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.

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.