What Do I Know About First Impressions? Arcadia Issue 18 (5e OGL)
I’m a little late on my look at this month’s Arcadia, but there is a lot going on in Arcadia-ville. Not only do we have a new issue, but you can find VTT support on Roll20 for the first three issues of Arcadia. That includes monsters, mounts, subclasses, and adventures. So, if you are interested in the content of those first three issues, and you use Roll20, you may want to check that out.
The other news we have coming out of the domain of Arcadia is that the managing editor baton has passed from James Introcaso to Hannah Rose. She has worked on a whole lot of both third-party and official D&D content, so if you don’t know her name, you probably should, because she’s only going to be getting more prominent.
As always, I received my review copy a little bit early compared to the wide release, but I’m still a member of the MCDM Patreon, so I would be receiving the issue one way or the other. While I haven’t had a chance to use the material in this issue, I am pretty familiar with D&D 5e, both as a player and as a DM.
Arcadia Issue 18
Managing Editor: Hannah Rose
Developer: James Introcaso
Production and playtest director: Lars Bakke
Editor: Sadie Lowry
Sensitivity Reader: Daniel Kwan
Authors: Rachael Cruz, Sam Mannell, Ben McFarland
Layout: Jen McCleary
Cover art: Gustavo Pelissari
Title logo: Tom Schmuck
Accessibility consultant: Chris Hopper
Community Coordinator: John Champion
Customer support: Bobby McBride
MCDM Contract QA Senior Tester: Spencer Hibnick
Testers: Nathan Clark, Cassandra “Dig” Crary, Alecson de Lima Junior, James Dewar
Interior illustrations: Nick De Spain, Patrik Hell, Matheus Graef (Conceptopolis)
Cartography: Miska Fredman
The Lay of Arcadia
This issue of Arcadia is 49 pages, including a credits page, a table of contents, the letter from the editor, two pages of handouts, a resources page with links to different handouts and maps, a page of author biographies, and a full page OGL statement.
As always, lots of high-quality art, a layout that is fancy looking as well as easy to read, and some very clear, quality cartography. Don’t take my brevity as a lack of enthusiasm, it’s just hard to really emphasize how nice this magazine looks month after month.
On the Inside
This issue of Arcadia has the following sections:
- Unearthly Weapons (Magic Items)
- Appendix NPC: Part I (NPCs)
- Puzzles of Permanence (Puzzles, Encounters)
We also get an enthusiastic introduction to Hannah Rose, as she discusses the name of the magazine, as well as what she hopes to accomplish overall, as well as what exists in this issue.
Unearthly Weapons examines new magic items, specifically magic items that have an origin, a history, and a story seed. That includes the following weapons:
- Faerie Queen’s Promise (Very Rare)
- Sacrifice’s Weapon (Very Rare)
- Spring’s Arrival (Very Rare)
- Sword of Dreaming Ambition (Legendary)
- Sword of Faith (Very Rare)
- Weapon of Hope (Legendary)
- Weapon of Memories (Rare)
- Weapon of the Seas (Rare)
- Weapon of Time (Very Rare)
I’m a fan of magic weapons with a history and a purpose, so that set the hook for me. You have story seeds that include acting as an emissary for a fey regent, following up on heists that were planned by a former wielder of the weapon, as well as a retired knight on a journey of redemption.
Various items have illusory powers, the ability to do extra damage to the wielder in order to do more damage to the target, or charges that let you access plant-based spells, or the ability to poison opponents. Other weapons allow you to visualize greater skills in your dreams that help you recover hit points or make saves, gain advantage and extra damage against incorporeal creatures, or grant bonuses to your allies’ death saves. Other weapons let you draw on the ancestral memories stored within the weapon, grant you water-based powers, or cause extra damage by rapidly aging your opponents.
I love that range of powers. In addition to the above, lots of weapons introduced in this article can change their form into different weapons. In some cases, these weapons can change into any weapon, even ranged weapons. I like the idea of flexibility with treasure, but I’m not sure I’m a fan of so many of these items being able to be anything the PCs may want. I’m fine with weapons shifting to other forms within a theme, like a crushing weapon turning into any kind of bludgeoning weapon, or a sword or an axe that can turn into other swords or axes. I can’t fully explain it, but being too open to be anything starts to feel more like a “gaming” thing and less like a magical property in the setting to me.
That said, enough of these weapons have fun histories, effects, and plot hooks that I would be more than willing to tweak the morphogenic properties that feel too broad for my tastes.
Appendix NPC: Part 1
This article includes new NPC stat blocks. While it’s usually pretty easy to reskin the various existing NPC stat blocks that already appear in different official and 3rd party products, I love finding an NPC that is just about perfect without doing much in the way of tweaking. The NPCs included in this section include:
- Torchbearer (CR 1)
- Arcane Student (CR 2)
- Alchemist (CR 3)
- Inventor (CR 4)
- Mercenary (CR 4)
- Deadeye (CR 5)
- Explorer (CR 5)
- Detective (CR 6)
- Troubadour-Warrior (CR 6)
- Bodyguard (CR 7)
- Ronin (CR 7)
- Martial Arts Master (CR 7)
- Honor Guard (CR 8)
- Hierophant (CR 8)
The Arcane Student, Troubadour-Warrior, and Hierophant are all spellcasters. You may ask if they use more modern spellcasting stat blocks, and my answer is a definitive “kind of.” They don’t have spell slots, and they have spells that are listed as “X/day,” but instead of having spell like but not spell attacks, they all have attacks that integrate spellcasting.
For example, the Troubadour-Warrior can make attacks and use one of their spells. The Arcane Student can shoot a firebolt cantrip or use one of their spells. The Hierophant, which has villain actions, can cast three spells a round, but they are all spells, not spell-like attacks. Not to reopen lines of debate that have already been litigated, I really do prefer this, because even if the caster stat block can cast more spells than a PC can, it is still using what is recognizable as a spell, and avoids some of the tangle of making a spellcaster someone that can just use magic-ish effects.
The Torchbearer and the Explorer are great “hireling” stat blocks. The Torchbearer can be extremely lucky as a non-combatant, but also grants the PCs an ability to use them as a meat shield. The Explorer doesn’t serve as a full-on rogue replacement but is really good at finding secret passages and traps. The only downside to these stat blocks is that I would have loved to have seen a sidebar on how much you might have to pay them to come along for the ride (actually, there are a few more stat blocks I wish had this same kind of information, like the mercenary or the deadeye).
Bodyguards and Honor Guards are great stat blocks to add to an encounter with a villain that either isn’t a sack of hit points, or may just enjoy not being directly attacked while they do horrible things to the PCs. The bodyguard can use a reaction to take damage for someone within five feet of their charge. The honor guard isn’t quite as good at negating damage, but they can charge toward someone that just attacked an ally and take a swing at them.
The inventor is a stat block that would work very well as an artificer. While it doesn’t have any spells to use in its stat block, it has multiple weapons with special effects that they can use, as well as a bonus attack that allows them to use a gadget that emulates different magic items.
The Ronin is a punishing combatant. They get a counterattack ability that doesn’t use their reaction, a reaction parry, four attacks per round, and two special attacks that grant them increased movement while attacking. Speaking of lots of attacks, the Martial Arts Master gets six attacks, and has two limited special attacks, one of which stuns, and the other that can level an opponent with less than 100 hit points. They can also drain ki from opponents, which can also incapacitate them.
I really like this selection of NPCs. I’m interested to see more installments of this series. My only thought is I would love to see guidelines for hiring some of these NPCs.
Puzzles of Performance
This article presents puzzles that can be inserted into existing dungeons and adventures. These include the following puzzles:
- Riddles in Standing Stone
- Ever Forward
- Ichandrix’s Mercy
I’m going to admit something. I’m not a big puzzle person. That said, if I read a published puzzle, and it clicks in my brain where I “get” it, I’m much more likely to use some form of that puzzle in an adventure. By “click,” I mean that I can follow the logic without spending too much time retracing the steps presented, so I know I won’t forget important things when I present it to the PCs. That doesn’t mean that I won’t double-check the text, but I don’t want to feel like I don’t fully get it unless I do that.
The first puzzle involves returning a group of adventurers turned to stone back to living flesh so that the PCs have additional help against a golem guarding a passage. This is a puzzle I can easily keep in my head, regarding the inscription at the base of the adventurers. In addition to the clues in the room, there is also a list of Intelligence (Investigation) results that can provide more targeted clues to the PCs.
Ever Forward is a much more in-depth series of puzzles, but the most interesting aspect of this puzzle is the reward at the end. Eventually, the PCs end up answering a series of questions, and depending on their answers to the question, they end up custom building an artifact with different powers based on their answers.
The final set of puzzles is a twist on the standard expectation. There is a sphinx that is trapped, and the PCs need to solve various puzzles to help the sphinx escape its imprisonment.
Despite not being a big puzzle person, I like how these are laid out, and I appreciate the specific additional clues added for each of the puzzles. I think the initial puzzle room is the easiest to include, but the idea of custom building an artifact is a strong adventure element to build a scenario around.
This is a good, broad range of items that can be dropped into a campaign. I have a few quibbles about individual details, but they are details easily changed before using the content in question.
While I’m always going to be a fan of more magic items, especially with lore attached to them, and I think drop-in puzzles are good to have on hand, the real winner for me in this issue was the NPC stat blocks. It was a good range of characters to add to the DM’s toolbox and provides variety for the DM that wants to throw less-monstrous opposition at their PCs.
This may not be what everyone wants, but I like the shorter, single-room puzzle as something to add into an adventure, over the multi-step puzzles, so I would like to see more set-piece puzzle articles to have more shorter, direct puzzles included. That’s not a complaint about the more in-depth puzzles, it’s just that the more involved the puzzle, the more it becomes what you design an adventure around, instead of being something you drop into what you have already been working on.
I would love to see more NPCs. In addition, I would love to see a chart that took all the OGL NPC stat blocks and added prices to them to show what it would cost to hire those that are more amenable to employment.