What Do I Know About First Impressions? Arcadia Issue 20 (5e OGL)

Let’s take a look at this month’s Arcadia magazine, issue number 20. This one has definitely outlived some other attempts at stepping into the “original fantasy d20 game’s magazine” shoes, and it appears to be going strong at this point.


I’m subscribed to the MCDM Patreon, so I would get a copy of this magazine when it goes out to the public, but I also received a review copy of this magazine a little bit early. I have not had the opportunity to use any of the material in these articles, but I am familiar with D&D 5e, both as a player and as a DM, and I have used other MCDM rules in my games.

Arcadia Issue 20

Managing Editor Hannah Rose
Lead Developer James Introcaso
Production & Playtest Director Lars Bakke
Editors Laura Hirsbrunner, Sadie Lowry
Authors The GM Tim, Hook & Chance, Sam Mannell, Hannah Rose
Layout Jen McCleary
Title Logo Tom Schmuck
Accessibility Chris Hopper
Community Coordinator John Champion
Customer Support Bobby McBride
Cover Art Brett Bullion
Interior Illustrators “Shieldbearer”: Alejandro Pacheco, João Phillipe “Appendix NPC: Part 2”: Patrik Hell “The Scribes”: Matheus Graef (Conceptopolis)
Cartographer Miska Fredman

CoverThis time around, we have the following articles included in the 39 page issue:

  • Shieldbearer (Subclass, Magic Items, Equipment)
  • Appendix NPC: Part 2 (NPCs)
  • The Scribes (Organization, Location)


One unique aspect of this article is that Hannah Rose, the managing editor of the magazine, wrote this article before moving into her current position, so the Letter from the Editor this month gave some backstory on the development of the subclass. I appreciate that the video game Hades was as much of an influence as various Marvel characters throwing around Vibranium/Adamantium alloy defensive items.

The article presents the shieldbearer, as a subclass of fighter, as well as new equipment in the form of additional shields, and new magic items . . . also shield related. There is also a Shieldbearer Adept Follower, using the rules from Strongholds and Followers. We remain on point (or on edge?) in this article.

The Shieldbearer picks up the following abilities over the course of gaining levels in the subclass:

  • 3rd–Shieldbash, Counterstrike
  • 7th–Shield Toss
  • 10th–Safeguard, Improved Counterstrike
  • 15th–Aegis of the Brave
  • 18th–Stalwart Guardian

First off, I’m happy any time the fighter gets a new subclass. I’m a big fan of subclasses telling a story, but a lot of the other classes seem to get stories that are a little more gripping, and I appreciate a subclass that can tell a story for a class that is largely non-magical, with epic, but not magical, abilities.

No, you cannot bring up how unrealistic it is to be able to do some of these shield tricks, because I’m talking about suspension of disbelief in a world where people throw fireballs and shapeshift.

Shieldbash gives you better damage with your shield so it’s a viable weapon to use, and also sets you up for future abilities by letting you equip your shield without taking an action. Your damage with a shield cycles from a d8 all the way up to a d12 at 15th level. Counterstrike lets you use your reaction to bash an opponent that makes an attack on anyone within 5 feet of you, doing extra damage, and imposing disadvantage on their next attack, useable a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus. Improved Counterstrike adds extra damage and imposes disadvantage until the opponent’s next turn, which hurts more for opponents with multiple attacks.

At 7th level, you can throw your shield, and do damage equal to your melee attacks with it. If you have multiple attacks, you can attack someone within 10 feet of your original target by ricocheting the shield to them, and the shield bounces back to you.

Safeguard lets you take the Dodge action whenever you have a shield equipped, and gives you a free attack. You can also designate someone within five feet that also benefits from your defensive action.

Aegis of the Brave imposes disadvantage on any ranged attacks against you while you have your shield, and also gives you three new options you can tack on to your ranged attack. Stalwart Guardian increases your number of free attacks with a Dodge action to two, and your Counterstrike can stun an opponent.

One of the things I like about this subclass is that while it references the pop culture so many of us have in our heads when it comes to shields, the two key features that the class receives at 3rd level are more “practical” shield applications, letting you use a shield without giving up the defensive ability you gain from it, and allowing you to counterstrike opponents. I also like that 10th level, which, depending on the campaign, may be the last “flavor” some players get out of their subclass, adds more defensive hallmarks to the class, holding off on adding more flashy throwing techniques until 15th level.

I understand the logic of adding in new “mundane” shields into the article, but I’m not thrilled with the buckler’s mechanics. Making extra skill checks during combat isn’t one of my favorite things to add to the game, and I’m not sure that a buckler is any more “deceptive” than other off hand items. I would almost picture the buckler mechanics as more at home with a dueling cloak. I appreciate that the larger shields with the new Cumbersome trait still work with all of the Shieldbearer abilities that don’t involve throwing the shield.

There are a good range of magic shields included in the article. I appreciate that you can give a player that may want to be Captain America a Boomerang Shield if they aren’t into taking a subclass that focuses on that theme. It’s also a really logical move to include a magical shield that reflects spells.

The Shieldbearer Adept is a handy retainer, but I can’t help but hope that the new retainer rules floated in the Flee! Mortals preview become “official,” because I really prefer that implementation.

Overall, I like this subclass. I’m not sure if I’m moved to introduce the new shield types, especially since I have different ideas about what I would do with a buckler regarding how it interacts with existing rules. But this is a great fighter “story” to tell with the subclass.

Appendix NPC: Part 2

I love a good, utilitarian NPC stat block, and I really appreciated the previous installment of this series. This time around, the NPCs are geared towards higher CRs, ranging from CR 9 to 24 (the list of NPCs at the beginning of the article is trying to tell me that the Saint is CR 20, but it’s stat block says 24, and I’m not going to argue with a saint).

The NPCs included this time around are:

  • Auto-Sentinel (CR 9)(Construct Bodyguard)
  • Dragon Priest (CR 10)(Spellcaster with a breath weapon)
  • Dragon Slayer (CR 10)(Combatant with bonuses against dragon related creatures, including dragonborn and kobolds)
  • Gish (CR 10)(Melee combatant that also has access to combat spells and cantrips)
  • Hero (CR 15)(Pretty much the traditional meaning of the word, a legendary melee combatant that’s one step away from being a demigod)
  • Polymath (CR 18)(The fantasy version of the gadget using genius supervillain, complete with a trapped lair and lair actions)
  • Saint (CR 24)(A mortal servant of a god that has been turned into a celestial agent after their death)

One of the things I have appreciated about MCDM caster stat blocks is that while they may have extra actions beyond what a PC spellcaster has, to make them a tougher opponent, they generally still use spells. For example, the Dragon Priest is making claw attacks and either using their cantrip or a spell as their multiattack option. The Gish gets to make two weapon attacks and then throw in one of their spells.

I am a little surprised that the Hero, the Polymath, and the Saint don’t have Legendary Resistance. The Polymath has an ability to lessen damage from save for half effects, but at higher levels, it’s usually the condition based effects that shorten a villain’s lifespan. The Saint has an interesting effect that is similar to Legendary Resistance, in that it can destroy one of its manifested Hallowed Weapons to succeed on a failed save.

The Polymath, despite having a lair, doesn’t have Legendary or Villain Actions. The Saint has Villain actions (the MCDM specific rule) in lieu of Legendary Actions. I really like them, but they also tend to be very specific (manifesting chains, the word of unmaking). If I were using this more than once, I would probably make a broader set of Legendary Actions for the stat block.

Overall, I love this set of NPCs. I already know one that’s going to get employed in my home campaign. The Polymath and the Auto-Sentinel fell a little flat for me, but the rest immediately set my brain to work trying to find them a home in upcoming games.

The Scribes

The D&D 3rd edition books had a ton of new organizations in them, usually introduced as backstory to various prestige classes. These organizations were always a bit frustrating to me, because they managed to be oddly specific in some areas, and yet not given enough plot hooks to tether them to a wide range of campaigns. I say that to point out that this is not one of those kind of organizations.

The Scribes were founded by a now-imprisoned celestial that wanted to inspire mortals toward epic stories so they could live up to their greatness. Because that might conflict with mortals and their need for deities, she’s been confined to her own little corner of the multiverse. She has followers in the form of The Fallen Eye, Chaos, and The Cracked Crown. These organizations work together to push certain narratives in the world, making some people into heroes that might otherwise never find their way.

The article presents various NPCs that work for the organization, the location where the celestial lives with her followers, and several “starter scenarios,” situations where people are waiting for the heroic action to start, and needing to be pushed in the right direction. The article’s primary assumption is that the PCs might be recruited to help push events in the right direction for the organization, but they can also be the ones being pushed, and finding out about the manipulation going on behind the scenes.

There is some discussion about presenting this organization as evil instead of good, but one of the things that I appreciate based on how it is presented as a default is that it can easily be a “good” organization that ends up as an antagonist of the PCs. Even people being pushed to do something deemed as “good” don’t always appreciate having their agency taken away, or being manipulated. It’s also possible that when the PCs are “on the ground” interacting with the “story” that the Scribes have written, they may find out that the organization lacks some context for the outcome that they want.

Also, I think I have a soft spot for this organization because it reminds me of the Metatron storyline from Supernatural, except I don’t hate the celestial involved.

Final Thoughts

This is probably up there with some of my favorite issues, just because it not only provides actionable articles, it provides solid concepts for the topics that it addresses. Making up a whole new subsystem for adjudicating part of the game can be fun, but it takes a lot of flair to capture the imagination with a subclass, NPC stat blocks, or an organization.

Future Wishes

I love subclasses, even though I usually run games a lot more than playing in them, and I look forward to more subclasses with solid themes. I would love more NPCs, but I also think it’s tricky to find that right spot between broadly useful and fun in presentation. In fact, I think seeing some Legendary/Villain/Lair actions that can be swapped in and out on an existing stat block might be fun. I’m an easy mark for organizations that can, from their internal logic and context, see their actions as good, but can still conflict with the PCs, and I would love to see more skillfully pulled off.

All of that said, someday I would love to see more mounts sneak into these pages. And, you know, maybe more retainers that look like the ones in Flee! Mortals. Finally, since I’ve picked up issues one through four on Roll20, I look forward to more issues getting the digital treatment on that site, because it makes it way easier to present the rules from these articles as options to my player characters.

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