Wednesday, October 17, 2012

[Used Gaming] Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed

I frequent a few places that have used gaming products for sale.  I mostly visit the stores in Tulsa but every once in a while I make a trip up to Bartlesville.  When I do I always make sure to stop at Hastings because the in-store selection of Sci-Fi and Fantasy books always seems to be more in tune with my tastes than other book stores.  In short, I always browse the Science Fiction, Fantasy, and used gaming sections.  On my last trip to Hastings I picked up Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed.

I usually tend to avoid this type of product because it seems that there is very little bang for the buck.  It has been my experience that there are basically just a few changes here and there - like the removal or addition of just a few races and classes - that could probably just be handled by a small list of house rules instead of a complete rule book.  I noticed the price was only $5.99 so I flipped through the manual to look at those two sections.  I found enough information that I was actually quite interested and decided to purchase the book.  I have yet to play this game but I have skimmed through it and read some sections in a little greater detail in my spare time.  I get the impression that there is a lot more to this product than simply making a few alterations here and there to the 3.x iteration on the rules and calling it "new".  The following sections explain what I found in each chapter.
The only standard PHB race included in Arcana Unearthed are the Humans; all of the other races are removed.  In their place are 6 new races - Faen (3 varieties of diminutive folk), Giants, Litorians (lion folk), Mojh (reptilian), Sibeccai (canine folk), and Verrik (red-skinned and human in appearance).  These replacement races do not appear to simply be the demi-human races with a new skin.
 None of the standard PHB classes are use in Arcana Unearthed.  There are 11 new classes to choose from - Akashic (skilled experts that tap into the collective knowledge of all beings for information and other things), Champion (defenders of a cause), Greenbond (masters of animism), Mage Blade (follows the paths of sword and sorcery), Magister (master spell casters), Oathsworn (devoted warriors), Runethane (spell casters that focus on the study and creation of magical runes), Totem Warrior (rural warriors that bond themselves to an animal spirit), Unfettered (warriors focused on speed and prowess in contrast to heavy armor and brute force), Warmain (the other side of the coin with the unfettered), and Witch (spell casters focused on the magical nature within themselves).  As you can see, the classes presented allow many other types of characters than the standard classes.  I am definitely interested in taking a closer look at each of these classes in the future.
So far I have just quickly skimmed through the chapter on skills.  No drastic changes or additions grabbed my attention so I can only assume that there are none.  That may not be the case and if someone notices any omission on my part feel free to correct me in the comments.  Skills are usually pretty dry reading so I did not take a hard look at them.
Feats and Talents
There are three types of feats used in Arcana Unearthed - General Feats, Talents, and Ceremonial Feats.  General Feats are the most basic type of feats and can be taken at the appropriate time by any character meeting the qualifications.  Talents are feats that represent an inborn gift instead of training and can only be taken at first level.  Ceremonial Feats are gained after participating in a ritual of power.  Again, this chapter made me take notice and grabbed my interest in taking a closer look.
Equipment and Playing the Game
Similar to my reasoning for skipping the chapter on skills I did so with the chapters on equipment and playing the game as well.  If I understand correctly, Arcana Unearthed is supposed to be highly compatible with the 3.x version of D&D so I should be pretty up to date on these sections. 
The chapter on magic has just as much or more to offer than the chapters on race and class.  It seems pretty familiar but there are some important changes.  Spells can be cast as a diminished spell (using a spell slot one level lower than normal), heightened spell  (using a spell slot one level higher than normal), and a laden spell (using two slots of the spells level instead of just one).  Of course, it is mentioned that using the spells in each of these manners has special effects and rules that correspond to doing so. 
The spells are also split into three categories: simple, complex, and exotic.  Each category determines the learning and casting difficulty plus how common the spell is among the various spell casters.  Simple spells are the most common and easiest of spells to cast; these spells are usually the ones taught to apprentices.  Complex spells are less common and more difficult to cast and learn because they require a real understanding of the way magic works.  These spells will require components and difficult gestures to cast.  All spell casters other than magisters require a special feat to cast these spells.  Exotic spells are the rarest and most difficult of the spells. 
I did not read through this chapter yet but for different reasons than skipping the earlier chapters.  It is my impression that this chapter may require a serious look with all the differences from the magic chapter.  Since I am just giving my first impression of Arcana Unearthed I believe that this chapter will be better done with a post devoted to it alone.
Final Thoughts
I will definitely take a closer look at this rule book.  I may post further about detailed reading of sections from the core book.  I would like to devote a short campaign to test driving the rules in play.  I did not feel that there were any glaring omissions so far but I would have liked to have seen a small section on the campaign setting setting and maybe a short selection of monsters.  As it stands, this book is golden.  The only real concern right now would be the acquisition of the rest of the line.  I am pretty late to the party on this one but I would like to see the complete line of books to evaluate the whole run. 
A few questions for anyone interested in answering:
Does this game play as well as it reads? 
Does it "feel" particularly different from standard D&D?
Are the rest of the books worth obtaining?
Are there any big differences between Arcana Unearthed and Arcana Evolved?


  1. It is a 3E game. It will play pretty much like every other 3E game. Not saying that is good or bad, just that is what it is. The book is just a mild variance of 3E combined with a setting.

    Arcana Evolved is about twice the size. It is updated for 3.5 and expands the content. It adds The Diamond Throne and the Player's Companion to the original book. There is a series of fiction that goes along with the setting as well.

  2. Hmmm....I was hoping it would at the least "feel" noticably different from 3E. Not because I hate 3E or anything but just because I had the impression that it was designed with that intent. Thanks for the info, Darius.

    Now I am wondering if the fiction series is any good. I seem to read a lot more books than game these days.

  3. I have no idea about the fiction. I suppose if you find the game world interesting, you might like the books.

    To me. the feel of a game comes from the basic rules such as character creation, combat, dice rolling, need for miniatures, etc. Pathfinder is the same as 3.x D&D. Yes there are changes and maybe some things are rougher/smoother, but it all feels the same to me. Arcana Unearthed is no different. In fact, since Monte is largely responsible for 3E, one should not expect something drastically different.

    There are different races, different classes, some tinkering with spell casting, no alignments, additional "level" systems, an additional type of feats, and a few other changes. To me, that is just adding more stuff on top of 3E. It isn't going to feel any different.

    AD&D and 2E feel the same to me, just that 2E is a moralized stripped down version. Character creation is still the same, you still use THAC0, etc. 3E+ does not feel like AD&D because of the fundamental mechanic changes. You may feel differently about tweaks. Perhaps some tweaks will make it feel like a different game, but it doesn't to me. So Monte's game may feel different than 3E to you, but without a mechanics change, it cannot feel different to me. (Such as Cyberpunk v3 does not seem like the same game as Cyberpunk 2020 to me.)

    If you want a detailed examination of each chapter of Arcana Evolved, you can read the review here:

  4. Good points all around, Darius. I definitely see what you are saying. I will check out that review.