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D&D 5E [Mini-Let's Read] The Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide (5e)

Libertad

Adventurer
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!
 

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imagineGod

Legend
Thanks for the detailed review. I have the original d20 Blue Rose that spawned a whole True20 system after it.
Also got the Kickstarter for Green Ronin's Fantasy AGE version of Blue Rose. But my preference is 5e, though I skipped the Kickstarter when I saw such a low turnout for its 5e version, especially when compare to other 5e Kickstarters like the recent Dungeons of Drakkenheim, I just thought something must stink about Blue Rose 5e not to pull in the crowds.
 

Libertad

Adventurer
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Rangers are those who cross through the wild lands of Aldea for all manner of reasons. Rangers who choose the Hunter subclass gain additional chooseable features in line with those who prioritize hunting the servants of Shadow. One 3rd level feature treats their melee weapons as magical vs favored foes, a 7th level feature grants them resistance to necrotic damage and advantage on charm/frighten effects vs fiends and shadowspawn, at 11th level they can damage the summoner by damaging the summoned creature if the former fails a Wisdom save, and at 15th level they can learn a feature that grants advantage on all occult* uses of spells and all spells cast by fiends and undead.

*Occultism is using magic for evil purposes, usually in subverting one’s free will along with the typical ‘evil magic’ tropes.

The 3rd and 11th level abilities are more situational, but the 7th and 15th are rather useful given that such creature types and spells are common among Blue Rose’s villains.

Rogues are...well, they’re just like rogues in every other setting. The new Rebel subtype are those who use their talents to fight established power structures. At 3rd level they gain a bunch of proficiencies (disguise kit, forgery kit, 1 gaming set, 2 languages) and once per short or long rest can spend a reaction to perform any action as though it was readied ahead of time. At 9th level they gain advantage on Charisma checks when addressing crowds of 10 or more people and also bestow immunity to the frightened condition on those listening (but only effects with a lower DC than the ability check result). At 13th level they gain proficiency in Charisma saves, and at 17th level they can once per short or long rest roll a Sleight of Hand or Stealth check vs a target’s opposing skill. On a failure they can’t move or take an action or reaction on their next turn and are considered surprised.

The ability to insta-ready certain actions and the frightened immunity are pretty good boons, and the 17th level ability is great for shutting down enemy actions. The bonus proficiencies and saving throw are a bit more situational.

Sorcerers are basically those who are born with a stronger Talent than usual, and some believe they may have been companions to the Primordials, made pacts with the fey in prior reincarnations, or hail from an ancient arcane dynasty of adepts. They are considered gifted children in Aldis and Rezea, while in Jarzon they are feared as being tainted by occultism and strongly pressured to become wards of the Church. In Kern they are trained as Shadow-Taken, the kingdom’s elite force of evil magic-users. As dragons are unknown in Aldea, those who would have the Draconic Bloodline are instead replaced with the new Primal Sorcery subclass.

They are pretty much the Draconic Bloodline sorcerer, but instead of Draconic and bonuses to interacting with dragons they learn one of the four elemental languages and gain double proficiency on charisma checks when interacting with such elementals. At 14th level they can take on an aspect of their element once per short or long rest as a bonus action: air grants flight and immunity to lightning damage, earth grants a burrowing speed and immunity to nonmagical bludgeoning and resistance to piercing/slashing, fire allows them to emit a damaging aura of flames, and water grants immunity to cold damage, a swim speed, and the ability to breath underwater. At 18th level they can cast true polymorph once per long rest to assume the form of an elemental matching their favored type for an hour.

Elementals aren’t a common creature type in the Monster Manual, and being limited to a single “energy type” makes their initial class feature even more situational. There’s a wider variety of 14th level abilities to replace the Dragon Wings of the original subclass, although the fire one is kind of underwhelming and flight still wins out over burrowing and swimming. The 18th level feature can be useful for utility purposes depending on the type, and is longer-lasting than Draconic Presence which has a more immediate use in combat.

As a replacement subclass it’s a bit underwhelming at lower levels, but at higher levels has some nice alternatives.

Warlocks break apart Blue Rose’s setting expectations for magic in a big way. While being born with the Talent is the universal default option for adepts, warlocks are born without it. THey desire arcana so much that they make pacts with otherworldly beings to gain the ability to manipulate magic. Warlocks are widely distrusted, even in Aldis due to fear that such desire for power can lead down the road to occultism and thus Shadow. Fey warlocks are often seen as the most “benign,” and those of the Fiend are those who enter into alliance with the Exarchs. Warlocks who pacted with the Great Old Ones are viewed by outsiders the same way as the Fiends, although said warlocks claim that their patrons are ancient entities that existed even before the Eternal Dance. Most people are skeptical.

There are two new otherworldly patrons for Aldean warlocks to take. The first is the Autumn King, those who pledge themselves to Anwaren. Their bonus spells are mostly utility and defense, such as shield, gentle repose, speak with dead, and stoneskin. At 1st level they can cast a modified version of Sanctuary once per short or long rest save that it only affects fiends, shadowspawn, and undead. At 6th level they gain resistance to psychic and necrotic damage. At 10th level they can spend Hit Dice to immediately gain hit points if they drop to 0 HP, and at 14th level they can conjure a terrible vision of Shadow to instill in a nearby creature. if they fail a Wisdom save they are blinded for 1 minute and take 4d10 psychic damage every round (can save every round to end the effect). Fiends, shadowspawn, and those Lost to Shadow are immune to this trait as well as those immune to psychic damage. Shadow-Touched are not, and if they are affected the experience alone is enough to make them desire to walk the path of redemption.

The other patron, the Winter Queen, are those warlocks who honor the goddess Selune, gaining insight from her guiding light. Their bonus spells are a mixture of illumination and some miscellaneous things such as nondetection and cone of cold. At 1st level they can cast detect evil and good at will without the need for a spell slot. At 6th level they can cast counterspell once per short or long rest. At 10th level they can cast commune while sleeping in the middle of a long rest, and at 14th level can once per long rest call upon their patron for aid. For this last ability, they can make an ability check with double proficiency bonus or spend a spell slot to cast any spell from any spell list of 5th level or below.

The Autumn King patron has overall nice abilities. The spending of Hit Die to avoid death is highly useful and few characters will regret having it, and the 14th level ability is a good damaging debuff that also has the side effect of redeeming some villains. As for the Winter Queen its abilities are more passive and centered around lore and information gathering with some defense. However, warlocks as a class aren’t particularly known for specializing in divination-style magic barring a few choices, and given the mixture of other spells it doesn’t feel as impressive as other warlock subclasses which play upon its strengths.

Wizards are adepts who approach magic in a scholarly way, attuning their power to spellbooks. They are common in the major nations save for Rezea which has a lack of written lore, and Jarzon where book-learning can be a threat to their power and magical items are associated with the occult.

The new School of the Psyche is devoted to the true source of magic, study of the awakened souls of the Eternal Dance where one’s mind allows one to channel arcana into the world. At 2nd level they gain two feats of their choice: Psychic, Psychic Shield, Seer, or Shaper. At 6th level while preparing spells they can choose two spells that they can cast without any components provided that said components have no monetary cost. At 12th and 18th level they can prepare one more spell each this way. At 10th level they add their Intelligence modifier to the damage rolls of spells that deal psychic damage. At 14th they gain resistance to psychic damage and advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saves vs effects that would influence their mind or spirit.

Ironically the Psychic Shield feat overlaps a bit with the 14th level capstone, even if it’s but one option out of many. Additionally psychic-type damage spells are pretty limited if you’re using just the corebooks. There are 5 in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (Mental Prison, Mind Spike, Psychic Scream, Shadow Blade, Synaptic Strike), and 2 in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything (Mind Sliver, Tasha’s Mind Whip) which opens things up a bit. The component-less spellcasting can be useful for some “save me” spells if the wizard ends up grappled, silenced, and the like, but otherwise nothing sticks out much.

Feats provide 8 new options, most of which are magical in nature. Animist are those in tune with the natural world, granting the ability to cast animal friendship and animal messenger once each per long rest. Ariser is a Rhydan-only feat that lets the user twice per long rest magically assume a single specific humanoid form for a number of hours equal to half their level. Body Control grants the character the ability to do one of four things: hold their breath for far longer than normal, ignore the effects of exhaustion until the next short rest, go into a death-like trance that halts the effects of suffocation, disease, and poison, or spend a reaction to gain advantage on a save vs disease, fear, pain, paralysis, or poison. Each use of this feat can be used once per short rest, but can be used an additional time via taking a level of exhaustion. Psychic lets one communicate telepathically with another creature within 60 feet, and can also cast the sending spell once per short or long rest without any components. Psychic Shield grants advantage on saving throws vs magic that reads thoughts, inflicts psychic damage, or imposes unwanted communication or mental influence. Psychic Weapon lets the user summon a ghostly melee weapon with the finesse* and thrown properties in their hand that deals psychic damage and adds Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma modifier to damage.

*Given that said property lets one add Dexterity to attack and damage rolls, this begs the question if psychic weapons add both Dexterity and the appropriate mental ability score to damage or just the mental modifier. I presume the latter, but the book could stand to be clearer on this.

Seer grants knowledge of the guidance cantrip, and lets the user cast augury and detect magic as rituals, or normal spells if they have the spell slots for them. Finally, the Shaper feat lets the user cast mage hand but without components, a range of 60 feet, and it’s invisible.

Several of these feat choices feel rather weak. Ariser and Shaper can be replicated by spells and magic items. Body Control’s Exhaustion-ignoring is perhaps the most useful, while Psychic may be good if the entire party takes it so they can communicate without giving away their position. Psychic Shield is great in resisting a wide variety of effects, and depending on how the DM interprets Psychic Weapon it can make for a good damage-dealing build or just a nifty ‘always-armed’ feature. Animist is situational but Seer has some useful spells.

None of these feats grant +1 to ability scores, which limits their appeal even further. The most common means I’d see them taken is via free such as with the variant human or the new races and class options in this book.

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This section covers the existing backgrounds from the corebooks as well as three new ones. Overall the more ‘hard luck’ backgrounds (Charlatan, Criminal, Urchin) tend to either be rarer in Aldis due to society covering a comfortable standard of living for most inhabitants and very common lie-detecting magic. This means that the few criminal organizations still around are those who are very good at covering their tracks. Additionally, Nobles in Aldis don’t come from inherited wealth, and are instead magistrates appointed by the test of the Blue Rose Scepter. Alternatively the background can represent the children of merchants or other families of wealth in Aldis or elsewhere, regardless of whether they’re viewed as technical commoners or something more.

For the three new backgrounds, the first one is Reawakened, someone who has recently become aware of significant past-life memories. They gain proficiency in History, Insight, a language, and either a single artisan’s tools or musical instrument. Their Feature lets the GM grant them fragmentary memories of encountered people, places, and events.

The second background, Refugee, represents someone forced by circumstance to leave their home and take up a new life in new lands. They choose two of Deception, Persuasion, or Stealth as skills in which to be proficient, one language and one tool proficiency each of their choice, and their Feature lets them substitute Deception/Persuasion in civilized areas in lieu of Survival to forage for food and similar necessities.

The final background, the Shadow-Scarred, represents someone who had a momentous encounter with an area or being tainted by Shadow. They gain proficiency in Insight, Intimidation, and one tool proficiency and language of their choice. Their Feature can grant them advantage on Insight or Perception checks to gather clues about phenomena related to Shadow, and can discern between ordinary misdeeds and those motivated by the corruption of Shadow.

We end our chapter not with more backgrounds, but two new optional rules. As Blue Rose and romantic fantasy don't put as much of an emphasis on gathering loot and wealth, alternate rules abstract the gear of a character based on their skillset, background, and favors.

Narrative Equipment is the first such rule. Instead of tracking individual weapons and armor, a person’s damage die is determined based on whether they’re proficient in simple and-or martial weapons and if they’re fighting one-handed or two-handed. Their base AC value is based on their armor proficiency, meaning those with heavier armor proficiencies can still be very well-protected even if described as wearing light armor. Shields still add to AC the normal way but preclude being able to make two-handed weapon attacks when benefiting from this AC bonus. When it comes to other equipment PCs are presumed to have all the necessary tools for their trade and as members of the Sovereign’s Finest. In cases where it’s necessary to see if they have a particular item on hand, a Wisdom saving throw (add proficiency bonus if relevant to their profession) is rolled against a DC based against said item’s rarity and relative expense.

Narrative Wealth is similar in that it abstracts what a character can afford based on their lifestyle. Generally adventurers have a modest lifestyle when traveling and comfortable when resting at home. Aldis’ social system means that virtually nobody lives a squalid lifestyle and few are poor, but very few are aristocratic due to heavy taxes on the rich and an expectation that people “earn their wealth.” In Jarzon, modest lifestyles are more common than comfortable. If an item is within the reasonable purchasing price of someone’s lifestyle, then they can afford it. If out of their price range then the PC must find other means of obtaining the item and/or its cost.

The backgrounds are rather broad, and I do like how they each grant bonus tools and languages which tend to be rare in such a mechanic. I have mixed feelings on Narrative Equipment and Wealth. I kind of like the variety in weapon types in D&D and the various properties that make them feel different. This makes such armaments a bit too uniform for my liking.

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Aldea is overall a high-magic setting. Although there are some places where magical talent is highly regulated and kept out of the hands of the majority, the legacies of the Old Kingdom (think the “golden age” before corruption) and the Empire of Thorns persist throughout the lands. In Aldis magical talents are common and adepts use their skills to build extensive public works projects, while Kern has dark mages keeping a tight rein over their citizenry and huge crystal cannons on the border to repel invading armies. Rezea incorporates witches and sooth-sayers among virtually every tribe, while tainted lands such as the Shadow Barrens are awash with warped monstrosities and ruins that may or may not contain vaults full of magical treasures.

Spellcasting works more or less the same as in other 5th Edition settings, save with a few changes. Aldea is more isolated from otherworldly planes of existence, and the only known means of traveling to other realms is via the shadow-gates. Conjure celestial, contact other plane, gate, planar ally, plane shift, teleport, and teleportation circle all require the use of a shadow-gate to be cast, and given that said items are rare and dangerous occult items you shouldn’t count on making regular use of such spells in a typical campaign. Spells that conjure fey and elementals function normally, as they’re calling the entities from the foundation of Aldea rather than from other realms. The awaken spell doesn’t exist, as intelligent animals are rhyda, who bear souls capable of reincarnation from the Eternal Dance which is something that mundane animals lack.

Furthermore, certain spells and magic items are associated with the occult (known in previous systems as sorcery), ‘evil magic’ that can corrupt some with frequent use. The primary factor that determines whether or not magic is occult is whether or not it subverts someone else’s free will. Every soul spawned from the Eternal Dance bears a fraction of the Primordials’ divine essence, the Talent manifesting as remnants of that deific connection. The soul twists in pain and reacts against this violation when one uses magic to subvert or alter one’s mind, body, or soul without their consent.

In practical terms, this means that virtually every enchantment or emotion-altering spell counts as occult if cast on an unwilling/unknowing target. Same for spells that intrude into one’s mind like detect thoughts, or that change their body like enlarge/reduce and polymorph. Spells which summon or create fiends and undead creatures are also occult regardless of the circumstances in which they’re cast, due to drawing upon Shadow. We have a list of spells that qualify as occult, but the preceding guidelines are more or less comprehensive in covering such ground.

Corruption is actually a new set of rules way back in chapter 1, but I included it here for the sake of ease. Basically there are several flavors of supernatural evil. Shadow-touched are people and places bearing the taint of Shadow and can be detected as such via the detect good and evil spell. Mundane animals go out of their way to avoid shadow-touched beings and locations, and anything born within a shadow-touched area comes out wrong, growing into a diverse array of monstrous beings collectively known as shadowspawn.

Rules are provided for PCs and other characters suffering from corruption. Those who suffer from corruption are known as the Corrupted, while those who succumb fully are Lost to Shadow and/or become the Shadow-Taken. There are two ways to suffer Corruption: use a magic item or spell in an occult way, or perform immoral acts while in a corrupted place. Every action forces a Wisdom saving throw whose DC depends on the degree of severity of the action or the level of the spell or spell slot used. Failure gives 1 point of Corruption. One can deliberately call upon Shadow to gain inspiration to spend on a roll to gain advantage, if said roll is used during the course of the corrupt act or spell.

A Corruption score applies as a penalty to one’s Constitution and Wisdom scores, and the maximum possible Corruption value is 20. If one’s Corruption score exceeds their Wisdom, they become Lost to Shadow and gain an indefinite form of madness each time they gain a Corruption point. If Corruption exceeds Constitution first, the creature dies and rises the next day as an undead shadow. Creatures can avoid these negative consequences by willingly giving in and becoming Shadow-Taken. They no longer suffer penalties to Constitution and Wisdom, gain a Corruption point, become evil-aligned, and cannot be raised from the dead. Instead they become an undead creature upon death, the more powerful the higher their Corruption score. If they’re a spellcaster they can substitute their Corruption score for their spellcasting ability modifier if the value is greater.

Corruption can be lost gradually, unless one is Shadow-Taken in which case it’s permanent in most circumstances. If one acts in accordance with a good-aligned ideal they can spend Inspiration to remove 1 Corruption point. For the Shadow-Taken the loss of Corruption and their status is more subject to DM Fiat, usually involving some grand act of heroism. As they can lose their Shadow-Touched status but not all of their Corruption, it is entirely possible for them to perish after the completion of such an act. And turn undead if reading the rules as is, although the book doesn’t point this out and I figured it’d be narratively unthematic..

Telepathy gets its own short section due to how common the ability is in Aldea, be it from natural talents of the rhydan or learned via conventional magic. Basically “receivers” don’t have to possess telepathy and can receive and respond to telepathic messages but otherwise can’t initiate it on their own without the ability. Unwanted contact can be terminated on a successful Wisdom save, locking the sender out of that particular mind until the sender’s next short or long rest. “Senders” don’t have to see the receiver in order to make contact and may end contact at any time. Contact is broken if either party moves out of range or the sender is incapacitated. Finally, two or more telepathic senders can enter into a psychic rapport, a deep kind of communication that takes an action for all involved parties to enter. Communication is 10 times faster and all parties have advantage on Wisdom saves, but they are considered stunned while in such a state and cannot lie to each other. Rapports can only be entered into with the consent of all parties.

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Magic Items gives us 42 new magic items, 35 of which are of a more generic nature and 7 of which are occult items. Due to the commonality of magic in Aldea a fair amount of these items have Common or Uncommon rarity, 8 and 12 respectively. I won’t cover them all, but will touch upon a few of the more interesting ones.

For the generic magic items we have Collar of Hands (lets rhydan cast mage hand like the Shaper feat), Cryston (crystal wand pseudo-gun that a spellcaster can use, only KOs living beings but can destroy fiends and undead), Fountain of Glory (stationary item that can restore HP, cast control water, and can conjure a water elemental a limited number of times per day), Glorious Ballroom (unique magic room in a villa outside the Aldisian city of Garnet, grants advantage on all Charisma checks to people inside chosen by the attuned owner), Harness of Defense (rhydan who wear this gain +2 to AC if wearing no armor and using no shield), a Hawkbow (+1 attack and damage, doubles range for attuned user), various kinds of Potions (Potion of Communion grants telepathy for 1 hour; Potion of Recovery can remove 2 levels of exhaustion, but every drink before next long rest removes 1 less; Potion of Stamina lets one ignore exhaustion level penalties for 4 hours, Potion of Suppression makes drinker unable to use any magical abilities for 1 hour on a failed Constitution save), Stone of Meditation (resting for four hours nearby lets you remove a level of exhaustion), Stone of Memory (can record one’s memories which can be accessed by telepathy, memories can be altered and deleted unless “locked” to avoid tampering by other users), Stones of Messaging (basically act as telepathic telephones, but can only communicate to the stone it’s paired with), the Table of Accord (an item in the Sovereign’s Palace in Aldis which grants advantage on Persuasion and Insight checks but disadvantage on Deception and Intimidation checks), the Touchstone (giant shas* crystal used to protect the capital city of Aldis, those touching it can scry on anything anywhere within the city and draw from a pool of sorcery points used to cast spells through the scrying receptacle), Union Rings (often worn by significant others to cast Telepathic Bond and Warding Bond on each other without the need for components), and a Ward Blade (blade’s point can be used to trace a magic circle spell on the ground).

*Aldea’s general-purpose magic crystals that can be used in a variety of magic item creation.

As for our Occult items, they are much rarer. Most date from the Empire of Thorns, and are the creation of wicked spellcasters, fiends and shadowspawn, and perhaps even the Exarchs of Shadow themselves. Possession and use of such items is illegal pretty much everywhere save Kern, where only the ruling class and their agents are permitted to have access. Such items include the Crimson Eye amulets (can spend charges to cast divination spells, but there’s a ‘master amulet’ that lets one scry on all other amulet wearers that was once owned by Kern’s Lich King), the Ebban Mask carved from the skull of a darkfiend (intelligent and evil-aligned, grants bonuses to AC, HP, telepathy, can cast some magical spells), Fragment of the Shadow Heptagram (exploded fragments of a former touchstone, can draw sorcery points from it to fuel one’s spells), the Jade Crown (can summon a creature of the fiend type without the need for a shadow-gate), Skull Helms (immune to divination magic, charmed and frightened conditions, can cast fear 1/day, there’s a ‘master amulet’ which lets one bypass the divination immunity of the helm’s wearer), and the Talon of Kargus (preserved hand of an infamous darkfiend, can graft to a severed stump on one’s hand to gain 20 Strength, a magical claw attack dealing 3d8 damage, cast Vampiric Touch via the claw, and becomes stunned on a natural 1 on an attack roll or ability check as contact other plane is cast on the user).

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You likely only counted six occult items. Well I saved the best for last. Shadow-gates were the most famous devices of the Old Kingdom before it turned into the Empire of Thorns. Looking like a giant flat ring suspended on its side, such structures were used to access far-flung worlds and planes of existence, first for trade and later for conquest when the Kingdom’s leadership became corrupted. Now they are thankfully rare, lingering in forgotten corners of the world to be found and activated by some foul figure or hapless wanderer. Shadow-gates summoning hordes of darkfiends into a region are a rare yet significant danger the Sovereign’s Finest of Aldea and the Knights of Purity in Jarzon have had to deal with.

In addition to allowing a caster to bypass the setting restrictions on planar magic, one can use teleportation and teleportation circle to travel between shadow-gates, but doing this risks corruption. There are rules for destroying shadow-gates, but they are sturdy, have lots of hit points, a large number of damage immunities, and are resistant to all forms of damage they’re not immune to and subtract 20 from the final damage result of such assaults. An easier way to destroy shadow-gates is to overload them with magic, where spellcasters must pour 20 levels worth of spell slots into the shadow-gate’s arcane circuitry, triggering a countdown implosion where a gravity well sucks all creatures and materials below a certain size, weight, or failed Strength saving throw. Anyone or anything pulled into the portal vanishes and is lost forever.

Overall I enjoyed the new magic items the most. Those took up the bulk of the chapter, so I don’t have much to say on Aldea’s altered/unavailable magic; the rules aren’t overly restrictive save that it more or less locks you out of being an enchanter unless you want to get corrupted quickly. But given that such magic was most often sorcery in the prior systems this wasn’t a PC-friendly archetype in Blue Rose, so in an odd way this is just in keeping with the setting lore.

The Corruption rules aren’t a constant danger to most PCs, and really only activate if you start making use of forbidden magic or do bad things in bad places. Furthermore, removing Corruption is relatively easy, although as it requires eating Inspiration it’s still something under the realm of DM Fiat. The penalties to Constitution and Wisdom are very debilitating, so I imagine that most gaming groups are going to go out of their way to avoid gaining Corruption. Which is in keeping with the romantic fantasy theme, but combined with how overall rare it is to get it probably means such rules aren’t going to be very common.

Thoughts So Far: The rest of the classes and much of the feats didn’t really grab me. The big highlight of this section was the altered spells, Corruption rules, and magic items. These rules do a good job at emulating the romantic fantasy genre and keeping in line with the original Blue Rose’s magic system (if the spirit rather than the letter). I do like how there are magic items which are effectively immobile and more akin to foundations in a building, and some meant more for general-purpose use rather than being “adventurer-appropriate.”

Join us next time as we finish this review with Chapter XII: Aldean Creatures and the Shadows of Tanglewood adventure!
 
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Libertad

Adventurer
Thanks for the detailed review. I have the original d20 Blue Rose that spawned a whole True20 system after it.
Also got the Kickstarter for Green Ronin's Fantasy AGE version of Blue Rose. But my preference is 5e, though I skipped the Kickstarter when I saw such a low turnout for its 5e version, especially when compare to other 5e Kickstarters like the recent Dungeons of Drakkenheim, I just thought something must stink about Blue Rose 5e not to pull in the crowds.

It's been nearly a year since this book came out, and it's still a Silver seller on Drive-Thru RPG. That means it hasn't pushed a lot of product on that site, comparatively speaking. Then again, Green Ronin hasn't exactly been doing the best job at advertising it. From my review it's kind of obvious they phoned in a lot of stuff.

The one thing I can take solace from this is that they're not abandoning the AGE System for 5e. The most recent releases for the line have been for AGE, including the big adventure path Envoys to the Mount.
 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!
Thank you for the review! As a long-time Blue Rose fan, I'll definitely be avoiding this, because you mentioned a couple of the defining features of "romantic fantasy" (as much as it is defined - there's a lot of mainstream modern fantasy that would be "romantic fantasy" save for a somewhat dark setting or the like), but the other one is that (as you mention) the heroes typically possess inborn magical powers - and those magical powers are almost never of the kind D&D prominently features i.e. powerful fire-and-forget spells, but tend to line up to with psionic powers, or very low-end superpowers. This was handled well by the AGE version (and decently by the original), but I'm surprised they didn't just come up with their own class, or, as you suggest, a "build your own" class system generally - that would have been vastly more valuable than attempting to find ways to jam D&D classes in.

(I'm also dubious about HP/levels and D&D's skill resolution system, but an E6-type approach - like Brancalonia - might have solved that - sadly they seem not to have gone that way)
 

Libertad

Adventurer
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As far as fantasy RPGs go, the True20/AGE versions of Blue Rose weren’t exactly swimming in monster and NPC stat blocks. So in a strange way, 5th Edition’s cavalcade of creatures can be a great benefit. We do have some new monsters, although first we’ll detail existing beings and how they fit into Aldea.

Aldean Creature Tags discuss new descriptors that are added on top of base monsters. The first is (rhydan), which are intelligent animals and applied on top of creatures of the Beast type. Additionally, (shadowspawn) is a broad tag that represents creatures altered, transformed, and created by the occult and powers of Shadow.

Aldean Creature Types covers the basic 5e ones in broad strokes. Aberrations were created by the Shadow Lords or summoned from worlds beyond the shadow-gates, and are thus (shadowspawn) and almost always evil. Same for Monstrosities and Oozes, with the latter creature type being so rare as to be unique. Beasts are more or less unmodified save that dinosaurs didn’t exist on Aldea until occultists summoned them from worlds beyond the shadow-gates, and we have a sidebar of new Aldean Beasts such as greenwolves (fey-touched wolves that can can cast the druidcraft spell), Plains deer (tiny-sized deer found on the Rezean plains), and Talya-cats (panther-sized Siamese cats from which rhy-cats are derived). Celestials don’t exist on Aldea, and unicorns are instead beasts with the (rhydan) tag. Constructs are rare relics of the Old Kingdom and Shadow Lords. True Dragons don’t exist and are instead creatures of legend. But other dragon types such as pseudodragons and wyverns exist, the latter of which has the (shadowspawn) tag and are ridden by the Skull Knights of Kern.

Elementals and Fey are spirits of the land, with fey a higher class of being formed from multiple elemental types. Neither have souls of the Eternal Dance and thus are incorporated back into the world’s foundation upon “death.” Plant monsters are in fact a type of elemental manifesting as a floral being. Blights are spirits tainted by Shadow, and myconids do not exist on Aldea but some suggestions are provided for where they’d be found if they do (mostly far-flung forest regions such as Wyss and the caverns of Kern).

Fiends are more commonly known as darkfiends, servants of the Exarchs of Shadow, and all have telepathy if they don’t already have it due to being expert corruptors of the mind. Giants are warped humanoids born in Shadow-Touched areas, most common in the Golgan Badlands and are even more evil than their counterparts in other D&D worlds. The only Humanoids which exist in Aldea are the non-rhydan PC races. However, there exist beast-folk who can emulate the “evil humanoid” types such as goblins, troglodytes, and such and are evil (shadowspawn). Finally Undead are separated into two types: corpses and remains reanimated by occult magic, and souls of the Eternal Dance unable to pass on to the Wheel of Rebirth and trapped in unliving bodies. Intelligent undead can only come from the souls of the PC races, and undead of other creatures can only be reanimated as skeletons and zombies.

Modified Creatures note particular Monster Manual creatures and how they differ in Aldea. Centaurs are fey, doppelgangers are shadowspawn spies created by the Shadow Lords, stirges are shadowspawn with the Aberration type, griffons are intelligent rhydan with the supernatural abilities of a unicorn, while unicorns are also rhydan. Hippogriffs, lycanthropes, modrons, and slaadi don’t exist in Aldea. Merrow and sahuagin are sea-folk and aquatic beast-folk respectively tainted by Shadow. As for undead, Jarek is the last known lich, the other known ones being Shadow Lords who have (hopefully) been long laid to rest. Shadows are known as shades, and vampires are the most powerful undead and are a common sight among Kern’s hierarchy. Yetis live in the Ice-Binder Mountains on the Aldis-Kern border, and are more commonly known as “white howlers.”

We have several stat blocks and templates for new creatures of Aldea. The Fey have Reveler and Noble stat blocks; the former is a CR 1 being with various druidic-style abilities and can teleport and charm targets, while the latter is a more powerful version being CR 6 and attuned to one of the four elements that provide unique attacks and special qualities. Rhydan provides stat blocks for NPC versions of the four sample rhydan races and are basically intelligent versions of their mundane animal counterparts. Rhydan is a simple template, adding +8 Intelligence, +4 Charisma, the ability to understand and speak languages, and the benefits of Psychic and Psychic Shield feats.

For templates we have Clockwork Creatures, artificial beings built during the Old Kingdom and Empire of Thorns. They change a creature’s type to construct, grant +4 Strength and Constitution, reduce Intelligence to 3 and Charisma to 1, gain a variety of construct-style damage immunities and conditions, blindsight 60 feet, advantage on saves vs magic, and are susceptible to anti-magic abilities which can render them unconscious. Fiendish Creatures are darkfiends taking on a disguise in the mortal world, effectively becoming that creature. The template grants the fiend type, changes Intelligence and Charisma to 10, grants an assortment of damage resistances and immunities, darkvision and telepathy up to 60 feet, gains advantage on saves vs magic, and becomes evil alignment if not already. Finally, Shatow-Touched Creatures are those who become corrupted by the Shadow, but are for NPCs rather than PCs. The creature gains the (shadowspawn) tag, adds double their proficiency bonus to Stealth, is immune to necrotic and poison damage and the poisoned condition, is vulnerable to radiant damage, gains darkvision 60 feet and advantage on Stealth checks in shadowy and lightless areas, suffers disadvantage on d20 rolls if in direct sunlight, and becomes evil alignment.

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This is a sample adventure for 4-6 1st level PCs. It was present in the AGE version as well, making this more or less a straight conversion. The pitch is that PCs are patrolling the Pavin Weald as part of their duties as the Sovereign’s Finest, and receive a psychic message of someone in trouble in the Tanglewood, a section of forest nearest the Ice-Binder Mountains and thus the kingdom of Kern. The source of the message is Talaith, an injured vata scout who watches over the border for soldiers and spies from that dread realm. His fellow guard and lover Dartis came upon the Ebban Mask, an occult artifact found within the ruins of a forested manor. The mask gradually took over his mind, forcing him to attack Talaith who realized the malign influence and managed to escape.

The adventure proper begins as the PCs heed the call, and will come upon a sprite by the name of Florin who can impart some information and help pick up the trail, but the sprite will run away in fear as a pack of shadow-touched wolves come upon the party. After the fight, the PCs find Talaith who can be nursed back to health and returned to the outpost, but isn’t in any shape to sustain another fight. The last encounter the PCs get before coming to Ebban Manor is a corrupted fey reveler who tries to lure the PCs into a trap with the Entangle spell.

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Ebban Manor proper is a mini-dungeon crawl of 13 rooms, most of which are unoccupied but contain some clues and journalistic writings of the manor’s former occupant descending into madness from the Mask’s influence. There’s a table of random encounters (mostly mundane animals plus stirges and violet fungi), and the non-random inhabitants include another corrupted fey reveler who is building clockwork sprites to patrol the area. The self-proclaimed Lord of Tanglewood and leader of the corrupted fey is a satyr by the name of Deradiz, who will try to lure the PCs to sleep with his pan pipes in the hopes of imprisoning and converting them to his cause. Dartis is with Deradiz in a converted shrine to the Exarchs of Shadow, acting as a trusted servant and enforce of the satyr’s will.

Dartis has the statistics of a scout, but is attuned to the Ebban Mask. Although I touched upon it in the last chapter, I should go over what it can do. It grants +2 to AC and 10 temporary hit points, and also grants telepathy and darkvision out to 60 feet. It also grants five spells for the wearer to cast: eldritch blast and mage hand at will, and also mislead, phantasmal killer, and telekinesis once per day each. Dartis’ soul is struggling against the Mask’s influence so his attacks have disadvantage and those resisting his spells have advantage, although such modifications cease in regards to any target who attacks him. PCs who successfully use Persuasion can impose further doubt in his mind, forcing him to not act on his turn per check. If Talaith is present he can grant advantage to such rolls, and 3 successful checks can cause Dartis to remove the Mask and throw it away. Deradiz will attempt to flee if the battle turns against him, taking the Ebban Mask if possible. Otherwise he will try to retrieve the Mask as a potential recurring villain if the PCs have it.

Although Dartis’ effectiveness in combat is blunted a bit, his spell allotment makes him a very deadly encounter. Phantasmal Killer is capable of doing 4d10 psychic damage on a failed Will save, and can be cumulative if a target continues failing. Mislead and Telekinesis are more manageable, but it’s very likely that Dartis may kill a PC. Add on top of this Deradiz’s panpipe music and the overall lethality of 1st-level adventures, this can be a very difficult encounter unless the PCs get the drop on both parties.

The adventure’s epilogue has several suggestions for further adventure material: dismantling the Shadow shrine will gradually reverse the taint in the region and some of the corrupted fey, and as the Ebban Mask cannot be physically destroyed it would be pertinent to deliver it into the hands of specialists to safeguard it from wrongdoers. Finally, Dartis and Talaith may be allies for the PCs in future adventures, and Dartis will need help shedding the Corruption from his soul.

Thoughts So Far: The new monsters in Chapter XII are few and far between, although the templates are convenient for customizing creatures. I mentioned earlier about Blue Rose’s relative lack of monsters, but the diverse concept of shadowspawn is a good means of importing creatures from the Monster Manual and other bestiaries into Aldea. I will say that I’m not really fond of the use of humanoids and giants as always-evil shadowspawn. The backstory of night people showcases that even those created by Shadow can become good. Furthermore, the variant ability score rules and use of “ancestry” instead of “race” was popularized by gamers who sought to move farther from D&D’s more problematic elements which this book uses. Although beast-folk existed in the AGE version and this cannot be laid entirely on the 5e conversion, the suggestions of taking humanoids such as goblins and troglodytes and using them as “always evil” cannon fodder goes against these ideals in a rather explicit manner.

As for Shadows of Tanglewood, thematically it’s a good way of introducing the characters to the dangers of Shadow, although for the broader themes of Blue Rose it is a bit lacking. The border guards are same-sex lovers so it has that LGBT+ content, and the corrupted person can be saved via the Power of Friendship via talking instead of murderhoboing. But it’s in a rather distant corner of Aldis, combat-heavy, and it’s quite easy for the PCs to die without outside help. I don’t know how the original adventure fared with the AGE system, but in terms of both fluff and crunch Shadows of Tanglewood doesn’t rate highly as an introduction to the setting.

Final Thoughts: Blue Rose has always had a troubled history when it came to finding the ideal system for its world and themes. True20 was by no means bad for its time, but was still derived from a system that heavily prioritized combat, caster supremacy, and dungeon crawls. AGE committed many of the same sins while also not having a lot to distinguish itself from many fantasy heartbreakers. 5th Edition doesn’t stray far from the tree, its major advantage being a popular potential entry point to the world of Aldea. Unfortunately, the conversion makes it all the more clear just how poorly D&D fits into Blue Rose, and how many aspects of the world have to be changed around for even a passable fit. As such, campaigns utilizing the Blue Rose Adventurer’s Guide are more likely to feel like D&D with Romantic Fantasy rather than Romantic Fantasy Using the D&D Engine. And given the fact that the AGE version has much more fluff and setting material, Blue Rose’s most modern incarnation is clearly an inferior product in several ways.

I’ll be going back to my Brancalonia review, although I have a few ideas of what books to cover next. I’m debating whether to continue with 5e books or doing another system, or 5e books that aren’t settings for a change. I’ll probably have an answer by the end of Brancalonia.
 

imagineGod

Legend
Not to detail the thread with Brancalonia, I am curious about it since I read of it being one of The Most Anticipated RPGs.

Plus, it is from an Italian publisher, and we need more creative diversity like that in 5e material.

Have you heard of the OSR picaresque fantasy game Helveczia?

 

Libertad

Adventurer
As an FYI that RPG (and blog) was made by Melan, a person who seems to have a history of making transphobic statements.

Here's one where he's responding to a poster comparing social progressivism and civil rights movements to Communism. Melan's making a joke about people on Twitter coming after the poster for not respecting pronouns, and said poster is not by any stretch pro-Communist.

Here's the original source. You have to scroll down in the comments a bit to find it. One of them complains about a "socialist utopia" and then makes a bash against respectful pronoun usage as being the result of such a society.

You might be surprised to learn, but there is no “veal” in the socialist utopia.

This is how it goes. Even in the best of times, there is no veal. Even when there are no food shortages (like in multiple neighbouring countries, where there is no meat at all), there is no veal. Cows are being produced. Cows are first used for milk, and if they are all old, worn out and chewy, they get turned into beef. The plan is fulfilled, the people get their meat. There is no good beef on the market, only old worn-out cow. Sometimes, veal is reared, but it is immediately exported for hard currency. Veal is, of course, found on restaurant menus. Veal ragout, veal stew, veal in some kind of sauce with boiled potatoes. It is not veal, but the same kind of chewy cow as always, done “veal style”. If you mention this to the waiter, he will laugh and come up with a glib explanation, usually “I did not ask the esteemed animal about her age, har har har.”, or “We got it in the form of meat, not the whole veal, hyuck hyuck.” You hate him, but there are not many restaurants around, and all of them are just as bad, because they are all cooking from the same state-approved “official cookbook” which specifies what can be put into which dish, and in what proportions. You take the “veal”. It arrives late, half cold. The waiter smiles, and smirks “Bon appetit!” The wine has an acrid chemical taste, and smells faintly of petrol, because the wine quotas have to be met, and the Soviet market will buy anything. The bread, from the bread factory, is naughty word. The peas (if any) come from a recently opened tin, and till taste metallic.

Welcome to socialism. Enjoy your stay, you will probably be here for what seems like forever.

Coming soon to a country near you, except with more bug-based protein, and more pronouns. Yum yum yum!

He also intentionally deadnamed a transgender game designer. In 2011 he was aware of her transition and wished her well.

But in this 2018 blogpost he referred to her deadname repeatedly

One could argue in this last part that perhaps he forgot in 7 years, but combined with the initial statement I linked it's clear that this person doesn't respect transgender and nonbinary people. Maybe the RPG is good, but like I said of Blue Rose's "PC culture gone mad" critics I'd rather not give bigoted gamers the time of day anymore. Well, City of Brass excepted, but that was a more critical review of a product that for the most part received nothing but praise elsewhere.

(Also as an aside I'd like to mention that being pro-LGBT and Communist aren't exactly one and the same; in fact, a lot of Communist countries have been pretty socially conservative, some even going so far as to claim that homosexuality was invented by Westerners in a lab or that the top leadership of the Nazis were secretly gay).
 
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