Thumbnail Art from Arcadia Issue 1 cover
When Arcadia was first announced, I had no doubt it was going to be amazing. I’ve been watching Matt Colvile’s content since I started DMing. In fact, it was thanks to him that I started DMing. If I hadn’t DMed I might have never played D&D, and there would be no chance I would have ended up writing for Tribality. So, in a way, I’ve got a lot to thank Matt for. However, that is not what you came here for, so let’s jump to the stuff you actually care about:
Matt’s videos value quality above anything else. He talks to you in the same way you would speak to a friend, in an easy to comprehend manner. When he announced Strongholds & Followers, I backed it immediately and the quality of the product surprised me. MCDM was capable of high-quality products. I never got to finish reading it though but I will soon enough. Now, when Arcadia released, I decided to wait for the first three issues to come out and see how everyone reacted to them. I would never have expected it would boom and have everyone fascinated over it. No more waiting, I had to jump to the hype train while it was here! Expect breakdowns from future issues as soon as they are released over here on Tribality! I will do my best to tell you which issues are worth your money.
The idea behind Arcadia was to create a successor to the “Dungeon” and “Dragon” magazines. They wanted it to give an 80’s vibe just by looking at it. I wasn’t even born in the 80’s and even I can admit they did a fantastic job with the art direction and its logo to create this effect on the viewer. As regards the people writing in it, Matt Colvile would take a step back and let others do it. In order to accomplish that, Matt had people apply for the job as a Managing Director for it, and after thousands of applications, James Introcaso came out as the best choice. James has worked in the freelancing industry, knows well the people in there, and who might be great to be featured in the virtual magazine. Hannah Rose was then chosen as the editor, known for a huge amount of works both in the DM’s Guild and official D&D products.
The writers are chosen, these offer their ideas and James is the one who approves their ideas. They all need to follow the promise of creating something that is “super actionable and really freaking dope.” (except Matt uses a different word for freaking). The writers present their works, go through some iterations, and have them playtested by the playtesting group at MCDM. In addition, at some moment Matt would read the works and might ask the writers to write something else that follows this theme for, obviously, extra payment. That’s how the Titan Heart subclass also ended up with an NPC (with their respective backstory) and a Strongholds and Followers’ retainer included.
Layout & Format
If you liked the Strongholds & Followers layout, then this goes pretty much in the same vein. It gives a medieval feel to the product, while also staying classy. All different works are color-coded in a different color to better differentiate them. Maps are placed on their own pages for easier exporting (even though you also have links to the images), and the art is placed in places that usually don’t bother. These art pieces are mostly rectangular. If you were to compare them to the way other products place art, products from WotC for example don’t show the harsh borders of the images, but rather blur the borders. It would have been nice to see that kind of treatment to this art. It’s a small complaint, but in my opinion, it gives a much better look to the pages.
Something I feel obligated to remark is the fact that this magazine is not accessibility friendly. I’ve tested the product with the open-source, free NVDA screen reader, and trying to hear it is terrible, only being able to read one line at a time. If you are in need of a screen reader to enjoy these sorts of products, I would recommend you skip this issue. Hopefully, this can be fixed in the future.
The Workshop Watches
Adventure by Leon Barillaro
I never would have expected a Paranoia/Portal blend with D&D to work so well. If there is one thing I know I’m going to love about Arcadia is getting to know freelancers I didn’t know and get to see their works. However, it wasn’t the fact that Leon managed to pull off this mix so well that really surprised me but the fact that the “magic intelligence” S.A.M. isn’t looking to harm the characters. S.A.M. gets to control everything in the workshop, and it’s the interaction with this entity what makes the adventure so much fun. Instead of having a GladOS mocking or attempting to kill the PCs, S.A.M. treats them in a good manner and even offers help. Then what is the complication in the adventure? It’s the fact that S.A.M. doesn’t understand how to properly help the PCs yet.
S.A.M. is a magic intelligence (the fantasy term for artificial intelligence) that is looking to learn about the world. In order to accomplish that, it’s working on a secret project. Nevertheless, its primary function is to help those that are in the workshop, so (if you want to skip a minor spoiler, jump straight to the next paragraph) it may offer water for the PCs to hydrate, but not understanding how much water people need to hydrate it may fill the room with water while you fight against a piece of the workshop that isn’t working properly.
The adventure is extremely imaginative, and even though I don’t know if I’ll ever use it, I will definitely steal elements from it to add to my game. It comes with a full-color map you can download, with both a gridded and ungridded version, as well as a special monster with its respective art. In addition, images that serve as handouts for the adventure are also included to download.
Sorcerer subclass by Gabe Hicks
A sorcerer powered by the Titans, capable of using mythical elemental powers. This is the sorcerer that goes melee and attacks with melee weapons, channeling with their inner magic. Capable of growing like duergar to great sizes gaining strength to obliterate their foes. Not going to lie, that pitch is amazing. But how well does it do?
Ancient knowledge (lvl1). Makes you proficient in martial weapons and allows you to speak or understand the languages of the elementals (Primordial, Aquan, Auran…).
- I never get to use those languages in my games, but if you are playing Princes of the Apocalypse they may come in handy.
Titan Manifestation (lvl1). The sorcerer grows in size, becoming harder to hit and using Charisma for attack and damage rolls. Additionally, you can cast special spells that are only available to you (I talk later about them).
- Gaining this at level 1 was a must for this subclass, because that’s what sells it the most. This means that you can only use Cha for attacks when you use this ability, which is limited to two uses per short rest. In other words, you will need to increase your Dex or Str as well to use martial weapons the rest of the time, or only fight melee while in titan form.
- Having the spells be limited to this class makes them work in the same way maneuvers for the Battle Master do. The only reason these were added as spells is because they can be upcast. More on that in a bit.
Strength of Magic (lvl6). You can now use your Cha instead of your Str for saving throws and checks
- I mean… I like it, but it isn’t that exciting. I would make the veins pop out from the sorcerer’s muscles to mark a visual difference. Maybe make the veins green (or whichever the titan’s color is)
Titan’s Will (lvl14). You can become even bigger when you use your Titan Manifestation, dealing extra damage and gaining extra move speed. This allows you to win some extra abilities, like stomping the ground to do aoe damage, spend a sorcery point to cast the spell you are casting one level higher, and earn 2 sorcery points when you use this ability.
- This one is COOOOL. You become an actual giant. You can choose if you want to increase in size just about as big as you could in lvl 1, but if you have the space to grow bigger you will never want to do that
- The extra damage and movement work as a mechanical way to make your character actually feel like a giant, and the damage bump is surprisingly great.
- Casting the spell treating it as one spell slot higher can be described as your spells being stronger while you are in titan form to feel like an actual titan. There’s a lot to play with.
Ancient Colossus (lvl18). You gain advantage on Strength checks and saving throws while in Titan Manifestation. Additionally, primordial spells are cast at a minimum of 3rd level, even if you used a lower slot while in this form. Lastly, you can decide to deal max damage on a spell returning back to normal from the titan form.
- Now, this is what really makes you feel like a titan! Dealing MAX DAMAGE?? That’s terrifying, but it makes sense for a lvl18 ability.
This subclass comes with its own unique spells. Some of them are a bit too strong, but taking into consideration that they are unique to the subclass I like to compare it with fighter maneuvers. These spells were designed to be used with this subclass, and thus should be taken into consideration when determining if the subclass is balanced or not.
All the primordial spells are level 1, made to be used across the whole subclass growth. In a way, these spells get better as the character grows stronger. This makes the subclass similar to how superheroes work in their movies, in which the more they train the more power they can use. The spells are evocative in name, giving a sense they are far stronger than what they really are. I think this was made on purpose because casting Cataclysm when you are lvl 1 should feel infinitely weaker than when you are lvl 15 (casting it at lvl7).
NPC & Retainer
The Titan Heart NPC that comes with this subclass has an interesting story that could be used as a random NPC, a random appearance when sailing The Seas of Vodari (yep, I’m going to recommend the book as much as I like because I love it). If you wanted to, this NPC could start a whole side mission as well. The only drawback I see is that it condenses pretty much everything from the subclass in one stat block, making it a bit complex to use.
The retainer, on the other hand, I don’t know much of its use as I didn’t fully read Strongholds & Followers. From what I can understand though, this seems like a great way to condense the subclass without making them stronger than PCs. It seems easy to use, and something you could give a new player if they don’t want to use the complex character sheet. As this was not enough, you can always use it as some type of sidekick similar to the ones introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
Jumping on Mounted Combat
Homebrew Rules by Willy Abeel
This issue of Arcadia introduces new rules for mounted combat. To be honest, I never really liked the official mounted combat rules much. They are extremely vague and dull. These ones add an extra layer of complexity while remaining easy to use. What’s more, it gives you rules to mount monsters! As this was not enough, it has rules to do a vaulting attack over your enemy by jumping from your mount. How cool is that??
This section includes stat blocks for a basilisk, giant toad, hippogriff, nightmare, owlbear, and of course warhorse. These are variations from the already existing monsters that are changed in order to serve as mounts for this ruleset. Why don’t I just use the stats from the monster manual, you ask? These ones tune the monsters so their stronger abilities are more balanced. Being able to petrify someone with your basilisk mount might be a bit broken. Don’t worry, though! The basilisk can still petrify enemies, but it’s limited to once per day. It also adds some additional imaginative ideas to these monsters to use as abilities while riding them. For example, if you fly 60ft on a straight line with the hippogriff you deal an absurd amount of damage by charging through your enemies as your attacks receive extra momentum on attack.
Lastly, there are a set of rules to tame a beast for mounting. These are extremely simple but make sense in my mind, creating a challenge your players will want to accomplish to tame weird creatures. If you are willing to, you can take inspiration from these mounts and create new ones. I’m pretty sure I’ll be creating a special mount for my players soon, but shhhhh, don’t tell them!
Rally at Rashkar
These rules come with a short adventure to try the mounts out, which involve a capture the flag sort of minigame. This one is set in a setting agnostic Wild West hamlet. There are no maps with this because there is no real need to. This adventure should mostly be played in Theatre of the Mind. A small map could have been nice, but that demands extra money to be involved. We’re receiving 4 pieces of content for the price of 3, so I’m not going to be picky. The villains are extremely cool and I really enjoyed reading the adventure. It looks extremely easy to import to a game and gifts the player characters some mounts. As this was not enough, the adventure comes with a link that redirects you to an MP3 file that does the voice of the orc tavernkeeper that sets the adventurers on the mission (with western music in the background). It feels like those sort of Syrinscape packages you can get for the official D&D adventures which come with Volos’ voice reading boxed text. It’s a very nice touch that is greatly appreciated.
Uqaviel The Recreant
NPCs and backstories by Sadie Lowry
Uqaviel is an archangel with a tragic backstory that twisted him to the point of becoming a fallen angel yearning chaos, destruction, and amongst all revenge over Anahita. This whole section of the issue needs to be filled with spoilers to properly talk about it. I won’t do that, meaning I won’t be able to share much with you. Nevertheless, I’ll try to sell it to you as best as I can, because I feel this is the coolest section in the whole Arcadia issue. It’s also the one with the coolest looking art pieces!
Uqaviel the Recreant includes two “monsters” (it’s weird to call an archangel a monster, but that’s the term 5e uses) for Tier 4 parties that can be used as allies as well. This section tells how these two archangels are linked in a story and the many ways you can use them to create an entire arc in your story, a campaign-ending adventure that concludes in an extremely epic battle, and much more. You get the many steps that involve Uqaviel’s mission in detail, which things happen during it that push the story forward, and the “endgame”. In the same way a fridge might have all the ingredients you need to create your own perfect dinner, this section gives you anything you might need (even combat tactics) to use these archangels in your own story to create a deep fulfilling story arc, with possible endings included.
What’s my opinion on it? I loved everything I saw in this issue. Knowing how the people working on it work, I know that for the most part this magazine will be having stuff I can drop in my campaign. As Matt said “if you at least find one thing in it that you want to add to your game, then that means we were successful” (I’m paraphrasing, I don’t recall the exact words at the moment. In my case, I don’t think I’ll be using the Workshop Watches, but I’ll surely steal many things from it. As regards the titan soul, it gave me some ideas for NPCs and enemies, and I might end up allowing this subclass in future campaigns or one-shots. The mounting rules I’ll definitely be using, as my next campaign is going to be all about cavalry. Lastly, the story from Uqaviel is amazing, but for the time being I don’t think I’ll end up using it. It was a great read and gave me inspiration for new villains, but that’s about it.
Is it worth it? That greatly depends on what you are looking for. It’s definitely worth it for me. For just $5 I’m getting a lot of cool content! What’s your take on it? Which things are you definitely going to use from this issue? Tell me all about it in the comments below!