What Do I Know About First Impressions? Arcadia Issue 27 (5e SRD)
I’m pretty late to this party. I’m not sure if there is anything left to be said about Arcadia Issue 27, i.e. Sharkadia, that hasn’t already been said. But I’m going to try anyway. I mean, honestly, when it comes to reviewing content, I need to keep moving or feel like I’m going to die. Wait, isn’t that a trait commonly associated with something else?
I was provided a review copy of this issue, but I am also signed up for MCDM’s Patreon, so I also receive a personal copy as well. I have not had the opportunity to play or run any of the material in this issue, but I am very comfortable with D&D 5e both as a player and as a DM. Also, it’s probably worth mentioning that pirates are really, as they say, my shit.
Arcadia Issue 27
Design & Production
Managing Editor Hannah Rose
Authors Willy Abeel, James Introcaso, Gwendolyn Marshall
Editors Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Amber Litke, Sadie Lowry
Playtest Director Lars Bakke
Layout Jen McCleary
Title Logo Tom Schmuck
Accessibility Chris Hopper
Community Coordinator John Champion
Customer support Bobby McBride
Art Directors Nick De Spain, Hannah Rose
Cover Artist Veronica O’Neill
Interior Illustrators “Captain Ralazar’s Guide to Sea Monsters”: Zuzanna Wuzyk; “Perils of the Deeps”: Nikki Dawes; “The Ballad of Captain Shivershank”: Elisa Serio
Graphic Design Clara Daly
Layout and Formatting
The PDF of this issue is 45 pages long. This includes a title page, a table of contents, a letter from the editor, a resources page with links to the MCDM Safety Toolkit, ship maps and images, and an MP3 (!), a page of author bios, and a full-page OGL statement.
- Two-column layout? Check
- 5e SRD standard format for stat blocks and other rules? Check
- Truly amazing artwork of monstrous sealife, ships, and inhuman pirates? Check
What’s in the Hold?
There are three articles this month, all of which have a nautical theme, and all of which have some connection to the other articles in this issue.
- Captain Ralazar’s Guide to Sea Monsters (Monsters, Magic Items)
- Perils of the Deeps (Rules, Monsters)
- The Ballad of Captain Shivershank (Adventure)
We’ll go into it more when we get to the final article, but when the article is listed as an “adventure,” this article is really more of a campaign framework. You’ll see. We’ll get there.
Captain Ralazar’s Guide to Sea Monsters
This is a monster article written from the perspective of a sea captain currently hunting the megalodon Shipsnapper, a giant shark that destroyed the captain’s previous ship, the Feasting Fin. All of the monsters in this section are some variation of shark.
- Hound Shark (Beast, CR 1)
- Hound Shark Companion
- Wereshark (Humanoid, CR 3)
- Arcane Remora (Monstrosity, CR4)
- Maelstrom Hammerhead (Celestial, CR5)
- Warp Shark (Fey, CR 6)
- Icebreaker Shark (Beast, CR 8)
- Megalodon (Beast, CR 14)
- Aranoth (Monstrosity, CR 16)
I wanted to show the monster types and CR because there really is a wide variety among all of these monsters even with maintaining the shark theme. Aranoths are gigantic, legendary sea creatures that feed on memories, and turn creatures they swallow to stone. Arcane Remora’s feed on magic and can temporarily shut down magic items. Hound Sharks are sharks skilled at tracking, but they can also be domesticated. Icebreaker Sharks are huge creatures that burst out of thin ice in arctic waters to attack their prey. Maelstrom Hammerheads are celestials that serve gods of storm and sea, and can summon storms. Warp Sharks can slip through rifts into the Feywild, spraying blasts of extradimensional water and teleporting.
You can probably figure out the Magalodon and the Wereshark. I appreciate this version of the wereshark, but it is kind of ironic. A few years ago, I really wanted stats for a 5e wereshark. Now, a few years later, I have a whole bunch of different stats for a 5e wereshark, although none of them have come from WotC.
I really love having weird and legendary sharks for a seafaring campaign. I think my favorites are probably the Maelstrom Hammerhead (to foreshadow capricious sea gods), Warp Sharks (I mean, they teleport), and the Aranoth, as a massive, legendary creature with a build in storyline that goes with it. I love the imagery of the stone remnants of past meals, and the idea of trying to track down a memory eating titanic shark to barter for knowledge.
The magic items included in this article are:
- Amulet of Shark Teeth (Uncommon)
- Belt of Blood Frenzy (Rare)
- Slashpoint (Rare)
- Sharkboat (Legendary)
The amulet helps you track injured prey, and the belt allows you to expend “teeth” to do extra damage, and the tooth-based charges grow back at down. Slashpoint is a scimitar that can summon sharks, and the Sharkboat is a 100-foot long boat that can fold down into a belt pouch, with a shark figurehead that can bite, and a tooth cannon. That shoots teeth.
I especially like the idea of teeth representing charges, and the teeth growing back. It’s a nice thematic callback to the shark theme. I would love to give PCs a Sharkboat, but that +9 to hit, 5d10 figurehead and that +9 to hit, 3d10 tooth cannon are a lot. I kind of wish there was a lesser Sharkboat as an option.
Perils of the Deep
Fun fact about me: I have a fear of drowning. I can’t even dunk my head underwater. I was held underwater as a child, and almost drowned. Descriptions of drowning don’t bother me too much, but anything that reminds me of the helplessness and inability to surface, or anything that implies being restrained underwater, is really hard for me. Some of the descriptions of the hazards in this article did start to trigger those feelings, so if you’re like me, keep that in mind as you read it. There is a content warning on the article, so this is totally on me, but take that content warning seriously.
This article has optional rules for visibility, pressure, currents, and disorientation. Devouring Kelp Forests and Shipwrecks are presented as underwater hazards. There are also the following monsters detailed:
- Giant Spider Crab (Beast, CR 1)
- Swarm of Zombie Worms (Undead, CR 2)
- Dire Jelly (Beast, CR 4)
- Angler Shark (Beast, CR 6)
- Eldritch Anemone (Aberration, CR 8)
Spider Crabs can shed limbs to shield themselves. Zombie Worms live in the bones of rotting corpses at the bottom of the sea. A dire jelly is a massive jellyfish. Angler sharks are a cross between an angler fish and a shark, that can also use their light to produce a strobe effect. Eldritch Anemone’s are huge mutated sea life that grow near places that have been warped by extradimensional energies.
The Random Shipwreck Encounters table ties this article to the previous article. It includes several of the sharks of the prior article, as well as a few of the magic items. One of the most fun aspects of the table is that it includes the shipwreck of the Feasting Fin, continuing the story elements that started in that article.
The Ballad of Captain Shivershank
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this isn’t so much an adventure, the way the magazine usually presents adventures. This isn’t a series of encounters strung together into a narrative that might span a few sessions. There are plot hooks to introduce the player characters to the service of Captain Shivershank as part of her fleet of pirates.
Captain Shivershank is the only remaining member of her species, and her deep dark secret is that she used a magic item to make a wish that, due to her wording, caused the rest of her species to disappear. In addition to using the fleet to do her pirating business, she sends some operatives to look for the artifact that she originally used to erase the rest of her species.
The PCs will serve on the ship that Captain Shivershank usually sends on these side missions to track down clues as to the location of her missing artifact. There are several quest hooks provided, allowing the PCs to go off on these adventures to pick up clues in between a set of major events that are detailed in the article. There is also the opportunity for the PCs to be recruited for a mutiny against Captain Shivershank, and there are several potential rivals detailed.
There are sea encounter tables that include both environments and participants. Some of the wilder environments include a portion of the sea where the ship sails through physics-defying feywild skies, or a section of the sea where the sea is literally mirrored in the sky.
There are ship combat rules. In this case some of these rules involve assigning ships a number of hits, and the ship sinks after it takes all of these hits. Instead of tracking hit points, the ship only takes a hit from something that is capable of doing siege damage, so siege weapons and monsters with the siege quality are a problem, but a PC with an axe, not so much. I wasn’t a fan of the alternate ship combat rules when they were introduced in Fables, but this system still utilizes standard D&D 5e rules, like a standard to hit roll and armor class, so I can see the appeal of “flattening” the rules to only tracking siege damage.
There are also rules for Sea Terrors, effectively a template for making sea creatures into legendary threats in the vein of Skylla and Charybdis. This template increases the creature’s size, reach, and hit points, and makes them into a siege monster especially good at damaging ships.
There are lots of fun tools across all of the issues of Arcadia, and I’ve never regretted supporting the Patreon, but in this instance, I would definitely say that if you only ever get one issue of Arcadia, and you are ever likely to run a ship based campaign, you should probably pick up this issue.
On its own, I really like how integrated all of the articles are in tone and content, as well as literally referencing one another. But sea-based campaigns are so easily ported to different settings, I feel like this issue is presenting something very special. The monsters all work across settings, and the campaign works if you port it to Faerun, Krynn, Midgard, or Exandria.
Now I need to go and figure out which of my campaigns is going to feature negotiations with a memory-eating shark first.
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