Monday, May 23, 2011

Legionnaires, Flintlocks, Intrigue and Dark Fantasy - a Profile on the World of Arcanis.

Of all the fantasy settings I've spent time playing in, writing for and reading about, one has had more impact than all the others. Shared interest in gaming in the world introduced me to my wife, and for many years even when money was extremely tight, we'd make an annual pilgrimage to one of the larger gaming conventions to participate in events. I'm talking about Paradigm Concepts' Arcanis – The World of Shattered Empires. When I first encountered this setting, I'd already been gaming for over 15 years, and I would have told you, if asked, that there was no room in my gaming life for another fantasy roleplaying setting. If I'd said that, I wouldn't have known what I was talking about. I was already jaded when I first gave Arcanis a try, and it pushed all other gaming for me into competing for 2nd place.

Classic Arcanis Logo.

What makes Arcanis different from other fantasy settings? This is a very complicated question, that takes more than a few sentences to answer. It is a world where the First Imperium of Man has long since fractured into many kingdoms, some of which war on each other, and even the last echoes of that ancient empire, The mighty Coryani with its vast resources and legions seems to be headed into twilight. The Mother Church tries to guide the faithful in their service to gods who have gone silent generations ago, while staving off heretical cults and perversions of the faith. In this world, a singular theme is repeated over and over again. Actions have consequences. The world reels from these consequences of choices made both recently and in the distant past.

The technology level of the world is a fusion of Ancient Rome and Late Medieval Europe with the additional “blessing” of blast powder allowing for cannons and flintlock weaponry in the hands of the very few who can obtain it in any significant quantity. The well-developed and distinct human cultures tend to determine common types of weapons and armor with specific local flavor, from a Coryani (similar to Rome) Gladius and Lorica Segmentata, to an Altherian (think Moorish) flintlock rifle, or the Milandesian (roughly most like German/Hungarian Knights) heavy plate and Tralian Hammer. The perspectives, secret societies and politics of the various human nations alone would make Arcanis distinct.

An Altherian man, complete with Flintlock Pistol.

Fantasy races in the world of Arcanis are also different takes on traditional swords and sorcery humanoid races. The Noble Val, who are very similar to humans, only tinged with the blood of the divine and imbued with some small portion of the powers of their family's patron deity are often the highest caste in the human nations. Val look human aside from the color of their eyes which indicates their capacity for psionic abilities (or lack thereof,) and they can and do marry and breed with normal humans. The reptilian Ss'ressen are the few members of a race that coexist with humanity out of a species that most typically belongs to the hostile and destructive Ssethregoran Empire, perpetually at war with other races. They follow the path of the Fire Dragon, rather than the Ssethric Dark Gods and often lend teeth, claw and tail to the human empires which their lands exist in or near. The Dark-Kin are remnants of a time when Infernal Lords tortured and enslaved humanity in the time of terror, and the demonic tainted blood made its way into human bloodlines creating something... else. Despite their dark heritage and sinister appearance, Dark-Kin are not universally evil, and many who fall to that path do so out of the fear and hatred they encounter at the hands of others.

A Val'Mordane of Canceri, sitting upon his dark throne. The Val'Mordane are
scions of Neroth, Lord of Undeath and Master of Pestilence.

Even standard fantasy races have their own unique flavor in this world, as elf, dwarf and gnome are represented in unusual ways. The Elorii are a people once enslaved by the reptilian Ssethregorans; legends say they were created by binding powerful elemental lords and fleshcrafting their powers into a species of slaves. Now free, each of the long-lived and graceful beings serve the elemental gods whom they share affinity with, and nearly all revere the fifth aspect named Belisarda, the Eloran Goddess of Life. Dwarves labor in their enclaves generation upon generation, revering the human pantheon and trying to atone for the sins that cursed them with their current form. They were charged in ancient times by the human gods to safeguard the human race when they walked the land as Giants, but betrayed their vow by setting themselves as tyrants over the humans. The punishment for their sin of putting themselves above humanity was the curse of the stunted dwarven form, and the denial of dwarven souls to paradise. This curse will only be broken by the dwarven enclave who creates the singular perfect item in the sight of the gods, so they serve their penance, and they craft. Gnomes are twisted abominations, nearly universally reviled as the unnatural and obscene progeny of a human and a dwarf. They have no distinct culture, no lands, and frequently no place in any proper culture.

Religion and Lore, especially in the human/val/dwarf pantheon has a major impact on the feel of any fantastic world, and it is particularly important in Arcanis. The gods have their individual priesthoods and orders of Holy Champions, and there is a greco-roman sort of familial divine hierarchy that defines each deity as a personal being. Every god or goddess has concepts within their portfolio (Nier: the Lord of Fire and War, Iliir: Father of the gods and Lord of Light and Truth, Sarish: Lord of Blood, Secrets, Oaths and Magic, etc.) and have immortal beings which serve them. These servants, the angelic/demi-godlike Valinor each serve a particular god and represent an aspect of that god's personality. Should one of these beings be lost or slain somehow, the god loses that part of themselves.
Elandre Val'Assante, Matriarch (think Pope) of the Mother Church.

These ideas were originally a campaign setting for Dungeons and Dragons, but over the years, Arcanis has outgrown the edition changes and restrictions imposed by linking the setting to another company's system and have created their own game. The company has in the past, and continues to produce and sell source material, and supports their creation through the maintenance of a global shared world campaign. Players create and track characters as they play them, often with different other players and gamemasters at home, game shops or conventions as they run through adventure scenarios offered for free download to whoever is willing to run as GM. Major events such as Live Action Roleplaying Scenarios and massive Battle Interactives (wars played out with dozens of tables fighting indiviual actions in a larger conflict) determine the future development in the metaplot of the world, allowing players to have a direct impact on the setting with their personal play.

The cover for the Arcanis RPG, releasing this summer.

I played the D&D version of the “Living Arcanis” campaign from start to conclusion, and very recently got to try playing in the world using the new rules. I don't quite feel well versed enough to give a satisfactory review of the new system yet, but my early impression is positive, and once I've had a few more sessions under my belt and an in-depth look at the full rulebook (releasing late June 2011) I'll return to this topic for an evaluation and discussion of the mechanics of Arcanis post-D&D.
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Jay said...

sounds impressive!

Alpha said...

This site remains as one of my favorite blogs.

A Beer for the Shower said...

I love that first picture. D&D has come such a long way. Now they're giving black men guns.

Kidding aside, I've never heard of this but it sounds like fun. I'm curious to see what you think of it after your full evaluation.

Moobeat said...

great post

The Angry Lurker said...

Do the Coryani possess guns aswell as the Roman equipment?

Conspyre said...

Twisted abominations, maybe, universally reviled, probably... But I still love the gnomes. I've been vaguely following the discussions on LA-Talk, I may need to start pondering what Maamoud's been up to for the couple of years between the two campaigns soon.

DocStout said...

@Lurker - Coryani rank and file soldiers usually don't have them, but many officers are Val, and quite a few Vals carry a pistol if for no other reason than they have both the clout and the money to do so. A centurion who owns a pistol would not be uncommon, but you'd be much more likely to encounter guns in Altherian hands, or the cheaper knock-offs of Altherian weaponry carried by the criminals of the Pirate Isles.

Dave said...

Really nice drawings.

Conspyre said...

That's always been one of the things that struck me as a bit funny- the fact that the Coryani are the dominant military power seems to be largely designer fiat- hard for massed sword and spear to tangle with musket-armed rangers.

DocStout said...

@Conspyre Well, there's a few factors going on there. Blast powder is distributed almost as a sacrament, part of Althares' role as a god in the pantheon of the Mother Church, and Altheria's religious look to Coryani churches for guidance.

Also, the guns are a bit busy being pointed South toward Ssethregore for anyone to even think about military expansion against other human empires.

Sapphire said...

Hey Doc, you forgot to mention the possibility for true horror in this game! Arcanis has it's own monsters and villains. Such as the Voiceless Ones - psionic creatures that consume the brains and souls of their victims, Voei - giant cannibalistic creatures who can trap your soul in your decapitated skull, il'Huan - the soul destroyers with hive health points who turn you into one of them, and the Ymandragoran Harvesters who steal children and adults who demonstrate magical or psionic powers. And then there's the ever present Sorcerer King on his Island of Tears, and the demons and devils now coming into the world again via the broken remains of the God's Wall Mountains. And I'll never forget the time my party encountered the cult of Yaris (God the sea) who were turning into Innsmouth-ish fish people.

Conspyre said...

@DocStout- Good call, I forgot about the border with Ssethregore. And I don't recall the Coryani making any overt moves towards attacking Altheria anyway (that would be bad, cutting off their own powder supply and whatnot).

@Sapphire- Very true on the horror- the only truly scary roleplaying experiences I've ever had were in Arcanis.

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