What Do I Know About First Impressions? Arcadia Issue 22 (5e OGL)
It is I, freshly arisen from the food coma and ready to force my head on straight so I can get to posting on the blog again. Let’s look at Arcadia Issue 22, which I didn’t manage to comment on before it went live because, for some reason, last week was a little hectic.
As always, I received a review copy of Arcadia, and have received previous review copies from MCDM. That said, I’m a patron of the MCDM Patreon and would receive a copy of the magazine a little latter than the review copy. I have not had the opportunity to use any of the material in this magazine, but I do have extensive experience with D&D 5e both as a player and a DM.
Arcadia Issue 22
Managing Editor Hannah Rose
Lead Developer James Introcaso
Production & Playtest Director Lars Bakke
Editors Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Sadie Lowry
Authors Will Doyle, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, V.J. Harris
Layout Jen McCleary
Title Logo Tom Schmuck
Accessibility Chris Hopper
Community Coordinator John Champion
Customer Support Bobby McBride
Cover Art Martin Sobr
- “Heroic Champions”: Patrik Hell
- “Parentage and Upbringing”: Bruno Machado
- “Tools of the Trapmaster”: Alejandro Pacheco
Dimensions of Arcadia
This month’s issue is 40 pages, including a credits page, a table of contents, a page of contributor bios, and a full page OGL statement. This time around, because we don’t have any encounters or adventures, the only resource link is a link to MCDM’s new MCDM Safety Toolkit, so no handouts or maps this time around.
The artwork, formatting and layout, are on point, as per usual for MCDM’s material. I do think it’s interesting that this month’s cover feels like something that could have been a cover for Dragon Magazine back in the day. There has been a wide range of fantasy artwork on the cover, and it’s all been amazing, but this one just struck me as very old school Dragon Magazine.
Between the Covers
The articles that we have for this month are as follows:
- Heroic Champions (Character Options, Rules)
- Parentage and Upbringing (Ancestries, Rules)
- Tools of the Trapmaster (Magic Items)
While these all fall into the Arcadia ethos of being “table-ready” material, this issue may have more experimental rules than I’ve seen all in one place in the magazine.
For experiment number one, we get heroic classes, classes that are meant to be used for one-to-one play, one DM and one player. These classes are meant to be roughly as powerful as a party of four characters would be, allowing the DM to use material built for a whole party of adventurers.
There are three classes included:
- Heroic Warrior
- Heroic Spellcaster
- Heroic Trickster
All the classes get exploits (special abilities that don’t take an action to trigger), heroic recovery (the ability to heal a number of hit points and shrug off conditions on your character a number of times between short or long rests), and heroic fortune (effectively a separate source of Inspiration that isn’t limited to being on or off and can also affect opponent’s rolls). This helps to rebalance action economy towards the player, and helps the player to recover from being locked down when they don’t have allies to remove conditions or get them out of trouble.
The Heroic Warrior feels like a bit of a mix of fighter and barbarian, with abilities to evade traps, move faster than normal, frighten enemies, gain resistance to damage types, and select a range of weapons that you can add your proficiency bonus to damage.
Heroic Spellcasters are a “spells known” class, but the Heroic Spellcaster can pick from both the Wizard and Cleric spell lists. You gain the ability to manifest your remaining spell slots as magical orbs that can be expended for additional effects beyond just casting spells. By 4th level you can just fly. You can cast spells that work on a single target on multiple targets, and you can choose spells to combine into a single one action casting.
Heroic Tricksters get a number of uses of trickster dice that can be spent on Heroic Tricks, that the Heroic Trickster can spend to add to their d20 checks or on damage. You get these back on a short or long rest, so they are effectively a pool of potential boosts, or on demand sneak attack damage without the required conditions. You can pick a mark that becomes susceptible to your Charisma checks, and Cast the Joint let’s you spend time examining a place, allowing you to automatically have doors unlocked, and allowing you to charm people at that location. Eventually you can dabble with arcane magic, you can disappear in a crowd, and you can start to modify memories.
There is a lot more going on with these classes but noting every ability they get would make for a long post, because there is a lot added to these classes to allow them to primarily be one thing, but without making them too vulnerable on another front. I’ll be honest, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around how I think these would play out without seeing them in action, but I will say that it’s a fascinating concept.
It definitely puts me in mind of Beowulf, Age of Heroes, which similarly creates a class that is meant to be an entire party by itself, but instead of giving the class various abilities that allow them to power through conditions and situations that might stop them, it plays with simplified followers that can be “expended” to pull off special effects up to and including keeping the hero alive and/or sacrificing themselves to save the player character.
Also, given that I’m reading Shadow of the Dragon Queen currently, I can’t help but picture someone running a Heroic Trickster Kender named Uncle Trapspringer in that adventure.
Parenting and Upbringing
Several products came out before Wizards of the Coast addressed the issue of bio essentialism in the way races were presented before Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, which has continued in newer products. One of those products was An Elf and an Orc Had a Little Baby.
There were many different approaches, many of which separated a creatures ancestry from their culture, allowing players to mix and match those details. The aforementioned product, and this article, by the author of that product, assigned a specific number of points that a character could spend on parentage and upbringing.
That means that you could take traits from two different parentages to represent a mixed ancestry character, as well as taking different cultural traits from different upbringings. In this particular article, the parentages that we see are Gemstone Dragonborn and Tiefling Parentage. There are specific subcategories for each, based on the gemstone dragon type or on the archdevil or demon lord associated with the tiefling’s bloodline.
The Upbringings included are:
- Erudite Upbringing
- Heavy Martial Upbringing
- Light Martial Upbringing
- Medium Martial Upbringing
- Unholy Erudite Upbringing
If you are wondering why we would see another treatment for gemstone dragons over other options, it’s probably worth noting that MCDM started to introduce their own lore on gemstone dragons before they made their “official” return to D&D 5e in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. The gemstone traits and the archdevils and demon lords all pull strongly from lore that has appeared in MCDM’s products up to this point.
So, all of that would be a lot to take in, but one of the traits available to gemstone dragonborn is the ability to utilize psionics. That means we also get two pages of psionic abilities, and another two pages explaining how MCDM’s psionics work, excerpting a portion of the rules from the upcoming The Talent and Psionics product.
Now, let me wear my preferences on my sleeve. I’m not a big fan of buying traits with points in a D&D style game. I think it’s too easy to find “the best” combination traits, especially as some of the parentage lists allow for traits that provide negative points, meaning you get more points for assigning weaknesses. To be fair, these aren’t “soft” weaknesses, but rather examples include weaknesses to specific damage types, which are more likely to holistically come up in gameplay, rather than adding points for “roleplaying” weaknesses.
This article captured my imagination, but in a trend that continues from the previous article, I’m not sure I can fully digest this article without seeing the individual parts in action. Between the point-based building, the specific MCDM lore, and the psionic rules, it’s a lot to bite off at once.
Tool of the Trapmaster
This article is less experimental than the previous two. All the items in this article are magic items that revolve around the theme of traps. These include the following items:
- Ambush Dust (Rare)
- Bracelet of Extended Touch (Rare)
- Caltrops of Emnity (Uncommon)
- Doom Knocker (Very Rare)
- Dungeoneer’s Net (Very Rare)
- Guiding Spool (Uncommon)
- Secret Pool Canteen (Rare)
- Shadow Ropes (Rare)
- Silent Scribe (Uncommon)
- Soft Snare (Uncommon)
- Sudden Gate (Uncommon)
- Swarm Receptacle (Uncommon)
- Talisman of Trap Sense (Uncommon)
- Trapmaster’s Icon (Uncommon)
- Trapmaster’s Token (Uncommon)
- Trapmaster’s Tools (Common)
- Trap-Reaver Gloves (Rare)
Some of these items are probably going to give you an idea of what they do just from their names, but I like this range of items. Some of my favorites are the Secret Pool Canteen, which allows you to either make a pool of water for your drinking pleasure, or make a pool of water with reinforced surface tension that can trap someone underwater; the silent scribe, which I like just because it’s a neat magic item with utilitarian abilities outside of combat; and the Trap-Reaver Gloves, which can absorb the essence of a trap and place a phantom trap based on that essence somewhere that you touch.
I also like new common magic items, and in this case, we get the Trapmaster’s Tools, which are thieves’ tools that can morph into other tools, and conceal that someone is using tools to pick a lock, for example, while the tools look like carpentry tools.
I feel like I had a hard time fully wrapping my brain around the first two articles. I think both of those are “learn by doing” articles more than many I have seen. Both interesting, but both with a lot going on, and things going on that don’t move in the same general “flow” of other rules in D&D 5e. The final article is a very solid collection of magic items with a theme that is well supported.
I want to see the magazine push boundaries and try new things, but I also feel like maybe I don’t want quite as many experimental things going on in the same magazine at the same time. My only other real thoughts for the future on this one are that I’m curious to see how this material is added into Roll20, since the Arcadia content is being bundled and added into the VTT. I’m not sure that a point-based ancestry solution can be easily added into Roll20, so I wonder if the article is going to be a “compendium only” item, rather than being fully usable in the character sheet.