Going Old School… but not D&D

So, I’ve decided to give running Arcanum another go. It’s a good game to run over a summer and it’s a perfect fit for my “Blighted World” setting I made up a couple years ago. But as I’ve been rereading the game I’m stunned by the number of things I simply didn’t remember, didn’t understand, or completely ignored when I was younger.

First off, don’t get me wrong, this game is a constant favorite and is always in the back of my mind. It’s just full of really random stuff sometimes. Sometimes when I’m reading this I can hear the author almost talking and sometimes I’m reading and asking myself… is that really how that’s supposed to work? As is, in my experience, common with games from the early days of the hobby, especially D&D-types, it’s interesting to get that sense of what the author thought important to cover in their game. It’s so difficult to get any sort of authorial voice in most modern games (well, the mass-produced ones) because they are: 1) mass produced, 2) team efforts, and 3) have multiple departments they pass through before they ever get to the printer. Reading this game is a very different experience.

I’m a big fan of the occasional asides where the author compares notes with the real world. The discussion of longbows, for instance, is awesome. But there are some very interesting bits tucked away in this game that are alternately awesome and confusing.

Take the Charlatan class, for example. The Charlatan is this wacky hodge-podge spell caster who is also part thief and part performer. A Charlatan can acquire a ridiculous number of abilities along with spell casting (though their spell casting is never at greater than level 1 ability). I completely misunderstood this note for almost the entire time I’ve been playing the game, by the way. Charlatans are a little less awesome now, in terms of raw ability, but are still my favorite class in the game. Ignoring their spell casting ability, you also find that…

All first level charlatans begin with the same abilities as a first level magician. Thereafter, a charlatan may become proficient in any 1 additional thieving or performing skill per level of ability gained. Optionally, a charlatan may forego the learning of any two such skills in favor of gaining first level skill in any magical field of study (except Divine Magic). In lieu of any single performing or thieving Skill, a charlatan may also opt to acquire proficiency in any new weapon, or may acquire a + 1 to hit with any known weapon (see Skills: Weapon Training).

How is that not awesome?

Nowhere does it say that those +1’s to hit don’t stack either… so it’s possible you could become really, really accurate if you wanted. And there’s all kinds of stuff like this in the book. Just little pockets of crazy ****. It’s actually refreshing.

Of course, you might be accurate but how hard do you hit? Well, that’s actually a question for everyone. In the Atlantean system fighters are rated as Highly Trained, Skilled, and Untrained. It says in the explanation of Highly Trained fighters that…

Highly trained fighters (such as warriors, paladins, etc.) gain bonuses of +1 to hit and +1 damage per every two levels of ability gained.

…but in the class write-ups the warriors, paladins, etc. only list a +1 to hit, mentioning nothing about damage. I’ve actually never used the +1 to damage bonus – but looking at the Weapon Specialization skill, it also grants a bonus to damage that increases with level (which means that high level Martial Artists would be terrifying). I’ll admit, I’m conflicted about which way to rule this and how I feel about it.

I could go on… there is so much to love and so much to ponder as I prepare myself to dive into this game again. I’m deeply looking forward to the experience and when I get it a little more put together I’ll throw some of it up here.

It’s gonna be a fun ride. Welcome to Arcanum.

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