What Do I Know About First Impressions? Arcadia Issue 17 (5e OGL)

Screenshot_20220701-195617_ezPDF ReaderLet us now turn our attention once again to gaming, and looking at the bountiful content available to us. In particular, let’s take a look at Arcadia #17 from MCDM. 

Disclaimer

You may know the drill by now . . . I’m subscribed to the MCDM Patreon and I receive my own copy of Arcadia every month, however, I do receive a review copy a few days earlier. While I haven’t had the opportunity to use these options, I have run and played a lot of D&D 5e at this point.

Dissection

This issue is 38 pages long, including a credits page, a table of contents, a resources page with links to various maps and handouts for the included articles, a page of author bios, and a full page OGL statement. 

Because Arcadia consistently has amazing artwork and really impressive layout, I run out of things to say about them, but I would like to take this time to say I like purple, and there is a lot of purple this month. Here is your insightful commentary for the month.

What’s Up for June 2022

The articles in this issue include the following:

  • Slopengrimer’s Guide to Visco City (Locations, Monsters, Magic Items)
  • Unorthodox Win Conditions (Encounters)
  • Divine Trials: Glory of the Sun (Adventures)

I also wanted to note that, per the Letter from the Editor, this is the last issue of Arcadia with James Introcaso at the helm. He’s still working for MCDM, but the direct managing editorial reins are passing to Hannah Rose.

The only thing I have to say here is that I think James is a great designer and collaborator, according to everything I’ve seen that he has worked on, and from what others say about him. Handing off to Hannah Rose, however, who also has an impressive resume of development work and collaboration, leaves me feeling pretty confident for the future of the magazine.

Slopengrimer’s Guide to Visco City

The narrative conceit of this article is that the article is being narrated by Moira Slopengrimer, a halfling adventurer, as she guides her client through the sewers under a fantasy city looking for a magical location with properties similar to the Fountain of Youth. Right at the beginning of the article, we get the statistics for Moira.

As Moira leads the client through the sewers, different encounters trigger descriptions of different creatures, as well as some magic items associated with those creatures. The monsters include these creatures:

  • Carnivorous Phlegmming (CR ¼, Ooze)
  • Serumous Hag (CR 8, Fey)
  • The Regigoo (CR 18, Ooze)

Phlegmmings are tiny oozes that swarm like rats and, when damaged, can merge with other Plegmmings, forming increasingly larger and more powerful versions of themselves. It’s an interesting subversion to see oozes that don’t split from damage, but start seeking out other oozes with which to merge.

Serumous Hags are fey creatures that create items that can modify physical appearance and health. Hags naturally regard them as friendly, and if they are encountered with oozes, they can draw some of the essence of oozes into themselves to give them bonus hit points and additional damage.

The Regigoo is a legendary creature that is what remains of the blood of a dead god. Its motivation is to learn about the god from whence they came, trying to remember something of their former life. It has a mechanic where it adds ichor to other characters in combat, and having ichor on a character gives the Regigoo more options for attacks and additional damage.

All three of these monsters are dynamic. They are going to play differently from round to round due to their mechanics, especially if the Serumous Hag has oozes with them (which they really should). I’m not sure I want to track the “merging math” for the phlegmmings, but I would have to give them an encounter or so to see how it goes. I really want to put a Serumous Hag into an encounter with some oozes, and the Regigoo is a great, borderline cosmic horror creature for later in a campaign.

The magic items introduced include the following:

  • Gooshe-Branded Face Mask
  • Gooshe-Branded Detoxifying Tea
  • Ick Stick
  • Slughilt
  • Vial of Slick
  • Viscera’s War Drum
  • Yelly Beans

The first two items are expendable magic items that are secretly cursed, and promise to work as miraculous beauty products. Ick Sticks and Slughilts are magical weapons that use some of the common properties of oozes. The Vial of Slick is an expendable agent that can make an area slick. The War Drum has a number of charges that can halt the advance of oozes, and for even more charges to cause damage to them. Yelly Beans are gelatinous items that make a loud noise when stepped on.

I’m more of a fan of the monsters in this article over the magic items. Part of this is because the article leans very heavily on puns and allusions to real world people and trends. The Serumous Hag in the story is specifically running a predatory cosmetics organization that plays on a well known actor’s business. I’m not completely against that kind of thing, but, for me, it was a little too much, too concentrated in the article.

Unorthodox Win Conditions

I love the idea of having a combat encounter where just ending the combat by one side or the other being defeated isn’t the whole point. What I was envisioning in this article was a list of different individual things that can be ported into an encounter to add an objective. This isn’t quite what we get here.

Instead of super modular narrative items that can be added to an encounter, we instead get three specific, modular encounters that show what encounters with alternate win conditions can look like. While this isn’t what I thought it would be, the example encounters are all really strong.

The Puppeteer involves a bandit using a magic item to use villagers to hedge in victims, with the challenge being to pick out the puppeteer and the item they are using. 

The second encounter, which is probably my favorite of the article, is about a powerful celestial elf that has been reduced in power to a normal, mortal elf. The elf needs the PCs to run interference for them while they perform a ritual to regain their previous power. In the meantime, a cult of extreme capitalists that want to destroy the forest will attack in waves until the ritual is done.

The Treasure Run is an unstable blue dragon’s lair. Different sections of the lair will fall apart depending on the amount of damage done in that section of the lair. The dragon that owns the lair enjoys playing a game with visitors, allowing them to run through the lair and collect whatever treasure they want to grab, and they can keep whatever they grab if they reach the exit. But while inside, if the dragon pinpoints their location, it will burrow up behind them and attack.

I’m happy with all three of these, and they are easy enough to modify to swap in different elements. For example, it would be very easy to swap the blue dragon for a lich that likes to study human behavior. The ritual and the people trying to disrupt the ritual can be any character with a connection to the divine, and any faction you might have in your own campaign.

Divine Trials: Glory of the Sun

The framing of this article sets it up as the first of three similar articles. The other trials are set to be published later, adding trials for the moon and stars to the triumvirate. This particular trial is set up to teach heroes humility. The adventure hooks include being sent on this trial by a divine agent, having an employer send the PCs on this trial to prepare them for a greater job, or just seeing the door to the trial appear as soon as the PCs have reached a pivotal point in their adventuring career.

The characters fece a number of trials including:

  • Crossing a antechamber with a warning about how to approach the trials
  • A banquet where heroes need to choose between telling stories of their glory or helping servants
  • An opportunity to participate in a multi-state gladiatorial contest
  • Face the Celestial Adjudicator, the final judge of the trial

Depending on what the PCs do as they move through these trials, they gain heat tokens. These heat tokens will make the final challenge more dangerous. They can be spent by the adjudicator to do extra damage, gain resistances, make more accurate attacks, and potentially even manipulate gravity around the player characters.

I enjoy the heat token mechanic for measuring how the rest of the trials go, and I like the idea that the adjudicator can spend these tokens to do different things to make the final trial more dangerous. It’s fun to give the DM a currency to play with and to allow them to vary the flow of the trial.

I do think it’s very important that the PCs, before any of the trials start, understand that this whole trial is about mastering pride. There are elements of this trial that don’t indicate that PCs are evil or cruel, and many times PCs don’t see ego as the greatest sin a character can commit. If they misunderstand this trial as one about morality or pussiance, it’s going to be really easy to rack up those heat tokens.

While the Antechamber inscription does spell this out, I would also lean more towards having a divine servant or patron pointing the PCs towards the trial, to double down on the warning that the trial is about humility.

Final Thoughts

Each of these articles has elements that I think are immediately usable, so we’re still following through on that “actionable at the table” motto that Arcadia has had from the beginning. I know framing devices make articles more fun to engage with, but I do think sometimes the “banner” of what an article is about may sell the framing device too broadly. For example, I’m not sure I would use the locations from the first article, while I would use the creatures from it.

The majority of this issue consists of modular encounters, although the Trial of the Sun is a much more involved “modular” encounter. I have to admit, there are times I’m much more likely to drop in an exciting encounter than I am to build in a whole discreet adventure that would work in an ongoing campaign.

Future Wishes

I’m looking forward to the other two trials that were mentioned in the third article. I would love to see other rituals/trials included as modular encounters, especially since a character proving their worth or purifying themselves is a recurring theme in a lot of fantasy stories, before a character undertakes a major quest.

I like seeing currency that can be used to do things, and not just “if they get X, they fail the challenge.” I’ve said in the past that I like when monsters inflict conditions that open up new options for the monster, but adding in tokens that allow the monster more options is another fun design element.

Another issue of Arcadia. On the whole, I’m pretty happy with this, and looking forward to next month’s issue.

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