Monday, April 24, 2006

Arcana Alternatives

I've been a fan of Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved since back when it was first published as Arcana Unearthed. AE brings a fresh approach to dungeoning and dragoning, with flavorful new classes, races, and spells. With 20 plus years of swording orcs under my belt, a new approach might be just what the doctor ordered to revitalize flabby gaming muscles. But my big problem with AE, beyond the learning curve for the new spells and whatnot, is the setting. Neither the 'giants in charge' gimmick of the original nor the 'return of the dragons' dynamic of the new edition are sufficient to make me groove on Cook's campaign world. So I've been knocking around a couple of other ideas. My basic approach is to treat AE just like baseline D&D: as a toolkit for creating your own fantasy setting. So far I've got two ideas.

Warmains & Magisters - AE neatly excises many nauseatingly familiar bits of post-Tolkien garbage that have accumulated around D&D. What if we simply re-inserted the Evolved rules into a pseudo-historical dark ages setting? Think Pendragon or Harn, but with the knights played by warmains and the Faen standing in for the elves. I'd probably cut some things to make this concept work. You don't need the Akashic or Oathsworn classes, for instance. And the furries would get the boot as well. The giants would prolly be recast as villains. Add some squabbling barons, wicked sorceresses, damsels in distress, and a few hungry dragons and you're ready to go.

The Algine Chronicle - Here's a weirder idea. The planet Algine in Traveller's Spinward Marches setting, an Earth-like balkanized lowtech world. For reasons unknown, the 3rd Imperium has declared Algine a Red Zone, i.e. all civilian traffic is interdicted. Under this campaign proposal Algine is subject to Imperial quarantine because those naughty Ancients mucked with the world. Back in the day they transplanted several sentient races to Algine: humans (which may have since split into multiple branches), Aslan (Litorians), and Vargr (Sibbeccai). Droyne still living on Algine are played by the Dracha. Aberrations take the role of native flora and fauna. Toss in some hi-tech stuff or psionics for that science fantasy feel. Crash a shipful of Imperial PCs for a Planetary Romance kind of game. Rock out on an alien world.

I still have at least one half-formed idea for AE with its cononical setting. One of my favorite things about AE is the lack of a separate category of Divine Magic. Without clerics and their ilk constantly treating the divine like their own personal toolboxes, the gods are much more mysterious and distant. And the truth about the divine is much harder to suss out. Which leads me to the Return of the Rune Messiah. Is he or she really the Chosen One? If the self-proclaimed Messiah changes the world for the better, does it matter? What if the realm catches 'messiah fever' with multiple competing messiahs preaching different messages? Can the PCs both support the real Messiah and prevent large scale religious bloodshed when their Messiah is opposed by a convincing faker?