Welcome to another mini-review for my High 5e series, where I read the 5th Edition conversion of the Blue Rose romantic fantasy setting! As to why it’s not a full review, the 5th Edition version is a bit peculiar as its fluff and crunch are separated more or less entirely, with the bulk of the mechanics in the last third of the book. As for the setting, it’s already a well-known one, and this version is lacking several elements and material which exist in the AGE version. As AGE has been reviewed (and is being reviewed) in detail by other Let’s Readers here and here, I don’t feel that I have much to add that hasn’t already been said. If there’s enough demand for me to share my own hot takes on the setting I may, but they’ll likely be broad skims. As an owner of the AGE version, I have noticed that a lot of non-rules material is repeated word for word with some rare 5eisms here and there.
For those who happen to be coming into this with fresh eyes, Blue Rose is a setting inspired less by traditional fantasy and more the kinds of stories written by Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey. Although sharing many aesthetics with Tolkien and Tolkien-clones, romantic fantasy is a rather ill-defined genre whose most distinctive trait is the focus on social and sometimes political relationships. A common theme involves the main characters and their circle of friends trying to find themselves and a community in which to protect and belong. Many such protagonists are young adults and more likely to be mages or have some special supernatural power. Bloodshed and warfare still happens in such works, but they’re not as necessary a requirement as in traditional fantasy.
Blue Rose tries to ape such conventions, set in a world known as Aldea. The PCs are members of an elite organization tasked with keeping the Kingdom of Aldis safe and harmonious. Aldis is very much an enlightened high-magic good-aligned government, where the title of nobility isn’t inherited but appointed via a sacred ritual where a Blue Rose Scepter determines one’s skill and good intent for suitability in rulership. Aldis is just one of many lands, part of a region that has slowly risen out from the remnants of an evil magocratic Empire of Thorns. Said empire was destroyed by an entity known as the Golden Hart and various groups of resistance fighters who built a worthier world from the ashes. The two other prominent nations include Jarzon, who took the wrong lessons from this age and presumed that they must become a repressive theocracy to stand stalwart against sorcery and moral corruption, and Kern which is the last true holdout of the Empire of Thorns. It was once ruled over by a lich-king, but is now in a state of near-civil war as his villainous underlings jockey for power. There are other smaller nations and regions, such as the pseudo-Mongolian Khanate of Rezea or the rough and tumble Pirate Isles, but they take a relative backseat to the three aforementioned power players.
Blue Rose has been controversial for a variety of reasons, some justified and others not. One of the more common criticisms is that it’s too “utopian,” in there not being much viable adventuring opportunities and took issue with Aldis’ government as being that ideal and resistant against flaws in the system. And there are of course the people who found its prominent LGBT themes too “politically correct” or otherwise off-putting, but those critics are best ignored for what I hope are obvious reasons.
Besides humans, the world of Aldea is home to an alternate set of major peoples. While there are many kinds of life forms from fey to fiends, there are four groups who are associated with the four Primordials, the neutral-aligned gods representing various natural forces. Humans, Rhydan, Sea-Folk, and Vata are souls given material form, destined to reincarnate again and again in a cosmic phenomenon known as the Eternal Dance. The Night People are a more recent creation, being shaped by the wicked Shadow Lords of the Empire of Thorns, and there is a bit of uncertainty where they fall in this cosmic alignment.
The races, or rather ancestries, of Aldea follow guidelines from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything: all PCs gain +2 to one ability score and +1 to another, the ability bonuses in question decided by the player. Furthermore, starting languages are based on one’s local culture and PCs know an additional number of languages equal to their Intelligence modifier if positive.
Humans are pretty much like in every fantasy setting: common and diverse. They are slightly different than PHB humans: they have proficiency in 2 of the following choices, and can take the same option twice: language, skill, or tool proficiency. Additionally they can gain a feat or +1 to “another ability score of your choice.” I don’t know if this can stack with the +2/+1 options earlier, or if it becomes +2/+1/+1.
Night People are the setting’s orc equivalent, artificial creations of evil overlords and appearing like tall, tusked humanoids. However they are not necessarily inclined to evil or violence on a biological level, and those who managed to get out under the thumb of the Empire of Thorns or Kern have adopted a wider variety of lifestyles. Statwise night people are Medium with 30 foot speed, 60 foot darkvision, are proficient in Intimidation, once per long rest can drop to 1 HP if they’d otherwise drop to 0, and when they crit with a melee weapon they can choose to roll one of the weapon’s damage dice one additional time and add it to the total damage.
Even with a more liberal choice of ability score bonuses, night people are still pushed a bit towards a tanky/melee roll.
Rhydan are perhaps the most popular and iconic race of Blue Rose: intelligent animals who can communicate with others via telepathy. They began life as normal beasts but awakened to self-aware status later on. Rhydan are more likely to have some unusual coloring or feature, but otherwise tend to wear special rings, collars, and harnesses to show others that they’re intelligent and not mere animals. Rhydan are accepted by mainstream society in Aldis and Rezea, although they are oppressed and driven out of society in Jarzon and hunted in Kern. Rhydan are also capable of forging a deep psychic connection known as a rhy-bond with a member of the two-legged ancestries. It connects the two souls on an intimate level, often the most significant relationship of the pair’s lives.
Statwise rhydan aren’t a race so much as a template. Their universal features are getting Psychic and Psychic Shield as bonus feats and the ability to establish a rhy-bond with one humanoid which allows limitless two-way telepathy. They have the typical customizable ability score bonuses, but those with Small and Tiny beast forms have a maximum Strength equal to the original beast’s Strength score plus 2. For the rest of their abilities, a rhydan has the traits of a Beast type creature with a CR of ¼ or less. They have the creature’s basic Armor Class, Speed, Senses, Special Abilities, and Actions, but not Skills, Hit Die, or Hit Points.
We get four of the more common rhydan species to serve as examples: rhy-cats are giant Siamese cats (climbing as well as walking speed, bite and claw weapons, can knock targets prone via pouncing, advantage on scent-based Perception), rhy-fen are awakened dolphins (AC is 11 + Dexterity modifier, 80 foot swim speed but 5 foot walking speed, bite and ram natural weapons both of which can be used while charging, 60 foot blindsight underwater, advantage on attacks when fighting target an ally is engaged with, suffer exhaustion every hour out of water), rhy-horses who are exactly what they sound like and are beloved by Rezeans (Large, 60 foot walking speed, hooves natural weapon), and rhy-wolves who are reclusive and mostly live in the woods (AC 11 + Dexterity modifier, 40 foot walking speed, bite natural weapon that can knock targets prone, advantage on scent-based perception, and advantage on attacks when fighting target an ally is engaged with).
I will make note of one thing. In the AGE version of Blue Rose, rhy-bears were a playable option, and from what I heard of those experienced with the system they were quite powerful for warrior-type builds. Alas, in 5th Edition bears are too high CR to be taken. There are rhydan for just about every kind of animal out there, although some species are judged to be too powerful or strange to be PC types in the various systems. However we can come up with some pretty neat builds even with the CR ¼ limitations of 5th Edition. If you sort by Beast type and Challenge Rating via this handy Monster List tool, you can get some pretty sweet choices. Giant centipedes have good default armor, a climb speed, blindsight 30 feet, and a bite which can deal quite a bit of poison damage. Same for the giant poisonous snake, who has a lower AC but a swim instead of climb speed, while a giant constrictor snake has a good auto-grapple natural attack with a decently-sized damage die. Various swarm animal types come with a big list of condition immunities, and the velociraptor has multiattack. The giant crab (⅛ CR) has a great starting AC value and can grapple up to 2 targets with its claw attacks. Stirges have a good AC, fly speed, and their blood drain attack can be good in forcing an enemy to either waste its action removing you or suffering subsequent automatic damage. Finally the stench kow comes with some common damage resistances, a nice charge attack, and their stench can be a good debuff via the poisoned condition. And if the stench kow is too exotic for your GM, the ox lacks the stench and resistances but still has that charge attack.
I’m aware that not all of these choices may be setting-appropriate or stretch credibility a little: stench kows are extraplanar, dinosaurs are rare and from worlds beyond the shadow-gates, and animal swarms may require a very liberal GM to allow. But overall rhydan are a very versatile ancestry and fun concept. The species that get flight and pack tactics are attractive choices, although the ones that are confined to aquatic terrain aren’t very popular for obvious reasons.
Sea-Folk are humanoids who live along coastlines, rivers, and undersea kingdoms. They appear as humanoids but often with green and blue tinges to their skin and hair, both of which can run the gamut of human features but also new options such as gold eyes or silver hair. They can interbreed with humans, and their children are either human or sea-folk in terms of physical features. Statwise they are Medium, have a 30 foot speed on land and in the water, can hold their breath underwater for 10 + Constitution modifier in minutes, survive in cold water for 10 times as long before being harmed by it, 60 foot darkvision, can communicate with cetacean animals and dolphins, and need to drink 1-4 gallons of water each day to avoid dehydration. This last amount varies based on environmental heat and whether or not they submerge themselves in water for at least an hour.
Sea-folk have kind of been the odd race out in Aldea, along with Rhy-Dolphins. There’s not a lot of material written for Blue Rose’s aquatic and island environments in comparison to the mainland, and the bulk of their features center around being able to survive in the water as opposed to the broader features of other races.
Vata are those with heritage that can be traced back to a magical race of people known as the vatazin. Vata can be born to non-vata parents and most often are, so they don’t have a true nation or culture of their own. Their most common physical markings are either having silver hair and albino skin (Vata’an), or various hues of violet-gray skin (Vata’sha). Much like the night people they can range the gamut of personalities, although they have inborn gifts that grant them a knack for certain kinds of magic even if they’re not adepts. This causes them to be looked at with suspicion in Jarzon, whose government keeps a tight rein on all spellcasters and encourages them to join the church as sanctioned priest-adepts.
Statwise vata are Medium size with 30 foot speed, 60 foot darkvision, add +2 to the result of each Hit Die rolled during a short rest on top of their Constitution modifier, and gain two of the new magical feats in this book for free: Psychic Shield plus their choice of Animist, Body Control, Psychic, Seer, or Shaper.
As these magical feats either grant bonus cantrips and 1 or 2 long rest-based spells or some other minor abilities, Vata aren’t necessarily strong-armed into magical classes nor are spellcaster PCs strong-armed into choosing the vata race. The magical feats are more convenient boosts and small boons rather than vital choices.
Cultures reflect where the character grew up and are divided into regions. Aldins are well-educated progressive types who are a melting pot of various peoples; Forest Folk live in the Pavin Weald of northern Aldis and are allied with rhy-wolves who they view as kin; Islanders live off the sea in the southern shores of Aldis and include a fair amount of sea-folk; Jarzoni are citizens or refugees from a repressive theocracy; Kerns are those who suffered under the stern lash of the Lich King’ Lar’tyans come from a matriarchal island nation with a caste-based system; Rezeans are nomadic tribes who wander the plains on horseback; and Roamers are nomadic fantasy counterpart Roma who once lived in a prosperous kingdom to the southwest before war and foul magic reduced the land to a tainted wasteland. Each culture has a set of common names and starting language(s). Beyond this, culture has no effect on game stats.
This is perhaps the part of Blue Rose that had the most trouble in converting to 5th Edition. In the True20 and AGE versions, the system was near-classless. There were 3 classes, but they reflected broad concepts and not specific traditions in the world: adepts who were general-purpose magic-users, experts who were talented in a variety of non-magical and non-combat skills, and warriors who were general-purpose fighters. In True20 you could multiclass, while in the AGE version you were locked into your choice of class but could gain access to some talents beyond your primary focus (including magic, albeit adepts could learn the most spells). In the world of Aldea only ‘adept’ is a common in-universe term, which refers to those born with the ability to manipulate arcana (the setting’s term for magic) which is referred to as the Talent. Although there are various kinds of magic and some groups and organizations emphasize certain kinds, there is nothing intrinsically preventing an adept from learning certain kinds of magic. Society judged adepts based on what magic they were skilled in as opposed to concepts such as priest, wizard, and so on.
Blue Rose 5e tries to have its cake and eat it too. The spellcasting classes and subclasses are interchangeably referred to as adepts, their classes reflecting preferred magic as opposed to where they got their magic from. For example, priests of the Jarzonian government could just as easily be druids or wizards, class-wise, as clerics and paladins.
But at the same time, the book tries to make certain classes fit as they are in Aldea, and warlocks stick out the most by far. Additionally, as evil and corruptive magic in the earlier systems was known as sorcery, this book renamed it “occultism” and “the occult” to avoid confusion with the sorcerer class. Finally, all magic is still universally inborn or “grown into” save one prominent exception, the warlock who gains magic from an external entity.
Barbarians are people who come from areas where everyday life is a struggle for survival, and are thus most common in barren regions and places decimated by the Shadow Lords and their various wars. Many night people are barbarians, for many lands shun them and force them to keep on the move.The new Path of the Wasteland reflects those members of the class raised in such extreme environments. At 3rd level they are resistant to all damage save radiant and force while raging, become proficient in Nature and Survival (or 1-2 other skills if already proficient), and can forage for 50% more food and water than usual. At 6th level their melee weapons count as magical while raging, and they are also considered to have eaten half a day’s food and water when raging (must still consume a gallon of water and pound of food per week/month respectively to gain such effects). At 10th level they can track creatures and move stealthily faster and cast Tiny Hut as a ritual, and at 14th level they can use a reaction to grant disadvantage on an incoming attack meant for an adjacent ally. They can opt to take the damage in their place if the attack hits anyway, and immediately enter a rage after doing so.
The Path of the Wasteland feels a bit situational; barring from far-flung adventures, much of the setting is not lacking in natural resources. Aldis has a generous social safety net and vast farmland, while the island nations are bountiful tropical areas. Only Kern, the Shadow Barrens, and perhaps Rezea are the places where bean-counting food and water matter the most. Being resistant to a wide variety of damage types is pretty good, however.
Bards are those born with the Talent and are in tune with the music and poetry the gods used in the creation of the world. They are common in just about every culture, with local variations taking on specific interpretations. In Jarzon they are a common type of adept among the priesthood where they hold plays and recite songs in keeping with the faith, while Rezean bards are often of the College of Valor. The new College of the Roads originated among the Roamer people, who make use of tarot cards to learn the fate of themselves and others. At 3rd level they can choose three new proficients in any combination (language, tools, land vehicles, or skills) and can also grant a Bardic Inspiration Die as a reaction or bonus action. If done as a reaction, the person affected can roll for it before the GM announces success or failure. At 6th level they learn augury, bless, and clairvoyance as bonus bard spells, and at 14th level can expend one use of Bardic Inspiration to either Dash or Disengage as a bonus action or as a reaction add the result to their AC until the start of their next turn.
The bonus spells and reaction-based Bardic Inspiration are nice, although the 14th level ability feels a bit underwhelming. The AC bonus is good, although lower-level features such as Mirror Image, Blur, and a Rogue’s Cunning Action can replicate the same thing.
Clerics are those adepts closest to touching the might of the gods, possessed of a spark from the Eternal Dance. Said spark may come from the Gods of Light, the Four Primordials, or the Eternal Dance itself. The seven Exarchs of Shadow (the evil pantheon) can also grant spells, but they’re not mentioned here.
For this section I’m going to call upon the first chapter. To put it shortly, the gods of Aldea are separated into three groups which pretty much correspond with the good/neutral/evil axis. The Primordials are the creators of the world and have mutable forms, and tend to be more distant from mortal affairs. The Gods of Light are their children, closely associated with moral virtues and the various boons of mortal culture. Finally the Exarchs of Shadow are false gods spawned from the god Anwaren when that deity suffered temporary madness from staring into Shadow. The Exarchs wish to dominate and rule over reality, and offer mortals power in exchange for servitude and working their ill will in the world.
The Book of Fiends has a planned 5th Edition conversion, but as of this review it’s not available yet. This makes some of the Exarch domains a bit more limited in choice. The Book of the Righteous is already out, and all of its domains have been uploaded to the 5e SRD which makes those options more usable in comparison. There’s no option for worshipers of the Eternal Dance; I guess they’re supposed to be “pick any domain you want” kind of Clerics?
As for the Radiance domain, it’s a new one included in this book. Called the Radiant domain in this chapter proper, it reflects clerics of the Gods of Light or the Eternal Dance who call upon the Light in order to better combat Shadow. Its bonus spells are a good mix of offense, defense, and utility with common light/holy descriptors (guiding bolt, daylight, death ward, wall of fire, etc) and its first level ability grants the cleric a 120 foot ranged touch attack that deals radiant damage (1d10 +1d10 at 5th/11th/17th levels). At 2nd level their Channel Divinity option allows them to turn fiends and shadowspawn* like undead, and at 6th level they can create a glowing cylinder of light that prevents fiends and undead from moving through, attacking, and charming/frightening/possessing targets contained within. At 8th and 14th levels they deal 1d8 extra radiant damage when hitting with a weapon attack, and at 17th level they gain sunbeam and sunburst as always-prepared spells and can use Channel Divinity to cast them without expending a spell slot.
*A new template that is applied to creatures that have an origin in being Corrupted or created by Shadow and the occult. It’s a rather common template, applying to a wide variety of monstrous creatures as we’ll see in a future chapter.
As shadowspawn are a rather common creature template, the Channel Divinity option is pretty useful. The domain otherwise feels like it’s trying to straddle the gap between the Life and Light domains in being divided between offense and defense. I’m unsure if Radiant Strike and Radiant Bolt stack, as the latter is a feature and not specifically a spell, but the former applies specifically to weapon attacks and not spell attacks.
Druids after clerics are the adepts the next-closest to the gods. They draw their powers from the Primordials, even if they don’t worship them, and are common in the Pavin Weald of Aldis or healing the various lands touched by Shadow. The largest number of druids are concentrated in Rezea, belonging to the Circle of the Clans. Said new subclass are members of the Chosen of Jessa...who aren’t one of the sample Chosen clans,* although Jessa is a famed hero who freed her people from the long-dead kingdom of Drunac. Going back to the class, it’s mechanically identical to Circle of the Land save for different sets of bonus spells based on the adept’s role in the tribe. Dream-Riders get various illusion/safe haven spells, Lore-Keepers get mostly-divination, Nature-Riders mobility and elemental spells, Herb-Runners get healing and plant/creation spells, and Sooth-Sayers also get divination but more of the “knowing things” kind than the Lore-Keeper’s “finding things.”
*Rezeans are divided into nine clans named after the strongest Rezeans who transformed into horses.
Circle of the Land is a decent choice, although I feel that just providing new bonus spells feels a bit lackluster.
We have a sidebar on Rhydan druids, who have the additional option of being able to assume a humanoid form like that of the Ariser feat detailed later in this section.
Fighters are common everywhere, even in peaceful Aldis which understands that sometimes force must be employed to avert greater violence. The Peacekeeper martial archetype reflects those of such inclinations. At 3rd level the fighter gains proficiency in Insight and Persuasion,* and in lieu of doing damage in melee can disarm an opponent if they fail a Strength saving throw. At 7th level they can affect all intelligent creatures in a 20 foot radius to be charmed by the fighter on a failed Wisdom save, where they cease combat for up to 1 minute or until someone unaffected takes a hostile action against them. At 10th level they learn either the Defense or Protection as a bonus Fighting Style, and at 15th level can spend a reaction to disarm or grapple an attacking opponent when using the Dodge action in combat. At 18th level they can make a special attack against an opponent of their same type (humanoid or beast usually) in melee, dealing double damage if they fail a Constitution save. Those reduced to 0 hit points in such a way are rendered unconscious but stable, no matter the weapon type used.
*doesn’t mention if they can trade out said skills like the Path of the Wasteland barbarian.
This Fighter class is thematically appropriate to the setting. However, the Battle Master fighter already has a disarming maneuver, and can gain other maneuvers on top of that as part of their progression of class features. The AoE charm can be pretty decent, although the rest of the class features feel a lot more situational.
Monks are aesthetics and philosophers who realize that, since even the gods came from the Eternal Dance, every mortal soul is also a potential god. In the world of Aldea, “ki” is known as “elan,” or “asha” by the people of Lar’tya. The new Way of the Spirit Dance is the most common tradition, existing in almost every culture and passed on from master to student all the way back to prehistoric times. At 3rd level the monk can spend 1 ki point to triple their jumping distance or stand up from prone without expending any of their movement speed. At 6th level they can walk across any solid surface or object regardless of whether it can sustain their weight, and they also ignore difficult terrain and gain advantage on all saves to avoid the prone condition. At 11th level they can spend a reaction against an enemy who missed them in melee, moving them up to 5 feet in the monk’s direction of choice and knocked prone on a failed Dexterity save. At 17th level they can spend 2 ki points, choosing a creature within 5 feet to mirror their movements on a failed Wisdom save. When so mirrored the monk automatically moves with the creature, gaining advantage on melee attacks and Charisma checks against the target, while the target gains disadvantage on attacks (both melee and ranged) against the monk. The automatic movement is cancelled if the target has a faster speed or moves in such a way that the monk cannot reach an adjacent square.
As Spirit Dancers were Blue Rose’s pseudo-monk archetype, I wanted this subclass to be cool. The AGE System even has a variety of dance-fighting styles to learn and make them different, so the 5e one feels like it’s lost a lot. Overall it’s not that good of a choice. The majority of its features are utility and not applicable in combat until higher levels. And even its 17th level capstone can be easily overcome if the target is fast enough or has some movement speed the monk does not.
Paladins are warriors who swear oaths to a greater cause, and are found among all cultures of Aldea. The most notable orders are the Knights of Purity in Jarzon, the Knights of the Skull in Kern, and the Knights of the Blue Rose in Aldis. The Oath of the Rose subclass are champions of Aldis’ people, their tenets involving upholding the peoples’ safety, the sovereign’s ideals, and common knightly codes of conduct such as compassion and bravery. Their bonus spells include mostly healing and defense, and also oddly Calm Emotions, as it is an Occult spell if cast on the unwilling. At 3rd level their Channel Divinity options include an inspiring word as a reaction which allows a nearby ally to roll a d20 with advantage or to reroll a failed result. The other is Rebuke Shadow, which forces fiends and undead to move away from the paladin like a turned creature. At 7th and 18th levels those who regain hit points from spells restore a bonus number equal to the paladin’s Charisma modifier, provided they’re within 10 or 30 feet respectively. At 15th level the paladin can cast find steed to choose a griffon or unicorn as a mount who is then rhy-bonded with them. Finally at 20th level their “ultimate form” ability grants resistance to all damage, advantage on all death saves, immunity to the charmed condition, and the paladin and allies within 30 feet have advantage on all Wisdom saves.
The Channel Divinity options are nice, although they step a bit on the Radiant domain’s toes. Gaining a griffon or unicorn mount is a pretty good option. I’ll talk about it in a future chapter, but said monsters are the oldest and most powerful types of rhydan, and even the griffons are intelligent and get spellcasting like unicorns which makes them a solid choice for a mount. The 20th level ability has a lot of positive traits, although as almost no game gets that high level it’s not going to be seen by a majority of gaming groups.
Thoughts So Far: When Blue Rose originally came out, the consensus was that people loved the system but didn’t care as much about the setting. In 2017 when the AGE version released, people loved the setting but found the system rather bland and boring. I’m unsure of the consensus today, but while 5th Edition does its brand of fantasy rather well I don’t know if it can emulate the kinds of stories that Blue Rose wishes to tell. The classes stick out the most to me, and as much as I would’ve liked to see a more “build your own PC” kit a la the original True20, that may have been beyond the course and scope of this book. What we’re left with is an oval peg not quite fitting in the round hole.
The initial batch of classes range from uninspiring to passable. The races fare much better, with the rhydan as the high point and only the sea folk getting the short end of the stick. Still, this chapter isn’t yet quite done, but we’re stopping here for the sake of length.
Join us next time as we cover the rest of the Classes along with new backgrounds, feats, and magic items in Chapters IX through XI!