletons with ensnaring and thorn firing abilities. Treant zombies can drop rotting fruit and animate dead trees. Vine ghasts have a reach attack with their vines that can grapple their victims, as well as spewing poisoned sap.

All of the undead presented are hybrid Plant/Undead creature types and are always treated as the least advantageous for whatever effects are used against them. I like undead. I like creepy forest monsters. This is a solid article for me, and if I ever run Tales of the Old Margreve again, some of these will be making an appearance in those adventures.

The Afterparty (Spoilers)

One of the very first things we see in this adventure is a section on safety and safety tools, with some explanation of what elements in the adventure might prove to be problematic to some players. Always a good way to start an adventure.

This adventure assumes that the player characters will arrive at Wray Manor, either as security or as invited guests at a gala. As part of the story hooks, the adventure lists the backgrounds that would likely get the player characters invited to the gala, and what backgrounds would likely end up seeing the PCs hired on as security.

Eventually, the people in the manor will find out that they are unable to leave the manor, and the player characters will have to do some investigation to find out what happened to cause the manor to be sealed.

The youngest child of the family doesn’t want to enter military service, and is enamored of botanical study of the swamp on the family’s property. Their wish to never leave the manor home has been twisted by a local hag, and the player characters will need to figure out that the NPC has made this wish, and track down the hag.

Depending on how the PCs approach the NPC, and how the encounter with the hag goes (including what state the NPCs psyche is in by the end of the encounter), the NPC may end up broken, resolved to their family duty, or able to study the swamp as a scholar from the grounds of the home as they have always wished.

I like the idea that we get the “trapped in the house” trope, but that it isn’t about a haunted house story. I also like seeing the “incautious words used around the fey” as a trope as well. I appreciate that the state of the NPC is important to the resolution of the adventure, although I wish there was more of a factor than just the hit point total where the NPC lands by the end of the adventure.

Final Thoughts

I was really surprised at how engaged I was with The Big and the Small. I like how it addressed assumed issues with why those sizes have never been used in the game, and I really appreciated how the Beastheart rules were worked into the story elements in the article.

I like having a framing mechanism for the bestiary. I’m not sure you can always pull this off, but I think it’s a nice example of additional functionality within the article.

Often DMs get too clever with their swerves in adventures, but I think the “not really a haunted house,” at least in the ghostly sense, is a good twist to the story. The one thing I would say about the adventure is that, given that interacting with the NPCs while gambling is part of the fun of the adventure, I’m not sure I’m compelled to dig into the mechanics of “Wray Wroulette.” It might work great, but without taking time to stop and dig in again, my brain bounces off all the numbers.

Future Wishes

I would love to see an article on ancestries all focused on pushing out into the monster types that haven’t been represented in 5e up to this point, like, oh, I don’t know . . . giant?

I like having a framing mechanism for thematically linked monsters. I’m not sure if an encounter site is the only way to do this. Something like a hybrid of the old Ecology of . . . articles. Regardless, I like that framing mechanism to reinforce the theme.

I know people complain about “escort missions” and having extra NPCs wandering around in adventures, but I really like the idea that some of the stakes of an adventure involve how an NPC present in the adventure ends up. I like that as a means of measuring how well the stakes have been addressed.

And now I’m going to relax and start trying to figure out a good opener for the next review or first impression that I write. Way back when I first started playing RPGs, I never thought my toughest prep would be article introductions.

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