DnD 5e Supplement Review: The Cycle

I’m currently a player in a group running the Tomb of Annihilation so character death is never far from my mind. While I’ve yet to lose my cleric, she’s lost plenty of companions to the myriad of monsters and traps. (No surprise there given the reputation of ToA). While some of these deaths were the result of epic encounters, others were…well, lackluster. 

The pain of losing a character – one that you have spent hours of your life molding and investing in emotionally – to a laughably bad and anticlimactic death is awful. This is where Abyssal Brew’s supplement The Cycle comes in to make things a little more interesting. Designed to be a replacement for the death system in 5e, The Cycle aims to “[provide] a more cinematic feeling to the possible end of a character’s life”.

First Thoughts

In a nutshell, The Cycle does away with characters falling immediately unconscious when they drop to 0 hit points. Although falling unconscious is an appropriate consequence in many scenarios, in the heat of battle it’s incredibly punishing to fall so abruptly. In The Cycle, when you hit 0 hit points or descend into negative hit points, you’re still up and moving…You just look, feel, and perform worse. It enforces realistic* parameters for your brutalized character:

  • Attacks, checks, and saving throws (except for your Cycle saving throws) are made at disadvantage
  • Enemies have the advantage on saving throws against your abilities
  • Your damage is halved
  • Your speed is reduced by 5 feet

*As realistic as a fantasy roleplaying game can be.

I’ll take “Things I’ve Screeched in Combat” for 100, please.

Enduring the Cycle

The Cycle requires saving throws that are not so different from vanilla death saving throws. You are required to make 3 successes to exit The Cycle, and 3 failures still mean the end of the journey for your character. However, without revealing too much, failed saving throws within The Cycle system are an interesting roleplay opportunity as you carry the failures with you until the next long rest. Say you barely scrape by in a tough fight and limp away with a failure or two. A character nursing a near-mortal wound at the campfire later that day serves as a wicked reminder of how close they really are to death in pursuit of their respective goals.

The Cycle also introduces a new status called On The Brink that presents an additional opportunity for a roleplay-rich, high-stakes encounter. This status is ‘activated’ when a character is stabilized or brought back to exactly 0 hit points. In this case, a character can never put themselves On The Brink but must rely on another character with a healer’s kit or another method of stabilization. You better hope you’ve been treating your cleric or party healer well because you’ll need them in order to shake off The Cycle. 

….I’ll take “Things I’ve Screeched in Combat” for 300.

Final Verdict & Last Word

In case it wasn’t obvious, I’m a DM and a player that values roleplay at the table. I’m also not someone that likes losing other characters or my own to anticlimactic ends. The time between death saving throws is agonizing and the “consciousness yo-yo”, as Matthew puts it, may reduce characters to little more than speed bumps on the battlefield. I don’t think it’s controversial to think player character deaths are difficult, but if your character should die, wouldn’t you want their death to be just as much of an experience as their life? This particular contribution to 5e homebrew content is perfect for any DM interested in boosting roleplay and raising the stakes in combat. 

I didn’t want to end this review without mentioning the look of the supplement. The artwork and layout from Fernando and Matthew are stunning and polished. The cinematic mood the system aims for is matched by dark illustrations of a tense showdown and an unfortunate misstep. Definitely one of the prettier brews in a collection.

You can purchase the pdf and support Abyssal Brews through their Ko-fi page. There’s also a great write-up on the creation of The Cycle from Matthew on their website.

Ideas for “Social” Encounters in DnD 5e

Earlier this year I decided to jump into the DnD deep end: I started my first homebrew campaign. During the planning process, I was introduced to what is surely the backbone of many homebrew campaigns – encounter tables. After borrowing so heavily from the community, I felt it was only appropriate for me to try and give back.

The following 50 encounters are mostly stripped of race, class, and gender so that they can be adapted to just about any setting. Feel free to alter outcomes, rolls, etcetera.

50 DnD “Social” Encounters

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for any hasty or ill-planned adoptions of any NPCs, monsters, or animals.

DnD 5e Supplement Review: Druid Circle of Civilization

When Underground Oracle Publishing dropped their new druid subclass – Druid Circle: Circle of Civilization – earlier this month, the description of an urban druid “[moving] throughout their chosen cities cultivating greenery” sparked quite a few campaign ideas in my head. The concept is especially potent due to the ongoing ramifications of climate change – wildfires, droughts, storms, and floods. As a person that tries very hard to avoid climate nihilism, I appreciated the timing of the publication. 

First Thoughts

The full description of the supplement paints a vivid portrait of a character archetype you can weave into any campaign, though it gave me distinct solarpunk vibes:

Druids of the Circle of Civilization strive toward creating a balance between the cities of the continent and the natural world that surrounds them. Like their cousins, the silent guardians of the woods, these druids move throughout their chosen cities cultivating greenery, healing sickness before it can spread, protecting those who seek their stewardship, and tracking down those unnatural and unsavory things that would disrupt the harmony between the earthen realms and civilization that they seek to preserve.

The abundant roleplay opportunities that could spawn from this subclass alone are fascinating and new to me as a player and dungeon master. Think of a druid eco-avenger set on cleaning up their home’s rivers by any means necessary. Picture a city run by Circle of Civilization druids, driven to create the world’s first closed-loop system of sustainability. A do-gooder that serves their deity and community by guerrilla gardening. Or maybe a druid just wants to protect the green space and parks of a growing town and must face the worst monster of all, local bureaucracy.

“There’s a sign at Ramsett Park that says ‘Do Not Drink the Sprinkler Water‘, so I made sun tea with it and now I have an infection. Sir? Sir, are you listening to me, sir? Sir, I’m talking to you!”

Features and Spells

The subclass features are evocative but flexible enough to adapt to your chosen settings. I was particularly enamored by the 2nd-level class feature Urban Grove, which involves a druid’s place of operations within a city. It provides a home-field advantage to druids – improved speed and movement, advantaged on Wisdom (Survival) checks, and always handy extra spell slots. The grove can be recreated if destroyed or re-made if the druid journeys to a new city, allowing this caster to put down roots wherever they go.

There’s also the 6th-level Reclaimed Guardian feature, wherein a druid can summon unused or discarded materials to create a construct. The supplement includes a statblock should you need to bring your trash golem into battle. Remember the adage: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Render a helpful eco-friendly minion to do your bidding. 

The supplement also provides additional features at levels 2, 10, and 14, and new conjuration spells but I urge you to check out the supplement to find out more. 

You can purchase the supplement pdf from DriveThruRpg, Shard Tabletop VTT, or sign up to support Underground Oracle Publishing on Patreon.

5 Lo-fi mixes for fantasy and sci-fi fans

Lo-fi artists, mixes, and playlists are exploding on YouTube. Lo-fi tracks are pieces of music that are intentionally low fidelity, wherein listeners can hear ‘imperfections’ that are normally removed from tracks, for aesthetic and authenticity purposes. One of the best traits of lo-fi aesthetic is that it transcends genres. When you search for ‘lo-fi music’ on YouTube, you’ll find a wealth of playlists and tracks for hip hop, jazz, experimental, meditation, and pop music.

There are also entire playlists dedicated to lo-fi remixes of popular anime and video game soundtracks. That said, with the boom in lo-fi and expansion to different genres and cultural touchstones, fans of fantasy and science fiction – there are plenty of tracks for you too. 

I’ve picked five of my favorite mixes out of the thousands you can find on YouTube. A few are focused on recognizable IPs, and others are more general. Please consider supporting the creators that have compiled and developed these mixes. Header image from Jens Mahnke.

Tavern Vibes: Vol. 1

Creator: Madame Gandalf | Length: 1:00:22

This track feels like a modern take on what it would be like to cozy up in a medieval tavern. The art and animation by Anne Isaksson & Hendril Costa is cozy and darker than other lo-fi tracks I’ve seen, and kind of makes you wonder what kind of weather system we’re working within this particular world. The video features 27 tracks that are generously timestamped, so listeners can jump to specific points in the video to replay their favorite tracks. As of writing, MadameGandalf has under 1k subscribers and I think that qualifies them as criminally underrated in the lo-fi scene.

Cozy Tavern on a Rainy Day

Creator: Blue Turtle | Length: 1:00:14

This mix is just one part of a story currently being developed by creator Blue Turtle. The hour-long track begins with us out in the pouring rain, watching a lone cloaked figure hurry into a warmly lit tavern. The figure is revealed to be BlueTurtle’s character, Ithya, an ‘Elementalist’, who has found a lovely place to continue her studies. The hand-drawn scenes change over the course of the video. While Ithya is the main focus of the scene, we are treated to the comings and goings of other patrons of the tavern as well as brief glimpses of the village outside. It’s a peaceful and beautiful scene, one that makes you feel like you’re seated across from Ithya, wiling away at your own work.

24/7 Space Lofi Café

Creator: Mr MoMo Music | Length: Live Stream

Here’s a mix that will take you to the next galaxy, or specifically, MoMo’s Space Cafe. Imagine finishing up your work or studying at a window seat, with a sea of stars just beyond a pane of glass. That’s the feeling this mix inspires. It’s a live stream, meaning listeners are treated to nearly endless music. It appears this mix is updated regularly too, as MoMo invites listeners to submit music to add to the stream. The artwork from Shane Marcos is adorable and I can’t help but feel like the cafe is a beacon, shining out and drawing intergalactic visitors in from afar. 

star wars ~ lofi beats to relax/study to

Creator: Closed on Sunday | Length: Live Stream

Closed on Sunday’s Star Wars lo-fi live stream is a treat. The stream features 31 tracks composed by CoS and an incredibly animated Ahsoka from Prophet Art and Logan Himango. Ahsoka’s face is lit by a softly glowing screen in stark contrast to the gloomy day in Coruscant. The lo-fi remixes are recognizable enough to inspire a kind of nostalgia for the franchise, as well as those days from your childhood where you’d curl up in the back of your parent’s car during a long trip while they blasted the ‘modern classics’ radio station. …No? Just me?

Mighty Vibes Vol 2: Chill Tunes to Study/Transcribe Magic To

Creator: Critical Role | Length: 52:16

I started watching Critical Role in early 2020, using my extra time at home to play catch-up with the years-long series and campaigns. I’m perpetually late to the party on these things, but during my binge of all things Critical Role, I came across their Mighty Vibes playlist on YouTube. The animations from this particular track, from artists Kami and Kevin Areopagita, are mesmerizing, rich with detail and callbacks to the show. The track also features audio clips from Liam O’Brien and Marisha Ray, portraying their respective characters Caleb Widogast and Beauregard Lionett.