What Do I Know About First Impressions? Arcadia Issue 23 (5e OGL)

The veil of night draws close to the world. The howling cold winds blow over the plains, and the threat of deep snows loom over holiday plans. What better time to completely retreat into fantasy and ignore the real world. Let’s take a look at Arcadia Issue 23 from MCDM.


I received a review copy of this issue, and I have also received other review copies from MCDM. I also have my own Patreon subscription and would otherwise receive Arcadia without the review copies. While I haven’t used any of the material in this issue, I am very familiar with D&D 5e both as a player and as a dungeon master.

Arcadia Issue 23

Managing Editor Hannah Rose
Lead Developer James Introcaso
Production & Playtest Director Lars Bakke
Editors Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Sadie Lowry
Authors Mario Ortegón, James Mendez Hodes, Amber Litke, Sadie Lowry
Sensitivity Consultants Stefan Huddleston, Amalia Rubin
Layout Jen McCleary
Title Logo Tom Schmuck
Accessibility Chris Hopper
Community Coordinator John Champion
Customer Support Bobby McBride
Cover Art Patrick Hell
Interior Illustrators “Gemstone Arcana”: Elisa Serio, “Religion Construction Kit”: Olajide Ajayi,
Wirawan Pranoto (Conceptopolis), “Divine Trials: Heroes of the Stars”: Zuzanna Wuzyk
Cartography Miska Fredman

CoverArcadian Reaches

This month’s issue of Arcadia is 41 pages, including a credits page, a table of contents, a resources page, a page of author bios, and a full-page OGL statement. At this point, there isn’t much I can tell you about what this looks like that will do the magazine justice. It’s one of the most professionally laid out 5e product you’ll find, and it’s got consistently amazing artwork, and this month is no exception.

Between the Cover

This month’s articles include the following:

  • Gemstone Arcana (Spells, Feats, Magic Items)
  • Religion Construction Kit (Organizations, Worldbuilding)
  • Divine Trials: Heroes of the Stars (Adventures)

If you haven’t seen the previous installments, this is the third Divine Trial published in Arcadia, with the previous adventures detailing the Trial of the Sun and the Trial of the Moon.

Gemstone Arcana

This article is all about expanding the lore surrounding gemstones in the World’s Most Obliquely Referred to RPG. As a long-time (old) gamer, I remember articles like this in Dragon Magazine back in the day, and I love stuff like this. In this case, the article starts broadly by explaining what traits might be associated with different gems, and then it adds more specific rules that play on those associations.

The first expression of this involves a set of feats that revolve around developing the connection between gemstones and spellcasting, allowing characters to use gemstones to power faster cantrip casting and use less expensive material components, or the ability to attune specific skills and the ability to aid with the execution of those skills to gemstones.

The next section includes a series of new spells associated with gemstones:

  • Astonishing Presence (Cantrip)
  • Air Walk (1st)
  • Rucio’s Resolute Poise (2nd)
  • Soulstone (2nd)
  • Amethyst Tomb (3rd)
  • Brinn’s Exalted Crusier (4th)
  • Moonlit Transformation  (4th)
  • Marine Benison (5th)
  • Misiri’s Buried Eye (6th)
  • Crystaline Barrier (7th)
  • Surge of Life (8th)

I appreciate that we get a pretty wide range of spell schools, including Enchantment, Transmutation, Illusion, Necromancy, Conjuration, Abjuration, Transmutation, Divination, and Evocation (the part of me that has had his head in One D&D wants to note this one probably wouldn’t be Evocation under One D&D, and that opens a whole can of worms about 3rd party spells and spell schools, but I’m going to force that back down for now).

Some of my favorites include an illusion spell that helps you hide how badly you have been injured, and the “redirection” function of one of the divination spells that channels scrying spells to a stone that you have placed elsewhere.

Possibly my favorite part of this article is the Immanent Gem, a new magic item introduced in this article. It functions as a spellcasting focus, but also has a number of charges that can be expended to allow the gem to substitute for a material component of a specific cost. I love this idea. This is such a great utilitarian magic item that a PC spellcaster would love to receive. There are versions that range from Common to Very Rare, which changes the number of charges and the replacement cost for which the gem can be used.

Religion Construction Kit

I love playing clerics. I have heard other people say this before, and mean “I love interacting with the mechanics of the cleric class.” When I say this, I mean that I love the built-in roleplaying that comes with serving as a member of the clergy of a different religion. I love exploring what my character would do to observe their faith outside of adventuring, and how their philosophy affects their interaction with other PCs and the world.

D&D often emphasizes gods, alignments, and what domains are available, rather than different orders, responsibilities, and hierarchical structures. Often the assumption is that every cleric that worships god X will be assumed to act the same way and do similar things.

One of my favorite line of products of all the Forgotten Realms products over the years has been the Faiths and Avatars, Powers and Pantheons, and Demihuman Deities AD&D 2nd edition books, because they spent time in each entry discussing the clergy, different orders of faith, and even schisms. 

That was a long way to go to explain that this article is great. It provides a worksheet to detail aspects of a religion to expound on the roleplaying aspects of the entity. The article itself explains what each section of the worksheet means when detailing a religion for your campaign.

One interesting twist is that while it expands on the actual practice and beliefs of a religion, it does so by detailing those elements in terms of existing game mechanics. What I mean by this is that the virtues of the faith are expressed by highlighting what ability scores the virtue falls under, practices are highlighted by what skill is used to observe those practices, and the structure of the religion is built by ranking what character classes perform what functions within the hierarchy. The only minor quibble I might have is that the Devotional Practice section probably could have added tool proficiencies to the skills detailed in that section.

This article is great. If you have a cleric in your game, and you haven’t spent the time to do more than come up with an alignment and a portfolio for the cleric’s god, I highly recommend filling out this worksheet. In fact, if you have any kind of established religion in your setting that is likely to take prominence in a campaign, I think it’s worth it to spend some time filling one of these out to help you visualize what that religion looks like as a social construct.

Divine Trials: Heroes of the Stars

This is the final adventure in a trilogy of adventures that has installments in Arcadia 17 and Arcadia 19. Essentially, all of these trials are a series of roleplaying, puzzles, and combat that are meant to convey a specific message to those undergoing the trial. In this case, the Trial of the Stars is about the bonds forged between party members, using the symbolism of constellations.

Characters are tethered to one other party member, and they can expend certain resources or take certain actions to help one another during a trial. Some trials may seem to let one member of the pair succeed without the other, but doing so causes them to fail the trial.

Of the previous tests, I liked the Trial of the Moon better than the Trial of the Sun, mainly because there is less chance for the party to misunderstand what is being tested. I similarly like the Trial of the Stars because it becomes evident what the PCs need to do to pass the trial very quickly. I also really like the visuals of the constellation creatures the PCs meet, the vast chambers with glass walls and platforms, and the random cosmic phenomenon-based events in one of the trials.

There is a section on expanding the trial, in case the DM wants a little more material to work with, as well as a section about connecting the trials. This includes what narrative you are introducing depending on what order the PCs take the trials, as well as emergent powers if the PCs gain the magic items gifted to them at the end of each of the trials.

Very specifically, having just recently read through Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen, I can picture this trial appearing to the heroes before the final act of that adventure. Constellations are important to the Dragonlance setting, and it would just be a matter of reflavoring some of the creatures into semi-avatars of different gods that might be testing the PCs and forging them into a more effective group. It fits in well with the “Good Redeems its Own” motto of the gods of good, and I immediately pictured Astraios as a constellation-based avatar of Kiri-Jolith.

Really happy with how this trial unfolded. These have gotten better as the adventure series has advanced.

Final Thoughts

This is probably one of my favorite issues of Arcadia to date. I love the theming in the gemstone article, the Religion Construction Kit is right up my alley for what I want regarding fantasy religion and how it interacts with the campaign, and the Trial of Stars immediately made me think of how to use it in a campaign. This one resonated with me.

Future Wishes

What I enjoyed about this issue is that it provided me with material that I really enjoyed, and that I would have had a hard time saying I wanted. I love laying out roleplaying material in a structured form that makes it more accessible, so I would love to see more world-building done in that manner. The Trials are also another example of an adventure that works really well to be adapted to just about any setting.

I guess the most cogent thing I can say about my future wishes after reading this issue is that I would love to see a balance of stuff I know I want to see, like monsters and subclasses, with new things that I wouldn’t be able to anticipate, that push into new territory. 

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