Adaptation Leads to Innovation
After Covid-19 changed the field in 2020, many of the live tabletop RPG groups on Twitch (colloquially known as Actual Plays) went on hiatus because players couldn’t come together around their table in person. Some eventually switched to Zoom games, some managed to find a way to come back with physical distancing, and some are still on hiatus until it is safe for gatherings. One of the latter groups is The Chain of Acheron, the Actual Play DMed by games designer and author, Matt Colville for his friends and employees at MCDM Productions.
Originally a stretch goal from one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns for an RPG product ever, Strongholds and Followers, Matt used The Chain to showcase some of his ideas from Strongholds and Followers as well as some concepts from his long-running YouTube series, Running the Game. Running the Game takes the mystique out of being a Dungeon Master (DM) to encourage players to step behind the screen and run their own game. Sadly, we have not seen an episode of The Chain in over a year even though MCDM’s new book Kingdoms and Warfare is due out soon.
As a way to reward the MCDM Patreons who were contributing to keep The Chain running, Matt devised the idea to create a digital magazine for Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition that evoked the feeling of Dragon and Dungeon magazines. These were classic monthly supplements for Dungeons & Dragons that provided new options for players and DMs alike. Each month Dragon contained new monsters, new magic items, new character options, and fiction from the D&D worlds. Its sister publication, Dungeon, contained multiple adventures and scenarios for DMs to use in their home campaigns. Falling by the wayside in the early 2000s along with so many other print publications, these two magazines were the foundation of “campaign kitbashing” for so many DMs. You could simply plug the material in and have something new and most likely unknown to your players. (Author’s Note: Wizards of the Coast also produces a digital magazine in the spirit of these magazines called Dragon+).
Matt’s digital magazine, Arcadia, has been in development for half a year with James Introcaso, veteran freelance RPG designer at the helm as Managing Editor. The first issue was released on January 13th and the production quality speaks to the passion poured into this project. Beautifully illustrated, the first issue of Arcadia offers a full adventure (with new monster options), new Sorcerer subclass (with new spells and NPCs) expanded rules for mounted combat (including mount versions of 6 D&D staple beasts and a short adventure), and two epic level villains designed to be the big bads for your campaign (along with ways to incorporate them) All of these works are well-designed, thoroughly playtested, and ready to drop in your D&D 5e campaign.
The Workshop Watches
The first piece is a full stand-alone adventure by Leon Barillaro titled “The Workshop Watches” and evokes the “paranoid machines in control” feeling of Portal or the classic tabletop RPG Paranoia. In it, 5th-level characters will encounter the Structure of Assistive Magic or S.A.M., a living wizards’ laboratory that has turned on its creators. It is a fun, quirky exploration of a “dungeon” that learns and reacts to the adventurers and culminates in a (possibly friendly) battle with S.A.M. inhabiting a golem-like construct from the D&D Monster Manual called a Shield Guardian, with some special upgrades. If you or your players are a fan of those classic games you will all enjoy this adventure.
This is also a great adventure to borrow from. There are tables that show how S.A.M. reacts and entries of how this living structure behaves that could be easily modified for other fantasy structures (dungeons, castles, airships!). Also, the upgraded Shield Guardian has a pretty neat ability around spellcasting and the artwork for it is fantastic. One last note here, there is a full color map of the lab but MCDM provides two versions one with DM labels and one without to show players. As a DM, I am always thankful for these when they are included in a game product.
The second piece is “Titan Heart” by Gabe Hicks. The Titan Heart is a sorcerer bloodline that draws its magic from their titanic ancestry. Elemental in nature, these sorcerers can call upon primordial magic to manifest their Titan heritage and grow in size. Taking on physical aspects of their ancestor, they can unlock primordial spells only available to them in this form.These spells are first level spells but scale extremely well as the character grows. Glacier, for example, has the potential to do 9d12 damage (78 damage on average!) to everyone in a 5ft radius sphere if cast as a 9th-level spell!
Besides the class features itself, there is a non-player character (NPC) fleshed out to be used in an encounter. The artwork for this guy immediately made me want to find a place for him in my campaign. Also included in this piece is a Retainer that can be used by the players. Retainers first appeared in Strongholds & Followers and represent specially skilled followers that can be added to the adventuring group without overshadowing the players. This Titanic Mage gives the players (and DM) an easy way to utilize this new magic in an existing campaign without having to change out characters. Retainers are one of the concepts that I spoke of in my original Kitbashing Your Campaign article and something I use regularly in my home campaigns.
Jumping on Mounted Combat
The third piece is “Jumping on Mounted Combat” by Willy Abeel and expands on the basic rules of Mounts (riding animals) in Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition. The rules there are simplified for ease of use and do not lend themselves to nuances and interesting interactions. Abeel expands on those rules giving Mounts a boost for working with a rider and a new attack option, the Vaulting Attack, where a rider leaps from their mount and makes an airborne attack against a target, giving them advantage on the attack. Additionally, there are six sample mounts included for plug-and-play use: the standard warhorse, a basilisk(?!), a giant toad (the artwork on this one is hilarious!), a hippogriff, a nightmare (again, great artwork here, with a mummy cowgirl riding it), and an owlbear. Each one of these is given their own special actions for mounted combat and really adds character to what was essentially an option for alternate movement before. There is a sorely missed opportunity here as one of the characters in The Chain of Acheron rides a Displacer Beast and it would have been great to see that included. However, Displacer Beasts are not included in the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules and thus off limits to third party creators (the same goes with Beholders and Mind Flayers as well). Hopefully, we’ll get an unofficial homebrew from the community for that one. To wrap up this package Abeel gives us a short encounter around a rally where adventurers can race these mounts and fight off a gang of undead cowboys!
Uqaviel the Recreant
Finally, we have “Uqaviel the Recreant” by Sadie Lowry. Detailing Uqaviel, a fallen celestial, Lowry gives us the lore behind this being and his betrayal by a fellow archangel and then takes a step further and walks the reader how to incorporate them into a D&D campaign. From basic story hooks to detailing the ritual Uqaviel pursues to sever the mortal realm from the divine (and the effects on the world if it is successful!) there is a path that can be adapted to making Uqaviel a major villain for a D&D campaign if the DM so chooses. Also included here are the stats for Anahita, the archangel who betrayed him and the motivations for that betrayal. These NPCs are Challenge Rating 23 and 24 respectively and not meant for head on combat by all but the most experienced of adventurers. More “big bads” are always welcome by DMs and make for epic player tales of game sessions long passed.
In his announcement of the first issue’s release, Colville noted that the “foundational premise of Arcadia” was to be useful. “Everything in it should be actionable” he states and follows on with “I want to make sure that if you buy Arcadia, you are getting stuff that you can use in your game.” The content detailed in this first issue is definitely usable, but more importantly for us Kitbashers, it is setting-agnostic. There is none of the “Forgotten Realms flavor” or tenuously loose storyline connections found in a large majority of products on the DM’s Guild – a popular freelance publishing site run jointly by WotC and DriveThruRPG. Other than a few supplemental mechanics found in other MCDM products, the pieces here are wholly self-contained and can be adapted to fit in whatever setting you want to use them in. It is also not full of “fluff.” There are no tables full of random things and descriptions. These are useful to DMs but they are also easily produced and have no substance.
The first three issues of Arcadia are available now at MCDM Productions’ website for $7.00 USD or as a reward for backing MCDM on Patreon. The short-term goal with Arcadia is to produce three issues and then take a step back and review what worked and what didn’t before producing more. Again, this shows the level of professionalism and love for this project and that Matt, James, and their team want to get this right rather than rush it out quickly. In my humble opinion, it is worth that wait.